Demande Spéciale’s Guillaume Lavallée on taking risks, designing products and presenting projects
Since being founded in 2017 by Guillaume Lavallée and Maude Turgeon, Montreal-based design studio Demande Spéciale have developed a vibrant aesthetic that effortlessly balances typographic expertise with playful and unexpected exploration. They work with local and international clients on their visual identities, campaigns, websites and more; and at the same time, devise their own line of products for their OODS online store.
EM What led Maude and yourself to start a studio together back in 2017?
GL It was really natural. We didn’t even have plans of becoming a studio one day. We met while working in a small studio and the size of it made us become a team early on without really thinking about it. We were also both taking small projects on the side. One had the name, the other had a new side project to work on and it just started from there.
EM How has what you do evolved since you started?
GL It has and hasn’t really evolved at the same time. One thing we are working on is our more strategic side and being able to bring more thoughts into our approach on projects. But our core stayed the same in the sense that we wanted to get away from the over-structured agency model to have a smaller scale, more direct and open contact with our clients. We also started the studio because we love it and have fun doing it. It’s stimulating and it inspires us in creating self-initiated work. In the beginning, Demande Spéciale was just that, a self-initiated side project.
EM Did it feel like a big risk going from side project to full-time, or did it happen naturally?
GL It was definitely a big risk. I dropped my job in a big agency because it didn’t bring me the same happiness as running the side project. I wanted to feel that feeling every day not only on weekends and after work hours.
EM What’s the most difficult part of running a design business?
GL Even when we started the studio we were pretty new to the design community, Maude had finished school for only a year and I was working for like three years. So the hardest part was to make a name for ourselves, getting acknowledgement by serious clients and institutions.
The hardest part was to make a name for ourselves.
EM How did you come up with the name for the studio?
GL It came from the idea of a DJ in a bar that always receives requests from drunk people and always finds an excuse to don’t play them, but has to (Demande Spéciale means Special Request in French). If a client asks about the name we just say that it’s because we help them with all their special requests, even the craziest ones haha!
EM How would you describe the aesthetic of your work?
GL It’s a kind of duality between minimalism and contrast with a typographic sensibility. In our process, we always try to simplify our concepts and ideas to express the essence of it, but it can end up really bold, textured and colourful. We think, if we could describe it with one word, it would be contrast. It’s all about contrast.
We always try to simplify our concepts and ideas.
EM Do you have a project that you think best represents that aesthetic?
GL We have a project, Afterglo, that isn’t fully cased studied yet but was just released. It’s a good example of simplifying the idea to its essence. Afterglo is a brand that democratises sexuality and what intimacy means. All about creating a safe space for pleasure, we developed a simple wordmark that expresses that with its intimate counter-shapes becoming a core brand element.
We also have a poster we made for an exposition at the WIP gallery called Matériaux. It was all about matter and our relationship to it in a context where technology and overproduction causes a loss of contact with it. It’s a good project that reflects our simple typographic approach merged with our more bold and textural side.
EM Making products and merch for the OODS store – do you see this as a side project or more of a business in its own right?
GL It’s kind of both. As we started being a side project we don’t want to put OODS in a defined box. We definitely want to explore and play more with product design. We want it to grow, but we don’t want to force anything. We want to produce and drop stuff when we have an idea, a concept, not every season because ‘we have to.’ We don’t want to put pressure on us to produce, sell and manage a big inventory.
We want it to grow, but we don’t want to force anything.
EM Do you find that you have to think differently when creating things like bags, hats and sweatshirts, compared to branding?
GL Definitely, we had to think more in a way of what we would like to wear, what we would like to buy, I think for fashion the branding is secondary because we wanted to reinvent ourselves with every drop we’re gonna do.
EM A lot of thought seems to go into the presentation of your work – why do you think that’s important?
GL It’s one of our favourite things to do at the studio. We think it helps to understand a project when you see it living in its environment. We see that as a project itself, it allows us to explore things with different mediums and collaborators too.
We always trust our guts, we want to take risks.
EM How much do you think and plan ahead for what the studio will be like in a few years time?
GL We always have in mind the big picture but as a person, the studio changes, evolves and tries to be better. We always trust our guts, we want to take risks, not follow a path that we already know all the exits.
EM What is Montreal like as a city for a design studio?
GL It’s pretty wild. We have a really big community of design studios and agencies but we’re not that many people demographically. I think the French Canadians always want to do things differently and that is why the work that came out from here resonates that much worldwide.