Margot Trudell: A challenge-seeking Toronto graphic designer, art director, brand owner, jewellery maker and pattern drawer

Margot Trudell. Photo courtesy of: Margot Trudell.

Margot Trudell is a graphic designer and art director from Toronto who has worked across all media (print, digital, broadcast and web). Margot is also a painter, storyteller, event planner, entrepreneur, project manager and brand-owner, spearheading the Toronto Design Directory, a database of graphic design and creative jobs in that city, and Strange Flora, a handmade jewellery company inspired by practicality and l-o-v-e!

Moved by Margot’s creations – both on and off the computer – we connected with this queen of multitasking to learn more about her definition of “success” and the constant Margo(t)-go(t)-go(t) life she leads.

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  1. When you’re not running Strange Flora, handmade jewellery using real gems, you’re a graphic designer, art director and the mastermind behind the Toronto Design Directory. How do you manage your time?

It’s something I have to figure out as I go. I work as an art director at an ad agency from 9 to 5 every day, so that’s where most of my time goes. It actually works out as the basis of my work-time structure – I find having a limited amount of time during the week to do my other design work or make jewellery actually helps me organize and get it done. If I had no claims to my time at all I’d probably keep putting things off since, “there’s always later.” But having something that starts and ends at the same time every day means I know just when to slot other things in. I also use a lot of online tools (Google Docs, Trello, Buffer) to help me plan ahead and keep track of things.

  1. Have you always been a person with many projects on the go?

I’ve always been a natural multitasker, although I haven’t always had so many public-facing projects going. Even during my regular life I’ll multitask: while waiting for water to boil, I’ll clean the kitchen and reply to an email. I’m always thinking of the most efficient way to get a number of tasks done at once so no time is wasted.

  1. What is one of the most rewarding aspects of running a successful jewellery business, while maintaining your prominence in the graphic design community?

They’re not really paths that cross – it’s interesting to see different results in two different worlds. With Strange Flora, the coolest thing is to see people bring my jewellery into their lives, wear it and incorporate it into their wardrobes. That I had an idea for something and now that idea is around somebody’s neck or wrist is kind of incredible. Working on jewellery gives me a chance to move my brain out of the design world and get a different perspective, reminding myself of the bigger picture. I think it helps me appreciate how everybody I know in the design world works within it differently, that there are a lot of different ways to do things.

  1. Before Strange Flora launched, how long had you been designing and making jewellery?

I started making bracelets with seed beads for a while for fun, probably around late 2014/early 2015 – it was something I had done as a kid, and as an adult with disposable income and internet access I could buy really nice beads and look up different patterns. I started looking at jewellery makers more closely online and got inspired by what they were doing. About six months later, I was selling at my first market under Strange Flora. I was pretty instantly hooked on the idea of turning this hobby into something more, and to explore a new industry as a professional.

  1. Why did you start Strange Flora and are you a one-woman team?

Seeing what everybody else was doing online, I felt I had something else to say with my own ideas for jewellery, and it was nice to work with my hands instead of on a computer for a change. When I started, I was working with a good friend who was making these beautiful wooden rings, but after a while he wanted to move on to other projects so I kept on by myself.

  1. What does the name “Strange Flora” mean and how was it coined?

It’s a sort of roundabout reference to using semi-precious stones in most of my pieces: stones and gems aren’t flora per se, but they are found in nature. I also wanted to go for a particular tone with the name, evoking something feminine but not entirely conventional.

  1. When we met, you were selling Strange Flora products at the Parkdale Flea market. How do community shopping events and pop-up shops impact the success of your sales?

Markets like the Parkdale Flea and others are a great chance to spread the Strange Flora name and get in front of new people. Most importantly, I get to meet people who might not seek out jewellery explicitly – like a lot of the people I find online – but who really enjoy my work and get a little unexpected joy out of it. I don’t think I’d be doing as well with only the internet as my promotional and selling spaces.

  1. You also have an Etsy shop for Strange Flora. Other than connecting you with customers from across the globe, what has the Etsy platform done to help showcase your brand?

Etsy is pretty dense these days with so many shops, and I think jewellery is one of the most popular things to sell on there. It’s been a great platform for processing sales and they have a decent format for showcasing the your work in your store, but I find the best places to showcase Strange Flora remain on social media where I have a bit more control, can reach a broader audience and have more options for standing out.

  1. You graduated from OCAD in 2011. What was the first job you had after graduation? How do you think it has benefited you, today?

My first job out of school was as a graphic designer at WIND Mobile (now Freedom Mobile). I think any first job, regardless of where it is, will present a steep learning curve to new grads. I learned a lot in school, but I think I also cut corners on some things here and there. When I started working, I was just expected to get those details right the first time and my bosses called me out on it. The first few months where a big change from an easy-going attitude I developed at the end of school thinking I had it all figured out to a much more alert attitude, double checking my own work. I was lucky to work with a really great, supportive team there who let me learn and fail a little bit. They helped me go into my next job with confidence.

  1. You have worked at Indigo, done work for the CIBC Run for the Cure, and have experience at Wind Mobile – all opportunities that focused on graphic design and creativity. For up and coming graphic designers, what advice would you give them on trying to find a job in today’s ever-saturated creative market?

Constantly improving your work and learning new things will help, as well as showcasing that learning and growth in your portfolio. But the thing I think a lot of new grads don’t think about when job hunting is the personal connections they make with each interview or job. Creative Directors and the like narrow down the portfolios they like before you even come in, so by the time you meet they already like or see potential in your work. The thing they don’t know is you: will you fit into their office culture, and be fun and friendly to work with, and are you open to learning new things? Or do you have an ego, can’t take criticism well? Most of the successful interviews I’ve had were ones where I made my interviewers laugh. Even at work, people want to have a good time, and if you’ve got the skills and can be fun to work with you’ll stand out from everybody else.

