As a graphic design scholar engaged in cross-disciplinary research, my central belief is that design has the ability to play a fundamental role in informing and driving solutions that can have a positive impact on users and communities. Driven by the principles of both human-centered and socially-conscious design, my research endeavors are squarely focused on the intended end-user through employing collaboration and joint creative inquiry to affect positive outcomes.
Placing the user at the center
In my work, human-centered design involves employing design processes and principles to engage the target audience from the very beginning, defining the very way projects are conceptualized, tested, and implemented. These principles are exemplified in two of my interactive design projects – SO•BE Stories, an educational app designed to teach kindergarten students essential social skills, and the Gravbox, an interactive sandbox that simulates gravitational dynamics to teach middle and high school students astronomy.
For SO•BE Stories, a collaboration with a faculty member specializing in social-emotional learning and child development, I utilized human-centered design to drive the development of interactive stories and games to help kindergarten students navigate social dilemmas and practice positive behaviors. From conceptualizing characters, story environments, and game play, to usability testing and interface design, this project illustrates the importance of placing the user at the center and inhabiting their experiences. Designed specifically with kindergarten students in mind, this interactive project showcases how effective human-centered design can emotionally connect with the user and create measurable change.
Funded by a Community Impact Grant ($10,000), of which I was the Co-PI, SO•BE Stories has been extensively presented locally, nationally, and internationally, including the Iowa Educational Research and Evaluation Association, AIGA Design Educator’s conference, the University and College Designers Association (UCDA) conference, and the International Conference of Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics. Furthermore, SO•BE Stories was implemented and tested in the Iowa City Public Schools, with promising results from this study currently in press as a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Professional School Counseling, for which I am a co-author. SO•BE Stories is available free of charge on the Apple Store, and has garnered 30,000 downloads since 2015. It has been recognized as a Gold Winner by the Hermes Creative Awards, a Gold Winner of the AVA Digital Awards, and a Silver Winner of the 45th Annual UCDA Design Competition.
For the Gravbox, a collaboration with a faculty member specializing in physics and astronomy, I utilized human-centered design to drive the development of an interactive learning tool that simulates gravitational dynamics in a physical sand box to help students experience principles of astrophysics in real time. Utilizing a 3D camera, the user inputs information through an app, which is then projected via computer-generated graphics onto the surface of the sand. Putting the young user at the center of this design project was essential to effectively bridge abstract concepts in a visual format that resulted in a fun and engaging learning experience. For this project, the functionality of the simulator and potential for teaching depended on the app component and its intuitive design, with user interaction, interface, and usability testing being an essential component to its realization.
This scholarly project was funded by an NSF grant ($405,011), for which I was a collaborator, and has been presented nationally at the AIGA Design Educator’s conference. The gravity simulator project has garnered positive media attention both in the community and nationally, and was featured in WKOW, KCRG, and Iowa Now, as well as on Astronomy.com, Science 360, Space Daily, and Inverse.
Activating design to drive community engagement
In my work, socially-conscious design involves applying design processes as a crucial component to understand, connect with, and facilitate the engagement of a community to enact positive social change. Exhibiting a spirit of collaboration, co-learning, and cultural humility, as a socially-conscious design scholar I strive for my work to be reflective of the voices of diverse communities. These principles are exemplified in two of my socially-driven design projects – Project Perry/Proyecto Perry, a week-long, culturally immersive partnership between two state institutions and the community of Perry, IA, and PhotoVoices, an interdisciplinary research collaboration to illuminate the lived experiences of rural Latinx youth.
For Project Perry/Proyecto Perry, a collaboration with a faculty member specializing in graphic design and community engagement at another state institution, we utilized socially-conscious design to create a team-based graphic design partnership between the two state institutions (University of Iowa and Iowa State University), and the community of Perry, IA. In the first phase of the project, we forged partnerships with community leaders and City officials, as well as various local business owners, to discuss current and future challenges facing the residents of Perry. For the second phase, we invited design students from both institutions to employ problem-and project-based learning, informed by principles of human-centered design, to engage with the rural and socio-economically diverse community of Perry, IA. Students formed small teams to create rapid prototypes through engaging with residents to address a variety of challenges that were essential to community vitality, including, but not limited to, economic development, education, community engagement, and cultural inclusiveness. Community members provided feedback on each prototype, and as solutions advanced in stages, so did their complexity and application. By the end of the project, there were a total of twelve prototypes actively implemented in the community, including a screen-printing workshop to promote community identity and pride, a three-dimensional model of the downtown that empowered residents to envision and participate in re-designing the function and aesthetics of their town, and a youth gardening project geared towards addressing food insecurity through connecting with the land. The final prototypes were displayed during a public exhibition that invited members and leaders of the community to interact with the solutions and engage in meaningful dialogue with the students about the collaborative process and proposed outcomes. Employing human-centered design to guide this process leveled the power differential between university design students and faculty and community members, allowing the needs of the participants to take central-stage. Taking students outside of the classroom and university campus and presenting them with pressing problem-and project-based experiences allowed them to connect with diverse communities and actually be part of the solution.
