Welcome to a special CWID interview featuring the team at Outcrop Communications! With over 37 years of combined experience, these creative women of the North inspire.
Art Director at Outcrop Communications, 5 years experience
My biggest inspiration is people: Collaborating on projects with coworkers, getting support from friends and family, and seeing other artists’ work. I also think it’s really important to have other side hobbies and projects going on. Taking a break from design to do something different with my creative energy is incredibly refreshing.
To be honest, university was a struggle. I grew up in a very small town, and between the heavy school load and adjusting to life in a city, it was a big change. Classes were intense with massive projects and tight deadlines. It was exhausting trying to be creative under such intense pressure. I felt like I was constantly being told that if I couldn’t handle the pressure in school, I wouldn’t be successful in the real world.
Since graduating, I’ve worked as a freelancer, I’ve worked in government, I’ve experienced the agency life, and for the most part, I love it! The flexibility and variety in my work is worth it and I am SO glad I stuck it out in school.
I’d probably have been a geologist. The Earth is so fascinating. I’ve travelled to some pretty awesome places to check out specific geological features, and (nerd alert!) I have a giant display case at home full of really cool rocks.
I recently worked on designs for the exterior of YK ARCC’s (an Artist-Run Centreless Centre) mobile Art Gallery of the Northwest Territories. The NWT is lacking in non-commercial art galleries, and it means a lot to contribute to (and have my own artwork on) a space that was created for artists to share and collaborate. I’m excited to see a space like this finally exist in the North, plus it’s so fun to see where the gallery is going to end up next!
Senior Designer at Outcrop Communications, 18 years experience
Lead Creative at Alzheimer Society of Calgary
I have a love of typography, so I’m a great fan and follower of Paula Scher of Pentagram Design.
I still remember the first time I saw her energy-infused typographic posters for [Broadway musical] “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.” It was mind-boggling to me that something so bright, dynamic, energetic, and chaotic was strangely balanced and beautiful. Paula Scher seems so fearless and creative in her typographic and design approaches that I continue to revisit her work.
She doesn’t lack confidence; that’s another thing that I respect (and envy) about her as a designer. To my mind, graphic design is still a male-dominated industry, and I like being able to see that there is a woman, that is not only highly-regarded, but influential and sought-after in a number of areas.
Typographic design, environmental design, branding—she’s well regarded and respected by both her male and female peers. That is what I strive for: that respect, unbiased by gender. It’s why I find her so inspiring. That’s not to say that I have liked everything that she has done, nor do I think everything she has done is great design. That is also what makes her an inspiring female and designer: she’s relatable.
In the Canadian context, Marian Bantjes is someone I find inspiring. I don’t recall how I came across her or her work but again, her typographic work and her work ethic are amazing to me. She is a professional who has created a life that allows her the independence and flexibility to choose who she will work for and what she will design (again, fearless and creative in her approach… a bit quirky, too).
I think women who manage to forge their own path in this industry, while maintaining the respect of their peers, is inspiring. I especially like Marian because she is Canadian. It’s nice to see someone (especially a female) succeeding outside the belief system that you can only be influential and progressive in the design world if you live in a major North American city; Marian lives and works on Bowen Island, near Vancouver. Living and working in Yellowknife, it is significant to me that great design can happen everywhere.
I enjoy being a woman in the design industry; I am proud of my accomplishments and the strides of my fellow women designers in this business. I feel that in the NWT at least, we are seeing a greater number of women in higher-profile positions, and my hope is that there will be a trickle-down effect in all industries and areas of employment, including design.
I work with more women in design than I do men, but it continually feels like men still receive more recognition and are offered better career opportunities. I am hopeful that this is changing and that up-and-coming female designers will have fewer struggles competing with men for design opportunities. This has to start from the top-down. And that means we need more women in the positions of Art Director, Creative Director, and Owner in the design industry. I’m proud and hopeful being a woman in this business.
On a global scale, no, it’s impossible (I believe), but if you shrink the boundaries of your target audience then yes, it IS still possible to be unique. I won’t say ‘original,” as I believe we are living in a time of such technological advance that what was once considered completely new and original is now an extension of something that already exists.
There is so much visual repetition and overlapping on the internet that it’s difficult to distinguish something as “original.” I like taking what was old and making it new again, giving it a twist that speaks on a new level or provides a new perspective to the target audience. In the end, whether it is perceived as “original” or not is irrelevant, but “unique,” or “different”? That’s definitely relevant and possible.
Senior Creative at Outcrop Communications, 9 years experience
Creative Director at Folk On The Rocks
Isis@outcrop.com // IsisEssery.com
I was very lucky that the first office I worked in was an incredibly multifaceted, creative space. I somehow landed my first (non-freelance) job in downtown Toronto at an indie record label. As the only in-house designer, I got to work on so many different types of design projects as well as filmmaking, photography, and animation.
As a new designer, I was encouraged to learn and work in all the creative areas that I wanted while constantly being inspired by the artists I was working for. There really couldn't have been a more perfect place for personal exploration as a young creative.
The last project I worked on before leaving the label and moving to Yellowknife happened to be the most prestigious and rewarding design project I'll probably ever work on. I somehow got to design the package for The Secret Path by Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip.
This was a massive project that included the record itself, the album case, ten lyrical posters, the book layout, a deluxe box set, as well as promotional material. After completion, it was front-and-center in every bookstore and record shop across Canada, and it won me a Juno Award. But more than that, it brought the awareness of residential schools to a greater Canadian audience than ever before. This was a project I could be proud of creativity, commercially, and ethically. It doesn't get better than that.
