Getting to know

Jacob Thornton

Senior Project Manager

Jacob worked at Spiral as a Designer & Project Manager from 2014 to 2017. He enjoyed it so much he came back in 2022 and is now our Senior Project Manager. Born and raised in Halifax, he studied at Blackpool & The Fylde College (Lancaster University). With two young children keeping him on his toes on the weekends, life is never quiet.

How did you get started in the creative sector?

I did illustration at university and moved into the digital side of things when I saw those iMacs with the coloured backs. The college had just moved from Quark to Illustrator. Taming the Bézier curve was my goal! When I left I went freelance for a while. I was creating veterinary diagrams amongst other things, including bits of brand design and materials work. Then I got my first full-time job at a local print and design firm. They still had a Heidelberg press and a Risograph printer. I still love the saturated poster-colour look that Riso's create. Each individual print is unique in some way. That’s where my love of design and typography really began and why I still enjoy this line of work.
Jacob is an agile member of the Spiral team ready to jump between management marketing and creative roles.

What does your typical working day look like?

My day is pretty varied, which I like. Whether I’m in the office or at home, I’ll get my laptop switched on and check my emails, before grabbing a coffee and catching up with the team. What I’m working on really depends on where the work is that week. If we’ve a lot of client projects on the go, I’ll be balancing my time between project management, comms and studio/design management tasks. Being in that midpoint between customer success and production is my happy place. I get to work with lots of different people across creative and management areas. Some weeks the focus may be on something else – like marketing or recruitment or improving our processes. And I do love a good spreadsheet, of course.

What do you need to work in the creative industry?

You’ve got to be capable of coming up with novel ideas or new ways to approach something as part of your everyday mindset. We’re very much specialists in what we do here. This means we know the best ways to do certain things – but if you’re going to do something the same way every time, you’re going to get the same thing every time. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to be learnt and carried forward from previous jobs, because there are. But creatively, it’s all about being able to take a fresh perspective on every new project. That’s how you can push the envelope. That’s how you can be original.

How do you approach project management?

When it comes to project management, get ahead and stay ahead. You’ve got to be the one to keep things moving along – it’s your project after all. There’s always something you can do to progress things and in doing so, you’ll reap the rewards further down the line. Taking the time to understand the patterns and behaviours of your clients is a great way to manage your workload too. For example, some people may work a four-day week or a nine-day fortnight. Timing your comms and deliverables around this is helpful for everyone. Don’t squeeze pre-production either. Efficient planning and increased collaboration at the start of your project will pay dividends. Who knows? You may even get sign-off at version one.
Jacob has worked in the creative sector for over 20 years.
Jacob enjoys a holiday with his family.

Do you use any project management tools and which do you use?

There’s so many project management tools out there, so selecting one that works with your processes and systems is absolutely essential. Not all of them will be suitable and selecting the wrong one will eat into any benefit the software is supposed to provide. You could end up developing complex work-arounds or even get in the way of talented people trying to do their best work, which is not good for anyone. It’s best to stand back and think about what your perfect process looks like before signing up or installing that plugin. If you get it right, automations will reduce onerous tasks, touchpoints and project risks. My favourite tools are Trello for its simplicity and adaptability – and Google Sheets because of the unique and complex customisations I can build. But, of course, every individual and every agency will have different needs.

How is project management changing?

We’ve seen generative AI come through very quickly and with a lot of hype. These tools are really impressive, obviously – but I think there’ll be a kind of quieter revolution too. You’ll see more AI-driven enhancements to project management software, which could in turn power more seamless integrations. We’ll get to a point very soon where the systems we use are not defined by the capabilities of the software, but by the limits of what we can imagine and construct for ourselves. Once you’ve designed the framework, AI will fill in the gaps and join the dots for you – and then predict what you want to do when you’re using it. For people working in the creative sector, I think this will mean a broadening out of roles. Intuitive software will mean designers are more able to self-manage whilst project managers will be more creatively involved. I think we’re already seeing this – particularly in marketing where a new generation of executives are managing channels, comms and creating content.

How do Spiral’s values steer you and the team?

We’ve got a really inspiring vision here at Spiral – to be a place where courage and creativity combine. For me, courage incorporates originality of thought and ideas – not simply going with the flow. Encouraging this in everything we do is part of our culture. Courage is also about having confidence in your professional expertise, which plays a big part in my role as a project manager. Our mission is to make communications smarter. This means we put the audience or user at the heart of everything we create. That’s the lens we look through whenever we’re working on a project – and that’s why we’ve been going for over 30 years.

What's your favourite thing to do to unwind after a long day?

Like Rob, I love my whisky – especially the peaty or smokey kind. A lot of this comes from the island of Islay on the west coast of Scotland; there’s a cultural festival on Islay called Fèis Ìle, which is definitely on my bucket list. Perhaps I can ask Rob to organise a team building field trip for us all? I love gardening and DIY too – there’s always something to do. When my self-esteem is in need of a good kicking, I go for a few frames of snooker. Other than that, give me a good sci-fi/fantasy book, series or a film and I’m happy!
Jacob loves walking whatever the weather.
Jacob watches the Snooker World Championships at the Crucible in Sheffield.

You’ve worked in video production. Any favourite films?

I’m still a bit geeky about Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy all these years later. I actually really liked Amazon’s Rings Of Power series, despite the criticism it received – most of it anyway. It felt like Middle Earth to me: the Elves were pretentious; the Dwarves were moody; the scenery was incredible. But why oh why did they make all the Harfoots Irish? A mistake, to be sure. More recently, I watched the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All At Once. What an incredible film! The idea that countless tiny decisions steer us invisibly down life’s road – and that there could be an infinite number of alternative realities where slightly different decisions were taken – blew me away. It was an absolute whirlwind of originality and kung fu silliness – I loved it.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share?

Well, everyone’s got an opinion on something – so I take most advice with a pinch of salt. “Check twice; print once” is an old favourite of mine and one I still try to use every day. You can substitute the ‘print’ part for just about anything. Demolishing that supporting wall has never been safer. My dad has offered a few choice words over the years – with a delightfully mixed success rate. His withering “Best thing for your generation, Jacob? Don’t live too long.” still makes me laugh – but I prefer to go with his “do what makes you happy” motto.