THAT BLUE is the graphic design studio of Lisa Marshall in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Lisa Marshall has 20 years experience in graphic design and visual brand strategy for print and online delivery. The focus of her work is technology, public works, and the arts. She is a graduate of Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design and earned her Master's Degree in Art History from the University of British Columbia in 2008. Her surroundings are important to her work — the studio is in an area known in Squamish as Khupkhahpay'ay (which can translate to something like 'cedar grove'); the neighbourhood is also known as Cedar Cottage. Having grown up here, Marshall was glad to return, and to launch the studio as That Blue ten years ago.
As a graphic designer who understands content deeply through experience as a writer and editor, Marshall provides value-added service to clients. She takes a holistic approach to brand development and graphic design, considering language and visuals together. “When everything hangs together perfectly, it feels a little bit like magic.”
What are your preferred projects?
I think just about any design project has the potential to be interesting. One of the great things about design is that you get to learn about a variety of things and then translate that learning into a visual system to enhance understanding and evoke feeling. The process can be very engaging, from the research and big picture part right down to the details such as quality of line, colour palettes, and kerning type. It’s great when my clients are doing something that I find interesting, so projects in technology and the arts tend to be engaging for me. I’m fascinated by what people make.
Where do you do your best work?
On walks, on a park bench, singing in the shower, or over lunch — if I’m really into a project it comes with me everywhere. I also really enjoy my studio. It’s amazingly quiet much of the time. Even though it’s in the city, it’s surrounded by trees and I’m only steps away from my home. Trout Lake is nearby and there are good food options in the neighbourhood. I have a new part of the studio that’s just completed, where I’ll be able to work away from my desk more, building my hands-on skills, so I’m very excited about that; it’s quite separate, in a separate building, so it will feel like stepping into another world. I feel very fortunate to have this space, when space has become so expensive in the city. My studio and the home I share with my partner are part of my family home where I grew up and where my parents still live on the main floor, so I’m grateful to them, and also spend part of my time helping them to be able to continue living in their home of over 50 years. It is grounding and freeing all at once.
How does writing come into play?
I can’t ignore the language part of my work. If it doesn’t read well or suit the project, or even if it just needs a little tweak here and there, I'll often offer ideas for edits. I have come up with company taglines and headlines to work with a concept. I've learnt from writers I’ve worked closely with in the past; I also had to write a lot for grad school and have a couple of published pieces. Writing is a way of thinking things through, too. Lately, I’ve become interested in exploring fiction and poetry. I'm hoping to finish a book of poems co-written with a semi-fictional AI entity called Uncertain Futures Concatenation Machine.
How long have you been working as a graphic designer? And how did you get your start in design?
The first time I was paid as a designer was probably more than twenty years ago. My earliest interest in graphic arts was in my teens, taking graphics classes in my senior high school years. In my early twenties, I had a job that involved ordering printing, and I became seriously interested in how things got there, onto the presses and onto the printed page. So, I went back to school starting with evening classes at Vancouver Community College that were actually meant to be a foundation art and design course for jewellery design students — I just wanted the drawing and basic visual skills to build my portfolio, but I also got into the sculptural side of it with exercises with wire, metals, plastics, plaster and resins. Tom Hudson co-taught and co-designed the course, mentoring a young teacher there while also teaching us—he was very energetic and generous. Instead of continuing into the jewellery course, I took the graphic design and computer graphics course there full time for a year, before continuing on at Emily Carr.
After taking a couple of classes at Emily Carr, I decided to apply for the degree-program there and got in. The idea initially was to pursue design, but I was also fascinated by the fine arts side of the school. I took many of the design classes over my four-year program, but my degree is in “general fine arts” and I tried everything from painting to video and sound art. By the late 1990s I had enough design training and experience to get work, so I worked my way through the rest of my undergrad.
My first real design job was at a high technology research firm that was a branch of the local telephone company called MPR Teltech. While it wasn’t the most glamorous work, it was a pretty good real-world design boot camp and I gained a lot of knowledge and contacts in the tech industry. I worked as in-house designer at a couple of other places and then in the web design studio Blast Radius for a brief time before the first internet bubble burst. I’ve been freelancing ever since, mostly for technology and arts clients, with a hiatus of a couple of years to do my master’s degree at UBC.
I'm getting back to doing much more hands-on sketching, illustration, painting and building in the studio — I'm taking an illustration class at Emily Carr this spring, but I'm also interested in what happens with materials in a more open way, just trying things out — it's not always about setting out to make a picture of a given thing, and it's sometimes the thing you couldn't anticipate that turns out to be really exciting.