Creative Pioneers: Zia Zareem-Slade on collaboration and the creative process

By Creative Review

CR’s first online training programme, Mastering Creativity, will help unlock your creative potential, whether you are a professional creative, designer or commissioner of creative work. Additional expert insight for the course is provided by our five Creative Pioneers – Sir John Hegarty, Caroline Pay, Jim Sutherland, Zia Zareem-Slade and Michael Johnson. Video interviews with each of them are available as part of the course material but in this series of articles we are giving you a taste of that content.

Here, we interview Zia Zareem-Slade, Customer Experience Director at Fortnum & Mason, about how she works with her creative partners.

CR: Is there a specific creative process that you use here to get the kind of work you want?

There is no single process that we use here because the remit I cover is quite varied. So, one minute it is designing restaurant menus, or the interiors of a restaurant and the next minute it might be packaging or a comms brief. So, there is no one size fits all – each approach is kind of different. We are always trying to come from the same position around what are we trying to solve? What do our customers want? What is useful to them? And, then applying brand fun, wit, charm and all of the things that Fortnum and Mason bring to the table, into that process. So, each one is pretty different in terms of our approach.

Lynn Chadwick sculptures on the outside of the buildiing, part of the Fortnum’s X Frank show

CR: So, to talk about collaboration, is that a very big part of your work? Do you find that is a good way of getting good creative work out?

I don’t know if it is just my own personal style or the approach that works for a brand like ours, but I think collaboration is absolutely key to getting richer, smarter, more powerful ideas. I personally love working with creative people and therefore collaboration is part of the joy in getting to do what we do. And, no single person, I believe, is going to come up with the idea in and of themselves. I think some of the most powerful work we have done is through collaboration with different skills, different backgrounds, different points of view

CR: What form does that collaboration take?

It comes in various forms depending on the project or the partners that we are working with. We have good working relationships with some of our agencies where it is just discussion and we get round the table and kind of thrash things out. In other situations it can be much more of a ‘we have constructed a series of questions back to you’ and we get that and have to give more of a formal response. At which point, I typically say, ‘Can we not do that and can we not just get together?’ I think a lot of the challenge, which is good, it comes from wanting to understand things. An, so much in my world or the creative process is that which is not said and things that are implicit in certain ways. So, I think that it is kind of useful to have those dialogues.

Design Bridge’s packaging for Fortnum & Mason’s core biscuit range

CR: Are there any tools or techniques that you use to come up with ideas is it more of a face-to-face, relationship approach?

It is more face-to-face and relationship-driven and then just going back to ‘What are we trying to achieve?’. And there are plenty of creative projects that we have undertaken where half-way through we just don’t feel it is getting there. That can be really frustrating to feed back to people because they are like ‘What do you mean, you don’t feel it?’. Well, you kind of want to hit on those eureka moments where you know you have just nailed it and you’ve got it. And, to get to that point, sometimes with projects, we have to stop and start again or actually say to a design team ‘You know what, we are following a process but we have almost processed the creative out of it’.

At that point we will stop and we will probably get in a room and throw the work on the table and thrash it around and rip it up and throw it back together again – to see where that takes you. Or, what we have also done on some projects is to get a different creative team and give them the best part of four hours or a day and say ‘Well, here are three things that you have got to achieve, here are five principles by which you achieve them, go away and see what you come back with’. To just disrupt the whole process a little bit. And, I think some of our really powerful work has come from projects that kind of got a bit stagnant almost and then we kind of tore them up and started again, not with a rebrief but just changing the dynamics a little.

Fortnum & Mason Christmas brochure
Fortnum & Mason Christmas brochure, 2016

CR: How do you use data and research in your work?

My background [she previously created multi-channel and digital experiences for brands including Selfridges and John Lewis] means that I come with a little bit of a geeky edge. So, I am a big fan of data and insight. What I am not a big fan of is the language and the kind of hyperbole that is put round it. ‘Big data’, ‘little data’; it is all just – it’s facts. And, it is understanding of how people behave and how they respond to things.

So, yes, I inherently work with the insight that is around me. And, I think in my agency life the use of data I definitely saw become more frequent within creative briefs and I think that is a really useful thing because actually creative briefs are usually there to try and solve some kind of problem or to elicit a response in some way. And, if we are not using the facts around us to help drive the best response, then I feel like we are flying blind a little.

So, yes, I will use those things but I won’t get overly anxious if I haven’t got a series of boxes ticked with a set of numbers. I think it is interesting to see how people respond to data in different ways. But I actually find that some of the best designers that we work with love consuming those facts and understanding how people really are responding to their work.

In terms of research, we use different techniques: not very formally but we have an ambassador programme. So, when we were building the website out – which is a creative process in and of itself – we did it in eight months – we actually revealed it to customers before it ever went out kind of formally and we got their feedback. And, we can see through eye-tracking techniques what they actually look at versus what they say they are looking at and how they are responding.

Even in a project that feels like it’s not particularly creative – actually, designing and building website experiences are as creative as comms – you use those tools and techniques. There are different horses for different courses really.

Zia Zareem-Slade will share more insights on Creative Review’s online training programme, Mastering Creativity.


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