Zero G was started in 2004 by Ciaran ÓGaora. Initially set up with the intention of staying a small company with the idea of finding a new way of working that was “sustainable both creatively and personally” for Ciaran, Zero G have grown significantly and in the last 11 years their work has made an important impact on the Irish visual landscape while still maintaining that same ambition and drive.
Continuing on with our studio series we visited Zero G’s new offices on Capel Street for tea in a giant tea pot and for some colour coordinated books.
What were the beginnings of Zero-G? Where does the name come from?
I set up Zero-G in 2004 having previously being a partner in Designworks. I wanted to find a new way of working that was sustainable both creatively and personally. My intention was to stay relatively small and nimble but still be able to work on projects with scale. While we’ve grown in the last eleven or so years and now have two other partners in the business, Jason Delahunty and JP O’Malley the ambition is still the same.
There are several stories behind the name – the most simple being that it’s easier for most people to say than ÓGaora, but I also like the idea of moving in zero gravity and being free of certain invisible forces.
Do you think clients come to you with a certain aesthetic in mind? How would you describe that aesthetic?
Not really. Clients tend to come to us for our ability to help them articulate their vision, simplify complex challenges and create ideas that help them effect change. On the aesthetic front while we appreciate craft, simplicity and good communication, we don’t set out to have a particular house style.
What is the ‘ZERO-G’ process when staring at job?
Observe, Listen. Ask questions. Repeat. We have a sitting room with a couple of couches and a large white board and this is usually the first port of call to map out a project. We hardly ever get a clear brief so the start of a project usually involves feeling out what the brief should be. Admitting to that kind of ambiguity is often a challenge for the client but it’s a good way to get beyond the ‘designer as supplier’ role that our profession can often be placed in.
How do you deal with both a negative reaction and a positive reaction to work you’ve produced in the studio? Do you listen to outside opinions?
Within the creative process there’s something to learn from every opinion. We are collaborative. We encourage dialogue, genuine conversations. We call it ‘Thinking out loud’. We don’t ask our clients to decide on the outcome. We ask them to contribute to it. So we are quite comfortable having informed and engaging debate and discussion on our work.
If however your question relates to high profile national projects that we have worked on… we don’t take the commentary or, in the case of Irish Water, abuse personally. Unfortunately in the public realm in Ireland design is usually the first target for journalists looking to identify ‘waste’. We have a long way to go to build an understanding of design as a process that is really valuable and leads to better experiences and outcomes.
What work of yours are you most proud of?
Without sounding twee I’m most proud of Zero-G and being associated with a studio of great people. On the design front the identities for the National Museum, Abbey Theatre or Science Gallery give me a sense of pride. They have provided a platform for many other designers to build on, creating new meaning and associations that weren’t possible at the start of the project. The Abbey Theatre has been a platform for some great work by Zero-G designers including Stephen Ledwidge, Jason Delahunty and Will Rice and collaborations with photographers that include Sarah Doyle, Ros Kavanagh and Trevor Hart.
I have also loved seeing how Detail worked with the Science Gallery identity and brought that to life in ways that I wouldn’t have anticipated. I am proud of work that has grown out of collective endeavor and trust, often in challenging circumstances, and that has evolved and matured over time while retaining the integrity and freshness of the original idea.
Your studio seems quite homely to me would that be a fair assessment? How would you describe your own workspace? What’s on your desk?
My own space is quite informal. My chair is my most important piece of equipment and the only thing I took from my former company. I never get tired in it. It’s getting worn at the edges and needs to be recovered but that only adds to its charm. As regards my desk. It’s generally littered with stuff. Pens. Pencils. Receipts. Notes from my kids. Cameras. Colour swatches. Note books. Pantone chips. Mugs, glasses and cups waiting to go back to the kitchen. Stray cables. Keyboard brush. Mouse. Earphones. Markers. No matter how often I might tidy my desk (not that often!) it always ends up as a sea of texture. I have never been that great with maintaining order.
I noticed in your office that some of the book shelves are colour co-ordinated, is that a happy accident or by design?
By design. It’s less distracting.
From doing this series, a common thread crops up where by transparency within the studio space is important, in terms of workflow. Do you think that designers work better as a collective?
Not every designer thrives in a collective atmosphere. Collaboration takes personal effort, trust and a generosity of spirit. The studio is designed to support collaboration and it is something that we are very conscious of when considering our culture and mix.
We’re a small studio so everyone counts. We encourage everyone to get away from the computer as much as possible, to share ideas and observations and harness the knowledge and diversity of the full team. We see our clients as being an extension of the studio. Good clients are treated like collaborators so when they visit the studio there’s nothing hidden from them. We have no front or back of house. What you see is what you get.
Are there any personal projects that you work on outside of work that aren’t commercial? If so, is there an easy balance?
All work we do is commercial in that it has to have a value to the person or organisation we do it for. But yes we work on projects for free. Pro-bono activity has always been part of Zero-G’s ethos. Some work we do is simply offering advice. Some is making stuff. Other times we support all aspects of a project including production. Current pro-bono projects include the creation a brand identity for a charity, designing and publishing a book for photographer/film-maker Greg Dunn, designing posters Sports Against Racism Ireland, and participating in Liminal for ID2015 with a project called ‘Mapping the State’. It’s easier to find the balance between paid and unpaid work when you are a two or three person operation. It gets harder to find the balance as the studio grows but it’s still important for us that we engage in work that is for the common good.
We also create something each year as a gift for our friends, collaborators and clients. Recent creations include the book 20×15—a guide to time well spent, a Virtuous Reality Kit, and a Birdhouse for Your Soul.
You were the final speaker on our main stage at OFFSET in 2013, how do you remember your OFFSET experience? What did you talk about in your presentation?
Nerve-wracking. I’m used to presenting but I prefer to talk about ideas than do a show-and-tell of my work. I tried to speak about the idea of change and chance over the course of my career. My main memory though is of running out of time. Now that I think of it, it feels a bit like life really.
Finish the sentence; This time next year I will be …
… better organised.
Thanks to Ciaran and the ZERO-G team for letting us snoop in their new space.
Interview by Tess Purcell
Photos by Lauren Pritchard