Making the jump to working freelance is a big deal for any designer so we love to see our graduates taking the leap. Shillington London graduate Tom Noon did just that—he graduated and dived head first in the world of freelance, taking on any clients or jobs that came his way. With a background in advertising and working in the music industry, Tom worked his way round his friends and contacts and has been creating amazing work for three years now.
We caught up with Tom three years after he graduated to see where his freelance journey has taken him, the things he’s been working on and how Shillington enabled him to go at it alone and start his career in the design industry.
First of all, you studied with us in London back in 2017. What made you choose the Shillington course? What were the benefits for you?
I chose Shillington after asking a few of my mates who worked in graphic design whether they knew of any good conversion courses. Through word of mouth and mutual connections, Shillington came up a couple of times.
It ticked all of the boxes for me: I was looking to supplement my self-taught foundation with a solid technical understanding and theoretical framework in order to make my practice more professional.
Ideally I was looking for a short, intense course rather than heading back to uni for a second time and the fact that Shillington mimicked a fast-paced studio environment really appealed to me.
What were you up to before you joined us? Were you doing anything creative?
Before Shillington, I worked in advertising as an Account Manager before moving to Red Bull where I looked after East Central London’s nightlife venues. So I spent a lot of time working with creatives and had a nice connection with the music industry. I was always really engaged with art and design and used to do flyers for club nights on the side, but it was super low key and my output was very low-fi. Whilst I enjoyed all my previous jobs and definitely benefited from the skills they gave me, like dealing with clients and planning strategically, I often felt like I was on the wrong side of the creative process and that’s what drove me to retrain.
How did the Shillington course build up your skill set?
It got me comfortable with my workflow and processes as well as providing a good technical understanding on the software side of things.
Another benefit I found was the focus on teaching keyboard shortcuts, which might sound a bit trivial, but it has definitely helped me work faster and more efficiently.
Since graduating, you’ve been working as a freelancer with some incredible clients in the music industry and beyond—including Khruangbin, Jadu Heart and others. Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far?
I always planned on going freelance straight away and was pretty open to what type of projects I’d work on. In the beginning it was just about getting the ball rolling and being super proactive in finding jobs. I was also super lucky to have some good mates who helped me along the way.
After a while you begin to find your niche and work starts coming through word of mouth which is reaffirming as it indicates that clients are happy with what you’ve done for them. I’ve ended up doing a lot of work in the music industry as well as some fashion and culture bits, which is all a dream as it promotes creative exploration and means that I get to collaborate with loads of talented artists.
More than anything else I find the people I work with really inspiring.
This might be a bit of a tough one, but is there any recent projects that stand out as a particular favourite for you?
That is a tough one! I’ve been lucky enough to work on some amazing projects and they all deserve a shout. Recently, I’ve been working with guitar virtuoso Mansur Brown whose music I love so that’s been pretty surreal. I’ve also been working with The Midnight Club on a load of wicked projects including a book that documents the pandemic through photographer Josh Greet’s lens. His images are incredible so they do most of the work. And, I’ve been designing the graphics for a clothing collection that Cole Buxton is dropping soon, so keep an eye out for that. I’ve only been working with those guys for a relatively short period of time, but it’s pretty wild to see them do their thing—they’re on an incredible trajectory.
Did you form any friendships or partnerships during the Shillington course? Have you crossed paths with anyone from the course since in your freelance practice?
Yeah, for sure!
Shillington brought together people from all sorts of walks of life, so it was cool to be part of a diverse group and hear everyone’s stories.
I’ve stayed in touch with some of the crew and do a lot of work with my good mate Rory Knibbs at The Midnight Club. He’s such a good designer—definitely check him out.
Do you feel like the Shillington course prepared you for the freelance world? Would you recommend it to other wannabe designers who want to take that route?
Being prepared for the freelance world is tricky, because it’s inherently unpredictable and there’s lots of different paths to take. I’m really into the changeable nature of it, but it’s not for everyone. Amongst all the unpredictability, though, there are definitely a few things that I keep consistent including my process which was informed by what I learned at Shillington. Combined with the technical skills we covered, this provided me with a good basis to go freelance. But there’s a load of other stuff that you can’t really prepare for and have to learn on the job, such as: accounting, project scheduling, client management, legal and contracts etc. When you work for yourself you have to wear all the hats! I think it’s important to identify what you want from your day-to-day and to try and map out how best to get there.
If you can remember, what was your favourite brief from the course? Can you tell us a bit about your process?
I really enjoyed some of the branding briefs as they highlighted the importance of identifying a strong conceptual foundation. For one brief we were asked to rebrand a business in East London in order to make it more of a ‘destination spot’ and rejuvenate trade. I got given a laundrette and decided to add an escape room at the back of the building so that when people went in to wash their undies, they had an allotted time to crack the puzzle before their washing was finished. It lent itself to a playful visual and tonal execution, which was fun to work on. Weirdly enough, I’ve not rebranded a laundrette since…
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is about to start at Shillington, what would it be?
Clear your schedule and get stuck in (if you’re on the full-time course, anyway).
I think the people who got the most from the Shillington were definitely those who immersed themselves in the course and the world of art and design.
Big thanks to Tom for sharing his journey into freelance with us! Make sure you follow him on Instagram to keep up to date with what he’s working on. He’s told us his website is coming soon too… Want to hear from more Shillington graduates who are now freelancing? Check out some more of our graduate interviews.