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Featured image for How Wedge Works: Inside the Design Agency that Marries Narrative and Aesthetic

How Wedge Works: Inside the Design Agency that Marries Narrative and Aesthetic

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 06/15/2023 | 6 Minute Read

What if everything can be special? 

Wedge, a brand and design agency based in Montreal and Los Angeles, certainly believes so—so much that the words, EVERYTHING CAN BE SPECIAL, appear on their homepage in a large, sans serif font. And so much, of course, that every project they work on seems to have that little bit of magic that sets it apart, from a fun, new wine brand thinking outside the bottle to a delightful sunscreen with serious 80s vibes.

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Founder and design director Justin Lortie started Wedge in 2016. At that time, Justin felt like something was missing in the landscape of design in Canada, and he also saw a lot of opportunity in spaces that weren’t as intentional with design. When co-founder and creative director Sarah Di Domenico joined the team in 2018, she brought a strong background in global advertising—which would shape the way Wedge works.

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Pictured: Justin Lortie (founder and design director), Ariane Leblanc (associate creative director), Sarah Di Domenico (co-founder and creative director), Nancy Chen (director of brand strategy), Guillaume Lavallee (senior designer), and Capucine Labarthe (design Lead not pictured but very much in the picture) .

“We met in the design community in Montreal, and my background is very narrative-driven,” she said. “I was seeing the beautiful work Wedge was doing. I remember Drav, and I was like, ‘Well, where’s the narrative?’ The design was so distinct, but it didn’t feel like they were concretizing that strategy in a narrative-driven way. So Wedge is sort of this combination of the best of our backgrounds in one place. We have the rigor from a large-scale agency and the strategic chops, but we also have the craft and care of a small-scale design studio.”

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Wedge is also proudly Canadian. As a rock climber and lover of the outdoors, Justin named this new agency after Wedgemount in British Columbia to build the agency off of a memory of freedom from one of his past trips.

“We’re born in Montreal, Canada, so that’s definitely part of the origin story,” he said. “Instead of starting something in New York or London, Montreal felt like the right birthplace of Wedge, a new generation agency.”

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Sarah and Justin have established deep, sturdy principles in Wedge, which have endured since its inception. There’s a progressive spirit in everything they do, and they’re committed to sustainable growth within their team rather than expanding for the sake of expansion. They will always love taking on ambitious projects, too (a Canadian design agency rebranding what is perhaps one of the most beloved soda brands in the country—no pressure). And something they remain loyal to—and what sets their agency apart—is their ongoing commitment to a high-quality strategy combined with striking aesthetics.

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“To us, thoughtful strategy and high-level aesthetics or craft are inseparable,” Sarah said. “They have equal weight because the strategic part of it, or the story or narrative, or whatever you want to call it, guides the design. We do these workshop-like settings with our clients, we understand the business objectives, and we get very clear on what the point-of-view is. And then that guides the design work that we do. For us, it's very integrated.”

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She also explained that their work is very collaborative. Rather than passing the baton from one person to the next and back and forth between teams, everyone works together to ensure the message comes to life through the design. Justin added that as AI becomes more accessible and common and allows entrepreneurs to more easily dabble in design, genuinely good design will be a commodity.

“The new challenges that we’re seeing are all about the high complexity of their business, and it has to be solved with strategy,” he said. “It's about making the right choices for the business to have an impact in the market because it transcends just an aesthetic.”

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Wedge has had the privilege of working on projects like the furniture company EQ3, bringing the brand’s heart and soul front and center in its branding, or custom bottles for Menaud, whose signature elegant green bottles are true standouts on shelves full of clear ones. Recently, Wedge redesigned Canada Dry. The refresh is subtle yet incredibly bold, and the Wedge team turned to Canada Dry’s archives for inspiration to root the new look in the brand’s rich history. Not only did Wedge work to implement the vision and get approval from all levels in this large-scale client, but they also had the entirety of Canada watching. Canada Dry is, after all, a ginger ale full to the brim with Canadian history and pride.

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“It's a modernization of a 100-plus-year-old company, and if you get it wrong, the country will throw tomatoes at you,” Sarah said. “You have to really get it right and do it with respect and nuance, and you don't throw too much design at it. When it landed, the picture people had in their minds of Canada Dry was the result. People saw it and asked, ‘Oh, hasn't it always been this?’ And I think that's exactly the feeling that you want.”

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Whether the client is a global brand or a startup, Wedge strives to work with people who seek “business unusual.” They welcome working on exciting ventures and want to feel good—and make others feel good— doing it. The team puts their energy towards companies, founders, people, and brands, both big and small, that have unlimited passion and ambition rather than those that simply see a chance to make money and don’t really care for the consumer. 

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“When someone reaches out to you to work on something together, you can feel when you're like, ‘Wow, this is such a net positive for people with this product,’” said Sarah. “Maybe it's cleaner, or better for you, or a more positive impact, versus something that is just a business opportunity for them. I'm for people who have daring ideas.”

“We're just excited to share optimism with the world,” Justin said. “We love what we do. It makes people happy, people love it, and it's really nice to continue to have the privilege to do that with great people.”

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