#EmbraceEquity with judge Monique Gamache

A Q&A with 2023 Design judge

March 8, 2023

#EmbraceEquity with judge Monique Gamache

In recognition of this year's International Women's Day (#EmbraceEquity) we wanted to celebrate all the talented hard-working women in our industry and so, we approached the women jurors of our three 2023 Awards competitions –  Photography & Illustration, Design and Student - with a Q&A. We wanted to provide them with a space to discuss their experience in the industry today as well as share their advice to up-and-coming creatives.


Monique Gamache, Design Director, FOUNDER, Matter, Calgary, AB

How did you end up in the industry?

I was a bit of an odd duck as a kid. My brother was embarrassed by how I dressed. Not good at organized sports. Even something as simple as paddling a rubber dingy was a challenge. I would always just go in circles. But Art…. I was always good at it. It was my superpower. I started oil painting when I was eight and was selling my work by 16. I was obsessed with photography, architecture, books and hand drawing typography. Art was my jam. I ended up studying design at Emily Carr in Vancouver. It was an obvious choice that combined all of the things I loved. After graduating I wanted to design Annual Reports so compelling that they would sit on a table and scream to be picked up. My heroes were doing this in the states, and I wanted to do it in Canada. I eventually moved to Calgary - the corporate hometown of the energy sector. It was a mecca for safe, boring Annual Reports. It was the perfect place to hone my craft. My first season (and job) was with Parallel, and I designed 15 ARs. It felt like a sink or swim kind of thing and I loved it. While not all of my books were 100% compelling, there were a few creative standouts that first year. And that was exciting.


What were your goals as an up-and-coming creative?

My goal was to be strategic about where I worked. I wanted to work at a studio or agency that would allow me to do the kind of work I wanted to do. And I wanted to surround myself with like-minded people who also saw opportunities in corporate work. And naturally, I really wanted to be an exceptional designer, win awards, make a name for myself and continually raise my creative bar.


Who was your mentor?

Quite honestly my real mentors were publications: Communication Arts and AR100 (mostly AR100). Best day ever was when a new issue would come out. Nothing was better than the smell of fresh ink and cracking the spine of an AR100 hot off the press. In art school I’d always check the credits to see what new work my heroes like Leimer Cross or Cahan & Associates had done. It was surreal in future years to look and see my name. I guess these annuals made excellent mentors.


What was your experience climbing the creative ladder?

Seriously. My experience hasn’t been a ladder. It’s more of an elevator. Sometimes it has to go down before going up again. This has been a pattern throughout my career. Get job. Work really, really hard. Win lots of awards. FACE PLANT. Pick myself up and dust off. Get better job. Make better work. Like an elevator, I too can get stuck, but believe I’ll end up at the top. In 2000 I won Best of Show at AdRodeo for the Versus AR99. On the cover it said “SOME RULES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN” and “DO NOT BREAK” printed on a belly band that needed to be broken in order for the book to be read on the inside. Until then, never in the history of AdRodeo had a piece of design won Best of Show before, the winners had always been advertising based. My head exploded! This felt like the elevator was headed straight for the penthouse level. A huge raise would follow, right? (Didn’t happen). A trip to Cannes did though, and it was incredibly inspiring and life altering to be surrounded by next level creatives.

But when the Cannes whirlwind was over and I went back to my job at Parallel, I was disappointed to find that the design work wasn’t celebrated by the company. I wanted to work where creativity was celebrated regardless of whether it was advertising or design. A place that understood that design could be just as conceptual and well crafted as advertising. So I left Parallel, and then 911 happened. The world was turned upside down. No one was hiring in the creative industry. In terms of the elevator metaphor, I was headed to the parkade. Despite pressures to “just get another job”, I had goals, a vision and desire to get back to the top. I decided to start my own business. It was the perfect way to refine my craft and focus on taking my personal creative bar to the next level. I loved it. Then a company called Wax offered me the opportunity to become a founding partner and Design Director. When they called, I was standing in Battery Park in NYC. Thinking I’m happy. Why would I change? But I was lonely and missed collaboration. They were offering me the chance to work with exceptional people, however and whenever I wanted. Printers. Illustrators. Photographers. Strategists. Creatives. Endless brilliant minds. I couldn’t say no and spent the next 15 years there. Winning among other awards a Gold Pencil, a Black Pencil and a Silver Lion.

And then, another FACE PLANT. The business closed its doors, but with strong client relationships and a name in the industry, I was ready to open some new doors. In 2020, I opened Matter, where I am Founder and Design Director. As a nimble boutique studio, I have a rolodex of talent I can bring on for projects, and a stomach that can handle even the bumpiest of elevator rides.


Do you feel the creative industry has evolved when it comes to fairness to women in the workplace?

Unfortunately, it’s a slow moving evolution. Some pockets are better than others. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work in primarily women-centric/led departments/companies and have always hired based on talent vs gender. When judging Cannes, D&AD, One Show, I’ve always been surrounded by exceptional female creatives that are at the top of their game. From that lens I’d say yes. These women have broken the ceiling. But in looking back at my career over the years, 75% of the decision makers or clients in high positions are men. And women are often in support positions. That can often affect the work, and the creative landscape.


Has your career provoked change out of the office?

The “VISIBILITY FOR DISABILITY” campaign for the Calgary Society for Persons with Disability (CSPD) provoked change. Prior to this campaign, the brief always focused on how living with a disability is difficult, or whether the organization had a good/bad financial year. This campaign focused around the simple truth that the clients of the CSPD are just like every other human in this world. They have good days and bad ones. They love. Get married. Have goals. Just like everyone else. They just want to be seen. At the AGM when the campaign was launched, CSPD’s clients reacted to the campaign with pride. They had been seen.


What is your advice to young creative women seeking a career in the industry today?

Choose your first job carefully. Work with like-minded people. Look for the type of work you want to do. Don’t be afraid of elevators.