Meet Tom Dabner a 21-year-old student in his final year at Sheffield Hallam University. He is pretty passionate about what he does: “I am an Helvetica addict,” he says. “It should shame me to admit that I have watched Gary Hustwit’s documentary about the typeface at least 6 times (bonus footage also), but it doesn’t. I love it.” We’re sure Gary will be very happy to hear it!
When not indulging his passion, Tom is always reading up on it via books, blogs and Twitter. He also runs a blog which showcases the photography skills of his readers, who send in snaps of local shopfronts from around the city. Contrary to his eye for design, he claims to be rather clumsy. ‘I am very accident prone,’ he admits. ‘Or so I am told. Maybe that’s why I like order in my work – it balances the two!’
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m a 21-year-old graphic designer, or rather a discoverer. I say ‘discoverer’ because my work is largely based on what I feel works for the purpose I am designing for, I don’t design something new, everything we do is already created, we just have to discover it and put it into a materialised form. I don’t particularly see myself as hugely ‘creative’, I don’t ever have wild and imaginative ideas that come to me in the middle of the night or anything like that. What I focus on as mentioned above is what makes the work look right. I design to solve problems given to me by others and I go about it focussing on how it will work best for them. I will point out that this does not mean the work is boring, on the contrary it can be very challenging, but it always has a purpose. Like the modernist designers such as Massimo Vignelli and Wim Crouwel I am a huge believer in order and designing with grids and a pre-determined structure, it keeps my work balanced and clear. Something which I feel is paramount in identity design, maybe not always, but definitely most of the time.
What are your inspirations?
I don’t necessarily ‘look’ for inspiration, particularly not through looking at design and art. This is not to say I don’t look at the work of others and find inspiration from it (I love to look at design), but I find that inspiration more often than not comes from something that seems at first completely unrelated to what I am working on.
It could come from nature, the shapes and patterns of organic things, or from structures such as brickwork or scaffolding, from a pattern on a carpet to the precise markings on measuring equipment. This may sound odd, but inspiration for me is usually unexpected and it is the unexpected things that can make for the most interesting work.
What’s your favourite piece of work you have produced?
My brain seems to work in a strange way on this subject, or maybe everyone thinks this way, but my favourite work is usually the last piece I completed. Just the feeling of finishing something brings great pleasure in my work, knowing that it’s ready to serve the purpose it was designed for.
So on that basis my favourite work at the moment would be the signage and wayfinding I designed for the Sheffield Institute of Arts gallery. This was especially exciting to work on as it is the first large scale project (in terms of how many people will see it) I have been asked to do. It involved designing signs for both the interior and exterior of the building to attract new visitors, as well as help them navigate the inside. I am now working on some print work for them to go alongside this.
Who is your favourite ‘creative’ in your chosen field?
I have two favourites. Massimo Vignelli for his well structured and considered design style, and Michael Bierut, whose work for Pentagram New York I have admired for years. Oddly enough Bierut worked under the direction of Vignelli for 10 years prior to his move to Pentagram.
Have a read of Tom’s blog Shop Fronts Of Sheffield and if you’re interested in taking part, Tweet it @ShopFrontSheff. Look at Tom’s portfolio and read his accompanying blog. Also Tweet Tom himself: @TDabner