Let’s roll 2019

A reflection on a very challenging yet rewarding year for Design Axl and design teaching at Boston University.

James Grady
7 min readJan 17, 2019
2019 Design Axl postcard: If you’d like one, let me know!

Happy 2019

I’ve enjoyed working on some really awesome projects with some great partners and clients. I’ve also been able to build a design curriculum in lockstep with client work and vice versa. Please read on to see some highlights from the past year.

UI and UX and AR, oh my!

I’m sure there are a few acronyms I missed, but for now I’ll start with those. Over the past year, Design Axl worked with MathTalk to develop the User Interface (UI), User Experience (UX), and Augmented Reality (AR) for their forthcoming mobile app. MathTalk aims to activate public spaces for early math learning. MathTalk is creating “MathScapes” — artistic, culturally relevant, easily accessible, physical installations that will be paired with the MathTalk app, both designed to stimulate adults and children to utilize their immediate environment to playfully explore key early math concepts.

What I found so special about their mission was that it was all about parent-child interaction through math concepts. Their goal was not to find right or wrong answers, but to create a dialogue without intimidating the child—or the parent—with math. This one-on-one conversation works well at the breakfast table or even the park. The challenge was to make a mobile experience that wasn’t just handed off to a child to keep them occupied, but to engage them in conversation.

iPhone UX sample screens

The MathTalk team consisted of numerous experts on Early Childhood Education from Boston University and the University of Chicago, as well as community experts from neighborhoods in Cambridge, MA — where many of the meetings and family testing happened. The creative team was a mix of designers, developers, and illustrators. We conducted weekly calls and UX prototyping workshops at BU and in Cambridge.

IZZY’s Restaurant | Illustrations by Diego Chaves

One of the really exciting components of the project was working with Augmented Reality (AR). In many cases, augmented reality is a solution in search of a problem. It can seem unnecessary and sometimes nauseating 🤢, but it can also be completely magical for kids and offer a collaborative experience for parents and children.

We teamed up with BU Spark! to work on the development of the AR portion of the MathTalk APP. It was so much fun—and yes, challenging—designing in a 3D space. Having 5 and 7-year-olds at home made for some perfect user testing! Check out Joy and Flora having fun with the early stage demo.

Web dev and strategy

Design Axl is continuing to work with T3 Advisors, assisting with the development of their website and strategic goals for 2019. To see more details on that project check out this previous post.

AI—Ah, I knew I was missing an acronym

We’ve also been working with a HealthCare company to develop UX strategies for their Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform. This is an extension to some previous data visualization work with another HealthCare client.
More to come…

Brand Identity

Brand identity and visual design are central to Design Axl’s work. Design is a collaboration between so many different partners and stakeholders; through design thinking and brand strategy we can build trust among the teams. Not only is it our obsession to make things beautiful and functional, it is critical to the success of any Design Axl project. Over the past year, we’ve been able to work with some great clients on their branding efforts, including logos, typographic systems, color palettes, video and image libraries, and of course websites. Take a look at a few examples.


Harves is a Chinese real estate development and investment firm with some exciting news—Harves recently announced a partnership with Manchester United and will open a series of club-themed entertainment and experience centers throughout China. Design Axl created the new Harves visual identity system and website.

Harves identity

Liz Linder

Liz Linder is a Boston-based photographer who uses images to tell stories that matter. Liz is an amazing photographer and even better person. I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with Liz on many photoshoots—including this guy—and it was a privilege to work on her visual identity system, and website, and consult on her latest portfolio. One of the most exciting projects was working on a time-based animation featured in Times Square.

Liz Linder’s new identity
Liz Linder at 42nd street and 7th avenue

Practice and Pedagogy

The foundation for all of Design Axl’s work comes from my design education starting as an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where I first fell in love with art and design pedagogy, to my MFA in Graphic Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. There is a lot you can learn from your everyday surroundings and individual research about graphic design and design tools, but I believe it is critical to study art and design in an institution with mentors that can provide so much more than you can possibly learn on your own. That is why I’m so honored to be able to split my time between my practice and my pedagogy. My goal is to offer all I’ve learned—and continue to learn—to my students. Below are a few examples of some classes, workshops, and extracurricular events I have been involved in over the past year.


BU Spark! is an initiative to support student-driven innovation and entrepreneurship in computer science, computer engineering, and related disciplines. I have been working with Ziba Cranmer, Director of BU Spark! on many of their initiatives, including the User Interaction Design Fellowship. The User Interaction Design Fellowship is a unique program that aims to help computer science and graphic design students build their skills in user experience design. This program, offered in partnership with the RedHat’s UXD team includes an educational component comprised of a series of workshops including a UX-UI Bootcamp, UX-UI Workflows and tools, PatternFly open source design library, and UXD Prototyping Review Clinics.

RedHat UXD workshop

Teaching with Technology

In the fall, I was asked to become a BU Digital Learning & Innovation (DL&I) Multimedia Ambassador. This role involves advocating for new ways to teach students and faculty new technologies, in particular, the Adobe Creative Cloud. BU has an amazing partnership which gives all faculty and students the use of the Adobe Creative Cloud for free! This is an amazing opportunity to showcase and test new software Adobe is continually unveiling and updating. DL&I also hosted an Adobe Creative Jam “a 3-hour design charrette showdown.” I was asked to be a judge—it was great! I also was a speaker at the Teaching with Technology (TwT) Festival hosted at the George Sherman Union (GSU). TwT is an all-day festival open to the entire university that showcased many ways the BU community fosters digital learning & innovation. I look forward to what’s in store as I continue to teach with technology at BU.

Teaching with Technology and the Adobe Creative Jam

Studio Classes

Finally, I’m also consumed with my studio courses, working with graduate and undergraduate students on their thesis work, sophomore typography, and motion graphics to name a few. I will explore all of that in a future blog post. If you’ve read up until now, thank you, but I would be telling my students at this point to leave on a high note! Here are just a few photos from some hands-on workshops, a studio visit to my first employer as a young professional, and some graduate work. Please follow me on Instagram for the most recent updates.

kor group | Grad Studio | Printmaking workshop

Keep it rolling

In closing, it has been an amazing, but very bittersweet year. I lost my Father in December and it’s been difficult. He would be so happy to see all that I have accomplished. He would never tell me to slow down only to keep rolling. So here’s to my Dad and 2019—let’s roll!

Please keep on the lookout for more updates.

Send me an email james@axl.design | jjgrady@bu.edu

Thanks for reading!



James Grady

Principal, Design Axl & Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, Boston University