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Tom Williams

If you know you want to be a graphic designer, what’s the point of studying textiles and ceramics?
That’s one of the questions Tom Williams grappled with as he began the Foundation Degree in Creative Arts and Design Practice at Banbury and Bicester College, part of Activate Learning. 
Strangely enough, it was the multi-disciplinary nature of the course which had attracted him in the first place. The 24-year-old, who is now working as designer with York-based agency United by Design, explains: “After finishing school I went to Leeds College of Art to study photography for three years. In the first year I realised that unless I wanted to work as a photographer for the rest of my life, it wasn’t the course for me. I wanted something that was broader, which would enable me to develop my creative skills and experiment.”
An online search turned up the foundation degree at Banbury and Bicester College, which is accredited by Oxford Brookes University. With family in the area, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up and Tom signed up to the two-year course in 2012, eventually topping up with a BA Hons in the third and final year.
He said: “While I had been attracted by the broad nature of the course, the reality of studying different media was a shock at first. I pushed back as I just couldn’t see the value. It took me a while to get my head round it – you could say I learnt my lesson the hard way. Looking back I can definitely see the value in everything I did. My advice to others would be not to sack things off; embrace every opportunity because it culminates in an awesome experience.”
One of the turning points was a book making project, which was the first time Tom had created a three-dimensional product. He said: “It taught me the mechanics of creating a publication and that the form can be as important as the content, if not more so. I am still drawing on this as I work on projects with publishers today.”
Aside from building new technical skills, Tom credits his time at college with developing two key traits that have stuck with him.
“Throughout the course I was encouraged to take risks”, he reflects. “I drew on that when it came to my career. At first I joined a printing company, working as an in-house graphic designer. After a while I missed the freedom and creative environment I had been used to. I decided to leave the job to take up an unpaid placement at an agency I respected and which was full of like-minded people. The risk paid off and I am now employed full-time as a junior designer. I don’t think I would have taken that kind of risk before, but it felt like the natural thing to do.
“The other thing which the course developed was my ability to think creatively. Technical skills are one thing, but to be in an environment that gets you to think differently, question everything and which prompts you to find new, creative responses to challenges, is incredible.”
Find out more on Tom's website
Tom Williams NEWS
Activate Learning rated ‘Silver’ for higher education teaching excellence