Creativity Squared in association withPeople on LBB
Creativity Squared: Anastasia Simone on the Joy of Messy and Meaningful Art
Advertising Agency
Sydney, Australia
The Host/Havas art director speaks to LBB’s Delmar Terblanche about finding inspiration around every corner

Anastasia Simone is a Senior Art Director at Host/Havas Australia. Hong Kong-grown, she’s spent six years winning regional recognition for clients across APAC, including Cathay, WWF, Pernod Ricard, UberEATS, and more. Propelled by her strong background in digital activations (and lowkey obsession with Minecraft), Anastasia served on the D&AD Gaming jury in 2022, proudly representing Black female nerds and the glorious diversity of gamers. She was also selected along with five creative women, from across the world, to take part in Cannes See It Be It, a unique development experience to close the gender gap among creative industry leaders.

Person: What kind of creative person are you?

For me, creativity is an impulse. My imagination’s in overdrive anyway, fuelled by fantasy books and a mom who turned all my ideas into projects. I love to read, write, draw, paint, take photos, act, sing, and play piano, and so I do all of those, whenever I can. I like making up games and thinking of ideas (and maybe I have a little trouble getting my head out of the clouds).

I’ve always used creativity to wade through my feelings. When I’m stressed, I’ll bang on the piano. Or I make up little songs throughout the day. Sometimes a little art therapy will turn into a big project, and I find myself elbow-deep in something I’ve never done before. For the past year I’ve been writing and illustrating African folk tales — an impulse I couldn’t shake, which accidentally turned into a massive research project.

But I try not to turn everything into a hustle.

When I started out in creative, I began setting really high expectations for everything I made. It sucked the joy out of creation, and I burnt myself out really quickly. I learned that it’s critical to be open to bad ideas, and to give yourself plenty of room to fail. I use my personal passions as an excuse to play around and take creative risks. Sometimes they’re beautiful. Sometimes...let’s just say not everything has to go on the fridge ;)

Product: How do you judge the creativity of a piece of work?

What excites me about the industry today is that the “big idea” is no longer king. Don’t get me wrong — a big idea is still important glue for a campaign. But for a long time, starting with the phrasing of a thought boxed us into clever twists, or digging for new ways to say old things. When there’s one way to approach creativity, it’s easy to get stuck in a box. 

Today, I can tell a story through an insightful key execution. Sometimes the insight alone is compelling enough to provoke action. If you think of some of the freshest ideas this year, ‘The Lost Class’, ‘Data Tienda’, ‘Dyslexic Thinking’, they’re centered around a beautiful execution that brings the insight to life in a way that adds meaning and value. It goes beyond changing perception.

Advertising has a huge influence on culture, and we have the opportunity to shape our future through brands. So above all, I look for that big dream in an idea, that potential for lasting change.

Once that ambition is there, the rest is getting the details right:

  • Is it fresh?
  • Is the insight compelling?
  • Is the execution packaged in an easy-to-communicate way?
  • Is it meaningful?

Process: Tell us about how you like to make creative work

I start fresh, as in a blank piece of paper. But it’s not really “fresh” because we’re consuming creative stuff all the time. So I have a backlog of references, old ideas, margin-doodled inspiration from the brief, half-thoughts, failures I’d like to try again, etc. I keep browser bookmarks and mobile saves, pins, IG collections, and my download folder is flooded with things I’ve found interesting.

I add to it, ideally, 2-3 days of solid research. From academic journals to blog posts to Reddit threads. Everything anyone’s thought on the subject, or related subjects, or second-cousins of that subject.

Then I pray to the old gods and the new for divine inspiration.

The most important part of my process is sleep. Studies show that sleep not only enhances creative performance, but also your ability to judge which are your most creative ideas. It facilitates insightful behaviour and flexible reasoning. In a 1993 study, research students asked themselves a question right before bed. Every day for a week, they wrote out that same question, and recorded their dreams. Over half dreamt about the question, and 25% found a solution in their dreams. So I flood my bank with insights, quotes, references, and problems-to-solve, and trust my REM cycle to organise all of that into inspiration.

You can tell I’m deep in a brainstorm cycle when my walls are covered with sticky notes and big, scribbled quotes from the internet.

Press: What external factors have shaped you and what can make or break a creative project?

I grew up in the suburbs of Southern Cali. When I was 13, we moved (very suddenly and unexpectedly) to Hong Kong. It was a shock. It was a spark. I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure, to do that “dangerous business of going out [my] door”. But I didn’t expect to fall in love with being out of place.

I think curious people are creative people. So I’m shaped by a lot of burning questions; the what-if’s, and how’s. My parents encouraged me to seek creative answers. But it’s not always serious work. I also love to play, to theorise, and to explore. I like questions with no answers, and answers with no questions.

Last, but not least, craft is vital. It’s not as interesting to talk about putting thousands of hours into building layout grids for hundred-page workbooks and decks, painstakingly kerning lines, learning to retouch in a dark room before learning photoshop — but I did all of that, too. My previous boss, Natalie Lam would say, “No one rejects good design”, and she’s absolutely right. A strong foundation is built on getting the details right, and so I believe in grounding all of my “head in the clouds” ideas with good design.

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