Alumni Spotlight: Irene Hawkings

Irene Hawkings

by: Nicola Brown, MPC2014

Meet MPC alumna Irene, graphic designer and founder of Toronto-based design company Irene Victoria Design Co.

Can you describe your career journey from the MPC to running your own graphic design company? What have been some of the biggest highlights and challenges of getting to where you are today?

I started my design company while studying for my MPC. It all started with one client project, which I used as my internship credit. Over the course of the program I reached out to my network and picked up more and more client work, leveraging the feedback from the design faculty and the resources available to me in the library to improve my designs. By the time I graduated I had enough clients to call myself my own boss.

My biggest challenge was finding time to augment my service capabilities so that I could go after bigger and higher paying projects. I spent the first few years of operation working on client work during the day (to pay the rent) and studying at night with the hopes growing my earning potential. I started taking on passion projects to improve my illustration skills and enrolled in a few programming night courses so that I could offer clients development capabilities. It wasn’t easy but, for anyone that finds themselves in the same boat, I promise it gets easier.

As for my biggest highlight? I’d say seeing my work in the wild never gets old. My designs have appeared in The Globe and Mail, across streetcars in Toronto, and along the subway walls in Nuremberg, Germany. My work was also internationally recognized by the American Society of Professional Communicators (ASPC) for a design award in 2017. With each opportunity to create I’m both humbled and grateful for the opportunity.

With the rise of visually-driven social platforms like Instagram and YouTube, visual communication seems to be an increasingly ubiquitous and important component of professional communication. How have you seen the demand for or interest in visual communication change and evolve in recent years?

I’d be many years too late if I said design is going digital. However, in my line of work, I am seeing an uptick in demand from brands for digital/interactive storytelling.

A lot of my work comes from the financial services industry and the ability to pull insights from their data and craft compelling narratives/interactive visuals is becoming increasingly valuable in this space.

What does the future of visual communication look like? How should individuals and companies prepare for it?

I can’t speak for all industries or all areas of design, but I can offer insights from my line of work in branding/information design.

With the emergence of UX design, I think the design industry as a whole is taking a more empathetic/audience-centric approach to crafting visuals. Brands know that in an attention economy, our audiences’ attention is more valuable than ever so they are striving to create content and visuals that people actually want to engage with. I see brands leveraging the capabilities of digital to invest in interaction and motion designs that bring their data and stories to life.

From experience, accessibility is another area of design that brands are paying close attention to as we strive to create a web that is as inclusive as it is beautiful.

How would you suggest those without a background in design who are looking to develop their visual and design skills go about doing that?

I have to say, producing graphics has never been easier. Technology has improved, we have access to countless tutorials, and the ability to instantaneously download assets from libraries like Adobe Stock, Creative Market, and Envato Elements.

With that said, although all of these things make it easier and faster to produce work, it’s not enough if you don’t have a good foundation in design theory and brand strategy. Art looks great, but design needs to work. If I was breaking into the design world today, I’d focus my efforts on understanding design theory (the why) and specifically honing my typography skills. Great typography is the biggest tell of a seasoned designer.

If you’re looking for more structured learning, The Futur offers great resources.

Fun Facts:

1. What are your favourite design blogs and websites?

Designing Medium, TypeWolf, Invision Studio, The Futur, Communication Arts, Awwwards.

2. What are the best places to work from in Toronto?

Voodoo Child on College is one of my favourites. Jimmy’s Coffee (back patio) in Kensington is also a great spot — one of the few spots in Toronto that have outlets outside!

3. Where is your favourite place to go for inspiration?

I love taking advantage of the warm weather and working outside (either on a patio or the waterfront) with my sketch pad. In terms of publications, I love reading through the Communication Arts annuals (in print) for inspiration.