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Scott Ham, Anna Kyriacou and Ty Cochrane discuss the origins of The Zero Art – and the advice they’d give young designers looking to start a new business.
Hi guys, thanks for making time. To kick things off, talk us through your path into the world of design and licensing?
Design has been a strong part of our identities from a young age; from drawing our favourite cartoon characters and superheroes, to working with some of our favourite brands and properties – but our path into licensing came at different times.
Scott and Anna embarked into the world of licensing over 12 years ago, working on style guides, soft lines, character art, trend guides and so on, while Ty worked in digital brand marketing for the best part of 10 years, gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience designing for multiple brands across many verticals. Transitioning into licensing, he was able to approach it with a fresh perspective, knowing how to take a brand position and push it as far as possible without straying from the principles and ideals.
“We are constantly on the move, like magpies looking for something shiny, finding trends wherever we can.”
A common thread that runs through all our passion and experience is that we love pop culture, fashion, and non-stop creativity, so it was inevitable that we all would work within the industry.
Was there a ‘moment’ that persuaded you to set up your own agency?
Having a keen interest to explore art in a physical space, we worked together painting wall murals around London. Quickly realising we had a collaborative process that worked well, from the digital screen to the physical application, using our different skills and creative abilities…The Zeros were born!
We started off as more of a creative space for learning and collaboration rather than an agency, but having spent years at companies that were missing a trick with the way they worked across projects, we wanted to take our shorthand and collaborative spirit to build our own agency.
It might be interesting for other young designers to get some insight into setting up a business. What do you need to think about? What concerns did you have?
Creativity and execution were never the concern; it was more logistics, setting up all the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts, like finances, insurance, onboarding process’ workflow management… Luckily, having people close to us to give advice and lend a helping hand in the areas that we lacked knowledge in was a great help.
So, if we had any advice on the start-up process, it would be to seek out the right people for advice and not to attempt it all on your own. There will always be things you will have to pick up on the way and learn on the job, but putting the steps in place from the start to have a streamlined process and a solid foundation is key.
We should shine a light on your work! Can you tell us about a few of your recent projects?
Without going into specific details on ongoing projects, we have found a sweet spot whereby we have several repeat and retained clients who we are familiar with, along with a strong new business stream. The great thing is that we have the pleasure of working with trusted clients on building out their brand or properties with a deep understanding of their needs and positioning. And on the other side, we get to immerse ourselves into new and exciting projects that expand our creative thinking and keep us on our toes. It’s also great to keep building new relationships, while nurturing the great ones we already have.
How do you keep up to date on trends that are relevant to licensing?
We are constantly on the move, like magpies looking for something shiny, finding trends wherever we can… Fashion shows, magazines, in store, online, through social apps; it never ends! We are the consumers for the brands we are lucky to work with and we don’t believe there’s a one-sized-fits-all approach for trend.
Thinking about designing for the licensing market, are there some key things you have in mind when starting a design project?
When starting a project, we always make sure we aren’t pushing our mood boards into a specific trend direction unless we have been instructed to do so. Being on the brand side in the past and pulling apart existing style guides for apparel, we have found that trend applications can limit how far you can go with designs if they haven’t been executed correctly. We make sure that any of our guides can serve more than one purpose and can be used again and again across multiple trends if needed.
You must’ve received lots of briefs from brand owners in the past, so what makes a good one?
A client that has a strong understanding of its audience and objectives, while allowing enough freedom for creativity and expression. A brief that enables us to push the boundaries and execute designs that are in line with current and emerging trends, but to take it a step further and provide creative solutions that they would not get anywhere else.
Are there certain product categories in licensing that present more challenges for designers?
Product mock-ups never cause too much of a challenge, but packaging can be trickier. Not knowing what the final product is going to be and working packaging to perform in a multi-functional way can sometimes be a bit of a brain teaser. Especially when you have larger products that may be packaged with more cost-effective solutions.
Thinking outside of the licensing sector, are there some current examples of brands or designers that you would point to as noteworthy and influential?
One of our long-time favourite brands is Johnny Cupcakes. Although he is now collaborating with other brands, he is constantly doing things with his own brand that make you believe in the progression of the industry. His website has messaging stating that he cannot accept money from those who don’t agree with equality within all walks of life.
“We make sure that any of our guides can serve more than one purpose, and can be used again and again across multiple trends if needed.”
Not only is the design work fun and contemporary, but the brand has never changed its tune, which is a rarity after 21 years in business. From inception, the stores have looked and smelt like bakeries – they’ve even had customers leave negative reviews for misleading the public, which we feel is the icing on the cupcake!
Ha! Job done! Finally, what were some of the characters, brands or franchises that influenced you when you were younger, and maybe inspire your design work today?
The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Rugrats, Adventure Time, The Trap Door, Over the Garden Wall, every skate brand from the Nineties, Steamboat Willie and anything and everything that was drawn and/or animated.
Great stuff. Thanks again for taking time out for this guys. Speak soon!
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