Duration: Justin Lortie founded Wedge in 2016. Back then, the studio was very focused on graphic design and, by some stroke of luck, Wedge was commissioned to design a sculpture for the city of Montréal. Of course, Justin said yes. He’s an industrious type—whatever it takes. Now, Justin and creative partner Sarah Di Domenico have been running Wedge together for one year. Through their partnership, Wedge has evolved into the brand-focused practice you see today, where identity and expression are inseparable.
Location: Mile-End, Montréal, Canada.
Education: Justin received his bachelor’s in graphic design at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Sarah received her bachelor’s in design from OCAD University in Toronto.
Career path: Justin studied fine art before specializing in graphic design. His career started at Sid Lee, where an entrepreneurial spirit kicked in along with the desire to do things differently. He wanted to be closer to the creative problem, from the get-go to production, and learn about all aspects of the process, including the client’s business. He left to freelance, and, after helping launch a few startups, he took off to British Columbia to climb mountains with his brother. At the summit of the last climb, Wedgemount, Justin made the decision to return to Montréal and open his own company. And so, the company is named after that mountain where his true motivation was found.
Sarah’s start was at Zig as a copywriter on IKEA campaigns. From there, she joined Sid Lee Toronto as a multidisciplinary creative and then Red Urban, where she was part of the first Canadian team to win a Branded Content Lion, for “Once More. The Story of VIN 903847,” a short film and online experience for Volkswagen. Sarah was then recruited to Sid Lee Montréal to work as a lead creative on the global brand team, serving clients like The North Face, Samsung, Cirque du Soleil, HBO, Topshop, Absolut Vodka and Visa. After two years of helping the company achieve new business, Sarah left for new experiences, freelancing and joining a design studio based in Copenhagen.
Through the local creative community, Sarah and Justin met in Montréal. Now they join together, with Sarah’s brand storytelling background and Justin’s design direction, to lead the bright team at Wedge.
Cultural influences: We always pay attention to the visual vernacular of our immediate environment, whether it be on the streets of Paris or a tube of Italian toothpaste at the local store. Pieces of design that were made by known or unknown designers share a common point: they have great contrast, and they also have a special quality you can’t quite put your finger on. The attraction is emotional and instinctual. We are driven to pour this into our own work and define the larger story being told—the bigger picture that people can be a part of or simply fall in love with. We are also greatly inspired by ideas that push culture forward and bring a new way of seeing to all kinds of categories.
Favorite projects: Over the past year, we’ve been working with Menaud, a new luxury distillery and brewery in Québec. Together, we developed the brand strategy, identity, creative direction, photo direction, and a custom bottle design. The challenge of translating brand values to physical form was a very special opportunity. This was the kind of project where everyone around the table believed in the value of great design,where every microscopic detail counts in order to achieve the perfect balance and stand-out result—a big ambition for a bottle of gin (and vodka). We had the chance to oversee every aspect of the production process, from molds to prototypes to color tint to caps. Industrial design of this kind was a first for Wedge, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the result. Earlier in the year with the same partner, we launched a beer brand called Drav, to incredible success. With zero advertising budget, everything was driven by pure shelf appeal.
Work environment: Walking into Wedge feels like you’re stepping into an atelier. It’s neither pin-drop quiet nor pristinely organized. There are test prints and prototypes and projects pinned to the walls. We listen to Reverberation Radio a lot. We have many tropical plants to keep spirits high through long Montréal winters. Our walls are white, and we all sit at one big table, which is probably our greatest studio cliché.
Culturally, it’s a very open and positive place, filled with a lot of care and trust for one another. We ask each other a lot of questions with the guiding rule that no one needs to have all the answers; it’s OK (and important!) to say you don’t know. We respect each other’s talents, we work together, we exchange ideas, and we collaborate because it couldn’t work any other way. Our culture is very special to us. We are an intimate team by choice because we see that it produces better work. We have closer proximity to our clients and their business challenges, which enables better understanding, problem solving and business growth through design and communication.
Approach: We see clients and creative collaborators as partners. We prefer this mindset because you feel a greater sense of working together towards a shared goal. With that, a common trust is found, which enables us to take more creative risks and create work we mutually believe in. For a small-scale creative studio, this approach makes for high-quality, consistent creativity rooted in the same spirit. We live and breathe design and creative culture because it is our lifestyle. It’s what we genuinely love. Image makers, directors, entrepreneurs, writers, product designers and people who are influencing culture are our friends. When you are surrounded by inspiring risk takers in your everyday life, it fuels you to put that care and thought into the work you do for whomever you’re doing it for. We’re all in.
Aspirations: In five to ten years, we see new ventures where we create new brands and products we believe in with amazing partners. In fact, we are starting to do so now, but aim to on a larger scale. We also see international offices that keep an intimate scale and create a foreign exchange of culture. This includes an industrial design division that infuses brand principles into objects.
Philosophy: Push yourself against the forces of nature. When you’re climbing, you’re often falling, and it takes a lot of humility to not give up, and try again and again and again. We approach work the same way. You’re never sure how it’s going to work out at the start, but it’s always in the unknown and in the uncomfortable where we find interesting creative answers. The unknown is a positive place to be, if we want to surprise and surpass ourselves.