Catherine Marois

Catherine Marois — Akufen

Creative Director based in Montreal specialized in creating online interactive experiences that have strong visual identities and have users at the core. A lover of photography and all that is visual arts, she’s worked on building compelling graphic ecosystems for many commercial and cultural brands.

What led you into design?

I’ve always been really into arts since I was young. This started with music when I played the violin for 10 years in a special school program, as well as being part of an orchestra and singing, to the visual arts through many classes on the weekends and in the summer. My weeks were full of extracurricular activities! Outside of school, I was also a really geeky girl. A big fan of video games, I was quickly hooked by the amazing thing we called the Internet. I discovered Angelfire in 1997 at 13 years old, a world that allowed me to create and code websites and put my voice. It was a big deal for me since I was quite shy. And omg, it’s actually still online. I’ve since lost the logins so I have to way to erase this relic of the past.

When I first finished high school, I knew I wanted to work in something artistic, but not specifically what. I decided to start with an education in cinema. I discovered graphic design classes by the end of my first year when attending an exposition made by the graduates. That’s when I knew the path I wanted to follow. It was like they had thrown together everything I loved, Alleluia!

What does a typical day look like?

Well, I’m a mom of a 2-year-old boy. So it really shaped and changed the way I organized my life with my time now being more limited at the studio. I’ve also moved outside of the city to buy a home and be closer to the outdoors. I love it, but it adds to my transportation time. I leave home at 6:50 AM to hop on the train so that I can be at the studio at 8 AM. :O

I love that the studio is quiet at that time and gives me an hour to clear some stuff if I’m really busy. If I’m not, I take a moment to drink my coffee, check my mailbox, The FWA and Awwwards. Then I check my schedule and plan the day.

I usually design pretty much every day even though I’m in a leadership role. It was important to me since it’s still one of my favorite parts. It keeps the flame alive and to actually be hands-on in the creative work keeps me updated on trends, software, and the team’s workflow. But in the end, it’s all about my deep love for creation.

The rest of my day is a mix of meetings with clients, follow-ups on different projects with the design team as well as the production team. Finally, I’m also kind of the “official” photographer in the studio. So I try to capture images of our day to day for social media and internal communications.

I’ll leave the studio at 4 PM, usually last-minute running out to catch the train and make it in time to pick up my son at the kindergarten.

What’s your setup?

Our studio is a little (a lot) messy. But I guess it’s part of its charm. It’s an open space, it sometimes feels like living with fortyish roommates. This is challenging but also stimulating. For my part, it is something I deeply love, to be able to laugh out loud, have impromptu brainstorms in the middle of the office, bounce around unexpected ideas all whilst having fun with friends and colleagues. I really feel like we are kind of a weird extended family. But it takes determination and the capacity to ignore everything going around if you want to accomplish the many tasks we have to do in a day.

My desktop is usually full of screenshots of inspirations or works in progress. I also have too many tabs open from all my searches. During the day, I mostly use Photoshop, Sketch, and Lightroom. We also use Slack as a communication tool for every project, but our Slack also has so many channels created over time about different interests. So believe me, there’s a lot of stuff going on daily. My tools are also UXPIN, Illustrator, Indesign, and Keynote.

Since I live far from work, I try to work from home from time to time when my schedule allows it. It is usually a very productive day as I can work faster and use my transport time on the project instead. If I have to communicate with my team, we usually use Appear.in.

Where do you go to get inspired?

I'll get my inspiration from a large variety of sources. I believe that true inspiration can come from anything! I'll definitely prioritise interactives pieces, but also take a look at prints, videos, photographs, illustrations, animations, packaging, arts, etc. You never know what can inspire you. One of my favorite platforms is definitely Behance. You can find a wide variety of projects from very amazing creators.

Also, I really like Dribbble for animation and UI/UX inspirations, and the different interactive awards website such as CSS Awards, Awwward, and the FWA (I’m proud to be part of their jury) for website design inspiration. Finally, the extension muz.li from Invision on Chrome is great to use as an overview on the days that I’m very busy. I can still quickly see what is trending in the industry.

Recently I’ve been using Instagram as a source of daily inspiration. There are great hashtags and accounts to follow.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I really love the Samsung vase that can also be used as a fire extinguisher. I like that they created a very sexy object that completely blends in trendy home decor from such an ugly essential around the house. From the dark corners of your basement to the center of your living room: it's a design homerun!

When a fire breaks out, the vase can be smashed to release the potassium carbonate that is discreetly stored inside. When the colourless liquid is released it starts a rapid cooling reaction that suppresses oxygen, putting out the fire. (source)

And I really like flowers so...

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Ocean School, a project launched in collaboration with the NFB that works to educate students about the oceans and their impact on them through an interactive platform that stores interactive content such as 360 videos, AR games, and VR interactive experiences. This platform was a challenge as it was an experience with multiple users (teachers, students, and the general public) that was meant to be used both at home and in schools with a multitude of devices.

I’m proud to have been a part of such a big collaborative and relevant project that educates children about our planet in a positive way.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/303107170

What design challenges do you face at your company?

In the studio, we face large and small challenges. We have to fight to shine in the industry, we often put the clients first and forget ourselves. It’s our objective to honor our work and our artisans that work hard.

In my case, it’s about learning to trust myself. People are so talented, and it is not easy to always compare your work to others. We are very bad judges of ourselves. I find I tend to get tired of seeing my own projects, so in the end, I’m never a fan of the results. I have to learn to be more supportive of my own work!

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

The design industry is a small world. I worked with many people throughout my career over the years. Coworkers, clients, freelancers, and many more. Take care of each of them, be kind, and humble. You will cross path with many of them over the years to come. Also, honest criticism from your peers is the best gift you can receive. Take it, learn from it, and get better.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Come say hello on my Behance page or my Instagram. Photography is my other passion and I’m really excited to share it with the world. Nothing less!

And stay tuned on Akufen’s Facebook or Instagram, we will launch many amazing projects over the next year.

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