Steven Cox: the Cause+Affect behind Vancouver Pecha Kucha
“I wrote down 'cause and effect' on a piece of paper,” says Cox. “But 'cause and effect' is just like action and reaction – so we changed it to 'cause and affect', which is action with a purpose.” VO's newest thing: Download the interview.
It was also at a time when “cause” wasn't the loaded term as it is now. Cause is a term that has become loaded, from everything from social justice to sustainability. We didn't really mean it that way. That really wasn't the intention. The intention was, we want to do more as a company rather than just be the design people at the end of a process.
For design, especially in Canada, most of the process and decisions have already been made by the time the designers come on board the project. Then the designer would be told what to design and they would go ‘OK, I’ll do that’. If the designer goes, 'well that's kind of dumb', the client would say, “too late! already decided.”
So I would be thinking, how did you decide to do that? They'd answer, well my neighbour's husband told me, or my daughter’s best friend said we should. It was just that usually the decision-making process to reach the design component was really uninformed. And it’s that stage where all the innovation could happen, in the process before the designer was hired.
I think we were aware of that because of the stay in London. We have seen more possibilities.
When you get to America, you get into strong silos ... North America lives specialization. Right? You do one thing and you do it better than anybody else. In Europe, it's the total opposite. In Europe, you're more interesting because you do that and you do that, you do many things at a time. It makes your work richer. Canada and the States are really suspect of that. I think the message we are trying to get out is: "because we are doing more things, we are more interesting, because they are each informed by the other.”
So if you want specialization, you are going to get exactly what everyone else does, but you going to get low risk, probably not that expensive, and you know what you are going to get before it starts.
But that's not what you are going to get with us. We didn't want you to know what you are going to get.
L: It sounds like you wanted to engage in a creative process where something amazing that you didn't expect happens.
S: That's right. We wanted to solve a problem without defining how we are going to solve that problem. Like the analogy: You go to a coal company for energy solutions. It's likely they are going to recommend coal. We didn't want to be that. We wanted to be the company that gives you a solution that you never heard of. Cause and Affect was trying to say, 'we are not just an ”affect” company, we are also the front end.
To do that, we had to build a company that had variety so you could solve the problem in a bunch of different ways. Then we became this kind of weird group and nobody knew what we did. You know, we created an exhibition, then we did some graphic design, then we created an event series.
C+A started to become interesting when we started working for the Vancouver Art Gallery and they said, we want to improve our awareness. People walk by the building, they don't know what it is, how to get in etc..
So we said lets start with signage. At the time, VAG had a big sign over by the stairs and they had a green canopy that came out one door. It looked like you were entering a funeral home.
L: I remember that.
S:So we started doing really basic things. Like, we put really big banners up at the entrances. Stuff that for us was like Step 1 in a 30-step process on how to improve. But anyway, they were so excited with the simple stuff that we did. But just to get those banners up on a heritage Class A building was so much bureaucracy. So we finally changed the thing from green to red, put up some banners, added some additional signage out on the sidewalk, with flexible signage that could be replaced with what was happening inside. We brought the gallery out to the community a bit more.
The next thing they asked was, how to get the younger audience?
At the time, they had a very old membership, very old audience. So they said,
'Why don't you guys design some cool posters?' and we said that cool posters aren't going to do it. You have to change the way people think of the gallery, you have to totally change the perception. The only way to do that is to get to them to experience the gallery in a different way.