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Monique Kneepkens: On Finding Creative Purpose

Born in the Netherlands, award-winning Creative Director Monique Kneepkens has a raft of agency and studio experience in Australia and New Zealand. She also founded ‘Fries Need Mayonnaise’, a design studio in the belly of an old meatlocker. In 2015, Monique joined Carbon Creative, a First Nations owned social change agency in Queensland where she heads up the creative team. Mavens corresponded with Monique to learn how her unique approach to design and design thinking is creating positive social impact.

Can you tell us about your background and path into advertising? What drew you to the creative industry?

I always loved drawing as a child and I wanted to somehow pursue that. I was born and raised in The Netherlands, and growing up I was very much inspired by Dutch design culture. What really got my heart racing was its truly conceptual approach to design, that makes you envy the idea and not just the look. I really love design that‘s also really clever. It gives design so much more meaning, because it grabs you and then stays with you. The Dutch design masters inspired me and made me want to be part of such a design language.

I studied art direction and design in Amsterdam, and typographic design in The Hague before moving to Australia. With a degree in art direction, advertising was a logical starting point. I worked in ad agencies for several years, where I gained great experience and learned lots. But eventually I had to face the fact that my heart wasn’t really in it. I felt a bit deflated making big brands and companies look good – especially when I didn’t even necessarily like them myself! So I started my own design studio, ‘Fries Need Mayonnaise’, from an old meatlocker in Brisbane. Those years were great; I got to work on wonderful design projects for clients I really liked and I managed to really develop my own design language.

During this time a few opportunities came up where I got to work on projects that had a clear social purpose and focus, and I really enjoyed them. I noticed that every time a brief like that landed on my desk, I was more determined than ever to do a great job; I felt a deeper connection to those projects. They made me realise that I could ‘use my skills for good’.

So when Carbon Creative approached me in 2015 to join them, and told me that they were to focus fully on social change, it felt like a natural fit.

Can you tell us about the impact you’ve been able to have with the business?

At Carbon Creative, we work on a big variety of projects but what they all have in common is that they somehow aim to make a positive social impact. All our work is about creating a culture that is more inviting, open minded, inclusive and accessible to all. A culture that values equality and fairness, respects our earth’s resources, and that is sustainable.

A lot of the work we do is grounded in education. We take on some very complex subjects, and make them easier to understand. We make them relatable, create empathy, and empower our audiences so that they understand what they can do to help create change.

Impact can be hard to measure and varies from project to project. We tackle big issues such as racism, intergenerational trauma, mental health, inequality, homophobia, climate change, under-representation, marginalisation, sexual abuse… the list goes on and on. So our impact is a slow burn; we don’t solve these problems with just one campaign or animation or poster. But in all our projects we expose, educate, raise awareness, inform and empower – and it all adds up to slowly help shift the needle and, over time, make change.

What’s been the best memory of your career?

That’s too hard to narrow down to just one memory. My career has evolved over the years, as have I. Each season has its own beauty. There’s been many highlights and many jobs I really loved working on. There’s been a lot of things that I’ve achieved that have made me proud. There’s been a lot of lightbulb moments, a lot of fellow creatives I collaborated with that excited me, a lot of amazing places I got to visit, and a lot of inspiring people I got to meet. Somewhere along the way I became a mum too, and I manage to combine motherhood with a career. So rather than singling out one memory, I feel blessed with the journey and achievements so far. And let’s just hope the best memory still lies ahead of me.

What advice would today’s Monique give younger Monique, just starting out?

To enjoy where you’re at. Experience takes time. And don’t underestimate yourself.

And also, to invest a small percentage of your wage into an index fund as soon as you start earning. Or salary sacrifice an additional 5% of your salary into your super. It makes quite a big difference later in life ;)

What qualities make a great Creative Director?

Each creative/designer is different and not everyone needs the same from their CD. So I think a great CD should be approachable and make an effort to get to know everyone in their team. They should have the ability to work out what each creative in their team needs to shine and grow, and how to gently stretch them.

I’m very fortunate to now share the CD job at Carbon with the very talented Sandra Hind (who is copywriting-based). It’s been really good to combine our complementing skill sets, and our joint knowledge and experience, and tackle the job together.

Mavens acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.


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