The Charger Blog

Graphic Designer Endeavors to Transform Lives through Education

Joey Nicklas ’19 considers some of his most important work to be the billboards he designed for a New Haven continuing education center that encourage people to return to the classroom and to pursue their goals.

October 31, 2019

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Joey Nicklas ’19
Joey Nicklas ’19 in front of one of the billboards he designed.

When Joey Nicklas ’19 was a student at the University of New Haven, he was working full-time while attending classes at night.

He was moved by the real-life examples that Prof. Veronica Douglas-Givan, who taught his "Principles of Communication" course, used in class. The family and community resource coordinator for the New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center, she showed Nicklas some billboard proofs for a campaign she was working on. Despite Nicklas’s full schedule, their collaboration began.

Image of Joey Nicklas ’19.
Joey Nicklas ’19.

Immersing himself in the creative process, Nicklas, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design, began working on the campaign geared toward encouraging people to return to school. Focusing his work on transformation, he framed his designs around a literal frame of success. Inside a square frame, each subject is shown transformed into a representation of their career goal – including a nurse, a firefighter, and a plumber – career paths that require at least a high school diploma. The program also encourages people to continue their education.

"I wanted this campaign to feel huge, to be something that cannot be ignored," said Nicklas. "My work shows people that there are countless dreams they can achieve. Change happens when people speak up and demand attention."

Envisioning billboards that were both "eye-catching and powerful," Nicklas created a series of five billboards that were installed in English and in Spanish throughout New Haven, as well as other advertising materials to support the campaign. He saw it as an opportunity to enable the organization to rebrand itself – and to inspire those who saw the billboards to rebrand themselves.

"Each time a brand updates its visuals, it leaves people with the impression that they are advancing," he said. "We wanted people to advance themselves as well. The power that graphic design has blows my mind. That is why I am utterly fascinated by it, and why I am devoting my life to it."

Image of Joey Nicklas' ’19 billboard
One of the five billboard designs that Joey Nicklas ’19 created for the New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center..

While learning to harness the power of graphic design at the University, Nicklas says the program was – and remains – a home. He is grateful for the continuing support of his professors who encouraged him and taught him about the importance of critique – something that he believes is of paramount importance. He is grateful that his professors enabled him to develop his technical skills while fueling his creativity.

"Every person matters. I want them to see their future, to believe in their future, and to become that future."Joey Nicklas ’19

"I learned to think in ways that I never would have imagined," he said. "I took a class led by Professor Joe Smolinski called ‘Drawing Outside the Lines,’ and that term has resonated with me ever since. No more coloring books – let’s break the barriers and get truly creative."

Moved by statistics that reflect high rates of illiteracy and low rates of high school graduation, Nicklas saw an opportunity to make an impact by working with the New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center. He hopes the billboards he designed will inspire people to redesign their lives.

Image of Joey Nicklas ’19
Joey Nicklas ’19 earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design at the University of New Haven.

"I want to see the numbers change, but they are more than just numbers – they are people," he said. "Despite the short amount of time these billboards have been up, the signups have increased. Every person matters. I want them to see their future, to believe in their future, and to become that future."