Creative Director – Design Q&A

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We caught up with Tom Heaton – a Manchester based Creative Director at DS. Emotion with over 10 years design experience on the world of a creative director, and what is most important for a designer…

For those of us who don’t work in design, how would you explain the role of a Creative Director?

The life of a creative director is like being an orchestra conductor who really wants to be a one man band. I love designing and I can’t ever see giving that up. It’s hard to pass on work to your team when you’d really like to be doing it yourself. I do however really enjoy helping other people create great work and seeing them develop along their own career.

You’ve been working in Design for over 10 years – what is it that excites you about this industry?

Essentially it’s creative problem solving. Everyone loves solving puzzles—that sense of achievement is exactly the same when you find THE solution to a brief. The killer idea, executed flawlessly. It’s like finding gold.

How important do you feel investing into your branding is for a company in today’s market?

When you look at the entirety of business, all across the world, I would argue that ‘the brand’ is the most important thing of all. The brand is not just the logo that sits on your website or letterhead; it’s your personality. It’s an emotion and feeling you get with a company or product. It’s the difference how you react between Nike v Adidas, Audi v BMW or Apple v Google.

How do you find the process of recruiting new talent for design / UX roles?

It can be tough to find great new talent, especially for digital roles. In the past we’ve tried various routes but those skills are highly sought after and constantly evolving. UX design was only really championed in the last 10 years. It has always been a consideration but with the advent of the smartphone, the user’s journey became everything. Who knows how tech will develop over the next decade, but ‘techies’ will develop in tandem. Pure design roles (like mine) are easier to fill through blogs, University shows and word-of-mouth.

What design tools / software / technology could you not live without?

A pen, pad and Adobe Creative Suite.

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You’ve recently been a guest lecturer at Lincoln University – what single piece of advice would you give to a graduate looking to start a career in design?

If you’re a graduate, don’t give up! Starting off in any industry is tough, but design seems even more so. The problem is competition for placements, let alone jobs. Everyone with a copy of Photoshop thinks they can design and because it’s an art not a science, there’s no legal reason they can’t. From my experience, those who are talented and really want it, always end up succeeding.

We’re always looking to the future – do you have any predictions for design in 2017?

As ever, technology will play a big part in the latest trends (VR, drones, 3D printing etc.). ‘Blanding’ has been in full swing for a couple of years and that seems to be continuing with the recent Juventus crest. I would like to see a greater focus on ideas-led design rather than stylistic fluff.

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What would you say your proudest moment / favourite project of your career has been so far?

Awards are nice but only the ones that actually matter—there are so many awards for design it’s laughable. It becomes like a tick-box for agencies so they can say ‘award-winning’ in their biography. One of my favourite moments was probably pitching to The FA at Wembley. I walked up towards the stadium with that great arch thinking that it was a pretty special moment. I presented in a box overlooking the pitch and we ended up winning the work. As an Evertonian, I rarely see wins at that stadium nowadays.

A lot of people imagine design agencies to be quirky studios with office dogs and ping pong tables – is that the reality?

That can be quite accurate, yes. In my last studio we had a fireman’s pole installed which is pretty high up on the hipster-o-meter. I think the commonality is a relaxed and inspiring atmosphere where people can create rather than feeling oppressed or bored. The point is to work in a ‘studio’ not an ‘office’.

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