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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.

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We did the home show and then we did this funny project we called Concept Condo at a competitor's design show, which has now become the IDS West. We designed this little bronze-clad, free-standing condo unit that a guy lived in it for five days. 325 square feet. Trying to show that a small space can be nice if it’s designed properly.

That project lead to EPIC, our first big comprehensive brand project. The Globe Foundation had seen some of our work in the trade show world and they said “OK, we want to launch a consumer show about sustainability, but we're experts in B-to-B organization. We have no idea what that means.

So this was like 2005. Sustainability was just starting to be a mainstream issue, at least the relationship between sustainability and consumer products. It was also the time that sustainability was hitting its peek in this kind of cliche symbolism.

Working closely with the folks at the Globe Foundation, we created this brand called EPIC, which stands for Ethical Progressive Intelligence Consumers. It was all about not being the typical green thing. No frogs or raindrops, no green anywhere. The language was all intellectual. It was challenging, honest, intellectual language and it wasn't about guilt. It was about desire. The tagline was: 'You can buy a better future'.

It was pretty much saying that if you buy, buy well, but educated. Educate yourself and buy properly. That show is still alive today, six years on. I feel like we were ahead of the curve. Now that the curve is catching up, they need to move that brand forward again.

For us, it was that project that strengthened our ability. We had named something, we marketed it, we designed the interior of the show and we curated speakers. We were able to say that we can be an experience for a company from start to finish.

From there, it just grew. Another job and another job, we got more staff, more designers, different people, continued to be picky about the things we do, and suddenly seven years went by (laughs).

L: Can we talk about this whole idea of how design can actually define the future of Vancouver, has the potential to push the city in a certain direction?

S:Yeah, I’d love to. At the end of the day, I am a designer. This is how I define myself.

L: The question is, what do you design?

S: What I have become is more of a choreographer or a curator or orchestrator. An art director. I actually rarely sit down at my desk and design these days. I now direct other designers. At Cause+Affect, It's more about designing systems for the city, whether that means we design something small, like an exhibition, or something larger, like a company’s brand.

For example, recently we branded Modo, the car co-op. Great organization, bad brand. Therefore little influence, and for an organization that has strong values and advocacy, this was unfortunate.

Now they have a strong brand, good organization, more influence. Bigger change.

L: Since the rebranding, have they seen business go up?

S:Yup. 40 per cent.

L: Wow. Congratulations that's amazing.

S: It is amazing, but for them it's because they're a great group. They just had a dysfunctional brand.

JENNY: You probably talked with Trevor Boddy about Vancouverism, but do you think that design itself changes – not just bring out what is already there – but changes the way something is?

 

S: It's funny. Vancouverism, I'll talk about that first.

Vancouverism was a term that was used in a specific context around a travelling exhibition that we designed and Trevor Boddy curated. It is a term used in the context of urban design focused on the downtown peninsula (of Vancouver). It is basically describing a planning model of high density, thin towers, balanced by substantial amenities and outdoor space. The quality of those amenity services could be argued, but people would say they've been provided.

For me, Vancouverism represents the dichotomy that is currently Vancouver. The city faces constant critiscm from its citizens and in almost the same breath, they remind you that we live in the best place in the world. I think that's a funny thing. Our big question at C+A is, “How do you turn a livable city into a loveable city?”

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