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 that informs artistic and personal growth, while fostering the development of effective problem solving and critical thinking skills. To me, the combination of creative and technical skill, along with the conceptual exploration capacity and insight to generate design solutions is the necessary foundation for great design.
My method to achieve this is to establish a safe and transparent 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 this experiential component, students develop a deeper understanding of design theory and history through a combination of class lectures, readings and discussions, as well as student-initiated research. This parallel process is crucial for 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 peer-based. This constant feedback loop encourages students to further push their design iterations and make needed adjustments to their design process, while remaining open to feedback and contributing their own insights to help peers. 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.”
Talented. Brilliant. Incredible. Amazing. Show stopping. Spectacular. Never the same. Totally unique. A professor who is actually a really good mentor and teacher as well as a designer.”
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 and relevant stakeholders. 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. Guest speakers are directed to present samples of their work, discuss their philosophy and approach to design, and share their perspectives and best practices for working within a collaborative environment. Students are also given the opportunity to personally engage through a Q&A discussion that follows guest presentations. While all students are exposed to these guest presentations, intermediate and advanced students are also given projects that mimic a professional working environment, with an emphasis on meeting deadlines and production schedules, as well as comprehensive client conceptualization. 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 digital presence (websites, apps, and animations). My professional design experience of nearly two decades is a frequent source of anecdotes, challenges, and successes I share with students to help them better envision a fast-moving design environment and their future roles.
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, essentially becoming citizen designers. As an example, a regular student project built into my GD6 course is a social-based interactive infographic, where students select important social issues that would benefit from increased public awareness. Using their design research skills, emotional connection to the topic, and an iterative process of presentations and critiques, students design an interactive website that communicates critical information and includes specifies actions that make a difference. Recent projects have focused on the topics of sexual harassment, abuse, income inequality, and food insecurity, and steered the viewer towards signing petitions, providing donations, or joining specific action-oriented groups to increase awareness.
I also believe that moving the educational experience outside the classroom can directly involve students in real-world experiences that place them at the center of a dynamic interplay between human, emotional, and social factors. These immersive experiences challenge students to develop the ability to communicate and collaborate with a diverse array of individuals holding multiple perspectives, many of which may be divergent from those of the designer, while holding a firm grasp of the various design methodologies and frameworks that can be called upon to co-design an appropriate solution. A recent example of incorporating an immersive design experience in the graphic design curriculum was a collaborative Spring Break workshop, titled Project Perry/Proyecto Perry. This project was a collaborative, multi-disciplinary, and team-based graphic design partnership I initiated between the two largest state institutions, and the community of Perry, IA. During this time, students and faculty fully immersed themselves in the community for five days and engaged residents and community leaders on a variety of challenges that were essential to Perry’s vitality, including, but not limited to, economic development, education, community engagement, and cultural inclusiveness. During this immersive experience, students created a total of twelve community projects presented in a final exhibition and thank you party to celebrate the community of Perry. The overwhelming positive feedback from the community as well as the students helped illustrate the benefits of participating in immersive learning experiences that can have real implications and potential to affect change. Below is a student excerpt from the experience:
At the end of the trip I felt very proud of what we had accomplished. We experienced some short falls during the week but we were able to create an event in 36 hours that positively affected the youth of the community. I would recommend this trip to anyone. I learned valuable skills like time management, triaging tasks, problem solving, and communication skills. Most importantly, I learned about what social design was and how to implement my design skills into a community. This was a truly rewarding experience that I will remember for years to come. I hope other students are lucky enough to share the same experience through the continuation of this project.”
Watching students in my classes create quality projects based on expanded design and conceptual skills, and seeing them continue their journey towards personal growth and social awareness is an inspiring process that allows me to sustain my passion in teaching design, and informs my own work as a citizen 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 program and field, as well as benefit my academic and local 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 as a citizen designer.
In terms of my program, I have recently spent one academic year as Program Head of Graphic Design, where I worked with faculty, program staff, and students to build on the strengths of the Graphic Design program as well as identify strategic opportunities to incorporate emerging practices and technologies. Beyond creating the course schedule for the program, I also place high importance on ensuring instructional quality, and have worked closely with Teaching Assistants to oversee and support their teaching duties. Coordination with other Program Heads within the Studio Art Division, technology and print production staff, the Curriculum Committee, and Academic Advisors is a central component in delivering a high-quality program that ensures student satisfaction and success.
In terms of my immediate academic community, I have been dedicated in bringing my expertise as a designer to advance projects that benefit the School of Art and Art History. For example, I have worked closely with the Director and Administrative Staff to design a streamlined syllabus template that could be used by each division to organize and present key information in a standardized and easily-digestible format. Furthermore, I am currently designing a series of brochures for each academic program within the School of Art and Art History to highlight the diverse and vibrant programs of our school and facilitate recruitment efforts.
These past few years, I have also directly engaged in service that benefits my students and larger university community. Through my role as faculty advisor for the University of Iowa Students in Design (UISD) organization, I was instrumental in partnering students with various community and university members to collaborate on a variety of design projects. One recent example of such a collaboration involved leveraging connections with the International Writing Program (IWP) and UISD and leading the students through the opportunity to design and develop a web presence for the IWP’s 50th anniversary. This website was promoted internationally as a retrospective to illustrate the program’s accomplishments and provides a home for future expansion. Not only do such collaborations foster real-world experience, they provide a positive service to the university, and generate small funds the students can use for their own professional development, such as attending networking and workshop opportunities. Another fund-raising project that I initiated with the organization was having students partake in a poster competition, instilling the practice of disseminating their designs nationally.
In terms of both the university and local community, I have been instrumental in leveraging the design talent of our students by providing connections and artistic direction on projects that benefit local causes. For example, I have partnered several upper level graphic design courses and with the Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement to provide design services to community causes. As a result, I recently directed the student design of a tourism mobile app for Mason City, which guides the user to the various attractions, restaurants, and businesses within that community. As the goal of the city was to enhance economic growth, the app included extensive testing and prototyping, which assisted the Department of Computer Science to bring it to fruition. Similarly, in the Spring of 2020, we partnered with the city of Keokuk to design a new brand initiative for the city and its affiliated organizations, including tourism, commerce, and economic development.
It is also important for me to note that much of my research and teaching efforts focus heavily on service components, allowing me the opportunity to direct my professional activities towards positive service outcomes. For example, in the Spring of 2018, as part of a Spring Break Workshop, I 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, and focused on utilizing graphic design resources, methods, and processes to engage the community of Perry, IA. Several design students from both universities worked together to identify areas for improvement and problem solve around specific economic, educational, health, and cultural challenges that are important to the community. The project culminated in an art exhibition that brought community members and leaders together with students to present the final collaborative solutions.
Another community project with a service-component, funded by the Roy J Carver Charitable trust, involved 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 involved a community forum and art show to raise awareness about the students’ experiences, while promoting positive change in the school community. This project was in collaboration with faculty from the College of Education, and is a good example of how design can be a crucial component of interdisciplinary service efforts.
My research endeavors and visibility in the graphic design field have also led to opportunities to be of service professionally. Recently, I served as an external reviewer for the AIGA Design Educator Community’s publication, Dialectic. I was also recently invited to serve as Co-Chair for a series of presentations on the topic of Design for Emotion and Pleasure, hosted by the Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International Conference. I look forward to additional service opportunities in my field that help advance the role of graphic design in socially-driven endeavors.
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 programs and units 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 elevate graphic design towards the greater good.