UML Professor Ingrid Hess’ Vibrant Designs Inspire Change.
For Ingrid Hess, an author-illustrator of children’s books and assistant professor of graphic design at UMass Lowell, an ethical mission has long been intertwined with her work as an artist and teacher. When Hess left a high-pressure publishing job in 1999, she had to decide whether she wanted to stay in the design field. After a long meeting with herself, Hess arrived at a conclusion: If she could find ways to incorporate her core values into design work, a proper balance would be struck.
In the years since, Hess has encouraged her students to design with ethics in mind. She says design is a tool like any other: “You can use a hammer for good or you can use a hammer for bad. The hammer itself is neutral.”
Hess sees designing for children as one of the most effective ways to seed change. During the summer of 2018, she traveled to Ireland as a Fulbright Scholar and created visual teaching materials at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. The college educates 40% of Ireland’s elementary school teachers. She realized the use of her materials by teachers was a great way to inspire kids. There, she designed banners to convey messages on the topics of diversity and immigration in Ireland, while weaving in the history of Irish immigration to America.
Hess’ recent book, “Mr. Magnificent’s Magical Merrimack Adventure,” incorporates the Irish heritage of one of the kid characters with his three friends of Cambodian, Greek and Kenyan descent. As they gaze upon the Merrimack Valley from Mr. Magnificent’s hot-air balloon, the children peer into the past at images ranging from Native American ways of life pre-contact to 19th century immigrant mill workers fighting for fair wages. A reminder of the journeys undertaken by their own ancestors ties together their new perspective. Hess sought insight from UMass Lowell history professors in the creation of the book, and that kind of collaboration is part of what she cherishes about working at a university.
In a related project, a new website is expected to go live by Jan. 1 that involves the efforts of Hess, UMass Lowell history professor Robert Forrant, and student researchers and designers. The site, which will be called the Library of New England Immigration, will be the first of its kind. The purpose of the database is to compile in one location the information from several different reservoirs of immigration history.
While Forrant’s history students gather research, some of Hess’ students will design motion graphics to bring stories to life. “I couldn’t make that website; he provided 100% of the content,” Hess says. “But he couldn’t make that website; he had all this content and nothing to do with it. And so, it was really in the collaboration that something magic happened.”
Hess is also excited about another upcoming project, in which she’ll work with UMass Lowell Kennedy College of Sciences Dean Noureddine Melikechi to create an illustrated book on the science of color.
And there’s more. This summer, Hess will fly to Australia for an artist’s residency at Wollemi National Park. She’ll be synthesizing her love of the STEAM ethic (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) with her mission to affect change by designing for kids with materials that teach proper environmental stewardship.