Michael Jager—tall, thin, and unassuming—entered the room with a smile.
“The human connection seems to be breaking down,” he said, opening his conversation on fearless empathy with a video of a couple kissing passionately. His mission in the design world is to create things that reinforce and encourage that connection—a connection that stimulates a sensual memory, like a person’s first kiss.
In an incredible two hours, Michael Jager illustrated his achievements at JDK Design with the perfect amount of humor and audience interaction. Using such clients as Burton Snowboards, Zune, and Xbox 360, he explained the importance of empathy in his line of work. “Clients are not villains or meat… Always practice respect for your audience. People are not dumb.” JDK’s success stems from the firm’s resilient recognition of that human connection and the importance of empathizing with those they work for: the brands and the community.
MFA graduate students and community members alike sat enthralled as Michael Jager displayed a design for a Burton Snowboard done entirely in blue ink from a Bic Pen, followed by more designs drastically different from the one preceding it. He explained the importance of starting from scratch for each design: “Kill what you know,” he said. “There is always more to learn.”
After encouraging the audience to always “disrupt with substance,” Michael Jager did just that, inviting the MFA graduate students present to participate in an activity titled Hand Jobs. Each person was given a mirror, a pad of paper, and one minute to complete a self-portrait without lifting the pen from the paper. When that minute was up, each pad was passed around three times to a different person, each participant adding first a noun, then a verb, and finally an adjective.
The end results garnered much laughter as each person read from the pad, presenting such creations as “Ground See Green” and “Frantic Thought Bomb.” It was a successful use of William S. Burroughs’ cut-up method, in which the consciousness of a group is merged and overlapped to create what may be lurking in the collective unconscious. “Don’t think, make,” Michael Jager said as he watched the MFA graduate students draw. “Make yourself make, and don’t stop.”
While part of the Emergent Landscape Speaker Series for the MFAs in Emergent Media, Michael Jager’s conversation on fearless empathy applied to all those present, Champlain College undergraduates and community members alike.
“Disregard where your abilities end. You can always go further.”
“Seek criticism, not praise.”
JDK’s success is largely due to the design talent inside the firm, but also remarkable is the company’s values and the idea of living brands that resonates with consumers and clients equally. Michael Jager made design sound personal, with each client and each assignment no more or less important than the ones before and after it. His notion of “fearless empathy” is easily applicable to any and every relationship, business or personal, and though unassuming and personable, it was very clear by the end of the conversation that Michael Jager was an expert on the idea of the human connection.