Inclusivity in Design x Taja Dockendorf

Inclusivity in Design x Taja Dockendorf


This month, we speak to Taja Dockendorf, Founder, CEO, and Owner of Pulp + Wire, a 100% female-founded and run design agency sharing the story of her creative journey from an art lover to a creative expert

This month, we speak to Taja Dockendorf, Founder, CEO, and Owner of Pulp + Wire, a 100% female-founded and run design agency sharing the story of her creative journey from an art lover to a creative expert

Tell us about yourself

Before I started my company, Pulp+Wire in 2004, I interned at graphic awards publication house in NYC, freelanced, and then worked as a graphic designer rising to creative director for other agencies from Boston to Maine. My background as a creative is first as an industrial designer turned graphic designer with a love for creative storytelling and a very strategic and futuristic ability later honed during my career. If you have an idea, I can help turn it into gold, both creatively and by understanding what people want, how to reach and captivate them, and how to maximize others' (founders and brand owners) ideas.

Taja Dockendorf at Pulp+Wire, Portland, Maine

My parents inspire me, which is where I got my 50/50 mix of creative magic and strategic thinking. My husband who is a classically trained chef turned stay-at-home dad inspires me daily to think differently and has helped me grow my career while growing our family.

My team inspires me daily and challenges me to problem-solve, and my teenage kids bring me daily reminders to stay young and reach for my own goals alongside theirs. We are all on a journey together, and I cherish those who have allowed me to be a part of their lives.

What is the story behind Pulp + Wire? What inspired you and what is the driving force behind your design studio?

I’ve always had a need to create, build, and solve creative challenges. As a young kid, I loved it all—art classes, woodworking with my father, using power tools, and just being hands-on with creative projects. After graduating high school, the natural progression felt like art school, where I initially immersed myself in industrial design before shifting into graphic design, right when Adobe creative tools and computer-aided design were first being perfected. In this advancing field, I found a compelling intersection of design, innovation, and human connection; and for me, this intersection really lit up when we found the right creative solution.

I didn’t go to business school. I didn’t have an MBA. And there was no playbook for this sort of thing, especially for female founders in this field. But I embraced this. It gave me the challenge I was craving, another way to be creative and not be limited by what others assumed or had already done before.

Pulp+Wire's team at work

To successfully grow my agency, I’ve had to stretch and build both sides of my brain, and to me, this is one of the most spectacular aspects of being a creative turned founder. It’s been an incredible journey of growth and self-exploration, one that lets me explore a multitude of my own passions. Today, I serve as creative director as well as founder, CEO, and owner, and through this role, I’m still engaged in the creative side. Yet it’s also true that I’ve had to let go of aspects of creative execution work I love. I think of what I do now as creative clairvoyance—seeing and communicating the creative vision I have for a brand, rather than doing direct creative work myself.

Pulp+Wire's Office in Portland, Maine

In my company, I gather together all kinds of creatives: those who want to strictly create and those who are also thinking, “Yes, and what’s next?” Everyone has a different path and different trajectory, and as long as someone continues to communicate and grow, there is no ceiling. As you move forward in your career, just keep leaning into your passions—let this commitment be your compass. And you’ll do great things.

Which project(s) are you most proud of and why?

Honestly, I am proud of all the projects we get to work on, those which are a success and help brands move forward, and those that maybe did not work out as planned. I have a strong stance that there is a lesson to be learned with every project, and it is how we solve those problems that I am most proud of.

A few projects I have enjoyed working on and watching grow are those I had an early role. Those where I got to work with the founder to help define their brand, those that were based on mutual respect, communication, and trust, and I have had the chance to be a part of their ongoing journey as their teams evolved.

RIND snacks

It is a skin-on dried fruit snack that innovated and continues to innovate in historically lacklustre categories ripe for evolution.

Kalamata’s Kitchen

This is a children's book and lifestyle brand that inspires children and families to try new foods, flavours, and cultural cuisines.

Both brands are dear to me because of the early relationships, how they have evolved teams, the creative risks they have taken, and how we have stayed mutually collaborative over many years.

What is your take on gender stereotypes against women in the design industry?

Rewind 10 years and yes, having a female firm, and an all-female team was a reason for other agencies to ridicule us, call us a lady lair, and find ways to tear us down, especially by competing male agency owners. However, that dialogue has changed as most do over time, and refection that maybe that was not the right response to something new, different, and not the “norm”.

We never set out to be exclusively female, and today we are not, it was always about the right person for the right position that fueled my hiring decisions. Strong, accomplished, driven women showed up and they got the job. Today I am proud of my team, who we are and how we present ourselves regardless of gender. The truth is, it is all about how you show up, the energy you bring to the table and not backing down from being direct.

Do I get backlash for being direct today as a woman still, sadly yes! I speak my mind, I push for the right approach and strategy and when needed I challenge and educate on my WHY. When women do it, it is still seen as ‘defiant’ or ‘pushy’ but that narrative is changing, but there are a select few in business that are woefully insecure and the notion that a woman might call them out for their shortcomings is usually when the challenge lies. But I decided long ago not to be pushed around, and I teach my team the same.

"Respect, communication, and solutions are the cornerstone of good working relationships, gender aside".

If you could share one message with the young women in the packaging design community, what would it be?

Find your creative voice, discover your passion, and know that you belong in a seat at the table. Then, learn from every mistake you make, while also taking the time to appreciate your own evolution, strength, and perseverance.

Find out more about Taja Dockendorf here . Check our Pulp + Wire's website and follow them on Instagram.