Meet the Faculty: David Ewald, professor of practice in brand Innovation

David Ewald
David Ewald

Hometown: Beloit, Wisconsin (a small city on the border with Illinois)

Primary research interest: Human-centric design and brand innovation

Favorite quote: “I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don’t notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is.”—David Byrne, “True Stories”

Say “hello!”:  Follow him on Twitter @IamEwald

David Ewald has taught advertising classes as an adjunct professor at the University of Oregon since 2010, focusing on “introducing students to design methodologies that fall beyond strategy or creative endeavors.” This fall, has solidified his position at the School of Journalism and Communication as the school’s first professor of practice in brand innovation.

Ewald has a lot of wisdom about advertising and design to share with his students. He has held director positions at agencies like Pinpoint Logic and Wieden + Kennedy, and he co-founded Uncorked Studios, a design agency in Portland that has taken on such clients as Google and Facebook.

We caught up with Ewald to find out more about his work in brand innovation.

What interests you about design and brand innovation?

I’m most interested in how design can impact the world. This is, of course, quite broad and can happen in the smallest and most world-changing ways.

I’m fascinated by how we consider — or, specifically, don’t consider — the role of everyday design in everything from how we arrange our homes to how language is designed to how we shape the political world (such as the shift from “global warming” to “climate change” to “climate crisis”). Nearly everything in our world is designed in some form or another, be it services, products, language or our governing systems. Through this lens, I believe the role of design involves and requires participation from far more people than “designers.”

How did you get involved with brand innovation?

While I think innovation happens in every career and every brand, my former company Uncorked Studios is where we primarily focused on helping our clients best understand their audience, the relationships they hope to forge, the opportunities that could exist through some sort of shifts (including technology), the contexts and consequences of those shifts and how to navigate all of it.

Our work would be to first and foremost uncover root questions or motivations before offering potential pathways forward. Often the solution could take radically different forms, be it applying emergent technology to a particular situation or simply changing the way things have always been done at a brand.

What’s the value in studying brand innovation?

While I think this has always been the case, the world is in a constant state of change. The pace seems to have shifted as we understand how new tech might apply to old problems — for example, artificial intelligence. But the basic truth is that systems are constantly changing around us. This applies to every sector of our lives, be it public or private industries.

Through that lens, I think the value lies not just in studying brand innovation (beyond brands), but in understanding innovation in some fundamental way. Understanding the questions that led to innovation. Understanding prototyping. Understanding change and the context that either forces or motivates that change. My hope is to move far beyond citing case studies of brands or their agency partners by building core skills that students can use in whatever field they enter.

What are the most influential books you’ve read?

There are so many books about design practice, but “The Shape of Design” by Frank Chimero is a singular statement that has served as a beacon since I first read it. Relatable, philosophical and about so much more than “design.”

Also “The Dispatch Series” by Alec Soth and Brad Zellar. A number of years ago, photographer Soth and writer Zellar began publishing these large-format newspapers. The two would travel to areas of the country for a couple of weeks at a time, collecting photos and stories that would be printed in these pages. Each issue was a revelation that mixed the humor, beauty, tragedy and hope of everyday America.

Who has influenced your perspective the most?

Mickey Bergman is VP of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement. His work there inspired him to create a group called Fringe Diplomacy that, in his words, explores the space just beyond the boundaries of states’ and governments’ capacity and authority in international relations. Mickey’s ability to recognize so many challenges in the world with eyes open and to always see glimmers of optimism has forever changed my perspective and life.

Mohammad Zubair is a friend I’ve never met in person, but I feel I know him well. He is one of the one million-plus Rohingya who were forced to flee their villages in Rakhine state in Myanmar. While visiting Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, I heard and saw firsthand the atrocities the Rohingya have suffered. I also heard person after person describing their own experiences — something they hoped more in the world would listen to. I started planning a photography project that would focus on seeing the world directly through the individual stories of a variety of Rohingya community members. More specifically, what deeper human stories might emerge if their community had cameras to share their experiences and their everyday?

Mohammad is one of the recipients of our cameras and has become a friend via ongoing conversations and photos on WhatsApp. As with the other notable people on this list, Mohammad has helped me understand what it means to be brave. He is one of millions, yet his story is vital to help the world understand both the unthinkable inhumanity and the power of resilience.

What do you hope to accomplish at the SOJC?

I hope to make a difference in students’ lives and career trajectories. My hope is to bring my years of real-world industry experience to the fore, learning how that experience might apply to a school like the SOJC.

I want to help elevate the design acumen within the school, both in concept and execution. I also want to move beyond “innovation” as a largely technology-based term. Innovation can take so many forms with or without technology, some small and some extremely complex. My hope is to broaden the scope of how we consider innovation and how we can best support students moving into fields that require constant adaptation.

Kristin Kessler is an SOJC senior majoring in journalism and minoring in environmental studies to prepare her for a career as an environmental journalist.