Valéry Goulet

Graphic Designer, Illustrator & Educator

16 years

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Valéry Goulet is a French-Canadian multidisciplinary graphic designer and design educator. Originally from Québec, she was educated at the Université Laval where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Communication Design and a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design and Multimedia. At the beginning of 2015, Valéry decided to leave the agency life after 14 years, and she opened valérydesignwrks, a multidisciplinary design studio in Edmonton, Alberta. Valéry has an immense passion for branding, illustration and crafted design, resulting in national and international recognition in numerous publications and design competitions.

At what point in your life did you learn about design, and what drew you to it?

I was really interested in fine arts; at 18 years old, nothing else I knew of excited me. The program I enrolled in was quite popular, and the number of students that were admitted was quite low, so you really had to be motivated to be part of it. Throughout this program, I realized that fine arts wasn’t what I was looking for. I experimented with a lot of great techniques used in 2D and 3D, but I found that being an ‘artist’ wasn’t structured enough for me. It wasn’t a lifestyle I was truly interested in.

From there I enrolled in the Visual Communication Program at the Université Laval, not really knowing the ins and outs of what this career would shape itself into. I got admitted, and my journey as a designer began. The more I learned, the more excited I got!

Describe the first office where you worked as a designer.

My first job as a designer was at the Université Laval, where I designed a website and other digital applications for an online course one of the professors was developing. The salary and experience were great, but since I worked on my own, it wasn’t the best environment to expand on collaborative work.

While on contract there, I applied to different positions in Western Canada (as I also wanted to learn English), and at the end of the summer, I got my first job as a ‘Western Canadian’ designer in Edmonton, Alberta. The organization I worked for at the time was hiring French people from all around the globe. The ambience was great, and not only did I have the opportunity to develop a range of very fun digital projects, I also immersed myself in a foreign environment and experienced the Western Canadian culture, which I found quite different and laid back (and I love it; I am still residing in Edmonton 16 years later).

What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day?

Every morning, I turn on my music and painfully make my bed. Since I work from home most of the time, it is important I keep my house tidy and organized. Once I have had breakfast (Kraft peanut butter toasts, a classic!), I sit at my desk and read my emails while I savour my homemade hot chocolate.

Who do you consider to be an inspiring woman (alive or otherwise)?

Inspiring women are everywhere. I am not inspired by one in particular, but by all the ones able to pursue their dreams or help others in any ways. Women are stronger than they may even think, and I like to see them undertake challenges and contribute to how we evolve as a society.

What inspires your work (professional or personal)?

I am inspired a lot by my travels, the things I see, and by my students. Since I feel they have not been ‘corrupted’ yet by their professional career, the way they come up with solutions is very inspiring to me. Also, most Universities are filled with people from around the globe, and discovering and interacting with foreign cultures is inspiring and rejuvenating!

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Describe your design process.

This is a very common question asked of designers, as it seems the creative process is a struggle for many. I think that whoever asks hopes for an interesting answer, like a miracle diet.

In many cases, I find most of the process quite irrelevant. I believe a creative process is a very personal way of doing things, just like doing your hair or makeup. I can share what I do but it doesn’t mean it would actually work for others. Everyone does it differently; some of them end up with great results, and others will never have a beautiful ‘hairdo.’

I am a very organized person, which is really helpful since I am running my own business. Everything but my design process follows a structure. My creative process adapts depending on the client, the project, the budget, the timeline and even my mood. Some projects involve a lot of research, sketching and writing, while others don’t. That is why the process needs to be adjusted.

One aspect of my work that is consistent is how involved my clients are throughout a project. I love collaboration, and I am also able to sustain it.

What project are you most proud of?

I am not necessarily proud of specific projects, but I am proud of a few of my latest accomplishments. At this moment, I am happy with the work I completed with my students in our ‘Art of the Book’ spring class at the University of Alberta. I am proud of them for learning new skills and creating great work, and I am also proud that I created a series of illustrations for the project using techniques I hadn’t used before.

What is your personal or professional motto/philosophy?

‘Show me the money.’

This doesn’t really sound like an inspiring thing to say, but with time and experience, I have learned not to get too excited about what people say (this is amazing! Can we work together? I don’t have a big budget right now, but this could lead to much more work!). RIGHT.

