Digital Age Design

Visual design graduate Jessie Farris ’11 is helping pave the digital design path for the IBM Mobile Innovations Lab.

Jessie Farris ’11 works on a project for the IBM Mobile Innovations Lab.

Jessie Farris ’11 works on a project for the IBM Mobile Innovations Lab.

She works as a graphic designer for the Austin, Texas-based company, comprised of 25 software developers and 10 designers.

The lab was founded in February 2014, and partnered with Apple in July to build a wide array of enterprise apps. The partnership hones the strengths of each company to transform mobility through business apps—bringing IBM’s data and analytics capabilities to iPhone and iPad.

The mobile innovations team develops and designs native apps as well as skeleton apps, which provide the coding, structure and design for large companies with internal programmers. The overarching team goal is to accelerate the delivery of mobile solutions to clients.

“The diversity of my job is the best part,” said Farris, who is originally from Rapid City. “Web and mobile design are so important in today’s world, and I love being a part of that. It’s our job to push the boundaries of what mobile devices can do.”

Farris’ design process involves researching, creating wireframes, consulting with stakeholders, designing and then working with the development team to make the app a reality.

“User testing is a big part of app development, and we test a lot of the apps ourselves. If we feel the app is profitable, we push it out to our clients.”

Farris said some of the apps are tested internally at IBM. “The company is large, so employees test the usability,” she said. “But we also have sponsored users to help with testing.”

The Mobile Innovations Lab team members are encouraged to work from home one day a week to get out of the office environment and promote creativity.

“One of the best parts of being a designer is the ability to work from anywhere, as long as there’s Wi-Fi and electricity,” said Farris.

“We’re allowed to work remotely on Fridays. When I’m not at a coffee shop working, I’m usually floating around the house. It’s hard for me to stay creative in one setting. I have little pieces of design inspiration all over my house that help trigger creativity.”

State mentors

A few key mentors played a vital part in Farris’ passion for design.

One of Farris’ hobbies is photography.

One of Farris’ hobbies is photography.

She took her first design class with printmaking professor Diana Behl and fell in love with the class.

“Tim Steele and Diana Behl were two of my most helpful mentors throughout college,” said Farris. “They made me care about the work I was doing and pushed me to the next level. They made me love my time in Brookings. I will never forget how much they helped me.”

Behl said as a student, Farris had a steadfast curiosity about learning all aspects of design and printmaking. “She always pushed herself to improve, pursued new discoveries and engaged in conversation about contemporary and historical processes,” said Behl. “This understanding, inquiry and work ethic has contributed to Jessie’s success.”

Right out of college, Farris started working as lead designer for a Minneapolis-based wedding company. She designed wedding websites, invitations and stationery.

She worked for the company for two and one-half years, and then moved to Sioux Falls to work as a designer for Lemonly, a visual data design company. She worked at Lemonly for a year before moving to Austin in April 2014.

Blogger, freelancer

Farris said she still freelances for Lemonly and enjoys working on other freelance design jobs in her spare time.

When she’s not pushing pixels at IBM, Farris maintains her personal design blog, By Jessie Kay.

She started the blog while at State, and said it has served as a central creative outlet. “My blog has been a big part of my design career,” she said.

“I started out just putting up little mood boards of designs that inspired me. But having that online presence has helped me get all my jobs. That’s how both Lemonly and IBM found me.”

As a designer with a day job and a freelance business on the side, Farris said her design processes cross-pollinate.

“For freelancing, I start with a detailed client questionnaire,” said Farris. “Once the timelines and budgets have been approved, I design a mood board to make sure the client and I have the same mindset. Then, I move into a black and white design phase. Once it’s heading in a strong direction, I start building the project out and adding color.”

Dad, an inspiration

Farris vividly remembers being amidst her dad’s design work growing up. “He worked as a golf course designer and did a lot of his work from home,” said Farris, noting Ron now works as a golf course designer in China.

Farris said her dad drew all his designs and maps from hand in his basement office.

“I remember he always had his drawing supplies out,” said Farris. “I used to watch him draw maps, and I think that had a huge influence on me.”

Farris’ mom, Janelle, works as a psychology teacher for Rapid City Stevens High School. Farris’ younger sister, Betsy, works as a mechanical engineer in San Antonio, Texas, and her younger brother, John, is a sophomore at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Artistic Austin

Farris said she couldn’t be happier in Austin. “The city is so vibrant,” she said. “There is so much art and culture here. The city’s young, fun design crowd really fits me. It seems like everyone here is a designer.”

Farris’ second passion is running. “I have been doing a lot more trail runs because there are so many trails in the heart of downtown,” she said. “It’s a totally different terrain than the Midwest.”

Farris is excited to be part of the up-and-coming Mobile Innovations Lab, and is looking forward to what the future holds.

“I design because it’s a way to combine art and my daily life,” said Farris. “I think it’s because of that feeling I get when I have a breakthrough or I’m in the zone and spend hours designing. Those are the moments when I look up from my computer and say, ‘Dang, I love design.’

“Expressing myself creatively in my career was always a dream. And the fact that I am doing that now is gratifying.”

Karissa Kuhle

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