Why did you choose to attend OCAD U?

I moved to Toronto from Montreal when I was 20. I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do with my career but I came from a creative family and had always doodled and wrote stories. One friend from Montreal recommended I check out OCAD. I went down to McCaul to walk around and see what the school was about. Just from walking around the outside of the building, I could spot the woodworking studio, sculptures, drawings pinned up through the windows, and I knew this was the place for me.

 

Please briefly describe your current job / practice.

My partner and I founded cStreet Campaigns. We’re a consultancy that designs and runs digital campaigns for politicians, non-profits and social movements. We’re a full-service agency so we work on everything from campaign strategy to web design, web development, advertising, email and social media comms.

 

How did you get started in your career?

When I left OCAD I found myself in a tough spot. I knew I wanted to work in design but I didn’t want to work in architecture. In my final year I had been interested in international development but there were no opportunities for me to do that work with a design background. Volunteering is the traditional path to working in ID but I didn’t have the means to work for free. I began freelancing in graphic design, and worked at Corporate Knights magazine with little education or experience in graphic design. In 2010 I decided to go back to school and did a masters at University College London at the Bartlett School of Architecture, in Building and Urban Design in Development. It's a 12 month practical course in urban design in precarious contexts (i.e. slum upgrading, tenuous land rights, extreme poverty). This course taught me a lot about organization and design skills involved in building power among the poor. When I returned to Toronto, again I found myself scrambling to find work. The opportunity presented itself to build the agency I wanted to work for and I took it. Since then I’ve been applying those same principles of organizing and building power to the digital space for clients like Idle No More, Amnesty International, Rainforest Action Network, and the United Nations Association USA to name a few.

 

What were your policies regarding internships, volunteering, and paid work?

I’ve only worked for free when it meant building something from nothing. So, for example, I would never work for free for a large design agency (and now, owning my own agency, I would never ask someone to work for free). However, I have in the past collaborated with friends to work on events and projects that would likely not yield any profit. 

 

What do you enjoy most about your work? What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Winning is the best part of my job. We work with extraordinary, dedicated people who are fighting for progressive causes. We’ve helped clients get elected, pass legal reforms, and bring issues into the mainstream media that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten any attention. Every victory, no matter how small, is progress and I’m really fortunate to be involved in it. It’s a privilege not many people have.

 

What skills or relationships developed at OCAD U helped you participate in your field? 

I think OCAD taught me to think critically about design in a way that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. I had a handful of really influential courses and teachers that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I was often a voice of dissent in my program and I pushed to do things that weren’t part of my program. I wouldn’t change that, though, because my whole business now is built around challenging authority and the status quo!

 

What are the key responsibilities you maintain for your practice?

The core of my practice is loyalty and dedication to the progressive movement. It’s really important to stay engaged in and aware of the issues we work in, but also those conditions beyond work in the progressive movement we want to be part of it. That requires dedication and loyalty to the cause. 

Other than the political side of my practice, I spend a lot of time thinking about staff and leadership. The absolute most important thing in any business is that the people around you are being valued and supported. Without our staff we wouldn’t be anything so I work really hard to stay up to date on management techniques and spend a lot of time working on how I can make their work lives as healthy and productive as possible.

 

What are your personal and professional goals for the coming years?

We aspire to grow our agency in the coming years (OCAD students apply!) and we have a number of verticals that play a small role in the business now but that we would like to strengthen. Otherwise, of course, helping the real changemakers make key gains for the environment, social justice, and a fairer economy!

Images: 
Photo of Amy Leaman
Photo of Amy Leaman
Infographic of Amy Leaman's career path
© Amy Leaman
© Amy Leaman
© Amy Leaman
© Amy Leaman
© Amy Leaman
© Amy Leaman
© Amy Leaman
Role: 
Co-founder of cStreet Campaigns
Website: 
http://www.cstreet.ca
Quote: 
Winning is the best part of my job. We work with extraordinary, dedicated people who are fighting for progressive causes. We’ve helped clients get elected, pass legal reforms, and bring issues into the mainstream media that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten any attention.
Program Year: 
2008