It is sad to say, but I have learned in life (professionally and personally) that people love to pretend and make promises, but until they show me the money, I don’t get too excited by “potential opportunities.”

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?

I am tempted to say that quitting my full-time agency job of eight years as Art Director felt quite bold to me. I was very stressed about this not being a reasonable choice, but it definitely was a great decision for me as it truly helped me continue to grow, and it also made me learn so much about the industry. Through this experience, I have discovered what I liked and what I don’t like about the design industry. It helped me to truly know what I’m passionate about in the work I do.

Quitting your full-time job may not sound risky to everyone, and I realize that. But, after awhile of making a good paycheque every two weeks and being financially independent, it gets scary to walk away while still having to cover the regular expenses. When I left Québec to move to Alberta, I had no mortgage (not to mention furniture), and a job was waiting for me. Even if I would have left a regular income, my life wasn’t as settled and the feeling wasn’t the same.

What does success mean to you?

Success and happiness are the same to me. Feeling great and being happy is being successful.

I don’t need to be famous, but I want to be respected. I don’t need to be rich, but I certainly do not want to be poor. And I want to be able to spoil my family.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a female designer?

Realizing that there was truly some salary inequality. I have been quite good at negotiating my salary, but at some point in my career, I realized that someone I worked with had the same skills and experience I had, but was paid more than me, and that truly pissed me off. I couldn’t believe this was something still happening in the 2000s. It was an eye-opening realization, and it has not happened again since (not that I am aware of, anyway).

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What does it mean to you to be a woman in this business?

I guess I should have an answer to this question, but I am not sure what it means to me: I grew up in a positive environment where women always had their place (at least in my perception). I never felt underappreciated because of my gender, but I have to say that the Western Canadian culture is very different from what I have experienced in Québec.

My first impression when I moved to Alberta was that people were living similarly to my parents, like in the 70s. In Québec, women keep their maiden name and rarely take the name of their husbands (though they did back in the 70s). Also, in Quebec, a mother staying at home to care for her children isn’t as common; instead they work and raise their children at the same time.

There was an elevator in the office building where I worked in downtown Edmonton, where if a man was waiting for the same elevator as me, he would let me go first and hold the door for me. It was driving me nuts. In Québec, women don’t want to feel any different. It is part of our culture to be as independent as possible. That is why being a woman in this business doesn’t quite mean anything particular to me, but I can see that depending on how/where you grow up, the perception may be or feel different.

Now that I have adapted to my new province and understood why things are distinct, I embrace the gallantry while still feeling independent and powerful.

What was your educational experience like?

My education was a lovely experience. In fact, when I was a university student, I told myself I would love to be able to study for the rest of my life, but I knew that it would be a very expensive route. Right after graduating with my Bachelor's Degree, I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree focusing on digital media. I think that was the best decision I’ve made regarding my education. It took me several years to notice the impact this degree had on the type of career I pursued but today, it has all come together and I feel more complete.

Knowledge has a great value to me and I think it also has a great impact on our industry. I guess that is in part why I have been supporting the Graphic Designer of Canada organization for the last four years while teaching at the university level. The knowledge I received and the experience I gained impact the work I do daily, and it is important to me to share back with my students, peers, and clients.

It seems that my education prepared me well for my roles to come. Of course, there are things you will never be able to learn in school but also, there are a lot of things you would never be able to learn in the industry.

If you weren’t a designer, what career would you pursue?

If I weren’t a graphic designer, I would definitely be a designer of some sort. I like to improve processes and find new ways of approaching any given condition or situation.

Looking back at the different things I have taken part in, I always ended up in a leadership position, making decisions and helping others. Any career that would allow me to do this would be a great fit.

What is unique to a woman's design experience that no one talks about, but should?

My classrooms are always filled with women, but the industry seems to be filled with men. As a female designer who has occupied a variety of management positions, I realize I was often the only one taking part in higher level meetings. My work teams were most of the time comprised of more male designers than women… isn’t it strange?

Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night.

Any sort of change is challenging. My fear is not being able to cope with the changes my career can bring. I want to be able to adapt to anything that can impact my work and my way of living. This industry evolves constantly and I want to be able to evolve with it. I hope to be 100 years old and still be a relevant designer.

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when starting?

