Design Industry Insights from Vancouver, BC
Matthew Clark RGD, Founder & Creative Director at Vancouver brand design firm Subplot Design Inc., discusses how his team navigates the Vancouver design scene - from clients to internal culture.


Describe the state of the design industry in Vancouver.

Vancouver ebbs and flows between large design firms and agency-owned design divisions, and the many, many small boutiques. I feel that we are back in a boutique landscape, with many of the larger shops scaling down. I think that has a lot to do with design reestablishing itself as a unique specialty, not just an “arm” of the large firms.


Why do you work where you do, considering the geographic location and the agency itself?
50% of Subplot was born in Vancouver; the other 50% is from Europe. What is common to both cultures is an understanding that work is only one part of our lives. That is somewhat true of Vancouver as a whole, but certainly was not the case back in our ad agency pasts. At Subplot, we have committed to a strong work/life balance with the understanding that this makes for better creative thinkers and better people. So, while we do not quite exude the Vancouver cliché of skiing or mountain biking after work every day, we come darn close.



How do you find the right clients for your studio, and what do you most wish clients understood about the design communications industry?

Vancouver has always been a secondary city serving subsidiary companies. With fewer head offices out here, it can be challenging to find the right clients. For us, the “right” client has always meant the fully involved, collaborative and smart clients who themselves are visionaries and entrepreneurs and who understand the value of design. Working with these leaders means that we have unrestricted access to the top decision makers, and we are able to affect the most change and take the greatest risks to propel our clients forward with design.

Design is an investment. In the same way that production equipment or facilities upgrades are carefully studied, audited and invested in, so too should design be a diligent process that adds to the bottom line of the company, and become amortized over multiple years. It is not wallpaper.


Complete Brand Packaging System for Old Yale Brewing


What do you feel is unique about Canadian design?
Certainly North American design is still busier with far more window-dressing that most European design. But even that is not absolute. I think Canadian design would do well to become more like Canada: clean, smart, pragmatic and a little quieter. We could use more of that in design.



About Subplot Design Inc.

Subplot is a leading brand and packaging design firm that specializes in solving tough problems for demanding clients in highly competitive world markets. We bring brands to life, and life to brands by creating comprehensive strategic brand foundations that ensure Creative Certainty™ in everything we do. Based in Vancouver, BC, our partners are hands-on with every project; verbal & visual branding, corporate identity programs, packaging, 360 degree campaigns, video and of course, more.

Roy White & Matthew Clark RGD, Founders