Women in Graphic Design
Lisa C
Read Time:
13 Minutes
May 3, 2018

At Provoke we try to keep things fresh and put our own spin on everything we do. Our blog is no exception to that. This week we have a surprise for everyone!

A sit-down one on one interview with our FEARLESS LEADER Miss Lisa. 

We focus on her experiences both NEGATIVE and POSITIVE in the world of graphic design. This is NOT a sordid exposé of the graphic design industry, I am sorry to tell you. Are there parts that are difficult to swallow with all the current movements of late. Yes, I would say so, but this is more a look at how the industry has changed and moves forward. Most of all its about one woman’s journey through the industry.

Without further delay here is my conversation with Lisa of Provoke:

Q: Describe how the culture in agencies has changed over the last 15 years? Or has it?

In my opinion it has changed for the better. When I first started out junior graphic designer would literally oversee “new” bubble/flash on a box of cereal. Or get the team’s coffee.

I find there is still a HIERARCHY which I feel is still important because experience and knowledge in the industry is a huge asset for any creative team. What I think is great is that designers that come out of school with 2yrs, 5yrs, 15+ years experience can now work better PEER TO PEER creatively.

The hierarchy is more used in a process sense to get the project done. Versus back in the day when the creative director would DICTATE their design to the junior designers. A junior now will have MORE CREATIVE FREEDOM and because of this they are not scared to come up with cool ideas or state an opinion in a brainstorming meeting.

Q: What was it like when you were a rookie working in Toronto?

When I first started out I was the junior designer that started working on only elements of a project but never got to do the full thing. I would be included in brainstorming meetings, but my opinion would not have the weight of more senior designers no matter how good the idea.

On the same note I got to work with some VERY TALENTED PEOPLE. I learned a lot about package design that I never would have learned in school, so it was a GREAT EXPERIENCE. I tried to SOAK UP as much knowledge as I could. I asked a lot of questions to the more senior designers to get as much out of the experience as I could. I still did have to do the coffee runs and the “new” bubble on products.

It was a huge adjustment time for me. I had to move to Toronto from Kitchener and try to adjust to big city living. Extremely different environment transitioning from school to the offices and agency life down in Toronto. It took me some time to GET COMFORTABLE.

Q: How are women treated in comparison to men in graphic design?

Unfortunately, I do have stories and they are not all positive. I have had the pleasure of learning and working along side some of the kindest courteous men. I have had the honour of being a mentor to a male junior graphic designer who I have nothing but respect for and still communicate with to this day 10 years later. One junior in particular who will remain nameless taught me just because you’re a junior doesn’t mean there is not a whole bunch of shit you can’t teach me. THANK YOU FOR THAT.

On the bad side I won’t lie I have had my butt pinched, butt slapped, and not in the team sport baseball kind of way. I have had males obviously look down my blouse in the middle of meetings and make COMMENTS about my breast size.

I have also the ILL PLEASURE working as an art director/mentor a junior designer fresh out of school that was older then me and male. He decided he wasn’t going to take any direction from me and take extended lunches and literally do his own thing. That was the first time I had to fire someone. There is only so much rudeness, being talked back to and blatantly not following instructions that one manager could take no matter what gender you are. They FULLY ADMITTED to me that he a) they had a problem with an art director being female and b) some one younger than him giving him instructions.

From my perspective I tried my best to work with this male and even took a course on how to deal with difficult people and in the end, I still had to fire him. This was after many attempts and discussions with MY boss on working on a resolution. My boss and I concluded that he was not a proper fit for out team. FUNNY THING is I still talk to this guy and he has now left the industry. We have talked about this many times since and he has apologized for his actions. I COMMEND HIM for that.

That takes guts owning up to ones’ mistakes.

Q: Do women treat other women as equals? How so?

In agencies there is a lot of competition between other females. In my case ESPECIALLY at the senior level. In MY OPINION agencies breed this by not looking at the personality types they place together. Are they going to work together or not? You can have complementary skills but absolutely clash as a person. I think it is also us as girls we are taught to fight for everything we get in my opinion. We feel WE MUST FIGHT HARDER then males to get the same outcomes and respect. If that be a promotion, being the presenter at a meeting, pitching your creative ideas and due to this I have seen WOMEN WILLING to cut the other women off at the knees to get ahead. Not a fun position to be placed in.