One of the biggest challenges I've faced as a woman designer is setting boundaries. I know that is not entirely female-specific, but I think a lot of women have trouble saying no. Design can be a wonderfully flexible job (which is one of the reasons I chose it), but with flexibility comes the ability to work around the clock.
By not being bound to an office, I find myself taking on too many projects and working all hours of the night. This has always been a problem for me (as I also love to work), but it has never been more apparent to me than it is now that I’m a new mom… I’m currently typing this with one hand while I nurse my three-week old. Without the ability to set boundaries ,the only inevitable outcome is burnout, so it’s something I’m constantly working on.
My favourite thing to do is learn! Whether it’s directly or indirectly design-related, a new technology, a hard or a soft skill, learning something new is the most energizing thing I can do with my time. From learning new design techniques, computer programs, new technologies, new art forms, or even something as seemingly unrelated as carpentry, nothing inspires me more than learning.
This year was especially great for seriously diverse learning as, among other things, I jumped into the incredible world of 360° filmmaking, designed/built my off-grid dream house, and gave birth to my first child!
Graphic Designer at Outcrop Communications, 5 years experience
email@example.com // catoco.ca
Even as a child I was enticed by art, typography, illustrations. I didn’t really understand it back then as design, but often throughout school, my focus for projects was on the visuals rather than the written content. If I had to write a report, most of my efforts were put into illustrating a cover page or colouring a diagram (which was the best part).
It finally became clear that what I was actually interested in was known as ‘graphic design’ near the end of high school. It was the exact direction I wanted to go in, and after the first few months of college, the choice was solidified for me. Making a living as a designer and a creator has been a constant aspiration for me.
The first job I landed as a designer was for a lighting manufacturing company of about 80 people with a wide range of skills and responsibilities. Between myself and the marketing director, we handled all aspects of visual communication for the company as well as print production of custom light shades.
It was not what I expected. There was not a whole lot of training or guidance, and most aspects of my job I had to invent along the way. If I was asked to create something, I found a way to create it. I was a full-time problem solver.
Soon after I started, I was tasked with creating three-dimensional renderings of lighting fixtures which I taught myself to develop in the 3D program SketchUp. It was a funny operation. I would create an array of lighting fixtures, drop them into a background setting (office, shopping mall, etc.) then my renderings would then be passed on to the lighting engineers to see if my imagination was functional.
I go through a groggy yoga routine. Stretch, get the blood flowing, activate the core muscles. If I have Kombucha, I will drink a glass of that even before my first coffee. Energy begins in the gut and the core of the body. If that is active and healthy, the mind will follow suit.
I try to start by jotting down any initial, unfiltered ideas or concepts. These are my first insights or reactions. I try to get at least something early on that’s pure and out of my own head that hasn’t been directly influenced by any other work. This can take the form of either words or small, quick sketches.
Then it’s onto the research stage, gathering as much info or visuals as I can based on the subject. This is where I usually go a little overboard, but I can always simmer these down later and refocus on material that’s truly relevant.
I then look at examples of form and style that I want to reflect. I gather up everything that is relevant (visuals, colour palettes, typography, iconography, photographs) and put together a mood board for myself.
Then I do free-for-all idea creation based on my mood board. This is the best stage, where everything is fair game and nothing is held back.
The next stage is, for me, the hardest: This is where I have to pull from my ideas and settle on those which will actually work. Sometimes this isn’t necessarily what looks the most visually-appealing, but more what will be functional and achievable based on client budget, timeline, target audience, etc.
When two to three concepts are developed, I go through an editing stage where I try to pick out and dispose of any element that is unnecessary or frivolous, cleaning up the form of the design and doing away with anything that might confuse the core concept.
I have found now more than ever that strong visual concepts are not enough. Solid, well-thought-out rationales need to accompany designs in order to be justified to the client. Also, visually demonstrating how your designs will function out in the world through mock-ups is a useful touch.
Assume your client has no imagination and they really can’t envision the potential of your design.
I dropped everything I had in the south and moved myself to the Arctic! And it has been the best decision I could have made at the time. It taught me the importance of taking chances and stepping outside of my comfort zone, both professionally and personally. And it happens that Northern life just agrees with me more (at least for right now). I hope to make many bold moves throughout my professional life.
Young women breaking out into many career fields, not just design, tend to be very accommodating and to take on a lot more work or pass up opportunities for the sake of others. It’s so important to speak up and go after what you want. Carry yourself and your voice with confidence. This is still something I have to constantly tell myself. Also, be persistent. Get out there, try, fail, and get out there again.
You may face a lot of challenges along your career path, but never forget what fuels you, what keeps you passionate and excited about design. It will be very unlikely that you will be able to find truly fulfilling client work your entire professional life. If you are lucky, you may come across a few jobs a year that really interest you, so it's crucial to focus on personal projects. Find work that isn’t dictated to you or that must be designed with the client in mind. This can help keep your creativity fresh and remind you why you chose to be a designer. Because you are a creator, always take time to create what matters to you.
My resiliency, I suppose. I have faced some difficulties, but I don’t let that divert me from going after what I want. Instead I use those obstacles as fuel to push me further and better my situation. I am stubborn and persistent. Design is a competitive market. You need to be, above anything else, persistent.