Tom's very minimal workspace ^
In-house fabric screen printing facility ^
Tom's bookshelf mainly featuring publications that Catalogue have had some form of input with ^
One of the publications that Catalogue work on which excited me the most ^
Today Amelia and I paid a visit to Catalogue studio in central Leeds to speak with Tom, the lead designer and a recent Leeds College of Art alumni member. So far, this visit has been the most exciting and useful for myself, because the work Catalogue produce appeals to me massively and I could certainly see myself working in a studio environment such as this.
I came across Catalogue in second-year, when a fellow course mate pointed me towards their yearly publication: Library Paper, a cultural magazine which champions emerging creative talent on an international scale. It's essentially a printed version of their design research blog 'Back Catalogue' which is an excellent resource of beautifully curated visual and contextual content.
Tom was very warm and welcoming and invited us to sit down at his desk to begin the informal interview. Instantly, he made us feel very welcome in the studio space and after a few minutes of meeting him, Amelia and I were making jokes and managed to build up a flowing rapport with him. After speaking for about 40 minutes, I decided to show him my personal branding a couple of the briefs I have been working on recently and asked for feedback. He was impressed with my work and said my branding was appropriate and successful which was nice validation to recieve!
We recorded the conversation, so I decided to summarise the key points below:
How did you finance yourselves after graduating from LCA?
'We did a lot of free work and small budget projects for friends and family and generally relied on word of mouth to acquire new projects. We just kept putting ourselves out there really and instigated projects. That's the best way to keep active and stay relevant in the fast-paced world of graphic design.'
In general, how did you deal with money when starting out in the industry?
'When we first set up Catalogue, I was the one who was super anal-retentive about keeping track of all the money going in and out of our business account. I literally wrote down every single transaction in a big red book, which I would not advise - do things digitally.
We also did everything we could on a budget: living in a house with very cheap rent, cycling to work, not socialising too much, not going out for dinners or lunch all of the time and so on. Basically scrimping everywhere we could in order to allow more money for the business.
As the first year passed, we decided to use an online service to manage our costings and tax and all of that really boring stuff. It was all a learning curve and I wouldn't say that we have perfected anything yet, we're still learning how to be as efficient as we can whilst not going completely insane.'
How do you manage with your partners operating in New York and London?
'Well, it actually works out pretty nicely. I am able to work for the majority of the afternoon into the evening on a project and then sent it over to New York where my partner Ollie will only just be waking up when I am finishing my day. It's like an endless loop of productivity which tends to run smoothly if we are both being as organised as possible.
Sometimes, however, it can get a little lonely working here on my own all the time, but there are plenty of other people in the building who keep me occupied.'
Do you think business cards are relevant for creatives in 2017?
Its also important to fill your portfolio with pieces that are REAL - that have real world value and mean something worth talking about. It is true that there is more to life than graphic design, and design about design can tend to become pretty boring and repetitive. It's about finding a balance between producing work that you really love and work that could function in a commercial setting.'
How do you view the creative scene in Leeds?
'It's thriving, but it can tend to seem below the surface. There are plenty of cliques here in Leeds, which can seem intimidating and difficult to get your foot in the door. I would say however that the creative scene is far more accessible here than in London or even Manchester. Leeds is a friendly place so I would say that starting out a design career here would be a lot more fun than in a massive capital city.'
What is your advice for someone looking to get into the publication sector of the graphic design industry?
'Just make your own publications. You would be amazed where self-directed briefs can take you. Library Paper magazine, for example, is basically just a printed version of the design blog that we both started back in LCA. That has taken us so far and is now internationally recognised by a number of art specialist book shops. Just make stuff that excites you and then if you're passionate enough, it should spark excitement and interest in others!'