Alison Garwood Jones

Lake Ontario

March 5, 2017

Lake Ontario

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered …

Gordon Lightfoot

Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones,
using water-soluble Tombow markers.

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CEOs push to publish

March 2, 2017


I originally wrote this piece for Parcel Design’s Insights Blog. All artwork by Gary Beelik.

When Bill Taylor co-founded Fast Company magazine in 1995, he used its glossy pages to imagine a better business world. But when Taylor, a leader in publishing and strategic change, announced that “it’s great to be an alumnus of print” in an interview with digital marketer Mitch Joel, you’d think our need for anything on paper was categorically over.

Well, it’s not. In a knowledge-based economy, business owners and brands need to be published to be considered the experts in their field, and this realization — a long time coming, but only recently pounced upon — has contributed to the increased demand from CEOs and brands for presentation materials and thought-leadership marketing tools in print (as value-added gifts) and digital formats, including e-books, white papers, videos, as well as Keynote and PowerPoint presentations.

Part of this recasting of business leaders and brands as teachers, mentors and educators who are there to support and meet their customer’s needs goes hand-in-hand with the rise of training and problem-solving websites (like, and that cater to the workplace and economy’s call for adaptation and lifelong learning.

But these are not your parents’ white papers. The current batch of educational marketing tools taps into the lively storytelling and sophisticated design packaging solutions of consumer publications. But that’s to be expected when the materials are being art directed by ex-book and magazine creative directors and ghostwritten by journalists — Taylor’s growing alumni from print media.

Self-publishing never looked this good

Gary Beelik is one such alumnus. A former book cover designer for Penguin and now Parcel’s creative director, he believes that the design of thought-leadership materials directly contributes to establishing a brand’s credibility and consumption. “If you are not empowering your client with [well-designed tools that encourage their growth through education], they are going to get left behind.”

One factor affecting the design of these thought-leadership tools is the Q&A format of Google searches. Thought leaders know they can best serve their customers by solving the problems those customers admit to in the search engine. “How to pitch?” — a common question — is a case in point. To tackle this million-dollar question, Parcel teamed up with Hamish McKenzie, co-founder of McKenzie Pitch Partners, to create Pitch, a how-to book on the art of crafting the perfect sales pitch. Design was central to defining McKenzie’s process. “One of the things we wanted to do,” says Beelik, “was to organize the information in a sequential and very simple way.”


Beelik used the dot in the company logo as a starting point and turned it into a wayfinding device. “Through application of those little dots, the reader is given clues as to where they are in the process because the colour of the dots changes with each step.” Beelik adds, “The dot icon as a graphic element stemmed from Hamish’s idea that you’re looking at the outcome of something, so you always start at the end and then work back.” It’s the old axiom: identify the opportunities and be clear about the results you are going for. This well-designed book became a game-changer for him by further increasing his lineup of speaking engagements and workshops.

In another example of how a solutions-based approach to marketing materials resulted in a simplified graphic design, Beelik points to his use of infographics in a white paper designed for Canadian Blood Services. The report outlines CBS’s goals for the next five to 10 years. “One of the reasons that we are even able to do this work is because, in the past, people weren’t able to get through the content. It was too dry.” Tapping into the design language of the internet — infographics, pictographs and badges — helped increase engagement, says Beelik. “Design is about trends and always has been. Those are what people are interested in seeing, and it’s how we view the world right now. Topical motifs can spark their imagination in whatever message you are trying to get across.”


As the internet becomes more video-centric, Beelik also points to the increased use of embedded motion graphics in presentation materials uploaded to PowerPoint or Keynote. For a decade, Parcel has been working on the annual general meeting materials for First Capital Realty inc, a retail shopping centre developer and management company. “Their presentation materials are designed to attract investors, stakeholders and bankers,” explains Beelik, “and this year we raised the level of graphics to support the idea of stability through massive growth. Video animation was a far more effective tool than stills in telling their before and after story.”

Every brand is a living thing. “It can’t be stagnant,” insists Beelik. “We’re always kicking the tires and pushing at boundaries with design to help clients understand where they are going.”


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February 19, 2017

Excessive Attention Seeking: An unprofessional diagnosis

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Upcoming talk

February 16, 2017

If you’re a freelancer, like me, come and share your adaptation strategies during my IABC talk on Perpetual Adaptation Strategies for Independent Communicators.

It’s taking place at Metro Hall on March 2, 6:30-8:30 pm.

Here’s a teaser of the talk hosted and recorded by my pal, Donna Papacosta.


