Interview: Eighteen Minutes With “citizen brand” Principal Todd Falkowsky

October 7, 2011.

For this week’s interview, we’ve zeroed in on Todd Falkowsky, a local branding consultant and curator. He has just launched a new branding agency called citizen brand, which is geared toward small and mid-sized businesses. Todd will be speaking at the next Pecha Kucha night (together with our very own Sean Orr on October 20th). He’s toiled in the United States, Netherlands, Italy, France and Canada, working on projects with Unilever, General Electric, McDonald’s, Ferrari and IKEA. As a designer and curator, he has produced exhibits/research projects including the Canadian Design Resource, Cabin, Cut,Copy,Paste, and PennySmash. He has collaborated with SFMoMA, The Royal Ontario Museum, Design Within Reach, Felissimo, the Harbourfront Centre, and Platform 21, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Globe and Mail, Wallpaper, Dwell, The Walrus, Azure, and Core77. Say hello, then, to Todd Falkowsky…


Three things about your neighbourhood that make you want to live there. I live in Fairview Slopes and love the neighbourhood. It is close to everything, has a monster view of downtown and the mountains, and is not congested with people like Kits or downtown. 3 things that I enjoy are going down to Charlson Park and watching the dogs, hitting the bike path to head downtown, and heading to the airport on the new subway; all things that are minutes away from my home.

What inspires you? I try to plug into things that are happening locally. I get amped on what is going on in my own backyard because I can get in the mix and not be just a voyeur. I feel that this process is my creative responsibility and that the little details that make Vancouver unique are what I can move up to a national and global stage. It is my currency and a way to make my practice authentic and relevant to a larger audience.

What words would you use to describe Vancouver from a design perspective? Hmm, this is a tough one…I honestly feel the design scene here is pretty folksy. There is that “new money” attitude of importing design ideas rather than celebrating our home turf types. People here express design savvy by having an Alessi kettle rather than a local design. With so much going for it culturally (mountain life, great music and art scenes, and loads of creative types), I have never understood how BC did not create brands like Vans, Burton, Jeep or IKEA. We need more working connections between art, design, business and music. I am really inspired by the creative community here, people like Bing Thom, Marian Bantjes, Ian Grais, and Ken Lum, and great brands like Obakki, MEC, Rocky Mountain and Skull Skates. This is an awesome mix, packed with ideas. If we could all work together and harden the design life here, things would be golden. I see examples, like Petcha Kutcha and others that are working to build bridges but we are still behind other cities for cross-pollinating and setting up a creative economy.

What would you change about Vancouver? I would like to see the urban culture rise, less clean with more graffiti and street art allowed to exist. I am also having a hard time getting into the amount of recreating that people here do. This casual attitude is awesome but has a dramatic influence in the design lifestyle and is a stark comparison to the work being produced out east.

What was the last item uploaded on to Canadian Design Resource that really blew you away? Tumble Stack by Vancouver alumni Jeremy Hatch and the furniture of Oki Sato and Nendo.

Three design related websites you use/respect. FFFFound, Good and Make Projects.

Three words that describe the vibe of your current living space. Simple, clean (smells good) with tons of natural light. I like less is more and try to keep what we bring into the house to a minimum. I get pleasure from being able to clean the whole place in 30 minutes, and to have the open space to have a ton of friends over for dinner, fix a bike or stretch out. It is a little lean on things, but it feels relaxing to me.

Describe your favourite photograph: I found the images of Edward Burtynsky’s granite mines of Vermont really memorable. Abstract but super real; they are voyeuristic – we are seeing things that not to be seen by the public. The epic scale of the eco damage shocks but the photos are beautiful too, creating a discord of guilty pleasure.

Default drink. Magners Cider with a decent, unpretentious scotch.

When you can’t sleep? I get up and watch bad television on my laptop. I am currently on the last season of Rockford Files…what a roller coaster.

Favourite Vancouver place to see live music? I loved seeing the New Porno’s in Stanley Park for the 125 celebrations. The light show against the trees and the floating, lighted beach balls were awesome. I end up at the Rickshaw on Hastings more than any other spot. It still feels a little loose with the rules…which I like.

