Introducing: Tom Morgan on finding your creative path, the joys of being hybrid, and where hip-hop went wrong
As part of our series focusing on new creative graduates, we celebrate Tom Morgan from Cardiff School of Art and Design. Here he chats to us about choosing the right university, how music inspires him, and why he wants to use his skills to drive change.
Hailing from Poole, Dorset, Tom Morgan has just completed a BA (Hons) Graphic Communication at Cardiff School of Art and Design. But already, he's been making waves in the profession, most notably winning a D&AD New Blood Award for his branding project Kayla World.
Tom is focused on typography, social design, illustration, editorial, UX/UI, photography and moving image. "My ethos is to take briefs to the next level," he says. For him, it's all about: "destroying pre-conceived ideas, leading to greater conceptual meanings. The process of reflect, then effect."
We chatted to Tom about choosing the right path in life, the benefits of being a hybrid design, and why he feels hip-hop needs to rediscover its roots.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Poole, a town in the county of Dorset. I had a great start to my childhood with my parents, sister and a dog named Jack. I enjoyed playing football and was quite a successful player as a child, but I hated the seriousness of the sport.
Growing up led to a lot of tricky situations, but they're what made me the person I am today. Around the time my parents split up, my creative ability and interest started to show. It was a way of expressing feelings but also putting myself at ease. I was strongly supported due to my mum's creative and artsy background; she always believed in me and pushed what I'm passionate about.
How did you get into art and design?
I was always drawing as a kid. I wasn't any good, but creating even doodles seemed fun for me and was constantly distracting me in class. When the family dynamic changed at home, this also sent me in the direction of expression. I also found myself always listening to music, and with music came graphical elements, which I loved; the brand of the artist, the covers, videos and tour posters.
It's what made me love graphic design: building and having an identity for an artist who is telling the world a story. I found this hugely interesting: the idea of creating visual communication to highlight the values and story of someone.
How did you choose your course and university?
During my A-Levels, I knew I wanted to go to university, but I didn't know what I wanted to study. I got a lot of opinions from relatives and teachers. I think at 18, you never really know what you want.
I was torn between having a well-paid office job, which maybe I wouldn't like, or taking my hobby and interest to the next level and becoming a graphic designer. So I weighed the two against each other. When I was working in class on graphics work with my friends, I just had the best time. And so, going forward with a creative discipline just made so much sense.
Regarding universities, I applied for Cardiff School of Art and Design, UAL Brighton and Bournemouth. These were three places I'd loved since growing up. On the Cardiff open day, I had a gut instinct that this was where I was meant to go. I'm glad I did because I've made friends for life there.
Follow what makes you excited. Don't be pressured to find a style. A style can be anything you want it to be. Don't overthink it. Believe in your work and ideas.
What was your experience like?
My first year at university was excellent. Balancing the work with the social side, I felt I had such a positive experience. Until the global pandemic came around, I remember all of us packing to go home for Easter, saying: "We'll be back in a week…" Little did we know. So our second year was challenging, but I felt that the university made the best out of a bad situation by being very accommodating.
With every circumstance comes an opportunity. I feel like I've grown so much as a graphic designer since my first year, adapting to a global pandemic and still keeping a focus on work and student life. I still wouldn't change my university experience. I've come out with a great portfolio of work, winning a D&AD New Blood Yellow Pencil, being a D&AD Portfolio winner, and getting a first in my degree.
What can you tell us about your final-year project?
1520 is an installation that looks at the golden age of hip-hop in the 1970s and '80s and how the culture has developed in the 21st century. I personally feel that it is important to understand and appreciate one of the biggest musical industries of modern times.
1520 is an experimental piece of design consisting of critical guidelines influencing the narrative around change and identity. It recognises that when something grows, it changes, but not always for the greater good. Its name comes from the birthplace of hip-hop, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, South Bronx, New York, where DJ Kool Herc is credited with kick-starting the scene at a house concert on 11 August 1973.
1520 provides a visual window into hip-hop over the years. It looks to educate the viewer on the state of change that hip-hop brought. It places visuals mixing songs with experience from their specific point in time, identifying the voice and the message being conveyed. Hip-hop and rap gave those communities a voice like never before.
I developed 1520 as a communication tool to give a conceptual insight into the bad avenues I believe hip-hop is taking. It allows existing or new fans of the genre to participate in the conversation. It draws on my experience of studying the industry for a year, providing a visual dialogue to support my ambition of challenging rap to bring the hop back to its hip.
The audience can decide if I am correct in my thinking that the true message of hip-hop is being lost in today's society. And if so, they can utilise it as a platform to drive change across the industry, aiming to revive and save the genre for generations to come. 1520 allows those voices to be heard again.
Can you describe your style?
Everyone asks you that as a designer. I don't want to be that guy, but I believe I'm extremely hybrid. I love to get involved in any type of project, as I find it exciting and, quite frankly, doing the same job or task repeatedly would be highly tedious.
I believe that focusing on one style or process I'm good at would be wasting my other expertise. That's why I see myself going in the creative direction in future. Coming up with ideas for briefs is my passion.
What inspires you?
Music. I get all my inspiration through lyrics, sounds and the accompanying visual communication. It's the most diverse industry full of talented people. Music can change moods and experiences, and adding that to my design process is crucial.
What do you hope to do in your career?
Dream big. I bounce off the creative process and ideas. If the final product looks pretty but doesn't have a key idea behind it, how can it possibly affect and make a change? And this is my main hope: to make a change in my career, not just to make brands or artists look pretty. I want to work with people and brands with positive values to effect change and positivity.
How do you feel about graduating in 2022?
I'm so excited to graduate. Looking back at starting university, I still can't believe how fast it's gone. Closing that door was such a massive part of me growing up.
Leaving home and looking after myself, that first bit of independence was so exciting. Now I feel ready to graduate. Completing university with a first-class Bachelor of Arts with honours in Graphic Communication feels like a dream. I'm excited to see where I will be in a year.
What advice would you give someone following in your footsteps?
Follow what makes you excited. Don't be pressured to find a style. A style can be anything you want it to be. Most importantly, have fun creating; don't overthink. To not overthink is the best advice I was given because I used to overthink everything. Believe in your work and ideas.