Paprika, the Montreal-based design firm headed by co-founders Joanne Lefebvre and Louis Gagnon, along with creative director René Clément, has made its mark not just in Quebec but points further south, too—scooping up international acclaim along with more than 400 design awards. Clément, a judge in this year's One Show Design, shared some insights on the firm's style and its success.
Categories of strength
In terms of type of client, we don't specialize in any specific area. When I started we were doing a lot of hotels; then a lot of furniture companies (both retailers and manufacturers). A few of the projects we've been getting attention for include a campaign for the National Film Board of Canada. The annual reports we've done for Cascades has been winning awards. And we've doing a lot of interesting work for Commissaire, a gallery of limited-edition design products where the store completely changes every few months. Each time, we do a new invitation, poster, and collateral for the launch of the new collection.
We do corporate identity, store design, packaging, posters, Websites, all of it. We are even touching upon designing products with one of our clients. And we're strong in environmental design—we've done a lot of showrooms for furniture designers. That skill, in particular, has been developed by Louis Gagnon, who's a master of doing design intervention in spaces. As far as doing Websites, it was a struggle at first to find people to work at the firm who are doing the same quality of Website design as we are doing for print (which has always been a strength). But we did manage to find people who are putting the bar at the same level. Doing good digital design is totally essential now, and of course basic design rules apply there, but there's also a whole new sphere of knowledge of how everything works: who are the users, how do they navigate through the site. You have to do something that is not only nice, but also practical and functional. But some of the basic principles are the same—beautiful typography is still beautiful typography.
We have a specific approach to what we do—not so much a style, but an approach. We don't want to do what is expected. We like to break the mold. And the clients we want to have are the ones who are willing to take risks and go further. That's what we're good at. When clients are happy with that, we have an amazing relationship that lasts a very long time. We do research, of course, but the element we find most essential to our work is instinct. And that instinct—the sense that "it should feel like this"—usually ends up being the best approach for our clients.
Montreal is a thriving community of graphic designers. One reason is that there's a really good school, The University of Quebec at Montreal—it's where a lot of teachers from Switzerland or other parts of Europe came to Montreal in late '60s and '70s. There are strong graphic design contests and competitions. There's also a lot of theater and film production here, which creates a big market for graphic design—posters are very strong. In Canada, the graphic design quality of Quebec really stands out right now. There's also a cultural difference in the work here: we're still in a balance between Europe and America.