Industry Insights from the Founders of Salt in Ottawa
Provisional RGDs and Graphic Designers at Salt, Jared Lebel and Daniela Chavez Ackermann, discuss the state and trends of Ottawa's design industry as the city evolves.


Describe the state of the industry in Ottawa.
Ottawa is a fast-growing city and the state of its design industry reflects this. With the introduction of Shopify and the already-established tech industry, Ottawa is UI/UX heavy with plenty of opportunity for branding and other creative work surrounding product design.


As it grows, Ottawa is becoming a much more cultured city. We're noticing a big shift in the type of businesses and attractions/activities that are popping up in the city. We're moving beyond the typical 'safe' restaurant chains to smaller, more adventurous cuisine experiences. Because of this, there's a bigger market for niche brands that may not have had much success in the city in the past. Small businesses are investing more into their brand experiences by creating stronger identities for their communities to connect with. 


In our opinion, the design industry has a large impact on this ongoing shift. Shopify, for one, has generated a lot of awareness around the benefit of design and has uncovered a sense of pride in Ottawa that we think is giving business owners some confidence to step outside of their comfort zone. This, in turn, pushes business owners to find inspiration outside of Ottawa which brings something back that our communities and markets may not have had before. This will hopefully continue to snowball into a bit of a friendly competition where new businesses have to take more unique approaches in order to compete. We're very optimistic about the growth of our local industry.




Over the past few years, what changes to the industry have you noticed most in Ottawa?
There has definitely been a larger push towards interior decor and branding and communication. As larger organizations come into the picture, there's a greater sense of competition, which helps push business owners to seek a creative approach in order to stand out. This has brought about a rise in better branding experiences, more product design and heavier investments in advertising and other materials.


In recent years, we've seen an increase in high-profile clients, such as large organizations (universities, corporate offices, etc.), hiring companies from Ottawa. As an example, we are a small team of 3 and have recently had the opportunity to work with Algonquin College to adapt their brand standards and overall identity and roll out a lot of the materials. In the past, companies and institutions of this calibre mainly considered agencies in larger cities (such as Toronto) for these types of projects. This is a great opportunity for us, and these sorts of opportunities are definitely new and recently more frequent to the Ottawa region.


Is there an approach or insight you feel is unique to Ottawa?
Although the design industry is starting to take off in Ottawa, business owners tend to play it safe, often fearing there isn't enough market share for them to make larger investments in design form the start. In turn, they often hire low-budget studios or freelancers. 


However, with the Internet proliferation of design-focused brands like Shopify, MailChimp or even Apple, we find a lot of smaller businesses who may have previously shared this mentality are now coming into the relationship with larger investments and more awareness of the benefits of design to the business goals. With the recent shift in awareness, design firms have an interesting opportunity to educate and expose business owners to the benefits design can have if well managed and executed.



Why do you work where you do, considering the geographic location and the organization itself?
We decided to open our studio in Ottawa because we felt there was a niche for a more European approach to design. A lot (though certainly not all) of the design work coming out of Ottawa was often very standard; there was a 'sameness' amongst different projects, and not a lot of room for exploration. This European approach we sought to bring was a more experimental, witty, boundary-pushing work.


We also felt that, since Ottawa was a growing city, it would give us the opportunity to carve out new niches as we grow along with the city. With the recent advent of design knowledge we mentioned before, entrepreneurs are finding themselves in the position where they can get a bit less conventional with their branding. They are less scared of alienating a certain portion of the public, which gives designers the opportunity to get more creative with the work in terms of messaging, imagery, etc.



This opportunity to create more innovative designs is creating a more exciting hub for Ottawa designers and makers. You see more and more of them staying rather than flocking to Toronto—both to work in studios and in a freelance capacity. This excites us. We hope it opens up doors for more collaboration and a rich design culture in the city.



What accomplishment, attribute or feature of your organization are you most proud of?
We began with no start-up capital, investments or financial aid of any sort. We literally started with nothing and worked from there. We are really proud of being able to stick to our roots and take a creative approach to an agency-like business. While we are not perfect, we are really happy with our current business model and goals. We're also extra proud to have graduated from Algonquin College about 4 years ago and to now have the College consulting with us to develop their new look and visual voice. It's a great feeling to have an institution foster your talent and goals and then to be able to give back to that same institution.


About Salt

Salt is a multidisciplinary boutique design studio with a focus on branding and art direction. We - Daniela Chavez Ackermann, Jared Lebel and Chelle Lorenzen - are a small team who enjoy working with passionate individuals to bring their brand identity to life. Whether it's designing materials under an already existing guideline or starting from scratch, we pride ourselves in finding authenticity in the brand identity and giving our clients the confidence to do what they do best by putting their best foot forward.