Simone Rossum is the creative director at Shift Joe Public, the in-house (to the Joe Public family) specialised design agency that has racked up record numbers of gold birds over the years for their innovative design solutions for clients. While Simone’s current role has her mostly overseeing design projects in the studio, she still very much eats, sleeps, breathes design, and over the course of her career has got her hands very dirty doing what she loves most. We asked Simone to share some of her thoughts, insights and uncertainties gleaned from her years’ experience for Graphic Design Month, as well as some of the work that she’s personally had a hand in creating at Shift over the years.
Do you remember the first time that you noticed ‘design’, and when did you decide that you wanted to follow a career in graphic design?
There was no defining moment I can remember. I always loved creating things as a kid – from writing and illustrating my own little storybooks to scavenging in my dad’s toolbox and creating ‘art pieces’ out of wire and old screws. I guess I was just lucky to have landed up in a career I also happen to love doing.
What have been some of your key learnings that have helped you hone your craft along the way?
Design is not just about making pretty. It has a much more significant role to play. You have to design with intent. Truly great design is based on a sound insight – it’s problem solving. It’s a designed solution. It serves a purpose; it’s not just for the sake of prettifying.
And it is only ever really great when it is distilled into an essence. When designing, you have to force yourself to keep being reductive. Keep taking away anything and everything that doesn’t add to it or make the piece stronger – the superfluous. Until you are left with the very essence of what makes the design work.
Would you say that you have a distinct design style? What has influenced this, or if not, why do you keep things fluid?
That’s often a question I have grappled with – is it a strength for a designer to a have a unique, distinctive style or should a designer be capable of offering any design style deemed necessary based on a client’s or brand’s needs?
I would say that my design style varies slightly from project to project, tailored to the brief and client or brand in question. In my line of work, the design style needs to become synonymous with the brand – not the designer. That said, I guess I am doomed in the sense that I am half Austrian so my desire to make it neat and precise definitely comes through in an almost ‘anal-retentive’ attention to detail.
In your opinion, what makes ‘good’ design good?
Good design is design that is so simple it almost gets overlooked. It’s obvious and innate. It just makes sense – like a beautifully simple solution to a complicated problem.
What’s your take on the ‘hipster design’ trend? Does using a graphic symbol make something ‘design’?
There are elements of it I actually quite enjoy – a light-heartedness, a quirk, not taking yourself too seriously or overthinking it. I guess with anything there will be trends, which come and go. But especially when you are designing for brand, your design needs to have longevity. You need to be differentiated and unique. You have to stop yourself from falling into the trap of looking like everyone else.
Stylistically, what are you keen to experiment with and what’s an absolute no-go?
Some styles will obviously be more challenging as they push me out of my comfort zone, but there’s nothing I would be willing to try if it feels like the right solution to a brief.
What do you love about the local graphic design scene, and what would you change if you had the chance?
I would love for designers and artists alike to be paid more. It sickens me that artists are probably some of the most undervalued and underpaid professionals – be it locally or the world over.
Similarly, if you could change anything about the way that design is taught, what would it be?
Design is concept first and foremost. I see a lot of young designers who have beautifully crafted work without any conceptual relevance.
Do you see any differences in the work produced by design agencies versus independent designers?
There is some great conceptual work being produced by ‘independent’ agencies. I by no means think the calibre of work is determined by ‘independent’ vs. design agencies. If anything, I would say that design agencies that form part of a bigger agency network often offer a broader, more holistic design and branding solution than independent agencies – from brand strategy to brand management and brand design and implementation into various touch points, so that every iteration of the brand is ultimately served.
Working with clients is almost always tricky where creativity is involved. How do you negotiate this dynamic at Shift?
It is tricky and yes you will deal with situations where your vision and the client’s vision is not directly aligned. We have been very fortunate in having great clients to work with that truly buy into our philosophy and the ultimate creative solution. Again, if your thinking is strategically sound it’s very difficult to question it. We don’t believe that design should be dictatorial. It should be a collaborative process between the creative and the clients. It’s all about taking our clients along on the journey and involving them in the processes and key decision points along the way to reach the outcome which best serves the brand.
What’s the design culture at Shift and how do you nurture it amongst the team?
We are a very small team and we get along really well because we all have similar values (like our shared love for tender stem broccoli, a good glass of merlot and obsessively partaking in the latest fitness trends). We are very driven and passionate people. We live and breathe design. We set the bar high and we strive to always be critical and deliver on excellence. Being that tough can be challenging. I think our passion for our work keeps us motivated. Every now and again we try and nurture our creativity through inspiration sessions where we take the team out of the office for a day to just immerse ourselves in something new – like doing a sushi making class or visiting a thrift shop in the middle of town. Shift Joe Public is one of the few agencies that is truly invested in growing our designers. We challenge them to step out of their comfort zones and encourage them to fail. Ultimately that’s how you learn.
Whose graphic design work do you admire, locally and internationally?
Stephan Sagmeister. And yes, I am probably biased because he is Austrian. And incredibly funny.
And finally, could you tell us what you’re currently working on or working towards?
To do work that makes me feel proud with people that make me feel inspired.
Shift studio credits:
Maciek Michalski, Sophia Strydom, Jone Janse van Vuuren, Wanda Priem, Amori Brits, Christo Kruger.