Women in Design . . . Zenaida Beatson
In this series, we celebrate New Zealand Women in Design as they share their work and processes and we learn more about their day-to-day routines, diverse career pathways, and how they achieve balance.
Today we chatted with Zenaida Beatson who gives us a peek into her design career journey, how she likes to foster innovation in her work, and what career success looks like for her.
What or who were your early creative influences?
Like lots of creative people, I’ve always been interested in social change. As a student at design school, I volunteered for an amazing feminist activist group. It was made up of women of all ages who were funny and dark and smart and self-driven and politically aware. They influenced me a lot. I was a pretty average student volunteer designer with lots of passion and not so much real world design skill. That environment helped me channel my voice and experiment with applying the conceptual stuff I learned in design school to real-world situations.
Can you describe the creative path you took to get where you’re at now?
After design school I worked overseas, mostly in Australia and the UK, for non-profits, social enterprises and typical corporates. This experience helped me understand the context around design; how business affects design and design affects business; what value non-designers see in our mahi.
About 6 years ago I went out on my own and became a freelancer. I wanted to work with organisations that have a social focus so I started building those relationships. Now I pretty much only work with organisations that aim to make a positive social impact.
I’ve recently moved back to Aotearoa. I still freelance, I’m also the Design Lead at For Purpose, a digital campaigning agency focused on building community and social movements. I really enjoy collaborating with people, so I incorporate that into my work as much as possible.
What does your typical workday look like?
I can’t say my routine is very extraordinary or requires much juggling. I have lots of admiration for the working mums of the world.
My typical day looks like getting up at 8am, walking to my studio in the city via Oriental Parade. The first thing I do when I get to work is make a handwritten list, with checkboxes… When I finish a task I like to both tick and cross off the item to maximise the sense of achievement!
Since I work remotely, I make sure I stay connected with other people by going to a work space with other creatives and being in Slack groups. Slack is how I stay connected to my For Purpose team. We share photos of our families and weekends as well as articles and links. It really helps us stick together.
I try to prioritise going to talks and events, it doesn’t really matter what the topic is. It’s just important for me to be around different ideas.
Do you have a project that is memorable because it challenged you, if so what lessons did you learn from that work?
Last year I worked on a website design project with for Alaskan Native organisation. Initially I ran a design discovery process online, holding community workshops and sessions with internal stakeholders, but it just didn’t work very well. The Zoom format was too restrictive. At some point we all agreed it wasn’t working.
I ended up heading over to Anchorage, Alaska in October to hang out with the organisation for a couple of weeks. I volunteered at an in-person community gathering and ran a structured in-person co-design process with some staff. They were really generous and treated me as part of the team. On the other side of this, and lots of meals together, we developed a much better solution, one that everyone was really proud of.
Since COVID I think we all appreciate the importance of being together, particularly kanohi ki te kanohi. That project made me realise just how crucial taking the time to build close, reciprocal partnerships is to creating meaningful solutions.
How do you mix things up and foster innovation in your work?
Participatory and collaborative approaches are really important in my design process. I often work alongside communities. Sometimes I don’t directly belong to these communities. For me it’s super important to invite people into the design process so together we can create and retell stories that are truthful and celebratory. I think this is particularly important in brand and identity design.
This means every project is so different because I get to work with very different, brilliant, creative story tellers, who aren’t necessarily trained in conventional creative disciplines. They bring a different word of experiences to the process. It’s pretty magic.
What does career/creative success look like to you?
Shaping a creative life that is uniquely my own.
The best piece of advice I’ve received is…
Put yourself in the right current and the land will come to you. That’s a Whakataukī here in Aotearoa and also something that is said in the Alaskan Native community. I find myself thinking about this often. It reminds me not to worry so much about outcomes but my intentions and practices.
The worst piece of advice I’ve received is …
I think for me bad advice is when people say things like as a designer, you need to be active on social media. You need to promote your work. You need to make content.
That makes me feel immediately a bit anxious and behind. Though I know that works for some people.
I’ve found that what has been more useful for me is taking the time to think about how I want to engage with the world and what makes me feel empowered and comfortable. And then showing up on my own terms. It usually doesn’t involve social media.
What barriers have you come up against ( or have seen ) within the design industry throughout your career and how has that affected your work?
Oh you know, the not-so-surprising stuff. Lack of diversity. I’ve spent the past 12 years working mostly in Australia which is particularly beige. The industry really is worse off for it, the breadth of stories and experiences audiences are missing out on! I’m hopeful about the relative openness in Aotearoa, I’m excited by the creative projects I’ve seen here over the past few years.
What do you hope for the future of design in Aotearoa NZ?
I hope that we look less to Europe for our creative influences. I hope we embrace our beautiful, vibrant, rich stories and visual languages here in the Asia-Pacific. I hope we learn to better honour Te Tiriti in our processes and projects. These are things I hope for in my own creative practice anyway.
One last thing. Last year, I did a Te Ao Māori workshop with Johnson McKay hosted by Design Assembly. It was so exciting and educational. I totally recommend getting along to one if you can.
Finally, where can we see more of your work and connect with you?
Have coffee with me in Te Whanganui-a-Tara! I’m new to town. Online you can find me at:
My website (www.zbeatson.design)
For Purpose (https://www.forpurpose.nz/) where I’m the Design Lead
- Header image – Client The Mind Room
- Te Hou Ora Whānau Services visual identity and website design: Client and co-design partner Te Hou Ora Whānau Services, Photographer Isabella Harrex, Designer Rachael Peri, Icon Design Tahu-Pōtiki Te Maro-Doran
- Kia Maumahara Darling digital design: Words by Elliot Collins, strategy Shea O’Neill
- Pila & Evy: Personal project