We’re on to Twenty One

I know we’re all set with 2020—and on to 2021—but I feel the need to reflect on some of the silver linings to officially scratch 2020 off the list.

James Grady
8 min readJan 7, 2021

Teaching was difficult — but amazing work still persevered — client work made me grateful — but never compromised — and I could not have asked for more from my family. I am so grateful for many things and pray for everyone’s health and safety now and throughout 2021. Please read on to see what my students at BU have been up to and what Design Axl has been working on during this crazy year.

Process sketches along with the ever-present COVID-19 signs at BU

Augmented Reality

On March 11, 2020, we received the email from the BU President’s office that classes would temporarily be suspended due to COVID-19 — no one expected it would still be having such an impact on our lives. I was teaching CFA AR 882 Graduate Studio, CFA AR 576 Motion Graphics, and HUB XC 433 Spark! Technology Innovation Fellowship. As we all transitioned to an online format I was so impressed with the agility of all my students, especially the graduate graphic design students. We were in the middle of a project on liminality and this situation could not have been any more liminal. I shifted the project from something that had an open-ended final output to something that needed to employ augmented reality. AR is something I started introducing in the fall in my CFA AR 589 Interactive Design class and I thought it was an appropriate medium for this project. Check out a few of the projects here: Michael Rosenberg, Arjun Kumar, and more on Instagram.

From top left to right: AR test, research books, and final review zoom command center

Design for Space and Screen

Fast forward to the fall. BU took on the ambitious challenge to safely open up amidst the global pandemic. As faculty, we were required to get a weekly COVID test and my students were tested twice a week if they were going to be on campus and in my classroom.

As part of our effort to protect the community and safely conduct residential teaching, learning, and research activities, we operate our own clinical testing lab, which can test at large volumes and return results rapidly.

Fortunate for me and my students one of the testing sites is located in my building at 808 Comm. Ave. Unfortunately, it occupied our CFA gallery—it’s worth the temporary sacrifice.

Left to Right: 808 COVID Gallery and some conflicting messages

For students that choose not to come back to campus or could not return to campus, BU set up what was called Learn from Anywhere (LfA).

As described in BU Today, the aim of LfA is to present the same academic content to all students, whether they are in a classroom, in a BU residence, or in another country, and to allow all students to take part in equivalent learning activities.

To say the least—I knew this would be challenging for all of us. I decided early on that I was going to try to make the best experience I could for students who participated in class or remotely. I also wanted to make all my classes as collaborative as possible, many of the projects were teams of 2 to 5 students. Collaborative projects have their share of complications but I think this helped students connect even if they had to stay 6 ft or 6,000 mi away.

From top left to right: Students presenting in class while others participate remotely, large scale installation, and critique

One thing I found to be effective when we could not tightly gather around the classroom tables, handle or pass around work, or even all be in the same room at the same time was large scale space, large screens, and large scale projection. I love design at all scales but there is an important pedagogical experience to seeing things at a human scale or larger for discussion and critique.

Check out a few outstanding projects from CFA AR 483 Senior Studio here: Design In Question Installation: Design Nomads, 27–1024: Question Exhibition, and 9:12 PM.

Interdisciplinary Performance

My role continues to grow in collaboration with the BU Spark! program. As well as co-teaching the Technology Innovation Fellowship I am the Creative Director of Spark! which allows me to work with students in the X-Lab program.

Students participating in the X-Lab are provided with opportunities to work on a wide range of computer science and software engineering projects on behalf of external partners from diverse sectors.

One of the ongoing X-Lab projects has been working with Clay Hopper and the School of Theater at BU on his project, A Random Act.

The goal of this project is to combine computer vision and generative graphics to create an application that can be used to follow and track actors on the play stage. The students have been working with technologies that allow them to interpret the data that is being created from the camera, recognize human forms, and then create visual effects coming from the human skeleton in order to simulate complementary effects.

This project has been going on for multiple semesters now and is one of my favorite interdisciplinary collaborations I’ve been apart of.

Projection lab testing at the Booth Theater

Design Axl keeps rolling

While life at BU turned remote, so did our work and clients at Design Axl. 2020 was a big year as we launched our new website, started a social media presence through an Instagram page, and worked for a portfolio of new clients executing projects ranging in branding, product UI/UX, motion graphics, and web design.

I also hired my former student, Arjun Kumar who has been working with me remotely since the pandemic started. Even though he is based out of New Delhi, India we have been operating our workflow quite smoothly with a virtual workspace on Trello and other collaborative design software tools. No matter what, one thing that this pandemic has taught is the power of remote work and collaboration with others despite the physical distance and difference in time zone.

Arjun + James celebrating 2021 👍

The cobbler gets new shoes!

As we were approaching the 3rd anniversary of Design Axl, I realized that it was high time that the website got a facelift. Over the years we’ve been so fortunate to work with amazing clients on complex and interesting web, brand, and digital products, that we wanted to revamp our site to update all our new projects and make it easier for viewers to see what we offer and have worked on over the years.



Polyplexus is developed by Aixxia, a not-for-profit consortium of cross-disciplinary experts, dedicated to exploring different means of amplifying the power of science, in the pursuit of invention and innovation. Design Axl, created a completely new information architecture, visual design, front-end, and back-end system.



One of the most exciting projects that we worked on was to create an app that analyzes and measures the risk of social media content in real-time. MediaVax arms media and business for the fight against social disinformation. We created the entire UX flow, wireframes, UI, and visual design. Design Axl teamed up with the data science team at MediaVax on the back end AI pipeline and Code Greene on the front end development. Design, development, and data science worked hand in hand over many weeks to create a prototype for MediaVax to test with users.

MediaVax UX/UI process diagram
MediaVax app screenshots

Trio Health

Trio Health works with biopharmaceutical companies using a proprietary technology platform that redefines the approach and methodology of collecting data on real world patients. Design Axl has been working on a persona-driven UI dashboard that enables their stakeholders—Physicians, Pharmacy, and Payers—to intuitively browse and filter this data.

Work in progress: Trio Health


We continued our work with Grid City, launching various new cans in 2020. We designed the labels for the Seltzer pack — Hoppy Hard, Cucumber Lime, and Rosé Hard Seltzer, and The Big Fruitcake barleywine ale.

Creative Industries Zone (CIZ)

The South Salt Lake Arts organization approached us to design a logo for their Creative Industries Zone in South Salt Lake, Utah. This zone possesses a wealth of small industrial buildings offering flexible, inexpensive space for startup enterprises, artists, craftsman industries, and small service businesses. Owners and tenants cherish the location, flexible zoning, appropriate real estate, the rugged character, and the company of other creative entrepreneurs.

CIZ logo sketches

Looking forward

Keeping myself busy helped avoid some of the difficulties of this past year, but I could not have gotten through it without my family, thank you—and thank you for reading! I look forward to new endeavors in 2021. If you ever want to discuss design, teaching, or client work, please drop me a line, I’d love to chat. What’s one more zoom call?

Clap 👏, Follow 🏃 , or email me 📧 : james@axl.design | jjgrady@bu.edu



James Grady

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