Australia’s design guru, VINCE FROST, has been named creative director for Woolworths. His one-year contract, which commenced in November, means he’s playing an integral role in repositioning the country’s leading retail brand. GILL LOUBSER caught up with him during his first tour in December.
FOR the next 12 months, Vince Frost will spend some hours above the clouds between Cape Town and Sydney. For one week each month he’ll be busy with his new job as Woolworths’ creative director; for the rest he’ll be back in Sydney, running his own highly-acclaimed business, Frost Design.

Caption: Vince Frost plays an active role in the world design community, regularly lecturing at colleges and conferences. An early pointer to his potential emerged in the early 1990s, when he became Pentagram London’s youngest associate director. After five years in this ‘finishing school’, he established Frost Design in 1994, since when numerous awards have come his way. In 2004, he moved to Sydney, Australia, from where he continued to work for global clients and to win international accolades. The Sydney studio offers a diverse mix of talents – from graphic and multimedia designers to architects, interior designers and brand strategists – working on a wide range of projects, including magazine and book design, corporate identity, environmental graphics and interactive design.

As Woolworths’ recently-appointed creative director, Vince is charged with implementing and evolving a new identity across all areas of branding – including packaging designs for all categories (Food, Clothing, Home and Beauty). But his brief is much wider than just packaging design. He’s also involved in formulating corporate branding for signage, in-store displays, advertising, websites, magazines and corporate communications. It is, as he puts it, ‘a 360-degree approach to communication and design’.

As a regular globe-trotter – giving lectures and running workshops – Vince has been a frequent visitor to South Africa. Having met Woolworths’ divisional marketing director, Charmaine Huet, at various Design Indabas, they started exploring the idea of his taking up the creative director’s role, which has now become reality.

Undoubtedly, he brings broad experience to Woolworths – and plans to enhance the company’s already stellar reputation for quality in every sphere. He’s quick to emphasise, however, that he’s working closely with local design companies and Woolworths’ long-standing advertising agency, The Jupiter Drawing Room.
‘I’m extremely excited about this opportunity to work with a forward-thinking, design-focused organisation such as Woolworths,’ Vince comments. ‘I’ve always been passionate about finding and working with new talent; and to be briefed to work within these guidelines by a retailer as highly regarded as Woolworths is extremely exciting.’

His first task is to manage the integration of Woolworths’ internal design studio at head office in Cape Town. Here local designers and art workers are being employed – both experienced and new talent – and the team is enhanced by Frost’s design director, Quan Payne, who has been posted to Cape Town on a full-time basis.

It’s envisaged that Vince’s strong design ethic and specialised skills will help raise the standard of design in South Africa, and create opportunities for up-and-coming designers. However, there’s nothing patronising about his attitude. ‘I’m keen to work with local design schools to provide students with positive ideas. I simply want to help grow this young talent; to help them understand the full potential of being a designer,’ he explains.

‘I’m also keen to help promote Woolworths’ “Good business journey”,’ Vince adds. ‘This is in the forefront of my mind at all times – how to reduce our imprint on earth, how to minimise packaging without sacrificing product quality, and how to use technology to achieve this goal. That’s at the core of everything we design,’ he insists. ‘Woolworths is a genuine organisation … it does enhance the quality of people’s lives; and that works for both customers and suppliers. Woolworths genuinely is “Making a difference”,’ he adds, referring to one of the retailer’s payoff lines.

Undoubtedly, this is a big challenge? ‘Yes,’ Vince agrees. ‘But I love the challenge; the opportunity to work on new products. It leads to new experiences and growth. Over the years, I’ve designed newspapers, TV channels, in-flight food packaging. There’s no job that I can’t tackle – and it’s taken me 20 years to be able to say that,’ he quips happily.

‘Cape Town is a beautiful place, although the disparity between the haves and have nots is quite a shock when you first arrive. But the people are beautiful and positive. I love the music, the bands in the streets, the hype around the FIFA World Cup, etc. And Woolworths is a phenomenal organisation … looking at it as a whole (not just a brand or an office), it’s a company that’s passionate about doing good things, with quality front of mind. It’s hard to find such quality anywhere else in world,’ he remarks.

So what will happen at the end of his contract in 12 months time? ‘There’s no beginning or end to this project,’ Vince replies. ‘The local team will grow and I hope we’ll be able to maintain a relationship well beyond the end of this contract.’

And PACKAGiNG & PRINT MEDIA looks forward to a follow-up interview at the end of 2010!

And the local view . . .

ONE person who is delighted with this appointment is Charmaine Huet, Woolworths’ divisional director of marketing.

‘We’re very excited about this collaboration with Vince Frost and his team,’ she says enthusiastically.

However, this appointment does beg the question: why did Woolies pick somebody from outside South Africa to fill this key post?

With 26 years’ experience in the retail industry, Charmaine is well qualified to respond to this question. As she remarks, this is neither a traditional ‘creative director’ nor ‘art director’ job (as for instance in an advertising agency). ‘It’s best described as a “brand director”,’ Charmaine insists, ‘and as such it encompasses everything in the retail environment, all the design disciplines – from advertising to packaging, to corporate identity.’

In Charmaine’s view, Vince is one of the world’s leading design authorities and is well placed to help attract and develop emerging creative talent in South Africa, of which, she believes, there’s a wealth waiting to be uncovered.

‘I feel that Vince will add considerable value in our quest to make a difference on the design front, as he brings a wealth of experience in teaching and encouraging young designers,’ Charmaine adds.

Vince’s strong educational stance ideally complements Woolworths’ design education initiative, now in its fourth year and developed in conjunction with the Western Cape Provincial Education Department, that involves supporting the design curriculum at some 400 schools nationally.

Woolies’ Good business journey

‘IT’S becoming increasingly obvious that sustainable growth can only be achieved through greater attention to the world around us. The links between economic growth, transformation, poverty alleviation, the environment and climate change can either form a vicious or a virtuous circle. For the past 75 years, these issues have been at the heart of Woolworths, but the launch of our “Good business journey” marks a step change in the way we operate, ensuring that we drive a virtuous circle to benefit all stakeholders.’ Those were the words of Simon Susman, Woolworths CEO, when he launched this concept in 2007.

The aim of the good business journey is to accelerate Woolworths’ commitment to managing the impact of the business and a five-year plan to 2012 outlines key areas.

This plan is the result of a comprehensive and systematic review of the way Woolworths addresses sustainable growth within the context of the changing social and environmental needs, and incorporates a series of challenging targets and commitments, centred on four key priorities: accelerating transformation, driving social development, enhancing the company’s environmental focus, and addressing climate change.


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