Cleveland Balances Design Prowess, Social Causes
By Emily A. Michael
Imagine walking through Piccadilly Circle in London with dozens of taxis, hundreds of people and bright lights of billboards circling around you. Among this dizzying array of motion and colors, one thing captures your eye. It's a London taxicab, but its color is not your typical yellow; it's orange and covered in polka dots.
The unique taxicab that stopped you in your tracks is the visual product of Cleveland Design, a company founded in Boston and owned by Jonathan Cleveland, a 1984 Central Missouri alumnus. The weekend brainstorming session that inspired the striking cab (more than 70 on the streets of London) paid off for his firm - winning an international design award and accomplishing the mission of bringing the global brand of Thomson Reuters, one of his largest clients, to the streets of London.
With clients ranging in size from multi-national corporations to small startups, Cleveland is known for not only his creative talent but for a deep commitment to use design to make a difference. Take, for instance, his work on the community project, Fidelity FutureStage, a music and theatre program sponsored by Fidelity Investments that inspires children in the arts. Queen Latifah hosted the playwriting contest, Elton John was honorary chair, and the winning plays were produced on Broadway.
Considering Cleveland's enthusiasm for nonprofit and cause-related marketing, it comes as no surprise that he co-authored Designing for the Greater Good, published by Harper Collins in 2010. Cleveland and co-author, Peleg Top, produced the book to serve as a resource for designers, creative professionals, marketers, corporate communications departments and non-profit leaders. The first of its kind, the book features a compilation of nonprofit campaigns developed by firms whose outstanding branding and design work has received praise and national recognition. The book had one of the highest entry rates with more than 3,500 submissions from designers throughout the world.
The groundbreaking book is typical of Cleveland's inventiveness, a trait that surfaced during his UCM days. He actually invented his own major in his first year.
"I was lucky enough to know exactly what I wanted to do for a career at that young age," he says. "UCM didn't offer the exact degree I was looking for, so I developed my own curriculum and went through the approval process of creating an individualized degree in marketing-advertising. I knew I was a good artist, but I wanted the business degreeover a graphic arts degree." That combination has paid off according to his success.
Eight years after graduating from UCM, he formed Cleveland Design, acclaimed as one of the top 20 design firms in New England by the Boston Business Journal. He has kept his firm small to build closer relationships with his clients and to give them more personal attention.
"Through the years we have maintained a sold client base, and even though we are small, we keep big clients," says Cleveland.
He is enjoying his much-deserved success from Designing for the Greater Good as well as developing campaigns for his own clients and local nonprofits. His career has led to speaking engagements teaching nonprofit leaders about the importance of design for their marketing, including a workshop he's conducting this fall for the American Marketing Association's Nonprofit Conference.
"It just makes sense to give back with your talents," he adds. "Successful design for nonprofit organizations relies on a true partnership, where the designer is connected to the cause, and the organization has accurately portrayed its culture and clientele."
When asked what the best moment of his career has been, Cleveland replies, "The book is a great high point, but I think the constant satisfaction of doing great design for the 'greater good' is always a high point. I love my job. I started my company 18 years ago and every day is something new and different and exciting."