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Interview with Stefan Canuel

Home > Designer Interviews > Stefan Canuel

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Stefan Canuel (SC) for A’ Design Award and Competition. You can access the full profile of Stefan Canuel by clicking here.

Interview with Stefan Canuel at Tuesday 25th of April 2017

FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
SC: My love for fine art and my interest in pop culture is longstanding. Growing up with a fascination for the visual arts and discovering commercial art while studying fine arts at university made me realize that becoming a designer was my true purpose. I’m a designer because Art and design is a big part of my life, and one can’t come without the other. I am grateful that I can work in this field.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
SC: The National Gallery of Canada is one of the world's most respected art institutions, renowned for its exceptional collections, revered for its scholarship, and applauded for its unique ability to engage audiences of all ages and all levels of artistic knowledge. The National Gallery of Canada strives to provide Canadians with a sense of identity with and pride in Canada's rich visual-arts heritage. Through its collections, onsite exhibitions, educational programs and publications, professional training programs, and outreach initiatives, the Gallery aspires to be a model of excellence in furthering knowledge of the visual arts, both at home and abroad.

FS: What is "design" for you?
SC: Design is a balance between problem-solving, strategy, logic and creativity. This makes design a profession with endless possibilities. I am constantly innovating, learning and exploring new ideas and have been fortunate to work on several types of projects in a variety of media. This has allowed me to experiment with many different forms of design.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
SC: I have a soft spot for publication design. But I have to admit any design that involves a 3D object and different material can be engaging: whether designing an exhibition, a table or a book.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
SC: Lately I’ve been pretty impressed with David Bowie’s Blackstar album designed by Barbbrook. The design of the album is absolutely astonishing. I also enjoy all of the Type Directors Club Typography annuals. Every year they come up with a new agency to design the annual and they always use up-to-the moment printing tricks. They are beautiful.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
SC: I have to go back a few years. The first thing that comes to mind is a box and bottle packaging for a kid’s bubble bath product – it was called ‘mad scientist’ or something like that!

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
SC: As I mentioned earlier anything that involves material, fabric; anything that you can touch, manipulate or hold in your hands.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
SC: When I’m not rush or overloaded with too many projects. And usually late at night!

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
SC: I focus a lot on problem-solving: making sure the particular concept works, and that there’s a logic behind the decision-making along the way.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
SC: I take great pride and find immense value in what I do. Design is part of me. It is what I am most passionate about.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
SC: Pride. You don’t need someone to tell you you’ve created a strong design; you know it.

FS: What makes a design successful?
SC: It’s all about creating harmony among the design components and having them come together in a final outstanding product. At the same time a successful design has to be clear and consistent. Great design has always involved simple ideas to find a solution.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
SC: For me clarity of design is the first consideration.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
SC: The design industry has the potential to make positive change in the world. I think we can tackle any environmental problems with a design solution.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
SC: I believe in the power of community. The design industry has benefited from this sense of community and will continue to do so. Take for example the blocked image-styles like Pinterest and Piccsy, they are gaining popularity; in a few years, text will seem totally unnecessary.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
SC: I haven’t had a chance to exhibit solo. I had some group exhibitions at design events, the last one was at DesignThinkers last fall in Toronto.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
SC: I go through a lot of books, I feed my mind with a lot of visual material. Creativity comes naturally, you cut an onion and you have to make something out of it. You pour water in a glass and it reminds you of something. I remember years ago making a gondola boat with my mussel shells while eating them. I usually find my creative solutions when doing something completely unrelated to design proper. I would also recommend a book that I discovered recently titled D30 - it’s really helpful if you need to give your creative side a kick-start!.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
SC: I’m not sure if I can describe my design style. I can say that I’m meticulous but at the same time I don’t want to be so focused on details that I loose track of the creative side of the project.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
SC: I’m from Canada, and live and work in Ottawa. I would have to say that aspects of American culture affect my design. I would love to be surrounded at times by the simple clean shapes and sensibilities of much European design but I find that there is less exposure to this living in Canada. Then again maybe there’s a freedom here to pull from numerous established trends and influences.

