Interview with Tom Muller

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I knew from very young age I wanted to do *something* creative. Both my parents were interior designers (and the wider family was also full of architects and painters), so creativity was prevalent in everything I did. Growing up I always had this idea of becoming a comic book artist and through high school and my early college years I’d steer my work as much as I could in that direction (not always to the liking of my tutors), but it was only in my final year at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts in Antwerp (where I’m originally from) that things suddenly clicked into place and I really wanted to pursue a career as a designer.

How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

I got my start shortly after I graduated, almost by accident. Back then I would exhibit my work at the local comic book art gallery and someone had seen my work and put me in touch with a local B2B Comms agency who almost hired me on the spot as a digital designer, and that was what I’d say my first start. The biggest hurdle back then was that I had to learn everything.

Back then digital design wasn’t really on the curriculum in art college, so that was definitely a steep learning curve. My second start, and the one that I consider the one that set up the career that I have now, was when I moved to London in 2000, and was thrust head first into the UK design scene. For me it was a sink or swim moment, and it really lit a fire in my belly to really push myself creatively and build my own path — and I’ve never stopped since.

What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

I’ve never been shy about showing and sharing my work with the world. I’ve always used the internet, and now especially social media platforms to constantly share what I do with as many people I can. I think that’s one way of raising awareness at least. The other is that I always aim at keeping connections and networks alive. Over the years many clients will move around to different companies and keep me in mind, or recommend me to their network. Work hard, do good work, be nice to people and share as much as you can.

How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

This kind of ties back to my previous answer. Most of the work I do are somewhat self-contained; but the best way to keep clients coming back to you is basically what I said earlier. When you can help your clients achieve their goals by delivering great work and design that will stick, and they might either come back to you for more, recommend you to someone in their network. And it pays to be nice. 

Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

Luckily it happens very, very rarely *knocks on wood. If it happens its usually not because of ill-will or negligence. But the best way to manage those things is to make sure I have a financial buffer (and that’s actually common sense advice that everyone will tell you) to cover anything unexpected. Of course practically it means that you do need to keep politely pressing the client to honour their contractual commitments. 

What does your typical work day look like?

The last few years I’ve been working for clients primarily based in the USA, so that means that my daily schedule is usually quite calm in the mornings. Most days I start doing admin between 9-10AM (this includes making the daily pot of coffee) and by 10-11AM I’m fully in work mode, working across the work I have running — which generally is 4-5 projects — anything from comic book design, to game logos and brand identities for companies.

Depending on the day things can get really busy between 4-7pm when the day starts in the USA and I’ll jump on client calls or chats. If there aren’t any meetings planned I will probably be in the gym in the early evenings. If I feel like it I might do some more design work after dinner, but that happens rarely and isn’t really part of the daily client routine.

Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

I’m reminded of a quote from the The English where the character Eli Whipp (played by Chaske Spencer) advises Emily Blunt’s character Cornelia Locke that “Steady is quick” — and I think that’s a great distillation of how I’ve been aiming to work as a creative and a designer. Trying to rush through things will never get you to your goals and aspirations.

I’ve always looked at the long term plan and worked my way steadily down the creative path I want to be on, and so far I’ve been able to do a lot of the things I dreamt of doing when I started out as a designer.

Connect with
Tom Muller

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Tom Muller is a Belgian award-winning designer and creative director based in London where he runs his studio helloMuller and works with storytellers, publishers, startups, game developers, content creators and production studios to create impactful brand identities that tell stories and inspires a global audience. With an approach rooted in Modernist principles infused with a contemporary pop culture sensibility, he delivers future-forward work with a unique visual language that creates lasting impressions: Designing Fiction & Branding Stories.
Interview published on: Feb 28, 2024

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