Ben Hannam
Ben HannamGraphic Designer, Educator, and Author

About Me

I believe design is an instrument of organization, a means of relating objects to people, a medium for persuasion, and a way to cope with the complexity of life. In this context, I’ve endeavored to use my skills to help solve complex problems, communicate with clarity, and work creatively. The idea that there is no singular path to solving a design problem has been consistently reflected in my own research, design methodologies, and educational philosophy. Whether building a 15-foot tall sculpture to spark debate about stem cell research or designing a politically-themed postage stamp, my goal has been to become fluent in whatever mediums are best suited to reaching my audience and communicating with impact.

My approach to teaching stems from my interest in design as both a creative pursuit and a means of communication. Culture, technology, personal expression, and creativity are as important for the designer to embrace as more formal considerations such as the design principles, typography, compositional techniques, and gestalt theory. I believe the best designers demonstrate a high degree of control over the design principles as well as unique and creative approaches to problem-solving, and this is a model I’ve tried to follow throughout my career as a graphic designer and educator.

My career took an unexpected turn in 2003 with an offer to teach overseas at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. During this time, I was able to help a developing country deliver its message to the world, “We value education.” My three-year teaching experience in the Middle East left an indelible mark on me as an educator, designer, and world citizen, and helped me appreciate diversity in a way I had never imagined possible. I was able to use this opportunity to positively affect the lives of young Muslim women as they transformed themselves into confident women and designers and helped their country advance and develop its visual identity.

When I arrived as an Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech in 2006, I looked for ways I could continue to make an impact on the university and my students. I published a journal article titled Creating Experiential Learning Environments1 and developed a pedagogy that focused on getting students to identify as designers in training. The following year my priorities shifted in response to the tragic Virginia Tech campus shooting, so I organized a film festival to foster a greater sense of community. As I mentioned earlier, design responds to human need, and my students were struggling to make sense of a very violent act. As such, I created an event where students collaborated together to create a series of short films, and the audience voted on their favorite submissions, together we enjoyed a moment that was positive, light-hearted, and community-focused. A short time later I resumed my research and authored A Graphic Design Student’s Guide to Freelance: Practice Makes Perfect,2 which was based on my earlier pedagogical approach to helping students identify as designers in training and better contextualize their educational experiences.

My family and I transitioned to Chapel Hill, NC to continue our careers and I joined Elon University in 2014 as an Associate Professor. The School of Communications was starting a new graphic design program and I was offered an opportunity to play a key role in helping develop the program. There were only five students in the Communication Design major when it launched in 2014, and today there are over 160. The registrar reports that the Communication Design major is one of the top ten fastest growing majors on campus. During this time, I’ve experienced tremendous growth as a teacher, actively sought out and participated in a number of professional development activities, and served in numerous mentor roles—including service as a faculty advisor at Live Oak Communications, which is Elon’s student-run strategic communications and public relations agency. 

In addition to teaching, I authored a second book titled, Oh @#$% I’m Graduating! A Student’s Guide to Creating a Killer Portfolio,3 which focuses on actionable strategies students can use to put their professional portfolio together and position themselves wisely. I have also collaborated with colleagues on several peer-reviewed journal articles including Teaching Coding in the Mass Communication Classroom,4 and External Resource Use of Undergraduates Learning Coding in Communications.5 Additionally, I’ve recently won several peer-reviewed design awards for my work including a silver award from International Design Awards, three American Graphic Design Awards from GD USA, an ADDY Award from the American Advertising Federation, and two awards from Creative Quarterly: The Journal of Art & Design— an Award of Excellence and the distinction of creating one of the “100 Best Pieces of 2017.” 

I have also been fortunate enough to have my graphic work displayed in a juried exhibition6 in New York City in 2018 and some of my work included in three edited books: Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy, Design;7 Organizational Behavior: A Critical-thinking Approach;8 and 500 Upcycled & Earth-friendly Designs.9

I believe a vital part of being a good educator is to also be an accomplished practitioner in your discipline. I’ve made a concerted effort to continue to practice as a graphic designer through my small business, Accomplish Studios, LLC. Although I am primarily focused on my role as an educator, some of my bigger freelance clients have included the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, and TriAdventure Multisport Coaching & Fitness. In my role as a Creative Director, I have become highly skilled in client and vendor negotiations; building and maintaining ‘win-win’ partnerships; performing in deadline-driven environments, and working within unique client constraints.

At different times throughout my career, I’ve assumed the role of learner, artist, businessman, teacher, and world traveler. These experiences have not only made me a more well-rounded person but a better graphic designer and educator. I believe I have much more to contribute to my students and profession, and I look forward to jumping into new experiences, taking on new challenges, solving new problems, and leveraging my skills as a designer and educator to continue to raise the bar for design education.

1 Hannam, B. Creating Experiential Learning Environments. Design Behaviors: International Design Research Journal, 1. 32-49. 2007.
2 Hannam, B. A Graphic Design Student’s Guide to Freelance: Practice Makes Perfect. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2012.
3 Hannam, B. Oh @#$% I’m Graduating! A Student’s Guide to Creating a Killer Portfolio. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing. 2018.
4 Sturgill, A., Hannam, B., & Walsh, B., Teaching Coding in the Mass Communication Classroom. Journal of Media Education, 8(1), 28-34.
5 Sturgill, A., Hannam, B., & Walsh, B. External Resource Use for Undergraduates Learning Coding in Communications. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 107769581771913. doi:10.1177/1077695817719134
6 Creative Quarterly Best of 2017 • Miranda Kuo Gallery • New York, NY. 2018.
7 Altstiel, T., & Grow, J. M. Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy, Design. Los Angeles: SAGE. 2018.
8 Neck, C. P., Houghton, J. D., & Murray, E. L. Organizational Behavior: A Critical-thinking Approach. Los Angeles: SAGE. 2017.
9 Wongpakdee, P. K. Art Without Waste: 500 Upcycled & Earth-friendly Designs. Beverly: Rockport. 2014.