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Jennifer Leonard

San Francisco, CA, United States

Designer (Journalism)

Member since May 19, 2007

  • Img_4386_132_

    By Jennifer Leonard

    Shhh… don’t tell: I have a crush on my butcher.

    Yes, part-time vegetarian me, I’ve a newfound respect for the meat slinger down the street. Avedano's Holly Park Market (San Francisco, California) is a butcher shop and specialty market with great food and quality service. They are true-blue devoted to the sustainability rally cry “local food for local people.” And they curate their shop with cheeky humor and panache.

    Each of the owners brings her unique skills to the block. Tia, an Executive Chef, is the in-house butcher. In addition to trimming meats, she creates the rotating menu of seasonal prepared foods that are available for nightly take-out. Fellow “restaurantrice,” Melanie, is responsible for procuring many of the hard-to-find items offered in the market. And entrepreneur and former cook Angela brings bookkeeping and management experience to the day-to-day operations of the business.

    Cicero’s Meats formerly occupied the space itself, a family-owned market that opened in 1901 and served the neighborhood for nearly a century. Many of the antique furnishings and equipment live on and have been incorporated into the refreshed design. Even Cicero's original neon sign glows to see another century.

    And like a fulfillment of my Alice in Wonderland childhood fantasies of secret passageways, I recently discovered Avedano’s private dining space in back, The Udder Room. Available for intimate events, It’s warm and welcoming, long and narrow...

  • Offset or Change?



    By Jennifer Leonard

    It’s been too long since my last post, and I apologize. In honor of St. Valentine, mid-February, I was planning to write about Cheat Neutral, a tongue-in-cheek initiative out of the UK that “helps you because you can’t help yourself.” It promises to offset the discretions of cheaters and pays those who are faithful to their partners for not cheating.

    Sample text from the site: “When you cheat on your partner you add to the heartbreak, pain and jealousy in the atmosphere. Cheat Neutral offsets your cheating by funding someone else to be faithful and NOT cheat. This neutralizes the pain and unhappy emotion and leaves you with a clear conscience.”

    I was drawn in by its sassy tone and potent missive directed not at the Romeos among us but at carbon offsetting offers that are all the rage of late. Although attractive on the surface, the big idea of carbon offsetting becomes quite shallow the deeper one investigates. I see it more as a short-term panacea, or Band-Aid solution, rather than a long-term preventative strategy in our shared global energy challenge. In other words, it sustains rather than changes unsustainable behavior by providing a means by which one can alleviate his or her sense of guilt about unsustainable behavior.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for forgiving mistakes and moving on, with compassion and learned lessons in tow. But what about taking a long, hard look at one’s own behavior patterns and circumventing repeat slip-ups by ...

  • My Three Wishes



    By Jennifer Leonard

    I have an infatuated tendency to be always open to inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. Like when I stumble upon a sign somewhere with cleverly composed wording, or when I open a book to a random page containing apt advice for that exact moment in my life. So I’m channeling this intuitive, ad hoc methodology for this, my first post of ’08. Consider it a goodie bag of wayward “found” wishes for the year ahead.

    #1 More Beauty

    While living in Chicago last year on work assignment, I came upon a bold statement inscribed along a temporary plywood installation on South Wabash. The graffiti artists appropriated the bare material as writing space, and generously painted on the words “You Are Beautiful.” It’s a not uncommon phrase to hear among friends and lovers, but in three-foot-high boxy type along a bustling Midwestern shopping corridor? (Little did I know at the time, this instance was one of thousands like it around the world, inspired by a movement by the same name.)

    Jenny Holzer-like, it caused me to stop in my tracks and contemplate the juxtaposition I found myself in: the urban everyday (awash in unrelenting waves of ads and corporate logos) and simple, albeit jarring, text. I stood there for a long time, watching late afternoon become sunset, and sunset become nightfall. I wanted to see the effects the words had on passersby and how they changed, if at all, with changing light. I found it hard to walk away.

    The people behind t...

