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Andrea Tétrault

Partner, Creative Director |  30 Years Experience

Andrea Tétrault is a partner at Tétro Design, a creative agency in Winnipeg co-founded in 1998 with her husband Paul. Andrea wears many hats: project manager, client liaison, creative director and designer. Passionate and outspoken, she believes firmly in the value of a great idea, perfectly executed with great design. She served as president of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, Manitoba Chapter, and continues to be an active and vocal member of the local and national design community. She is a frequent lecturer, design judge and student mentor.

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CWID

At what point did you learn about design and what drew you to it?

A.T.

I don’t think I really understood what graphic design was until I was in college – but, like most of us, I was an obnoxiously creative child. If all of my energy and ideas were water in a bucket, let’s just say there was always a lot of water on the floor, and the bucket was covered in doodles and glitter. I always understood I was good at art, but also knew that art wasn’t going to buy many markers or glitter. After high school I took a gap year and visited a friend at college who was studying graphic design. When I saw the things she was working on, I knew I had found my path. I was going to need a bigger bucket.

CWID

What was your educational experience like?

A.T.

Just to put things in context, the year I started college was the first year you couldn’t smoke in the classroom. We spent months learning how to perfectly apply guache, render type with felt markers, and chug beer without throwing up all over ourselves. It was terrifying, exciting, and a ridiculous amount of fun. So in some ways it was completely different than design school today, but also very much the same.

CWID

Describe the first office where you worked as a designer.

A.T.

After getting out of college in 1990, with no money and less sense, I went to Toronto to find a job. A small advertising agency hired me, probably because I (barely) knew how to work the boxy little MacIntosh in the corner that everyone was afraid of and nobody knew how to turn on. It was a small office of seven, including me. My boss was an ex-football player from Hamilton who had made a splash in the ad world in the early days of Supercorp. He was intimidating, insanely smart and stylish, and had a penchant for cappuccinos. The studio was on King Street East, in a fabulous old bank building close to the St. Lawrence Market. There was a vault on the mezzanine level that held a stat camera that was the size of a Volkswagen. Being low man on the totem pole, I spent a lot of time sweating in that hot and miserable little vault, enlarging or reducing various logos and type galleys destined for the paste-up tables. During my days there I saw our workflow change completely from mechanical to digital in the course of about two years. I also made approximately a million cappuccinos.

TOR_SS cans x4

CWID

What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day?

A.T.

Make a pot of drip coffee.

CWID

Who do you consider to be an inspiring woman?

A.T.

There was a woman I worked with at the Toronto agency that I consider a huge mentor. She was the account director responsible for keeping things moving smoothly while my boss was out at power lunches or his cottage in the Muskokas. It was an open-concept office, so we heard everything. Whether it was dealing with an irate client, or persuading a supplier to do the impossible, listening to her talk to people was like watching someone conduct a ballet of freight trains.

I truly admire any woman who's had the cojones to make it in this business in the last 60 years. Rockstar women like Paula Scher, Casey Hrynkow, and Heather Cooper helped pave the way, but we’ve still had a shitload of potholes to fill.

CWID

Who was your greatest mentor, and why?

A.T.

After three years of ad agency shenanigans in Toronto, Robert Peters offered me the opportunity to come back to Winnipeg to work at Circle Design. I was apprehensive about going back, but Circle was far more design-focussed, had a great reputation, and was about as far removed from the agency world as you could possibly imagine. It was like moving from a rave to a hippie commune, but more Swiss. Rob taught me a lot about design theory and ethics – which didn’t really come up in the agency as much as how to best eviscerate our competitors and make more money. He also taught me about the responsibilities and opportunities designers have to make the world a better place. I credit him with putting me on the right path, and my partner Paul for being crazy and brave enough to walk it with me all these years.

TET poster show 2

CWID

What are the best and worst pieces of advice you’ve ever gotten?

A.T.

The best piece of advice was when I was told to smile more because I’d look prettier. Just kidding. haha! When my husband Paul and I began talking about starting a design agency together, we got a lot of advice ranging from “Don’t do it” to “No really, don’t do it”. We’ve been in business together for twenty one years, so as well-meaning *cough* as the advice might have been, I’m glad we didn’t listen.

Exclusive Mockups for Branding and Packaging Design

CWID

What is the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?

A.T.

If by bold you mean crazy, it was posing nude for a photoshoot for the Canadian Opera Company when I was 22. They were a client of the agency and we had presented creative featuring a photo of Bernini’s sculpture, Sleeping Hermaphroditus. It was for one of the smaller shows and the budget didn’t allow for the cost of the photo rights, or a real model, so there you go. The shot was very tasteful and modest, but looking back now, the whole situation was fifty shades of wrong.

If by bold you mean brave, it was firing our biggest client. Shortly after we started Tétro, we landed a small, family-owned retail client. After a year or two the account grew into something that really didn’t mesh with our philosophy. We were cranking out newsprint ads selling cheap sofas for half price, and getting invoices back with red ink indicating what the client was actually willing to pay. It was abusive and demoralizing. We tried to back out of that part of the work and keep the parts we liked, but were told it was all or nothing. So we walked away. At the time they represented 60% of our billings and we were convinced we were done for. Several days later we got a call from one of Canada’s largest furniture manufacturers asking for  help with their design and branding. We were saved.

Suffrage Stamp
Stamp Collateral

CWID

What is your professional philosophy.

A.T.

Anthony Burrill’s now-famous mantra “Work Hard and Be Nice to People” kind of sums it up. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you are lazy and unpleasant, nobody will work with you more than once. “Do work that matters” would be another one. I’m insanely proud of the client list we’ve built and the projects we’ve done. We’ve designed stamps, launched the world’s first National Indigenous Theatre, and rebranded one of the country’s largest federal agencies. We promote the arts, not-for-profits, and help data scientists make their messages clear and accessible. We also love designing labels for craft beer, and anything to do with bicycles.

CWID

What does success mean to you?

A.T.

Twenty years ago I would have said success means getting lots of awards. Fifteen years ago I might have said it means world domination and unimaginable wealth. Now, I see success in the happiness of the people we employ, the clients we convert to fans, and the occasional bottle of really expensive champagne.

CWID

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a female designer?

A.T.

I’ve never seen being female as an obstacle, at least not one that I couldn’t overcome with hard work and an overinflated amount of self-confidence. That said, I’m sure there were times I was taken less seriously than my male counterparts. Walking into a boardroom full of men and  someone telling you how nice you look is pretty much the equivalent of getting a pat on the head. I know I was paid less than male designers of equal rank, and certainly harassed more. People say those sorts of things just aren’t cool anymore, but they were never cool.

Water
KillMeNow

CWID

If you weren’t a designer, what career would you pursue?

A.T.

Although I’ve never necessarily dreamed of being a printer, we are currently housing a substantial collection of letterpress type and presses that I’ve been dying to use more. If that didn’t pan out, I’d probably pursue writing or interior design, since I enjoy both and think I could be good at them. Or maybe I’d raise goats.

Photo Credits: Portrait: Thomas Fricke  //  Bathtub and Thailand cinemagraphs: Matt Barnes  //  Earnest poster: Brian Gould

Tundra spring 2000_FLAT
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