FS: How do you work with companies?
SC: I still do some freelance work here and there, but my main job is as an In-House designer at the Gallery.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
SC: Look at the cost estimate and make sure you understand what the design is charging for and what is involved. For example, 1000$ can be cheap for a concept but when you think about it that means about 8 hours or less time will have been put into it and this is not enough, it seems to me. Weigh the hours put in with the promised goals for delivery, and always look closely at the designer’s rationale for problem solving and aim to gauge closely their overall approach to creativity.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
SC: My design process involves six different phases. 1) Project initiation: establishing a personal relationship with the client through a face-to-face meeting with the artist, the curator or client is necessary. Ensure that the client knows what they want from the project, and establish a realistic schedule of how the project should proceed. 2) Research & analysis: this phase usually involves taking into account the market trends, the history, and the future as well. When trying to convey a design idea I will often use mood boards. 3) Strategy: develop a strategy before putting pencil to paper. It is necessary to run the strategy to the client to get approval or disapproval at this stage. 4) Development: develop several different concepts. The idea here is to create as many different options before choosing the most viable one. These ideas are then narrowed down to one or two for further development and refinement. 5) Presentation – Make a paper mock-up, an elevation or a rendering. This is the time for the client to review the designs and provide feedback based on their objectives and needs. 6) Production – With an approved design, it is now time hand over the finished piece for production.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
SC: Let me think, I have several books… First, I’ll go with all the Type Directors Club Typography books, they are all exceptionally designed. Second I would have to say my great felt Ipad case however I can’t remember who that is by! In general I am impressed with Apple-designed products. I have an old 3D screen printed poster that I rather like and which works well with those red and green card glasses. I also own an old street sign that’s in my yard. A lot of these items have designs that are timeless rather than trendy, which I like.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
SC: Lately! Work, Work, Work.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
SC: Never give up. Design is an extremely competitive field and it takes dedication, hard work and resilience to get established. Everyone thinks they are a designer and will have comments on your work so stick to your vision and goals – true designers will always stand out from the field.. Don’t let people from outside the field advise you in areas they don’t know as well as you - you know the tools and software. Moreover, you have the creativity and a designer is more than just a pair of hand running a computer. Believe in yourself.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
SC: Certainly there are no shortage of headaches in the design field – from always feeling the need to improve and outdo your last design, to managing the scope of projects and the restrictions and limits on it from all kinds of factors: from budget to clients’ competing visions and objectives. That said, there is nothing as rewarding as seeing the end of a project and recognized all you have accomplished.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
SC: I think being innovative would be my “golden rule” in design.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
SC: I don’t think you can succeed as a designer if you don’t have creativity, color theory and spatial dynamics knowledge, and some communication skills.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
SC: I use all the basic Adobe Suite design software such as InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, other CAD software and SketchUp. I have other adobe software on my tablet that I use for sketching. My library is full of design books that I can recommend but one comes to mind. Type Matters! by Jim Williams - A book I wish I would have written! Then there’s all the stuff you need to know when using type.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
SC: It’s easy I don’t manage my time. I just don’t need much sleep.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
SC: It’s a tricky question because it really depends on the scope of work but what I’m sure is that nothing can be designed in a week.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
SC: What color would you use?

FS: What was your most important job experience?
SC: I think working on the exhibition Sakahàn was probably my most important job experience. Sakahàn was the first of a series of exhibits dedicated to “diverse, complex and challenging artworks being made by Indigenous artists in regions such as the Americas, Asia, Oceania, Europe and Africa.” It filled both floors of the National Gallery of Canada special exhibition spaces as well as the contemporary art galleries—not to mention several public spaces inside and outside the Gallery. My mandate was to conceive of a show that worked on a number of different levels. I had the responsibility of overseeing and implementing the layout and construction of the physical exhibitions space, as well as the numerous, purpose-built display cases, of creating all visual and didactic material, including marketing poster, invitation, billboard, and outdoor banners. I had to create a visual identity with aesthetic appeal that also communicated the client's message, concept and image to visitors, while meeting the limitations imposed by space and budget.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
SC: I’ve been working at the National Gallery of Canada as an In-House designer for the past 15 years.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
SC: I have a soft spot for publication design. But I have to admit any design that involve a 3D object and different material. From designing an exhibition, to design a table or a book. I have a multifaceted approach to design.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
SC: I have no plan for the near future, I’ll see how it goes with my new position at the Gallery and I’ll go from there.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
SC: Mostly myself.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
SC: Yes, I’ve been pretty busy the past year working on projects for the Canada 150 celebrations at the National Gallery, including new way finding and other upgrade to the gallery. I’m also working on a publication with artist Geoffrey Farmer who is representing Canada at the Venice Biennial this summer.

FS: How can people contact you?
SC: You can always contact me through my personal site, LinkedIn or my Behance page.

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
SC: Many people think that design relies on a great sense of style. Style is important, but it is only one element at the end of the design process.


FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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