Laura Piche RGD, Manager, Global Marketing of Redpath Mining Contractors and Engineers in North Bay reflects on how her transferrable skills as a graphic designer informed the evolution of her career.
It was a crisp June day in 1986. A day full of promise and the official unleashing of a fresh crop of eager graphic design graduates. The designer’s world was our oyster. We were armed with our suitcase-sized folios proudly filled with skillful paste-ups, ad layout marker renderings, surgically cut rubylithe production overlays and neatly matted colour key acetate proofs.
(Ruby-what? Suitcase-sized folios? MARKERS!? Oh, great. This article has the makings of another eye rolling “She-Walked-Uphill-Both-Ways-In-Her-Day” story.)
Whether you graduated beside me, or will be beaming your own ear-to-ear smile of diploma success this year, I’m going to go out on a limb: I’m going to generalize that we, who have chosen to work in the diverse field of graphic design, bend toward an A-Type personality. We adapt easily in a hamster wheel environment, crave variety and often suffer from 'The Disease to Please'. We are goal oriented, continually curious (borderline nosey), and experience the hair-raising zap generated by a brainstorm session like high-octane fuel. That may very well be you; the sole reader of my story who is still awake.
My journey through a variety of creative industries has created a career path that began as a graphic designer and has evolved to my current role as a marketing manager. Ah, yes…the 'Marketing Manager' -- the academic, the suit, the worshipper of statistics, focus groups and competitor intelligence, 'The Big Picture-Seer'. It has been a helluva ride.
My quarter century of hands-on graphic design was inching to the end of a diving board by way of screen printing, offset printing, time spent as a college educator, a cartoonist’s literal right-hand woman, roles in television and film graphics, and a quick dabble in freelance. My toes were always firmly clenched around graphic design.
Opportunity can knock. It can also whisper, brush, scratch and clobber. The role of marketing manager for an international mining contracting and engineering company was presented to me as an unexpected tidal wave in 2010. “Laura, this position needs to be filled – now. We think you’d be a candidate.” Without hesitation, I replied with a deer in the headlights delivery, “NO! Thanks though!”
'NO'?! Where did that come from? Those words were foreign to me, yet they came screaming from my core.
Why did I decline? I am a veteran, seasoned graphic designer, not a marketing professional! I design. I don’t market. Mining contracting and engineering? This was distant, unchartered territory, even for me. I declined the job offer three times (an old dog set in her ways, perhaps?).
To the hiring manager’s credit and foresight, he called my bluff: “So…you feel like you’re a fish out of water? You think you need some marketing education, huh? Fair enough.” And I was briskly shipped to Queen’s University for an intense Business School Marketing Program. Touché, Mr. Manager.
Hindsight has the luxury of being 20/20. I can now recognize that this route was veering away from the 'meat and potatoes' of executing graphic design, toward the management of graphic design. If you'd suggested this was the case at any given interval along my path, I would have scoffed, “You’re crazy! I’m a trenched graphic designer through and through; forever and ever!” My varied experience was actually the education I truly needed.
With a tidy Type-A checkmark in my inner “Education Security Blanket” check box, I leapt off the diving board and accepted the position of Manager, Global Marketing for The Redpath Group, and to this day continue to swim as hard as I possibly can. I will not sink.
While others, including the hiring manager, recognized that my pinball, land-on-my-feet skill set would naturally morph to fit the role of marketing manager, I did not see it. I was comfortable and secure in my well-worn shoes of graphic designer and terrified I’d muck up my established career and family life. I’ve quit jobs in my past, fired clients, hired and fired colleagues, but strangely, accepting this job was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made.
By accepting this new challenge, I've simply stepped back. I've widened my lens and I have altered how I fill the time I used to spend producing graphic design. I’m now thick into strategic planning, advocating the company identity and working with a diverse international team, including other graphic designers, to maintain and further our industry participation. I love my job.
I am now soundly convinced that the discipline, patience and tedium of working on late night assignments in college, creating waxed paste-ups, meeting or bettering countless task deadlines, embracing computer graphics, teaching, developing and evaluating curriculum, navigating publishing and international syndication, adopting the MacGyver vibe of television and film graphics, were all educational ingredients that make my current role my most satisfying and rewarding.
Without a doubt, the transferable graphic designer skill-set is my stealth ninja mojo. Any industry can benefit from the innate creative problem solving oxygen that graphic designers breathe. The zing is exploring and implementing an effective application and realizing results. Thinking outside the box is our standard fare, but working outside of our own box can be invigorating.
In my role as Manager, Global Marketing I am blessed to have admired our planet’s landscape standing on a mountain at 14,000’ elevation and also underground at a 4000’ depth. I’ve cuddled a Koala. I’ve walked in the Gobi desert. I’ve gone swimming in the Java Sea. I’ve also learned to trust my gut and jump in with two feet. Chances are, I’ll land on them.
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