Nicole Cousins on working with Collins and creating designs out of diversity
“It is empowering to see work by people who look like me or have a different story to tell that is not typically featured in design,” says the New York-based Collins designer.
- Joey Levenson
- 11 April 2022
We’ve been longtime fans of Collins for a while now, and most recently had the pleasure of talking to some of their creatives back in 2021. Now, one member of the Collins team who’s recently caught our eye is the undeniably talented Brooklyn-based designer Nicole Cousins. Nicole’s portfolio boasts a great wealth of diverse projects and creative achievements, and her relationship with Collins has been brewing since the early days of her career. “I interned with Collins during my senior year of high school and they’ve taught me so much,” Nicole tells It’s Nice That. “Because of my experience during that internship program, I decided to major in Graphic Design while at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where I was opened into a whole new way of seeing the world.”
In particular, it’s Nicole’s Ireti Chocolate brand project from her time at RISD that stuck out to us as demonstrative of her expansive way of thinking. “It was a project I produced during a class about designing for social good,” Nicole explains on its origins. “Ireti Chocolate supports mental wellness in Nigeria, a taboo topic there, where people are shunned by their family and friends for speaking up about it, or, worse, ignored when they’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness.” Using this topic to influence her design and brand identity, Nicole opened up an entire prototype on how to overlay brand aesthetic with social commentary. “Ireti means ‘hope’ in the Yoruba language, and I wanted to convey hope as well as transparency between consumers and this brand,” she explains. “So, the illustrations represent the ingredients and are different for each flavour.” Each chocolate bar in the Ireti project is packaged with “a note that contains words of affirmation that encourage you to check up on yourself or someone else,” says Nicole. “With each purchase a donation goes to medical scholarships for psychology students in Nigeria.”
The project perhaps landed so well because of how earnestly it grew from Nicole’s heart. “At the time I made it I was a senior at school and my own mental health was not the best,” she tells us. “I am the first to graduate from college in my family, so I wanted to do well.” As a first-generation Jamaican-American, Nicole tapped into her unsettled disposition at university and constantly thought about bettering her “own mental health,” by which she became part of her own audience. “Being in any creative field, overworking and burnout can be likely. Ireti Chocolate was my first project about taking care of oneself, something I can now admit that I overlooked at times to get my work done.”
Now, Nicole continues to make brilliant work with Collins, pushing the envelope of inspiration and execution. “I am a person who likes thinking about impossible ‘what if’s’ and, ‘what else could be dones?’” she adds. “Which can be dangerous, but it means that I am open to more and more ideas.” Still, the designer is trying to figure out her visual language even to this day. “I do draw, so I like using my hands, and I do like the tactileness of analogue processes,” she says. “I am also very playful and enjoy having my eye bounce around.”
For now, she’s continuing to take inspirational cues from her neighbourhood in Brooklyn, “the structures, the people, and even my own family all inspire me,” Nicole explains. “We have all been told to look at narrow, expected, historic references in design, but I like challenging that. It is empowering to see work by people who look like me or have a different story to tell that is not typically featured in design.”
Amanda Barrow, Nicole Cousins: BLKJOY FMILY Collaboration (Copyright © Amanda-Barrow, Nicole Cousins, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.