Mary Doherty is a designer, creative director and founder of Red Dog. Established in 1993, based in Dublin and with an office in New York, Red Dog is an award winning creative and branding agency. Over the last 25-plus years Red Dog have built their reputation – conceiving, designing, writing, producing and managing great work that helps their clients’ businesses thrive.
Where did the love of design come from?
When I was in school you were either into art or you weren’t. And I was into art so I went to art college. I went to Belfast to do my foundation year thinking I was going to be the next fantastic modern artist. I was absolutely pants at painting and I didn’t really know what to do next. I took some guidance and decided to try design. So I studied Product and Graphic Design in Magee College in Derry.
I absolutely hated product design with a passion. I hated 3D, hated modelling, hated all that technical stuff. Fortunately I fell in love with graphic design. I didn’t really know anything about it before but I thought “this is it, this is for me.” I had my diploma but had to have my degree so that’s how I got to NCAD. I went straight into third year and was incredibly focused, I was determined to do well.
How did Red Dog start?
My background is quite simple. I did my degree in NCAD. I graduated on the first of November 1993 and we opened Red Dog on the second of November 1993. This is the only job I’ve ever had in my whole life. The genesis of Red Dog came when I was in college. I started working for a couple of clients just to make a bit of money. I started working with another girl in my class, we basically did the old cliché of working from her bedroom.
During that period we picked up a few more clients and her father said to us, “why don’t you just keep doing this?” So us being quite naive, and possibly a bit up ourselves thought, “that’s a great idea.” We got an office right across from NCAD, 72 Thomas Street and that’s where we started. There was no business plan, but there was also no risk, if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out and that’s how we went into it.
What’s your role now and what does that involve?
My thing now is really business development and being managing director of the company. So it’s about strategy, getting the clients, dealing with the clients, getting to the point where there's a brief ready and then it passes to the studio. It’s really full on, there’s 18 people in Red Dog now and we do a lot of work in the US. You’d think now 25 years on that it might be winding down, but it's actually going in the opposite direction. I absolutely love it.
How do you balance running a design business with being a mother?
Running a design business is not for the faint hearted. As a woman it’s also very, very different. Different parts of your life kick in and it’s not easy. One of the things I got out of NCAD, as well as a degree, was a husband. We have 2 sons now, Sam is 15 and Ash is 8. Having kids is when things start to get a bit tricky. You don’t want to be working till 8pm every night, you simply can’t. You have to put enough mechanisms in place to ensure you can be home by 6pm.
The principle remains; you have to have a good idea and that’s never going to change. That’s what being a designer is all about.
What advice would you give a young person thinking of pursuing a career in design?
Design is a career now, it’s much more interesting than when we started out. [Back] then if you were a graphic designer you were a graphic designer, that was kind of it. Now it’s much more open. We now need writers, photographers, illustrators, film makers, motion graphics people. However the principle remains; you have to have a good idea and that’s never going to change. That’s what being a designer is all about.
If I was back doing my Leaving Cert I would say try everything, travel and experience design in other countries before you come back and set up. If you work with some of the big agencies abroad, even if its for free, you will just learn so much. It will be invaluable and people here will be crying out for you when you come back. Work really hard, hone your craft of design before you go and work in a commercial studio.