The Brandvan sitting on the road at the end of a long field.

A drive for change across Canada

Newsroom authorby Jill ScarrowMay 7, 2021
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A design studio custom built into a contractor van, a focus on creative excellence, and a determination to put people above profit is all it took for 2001 Graphic Design graduate, TEDx speaker and philanthropist Keith Jones to kick start his new organization and launch a unique, social impact program that has helped charitable organizations across Canada bolster their branding and marketing arsenals, free of cost.

Keith Jones and Vickie Hsieh in the front seat of their van

In his quest to make the world a better place through design, Jones and his partner Vickie Hsieh teamed up to create the unique charity initiative, Brandvan. Inside a commercial-sized cargo van, they reimagined every inch of the 72 square-foot space, turning it into a modern design studio that doubles as a mobile home. Over 20 days, they rebuilt it into a beautiful, Scandinavian-style design studio and living space kitted out with a custom queen size foam mattress bed, overhead storage, a collapsible workstation that doubles as a dining area, 20 gallon water tank, compost toilet, and a solar-panel system that allowed the pair to live, and work, off the grid.

Then they set out on their cross-Canada journey, visiting nine provinces and connecting with one territory remotely. In the cities along the way, the Brandvan team and its network of expert creative professionals linked up with charities and non-profits big and small that are doing exceptional work in their fields, providing them with free branding and creative services to enable them to effectively communicate and amplify their awareness.

The Brandvan team’s work included rebranding of Bumrun, a charity run to raise awareness about colon cancer; new branding for REA Foundation, one of Canada’s largest foundations in physical rehabilitation in Montreal; a revised brand system for the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan; and strategy for Hope Blooms, an organization for at-risk youth in Halifax.

“You realize that everyone has the ability to make the world better. It's on you and me to make sure that the system gets fixed, because if you don't fix it, no one else is going to,” he says of the experience.

The journey in 2018 was a 180-degree shift from the work Jones had been doing after graduating from Sheridan. That year, he landed his first job even before convocation, and then went on to work with some of Canada’s largest corporate organizations – including Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Manulife and Rogers Communications – while freelancing on the side for clients such as the Canadian Olympic Committee.

As an art director at Rogers, he headed up projects including design for media properties such as Citytv, FX Canada, The Bachelor and The Shopping Channel before taking on the role as creative director charged with rebranding the parent organization. He also led the rebranding of Rogers' global offices, starting with one million square feet in Brampton and three office towers in Toronto.

Then, in 2017, Jones found himself at a crossroads: he was considering the next step in the corporate ladder at Rogers, and wondered if he really wanted to commit fully to a corporate career, or if it was time to look for something new that would be more meaningful to him.

“I use the phrase, ‘If your cup is full, you can't put more things in it.’ You can’t think about other things if you're trying not to spill what's in your cup,” he says. “Sometimes we just have to empty the cup, leave it empty, and see what comes to us.”

Jones realized he had a passion for philanthropy. He and his partner had been volunteering with non-profit organizations and the experience had made him aware that, like his corporate clients, non-profits also had a need for branding and marketing expertise. They just lacked the budget for it.

“ I started by reimagining how the future should be for the next generation, and working towards those goals. I wanted to work with good people on good ideas, and try to make the world a better place.” – Keith Jones

Instead of taking up a new job in the corporate world, Jones decided to start something new: a company focused on giving back through design and marketing services for organizations that lead change for good. In 2018, Keith Jones & Good Company was born. Instead of just helping companies execute their for-profit marketing strategies, Jones now focuses on helping clients who build positive change.

“It was flipping the script around. I started by reimagining how the future should be for the next generation, and started working towards those goals. I wanted to work with good people on good ideas, and try to make the world a better place,” he explains.

To launch the company and work with like-minded individuals and groups, Jones began his self-funded Brandvan journey. He advertised on social media and put out a call on his personal network to find great organizations to work with. He also reached out to his own network of creatives and sought their help on the projects he and Hsieh picked up throughout their travels.

Now, almost three years after the road trip, Jones remains committed to grow ‘& Good Company’ as a design consultancy to help mission-driven brands that make a positive impact in the world. He sees a whole new way forward for social impact business, and would encourage anyone who’s just starting out in their career to do some work for a charity or a non-profit.

“You might not get paid, but real-life experience is invaluable, it’s rewarding in countless ways, and your volunteer work will help you stand out in the job market,” he says. “Twenty years ago, I finished design school at Sheridan, but today, I am just getting started helping redesign the future of Canada. I think if you start to dip your toe into the social impact-based charity space, you're going to learn about what's going to happen in the future because all companies are going to have to be more accountable.”

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