Funded by a Community Impact Grant ($10,000), for which I was the PI, Project Perry/Proyecto Perry has been presented nationally and internationally, including the AIGA Design Educators Conference and was slated to be presented at the Design Principles and Practices International Conference. Reflecting the purpose of socially-conscious design, the project was also extensively covered in the community it originated, including the Perry News, and via various local government social media platforms.
For PhotoVoices, an interdisciplinary collaboration with two other faculty members specializing in school counseling and educational policy, and a rural high school, we engaged academically-at-risk Latinx students in a year-long photography project, along with critical discussions, to document their lived experiences and identify ares for policy change. At the end of each semester, students selected meaningful photographs and themes that best captured their experiences, and identified areas for advocacy. Informed by socially-conscious design principles of co-creation, agency, and action, we created an extensive poster series featuring selected student photos, along with salient quotes from group discussions. Our team hosted several community art shows with key school and community stakeholders, visually sharing student experiences through the poster series, eliciting valuable community input and exchange, and raising awareness about the needs of Latinx students.
Funded by a Carver Foundation grant ($85,000), an Outreach and Engagement Micro Grant ($1,500), an Obermann Fellowship ($18,000), and a Public Policy Center Summer Residency ($6,000), for which I was Co-PI, PhotoVoices has been presented locally, nationally, and internationally, including at the Iowa Public Library Community Conversations, the Muscatine LULAC Chapter, the Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International Conference, the American Educational Research Association International Conference, and the European Branch of the American Counseling Association Conference. Reflective of the purpose of socially-conscious design, the project was also extensively covered in the community it originated, including the Muscatine Journal, and via various local educational social media platforms.
While the main content of my research statement focuses on my scholarly interdisciplinary research activities involving digital, print, and interactive components, I also maintain an active professional portfolio that spans regional, national, and international spheres. For example, my engagement with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Smithsonian Institution that focuses on tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue, is reflective of my passion for incorporating both human-centered and socially-conscious design methods. This decade-long partnership has led to numerous print projects, including creating a report series for the Science and Technology Innovation Program aiming to mobilize public participation in science, technology, and policy. Additionally, my design partnership with Holacracy, an international company focusing on self-management practices for organizations, has involved branding, print, and digital components for improving work culture and synergy. On a more regional level, my six-year involvement with Matt Jensen Marketing has led to numerous interactive multimedia projects, involving a variety of clients, such as the Central American Eye Clinics and the Advanced Reproductive Center of Hawaii.
Looking forward to the next stage of my career trajectory, I am excited to continue my engagement in both scholarly endeavors and professional practice that combined, showcase the central role of design in communicating, inspiring, and engaging across platforms and audiences.
As an educator of graphic design, it my passion and goal to provide an environment for students that allows for creative exploration and personal growth, while fostering the development of effective problem solving and critical thinking skills. To me, this is the foundation from which great design solutions can be born.
My method to achieve this is to establish a safe creative environment and focus on developing strong research skills that will become the catalyst for original solutions from the very beginning. This process entails having students generate numerous sketches that will help them go beyond their initial ideas and take creative risks while developing a research-backed rationale for their designs. Along with experiential learning, the students develop a deeper understanding of design theory and history through class lectures, readings and discussions, as well as student-initiated research. This parallel process is crucial in expanding their visual vocabulary and working knowledge of past and present methods and allows for concurrent experimentation with their own design process. Students in my classes also have the opportunity to obtain frequent and constructive class critiques which are be peer-based. This constant feedback loop encourages students to further push their designs and make needed adjustment to their design process. Students appear to appreciate the clear guidelines, the focus on the conceptual and design process, as well as the multiple learning components built in my classes. Below are some excerpts from students enrolled in my courses:
“Jeremy is a phenomenal teacher. He’s so organized and really lays all of his expectations out on the table from day 1. There’s no surprises. He also has a great way of planning his semester with reading material and exercises that work together. We are constantly talking about our work and the industry. I’ve learned so much from him and would recommend everyone to take his classes!”
“Jeremy is an incredible professor and person. I was really afraid to start web design because I’d never tried anything like it. Coding was really daunting, but Jeremy made everything really straightforward and made sure we were all up to speed before assigning our major projects. He was always encouraging and would be sure to tell everyone when they were doing especially good work. I feel like I really improved my skills as a designer and am going to take Advanced Interaction Design with him next semester.”
