GRADUATE: Tom Harle — Creative Strategy and IA

by Kate Andrews | December 23, 2010

Tom Harle is a creative strategist and IA designer, currently working at Public Zone, a London-based digital agency who specialise in helping NPO’s and charities improve their digital output. Having graduated in 2009 from Cardiff School of Art and Design with a BA in Graphic Communications, Tom has now been working in the creative sector for over a year. We spoke to Tom recently to find out what he’s been up to and if it has been anything like he expected.

Notes on Design: When did you first realise you wanted to be a part of the creative industry?

Tom: I’m not sure I’ve ever realised – I’ve been lucky that so far I’ve pretty much been able to get on with doing things that I love doing – they’ve just happened to revolve around things that are classed around ‘being creative’ – I built my first website in 1999 for my band, because we needed one, not because I wanted to build a website, if you see what I mean. For me it’s about wanting to achieve something bigger, whatever that is, and then creating things that will help me do that.

Notes on Design: What is it about design that gets you excited?

Tom: The way that it is able to shape behaviour and provoke emotion – that’s incredibly powerful when used properly.

2010 © Image Courtesy of Public Zone

Notes on Design: Did you feel prepared as you began the transition from graduate to professional?

Tom: Personally, I felt okay about moving into ‘professional’ life as I’d been blogging and networking throughout my degree. I’d also had a few full-time jobs before I started at CSAD, so I was as prepared as I could reasonably be I think.

2010 © Images Courtesy of Public Zone

Notes on Design: Could you tell us about your post graduate journey?

Tom: I was super lucky after graduating, firstly to be one of the students sent off to D&AD New Blood (CSAD didn’t go at all this year) and then lucky to have met my now boss at the event and had the opportunity to talk through my work. Public Zone took me on as an intern for a guaranteed 3 months, paying me enough that I could commit to moving to London and getting set up here. I’d been offered some other internships but for much shorter time frames and much less cash, so Public Zone won!

Notes on Design: How do you facilitate development of your understanding and awareness of your practice?

Tom: It’s really tough to stay on top of this in a job when you’re meant to have your ‘head down’ every day actually getting work done, there’s a tremendous feeling of guilt you get when you try to keep up-to-date with all the blogs whilst developers and project managers run about you doing real work. I tend to read textbooks or magazines when I take the tube to work, and get out to coffee shops and galleries over weekends to just sit and take in what’s going on. I also find it really useful to keep my blog ticking over – I’m not blogging as much as I was at uni, but it’s really helpful to look at things I find interesting and think ‘what could I write about this?’ It’s a good focus for the mind.

2010 © Image Courtesy of Public Zone

Notes on Design: Based on your experiences do you have any advice for this years graduates?

Tom: My advice would be to get out there and talk to people – if there’s an agency who’s work you like, get in touch with them and just try to get conversations going. Go to events that look fun. Comment on blogs. This works because even if you’re not sure what you want to do yet, using what you like to look at as a starting point, you’ll be able to use those conversations to inform your next steps.

2010 © Image Courtesy of Public Zone

For example, I had a really inspiring moment on the tube today. I reached the end of a book that I’ve been reading, written by an industry leader who I saw talk a few years ago, when I was still studying. After he spoke that day I managed to catch him and say thanks for the talk, and explain how it had resonated for me. A few months later we were in touch through some blog comments, and when I got to the end of the book today I saw my name in the acknowledgements. It is possibly the most encouraging thing for a young (slightly egotistical) creative to see after reading such an inspiring book! It’s really helped me to appreciate where I am and how much further I have to go – I never really had a ‘get a job’ strategy to any of it, but it’s made me realise more about who I am and what I might be able to do in future.

You can catch up with Tom through his blog via twitter @tomharle or have a browse through some of Tom’s undergraduate work on his website.


Designer and writer Kate Andrews was the original editor of Notes on Design blog, founded in 2007.


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