Jane and Steven Cox, Cause and Affect Design Ltd.

The laid-back duo of ?Jane and Steven Cox are ?adding crucial weight to ?Vancouver’s cultural heft.?

Jane Cox and Steven Cox, Cause and Affect Design | BCBusiness
Spouses and business partners, together Jane and Steven Cox operate an influential Vancouver design studio.

The laid-back duo of 
Jane and Steven Cox are 
adding crucial weight to 
Vancouver’s cultural heft.

A Friday morning at Cause and Affect Design Ltd.’s Gastown headquarters feels more like a visit in a family home than a meeting at one of Vancouver’s most influential design studios. In the bright kitchen of the residential loft they converted into the office of the company known popularly as simply Cause + Affect, principals and spouses Jane and Steven Cox prepare French press coffee as they take turns holding their six-month-old son, Rowan.

They’re the kind of symbiotic couple whose similar down-tempo speech patterns and tendency to finish each other’s sentences speak to the years they’ve spent together as partners in life and work. Now both 38, the two met 16 years ago as students at the University of Manitoba, where Jane studied interior design and Steven pursued a master’s degree in architecture. They married in 2002 following a brief work stint in London, England, and moved to Vancouver a year later.

Back when they arrived in the early 2000s, the local creative industry had yet to gather steam. Major players in design and architecture occupied larger cities like Toronto and New York, and few creative professionals – designers, architects, restaurateurs – considered Vancouver a place of much consequence.

The city’s ho-hum design scene at the time may have deterred other would-be entrepreneurs from setting up shop here. Meanwhile Jane and Steven, both optimistic risk-takers, placed a bet on the city’s Wild West potential. Vancouver, in their eyes, lacked cultural heft, but they were intent on adding texture and soul to a city that had yet to define itself beyond its mountains-and-ocean reputation. “It was sort of this blank canvas,” Jane recalls. “We were quite excited because Vancouver just seemed full of opportunity.”

The couple started Cause + Affect from their dining room table in 2004. Their first contract saw them produce the first edition of Movers & Shapers, a now-regular showcase of local designers. They were astonished by audience response from both the public and industry insiders. “We found it really rewarding because we found that Vancouverites were so hungry for interesting events that were culturally rich but knowledge-based,” Jane says.

“One of our biggest things that we’ve been able to do as a company is to remind or inform people about the interesting things that are happening in their own backyard,” Steven adds. “It doesn’t have to be an international show about somebody else. It can actually be about ourselves. That’s a concept that for a long time nobody believed in.”

That passion for celebrating homegrown talent is most evident in Pecha­Kucha Night Vancouver, a popular series of lectures that has put Cause + Affect on the map as a respected cultural incubator. Jane and Steven hosted the inaugural Pecha­Kucha (Japanese for “the sound of conversation”) as part of a Museum of Vancouver rebranding effort in May 2008. That night’s 200-person audience marked the largest single crowd the museum had seen in more than a century of operation. After that, the audience swelled from a few hundred to thousands. These days, the event routinely sells out the 1,200-seat Vogue Theatre and continues to turn heads as a who’s who of Vancouver’s creative powerhouses.

Beyond PechaKucha, Cause + Affect’s influence is evident everywhere in Vancouver, with almost 60 local clients under its belt after seven years of operation. High-profile projects include Chinatown’s Keefer Bar, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s popular Fuse nights, and rebranding Vancouver’s Co-operative Auto Network as Modo the Car Co-op. The company also had a hand in the recent Vision Vancouver municipal election campaign.

Cause + Affect bills about $1 million a year these days. It’s a number Steven would like to see go up. He and Jane are setting their sights on producing a multidisciplinary-ideas conference building on PechaKucha’s momentum. They’d also like to expand their repertoire to hotels and private clubs. “We would love to get our hands on the Biltmore,” Steven says of the Mount Pleasant landmark and music venue. He and Jane used to live across the street from it before moving to their current North Vancouver home. They’d gaze at it out the window, thinking of what could be.

But those are future plans. For now, they’re settling into life with their two young sons. Rowan was born in March and Jasper, 4, is now in preschool. “I know this time goes by quickly,” Jane says. “I’m trying to be present for that. So is Steve.”

By the end of our interview, Rowan has fallen asleep on Steven’s chest. Jane is leaving the office to fetch Jasper. They never expected to go into business together until they arrived in Vancouver. But considering the fact that they’ve made careers out of building the creative city of their dreams, it seems logical that their personal and professional lives would blend together.

“The business is a family affair in the way that we interact with our employees and everything else,” Steven says. “Whether we’re working together on the garden at home or with the clients at the office, it’s kind of the same process. We count ourselves very lucky with that.”

Vancouver’s lucky for it, too.