Profile – Greenpeace studio

Published:  March 22, 2013
Profile – Greenpeace studio

Life at an in-house, NGO design studio. How is it different to a commercial studio? How is it the same? And what is the particular world view of the politically motivated designer? Sarah Hipsley, creative director at Greenpeace Australia, helps shed light on all these questions by taking us through an average day in the life of her studio in Ultimo, Sydney.


MORNING — Unless it’s pouring, I start my day on my bicycle, with my KeepCup and a coffee. After arriving at the studio, there’s a quick catch-up with the team to talk about what’s happening in the media and how our campaigns are tracking. Because we do so much reactive work, it’s really important to know what’s going on in the world, so I usually spend some time reading the news and looking at the Greenpeace photos that have come in overnight from all around the world. We’ve got some award-winning photographers on board who take breathtaking nature, investigative and reportage photographs. I really get a sense of belonging to a global environmental movement when you see so many things that Greenpeace is doing on a global scale.

Sarah Hipsley, creative director at Greenpeace Australia

Then I spend some time trawling through thousands of emails. We’re a casual office – there are a lot of bare feet. There are also lots of plants, worm farms in the garage, a giant chicken head and memorabilia from our campaigns and our friends in the Pacific (we’re the Australia Pacific regional office). There are four bins in the kitchen for recycling and organic milk in the fridge. We also recycle single-sided paper that goes through the photocopier, and our volunteers turn it into little notebooks.

We take security very seriously. Last year EDF, France’s state energy company, was fined €1.5 million for spying on Greenpeace France, hacking into their computers and stealing documents. In 2006, they hired a detective agency, Kargus Consultants, run by a former member of France’s secret services, to investigate Greenpeace France’s intentions and its plan to block new nuclear plants in the UK. We have a lot of powerful enemies, and need to take a lot of precautions in the David and Goliath battles that we fight – which sometimes makes work feel a little like a scene from James Bond. We’re also funded entirely from the generosity of donors and don’t accept money from governments or corporations to retain our independence. Thus, we need to think very carefully about every dollar we spend and ways to keep costs down.

Greenpeace Design Awards 2009

A new brief is assessed in terms of urgency and its purpose. The range of projects that come in is quite broad, with our audience ranging from the media, the public, our subscribers, our financial supporters or our activists. Some of the projects that I’ve worked on include an iPhone app for Canned Tuna, a microsite, mobile site, long reports, infographics, illustrations, posters, stickers, signage, flash banners, T-shirts, a photography exhibition, animations, DM (direct mail), fundraising collateral and even a giant novelty sized can of ‘John Waste’ tuna. The look and feel is largely dependent on addressing the individual requirements of the brief.

We tend to work in project teams, usually consisting of a campaigner, comms, creative content, digital and fundraising. Being the creative director, studio manager, senior designer and art worker all in one – I’m the go-to person for any creative request that comes in. This sees me doing a huge range of tasks across a broad range of projects, and anything from conceptual work to requesting quotes and press checks.

I recently worked on the short animation Welcome to Coal World, about the impact of coal exports in the Great Barrier Reef, which involved researching and commissioning a director, and managing the process from creative brief to script, sound and visuals, and final rendering. Because we’re a little thin on the ground, I also spent some time calling around to promote it. We have a fantastic network of volunteers, including design volunteers, and rely on these volunteers for support.

Welcome to Coal World

MIDDAY — At lunch we talk about ways to stop the industrialisation of the Great Barrier Reef, how to protect our forests from illegal logging and how to stop destructive fishing methods decimating our oceans. We also talk about ways to make our campaigns more visible, how to engage our audience, mass mobilisation, social media strategies, things happening in the environmental movement, what the other NGOs are doing, other campaigns and nicely designed communications. We also brainstorm ideas for our brand attacks, and ways to use humour to get our message across.

It’s exchanges like this that remind me why I love working for an NGO so much – it’s really nice being part of the solution and in the position to use my professional skills to make issues more visible and create change.

I work on both planned projects and reactive briefs. A key part of any project involves identifying the audience, how best to reach them and what style of communications will be most effective. The Canned Tuna iPhone app was developed as part of our tuna markets work and was in response to the need for a more accessible brand oriented consumer guide. There’s a huge range of products on the market and, while people want to do the right thing, our product ranking app makes it easier to make more sustainable choices when buying tuna.

