5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with… Nathalie Cusson

Advertising Agency
Toronto, Canada
Creative director, design at Le Parc, the boutique design studio of Juniper Park\TBWA, speaks to Addison Capper about the role of a designer in a 2022 advertising agency and some of her all-time favourite examples of great design

Photo credit: Alexia Guuinic

Nathalie Cusson is creative director, design at Le Parc, the boutique design studio of Juniper Park\TBWA in Toronto. She’s perfectly bilingual (French and English), and her knowledge and experience of the fashion, beauty, luxury, and travel industries, as well as a wide network of international creative contributors, gives her a unique vision in developing innovative visual brand strategy across all communication platforms.

Prior to joining Juniper Park\TBWA, Nathalie worked for agencies such as TAXI, BBDO, Rogers Publications, and Bookmark Content. She has worked on many iconic Canadian brands, including LCBO, Rethink Breast Cancer, Air Canada’s enRoute, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and Telus.

She is also part of the film directors collective Bent Design Lab, based in Portland, Oregon. Her film work has been featured on NOWNESS, was awarded Vimeo Staff Pick, and was nominated in short film festivals in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami.

Intrigued to know more about the role of the designer in a 2022 ad agency, Addison Capper caught up with Nathalie. 

LBB> You're the leader of Le Parc, which sits within Juniper Park\TBWA. How would you define Le Parc? How is it unique from Juniper Park\TBWA but also how do each complement each other?

Nathalie> Le Parc is the design arm of Juniper Park\TBWA. It has its own design and branding-only clients, but also participates in the creation of advertising campaigns with the ad teams, providing design systems among other things. Design is a transversal value, so it applies in everything we do.

When it comes to collaborating with art directors, for example, our different talents complement each other because designers look at things a different way. We have a logic in the way that we organise information, and there is some thought behind every design decision.  

LBB> You've worked for the likes of TAXI, BBDO and Cossette before Juniper Park\TBWA – how did you end up carving out your design career?

Nathalie> I see you’ve done your investigation work! Yes I have worked within advertising agencies, but I have also worked in many other industries, including film, animation, and editorial. I like all kinds of design and it has been very enriching to do such varied work and now I can use a combination of all of these specialties in my current position.

What I like about the advertising world is the energy of these places. There are a lot of things happening at the same time and the scale of the projects can be larger. To me, all of it is communication creation, so design goes hand-in-hand with advertising – which is likely why so many advertising agencies have design departments. 

LBB> What do you think makes a great designer?

Nathalie> Today, what makes a great designer, regardless of the context, is someone who can do many things well. Some would call this a ‘Jack of all trades’, implying that they don’t do one thing perfectly, but I prefer to call it a ‘specialised generalist’. 

Craft should be a given, and it means that things should be done with precision. Now, more than ever, each design choice should be based on a reason. When working with clients, they need the rationale as to why a certain colour or font was selected, because for them it’s a business decision, and they want to make sure it aligns with their goals. Although this may seem to make the work more laborious, it also makes it a thousand times more interesting. In my design school days, I was taught to start from an idea and then get to the execution. I still apply this principle today.

LBB> Can you speak a bit about the role of a designer within an ad agency and how it differs to / complements the role of a creative?

Nathalie> I feel that this distinction is one that belongs in another era. Designers, art directors and writers are all part of the ‘creative’ team. We do focus on different things, but all with the same goal in mind: communicate a message the best way we can using our various strengths.

How all creatives work together can take many forms, so it is difficult to identify how the role of a designer either differs to or complements the role of others on the team. In creative work, there is always an overlap, and this is a good thing because it allows for more fluid collaboration.  

LBB> Which recent piece of work from Le Parc are you particularly proud of and why?

Nathalie> We designed the identity for MindUp for Life, Goldie Hawn’s Foundation [above], which has a goal to teach kids about their brain and how it impacts their emotions. The budget was limited but we managed to create a 3D animated brain that resembles a squishy toy. We are quite happy with the way it turned out, it was something really different than the usual flat visual identity, and a lot more spirited than anything in the mental health category.

Something else that I am particularly fond of working on is self-promotion projects for the agency. Most recently, we created laptop cases that reflect the era we are now in. We have all become digital nomads and the hybrid work style is here to stay. The design is inspired by a map of everywhere we take our computer, including landmarks in our city, but also other familiar landmarks from the pandemic, like ‘kid’s bedroom’, ‘walk-in closet’, ‘laundry room’ and ‘backyard shed’ – our new office spaces. 

LBB> What is an all-time favourite example of design for you and why? 

Nathalie> The creative mind is not limited to a platform or a sector. Great designers often play in many fields, such as Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, who is known for his fashion design – think Teddy bear coat or his more recent Benetton collaboration – but he also is a visual artist, a furniture and interior designer. 

There isn’t ONE piece of design that I like best, but one that comes to mind would be Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan. As you approach the building, you think that perhaps you are hallucinating. Everything about it is organically shaped, no straight lines, but yet, sheer, smooth perfection. The interior is no disappointment either with its unusual proportions, luminous spaces, and curved walls. I also love that this is the work of a woman.

Closer to my world, I have deep admiration for the work of Saul and Elaine Bass: corporate logos, film posters and title sequences. Casino’s opening sequence is particularly memorable with superimposed images and high drama created with colours and light. It really translates the eerie, but wondrous feeling Old Vegas evoked.

More recently, I came across the work of new media artist Refik Anadol, who, in his Dream series, uses millions of images (nature, space, urban areas) to turn them into dynamic data painting. The result is a mind-boggling speckled moving image, sometimes at a giant size. I like how he uses an overflow of images to create new, abstract ones. It is a beautiful ‘mise en abyme’; a clear reminder that we are only a grain of sand in this universe.

LBB> How do you keep on top of design trends and factors influencing your industry? Do you enjoy nerding out on design outside of your industry?

Nathalie> I strongly believe that artists are the ones that ‘widen the margins’ – they have the benefit of freedom, which allows them to explore further. I try to go to as many art exhibits as possible to be exposed to these new boundaries, because it is really eye-opening. Films are also a great source of inspiration. 

Outside of cultural activities, I like to observe everyday life, people on the street. It provides great insight on human behaviour. Beauty can be found in almost anything, and there is extraordinary in the ordinary. 

LBB> Were you a creative kid? If so, how?

Nathalie> I was the ‘artist’ of the family, yes. I spent a lot of time painting, collaging, sewing, and assembling all sorts of things in my ‘Atelier’ – a fold-out table my mother installed in a corner of the basement. Hours would go by while I fiddled and experimented with stuff. Come to think of it, this hasn’t changed much, I still like to bring out my colour pencils, paper, and camera and try out different things to get away from the computer.

LBB> Outside of work, what keeps you happy / relaxed / busy?

Nathalie> Outside of work, I often find myself working! I like to use my free time to work on pro bono projects – right now I am working on an educational web series about domestic violence, doing the titles and animation components. 

However, when I need to relax, I love to walk and play outside with my family. We try to get to a nature spot every weekend, either a mountain or a national park. The long walks often end up being brainstorming sessions on fictional projects with my son and my husband. Oxygen feeds your brain, so some of these sessions turned out to be the spark of the best ideas.

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