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Zeppa: Shaping a Better Society Through Impactful Visual Design


Story by:

David Wouters

Interview by:

June 10, 2022

For the third member story, I meet with Annelies Vlasblom, founder of the creative studio Zeppa. Together with Inge, Willem, Steven, Jan, and a batch of creative freelancers, Annelies runs a colorful agency in the A Lab building.

As soon as I started out at A Lab, Annelies and I Immediately got along really well. Numerous conversations later about what’s happening in the world, we decide to sit together and have a chat about how Zeppa contributes to creating a better society through strategy and visual identity. Her background in activism and art form the core of her as a person but are also the focal point of the agency’s work. Curious to how Zeppa is changing the game? Read our conversation below!

Hi Annelies! Let’s talk about you for a bit. Where did you grow up?

I come from a village in Noord-Holland named Uitgeest. As a youngster my big goal had always been to move to Amsterdam. After high school however I enrolled in an exchange programme which brought me to the University of Texas in Arlington in the United States. I enrolled in all kinds of classes. I learned Russian, took theatre classes and enjoyed a diverse range of art classes.

Did this period inspire you to work in the field of visual identity or have you always been attracted to working with (graphic) design?

As a daughter of a mother who is a visual artist, I’ve always been attracted to working with anything visual. Being a VWO (pre-university education) student, I was very disappointed when my school cut all art classes from the third grade on. That gave me the idea I couldn’t do anything artsy with my degree. That’s when I went to the United States where I was working with clay, painting, drawing and realized what I had missed. I then decided to go to the Rietveld Academy, where I studied for one year. Throughout this study I got in touch with the squat movement in Amsterdam which led me down a more activist path. As homework was piling up on my desk I found that there were way more important things in life to worry about, I wanted to change things in the world.

What kind of themes did you stand up for?

I was an advocate for feminism, an activist in the fields of spaces to live, on political prisoners, the environment, fascism and aids. This whole activist  network felt like being part of a subculture. At one point I kind of lost touch with that. That’s when I enrolled in a collective offset printing company inside of a squat building. All kinds of graphic designers came to us for designs they used for social themes. That’s when I realized I could combine my creative skills and put them to use for a better cause. Here I discovered my ability to translate a complex message into clear storytelling content-wise as well as visual.  That’s when I set up Studio Annelies Vlasblom, which turned into Zeppa in 2015.

Your personal history is embedded in Zeppa. The agency you’re running is all about making a social impact and doing it through visual identity. When taking upon a project, is it a must for it to be one that contributes to society?

We at Zeppa find it very important to speak up and to talk about subjects that matter. Of course we have some more commercial clients but mostly we like to be part of a project that does something for the greater good.

Which projects did you enjoy working on the most?

We’ve had a lot of fun working for Superuse Studios, an agency for architecture in Rotterdam for which we created and developed a new identity. It certainly was a challenge to align all partners however we’re very satisfied with the end result.

Another exciting project we’ve worked for is PalliSupport. This pilotproject aims at improving palliative healthcare within a diverse range of hospitals. It’s always a challenge to translate information from complex topics into a friendly but informative identity that speaks to all.

Last but not least I’m really proud of the work we delivered for the Women Power Fashion Campaign. A collaborative project between Mama Cash (Mama Cash supports women, girls, trans people and intersex people who fight for their rights) and the Clean Clothes campaign (aimed at improving working conditions within the global garment industry). For this project we enjoyed working a lot with space. In a shopping street in the Hague we transformed a container into a sweatshop.

Identity for Superuse Studios, 2020, Zeppa
Women Power Fashion campaign for Schone Kleren Campagne and Mama Cash, Zeppa, from 2016
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Has Zeppa been part of a corona related initative?

Most definitely! Currently we’re very busy with the development of visuals for LCDK (the national coordination team for the diagnostic chain for COVID-19). The team responsible for increasing the test capacities for the coronavirus in the Netherlands.

What is important for companies in terms of visual identity in these difficult times?

Authenticity. The question is: Who are you as a company? We've entered a time where people see through messages that are supposed to address social topics like healthcare and other support initiatives but in fact have commercial objectives. For example, when you’re one of the biggest companies in the financial district displaying a message from your tower written ‘thank you caretakers,’ I question their morale. The people working there earn the highest salaries and bonuses while people working in healthcare are working day and night for a lower salary all the while saving peoples lives. You need to think about where you stand in society, what action you’re taking and which message you want to convey, to think about whether it’s really authentic. People want to see what an organization or company really stands for. That’s content-wise of course. On a visual note I would say using animation-based images to capture attention.

As a visual activist, what themes would you still like to work on with Zeppa?

Currently we’re not doing anything on grounds of climate change and the environment, which we are very involved with in our personal lives. I would enjoy working on a project in that field.  

Just like Zeppa, A Lab is all about making a social impact, in that sense we’re a match made in heaven! How did you and your team end up at A Lab?

Through our project leader Inge. She had been at A Lab before and told us this was the perfect spot. We visited the building and immediately experienced that community feeling that we hadn’t experienced anywhere else.

What do you like so much about A Lab?

What I really like about A Lab is the thought that goes into establishing the community. There’s a diverse combination of creative companies and organizations involved in making a social impact or doing something innovative. It’s very different than other places I have been, you can notice this at the lab crawls.

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Have you cross-pollinated with other A Lab members?

Definitely. The benefit of being part of a community of creatives is the access you have to a network. You meet them at the lab crawls, in the hallways, at events or just by looking at who’s in the building. We’ve worked together with Wessel de Groot, who does photography. We’ve made animations together with Studio Wim, we’re making illustrations with Steffi Padmos, we’re working together with copywriter Karina Meerman and we’ve created a website for VersPers for the initiative of Lost in Europe.

If you had to describe A Lab in three words, what would they be?

Open, creative and inventive. A Lab has a solution for everything.

When looking at the future, what are you planning on with Zeppa?

We are currently expanding the service we have to offer which means we not only provide visual identity but also the campaign strategy around it including SEO and usability to enhance the impact organizations want to make. The creative sector is increasingly changing into one that is multidisciplinary. With it, Zeppa changes as well. We see ourselves as the starting point for a question or problem that agencies come to us with. We then help them with the development and choice for the right strategy.

Pazze is another one of our projects we’re looking at launching. It will be a playground for experimentation which will focus more on showcasing our own vis(ion)uals.

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