  • Img_1521_177_

    Rebounding back from jetlag and a jam-packed trip to Hong Kong – for InnoAsia 2007, a conference about “innovating for sustainability” – I have happily landed in the pages of The New York Times Magazine, pouring over the words of food guru Michael Pollan. This time, he writes about “Our Decrepit Food Factories” and questions the worked-over word “sustainability” in the contexts of factory pig farming and honeybee migration. He gives these two specific case studies because, according to Confucius (his reference), if we’re going to have any hope of repairing what was wrong in the world, we had best start with the “rectification of names,” i.e. calling things by their proper names and reattaching words to real things and precise concepts.

    I couldn’t agree more. And this is what motivated me, before I spoke at Hong Kong’s Science Park about the social piece of sustainability, to do a bit of definitional work. I focused on sustainability first: an outcome, in effect, of meeting the needs of today without compromising future needs. Then I expanded on design: it’s a verb (a la Bucky Fuller), it’s an open invitation (as in, everyone’s a designer), and it’s about people (per Jane Jacob’s one-liner). Then I shared real-world examples.

    As the day carried on, we heard from people in policy, the sciences, invention, architecture and design. Each with his or her take on sustainability. Dr. Sarah Liao, former Secretary for Environment, Transport & W...

  • Img_6763_132_

    By Jennifer Leonard

    Designers, theorists, students and strategists gathered in Malmö, Sweden October 17-19 for an annual event called Designboost. Our mandate was to discuss sustainable design, a topic so broad and behemoth that it’s borderline absurd. But with gusto, wide-eyed curiosity and heartfelt sincerity, event organizers David Carlson and Peer Eriksson embraced its absurdity and used it to their (and our) advantage by weaving together two full-day agendas that supported meaningful exchange and relationship-building in a variety of stimulating milieu – from the top two floors of Santiago Calatrava’s Turning Torso to the ceremonial dining hall of the city’s Rådhuset (Court House) and, later, booming Etage Nakktclub.

    On Day 1, from on high, we were assigned three different discussion groups, each with a provocation, e.g. “How might we extend the notion of sustainable design beyond the limits of products and materials?” The technique of curating intimate conversations straight away was helpful in breaking the ice that typically coats first encounters, as well as opening our minds to points of view that aligned with a range of disciplines and cultural interpretations.

    In my first session, a half-dozen of us discussed the similarities between human relationships and our relationships with “stuff.” We wondered aloud, “What makes relationships endure? What’s the glue that binds? How do bonds become valuable over time? What about attachment? Non-attachment? Is...

  • Art for Our Sake

    Arts & Culture


    By Jennifer Leonard

    It’s popular today to talk about the power of design, and the responsibility of design, and its potential to spur social innovation. This post, for a change, gives design a time-out and calls upon the transformative power of art.

    I do so because I’ve recently come from a free 12-hour contemporary art party in Toronto called Nuit Blanche. It was the second annual, inspired by the Parisian precedent, and it succeeded in bringing out hordes of people from sunset to sunrise: young, old, goth, punk, scenesters, rockers, tourists, locals. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!

    The downtown core was divided into three zones. Each carried a theme. The themes were brought to life through more than 190 site-specific exhibitions, independent projects and resident galleries whose doors remained open long-after-hours. (Mass transit and local bars adapted too, extending the hours of their service.) All in the name of art.

    I set out to photograph my journey through the zones (from B to A to C – just because it worked out that way), with comfortable shoes, layered clothing, and plenty of water. After five-and-a-half hours of powering through performance art, video projections and interactive installations, I was invigorated, but realized my goal to see it all was overly ambitious. (Some of my friends knew better and selected only a few stops, staying long enough at each to more deeply appreciate the effects). Consequently, my third zone experience was tempered,...

  • At Your Service, Once Again

    Community, Communication Design


    By Jennifer Leonard

    Last weekend in Pittsburgh, at the second annual student-run service design conference called Emergence, I had the great pleasure of meeting people who make it their mission to help others help themselves.

    A panoply of speakers, non-designers and designers alike, presented work on the value of seizing the tangible and intangible “service touch points” – with customers, clients, vendors, and the like. We heard representative voices from corporate quarters, creative studios, computer labs, and even classrooms. We heard points of view on “disruptive trends in design” (brilliantly relayed by Allan Chochinov, Core 77’s Editor-in-Chief/Partner), cutting-edge data visualization (through IBM’s “Many Eyes”), and the sort of design work that sets out to leverage services that provide social and ecological sustainability (from Chris Downs, live|work’s Managing Partner).

