Andrew Johnstone and Murray Bell just want to help.

Ready to kick off their 11th year of the Semi-Permanent (SP) design conference in Sydney, the co-founders have been connecting creatives, inspiring artists and celebrating new work across the globe every year since 2003. All you have to do is bring a pen, pad and a shitload of business cards.

After 11 years of the event, co-founder and director Johnstone is more confident than ever in Semi-Permanent, a tried and tested formula which keeps punters coming back year after year. The secret seems to lie in its unwavering philosophy. “The event is about inspiring and enabling creatives, that’s kind of what we wanted to do right at the start,” says Johnstone. “Inspiration has been the centre of everything we do. It doesn’t matter whether we’re doing it in Sydney, other parts of Australia or worldwide, that’s always going to be the core of what we do.”

After years of events held across Australia’s major cities, in the last few years Semi-Permanent has expanded its horizons above the equator. The team have established events in Los Angeles, Portland, New York, London, Wellington, Auckland, Hong Kong and this year they’ll kick off in Stockholm with the aid of previous Semi-Permanent speakers Kurppa Hosk, one of Sweden’s top design agencies. The formula remains the same in each city, a period of exhibitions, launches, competitions, parties and workshops centered around a massive conference.

While predictably attracting the involvement of some of design’s biggest companies and studios, Semi-Permanent is largely borne of their own love of DIY, with this year’s bill featuring a swag of self-made-success stories like Sydney collective The Hours, US surf brand Saturdays Surf NYC, fashion label P.A.M (Perks And Mini) and independent magazine Stab. With such a solid lineup of speakers, Johnstone firmly believes you can’t always predict a highlight for the event, affirming that the best moments at Semi-Permanent can be quite unexpected. “It’s always the headliners that are the ‘best’, so everyone thinks it’s going to be the big names that are going to be the better presentations,” he says. “But a lot of the time you find it’s that young person who’s doing really cool illustration work. They just put a lot of passion into it and it turns out to be a really great presentation.”

Johnstone, who admits a slight lean toward photography as a favourite creative form, is particularly looking forward to the snappers in the bunch, including two last-minute lifesavers. “One of our speakers had to cancel, a photographer called Finbarr O’Reilly, he snapped his Achilles tendon about a week or so ago playing basketball. Thankfully we got a replacement, a photographer called Francesco Zizola and he’s a really, really talented documentary photographer who’ll be speaking with a post-production and photographer called Claudio Palmisano. They’re going to be really, really great.”

Not just a bill of big-name presentations, Semi-Permanent forms an opportunistic show and tell for new, young designers, artists and photographers. Like any industry, the design market is all about networking. “A lot of the time [in the creative industry] it comes down to who you know rather than what you know,” says Johnstone. “It can be a tough industry… So Semi-Permanent’s a really good place to possibly get your work in front of some very important people who might be able to provide your career with a boost in some capacity.”

With the creative eyes of Sydney looking forward to the big week, the young’uns of the creative business are busy embossing those business cards. While the decision between a Futura and Helvetica header might prove more difficult than which costume to wear to Comic-Con, attending Semi-Permanent has never been more crucial for a budding creative with a need for inspiration and a firm foot to wedge.


Semi-Permanent presents at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre on May 24-25. Visit for the full program.

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