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Jennifer Nichols


Communication Designer

Member since May 22, 2007

  • Je me souviens : Portes Ouvertes

    Arts & Culture, Communication Design


    Concordia University hosted an exhibition of early findings by DesignInquiry: DesignCity [Montréal] participants during Montréal's Portes Ouvertes citywide design exposition (June 2011).

    Je me souviens represents the work of interdisciplinary designers, thinkers, and practitioners from seven countries. All have gathered to explore and challenge the concept City of Design.


    Amery Calvelli, John Calvelli, Bobby Campbell, Cecelia Chen, Karina Cutler-Lake, Josh Davidson, Jane Edmundson, Anne Galperin, Denise Gonzales-Crisp, Margo Halverson, Melle Hammer, Stuart Henley, Alice Jarry, He Li, Emily Luce, Christopher Moore, Jennifer Nichols, Florian Sametinger, Deborah Saucier, Joshua Singer, Gail Swanlund, Ben Van Dyke and Tim Vyner.

    Visitors may also access the dynamic exhibition content at

    Stay tuned for a forthcoming exhibition catalogue, and keep checking the DesignInquiry Journal for further findings from DesignInquiry : DesignCity [Montréal].

  • Bixi_sign_3_177_

    It’s the last day of DesignInquiry Montreal. I’m speed walking down rue Ste-Catherine to look at the handmade signs I surreptitiously glued to BIXI docking stations last night.

    They are all there. People stop to read the excerpts from stories of first time bike rides. I snap photographs of the sign with a clipped version of Alice Jarry’s bike story:

    “I had made this new friend her name was Catherine she was my neighbour from two houses down in the suburbs of Montreal. My goal was to go to her place with my new bike with the wheels on the side. I remember the bike was red. I rode my bike past the two houses and we met on the corner of the street...she’s still my friend.”

    I hustle back to my room to insert the images into a slideshow and bring the file down to the screening room. It’s time to present our results from the week of inquiry. I am first.

    I show a couple of videos from the biketarian project filmed by Hyuma Frankowski. I talk about how I see the BIXI scheme as a successful design of a sustainable transportation system then explain my mini intervention of personalized advertising posters for BIXI docking stations.. I’m back sitting on the couch before I know it - pleased that I’ve finally contributed something.

    After me, each DI-er stands up and presents their observations of the City of Design. There were too many results to describe here. So I’ve written a free-word-association summary of the 24 participants’ work:

    framing baseline patte...

  • 24hour_bixi_177_

    It’s 8:30am. There is rush hour traffic pumping through the intersections along rue Ste-Catherine. I’m checking on the handmade sign I taped to a BIXI docking station at rue Guy five hours earlier. The sign is still there!

    I make it back to the Grey Nuns residence where more presentations from DesignInquiry participants are being loaded on to a laptop. I slide onto one of the waiting couches as the lights are dimmed. Within a few minutes I am intrigued by a presentation on Typo-geography by Stuart Henley, Principle Lecturer and Course Leader from the Bath College of Art and Design, who discusses visualizing language and the ramifications of the QR code.

    Karina Cutler-Lake from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh shows us her creative explorations of rapid transit lines, maps and sublime letterpressed pieces. She admits she is moving away from commercial work at this time. This leads to a discussion into whether design needs to result in an artifact. Florian Sametinger points out that, “design has moved past problem-solving to the act of generating knowledge.”

    I think back to an article I read in the DesignInquiry journal about using design thinking to produce ‘systems’ instead of artifacts. In ‘Designing the Immaterial’ Eric Benson of ReNourish reveals the tension he feels between the desire to produce more graphic design and reduce the amount of resulting landfill waste.

    His conclusion is that graphic designers need to use their design skills in different...

  • Bixi_pontlaconcorde_177_

    It’s mid-week (Wednesday). DesignInquiry Montréal is picking up speed.

    We look at the exoskeletal spiral staircases of Montréal's terraced houses courtesy of a presentation by Amery Calvelli. DI framer Emily Luce examines design’s role in 16th Century geopolitics via point blankets – the iconic wool trade blanket once exchanged for prized animal furs and currently used as a corporate branding by The Bay. Luce casts a clear gaze on the trading patterns of early Québeçois voyageurs’ with First Nations.