    I sat on a lively panel with Chris (and Daniela Sangiorgi of Lancaster University), which was loads of fun, thanks chiefly to London-based Oliver King, co-founder and director of Engine, who facilitated the session and asked us one and all, “Can service design save the world?” He set us in motion with a series of slides (that we read in silence), and then had the playful idea of folding the audience members into the conversation by asking them to play “pass the parcel” (read: hot potato) with the microphone. When one of his rapid-fire zingers coincided with whomever was holding ...

  • At Your Service



    By Jennifer Leonard

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the strategic field of “service design” of late because I was recently invited to speak at Carnegie Mellon’s upcoming Emergence event in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. And so, as with anything when top of mind, it has filtered much of what I’ve been witnessing and experiencing over the past several days.

    And believe me, I’ve had a motley crue of service experiences to pull from!

    I’ve hailed many a taxi. (One, remarkably, had no meter and ran right out of gas on the Chicago Expressway. In a moment of impulse, I hopped out and hitchhiked my way back to safety.)

    I’ve had my precious Beetle towed. (I dutifully paid the fees to retrieve my vintage wheels at an ominous locale named Auto Return. Although its signage declared, “We care!” it was clear to me they really didn’t. The young lady in attendance oozed disgust for her job: no joy, no eye contact, and no interest in caring whatever.)

    I’ve acquired a new tattoo. (The artists sat pretty in their notorious ink-dom, confident in their skills, covered in skulls and daggers and the odd floral motif. It was their world and they ruled it nobly. “User needs” and “customer empathy” were never part of the grandmaster plan.)

    I’ve lain on a massage table at a swanky boutique spa. (But the hour-long event left me more stressed than soothed. The price was high and yet the quality was poor: the masseuse’s hands felt more like chop sticks than oven mitts.)

  • Redesigning Real



    By Jennifer Leonard

    "Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat." – Victor Lindlahr

    Food, food, glorious food! I love it, naturally, and deplore it, when de-natured by packaging, processing, and even partial hydrogenation.

    I admit it. I’m a picky eater. I know I sometimes make fellow diners wriggle in their seats as I search the menu with a discerning eye (and appetite). Or when I make it a challenge for the chef by asking him or her to whip up something steamed, not sautéed; fresh, not fried. I’m a vegan at heart, but I’ve noticed over my lifelong relationship with food that I am more practically described as part functionalist, part sensualist. I like to eat to nourish. I also like to eat to taste, smell, see and touch. There’s nothing better than the vivid color, tangy aroma and invigorating taste of just-squeezed OJ. Or the velvety finish on a fresh peach. Likewise, when the stars align, there’s something seductive about pairing the right wine and combination of fresh herbs with, say, wild salmon or raw goat cheese.

    But here’s the catch of the day: I am how I am because I give a damn. (Aside from my predilection for coffee and dark chocolate), I won’t just shove something into my mouth because it’s available. I want to know where my food comes from. I want to understand the impact of my choices both for my body and the greater food ecology in which we live.

    I’m taking the time to art...

  • Activist Design



    By Jennifer Leonard

    I recently spoke about “sustaining change” at a multidisciplinary two-weekend event called The Creators Series, curated by the former RES Fest crew (now under the moniker Tomorrow Unlimited). It took place first in New York, and second in Los Angeles. In both cities I had the opportunity to experience first-hand and get inspired by a number of scintillating projects the world over – related to laser tagging, clean tagging, social networking, and participatory filmmaking.

    When it was my turn at the mic, I was asked among other things about the nuances of social design and how it figured into a vision for our sustainable future. One question, in particular, stuck with me long after the panel ended. It went a little something like this: If the sort of design you speak of represents people and projects who are instigating (and helping to sustain) positive change in the world, then why don’t you just call this strand of design “activism”?

    The question came from a performance artist who regularly dreams up projects as a way to bestow gifts upon unsuspecting others. He had clearly given careful thought to his own art practice in relation to activism, and took this opportunity to tease it out into the space of design.

    The question’s a good one. I liked where it pushed me. Why indeed is this form of “design” still called, simply, design? Why aren’t we calling it design activism… or activist design?

    Let’s start with what I suppose to be t...

"Design is people." - Jane Jacobs

Contact Jennifer Leonard
Renegade Media

My Interests

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