The Designers: Caserne’s Sébastien Paradis on why he quit freelancing to join the Montreal studio
The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. For the twenty-second interview in the series, we spoke to Sébastien Paradis, a career-long freelance designer taking up his first full-time position as a Designer at Caserne in Montreal.
EM Hi Sébastien, how are you?
SP Pretty good, I am still enjoying the end of holidays, writing to you well comfy on my sofa. How are you, Elliott?
EM I’m doing well, thanks – very much looking forward to the year ahead. How did you find 2021, on a personal and professional level?
SP 2021 was full of surprises. It was also a defining year: my initial plan was to move from Montreal to San Francisco for a few months and work abroad for a design contract – which was an exciting career-advancement opportunity. Everything was settled from paperwork to accommodation since 2020 and I was patiently waiting for the Canada-United States border to re-open. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic made it officially no longer possible to travel. 2021 thus was about grounding myself in Montreal and growing those roots deeper. I pursued my freelance contract at Wedge, took a break in the summer to recharge, worked on the house I just bought, and went back freelancing at Cossette. The end of the year has been a career turning point: after ten years of freelance design, I accepted a full-time position at Caserne, starting January 2022!
EM Can you place where your first interest in graphic design came from?
SP Back in the early 2000s, I was a young boy obsessed with skateboarding videos. Sorry by Flip skateboards was my favourite. I was also part of a skate crew and we were constantly and proudly filming each other. I loved strolling down the streets with my friends but I also took much pleasure in editing and branding our skate videos as well as designing posters. I wanted them to look great. A few years later, I decided to take on graphic design studies.
Being so well surrounded at these renowned studios helped me build myself as a better designer.
EM Where do you find the most inspiration and references these days?
SP On a daily basis, I get up to date by following blogs, not too many, but the ones I find the sharpest in their respective creative field. I also save up my favourite design studios, foundries and photographers’ websites in my browser tab which I often look up to.
When starting a project, I find my inspiration directly from the brief, and from my feelings and experiences related to the subject matter. For example, I once worked on Canada Post’s Formula 1 stamps. I always found that the way pilots were branded – with multicoloured patches, stickers and logos from various sponsors spread all over their suits and cars – was chaotic but it never left me indifferent either. This specific observation became my main design idea, which I graphically explored and played around with to come up with the final visual concept.
EM What have you found to be the ups and downs of working as a freelancer?
SP The main driver was to meet new people and to grow that circle of talented creatives with whom I had the great pleasure to work with. Being so well surrounded at these renowned studios surely helped me learn and build myself as a better designer. I was exposed to different visions, different approaches and they all strengthened the way I’m now crafting my ideas, that’s for sure.
Another reason why I started freelancing was for freedom. It gave me the opportunity to manage my own schedule. On a personal level, the in-between contracts lapse time allowed me to satisfy my strong desire to discover the world through long travels.
However, something was missing: building a strong, deep and ongoing sense of belonging with the people and environment surrounding me. Plus, there was always this bitter time to say goodbye when I was moving on to another contract.
EM Why did you decide to stop freelancing and join Caserne permanently?
SP I’ve worked with Caserne in the past as a freelancer in 2016-2017. We had fun designing the Culture Montréal brand together (you can see it on both of our Behance). I am a fan of Caserne’s work since day one. Typography, colours and visual choices always feel fresh and relevant. Moreover, Caserne and I have a clear resemblance from a design vision standpoint and I love the studio’s culture. Two employee-oriented and community-sensitive initiatives were set up: Brasserie Caserne, aimed to bring together friends and family for an evening while launching the ‘official office beer’ and Caserne Inn, a humorous and fake virtual resort where all branded merchandise profits go to a foundation. I find it brilliant, mobilising and playful. Finally, the professional opportunity to be part of their team suited me perfectly. This is an obvious and natural fit that allows me to anchor myself while having a long term vision.
EM What are you looking forward to learning and doing at Caserne that you haven’t been able to while freelancing?
SP I am aiming to build a truly complicit and agile relationship with the team. Moreover, being grounded at Caserne allows me to act as an octopus by better connecting myself to durable graphic resources (photographers, typographers, illustrators, etc.). Working as a team definitely helps me elevate projects to another level that goes beyond my own capacity.
EM What have you found most challenging in your career so far?
SP Expectations. The best designs and artworks are now widely spread and accessible to all (through social media for instance), which puts pressure on designers’ shoulders to come up with exceptional and better-crafted artworks every time, even if you don’t have the budget, resources or time.
