A group of creatives in Newfoundland and Labrador has united to foster a stronger sense of community in the design, marketing and communications sector
The design industry is fiercely competitive, but one group of creatives is putting aside rivalry to build something bigger.
The group, called thedesigners, is giving creative people a place to meet, network, showcase their talents – and maybe learn a thing or two.
The thedesigners, with a current head count at 13, have joined forces to bring the provincial design community together through events and conversation.
“The industry in general operates as remote cells, education, freelance and established businesses. The Designers allows us to get together,” said Ray Fennelly, an instructor with the College of the North Atlantic and one of the group’s original members.
The idea originated from a discussion among local design professionals about the College of the North Atlantic graphic design programs’ annual student exhibit and meet-and-greet. The event is intended to showcase the talents of the first- and second-year students.
“It was all very bootstrap . . . but it was never what it could have or should have been,” says Don-E Coady, a current member of thedesigners.
So, the idea formed to elevate the event into something bigger that would benefit the students and the whole of the creative community. The student exhibit could be combined with a bigger industry event where creatives from competing companies, freelancers and students could all come together to attend the event, talk shop and elevate the provincial design community.
From that discussion, thedesigners were born.
“It’s an appreciation situation,” said Coady. “We’re all here because we love design, and art and communications.”
It’s a group that prefers to operate as anonymously as possible. You won’t find the members’ names listed on any of its online channels or promotions. And the group makes a point of having a different host for each event.
“We don’t want one person to be noticed as thedesigners; we just want it to be thedesigners, which is why we never put our names on stuff . . . We don’t want to get praise for it. We’re doing this to build the design community. . .” said Jerry Stamp, another member of the group.
The Sept. 20 showing of the documentary film Design Canada at the LSPU Hall in downtown St. John’s was the fourth event put off by thedesigners since April 2017.
The brainchild of Greg Durrell, a graphic designer based in British Columbia, the film takes the audience on a journey through the history of graphic design in Canada and how it has shaped our country’s national identity.
“Greg (Durrell) made that movie and he didn’t appear in it once. . . He removes himself from it other than the director line at the end. . .That’s kind of what we’re trying to do, make (thedesigners) about everybody and for everybody, and I feel like it’s working,” said Judd Haynes, another current member of thedesigners.
The group has hosted a film screening between each of its main events over the past two years. The screenings act as fundraisers, and all money raised goes back into the events.
The first year’s guest speaker was American designer Aaron Draplin, who has worked on projects with retail giants such as Nike and Target. This year’s main event, held in May, featured CBC’s Terry O’Reilly, host of the popular radio show Under the Influence.
“The students love the annual event,” said CNA graphic design instructor Ray Fennelly. “They all attend and get a chance to exhibit their work to industry. It really is special for them. It also allows industry to see the new crop.”
In contrast to most sponsored events, the majority of thedesigners’ sponsors are competing within the same industry. Sponsorship exclusivity goes against the grain of what they are trying to do.
“We’ve had discussions with people that were saying, ‘What about if our company sponsored the entire event?’ And we were like, ‘No. That’s not what it’s about . . . We want it to be about community,’” said Stamp.
The membership is almost an even split between women and men, with six women and seven men currently. Keeping that equilibrium is important to the group, but the membership changes frequently based on the personal and professional commitments of each member, and there is no set hierarchy.
“The who doesn’t necessarily matter,” Haynes said. “It’s part of the allure of it, that we’re trying not to make it about us because we are trying not to make it about elevating our own agendas. And that’s what’s kind of fun about it.”
There are already talks about what next year’s event will look like and who the keynote speaker may be, but the group is being very tight-lipped so far.
As the group’s success grows, its members want to ensure that the events are inclusive to the full creative community and not just graphic designers so they are keeping their options open.