Tom Heath’s “sporadic” design practice favours speculation and collaboration
From dancing naked around the house to providing a platform for rejected work, Tom discusses his creative mindset.
- Harry Bennett
- 2 April 2020
“My mind is quite sporadic, therefore, my practice is,” London-based designer Tom Heath tells us. Fluttering from being intently, obsessively focused on one idea, to being unable “to focus on a single idea for more than five minutes,” Tom finds control to be crucial in his practice.
This erratic mindset has implications for where Tom finds his inspiration. “I’m not sure what inspires me. I listen a lot, flick through books, collect objects, run,” however nothing provides “instant inspiration,” he says, going on to add “my work frustrates me, and that’s what keeps me making.” For Tom, it is his working environment that is crucial. “Ultimately, it’s all about my environment, that’s what inspires me. If my environment isn’t right, my work isn’t either.”
The graphic designer from the west Midlands, who graduated from Falmouth University in 2019, has a very “hands on” and attentive design approach, saying that “I’d always get told ‘I print too much’, ‘what’s the point of printing any of that’.” This inclination for tactility holds the foundation of his work, with Tom quipping that “I never understood anyone who could design completely paperless, never physically touching what they make. It’s something I can’t comprehend.” The exploratory mindset responsible for this has been distilled in Tom from a young age; “my parents allowed me to discover myself creatively as a child, whether that was dancing naked around the house or building wooden stilts in my shed,” he explains, telling us “I was never made to do something I didn’t want to do.”
With an eclectic taste and a seemingly ever-fuelled drive to create, Tom had trouble discovering which field of design he felt most comfortable in, telling us “I tried to put myself in a box, because that’s what I was expected to do, but I just couldn’t do it.” Hoping “one day I eat my words” Tom doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to settle. “I thought all the greats had their ‘one thing’, no-one’s good at everything. I would love to say I specialise in a particular area of design but at the moment I don’t and I don’t think I ever will.” He even floats amongst the disciplines themselves, saying that “If I couldn’t be a designer, I’d be a photographer. If not that, then a carpenter by day and a DJ by night.”
It is this discontent and this fidgeting, however, that keeps Tom’s work exciting, speculative and fresh. His attention to his own practice results in the projects themselves being intently questioning, asking what next? What if? What is? This manifests in a somewhat transient expression, commenting on what he considers to be his style, Tom says “I’ve asked this question a lot, and everyone I ask has said I do; I still don’t see it.” He expands by saying “I think it’s important to be open-minded in your approach, whether that’s if you have a style or not.” This is obvious in the unpredictable results of each project Tom produces, from an exploration into biophilic architecture to a museum identity that champions discovery. “Sometimes this can be incredibly uncomfortable for me, being unsure,” Tom adds. “I’m learning that being uncomfortable drives me on and is positive for my process.”
An ongoing project important to Tom began in his second year of university. Entitled ICBQ, it’s “a magazine and archive which showcases, celebrates and explores the rejected and unused work of creative students and professionals alike.” Alongside Tom, ICBQ is run by Alex Bassett, Connor Edwards, Paul Merritt, Reuben Morley and Dylan Young. With their fifth issue currently being designed, it’s safe to say it’s a project with a cause they care deeply for; “we all truly believe in the topic and message we are trying to spread to the wider design community about finding positivity within rejection and unseen work.”
The consideration for the importance of personal, experimental work is not lost in his own – “each project of mine plays a meaningful part in my practice. Whether that’s positive or negative.” He goes on to explain even art and design “icons” can “create awful as well as great work.” The wonderful message from both ICBQ and Tom’s practice is that even through failure “for whatever reason, the outcome is still just as meaningful as if it were the best piece of work I have ever created.”
What ICBQ also exemplifies is Tom’s thirst for collaboration, and what he considers the negative side of a university setting. “Collaboration is everything, I wish there was more of it. At university, there’s definitely competitiveness, which I hated,” he says, “almost like at school when the person next to you would hug their work to stop you from copying them. It was something I tried my best to ignore.” Attempting to encourage discussion rather than competition, Tom defines the importance of collaboration to him: “Without talking, asking questions, and collaborating, what’s the point in making?”
Currently, around his work, Tom is taking the time to “follow through with ideas I’ve been putting off in the past,” addressing the importance of personal exploration once again by saying that “without breaks within the working day I get into my own head too much, which isn’t healthy at all – for everyone, I think.”
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.