EM Do you think there can be too much pressure sometimes for designers to have side projects and work outside of their day job?
SP Yes. On a personal level, I need to free my mind for my ideas to renew and elevate. When I have too many clients or side projects on my plate, my head is overwhelmed and I feel like I need to give that extra (but tired) push to make it happen.
EM Tell us about something you’ve learnt from someone in the creative industry that has always stayed with you?
SP Louis Gagnon (who was my creative director at the time at Paprika) once said the following when he was president of the jury at Grafika (graphic design awards): “This year, I want to see great ideas perfectly executed.” (Translated from French).
Ideas can take many forms. What I design can be inspired by relevant elements: an insight, an atmosphere or a shape for example, which ultimately drive my final design. That’s something I’ve learned while working with Louis. I like how he genuinely put it in a few simple words.
EM What does your setup look like?
SP I was in an at-home temporary office occupying a desk for over a year. I just moved to Caserne and I am glad to share this image of my new workplace!
EM Do you have a project you consider to be your best work?
SP There are many projects I am proud of but for the sake of this interview, I’ll pick Maitri. My mandate was to first define the high-level brand DNA and its assets, and then design its various applications, from merchandise to communicational initiatives. This cannabis company came with numerous design restrictions: the desire to keep the old logo while freshening up their brand (even if they finally agreed to slightly modify it), many drug-related regulations as well as fierce competitors.
I have to admit I’m particularly proud of the custom, useful boxes I designed: the packaging was designed from elegant dark grey cardboard to quietly reflect the brand’s high quality. The almond-shaped leaves of Maitri logo were replicated as cut-outs on each box’s side, serving as both a clever branding reference and a practical device to facilitate box opening. Finally, the bottom of the box was adorned with colours and various textures, while the product’s name, descriptor and pictogram are displayed at the top. This makes the products easily identifiable and distinguishable from other on-shelf brands.
Miriam Bousquet (account director at Paprika at the time) was the best ally for the project, she managed to provide the appropriate production resources, schedule and creative space, which were key elements to obtain the final result I’m thrilled with.
The design industry often feels like a closed-circuit filled with déjà-vu.
EM How do you approach the day ahead if you don’t feel creative?
SP With time, I got to know myself better and identified my creative patterns. I am very productive in the morning, and less creative part of the afternoon. Thus, I try to fit in most of the creative and brainy jobs at the beginning of the day and I focus on e-mails, meetings and production after lunch.
EM What tools and software have you found useful in aiding your creativity and organisation?
SP In general, I am a low-tech designer. I use the basics of each Adobe software and I try to make the most out of it. When I work on animations, for example, I often apply simple translations and scalings to give my work the right rhythm. From time to time, the Vectoraster software comes in handy to build halftone patterns with precision. Even though it’s not its main purpose, I sometimes use it to animate those patterns with the frame-by-frame technique.
EM What would you like to see more and less of in the design industry?
SP I like when I see sensitivity, in ideas inspired from the surrounding environment, everyday objects or situations for instance, rather than from moodboards. The design industry often feels like a closed-circuit filled with déjà-vu. More freshness, less sameness :-)
EM What is the creative culture like in Quebec?
SP I can’t speak for Quebec’s creative culture as a whole since it’s too wide and diverse. But I do know that the design culture in Montreal is vibrant. There are great opportunities for different profiles. In general, I feel like clients are quite open-minded to new ideas if they make sense and if they are helpful to the brand. Mostly, the people I met in the design industry are passionate and truly motivated. I believe it reflects the high quality of work we see here in Montreal.
My clients are mainly Montreal-based design studios. They gave me such great opportunities which I am very grateful for. Warmest thank you to my best clients, colleagues and friends:
Louis Gagnon and Joanne Lefebvre at Paprika who gave me my first chance in the studio I admired the most.
Richard Bélanger and Miriam Bousquet at Cossette with whom I worked on the biggest brand and challenges of my career.
Bryan-K Lamonde, Patrick Pellerin and Julien Hébert at Principal, the laid-back studio with a rigorous design approach.
Sarah Di Domenico, Justin Lortie and Ariane Leblanc at Wedge who always made brands look so fashionable.
Ugo Varin-Lachapelle and Léo Breton-Allaire at Caserne for this awesome and new career-advancement opportunity, and to this exciting future ahead of us!