UI graphic design program head wins award for Black Lives Matter poster

Graphic design professor Jeremy Swanston’s poster “Say Their Names,” inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, received the silver award from Graphis last month.


Larry Phan

Jeremy Swanston poses next to his award winner poster, “Say Their Names,” in his office at the Visual Arts Building in Iowa City on Dec. 3, 2021. Swanston believes that his piece of art would “bring some sort of awareness to this cause,” as it was his original motivation.

Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

Art and design have the power to inspire social change. Jeremy Swanston knows this and aims to use his art to motivate others to take action.

Swanston is an associate professor of graphic design and the program head of graphic design in the UI’s School of Art and Art History. Inspired and moved by the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Swanston created a poster listing names of victims of police brutality.

In November, Swanston was notified by Graphis, an international publisher of books that celebrates “global talents in design” that he’d won a Silver Medal award for his poster, titled “Say Their Names.”

The particular collection that Swanston’s piece is a part of focuses on social justice issues across the globe and will be printed in one of Graphis’ upcoming publications.

“Being able to do this was a socially-oriented topic, and having it reverberate across cultures was very powerful,” Swanston said.

Swanston said the poster itself is intentionally designed to encourage viewers to act. He noted that the names are rendered in a bold, all-caps typeface to encourage the viewer to take in each individual name and feel overwhelmed by the meaning behind them.

“I just felt compelled to create something that could potentially help raise awareness,” Swanston said. “In my work as a professor, I try to communicate to my students that our personal and professional identities often intersect and using your talents to help advance equity is vital.”

Swanston has also won awards for other endeavors in the past, both within and outside of the graphic design industry. In 2016, he won a platinum award for a separate social justice infographic series pertaining to violence. He has also won multiple awards for an app he developed called “SOBE Stories,” which promotes positive social and emotional development to children aged three to five.

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Ultimately, Swanston said that the intention of the poster is to promote awareness, and actively encourage critical action on the topic of police brutality and the pervasive loss of life that it results in.

“Last year deeply moved me, seeing so many people come together and stand up against injustice,” Swanston said. “It was a moment where so many felt a duty as fellow citizens and humans to be allies for the BLM movement.”