Cheap place for dinner? Lots of choices here, but current high rotation place is Menya on Broadway at Yukon. Or Tokiwa on Oak near 21st.

Book you’re reading? Manufractured by Steven Holt and Mara Skov and Miss My Pencil by Martin Bone with Kara Johnson.

Last place travelled? Boston, MA. Loved it.

What is beauty? I think beauty is when something makes you smile. I went to grad school in Milan and I remember my instructors going on about beauty. It was deeply connected to Italian life and designers were celebrated because they could generate it.

Vancouver community event or festival that you look forward to every year? I like the movies in the park but my favourite has been the guerilla film nights around the sea wall. A few folks have been setting up a low-fi outdoor movie thing, lots of beer and neighbours, which is a fun combo.

Best sneakers in the world? The Terry Fox reissues from Adidas.

Best bar stool in the city? I have been liking The Narrow (better when the gallery was beside it).

Dumbest purchase ever? A Ducati motorcycle. Not only is it a bit douchey, but it is a massive lemon to boot.

The view from your favourite window? I have a full view of downtown with the mountains behind it from my living room, watching the weather and sun roll in and out and over the city is amazing.

Best place to eavesdrop? I always people watch and eavesdrop everywhere I am.

Last art show that moved you? I just got back from Toronto and saw the General Idea, Gary Taxali and Winnie Truong openings, all of which were awesome. Locally I loved Ken Lum’s exhibit at the VAG; awesome to see those pieces in the flesh.

Talent you wish you possessed? Languages. I am working to get French topped up with my new language app.

The trend you wish you never followed, but did? I am not sure if it was a trend, at least not how we use that word now…but I had a serious mohawk in high school. It didn’t last long because the whole idea of doing your hair seemed goofy and I was listening to Subhumans, DOA and SNFU, so style had less importance than content.

Sport you gave up? I raced rally cars for years before becoming a designer, but retired after two massive accidents in one season. I miss it a little once in a while, and pipe dream about getting a vintage racer together to hit a local race. I just need to find a trusty co-driver.

Local person(s) you admire most? Bob Kronbauer and Scott Hawthorn. These guys have such style and positive energy; always keen to hook up cultural experiences in Vancouver.

Best concert experience ever? Seeing Frank Zappa’s last concert in Budapest…he was sick as a dog but gave it all to the audience (some of who were crying because the end seemed near). Great mix of old tunes that had been reworked with an amazing band.

All time favourite movie? Amelie. Every time I watch it I am reminded to use the city we live in as a canvas and that the world is full of wonder and joy (great soundtrack too).

Why settle in Vancouver? Serious Asian and South Asian influences that are waiting to be unplugged (Vancouver could be the gateway for all of this activity into North America), an incredible connection to green and outdoor living, and a ton of money (with one of the highest exotic car populations in the world) that is waiting to find great ideas.

If the Mayor of Vancouver was a genie and could grant you three civic wishes, what would they be? 1.) Brand Vancouver and shift the storytelling of the city from the tourist board to the creative class of the city. This community needs to be the brand of Vancouver. 2.) Own the IP that makes Vancouver unique. We should own all the mindshare with rain (wipers, SAD, umbrellas, water management, etc) and other local characteristics. 3.) I would like to see a design centre/bank, a hub for design promotion, funding and events.

The first three things you do every morning? Make bed, make coffee and check Google news to see what is going on here and around the world.

Favourite book as a child? I remember reading Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in one day. I just could not put it down…it was the first story that I read. I missed the Dr Seuss and other classics because I was drawn to things like the atlas, National Geographic, and encyclopedias.

Album that first made you love music? Hmm, this is tough. First album that made me love music was London Calling by The Clash…this started it all for me and set me up to hit high school with style.

What are you listening to as you answer these questions? At this exact moment I am listening to Brendan Benson/Tiny Spark, but Air/Moon Safari was just on for the past hour.



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