A good example of reactive work is our campaign to stop the industrialisation of the Great Barrier Reef by the coal industry. We’ve had our hands full as the government pushes ahead with approvals for nine mega mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, plans to develop the world’s largest coal port in the Reef, cutting green tape, razing nature reserves and releasing toxic mine water into Queensland’s water supply. Queensland is planning to rip more coal out of the ground than currently exported from the whole of Australia, which will then be transported on ships through the Reef. The volume of coal from these mega mines is simply enormous and, if it were a country, the carbon dioxide produced from using this coal would make it the seventh dirtiest fossil fuel burner on the planet. This campaign launched in the press with a report and infographic coinciding with UNESCO’s inspection of the Reef and has seen the creation of a cyberation, microsite, animation, reports, maps and infographics to raise awareness. Infographics have become a very effective way of storytelling and communicating sometimes complex issues. People want to see the news, not read it, and as smartphones and tablets become mainstream the web is becoming more visual.

The Canned Tuna iPhone app

AFTERNOON — Time for a press check. It’s pretty easy to make sustainable choices. I always choose recycled paper that is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified and ISO 14100 with responsible printers who have their FSC accreditation. We use 100 percent (or as close to 100 percent as possible) recycled post-consumer waste stocks. There are so many FSC stocks available these days, there isn’t really an excuse not to choose FSC. We don’t give much weight to PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). We’re careful about wastage and printing only what we actually need, printing locally to keep the miles the job will travel down and maximising the sheet usage to minimise waste. We also avoid PVCs and laminating, which negates recycling. There’s usually a better option out there and, if you don’t know about it, you just have to ask. There are alternatives to foam board and non-PVC banners for signage, or non-PVC stickers and even recycled badges. For our T-shirts we use 100 percent organic Fair Trade cotton and ensure inks don’t contain hazardous chemicals.

We do have contact with some of our international support network. Our head office is situated in Amsterdam. We are the regional office for the Australia Pacific area, and while our main office is in Sydney, we also have offices in Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Many of the issues we work on, particularly climate change, are global issues. I’m in daily contact with the Greenpeace Picture Desk in Amsterdam. Not all offices are lucky enough to have an in-house designer, but for those that do, there’s a network of support, ideas and resources from other designers in many different corners of the world.

Most of the conversations during the day focus on developing campaign materials, trying to tease out what’s going to capture people’s attention and engage them in the work we’re doing. But when that’s not happening, I’m trying to find a quiet few minutes to actually get the job done. Then the conversations are pretty short, involving me (sometimes) politely asking friends and colleagues to stop looking over my shoulder!

But of course, it’s not all political. As designers, we make sure we keep in touch with the industry at large, regularly checking out sites like The Design Files, AGDA, Information is Beautiful, Designers Mix, Designspiration. I’m also partial to Mumbrella, Mashable, Digital Buzz and, of course, other NGO sites.

Great Barrier Reef campaign

EVENING — I go along to briefings early in the planning stages to get an idea of what shape the campaign will take and how best to communicate it, as well as having regular WIP (work in progress) and meetings with the communications teams, and program teams to track progress. We also get the opportunity to meet amazing and truly inspiring people. We are currently running a global campaign to have the Arctic declared a global sanctuary and protect it from oil drilling and industrial fishing. In 2013, an expedition led by the Australian polar explorer, Eric Philips, will go to the North Pole. We were lucky enough to meet him when he came to present to us about the planned expedition and his experiences travelling to the Poles.

From time to time, we also get out of the office, like earlier this year when staff were taken whale watching while our boats were conveniently in the Harbour after a photo shoot – of a polar bear, on a surfboard near the Opera House.

I don’t usually take work home. We all work pretty hard here, but I really try hard to squeeze everything in, so I can have a good work/life balance. On Fridays there’s usually a bunch of Greenpeace folk at the pub. I’ve been learning Spanish and also taking a ceramics class too – it’s nice to do something with my hands and get away from the computer. Ultimately, at the end of the working day, it’s usually all about good food and good wine – which I’m sure a designer in any studio can relate to.

Anyone wanting to join Greenpeace as a volunteer can register at:

These events were correct at the time of going to print in February 2013.

Thumbnail image: Menagerie by Greenpeace.

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