The joy of unpredictability with Heather Golding from TonyG

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You never know what life may have in store for you. Sometimes it's great to just go with the flow and embrace opportunities as they come. Heather Golding has founded a whole career on that.

Co-founder of TonyG with, well, Tony, Heather has found herself in the industry by total accident, and has been following that path ever since, each year becoming a more inspired and passionate creative professional.

For this Member Spotlight, we are getting to know a creative who defines herself wordy, though we couldn't feel the weight of one sentence from the interview below. Beware: cat cuteness overload inbound.

It is also quite pleasant to feature Heather on the week TonyG was included in the Annual 2020 awards' shortlist. Better to keep an eye on this team right here.


How did you get into the industry?

Accidentally! I’ve always worked in roles that combine imagination and process, and my first job in a design studio was to support Tony, who I then went on to co-found TonyG with, a bespoke design production agency.

Tony was the person everyone came to when they wanted a graphic solution that was big or visionary or just plain crazy – hence naming the business after him, he was so well known. I would (metaphorically) follow him around with a note pad and broom, filling in all the details, organising the team, paying the parking tickets, making sure the suppliers – and we - got paid!

Sometime in the early 2000’s I started sitting in on creative briefings and found I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. It turned out coming up with conceptual ideas for campaigns and window schemes was something I could do well, so I began finding other people who could do a better job of the process work, and by 2004 was pretty much working on creative all the time for a couple of key accounts.

The situation has flipped back again recently. As the business has grown, so has the need for my business skills. I’m more about vision and strategy and culture than anything now, but who knows, perhaps it’ll flip again!


Where are you based now and who do you work for?

We’re based in a little village between Birmingham and Oxford. It’s close to the M40 but quiet, and in the summer it’s very green. We’re close to an amazing art gallery in a historic building (Compton Verney), we look at out at tree-tops and currently there’s a lot of sheep.

We have clients in London and Bicester, but we’re pretty much all Midlanders. Coventry City of Culture 2021 deserves a mention here, and the year after is the Commonwealth Games focused around Birmingham, so it would feel good to do something for both and work a little bit on where we’re from.


If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’ve literally just started writing again! I’ve played with writing fiction in the past but post Covid I’m finding I have an opinion on a lot more stuff and I want to get it off my chest in a creative way. Writing thoughts down is a good way to start conversation, so perhaps if I wasn’t in this industry, I’d be putting even more content out there. Maybe trying some fiction too.

I also support my daughter’s sustainable floristry business, Little Garden Flowers. She’s very talented. I’m her occasional apprentice, and it’s really nice being told what to do and not making decisions! I also get to hand-write the gift cards, which I love.

I just got accepted as a Fellow of the RSA and I’m passionate in making a case for more creative ways of educating. My absolute hero in this is Sir Ken Robinson. I’d work with him if he told me I’d be of value to the cause somehow.


Can you explain your creative process?

Our team are amazing problem solvers. Watching them puzzle out how to make something work that someone else designed, shows just how important creative thinking is in the process of manufacture. Creative thinking gets overshadowed by more expressive arts in this industry, but projects wouldn’t come to life if it wasn’t for these behind-the-scenes thinkers.

My own creative process has no predictable path and is very dependent on the type of project I’m working on. All I can say is some of my best thoughts are pre-breakfast. I’m a one-armed bandit of ideas: pull the lever and another one appears, just fuel with caffeine.


How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

We’ve gone from being a predominantly physical materials company to a digital physical mix. We’re doing some great work with both disciplines, independent of each other and as a fusion. We’re very much craft-meets-tech right now and we believe this way of working is the bee’s knees, and our USP. The future is not virtual, it’s virtual and real, combined to make a new 3rd thing no-one has fully grasped the power of yet and I’m trying to find a memorable name for.

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Being an ENFP. Sorry all you other personality types, but it’s true.

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

Right now, it would be our ability to apply creative thinking skills to our own business. No one knows what’s coming in the immediate economic future, so we’re focusing on thriving and resilience and doing what we believe in. Watch this space.


How do you recharge away from the office?

2 cats, Steve and Sharon, who need A LOT of stroking. Dancing and painting – but not at the same time.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

In many ways I believe we’re not typical. We always pick up on people who want to work autonomously and will take ownership, as that’s what we’re like ourselves. Higher education does not always imply better skills. I had very little education myself, so I know it’s not essential to success (which, by the way, I define these days as contentment). Self-taught and an attitude of continuous learning, no matter what educational path you’ve taken, is essential and shows a lot of drive.

On applications for a position or even speculatively, the best thing to do is just represent yourself as knowingly as you can. Be you. Not in a crazy way, but definitely not dressed up in corporate language either.

Clean layouts that touch on originality of thought are always my favourite, but as a wordy person I do pay attention to written content. I find anything overly quirky and masses of examples of work confusing, but other creative leaders may focus on the creativity of your portfolio. So really, go with what you think they need to know dependent on the job you’re applying for.


What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

Less corporate and competitive behaviour, less divisiveness, more trust, alliance and collaboration. There is a lot of money wasted reversing decision making where there are too many chiefs at the ideas phase on the client side, and a lack of clarity on goals. If outcomes were clear and budgets properly applied at the outset, it could end up with designers and makers properly valued, without necessarily costing the client more.


If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

The reactive nature of all industries in trying to respond to the instant nature of customer demand. We all have to take responsibility for our part in this. Customer expectation for instant service works its way through the supply chain to result in ridiculous production timelines, massive amounts of waste and a shocking carbon footprint.

Along with some lovely tech ideas we’re brewing, sustainability is our post Covid focus in readiness to meet a new, slower market. We’re doing a deep dive into low carbon impact, beautifully functioning materials and aiming for a new expert level consultancy concept. Our start point is to evaluate everything from a source, usage and end of life standpoint whilst avoiding greenwashing like the harmful disingenuous nonsense it is.

We’ll be looking at reclaim and re-use options, analysing ‘eco’ products as they come on-stream, and sharing what we learn about conscious production, so designers can build in sustainability from the beginning. It’s a continuous learning journey from now on and we want to take like-minded people with us on the way.


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