Hello and welcome back to 7 @ Eleven. Seven short and snappy answers from people in the Pixel team that will hopefully bring laughter, surprise and intriguing revelations, all while you enjoy your mid-morning cuppa.
This week, we caught up with Creative Director Darren Thomason, a key member of our design team and the man behind some of our wonderful creative content. So, grab a seat, pour yourself a steamy cup of the good stuff, and let's get this show on the road.
It’s an overcast July morning as we catch up with Darren but our conversation will definitely bring the sun. He’s a founding member of Pixel, so we’re looking forward to finding out all the behind the scenes gossip!
Welcome, Darren! Thanks for taking some time out to chat with us. Shall we get started?
Yes, let’s go!
Tell us how your career led you to be Creative Director of Pixel.
Well, it started when I was 17 and I went to art college to study graphic design. That’s where I met Barry Bugg. Although he’s no longer at Pixel, Barry was one of the founding team, alongside myself, Nikk and Frank.
After university, I worked as a senior graphic designer for about 11 years, working on traditional print design and posters. It was during that time that Barry and the other founders met and came up with the idea of creating a digital signage company. They figured they needed someone on the creative side, so Barry introduced me and asked if I wanted to join. It was a difficult decision as I’d put a lot of time into my design role at the company I was at. But I thought to myself - it’s better to do it and potentially regret it, than never do it at all. So, I joined the team and we started Pixel in 2004, and thankfully I’ve never regretted my decision!
What makes Pixel different from other digital signage and creative agencies?
I think it’s a few things. We’re the biggest UK pure play provider for one, with nearly 90 full-time staff on the books. This helps us win and service the larger projects, as well as having all the services in-house, including content production, so we maintain the quality and the flexibility needed by retail clients, but the main thing is that we always go above and beyond to make things happen and take responsibility when things go wrong. I’ve always tried to hire people who have the right personality to keep this ethos in the business - skills can be trained but attitude can’t.
Wow. So you've been at Pixel for a long time - what's kept you here and how has creative content changed in that time?
I’m a director and one of the founders of Pixel, so I’ve never thought about leaving. It’s always been a welcome challenge, and whilst it was difficult at the start, given the financial crisis in 2008 and digital signage being a new thing, we stuck to our guns and we came out the other side of it okay.
Watching the Pixel team grow organically over time has been another thing that’s kept me here. It started out as just us four founders, but as it’s slowly expanded and taken shape, it’s something you don’t want to leave.
The creative has changed in the sense that it’s presented a lot differently and change is a lot more prevalent nowadays. Back in the day, digital signage was mostly just portrait screens and our argument was that it was more like advertising. Micro tiles were just starting to be available back then, where you could put a few small screens together to make different shapes. These are used a lot more as time has gone by. In terms of creative content, the way in which we create it has improved. When Pixel first began, I was the only person on the creative team and I had a limited skill set from print and motion graphics. Since then, we’ve established 3D design, animation, photography and film teams so we can offer a lot more creative content than before.
What do you think makes Pixel content different?
We go above and beyond when it’s necessary for our clients. We’re not sticklers for timekeeping, so if we feel we should spend longer on a client project to make sure we provide them with the best content, we always will. Something that some don’t realise is that we also produce custom content for clients who don’t already use our managed services. We tailor our work to each individual project, which keeps it interesting for us.
We’ve developed good relationships over time. Whilst the design team don’t always have a direct relationship, our client services team always make sure that a client is happy with our work and is getting the best treatment. If a client needs something more from the design, we’re always happy to work on it with them.
What is your proudest Pixel moment?
My honest answer would be when we got our first Pixel office. At first, I worked in my home cellar and Barry would work in his second bedroom while Nikk and Frank used to go out and about to sell our services. The day we finally got to open an office in Manchester was a real turning point. Working from home isn’t something that I find entirely enjoyable, so being able to commute again, having lunch with my colleagues and feeling that close-knit team spirit felt great. As small as it was, I felt very proud of us all.
Taking on our first employee was also a big moment, and of course getting our first company award on the shelf.
Now for the juicy questions…
What's the best advice you've ever received, and who gave it to you?
I think I want to mention the advice I’ve given myself over the years, and am giving to my children now. I truly believe that you make your own luck. You have to go out and meet people and work hard as things won’t just come to you. If you make an effort to do all that, then your luck will always improve. Hopefully if my kids are ever asked that question, this will be their answer!
If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose and why?
I've always been a huge Trekkie (a Star Trek fan for those who don’t know!), so I’d definitely be a character from that franchise. The idea of going to space now does fill me with some dread, but I’ve always had this thing where I’d love to be in Star Trek. I just think it'd be such an exciting, adventurous life, even though it's completely make believe.
Who would be the guests at your dream dinner party, dead or alive?
My five guests would be, scientist Richard Dawkins, author Christopher Hitchens, scientist Brian Cox, comedian Ricky Gervais and football legend (and my personal hero) Eric Cantona. I’d love to just see how the conversation pans out - science, comedy, football, all things I love.
One more guest I’d add would be Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. He seems like a really nice fellow.
Darren, thank you for freeing up some time to chat with us today. We really enjoyed getting to know about your career, how Pixel started and a bit about you on a personal level too. We’d love to see you as a Star Trek character one day!
Thanks to our readers too, we hope you enjoyed the Q & A and join us again for our next 7 @ Eleven soon.