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We the people

February 4, 2017

Blind contour drawing of a crowd scene by Alison Garwood-Jones

Blind contour drawing of a crowd scene by Alison Garwood-Jones

Drawing is more satisfying to me right now than writing. Writing requires a fuller understanding of people. Drawing lets you get away with suggestion.

Weekend side projects. #TombowUSA #BlindContourDrawing

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January 20, 2017

You have to work for the government you want, or else someone else will give it to you.

The world is feeling that today, this entire weekend, as folks in the U.S. prepare to stand toe-to-toe with forces threatening to roll back a half-century of hard-won social gains.

Last night, I was in a room full of people who believe in working for the city they want, and who have the willfulness and energy to do the endless groundwork.

Here’s a snapshot of one corner of the room at a Forum on Gender Equity in the Toronto City Budget organized by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. A diverse crowd came to hear the presentations and insights of NGO’s, including the Toronto Women’s Habitat, Toronto Women’s City Alliance, Social Planning Toronto and the YWCA.

I was there to listen and draw their stories.


In a nutshell, last July Toronto City Council passed a motion to cast a gender equity lens on the 2017 budget.

Toronto City Council

It was the first time in Toronto’s history that a City Council has agreed to act on the fact that women’s economic inequality is built into the system. Government policies are not,  and have never been, gender neutral. FYI: Women are 52% of the city and make 68 cents to a man’s dollar, as Wong-Tam pointed out in her presentation.

If I might add, women in our city, rich and poor, are charged more for goods and services — like dry cleaning, razors, moisturizer, etc. — simply because we’re women. It’s dubbed the “Pink Tax.”

I recently interviewed the creative directors at the Toronto arm of the ad agency, BBDO. The women in that office were so ticked off by these unjustified extra charges, they teamed up with the feminist website, GirlTalkHQ, and made this pro-bono video to illustrate one aspect of women’s everyday experience.

BBDO also created a petition asking for Prime Minister Trudeau’s help in closing the gender wage and price gaps. Feel free to sign it if you agree the “Pink Tax” makes no sense.

Pink Tax

By the way, BBDO is the agency that inspired “Sterling Cooper,” Matt Weiner’s fictional agency in Mad Men. Peggy and Joan would be happy to hear that 40% of the top brass at BBDO TO are women. Like the film industry, when women have a place at the table, our concerns and lived experiences are turned into stories available to everybody. And we all know how stories can change the world!

But back to the budget. It’s crunch time: 91 million has to be cut from the budget, and before the knife comes down, Wong-Tam wants to remind her colleagues of their commitment to gender equity last July …

We Passed a motion

Wong-Tam, who is calling for an open and transparent budget, is encouraging her colleagues to analyze the gender-disaggregated data collected by the attending NGO’s. It shows how cuts affect women differently than men. By the way, when you add on other identities on top of gender — like Aboriginal status, sexual identity, culture, creed, religion, language, citizenship, income, disability and age to the mix — the inequities are compounded Big-Time.

So far, one hundred and fifty cities around the world, including San Francisco and Berlin, have introduced gender budgets. The first country in the world to enact “gender-responsive budgeting,” as the academics like to call it, was Australia back in 1984. Inspired by the Australians, South Africa’s post-apartheid government went on to create a “Women’s Budget Initiative” in the mid-1990s. Work is far from finished in South Africa. In the meantime, 90 countries have been experimenting with various forms of gender equal budgets, according to this  2014 OECD report. Again, results have been mixed. The status quo is a stubborn beast.

Urban planner, Prabha Khosla, and Leila Sarangi, the Manager of Community Programs at Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke, spoke about the  city services most needed by women, and most at risk in that $91 million in cuts:

Kristyn Drawing

Muslim Woman

Libraries and TTCLibraries are key hubs, not least of which because they have free wifi.

Afterwards, the room broke into groups to express what their ideal city would be and have:

Lisa Tweet


My Ideal City Tweet

I did my best to capture the spirit of the issues.

Doly Shot with Instafilter

City Council will debate the budget cuts on February 15. If you want to see a gender equity lens applied to programming and expenditures, contact your city councillor and Tweet up a storm with the #GenderEquityTo hashtag.

Councillor Wong-Tam will need the support.

Alison with Kristyn Wong-Tam

Next step: deliver the board to City Hall.

This is the final board:

Graphic visualization of #GenderEquity for the 2017 Toronto City Budget

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Covering female territory on film

January 5, 2017

Is being female ever an advantage in filmmaking? In Ep. 3 of Willful, filmmaker Maureen Judge discusses

• getting female territory on film.
• how she deals with setbacks.
• her seminal influences.
• the constant exploration of ideas and new technologies.

