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5 Minutes with… Simone Rossum



The executive creative director at Joe Public Shift in South Africa on why having a meaningful impact on society drives her to push her creative boundaries

5 Minutes with… Simone Rossum

In Simone Rossum’s opinion, design should be seen as a vehicle to tell a brand’s story and her work developing some of South Africa’s top brands manifests that belief. She recently worked on a design rebrand for Johannesburg Pride by turning their brand logo into the first all-African rainbow flag for the city’s first ever Pride march – a lot of firsts and a lot of positive changes for society. Alongside her career she sits on the Brand Council South Africa and credits the importance that design can play in society as the driving force behind her career and passions.


She speaks to LBB’s Natasha Patel about what the Johannesburg Pride project meant to her and the importance of design in the industry.




LBB> You’ve been with Joe Public since 2006 and, after a brief stint elsewhere, worked your way up to executive creative director over the past 10 years. Tell us about the journey.


Simone> I would say my career really started when I joined Joe Public in 2006 as a junior designer, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I remembered feeling for the first time that I was at an agency where there was a fertile breeding ground for possibilities.


Over the next four years, I was involved in developing brands such as Clover,, NineWest, eBucks, Italtile, Spier Wines, DialDirect and collateral for Rock4Aids, which obtained several local awards. I worked really hard to grow and hone in my craft, and slowly worked my way up the ladder to being a senior designer. After four years at Joe Public Shift, I was appointed by BlackRiver FC as head designer and helped develop identity programmes for FirstForWomen Insurance, Virgin Mobile, Nando’s and MINI Cooper.


However, in December of the following year, it was time for me to return home to Joe Public Shift – this time as a creative director. Along with my team, our little specialist agency was recognised with numerous local and international awards over the next couple of years. A high point of my career was seeing the agency catapulted into the top three overall agencies, and the top brand communication agency in South Africa in the official Loerie Awards rankings in 2014. In 2015, I became a partner at Shift Joe Public and was promoted to executive creative director, which is where I am still serving today. 



LBB> What an incredible journey, did you always know creativity was something you wanted to do?


Simone> I suppose in a way the writing was on the wall. From a young age I could be found creating fairy castles in the garden with my sister, rummaging through my dad’s tool shed to create “something, anything” from wire and nuts and bolts, or, to my poor parents’ dismay, building elaborate structures with our VCR tapes (yes, I am that old).



LBB> For you, why is design so important to a brand?


Simone> In the words of Paul Rand: “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand”. It’s the lens through which to tell your brand’s story – to bring what lies at the heart of your brand to life.



LBB> Have you had a favourite project throughout your career?


Simone> That’s not fair! It’s like choosing between your children. I would have to say a recent rebrand we did for Pride of Africa.


In 34 out of 54 African countries, many LGBTQ+ activities remain illegal – in some, even punishable by death. Africa’s first LGBTQ+ rights march was held in South Africa in 1990, but after 30 years, Johannesburg Pride remains one of the only legal Pride marches on a continent desperate for representation. Johannesburg Pride wanted to expand its purpose beyond our borders and take up the fight for all LGBTQ+ Africans – thereby becoming the first local Pride march to represent an entire continent.


To do so, we needed to rebrand the single-city Johannesburg Pride and transform it into the first-ever pan-African LGBTQ+ platform: Pride of Africa. We wanted to create an identity that would represent all of Africa, so we turned the brand logo into the first all-African rainbow flag – inspired by all 54 African flags. It was an incredible feeling to see LGBTQ+ Africans from all over the continent embracing the flag as a symbol of liberation, of celebration and of change and marching together, united under one African Pride flag, at the first Pride of Africa march, held in Johannesburg in October last year.


LBB> Is there something you wish you’d been able to work on?


Simone> The Palau Pledge by HostHavas, in partnership with the Palau Legacy Project [PLP]. Palau is the world’s 13th smallest nation, with a tourist to population ratio of one to eight, putting great strain on the island’s infrastructure and famously pristine environment. The agency was tasked with developing a campaign to help change the behaviour of 160,000 annual tourists to the island nation.


They created the Palau pledge, placing focus on elements of the country that the children of the island would like to protect. The pledge was stamped into tourists’ passports for them to sign as they passed through customs, ensuring that no tourist could enter Palau without taking a pledge to follow responsible and sustainable tourism practices. To me, this is such an incredible case study of how one can help change human behaviour through creative thinking.



LBB> Tell us about your role with the Brand Council South Africa.


Simone> It’s been an incredible experience being part of a body whose members are all deeply passionate about design and the role creativity can play in inspiring and implementing change in South Africa.


The Brand council represents designers across the country. Our role is not only to promote the value and relevance of design as a discipline in today’s society and world, but also to provide a platform for designers to connect and to be inspired. To empower each other and together, lead creative design thinking.



LBB> How did the opportunity come about?


The Brand Council underwent a rebrand in 2019, and with it came a renewed focus on promoting design and design thinking, and attracting leading members of the brand design and marketing fraternity to its board, who share in the belief that design has a very important role to play in society today.



LBB> We talked about your favourite projects, but what has been a career highlight?


Simone> Becoming a partner at Shift Joe Public and executive creative director at Shift Joe Public.



LBB> Is industry recognition a measure of success for you?


Simone> Of course it is always nice to receive acknowledgement from your industry peers, but it is not what drives me. What makes me tick is using design as a vehicle to have a meaningful impact on society in some way or form. That for me is the reward. Using design to do something that truly matters.


It’s the feeling you get when you see what you were able to achieve – like uniting all LGBTQ+ Africans under a flag that offers them protection, while their own flags cannot. A flag that upholds their rights until their own countries’ flags can.



LBB> What stands out to you when hiring creatives?


Simone> Conceptual ability. Design and craft is something that you can, technically, teach. But conceptual thinking – that is a latent talent. You either have it or you don’t. I would rather hire a creative with a portfolio of poorly executed great ideas than one with a portfolio of skilfully crafted projects that lack any depth of insight.



LBB> Do you have any advice for your younger self?


Simone> Yes. Start using under-eye cream in your twenties.



LBB> Away from Simone the ECD, what do you do when you’re at home?


Simone> I love exercising and keeping fit. I can often be found on a yoga mat or a spinning bike listening to podcasts. I really enjoy cooking and baking as well. It relaxes me. I am an extremely fussy vegetarian, I love experimenting with healthy vegan dishes with exotic ingredients like seitan and, if I am not at the gym or in the kitchen, I am usually vegging out on the couch with a good mini-series or a book.
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Joe Public, Thu, 16 Jul 2020 14:10:06 GMT