Could you please tell us about yourself and your current role?
Hi, my name is Zoe Green, Co-founder and Executive Creative Director at Co-Partnership. We are a drinks branding and packaging design agency in Sydney that create, build and transform memorable brands for the global drinks industry. I’m responsible for the quality of all the creative output of the agency, ensuring the best thinking, execution and print finishes make it out the door.
Who are the women that have inspired you the most?
My mum; she gave me empathy and wit – two great skills to have in your creative arsenal. Empathy helps me tap into what consumers want and build an emotional connection with them through design. Wit helps me connect with people from all walks of life. Plus, it gets me through the day with joy.
Vivienne Westwood; authentic to the last drop. I love alternative culture and she ran that show in the ’70s, defining the image of punk. She made the past relevant for the modern day because she understood the power of tension in design. Fashion is packaging design!
Mary Lewis of Lewis Moberly; many of the significant branding and packaging design studios came from her juniors, mine included. As my biggest mentor, she taught me how to design with meaning to ensure decisions are on brand – I didn’t even know what ‘on brand’ meant! I was just a wild, artistic ball of energy, but she showed me how to direct my talent to be commercially relevant. I use many of her lessons today; “First win the eye, then the heart, then the mind’ and, when working with an idea, ask yourself ‘How little do you need?’ ”
Barbara Harkness; my business partner’s mum. She was a prominent Australian wine label designer for over 20 years. Amongst many successful brands, she named and created the Yellow Tail wine brand for Casella. Like it or loathe it, it’s a piece of genius branding (over a billion bottles sold in the USA). Her name, contacts and mentoring helped Max and I establish the business we run today. Forever grateful and inspired.
What gets you out of bed in the mornings?
When I was younger, it was the pure energy of creating something new that ‘got me out of bed’ – Nowadays, I love the complexity and depth of the task. Drinks branding is a very competitive space to specialise in. Communicating a specific liquid proposition to a target audience is strategically and technically complex; the design is only one aspect of a very diverse set of targets to meet on the creative journey. Doing this alone is no longer fulfilling for me, so working amongst a high-performing team who all debate and inspire brings me joy every day. From the client to the team, we like to say the strongest brands are built in partnership.
Can you share a highlight in your career?
I’ve had many highlights over the years. Living and working as a graphic designer in Holland, working with Harry Pearce at Pentagram London. Winning awards and going up to collect them with the whole Co‑P team was an amazing moment. Giving my business card to 50 Cent!
However, I’m most proud of building a branding and packaging agency that is progressive in how it works within the design industry, one that puts people and culture at the heart of everything it does.
How do you inspire your team?
Creative leadership is now the most important part of my job. It’s a skillset that I’ve learned from trial and error and from experts in the field. As a founder, I know I set the tone for the agency, so it’s important to me to always bring positive energy, even when I’m under pressure.
As a leader, I don’t want to just tell my team what to do. I want to give them the tools and ask them the questions to unpack and tackle problems themselves so they can grow in their role. When creatives lose their way, I return to the strategic tools we define with the client to bring the conversation back to a higher level, recentering them around the bigger picture of the brief. I also trust the process of debate and discussion — the answer will present itself in collective thinking.
What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in the creative industry?
Oh, to turn back time! It’s the trials and tribulations that make you grow the most. I don’t think there’s such a thing as doing life perfectly, but here’s some advice…
- Know where you want to work and tailor your portfolio/application accordingly.
- Less is more when it comes to your portfolio. Show strong ideas, strong execution, and demonstrate the journey. Done.
- When it comes to the interview, research the company, ask questions, and bring the positive energy that they would want to hire.
- Learn the art of separating yourself from the brand you’re trying to create. This is the most common mistake I see.
- Foster a connection with yourself. When you’re young, it’s hard to trust your intuition since you don’t have much life experience, but being able to tune in to your inner voice is vital to making good decisions – in design and in life. The answers are there, and you’re capable of so much more than you think.
- Therapy. It’s the greatest investment you’ll ever make, so you might as well reap the rewards early in life instead of waiting until you’re 65. (But if you’re already 65, that’s still a great time to start!)
- Make your own luck. Nothing falls into your lap in life or in your career. It’s hard work, but don’t forget that enthusiasm goes a long way – heck, I invented a portfolio to land myself a job at a top London design studio, do what you’ve got to do!
What change in the design industry would you like to see?
Firstly, better training in design schools – they teach communication design, but I don’t see enough young designers leaving their degrees understanding how to put meaning in their work, how to find relevant ideas, not just ideas for ideas sake, being taught strategy early on, the theory behind the design.
And secondly, better awards criteria for judging design — the commercial realities of branding and packaging design are often overlooked by design awards – The technical constraints around working to a high-speed bottling line direct much of what we do, but the end result is never judged on the complexity of the technicality it had to work with. Small-quantity boutique work gets a lot of attention, but the skill it takes to create a piece of branding and package at mass global volume is an enormous skill. Commercial design isn’t a dirty word! It should get far more applause for the problems it had to solve.