Beyond the creative process, it is important for students to gain awareness of the business and human aspect of graphic design and the importance of creating authentic, meaningful, and long-lasting connections with clients. In order to expose students to current practices and other professional perspectives, guest speakers are frequently invited to share their experiences and interact with students. For example, in the Fall of 2017, the students in GD VI (Advanced Interaction Design) were visited by Matt Arnold, the UX Director of ConnectFive, which is a user experience research and design company based in Coralville, IA. Matt discuss his philosophy and approach to interaction design as well as his perspectives working within a team environment and best practices for successfully collaborating with clients. The students thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and were engaged in a lively Q&A discussion that followed. To further prepare students for their future work environments, intermediate and advanced students are given projects that emphasize meeting deadlines and production schedules, as well as comprehensive client conceptualization. My professional design experience of 15 years is a frequent source of anecdotes, challenges, and successes I share with students to help them conceptualize a fast-moving design environment. Projects at this level are comprehensive and focused on building a multi-level brand strategy (logo, color, typography, and design elements) in addition to a multimedia web presence.
It is my strong belief that connecting design to the human aspect elevates design beyond a strictly business-oriented model. For this reason, students are encouraged to become involved in social campaigns that create personal fulfillment and connect them to the human impact of design. As an example, a regular student project built into my GD6 course is a social-based interactive inforgraphic, where student select important issues they are passionate about that would benefit from increased social awareness. Using their design research skills, personal passion, and an iterative process of presentations and critiques, students design an interactive website that provides essential information and specifies actions that make a difference. For example, recent projects have focused on the topics of sexual harassment and abuse, income inequality, and nuclear proliferation, and included the signing of petitions, provision of donations, or joining specific action-oriented groups to increase awareness.
Watching students in my classes expand their design and conceptual and critical thinking skills, as well as experience personal growth is an inspiring process that allows me to sustain my engagement with teaching design, and informs my own work as a designer.
One of my primary responsibilities as a Graphic Design Professor, is to actively contribute my skills, expertise, and effort towards the advancement of my local and university community. As reflected in both my teaching and scholarship, I believe that socially-driven design can have a significant human impact, and drives my service endeavors.
In terms of my personal local community, I have been dedicated in bringing my expertise as a designer to enhance success and aid in positive change on various levels. Since my employment with the University of Iowa, I have partnered with the College of Education to engage with high-poverty local elementary schools, including Grand Wood Elementary and Kirkwood Elementary, by designing interactive and print tools to assist in improving students’ social-emotional learning. Additionally, I have partnered one of my courses with the Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement to design a mobile app for Mason City, which promotes tourism by guiding the user to the various attractions, restaurants, and businesses within the community, which assists in contributing to the economic growth and sustainability of the city.
In the Spring of 2018, I will co-lead a group of graphic design students in a collaborative partnership between the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, and the community of Perry, IA. This project was funded by a Community Impact Grant, of which I am the PI, and will focus on utilizing graphic design resources and methods to engage the community of Perry, IA. Several design students from both universities will work together to identify areas for improvement and problem solve around specific economic and health challenges that are important to the community. The project will culminate in an art reception that brings community members and leaders together with students to discuss the design and engagement process and present the final collaborative solutions. Moderated discussions from a panel of community and university speakers will generate recommendations on how to best implement the designs into the community, addressing the sustainability of this project, and potential for continual collaboration and future service projects.
Another community project with a service-component, funded by the Roy J Carver Charitable trust, of which I am a co-PI, involves the utilization of Photovoice to illuminate Latinx students’ experiences in Muscatine High School. Using a combination of photographs, narrative, and perspectives provided by the students, this project will involve a community forum and art show to raise awareness about the students’ experiences, while promoting positive change in the school community. This project is collaboration with faculty from the College of Education, and is a good example of how design can be a crucial components of interdisciplinary service efforts.
In terms of my university community, I am the faculty advisor for the University of Iowa Students in Design (UISD) organization, which partners students with various community and university members to collaborate on a variety of design projects. The organization allows students the opportunity to work on group projects directly with clients, which fosters real-world experience, builds teamwork skills, and provides a positive service to the community. Recently, I was able to utilize my relationship with the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies to forge a partnership between the International Writing Program (IWP) and UISD, allowing the students the opportunity to design and develop a web presence for the IWP’s 50th anniversary, which serves as a retrospective to illustrate the program’s accomplishments and provides a home for future development. The funds secured from this collaboration allow the organization to provide more networking and workshop opportunities for the students, so that they can connect with professionals in field as well as expand their skillset as emerging designers. Another fund-raising project that I have initiated with the organization is to encourage students to partake in a poster competition, the winners of which will receive a cash award while gaining national recognition in the field of design.
My passion for engagement and socially-driven initiatives has allowed me to build bridges between the Graphic Design program at the University of Iowa, other disciplines at UI, other Institutions that teach graphic design, as well as numerous local communities in need of service. I am looking forward to continuing my service contributions, and identifying impactful ways to best advance the profession of graphic design.