Willful is the web series that tracks how artists and creative entrepreneurs work, thrive and survive. We interview one artist a week, then post five three-minute snack films from that interview on YouTube every day.

Follow us here on our YouTube Channel or on our website for more inspiring interviews.

To check out Maureen’s work and some of her influences, go to:

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Capturing transformative moments on film

January 4, 2017

One of the greatest pleasures and saviors of working in the arts is losing yourself in the work. In Ep. 2 of Willful, filmmaker Maureen Judge describes

• what moves her the most about documentaries.

• how she chooses her subjects.

• how she sets out to capture those transformative moments in people’s lives. “I look for subjects who are living the broader shifts and changes in society.”

To wit: Her latest TVO doc, My Millennial Life, formed in her mind after she read news articles about youth unemployment in Spain and Greece. “It really resonated for me as a parent of Millennials.”

Willful is the web series that tracks how creative entrepreneurs work, thrive and survive. I interview one artist a week, then post five three-minute snack films from that interview on YouTube every day.

Follow us on our website or on our YouTube channel for more inspiring interviews.

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Getting her start in filmmaking

January 4, 2017

In this episode of Willful, award-winning documentary filmmaker, Maureen Judge, tells me how she got her start in film.

Maureen heads up the production company, Makin’ Movies, and creates documentaries that take you inside people’s lives.

Highlights in this interview include:
• Why Maureen chose documentaries over other forms of filmmaking.
• Her first camera.
• How photo albums, sewing, and studying philosophy all worked together to shape Maureen’s vision as a documentarian.

Willful is the web series I’ve created with Yann Yap. It tracks how artists and creative entrepreneurs work, thrive and survive. We interview one artist a week, then post five three-minute snack films from that interview on YouTube every day.

Follow us here and on our YouTube channel for more inspiring interviews.


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Willful web series

January 3, 2017

Alison Garwood-Jones interviews Andrew Dobson of

This is me talking with my pal, Andrew Dobson, creator of the food and travel media empire, DobberNationLoves.

Andrew is one of dozens of creative entrepreneurs and artists I’ll be interviewing in Willful, a new web series I co-created with my friend, Yann Yap, a producer, photographer and videographer currently working at TFO.

yann-yap-and-alison-garwood-jonesA selfie of the creators, Yann Yap and Alison Garwood-Jones

Willful tracks how creative entrepreneurs work, thrive and survive, and today is the series launch!

I’ll be interviewing one artist a week, then posting five three-minute snack films from that interview on YouTube every day.

As freelancers,  Yann and I are always looking for good stuff to jump start our day, whether it’s an inspiring story, advice on process, how to pivot or transfer your skills as jobs change, and tips on the economics of being (and staying) creative. I know tons of people who geek out on that stuff. So, this is for you!

In each episode, you’ll meet women and men who are:

• Gutsy and joyfully oblivious to “You can’t do that” and “Who do you think you are?” (it’s a Canadian thing)

Opera5 Creators

Rachel Krehm and Aria Umezawa (above), the co-founders of Opera5 are a good example of that.

• Determined to make things, then put them out into the world.

Filmmaker Maureen Judge

Genie award-winning documentary filmmaker, Maureen Judge (above), is someone I admire because she has chosen a career that matches her determination to stay curious and interested in life. Her latest doc is called, My Millennial Life. Maureen is our first guest this week.

• Innovators and disruptors whose focus and positivity has elevated them above the snark of flabby, anonymous commenters.

Alison Garwood-Jones interviews Ricardo McRae

Painter turned “vision activator,” Ricardo McRae (above), has many insightful things to say about dancing with fear. And I’m not talking the kind of fear spread by crooked politicians, but private fears that stop us from speaking out or crafting original solutions to problems. In addition to his work with brands, Ricardo is the founder of Black in Canada, an organization that seeks to shift the popular narrative of Black achievement in this country, and around the world.

There’s a current of willfulness running through every creative person I’ve ever met — a certain scrappiness and determination. “Willful” is something you have to be if you want to make a real difference in the world. Hence, the name for the series.

Ladies and gents, the trailer to Willful:


If you like what we’re doing, please share using the appropriate buttons down below.

To be a part of “Willful”

If you are creative and have a “Willful” story worth sharing on camera, contact us at, or on Twitter @WillfulProject.

Our thanks to The Merchant Tavern for generously offering us a stage.


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