Join our network of non-profits, companies and individuals who believe social change can happen through design.

Become A Member

Jennifer Nichols


Communication Designer

Member since May 22, 2007

  • Freestyle Design at Compostmodern 2011

    Education, Communication Design


    When I went to Compostmodern in 2006 – an interdisciplinary design conference dedicated to transforming products, industries and lives through sustainable design choices – Kalle Lasn creator of Adbusters magazine bought me a free steak dinner. I was a student completing my final year at Emily Carr Institute for Art and Design and even though I was a vegetarian, I was hungry for wisdom so I took him up on the invitation. Hats off to freeganism and generous keynote speakers.

    At this year’s Compostmodern conference I had two passes: the one I bought in advance and a free blogging pass I was offered just before the event. I decided to up-cycle and give my pass to a Google employee who needed a ticket. Google has given me a lot of free tools (and a free lunch at the Google cafeteria my first day in SF) so I thought I would return the favour.

    This small gesture set the stage for a common theme running through many of the presentations that day; designers are doing a lot of work these days to ensure there is social equity and plenty of freebies for all.

    Day one of the conference was laid out at a snappy pace with three to four speakers per hour moderated by the effervescent Alissa Walker. She introduced the first speaker Yves Béhar of fuseproject as “design’s reigning sex symbol.”

    Béhar may have a great head of hair but what’s underneath his flamboyant mop is helping change people’s lives for the better. He designed frames for the "See Better to Learn Better...

  • Recomposing at Compostmodern 2011

    Community, Communication Design


    I am leaving rainy Vancouver for sunny San Francisco to immerse myself in a heap of creative thinkers at Compostmodern 2011 - a conference about design and sustainability.

    Other than the bonus weather I am excited to attend because, in my work life, I am typically the only communication designer in boardrooms and teleconference calls stacked with sustainability planners, climate change program managers and environmental coordinators. This weekend I can schmooze with a crew that will probably relate more to the ‘postmodern’ aspect of the conference than the ‘compost’.

    Don’t get me wrong, most designers get waste-reduction but what I hope to explore at this event is more than the well-worn language around material use. I believe we creative professionals are recomposing the discussion of managing intensities of waste; into the realm of critiquing and creating better systems of practice.

    My travel partner Lisa Hemingway, creative consultant, and principal of Backyard Creative plans to go with an open mind and without preconceived goals, “I want to be really present,” she says to me, “to really hear what is going on.”

    The second day’s un-conference is a set up for this kind of learning and sharing. The un-conference is a half-day session emphasizing dialogue and open discussion where attendees will be able to propose topics about which they are passionate and curious. It’s also a chance to met with leaders in the field, push boundaries and have some fun. ...

  • 6_vaseweb-with-graph_177_

    I'm no scientist. So when hundreds of the smartest left-brained minds in the world tell me it's time to cool off, I take their word for it.

    I am sufficiently humbled by their warming predictions that, in response, I ride a bike, buy apples in the fall - strawberries in the summer and wear a sweater instead of cranking the thermostat. And I wonder who wouldn't?

    A while ago I sat down at an Open Space at a climate forum. The idea was to talk about communicating climate change. Since my partners and I were English speakers and the rest of the people were Swedish we cozied up to the visiting Australian delegate and his super friendly, warm interpreter.

    As we chatted I realize that the interpreter was one of the most eloquent people I had ever met. He spoke plummy English as well as French and Swedish rapidly and confidently.

    When we started to discuss the somewhat complex science related to climate change. This man perked up and said, "I'm terribly sorry, but it's simply not true – it's bad science." Then launched into a scientific smörsgåsbord of his own reasoning for the rapid increase in temperature.

    I scanned my brain for the clever comebacks outlined in Coby Beck's article How to talk to a Climate Change Skeptic posted on Gristmill. But, faced with this congenial, smooth talker and the polite situation I felt at a loss.

    I wish I had one of Nathan Martell's vases in the shape of a climate graph. Martell took a graph outlining the rise in global air temper...

  • Sustainability Sketched

    Communication, Communication Design


    How to convey the essence of sustainability in a few sketched lines? Samuel Mann studies the schematics of the notion of sustainability itself rather than the underlying science by compiling a “zillion diagrams”. Including this poster about poverty linkages from Density Design.

    See the complete list at: Computing for Sustainability.

  • Les langues, ça compte!

    Arts & Culture, Communication Design


    Thank you to those of you who participated in the Design21 poster competition for Mother Language Day by submitting the words, Languages Matter in the languages you know.

    There were many posts, including translations in Mohawk, Dholuo, Russian, Yorubaa, Swedish, Icelandic, Hebrew, Japanese, Cantonese, Arabic, Braille, American Sign Language and Esperanto.

    Great news. The poster was voted on along with 1133 others from 85 different countries on this site - and we were nominated as a finalist.

    I am captivated by many of the entries and feel honoured that our group effort was part of the exhibition. We also want to thank UNESCO and Design21 for the fun opportunity.

  • Fortune Favours the Brave

    Communication, Communication Design


    “Don’t fight forces, use them” is a Buckminster Fuller quote that is especially relevant for designers in these times of converging economic and environmental pressures. I was reminded of this idea at Practivism - a talk on sustainability and communication design - when Brian Dougherty said, “We can all invent this - be the expert.”

    Dougherty was referring to the blossoming area of graphic design practice that weaves sustainability thinking into the outcome. It’s a niche ripe for becoming mainstream through the experiments of a set of brave visual innovators.

    Practivism is the hybrid word for practice and activism drummed up by the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) BC team to describe this particular form of practical problem solving. The Practivism event in Vancouver this November was an evening of talks by Dougherty along with Eric Karjaluoto and Marc Alt. Marian Bantjes captured the synergy of the night in a heart-racing promotional poster.

