From logos to apps, Red Wagon Studio designs creative solutions

By Bev McRae

"Graphic Design Services" doesn't begin to describe the magical world that is Red Wagon Studio.

Dorion opted for the peace and quiet of a home-based business in 1997, leaving a hectic office atmosphere and a business partner of seven years.
"It's a high stress business and I need quiet," said Dorion. "I need to design at home."

Red Wagon is a full service studio offering unique, functional and creative solutions for: Corporate ID, tradeshow and event marketing, advertising, promotional materials, packaging, illustration, brochures/newsletters, annual reports, branding campaigns and websites. Red Wagon's website at abounds with graphic examples of the highly talented Dorion's art – colourful, sometimes whimsical, sometimes quirky, sometimes serious, but always exactly what is necessary to convey the message the client is trying to send.

It may be a show opener for CPAC, a flip chart on contraception for doctors' offices, a web site for Shepherd's, a brochure for OCRI or National Defence, a display for, or newspaper ads for the Barrhaven BIA's Spring Shopping Spree.

"I do anything visual that communicates a message," Dorion said. She estimates that half of Red Wagon's clients are private, half are government, but she can help small companies too. "If a company needs to start off strong, I'll do a brand, a logo," she said. "That's usually how I'll work with a smaller company. Like (Councillor) Jan Harder, she needed a brand so I did one and it turned into a website. I just did a brand for a doctor at the Ottawa Heart Institute because he has a study coming out and I am doing the brand for the Ottawa Firefighters calendar."

Red Wagon Studio is not just creative, said Dorion, she gives clients strategic advice on how to use what she creates to make a business successful. "Brand is important, that's what I teach people," she said. "I'll work on a logo or an image for them then show them how to use it, how to market their company. That's usually where people have trouble. An owner will say, 'I want to start a flower shop but I don't know where to begin.' I have a friend who's been in business for 20 years and she always asks me, what's the problem with my business? I tell her that the problem is you change your look every year, it's a new flyer, a new poster, people don't know who the heck you are. You need to show them your brand over and over again. "

"I still do volunteer work for the Youville Centre, group of SEVin in Barrhaven and Queensway Carleton Hospital," she said. "That's where I put my free stuff. But I have operating expenses, so everybody else who has a budget has to pay."

She also has a family to support: son Gabriel, 12 and daughter Isabella, 9. Dorion is a longtime Barrhaven resident. It's where she grew up. "I've lived in Barrhaven since 1976," she said. "I remember when the Barr family lived just down the street from us."

Red Wagon Studio is named after one its creative director's fondest childhood memories. "I was my little red wagon," she said. "When I was five, I used to load it up with frogs and pull it around the neighbourhood."

Born with a creative spirit, Dorion has also inherited an entrepreneurial instinct. "My mom owned and operated a ceramics studio" she said. "In the 70s it was hot stuff and in 1976 my mom set up a ceramics studio in Barrhaven and ran it for ten years. At the age of six I decided to sell clay worms for potted plants, and if people didn't buy them I'd say, 'But I'm six, you should buy this.'"

When she was just about to graduate from high school in 1989, Dorion made a life-altering decision. She had been all set to study fine arts at University of Ottawa, but "at the very last minute" an Algonquin College student visited her class to promote the college's graphic arts program. "I said that's exactly what I want to do. I want to take a photo of lipstick and add type to it," Dorion remembers. "I want to take my paintings and add type to it and sell stuff with it. That's what I want to do."

Museum of Science and Technology. "Other students from my class were changing toners on photocopiers at big design studios," she said, "but I was designing my own exhibits. I worked with curators on content, and industrial designers on caging and lighting. I was out of my element, so I got some help from guys who knew how to build stuff and I designed it from there. In two months, I had five years experience." After the museum, Dorion's reputation and client list began to grow.
"I picked up a toy distributor here in Ottawa and I designed toys, packaging and catalogues for him for ten years," she said. "The coolest thing I ever designed was a series of four figurines of aliens for the toy distributor. They were really big at that point. I sent off all my drawings to a manufacturer in Hong Kong and he shipped them back four weeks later. They were perfect. The interesting thing is that the model maker was 85 years old with a lot of experience carving miniatures ... the Smurfs, the little blue characters I collected as a child!" Dorion also designed for Target, Marshall's, TJ Maxx, Discovery Channel Stores and graphicsfor IBM's software.

The graphic design business has changed in the last 20 years, said Dorion, largely because of technology. E-mail, for instance, allows Dorion to work with clients from Toronto to New York. "We've gone from 10 page brochures to apps for iPads," she said. "I've been doing web sites for more than 15 years. I've just finished two apps for the Canada Council for the Arts to show artists how to apply for grants."

Whether it's the latest digital technology or old fashioned print, Dorion's approach is the same. The client describes a problem. Red Wagon Studio designs a solution.
If it's a book on pregnancy for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, Dorion takes the text she is sent and designs the book's layout including the cover and all the photography. For Healthy Beginnings: Your Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, that meant finding a photographer, finding a venue for a photography session, hiring a caterer and lining up the models, some of them pregnant. "You creep people out at the grocery store when you approach them to be a model, pregnant models are hard to find!" she said, "and try to present yourself as not completely psycho. I knew one person and she was pregnant with twins. Sometimes we give them a small amount of money, but just to be pregnant and be professionally photographed for a book was enough for them. They're all locals."

Dorion's job doesn't end when a book is published. She worked with Indigo to decide the positioning of the book, where it would be placed on the shelf.
"I'm a registered graphic designer, an RGD, and it's a big deal these days," she said. "There's only 15 of us in Ottawa, I feel proud to be doing it. I chose my career well, I'm 40 and I still love what I do."
Contact Julie Dorion, Red Wagon Studio at (613) 795-6481 or