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Opinion and Insight

In Conversation with Sid Lee’s Sarah Déry

Sid Lee Montreal art director on working on the agency’s huge rebrand, the importance of getting outside and “comfort” as a “cosy enemy”

In Conversation with Sid Lee’s Sarah Déry

Growing up as a kid in Quebec, Sarah Déry was a creative ball of energy who wasn’t sure if she wanted to make music, throw a ball or ballet dance. But the day she discovered graphic design, she found something that she was not only good at but also genuinely loved to do. 

While studying graphic design at the Université du Quebec à Montréal, Sarah visited some local agencies, one of them being Sid Lee – she had no idea it’d be where she now plies her trade. 

Sarah’s been an art director at Sid Lee for seven years now and has worked on an array of projects, notably the rebrand of the actual agency. LBB’s Jason Caines picked her brains. 

LBB> What were you like growing up as a kid in Canada?

Sarah Déry> I grew up in Sherbrooke in the Eastern Townships, a progressive and picturesque area of Quebec known for its universities and rolling hills. For a long time, I thought my father was an inventor. He was always creating new projects or constantly fixing something that was broken. Truth is, he’s an engineer. My mother is a nurse. She was in charge of our education. She was the one who drove my older brother and me around everywhere and cheered us on with all our crazy projects and passions. My brother was just like most older brothers, always teasing me but very protective of me. I think we must have had every kind of pet there was. 

Every winter, my dad would build a big ice rink in the backyard for my brother and me, and all the kids on the street. We spent summers in the pool and at the family cottage in Waterloo. We used to fish, sometimes for frogs, and paddle around the lake with my cousins.

LBB> How did you become interested in art and art directing?

SD> I’ve been drawing pretty much non-stop since I was three or four years old. I was pretty quiet as a kid, and I was fascinated by colours, shapes and textures. My family really valued and encouraged creativity. I tried everything: ballet, music and even sports. In elementary school, I won a lot of drawing competitions and my teachers saw my artistic potential. In high school, I opted for a school that mixed arts, music and sports and that’s when I discovered graphic design. 

There are some key people I met throughout my journey who have had a great impact on my career. At CEGEP, a publicly funded pre-university college in the province of Quebec, it was Alain Harvey and in university, Angela Grauerholz and Sylvain Allard.

LBB> How did you get your start in design?

SD> I remember visiting Sid Lee when I was in my last year of CEGEP on a student trip. I was quite intimidated but also fascinated to see so many people with so much talent and the projects they were working on. Then I also visited one of the competing agencies at the time – I won’t say which one. I had no idea that at the end of my three years of university, I was going to be hired following an internship at Sid Lee. 

LBB> What’s a typical day like for you at Sid Lee, Montreal? What are the main challenges of your role?

SD> Life at Sid Lee: I would say it’s very exciting on all levels. I’m lucky to work and rub shoulders with lots of talented people in all areas. I get to learn from them and see how they work. That’s not just enriching, it’s priceless.

Not long ago, a brilliant colleague, Thierry Faucher – yes, I’m dropping his name – told me, “Comfort is a cosy enemy”. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges we come up against every day. I always try to move out of my comfort zone, to keep moving forward and change things up. It’s important to challenge yourself and to be challenged by others. It’s not always easy to do day-to-day, but it’s always at the back of my mind. This quote by Thierry, by the way, is now stamped on our beautiful new agency crewnecks. Unfortunately, these are only available to employees, and only on their birthdays.

LBB> You art directed the Montréal Passion Vin project. What was your personal involvement bringing that project to life? 

SD> MPV is a project for the Maisonneuve de Rosemont hospital foundation. I developed the visual identity of the event. Major wine producers around the world come to share their passion and knowledge with the people here to raise funds for the foundation.

The art direction is a happy marriage of tradition, knowledge and ancestral know-how through some rather classic colours, and modernity with the graphic and typographic language. Basically, the mandate was only to develop the visual identity for the event. On the other hand, there was an opportunity here for the taking by painting the guest craftspeople in a new light. One of the things we did was to develop a series of different typographic posters, using words from each of the invited winemakers.


LBB> What's been your favourite project to work on so far in your career? 

SD> I was fortunate to have the great opportunity to work on our agency’s recent rebrand. We overhauled our logo, brand platform, agency reel, photo direction, website, launch – essentially everything our brand touches, and all with an extremely talented team.

Working on my own agency’s brand was a major challenge, but one of the most exciting opportunities I have ever had. Following the agency’s repositioning, our identity needed to reflect the people-centred, collaborative aspect of our culture. 

When Phil Meunier, CEO and founder of Sid Lee, came to see us, he asked us to design a strong, thoughtful (clever), inviting and inclusive brand, but one that retained the essence of the agency, our edge and our people. Sid Lee is no longer 15, but 25 years old. After a few changes in direction, we ended up with this unusual logo that caused quite the stir internally. We wanted to shake things up and step outside the old frame. In fact, it is the “sid voice” combined with the logo that gives everything new meaning. I’m talking about the duality created between Sid and Lee, between the bold and the classic, between the identity and the voice.
LBB> What Canadian brands or ad makers inspire you to create?

SD> I had the opportunity to work briefly on a project for CN, The Canadian National Railway. The logo that Allan Fleming, a Canadian, designed in the 1960 is timeless, iconic and always up-to-date. For me, that’s a good example of an inspiring identity. Having the opportunity to design branding that lasts through time like CN would be a great accomplishment as a designer.


LBB> Are there any other notable Canadian campaigns that you’d like to mention?

SD> Maison Milan. I had a hand in their brand repositioning and I worked on some packaging for them. They’re a small, but inspiring company that designs beautiful and functional kitchen items. They reinvent everyday objects by making them noble and timeless. This company works with passionate designers from home and abroad to conceptualise and create unique and bold objects. They offer a platform to talented designers by creating a partnership with them.

LBB> What are you into outside of branding?

SD> It is important for me to have a balance between life at work and the outdoors. As my daily life is mainly in front of a computer screen, I find I really need to move. I like to go climbing with friends and do stuff outside. Music is also a big part of my life. Discovering new emerging bands and seeing old bands that are still around and touring are just a few examples of things that I love to do outside of work.

LBB> Do you have any advice for younger, budding art directors? 

SD> Challenge yourself constantly and trust yourself.
Regardless of the subject or area, check out stuff outside your comfort zone that can take you to unexpected and wonderfully fascinating places.

LBB> Do you have any soon-to-be released projects or plans for the future that you would like the people out there to know about?

SD> Of course, I would like to become a better climber. And start playing music again, because it’s been a long time since I stopped. Mostly I’d like to travel more. But on a professional level, I don’t have any big projects in motion right now that I can talk about. I strive to continually better myself – to learn, inspire and be amazed.