    Her discussion about early design and power-plays segues into present-day politics of the ‘City of Design’. Luce a faculty member of the University of Lethbridge Fine Arts and new Media Department asks us “What happens when you take money and power out of the equation?” and “What does it mean to be a design citizen?” She points out that, “Even UNESCO can't designate just one City of Design. It requires multiple perspectives to more accurately represent the whole picture.”

    Christopher Moore, Luce’s co-framer, sees the group contributing to a long term project to about how the Cities of Design around the world relate. “I want to bring many people from several viewpoints together to understand my research into the larger study of the UNESCO City of Design…” he explains.

    The City of Design designation is the central theme of all our research interests. Luce further explains how the group is coalescing, “…each researcher's work contributes to ...

  • Button_belt_132_

    I wake up to my third day of DesignInquiry with a lingering feeling of unease. How am I going to participate as a non-academic? I consider leaving, but after some friendly encouragement from the framers, decide to stick around.

    The first presentation of the morning is about mapping water flows through the city. The overview of water systems comforts me. It connects to my professional practice with the Fraser Basin Council Society’s Community Planning program.

    My heart beats faster while we discuss the concept of the city as watershed, groundwater flows and daylighting city streams. I learn some practical information about hydro power in Quebec and the local watershed. These are new concepts to some people in the room. Someone asks what a watershed is.

    John Calvelli, faculty from the Alberta College of Art and Design, lectures on comparative ontology. He reads from a paper he wrote comparing Montréal landscapes and health statistics. His landscape photos include the reclaimed urban landfill where Cirque du Soleil set up their über green circus arts centre: La TOHU.

    Moore explained to me on the metro the day before that the famous Montréal circus company is on a quest to lead city sustainability efforts while becoming an international circus capital. Their facility is located on what was once the largest urban landfill site in North America. The site received nearly a million tons of waste every year for twenty years. Today it is a model of ecosystem revitalisation an...

  • Stevepizza_177_

    I wake up on Monday morning - the first full day of DesignInquiry - with expectations. I am looking forward to finding out the latest in design research and practice.

    When I enter the presentation room I feel like I am going back in time as a student at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design where I studied communication design. We’re inside on a sunny spring day with dimmed lights watching a projected image on the wall. I hunker down on one of the couches and try not to fidget.

    The presentations are fascinating. Florian Sametinger from Berlin’s Design Research Lab works on-site in Berlin communities. Sametinger sits on a couch with his computer balanced on his lap as he discusses his collaborative research into sustainable approaches to interaction design.

    He shows a video about a project that has youth experimenting with basic materials, microchips, sound recorders and video equipment to envision future communication concepts. Sametinger describes another project about a neighborhood sharing system, where locals did a number of workshops, including a mapping exercise.

    Next up is Deborah Saucier's neuroscience research into synesthesia. In simplified terms, this is a condition where people have dual sensory reactions. Synesthetes may associate specific colours with a corresponding sound or melody. Saucier uses graphic patterns to describe her research. She points out that a high percentage of artists and musicians are synesthetes. I recall Canadian musician Buck 65 ...

  • Ditattoo_177_

    When I arrive at the Concordia’s Grey Nuns Residence in Montréal there is a guy in jeans and slip-on vans lounging on the steps enjoying the sunshine from behind mirrored sunglasses. We look at each other and simultaneously nod and say “Design Inquiry”. This is DI Board member Ben Van Dyke. He greets me warmly and directs me to the lounge where more people are gathering.

    Others are preparing dinner in a communal kitchen. There is music playing. Large sheets of paper display a proposed schedule with brief abstracts of people’s interests on the wall. This is the start of DesignInquiry a week-long research intensive exploring what makes Montreal a UNESCO City of Design.

    I put my bag and cardboard tube in my room. I take few deep breaths. Outside in the hall I see more people collecting in the kitchen introducing and reuniting. When everyone has arrived we eat dinner together – purple potatoes with blue cheese, steamed artichokes, fiddleheads and sausage.

    The framers for the event Emily Luce and Christopher Moore welcome us. They encourage us to “document everything”. There will be a journal to publish and an opportunity to submit work to the Portes Ouvertes a city-wide design open house and art show. They spark a round table ripple of hellos. People start to discuss their research interests amongst themselves. To my right is a professor from the UK who studied at Yale, he tells me about his inquiry into marginalization of the typographer. To my left is a neu...

