Day in the Life of an RGD: Stefan Canuel

Stefan Canuel RGD highlights his work as Creative Lead, Senior Designer for Marketing and New Media at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.


1. The Basics:
Title: Lead Creative, Senior Designer, Marketing & New Media
2. What’s the first thing you do when you get to work?
I usually get to work very early, well before the others in the office. I like getting in early, so I can enjoy the peace and quiet before it gets busy and filled with office life.

My day actually starts much before that – on my way to work. I occupy a considerable amount of time I spend in traffic by writing down ideas in my creative journal that I carry with me everywhere. It helps in developing and finalizing existing ideas. I like to use my commute time for enforced meditation and creative thinking. This is when I get most of my big ideas. The intuitive revelations I get while driving are what psychologists call 'incubation’, the second stage of creativity. This means that the first thing I do in the morning is creative thinking.

3. List the 5 things you spend the most time on during a typical work day, and allow them a percentage amount (adding up to 100%).
Team creative direction (30%)
Design work (25%)
Staff management & administrative tasks (including dozens of e-mails) (15%)
Meetings (10%)
External contractor & supplier communications (10%) 
Inspirational & creative development (7%)
New creative idea generation (3%) 
4. Of all of the tasks you complete during the day, what is your favourite? 
It depends on the day. If I had a presentation meeting and the client is blown over by the design, it makes my day. If the project I’m working on is so captivating that it pushes out the other, non-creative tasks, that is pure joy for me. A great brainstorm session with the team can also prove to be highly rewarding. If it's none of the above, I’ll just spend some time creatively at the end of the day, reflecting on things around me to get some inspiration.
5. What is your least favourite task?
Administrative tasks – I have no idea how anyone can find satisfaction in doing those.
6. Do you have any strategies to keep up your productivity/inspiration over the course of the day? 
Inspiration usually comes easily, but like every creative person, I do hit creative blocks. This is the reason I capture every thought in my creative journal and sketch out ideas. It could be anything interesting that I come across – funny words, wise thoughts, something I read or something I heard. I believe writing & sketching is an important part of my inspirational development process.
If the block persists, I let my mind wander on other tasks and get back to the project a little later. 
7. Are there any tasks that you like to do at the end of the day? That you feel you must do before you leave?
I like to finish my day like I started it – with some design or creative work. It is satisfying to leave with the accomplishment of having done something creative.
8. How has your job changed over the last year, 5 years, if at all?
Five years ago I was focusing exclusively on exhibition design, using my graphic designer and industrial designer skills. When I moved into the position of lead creative for the National Gallery of Canada, my workload changed dramatically.
I went from designing and supervising my own projects to art directing department projects and overseeing all visual marketing and graphic design projects at the Gallery while managing the employees. Initially, it was difficult to find enough time in a day for all the tasks while respecting the high-quality standard that I wanted for us to achieve. It is inconceivable for me to cut corners. The diversity of working across a wide range of projects is demanding and challenging, but I have grown as a designer by working outside my comfort zone. 
Last year was my best year in this job so far. I have found my niche and gained the right control over art direction on graphic design projects. I push things as far as possible, that’s what makes me proud.
9. What is one thing you wish you knew when you started your career?

I wish I had the knowledge that ideas don't always materialize as you want them to. The brain does get tired and when you're young, you don’t think that can happen to you. I wish I also knew that ideas do tend to get more refined with experience.


When we are young we're less self-critical of our creativity, with age we become more judgmental of our work. I would say don’t ignore the creative ideas that pop up in your head, be willing to take risks, release your creativity, spend more time developing ideas and less on moving things around and adjusting line weight.

10. In your job, what do you wish you had more time for?

I would love to spend more time on developing ideas and solving specific design problems. I’m 100% design driven and I want to follow the right processes and focus on solving creative problems. Being a designer is not a 9 to 5 job for me. I’m pretty good at targeting the right ideas, but the development and refinement of ideas is usually done after working hours. I can spend hours sketching and reworking ideas at home. In that process, I think it is important to keep in mind the audience you’re designing for.

11. Can you also provide an image of a project (or something else) you are currently working on?
At the moment I’m developing a creative for an education entrance display. This project doesn’t have much graphic design, so I’m actually using more of my set design skills. In both cases (graphic or set design), the creativity and composition is very important. The display will be used to promote three different educational programs that the National Gallery of Canada is offering to young kids. 
12. Can you suggest a must-read book for any designer? 
Type Matters! by Jim Williams. This book is an easy read and is an essential tool to have in your back pocket. It’s a must-read book for any designer.