  1. What advice do you have for freelance graphic designers in this competitive market?

Keep meeting people, make yourself visible, and be a friendly, real person. I find most people are more than willing to help each other out with jobs, but they won’t want to refer you if they feel like they’re being used for their connections. A lot of creatives have an adverse reaction to the concept of networking, like it’s a disingenuous, smarmy business tactic that just uses people. But good networking is completely the opposite, it’s getting to know people on at least a somewhat personal level and helping each other out, really building the community together. Also open your network to people from outside the creative community, pretty much all industries use graphic design in some way, so your next project can come from anywhere.

  1. Being a creative person myself, sometimes it can be hard to find inspiration and motivation. It can be easy for the well to run dry! What do you do when you need to find that spark?

This is a challenge I literally face daily with my @margotsdailypattern project. I’ve been creating a pattern every day for about a year and a half now, and I try not to repeat myself which leads to a lot of nights when I’m stuck. I definitely search online for inspiration – Instagram, Pinterest – and over the years, I’ve been bookmarking a selection of work I find inspiring so I always have a well to refer to. But sometimes, I find the best thing to do is just take my head out of the design world for a little bit and go for a walk, or make dinner, listen to music. Although I can’t always do this with the daily patterns, I find sleeping on it can help a lot.

  1. Switching gears now – the Toronto Design Directory connects graphic designers with the brands and opportunities they’re looking for, but it’s not a job board. Tell us more!

The premise of the Toronto Design Directory is really simple: here are links to agencies and studios doing work in Toronto, do with that information what you will. There are lots of job boards around already and I didn’t feel I’d be adding anything new to create one of my own. Not all agencies and studios post on job boards, but people still want to know where and who all those businesses are. I’ve always liked taking a lot of data and making sense of it with design – in this case I did all the research myself to locate all these businesses and then organized it into a list that was usable. The concept of a directory is very simple and hardly unique (Yellow Pages anybody?) but I knew having something specific to the design industry would be useful to a lot of people, and additionally serve to highlight just how much is going on in Toronto advertising and design. I have over 270 businesses listed right now – that’s a lot of people doing a lot of awesome stuff!

  1. Why were you compelled to start the Toronto Design Directory?

The Toronto Design Directory is really the solution to a problem I was having when I first started working as a graphic designer: I wanted to work but had no idea where. Who were the agencies and studios in Toronto, what kind of work were they doing and where were they located? Being a recent grad with a tiny-to-nonexistent network of professional contacts I felt pretty lost. I saw others were struggling the same way I was and starting thinking about what would help us with this problem. About a year after graduating I started researching the list that would become the Toronto Design Directory!

Making a website was a natural step for me – I got into graphic design via web design and coding – and then it would be easily searchable and usable by others. I was nervous about the attention I might get at first, but after four years now I’ve seen how many people it’s helped and I’m so glad I did it. I’ve been growing it since too: I do events as the Toronto Design Directory now like portfolio review nights and design shows, I’ve started a printer directory and I have a showcase of Toronto-based designers, art directors and illustrators. Anything I can do to elevate design and designers in Toronto I’m interested in doing with the Toronto Design Directory, and I’ve got more planned for the future.

  1. When did the Toronto Design Directory launch and what benefit has it had so far?

I officially launched the website in 2014. I can be hard to quantify its usefulness for people as I don’t have any way to track exactly how people use the information I’ve provided, but anecdotally I’ve had people come to me and say they found their first job or internship via the Toronto Design Directory or got hired off work they presented in one of the design shows. I know the website is shared by teachers too. I don’t get these comments often, but when I do it’s really awesome to hear that I’ve had a small part in people starting people’s careers or helping them achieve success.

  1. Being connected in any industry can lead anyone to great success, but I’ve found that meaningful conversation, teamwork and collaboration tend to go farther than the typical “it’s who you know” of networking. If you could name three best practices of making long-lasting professional connections, what would they be?

I think networking gets a really bad rap in the creative world. People tend to associate it with trading cards and forgetting faces, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Networking just means meeting people, and as long as you’re friendly and genuine people will be open to you. Once you’ve made a connection, stay in touch: add people on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, whatever’s appropriate for your situation. Then if the time comes and you want to work with them or for them, remain that personable, friendly person in your message to them. I find most people are happy and willing to help each other out if you ask, and if your requests are reasonable.

  1. Out of all the experiences you’ve had so far, which has been the most meaningful? Why?

That’s a tough question to answer. Pretty much everything I’ve done with the Toronto Design Directory has been meaningful so far. Seeing crowds of people participate in the events I’ve run and make connections or learn something from what I’ve put together is really awesome.

  1. What kind of creative + business ventures do you hope to tackle within the next five years?

I’ve got a bunch of ideas but no solid plans for now, I’m still figuring out the best way to get to where I want to be. I come up with new ideas and projects almost daily, so we’ll just have to wait and see where that all lands me.

  1. Where can our readers learn more about your projects and businesses?

I run about a million social accounts for all this work, but their best bet is to follow me on Instagram (@torontodesigndirectory and @strangefloramade) or like my Facebook pages (Toronto Design Directory and Strange Flora).

  1. Do you have anything else you want to add?

I’m really tired, but it’s really worth it.

Margot, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to share your journey with entrepreneurial and creative adventures. For more information about Margot and her projects, visit her personal website, silent-t.


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