  • DesignInquiry: Montréal – Getting Ready

    Community, Communication Design


    It’s late afternoon on a Friday – I’ve ducked out of work to root through local recycling bins for cardboard tubes. I am packing for DesignInquiry Montréal – to explore the UNESCO designated City of Design.

    I am not entirely sure how to prepare. I've gathered supplies; some thick sharpies, a book titled The Map as Art by Katharine Harmon and a few very large sheets of Stonehenge. I’m on a hunt for a cardboard tube to protect the paper during the flight. Luckily, with the help of Thunder Bay’s Home Hardware I scavenge a cardboard inner tube from a roll of artificial turf.

    Biking with a metre long cardboard tube tucked underneath my armpit turns out to be easier then it looks. I am relegated to the sidewalk because there’s no room for me, my bike and the tube on the busy expressway that cuts through Thunder Bay. Other cyclists pass me on the sidewalk. I carefully slip past one pedestrian – but don’t see any other people walking.

    Cycling and, arguably, walking are marginalized activities in this city – with only a few bike lanes recently carved into the urban design. The multiple lanes of vehicles speeding past me provide a steady spray of exhaust and dry grit. It begins to rain.

    Riding past car-dealerships, chain stores and orphaned shopping carts gets me thinking about the differences between the average city and what makes a UNESCO City of Design. As I understand it, being a city of design refers largely to the creative production that comes out o...

  • Design Inquiry - The Ultimate Unconference

    Education, Communication Design


    I’ve purchased a fancy red Moleskine sketchbook for $25. This is unusual behaviour for me as I tend towards the black, run-of-the mill, anything-recycled variety. But this is a special occasion. I am attending Design Inquiry Montréal an exploration of the ‘Design City.’

    DesignInquiry is a non-profit educational organization devoted to researching design issues in intensive team-based gatherings. An alternative to the design conference, it brings together practitioners from disparate fields to generate new work and ideas around a single topic.

    Our single topic is DesignCity: Montréal – an expedition exploring a landscape that flags itself as developed and designed.

    I am joining a group of 25 designers to explore the city. Together we will come up with interpretations for why Montréal’s peoples, places and things coalesce into the panoply of architecture, urban systems, typography, events, institutions, etc that form the only designated UNESCO ‘City of Design’ in North America.

    Montréal UNESCO City of Design

    The City of Design designation is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities designation. I asked DESIGN 21 Director, Haruko Smith if this initiative is related to the UNESCO partnership with the Design 21 site. This is what she said:

    "There is no direct link between the two programs. Yet, the link is obvious: we connect the world through design. DESIGN21 is for individuals, NGOs and NPOs, and companies, and Creative Cities Network is for municipal go...

  • Img_2345_177_

    Janine James of the New York design studio the Moderns tells a story about how a building flood in 2008 destroyed her studio and everything in it. Every piece of paper, keyboard and prototype was drenched in an unending waterfall stemming from burst piping.

    Instead of being a setback the event provided James an opportunity for metamorphosis. She rebuilt her studio into a space for collaboration. She gave staff Fridays off. “Fridays are inspirational days,” she explained to the Compostmodern 2011 audience. On Fridays James brings a movement coach to teach her and her staff the Laban Technique - a way and language for interpreting, describing, visualizing and notating all ways of human movement. Her intention? To live an inspired life.


    I think the Compostmodern organizers may have been struck by a similar quest. The second day of the 2011 design conference about sustainable design choices became an un-conference. It was the first time in seven years that this event became a space for collaboration.

    Participants proposed topics about which they are passionate. People formed groups to discuss the topics at scheduled times. The goal was to engage in open discussions and build projects that help realize social change. And to get inspired.

    Facilitator, Joe Khirallah, used Open Space technology to invite people to announce their topics. “It usually takes a while for people to formulate their ideas but immediately, after the invitation there was a whole line ...

What will endure is what is uniquely human – Jennifer Leonard

Contact Jennifer Nichols

My Interests

  • Industrial Design
  • Environmental Design
  • Communication Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Audio/Visual Design