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Trailblazers: Getting digital with Topman's Tom Lancaster

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London-based creative director and designer, Tom Lancaster, managed brand identity for Orange, EE and the Mayor of London before taking the plunge into digital as Topman’s digital director. We chatted to our Creativepool Top 25-er about his thoughts on trends to watch, what Brexit means for the creative industry, and rare disco music. Take it away Tom...

Congratulations on making it as a Top 25 on Creativepool! Can you talk us through your career up until now?

Thanks. I grew up in Biddulph near Stoke-on-Trent, and moved to London when I started at Goldsmiths College. After my degree show, I got my first job at Clear Channel in 2006 where I designed billboards and bus shelter posters, before moving to Orange in 2007 – which became Everything Everywhere – to design, art direct and manage brand identity. In 2011 I moved to City Hall to head up the design team, and for three years I directed creative for integrated campaigns for the Mayor of London.

In March 2014 I joined Topman to direct digital creative and to lead its photography and digital design studios.

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For your role at Topman you seem to have moved away from the brand identity focused aspects of your old positions, was this move deliberate?

I really wanted to immerse myself in digital (previously I'd mainly worked on digital as an extension of ad campaigns). I was also really motivated by being able to work where image making and design happen at the same time and to explore the possibilities there. I suppose I see it as looking after Topman's brand expression across all of its digital platforms. I think at a brand like Topman that inevitably means expressing identity through image and photography as much as through traditional identity devices such as typography, colour palette and tone of voice.

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What are your main responsibilities within digital creative and digital design at Topman?

I oversee two studios - a digital design team and a photography studio. As a team of 15 we shoot, style and retouch every product that goes on sale and design the customer experience of the sites, apps and comms (email and social). My job is to connect all the specialists in my team and to art direct the collective result of their work. We also shoot and design many creative, trend-led pieces which means finding the right setting and style to put across a trend.

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What are you most proud of creatively?

My New Year's Eve fireworks tube poster - it's the only thing I've designed that I have framed. It's simple and was the culmination of a lot of work, persuasion and stakeholder management to get to a design led, spare approach for a world class event. I think it's the best expression of the A-Z of London brand guidelines I put in place at City Hall.

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What are your passions? What keeps you inspired and on top of your game?

Geometry in design and illustration, typography–my new favourite face is the 93 extra black extended weight of Univers–80s and 90s music imagery, natural light and the way different photographers shoot with it, screenprinting. Lots of different things, but I think the overarching theme is I'm inspired by spare design–whether that's digital, physical or graphic–and distilling down the purpose of something to a minimal expression. I follow lots of creatives on Twitter and Instagram which also gives me daily inspiration and, from a commercial view, market awareness.

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Living and working in London, do you have any thoughts on what Brexit means for the creative industry?

I'm not really sure what the economic impact on the creative industry will be, although I assume it will make a European city like Amsterdam more attractive to certain brands as a base. I think the broader domestic theme it has highlighted is the gap between what London thinks and feels and what the rest of the country does and that's something that we all need to think about more as designers and creatives, to look outside the bubble a bit.

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What current trends are you enjoying? What should we be looking out for?

In clothing terms I'm enjoying dropped shoulder, wider fit tops, it could become the defining shape of the decade. Also, Tennis shoes, especially single-colour styles where the sole matches the upper. I'm slowly working my way through the colour spectrum with these. As a wider group of people start to wear trainers with smarter clothing I think a smart mono trainer will become a more mainstream product, not just for people in the creative industries.

In terms of visual design I'm pleased to see graphic simplicity (what some people call flat design) continuing to run through the industry. I think typographically we're seeing a resurgence of wide heavy typefaces - see Maharishi's new logo tees for a modern take on it.

Last of all, it's hard to call a trend, but I think that black and white in graphics seems to be something I see more and more of. The counterbalance to that is the continuing prevalence of shades of nude, pink, peach, dust and sand.

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What do you really geek out on?

80s music, rare disco and 90s house - I listen to YouTube walking to work and see where it takes me…

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What project was more like pleasure than work?

Six Yellow Brick Lane - an identity I did for a friend's hand-knitted clothing and lampshades label. Louisa just wanted something fresh and yellow and not at all crafty, so I got to design geometric letters from scratch to come up with the SixYBL mark. Then I hand drew a brand image to run behind the logo with the full name spelled out in visual tassels hanging from the lampshade.

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