On the other side of this I have been able to work with some of the best FEMALE writers, designers and account executives. To this point, three of my four people in my upcoming wedding party are women that I have met at previous agencies or in design school. I consider them my best friends. Sara, Kim and Gordana are three of my closest friends. Amazing, thoughtful and all around AWESOME human beings on all levels.

Q: What is your favourite project to work on since you started working in graphic design?

This is a TOUGH one. I have got to work on so many cool things it is so hard to pick just one. Food4Kids I am very proud of as I am a 100% believer in all that they do. I could not say enough about them. Fantastic people that work hard to put food in the TUMMIES of, unfortunate children and families in unfortunate situations at home, on the weekends and at school.

I have done logo design, website design and print design for numerous of their various events. I hope to continue doing work with them for years to come. To add to this, I volunteer my time to drive the food items to schools and homes for THEIR SCHOOL AND SUMMER PROGRAMS. Charities like this are very important to help people in situations that are sometimes out of anyone’s control.

I have had the privilege of designing personalized Coca-Cola bottles for THESE KIDS WEAR CROWNS for the much music video awards gift bags PRESENTED to the performers and award winners. The coolest part was our design team won an award for the entire series we created.

It was cool to be a part of that!

Q: Do you feel that it has gotten easier for women in 2018 compared to when you started out of college?

I think with the movements that are going on as of late, I feel that BOTH GENDERS are learning to check their behaviour better. Learning what’s acceptable and what’s not. I think nothing is perfect currently, but we are moving in the RIGHT DIRECTION. We are helping to EMPOWER women to say "guess what you CAN'T slap my ass here." "You CAN'T look down my top." "You CAN'T make comments about my boobs." "We are NOT TOLD to suck it up", "to HUSH up", "that is JUST WHAT HE DOES". We don’t have to be afraid to report or excuse behaviour in the office place.

Q: What advice would you give women starting out?

I don’t feel the advice I would give is gender specific. If you are fresh out of school SUCK UP all the knowledge you can. FIND A MENTOR, someone who is willing to take you under their wing and give you advice. I was lucky enough to find that. I PAY IT FORWARD by mentoring whenever I can and speaking at graphic design classes at our local colleges.

CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR. Your going to learn some amazing shit here and the only way your going to is to BE OPEN and be an AMAZING TEAM PLAYER. Keep those creative skills going. If it be looking at Pinterest, if it be looking at graphic design magazines, it doesn’t matter ALWAYS BE LEARNING.

Q: Did the culture helped in you making your decision to start your own company?

I would say yes and no. I do MISS the social aspect of being in the studio being surrounded by creatives you can bounce ideas off. Just being with people that are as passionate about design as you are. Basically, being with your own people, be it artsy, geek, creative, and unique.


The YES to that question is the inner office politics that I don’t miss.

Q: What was the hardest part about starting your own company?

Being confident in a studio environment SURROUNDED by a team of creatives, working on project, pitching together and now you are doing alone. There is only ONE of you now. Becoming a jack of all trades which can be good and bad. Now I am the CEO, I am the creative director, I am the accountant, and I am the account executive.

I have increased my arsenal of skills tenfold, but I don’t get to focus as much on creative as I would like too. In the beginning I had a HARD TIME adjusting to working out of the home, so I made the leap to go into coworking space. Which I am still in to this day 4 years later. My current place to hang my hat is in the Halton Hive in Burlington Ontario. Where there are a lot of great small businesses and people that WE INTERACT with daily.

Q: Do you feel that life is better working on your own compared to the big agency? how so?

In my case I would say YES. I always had a hard time looking at a business that I was an employee of and not seeing the faults or how I WOULD DO it better. Now I get to do it my way. I have a hard time with work life balance but, in my mind, I’m at least spending those energy for MY COMPANY versus doing millions of hours of overtime and putting the money in someone else’s pocket.

Q: Do you have goals for the future in business?

Yes, who doesn’t! I have always HAVE HAD THE GOAL to have my own agency and RUN MY WAY. To be able to have the option to be remote for a summer and literally working in the Muskoka’s at a cottage. To have the freedom to take on projects I want to work on. Would also love to have the luxury to take on clients because projects interest us not just for the work.

Q: Would you consider mentoring another young female in graphic design to help them grow? Why?

100% because I was lucky enough to get mentored by some of the greats. I always want to pay that forward.

That was a very INSIGHTFUL conversation with Lisa but like all things it has an ending. Which is right now. Till next week….