Looking back, there is not much I would like to change! Each part of my career lead me to the next chapter, and I am quite happy with how everything unfolded.

I started my career by immersing myself in a new environment (moving to Alberta) and to this day, I still think this is the best thing I have accomplished. Without realizing it immediately, it allowed me to better understand where I came from and how design can be perceived differently.

My classrooms are always filled with women, but the industry seems to be filled with men. As a female designer who has occupied a variety of management positions, I realize I was often the only one taking part in higher level meetings. My work teams were most of the time comprised of more male designers than women… isn’t it strange?

How would you design the ideal creative workspace?

To me, working from my home most of the time is what I found the most creative/productive. I like to work from a place where I don’t feel locked in. A place where I can ‘escape’ whenever I want to. Also, I found that being able to take a 20 minute nap when I am stressed out or when working with a very tight schedule has increased my productivity a lot.

Despite the great creative spaces around the city, I have never seen one offering you true escape. The best creative space is one where you can lower your stress level as much as possible so you can think and create freely, without any worry. Oh! And my brain gets activated by sun rays, so please bring on the large windows!

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Which of your traits are you most proud of?

I am proud of being able to be honest and straightforward. I am not sure how it started, or if I have always been this way, but I found that being able to communicate my thoughts in a transparent way helped me and also helped others move forward. People often thank me for saying something they wouldn’t have been able to. Being straightforward also means some people may get offended, but I am good with being direct. With time, I have learned to transform my thoughts into something softer for others to digest and reflect on.

Who was/is your greatest mentor and why?

I’ve known a lot of different people who have mentored and influenced me. My first mentor was my illustration instructor, Claude A. Simard. I wish he were still be alive. I loved his honesty. The people that are honest and transparent, even if they aren’t polished and are sometimes rude, are the ones I learn a lot from.

Is it possible to be unique or original in the Internet age?

Unique, yes. Original, it depends. Inspiring, definitely. I think everyone is unique and that is what I find interesting about people and the work they do.

What was the worst trend in the history of design?

I appreciate all trends, as I feel they are a reflection of the time at which they appeared. They make me smile and think back about the past and what we imagined the future to be at the time. With every trend there is the good and the bad. Some designer can execute something so well that even if it is terrible to start with, it is charming. And others just can’t even do great with the greatest tools.

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What about the current state of graphic design could you do without?

First of all, I think many of us (designers included) need to be better educated about the work we do and the impact it may have on others. To many, a graphic designer is a person (or an artist) who learns how to use a suite of software in order to create pretty visuals. Through experience, I found that even designers themselves forget important methods and principles they have learned throughout their education. They get “corrupted” by the workforce somehow, which I think has a negative impact on the graphic design industry.

Perhaps graphic design could do without the way many creative businesses are currently operating internally and externally. As an example, I don’t feel that having only a middle man (aka account manager/coordinator) to communicate with a client is the best way to go. In many instances, the account manager has a business background or marketing background of some sort, and unfortunately, is responsible for the budget, the timeline, and the creative team.

As for the creative team, they aren’t involved in any timeline or budget related meetings. They are often not even part of the planning and research stages of a project. All that is asked of them is to create/produce an predetermined item within a certain amount of time for a specific date (which is often ridiculously short). Therefore, they often don’t even have time to think about the problem they have to solve nor the audience they are designing for! This may sound like an exaggerated situation, but it truly happens too often; you can’t imagine all the reasons I’ve heard in defense of this way of managing projects.

As a business owner and a designer, I am not sure how I would be able to find great solutions for my client if I wasn’t be aware of all aspects of a project. Why would a creative team not be involved from the start? Well, to bring it back to the beginning, it’s because they are perceived as a people who learn how to use a series of software in order to create pretty visuals! They aren’t perceived as thinkers and their position doesn’t allow them to prove otherwise.

In my design educator role, I try really hard to teach my students ways of getting around this awful reality. Most of them are brilliant and talented, and I see great potential in them. I see in each of them an opportunity to improve our industry, and I want to offer them tools they can bring along with them to their career and the professional environment they will face.

I feel like I have been doing a great job at offering my clients the best solutions and services possible, but this is the easy part, since I am managing my own business. I hope I can do as much with my students, peers, and collaborators, as I think our industry really needs to be better understood.

What are your plans for the future?

Achieving success (being happy, always)!