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Design professor lands project in Times Square

When Assistant Professor of Design Ron Edelen dives into freelance design projects with some of the most recognizable brands in the world, that translates into opportunity and real-world knowledge for his students. 

2021 was a busy year for Edelen. While he devotes much of his time to teaching Jacksonville University media art and design students, any spare moment outside the classroom is spent conceptualizing projects for ad agencies and brands like T-Mobile, Porsche, and Couchbase.

In collaboration with San Francisco-based ad agency Skona, the most visible of those projects was for Couchbase, a tech company launching its initial public offering. 

In Times Square, the marketing mecca plastered with advertisements, lights, color, and people in New York City, Edelen’s motion design for Couchbase was featured in the middle of it all – illuminating the curved 12,000-square-foot Nasdaq screen as the company opened trading on the New York Stock Exchange.  

But he says the hard work and long hours are well worth it. It not only keeps his skills sharp, but he can deliver relevant, real-world knowledge to his students, which is crucial for faculty of any discipline. 

“A student could come in and say, ‘hey, how can you do XYZ in this new application?’ And having that exposure in actual commercial practice helps me not only navigate them and facilitate their learning but also respond in a way that’s relevant,” he said.

Leveraging longtime contacts and clients landed him several design jobs in the past several months for high-profile clients.

For T-Mobile, Edelen designed work to go along with its launch of 5G networks for business applications. In the past, he’s also helped the mobile phone provider design 3D enhanced, mobile-compatible immersive websites. 

He’s also helping Porsche promote its test track in Atlanta, Georgia, where drivers can test out different car models. He helped design digital materials on how customers can custom-build their vehicles and experience driving them on the track. That project has yet to be released, he said.

Examples of Edelen’s animation piece for Porsche.

Those clients join a long list of major brands Edelen works with, including HGTV, Volvo, Mack Trucks, Google, Amazon, MetLife, NFL Network, Regal Boats, BMW and Dr Pepper.

Prior to teaching at Jacksonville University, Edelen owned a digital advertising agency in Charlotte, North Carolina for over 10 years.

While his main focus today is teaching, Edelen keeps a large roster of ongoing projects for his extensive network of clients, translating that experience to guide students in his classes.

“There’s a lot of commercial value and benefit to designers in the marketplace,” he said. “So we talk about how you charge for what you do from a fee-for-service base. How do you negotiate salaries? What’s the difference between hourly and value based? All kinds of things that we need to discuss as creative individuals in today’s economy. But it’s hugely important to justify the value that we bring.”

Along with the upper-level design classes he teaches at Jacksonville University School of Art & Design, Edelen teaches a course in creative entrepreneurship. There, he’s able to impart his knowledge and help students better sell their talents.

If students want similar gigs to his following graduation, Edelen stresses the importance of finding a niche within design, whether that’s a field of study or design specialization. For him, that’s emerging technology such as mixed reality, motion and immersive interactive design.

“When there’s a project associated with those areas of interest, I raise my hand and we jump onto it,” he said. 

By Katie Garwood