Denise was born in 1952 in the French-Acadian region of Clare in southwestern Nova Scotia. It was her high school guidance counselor, William Deveau, who suggested she apply for admission to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax.
In the late sixties and early seventies, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax was undergoing radical transformation, with a newly-hired design faculty consisting mainly of British and German émigrés. Of these, Professor Gerhard Doerrié had the most influence on Denise’s development as a designer. In addition to teaching the senior design studios, Gerhard set up a practicum placement for Denise in Montreal at Design Collaborative with Ernst Roch and Rolf Harder, and at Girard Bruce & Associates with Anthony Hobbs. Denise graduated from NSCAD in 1973 with a Bachelor of Design degree. She worked for a year as the in-house designer for the Nova Scotia Power Corporation, and then for another year as assistant to designer Jurgen Hoffmann, in his Halifax design studio.
In 1974, Denise and her NSCAD classmate Anne Patterson (from Charlottetown, PEI) were nominated to serve on the council of regional representatives of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada. As the east coast representatives, Denise and Anne accepted the responsibility of starting an Atlantic chapter for the newly formed GDC. Over the next few years, they promoted the idea of a professional society to other graphic designers in the region, enlisted new members, held chapter meetings and organized social events and ‘pop-up’ exhibits of graphic design work. Slowly, a small group of designers coalesced to become the core of the Atlantic Chapter. A joint exhibition of graphic design and industrial design titled 2D + 3D was the chapter’s first open-to-the-public event in the summer of 1975.
In the fall of 1975, Denise started her own design business in partnership with designer Gregory Silver. Their company, Communication Design Group Limited (CDG), began as a two-person operation but grew rapidly. CDG developed a reputation for quality particularly in corporate identity, print, marketing literature, and then branched out to include packaging, trade show exhibit design and signage. Over the course of her time at CDG, Denise’s projects covered the spectrum from postage stamps to hospital signage systems, garnering local, national and occasionally international design awards. During those years, she mentored many, many practicum students from NSCAD, working with them on projects for her clients. Her studio endowed a yearly scholarship for design students at NSCAD.
In the early 80s, when her partner Gregory Silver was president of the GDC, Denise supported his efforts by editing and publishing a monthly newsletter mailed to all GDC members coast to coast (from 1983 to 1985). She conducted a demographic and economic survey of GDC members and published the results, creating the first overview of the profession as it existed region by region across Canada. She also produced a strategic plan outlining recommendations for changes to the GDC’s executive structure and its scope of member services.
Denise taught in the design program at NSCAD and also lectured in the public relations degree program at Mount Saint Vincent University. An early adopter of computer desktop publishing, her work was featured in the international marketing literature for Pagemaker software (a precursor of Adobe), and she was invited to speak at the Pratt Conference on Computer Graphics in New York City.
As her career progressed, her design practice evolved to include more exhibition and signage design. Denise wrote guidebooks on heritage and mainstreet district signage and returned to university part-time in order to acquire curatorial and interpretation experience that would be helpful on museum design projects.
Since relocating to Cape Breton Island in the late 1990s, Denise has specialized in the design of museums and interpretive centres, and widened the scope of her services to include interpretive research and writing, artifact curation, space planning, exhibition design, fabrication supervision and installation. She now has completed museum projects throughout Nova Scotia. Denise hasn’t retired yet. Denise Saulnier Design is located in the village of D’Escousse on Isle Madame, Cape Breton. People keep asking her design things and she keeps saying yes.
Awarded Fellowship in 1985.