Tom Kershaw is an English digital creative director and photographer. Currently Tom is living in Boston, USA, working as Associate Creative Director at Beam Interactive. Previously he has worked for other major agencies and studios like Isobar, de-construct, Zentropy Partners and Less Rain.
Kershaw has lead projects for important brands such as Nikon, adidas, Stella McCartney, Panasonic, Reebok, Nokia, Microsoft, Saucony, Unilever, Virgin, and Sony BMG. He has received some of the most prestigious awards in the field for this work. He has also been published by several design publications including Design Week and the UK’s .net magazine (Practical Web Design in the US).
Since this year, Tom has been part of the Awwwards community in his role as a judge. In this interview we have the opportunity to get to know him a little better.
Awwwards Team: What is your role in your company?
I'm an Associate Creative Director here at Beam. I'm responsible for the creative vision and interaction design of all kinds of digital brand experiences.
What qualities should a web designer have? Do you think it’s more limited by technical requirements than other disciplines?
All disciplines have limitations, and when dealing with any form of technology, you’re bound to run into issues (particularly now, with so many devices and browsers to account for).
But we’re problem solvers at heart, so the ability to tackle and overcome marketing issues and build brand experiences through an ever-expanding array of digital platforms, services and devices is key. And there are no “normal” work hours here, so you need to really love what you’re doing in order to keep up with everything. It amazes me just how quickly this industry moves; just when you think you’ve got something figured out, it changes overnight (Facebook is a great example).
Obviously, qualities like a strong design aesthetic and a good understanding of technology are paramount. The ability to work within a team is another no-brainer, and building those relationships will help you immensely. Lastly, if you aren't someone who thrives under pressure, you should probably avoid this business.
Which are your favorite studios, designers or agencies?
There are so many great designers and agencies out there, quite a few of them are good friends actually. Apart from Beam of course, I like North Kingdom, R/GA, AKQA, Huge, Droga 5 and Sid Lee among others.
Where do you look for inspiration in your day-to-day work?
Inspiration for creative ideas can come from anywhere, at any time (like a good cat meme). I keep a pretty hefty set of bookmarks, so if I'm trying to solve a specific problem I'll look online, and try to find something that relates to the topic I'm researching. I love how you can start browsing the web and end up finding the weirdest content imaginable. Sites like Awwwards and FWA are really useful for showcasing cutting-edge stuff. I still refer to books (yes, real books), because classic design will always be relevant. One of my design heroes is Herb Lubalin. Any designer can learn from his conceptual thinking and typography skills.
What advice would you give someone starting out in this industry?
Colleges have some great programs now for web design and development, so I think that as the industry has grown students have become far better prepared for digital. When I did my graphic design degree I became interested in interactive design, and my tutors were mainly print-focused, so a lot of what I learned was from my own tinkering. But at the end of the day, the basic fundamentals of design will always be important, so my advice is to never forget that. You can learn as much about modern techniques and technology as humanly possible, but underneath it all you still need a strong concept.
I’d also add for people looking for a job: try to inject some genuine personality into your portfolio site and resume. When you reach a senior level this matters less, because your work and experience take precedence, but when you’re trying to get your foot in the door you need to be remembered. And when you do land that first job, be available for anything. Go for beers with your team, and build good relationships. They’ll last you your whole career, and make the design world a smaller, friendlier place.
Tell us a unique story or funny anecdote related to your work.
My funniest work anecdotes probably aren't printable, but you know that thing I said about going for beers with your team? That's how a few of them start.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I'm very interested in photography and collect all sorts of cameras. I've met some really interesting people through taking pictures, and been to some incredible places. I love music. My dad was a professional musician and has some great stories about the 60s, like when his band opened for the Beatles in Stockholm. I have friends in the music industry too, and through these perks I've had some great opportunities to shoot artists backstage.
How do you think the design process has changed over the decade or so you have been in the industry?
This is something my team and I think about a lot, and something we proactively address to ensure we’re working in the smartest way possible. I've seen so many trends come and go over the past 12 years: immersive micro-sites, the birth of social media, the decline of Flash, the way people consume information via different devices, mobile and responsive design. The list goes on, and on, and on (and on).
Today, design and technology are merging more closely with prototyping and development, often during the design phase. This used to happen with Flash, but with emerging web technologies there’s just far more opportunity for unique interfaces and animation with HTML and CSS. Also the integration of user testing is something clients insist on now, and this makes it a huge part of the iterative design process. But even with all this evolution, we’re all just trying to solve problems and tell stories, and that’ll never change, which is why I love my job.