DAAP student works to make design careers accessible to all

Jerrell Francisco is on a mission to introduce diverse students to design-based careers

Peering into classrooms throughout the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), Jerrell Francisco notices very few students who look like him.

That’s far from uncommon according to a 2021 study from the National Endowment for the Arts, which found that diversity is sorely lacking across America’s art spaces.

Francisco, a communication design major at UC, hopes to change that through his capstone design project.

“A lot of people will throw terms around like diversity, equity and inclusion,” Francisco said, “but really what we’re talking about is equity of opportunity. That’s what I’m trying to level up.”

As he embarks on his final year as a Bearcat, Francisco’s creative mind helps him design a compelling message for underrepresented groups. His project has two forms of inspiration: strong artistic flair — and, just as crucially — a background that’s likely familiar to much of his intended audience.

From his start to a career in art

In the beginning, Francisco didn’t seem like the ideal design candidate. For one thing, his adopted parents were laser-focused on education — a STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) education. The design field wasn’t even part of the equation.

Headshot of Jerrell Francisco

Jerrell Francisco. Photo/An Le

Francisco’s life took a turn when his father received a job in southwest Ohio as the principal at Princeton High School. The big move from Michigan to Cincinnati ended well for Francisco, by his own account.

“There was this new program where 20 high school students got to do a class for the National Health Association … researching the opioid epidemic in Ohio,” Francisco said.

As the Princeton High School students’ research period wrapped up, they were surprised with full-ride scholarships to UC.

The catch? All Princeton students had to enter a STEMM field to receive the scholarship, and Francisco didn’t meet the requirements for his desired industrial design major. Luckily, he could attend UC Blue Ash College and learn about applied graphics communication under professor Patrick Schreiber. Francisco discovered his passion for the arts from that class, leading him to communication design at DAAP.

A-DAAP-ting to a new frontier

While Francisco has flourished at UC, he sometimes still feels like an outsider among the design community. Diversity isn’t known as the art world’s strong suit, despite the work of programs such as DAAP to attract people of various backgrounds. Francisco hopes to use his voice to diversify the space.

The arts, in Francisco’s view, involve “taking what’s in your head and learning how to put it outside.” Design is transferable across all backgrounds, ethnicities and skill sets, with diversity leading to a greater range of experiences from which to draw creative inspiration.

There are things I’ve learned (here) that I could break down so much faster if there had been more diverse opportunity or more diverse people sharing their opinions.

Jerrell Francisco

“There are things I’ve learned (here) that I could break down so much faster if there had been more diverse opportunity or more diverse people sharing their opinions,” Francisco said. “Those are really needed for us to progress.”

Rather than just talking about the need for change, Francisco challenged himself to have a positive impact. He found the perfect means to make a difference through DAAP’s capstone design project.

A capstone project for all kinds

DAAP students work on capstone assignments in their final years to showcase creative expertise along with forward-thinking ideas in partnership with the 1819 Innovation Hub. According to associate professor of communication design Reneé Seward, “DAAP capstone projects allow students to go research and understand a visual communication problem of interest to them. These self-defined senior projects have led to new companies being developed and entrepreneurial efforts.”

For Francisco, the DAAP capstone project provided a superb window for him to give back to students who may be interested in design but lack direction on entering the field.

“I plan on using the skills I’ve gained to make one big website … to give younger students as much practical application or value as I can,” Francisco said.

His page will describe what communication design is, run through principles of pattern and design and offer tips on building a website and online portfolio.

Due to his time at UC along with his co-op experiences, Francisco craves a future as a key art designer. This career path, which involves crafting promotional materials for TV shows, movies and video games, is one that he’d never heard of before college — and that’s a problem he’s striving to solve.

Francisco ultimately hopes that his capstone project will be bigger than a personal stepping stone toward graduation.

“I’m a great designer right now because of [my mentor],” he said, “so to be that for someone else, that’s definitely the goal.”

Featured image at top: Jerrell Francisco working on a design project. Photo/Jerrell Francisco

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