    Eric Karjaluoto kept the audience giggling through his comedic slideshow which included an advertisement he found depicting an SUV driving into the sunset titled: “Because you Hate Mother Nature.” He introduced a new word he found on a blog: Depletist – a description of an individual with environmentally inappropriate behaviour. Karjaluoto is the author of the web site Design can Change which aims to bring the design community together to design positive outcomes. A self-described “mini-van driving, fast...

  • Human Nature

    Arts & Culture, Environmental Design


    I see the automatic sensors in galleries separating me from an artwork as a dare. Last time I visited Stonehenge I had an urge to slip under the rope barrier to stand in the shadows of the prehistoric earthwork. I suspect I am not alone. Three friends have brought me to the Wanås sculpture park in Southern Sweden where appreciating art can be a full contact sport.

    We arrive by car, get out and gaze past the parking lot to the fields, forest, stable and barn. The scene looks like a typical landscape painting until we notice a pair of denim trousers worn upside down by a tree in front of us. The legs are fitted snugly over two hefty branches, zippered and buttoned neatly at the trunk. These are artist Peter Coffin's Tree Pants made in collaboration with Levi Strauss & Co. It is a metaphor of Adam and Eve's shame of being naked in the Garden of Eden. In an interview with Art Cal Coffin describes the work as, "…how we relate to nature and understand ourselves within it."

    Wanås provides more chances for us to relate nature. It is autumn and layering the park grounds are leaves with a deep-fried tone and texture. We walk pass brown-beamed 15th century farmhouses into the woods. Greeting us is another decorated tree strung wildly with adult-sized swings hanging just out of reach. We lunge successfully for the swings and, once seated, pump our legs. My friend Neil looks diminutive on the oversized swing as he giddily slices through the air. The installation stretch...

  • Helvetica is in the Air

    Arts & Culture, Communication Design


    In Gary Hustwit's latest independent documentary, we are treated to a portrait of a familiar face – the typeface Helvetica.

    Hustwit describes Helvetica through a series of interviews with articulate designers and typographers who tell the story of a font that is frequently used based on a highly adaptive character set. Helvetica is everywhere (think: Evian, BWM, American Apparel). Despite it's neutral qualities Helvetica is a face that still seems to inspire backlash or addiction in the hearts of prolific communicators.

    When the Hass type foundry released Helvetica in 1957 it was embraced as the Swiss modernist antidote to overtly emotive typefaces. It was a compelling expressionless blank slate for designers to manipulate. It became ubiquitous. Popular. In the film, we see European grandfathers of design like Wim Crouwel wax poetic about Helvetica and the solutions he found lining its counters.

    The backlash becomes evident when the camera turns to Erik Spiekermann's dismissals of Helvetica as simply "bad taste" and Paula Scher's political diatribe on how using Helvetica is akin to supporting the Iraq war. Scher's insight is based on the opinion that Helvetica is so generic, functional and expressionless that it advocates conformity.

    The cross-bar to the circular debate between good and bad taste is drawn by Danny van den Gungen of the Dutch group Experimental Jet Set. The studio proves in their stunning posters, advertisements and book covers, that when set...

  • God-is_idle_132_

    David Shrigley is that voice in the back of your mind. He is an artist with the ability to tap into those random thoughts that we all have and mine them for uncanny truths. The inky black illustrations, t-shirts, photo series, sculpture and videos that currently fill 27 rooms at the Malmö Konstall are a culmination of 15 years of his quirky logic.

    Shrigley's distinctive black and white drawings line walls in several rooms. Most have handwritten statements along with the image. Others are all text. One poster depicts two people with the caption; "I have a strange feeling but I'm not going to let it spoil the short time we have together." On a t-shirt two characters size each other up with the words; "Put on your plimsoles and we will wrestle."

    In the belly of the gallery is a stunning stretch of sky-lit spaces with hanging metre-tall faceless heads, metal copulating spiders and a wall with giant words reading; God is Idle. Another room holds photographs of street scenes such as a freeway entry sign with four simple letters; hell. Yet another room displays tents that ooze with hardened foam next to a taxidermied squirrel holding its own head.

    How does this relate to design for the greater good? Well, Shrigley was a graphic designer and his work makes me feel human. I think that's enough. Sometimes when I spend a solid eight hours at my Mac it's hard to feel that way. Good design has humanity at its core.

    The whole exhibit culminates in the highlight o...

  • All We Need

    Arts & Culture, Communication Design


    In a hollowed out industrial factory in the South of Luxembourg is an exhibition that strikes at the fundamentals of human longing. Whether it be for a sip of clean water or the whispers of an admirer the All We Need exhibit cycles us through a reflective, cerebral tunnel of human want and requirement.

    According to Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist that has been researching human needs for over a decade, every individual has a set of ten needs. Those needs are; idleness, subsistence, freedom, affection, protection, identity, creation, understanding, transcendence; and participation. I was lucky to visit an exhibit exploring these ideas during a class field trip with my fellow grad students.

    Organized in sections based closely on Man-Neef's original themes the exhibit is also a journey through an old steel factory – The Halle des Soufflantes. The warehouse is massive (160 m long, 70 m wide and 28 m high) and still displays some of the machinery that was installed in the early 1900's. The rawness of design and sheer size becomes something to traverse and discover as an element of the exhibit itself.

    Headphones and a hand-held device provides auditory samples along with artist and title information. The exhibit has several contributing artists, designers, architects, curators, initiators and other find out more visit:

    Read field notes from the exhibit.

    Relax + Survive The cavernous size of the first room, the blasting hall, is flooded ...

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