Mary Do­herty’s plan was to be­come a pain­ter, but in col­lege, she re­alised she was no good. Hap­pily, her change of di­rec­tion led to a suc­cess­ful busi­ness and an en­dur­ing ro­mance. Edited by Mary O’Sul­li­van. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Paul McCarthy

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - MY FAVOURITE ROOM -

Mary Do­herty’s home is full of in­ter­est­ing arte­facts, but two in par­tic­u­lar stand out. These are big, bold art­works in the style of Roy Licht­en­stein, the Amer­i­can Pop artist who, in his work, em­ployed bright graph­ics and words and lots of ex­cla­ma­tion marks. It tran­spires that one of the art­works was se­cretly com­mis­sioned by Mary, and the other, from the same artist, by her hus­band Sean. Both pre­sented them as Christ­mas gifts the same year.

For­tu­nately, both Mary and Sean were thrilled, but then they would be; both are in­volved in the world of vis­ual com­mu­ni­ca­tion and en­joy not just pure art, but vis­ual jokes and un­usual ways of com­mu­ni­cat­ing. Sean is a part­ner in Power De­sign, while Mary’s com­pany, Red Dog, spe­cialises in help­ing com­pa­nies to de­velop a brand iden­tity.

A bub­bly blonde from Inishowen, Co Done­gal, Mary says she has no artis­tic her­itage to speak of, but she feels she got her busi­ness acu­men from her mother, a grounded in­di­vid­ual who has al­ways kept the fam­ily show on the road; and her cre­ative flair from her fa­ther, whose ca­reer was that of golf pro­fes­sional, and yet who has al­ways been in­ter­ested in the arts. “He be­came a golf pro at 16 and that was his job, but he’s very cul­tured, and al­ways en­cour­aged us to do some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” Mary re­calls. “He was de­lighted that I wanted to go to art col­lege.”

Mary thought at first she wanted to be a pain­ter, and did a foun­da­tion course in Belfast. “I re­alised I was no good at the paint­ing; who was I kid­ding? So I switched to de­sign and I fell in love with graphic de­sign. I love the fact you can take these dif­fer­ent el­e­ments and put them to­gether and make some­thing beau­ti­ful, but also some­thing that has a job,” Mary en­thuses, adding that to com­plete her ed­u­ca­tion, she moved to Dublin and NCAD, where she did a de­gree in vis­ual com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

The move south was good for Mary in another way; it was where she met Sean, who hails from Fer­bane, Co Of­faly. “He was in the same class — both of us went into NCAD in third year,” Mary says, adding with a laugh, “It was chem­istry; love over the draw­ing boards.”

Mary grad­u­ated in 1993 and started her de­sign com­pany, Red Dog. The name is great and it sounds as if there’s a story be­hind it. “There’s no story. I don’t even have a dog,” Mary says with a laugh, adding that she and her then busi­ness part­ner wanted some­thing ar­rest­ing. “We wanted some­thing with­out the word de­sign in the ti­tle; red is pos­i­tive and en­er­getic, and ‘red dog’ sounded good. We started it the day af­ter grad­u­a­tion — mad, isn’t it? I’ve never had ‘a job’ in my life,” she notes.

In­stead, she’s al­ways been an em­ployer and cur­rently has a staff of 15. “We’re one of the big­gest de­sign com­pa­nies. It’s mainly brand­ing and de­sign; we work with com­pa­nies on their brand strat­egy, and help them build their brand through vis­ual and ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. I’m at the front end, I work with com­pa­nies on what needs fix­ing, and then the stu­dio takes over. We have very tal­ented de­sign­ers, and they de­sign an iden­tity,” Mary ex­plains.

Clients in­clude elite busi­nesses like the Davy Group, KBC Bank, and DCU. “One of the in­ter­est­ing things for me is get­ting un­der the bon­net of these places and see­ing some of the amaz­ing work they do,” Mary mar­vels, adding that the role of the de­signer is be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant to big com­pa­nies. “De­sign is in­te­gral to ev­ery­thing we do now. A lot of com­pa­nies in the States have a head of de­sign on their staff. They’re not de­sign com­pa­nies — it’s be­cause they want de­sign­ers to be part of the think­ing,” she muses.

Another big pro­ject this year is her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the IDI Awards, which take place in the Marker on Novem­ber 26; she’s chair­per­son, and her role in­cludes putting a top-class jury to­gether. “De­sign­ers from all dis­ci­plines have en­tered, and it was im­por­tant to get a good jury. De­sign­ers like to be judged by their peers, who are ac­tu­ally prac­tic­ing de­sign­ers,” Mary ex­plains, adding that a life­time-achieve­ment award will be posthu­mously be­stowed on Eileen Gray, so it prom­ises to be a very pres­ti­gious oc­ca­sion. “There are not that many Ir­ish women de­sign­ers we can look up to, and it’s good to ac­knowl­edge peo­ple who are bril­liant,” Mary says.

Life is pretty hec­tic for Mary. As well as the awards and the com­pany, she and Sean have two sons, Sam (12) and six-year-old Oisin. “Sam was born at 26 weeks; he was in Holles Street for five months. It was tough, but I kept go­ing by con­tin­u­ing to work, which is near Holles Street. Yeah, it was hard,” she says,

‘We went into NCAD in third year, he was in the same class; it was chem­istry, love over the draw­ing boards’

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