Designer Q&A: Jane Cox of Vancouver Design Week

“There are different perspectives coming into the city all the time, and there are opportunities for mash-ups, which I think are the most exciting things in design.”

Though she hails from Vancouver Island, Jane Cox spent years working for corporate design firms in London, England—and now she blends her West Coast roots and English sophistication to help organizations express their authentic identity through branding that bridges the gap between the inner and outer presentation of who they are.As the principal of Cause and Affect and board director for the Vancouver Design Foundation, Cox sees design as a tool to make change, solve problems and inspire others through her two favourite words: connection and culture. How would you describe Vancouver’s current design scene?It’s definitely matured. People are operating at a global level now. People are travelling more; people are online more. So you’re not just facing inside your community, you’re connecting everywhere—all around the world. There’s different perspectives coming into the city all the time and that’s exciting because there are opportunities for mashups, which I think are the most exciting things in design.When I came back to Vancouver , there wasn’t much of a connection between the disciplines. So, I saw this opportunity to not only connect the design industry to itself—like to other designers to create interesting things—but also to look at the city. I looked at Vancouver itself as a project. Like, what can I do? How can I help design this city better?It’s very rare to see something completely unique that you’ve never ever seen before. But what is always possible is a new combination of things. Maybe those things in themselves aren’t unique, but when you put them together—or the way they’re shaped—that can be very unique.How does your work specifically affect the way Vancouverites experience the city?I would say that the two things that drive me are culture and connection.When I think about a city, I look for opportunities for organizations that I think are doing things to make the city better. There’s a process involved to educate the public on changing their behaviours, or we have to do things differently to make something better. What that causes is people in a city seeing that new thing and then being excited about it because of the way I’ve thought about designing that experience.People don’t like new sometimes; they don’t like change. How do we make things that are different and new, but are better for the world? How do we make them really inspiring, and attract people? How do we make it desirable? Even though it’s changing the way someone might behave or be used to doing something, they’re actually excited to do it because they feel part of the change. They feel part of making the city better.What is the first thing a company should consider when creating a brand? When you’re working on a brand, you’re looking inside—how they understand themselves and then how they communicate themselves out to the world.I work with two types of groups. One doesn’t have a brand yet. So I help them translate their business plan into a brand strategy and a brand—an identity. For existing organizations that already have a brand and have already been around for years and years—they can say things like “we don’t feel relevant anymore; we feel like we’re kind of outdated.” So sometimes it can be looking at the inside of their culture helping them define who they are.How did you go about designing the brand for Vancouver Design Week?It’s the same process I do with all my clients—it’s understanding the culture. So: who is Vancouver in the context of the world? We’re not London, we’re not New York, we’re our own place with our own culture—our own identity. How do we sort of summarize and articulate and define the essence of who we are?So, we go through that process and then it’s “how do we express this?” Understanding that, with the public, there are two audiences. There’s the design community themselves, who need to feel proud of the identity and the design because it’s representing them as a community. And then, on the other hand, you have to make it accessible and exciting and dynamic for the public.After you define the culture, then you articulate and design that identity. And then the third step in any brand process is engagement. So, now that we’ve figured out who we are, how are we going to engage? That’s what brand strategy is really about: how we engage with the public.What’s your history with Vancouver Design Week? Design weeks happen all around the world, where the city dedicates a week to celebrating design in their city. And we thought: Vancouver is ready for that. We have the content here; we have the talent. The design community itself doesn’t have opportunities to connect to each other. And also there lacks a connection and maybe an understanding because Vancouver’s a fairly new city for corporate entities—like businesses and retailers.I think we all feel it’s important to have more awareness about design in Vancouver, and that’s really the goal with the foundation: just to connect people, to cultivate that appreciation and value of design, and then to create experiences like Vancouver Design Week that showcase what’s going on in the city in terms of the design community.