Elevating Design Voices: Amanda DeVries RGD
I've been an independent brand consultant and graphic designer for 15 years, recently specializing in branding and packaging for food & beverage companies. I spent 10 years in Ottawa, where governmental agencies kept me busy but not terribly inspired. Moving to Southwestern Ontario in 2009 presented me with the opportunity to work with small businesses and real people. I've also been a prop stylist on two cookbooks, thereby checking off items on my bucket list.
What are the ways in which you experience racism in the design industry?
Early in my career, I was designing a brochure for a military software product. When we discussed what kind of stock imagery I could purchase, the client made a suggestion of "just anyone with a turban [as the enemy] would be good." I was shocked: Was this how the client perceived anyone wearing a turban? Did they not understand the significance of a turban as a sacred religious symbol to some groups? It was not the first time that, despite me not belonging to a specific religious or cultural group, I found myself having to educate someone on what that group represented or believed. I grew up assuming everyone was as curious to learn about other people and cultures as I was and continue to be surprised by people who are more comfortable putting a label on something and leaving it at that.
This industry has been historically difficult for anyone who isn't white to get their foot in the door. Who and/or what helped you?
Since I have an engineering degree, the idea of learning new software has never scared me. And so being able to design websites, as well as print materials, has worked to my advantage in my freelance practice. Being able to transcend a brand aesthetic into both electronic and print form is invaluable to a business and clients appreciate having someone who is comfortable in both domains executing that vision.
Our popular Canadian design history is rooted in European modernism, but there’s so much more out there. Who and/or what influences you?
Like any designer, I, of course, hold an affection for Helvetica and a Swiss aesthetic, but I resist using it in my own work because I believe there is so much more in design to explore. I am a self-described "maximalist", because I love knowing where the boundary lines are and then devising ways to cross them, without going too far. I find myself influenced heavily by artists like the painter Kehinde Wiley and Canadian Instagram darling Maria Qamar. The art nouveau period of design also holds a lot of appeal for me, as it is in the small details that you discover how the idea (be it a poster, pattern or object) is underlined subtlely yet beautifully.
What advice would you give to a recent grad?
I would definitely say that you should figure out the things that you find yourself passionate about in your personal life and try to draw from that in your design. I love cooking, the food industry and vintage kitchenware, so I spend much of my free time deep diving into these areas. Hence, they can really add value in my professional life without me having to work too hard at it. If you are, for instance, into black noir films or cross-fit training, try to see if there is an aesthetic in there that appeals to you and if you can inject that into the work you produce. You will be coming from a knowledgeable and comfortable place and therefore will be able to experiment and build on it.
Where do we go from here? What do you think are important next steps for our industry as it relates to systemic racism?
I guess I originally bristled at being invited to participate in this project because of this very question. Just because I am a female and a person of colour, doesn't mean I am an authority on either subject. Nor am I the voice of all the people who fall in the same "category" as me. So I honestly don't know what the answer is. I can only ask that those with real power (in our industry, owners of creative agencies) extend a hand and an opportunity to people who look different from themselves (whether it's gender, age or skin colour). They will be pleasantly surprised at the perspectives they gain and their new-found ability to speak to more varied audiences whose attention they hope to capture. Given how slowly the industry tends to move, even just from a purely business perspective, it is a no-brainer way to stay ahead of your competition.