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Designing New Spaces

By Trey Crumbie | Photography provided | Published June 2021
Oen Hammonds

Oen Michael Hammonds (99’) is a bit of a celebrity in the design world. He has completed work for several Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, BMW and Procter & Gamble. His professional background includes jobs with the United States Army, Northern Kentucky University and various advertising agencies. He’s also been featured on design-focused podcasts and has been a speaker at several conferences and gatherings. To say he’s interested in design is a bit of an understatement.

“There’s always something new,” Hammonds says of why he loves design. Hammonds’ interest in design started in elementary school. He was able to get his hands on a Macintosh Classic II, a personal computer from the early 80s and learned to layout type and print items. He moved on to designing things such as brochures, posters, and t-shirts for school groups.

Hammonds’ interest in design also brought him to NKU. “I still value a lot of the things I learned from, not just from my full-time faculty at NKU, but even more so the adjuncts,” he says. “The ones that were bringing in their personal, professional experience from the industry, into the classroom as well.”

While at NKU, Hammonds learned about the more nuanced aspects of design, such as timelines and how to present to a general audience or a possible client. Hammonds also now teaches part-time himself at Austin Community College in Texas. Hammonds has held several roles in Kentucky, Ohio and Texas since he graduated from NKU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design.

Hammonds, now based in Austin, Texas, says he noticed a major difference between Austin and Cincinnati.

“Back in Cincinnati, it’s a very consumer-based, business-to-business type of companies,” he says, such as a Proctor & Gamble. “When I moved to Austin, it’s a very tech-heavy industry here.”

Now Hammonds is employed by IBM where he has been for seven years. At IBM, Hammond’s job is in service design, which is described as arranging people and infrastructure to improve service quality. The job, while different, still uses the same fundamentals of good design.

“I’m still using the basic design principles,” he says. “I’m still using the basic design practices, but applying them in a different space.”

Hammonds was at first hesitant to join the IBM, but was recruited to join the computer software company by a colleague.

“Working in-house at a big, gigantic corporation and doing design in that corporation just did not sound appealing to me at all because I had all the stereotypes in my head of working in-house and being an in-house designer,” he says.

Hammonds says after visiting IBM Design new flagship studio, he was “blown away.”

“It was not what I had expected from design at a major corporation,” he says. “It was not the traditional in-house type of environment. It was extremely collaborative.”

While boasting an expansive portfolio, one of Hammonds’ favorite projects was a “soul book” when he was working for what was then-known as advertising agency, SicolaMartin. The book was used to introduce new employees to the company and was styled similar to a newspaper. The book showcased the employees of the company, as well as the wide-ranging work schedule and the work culture. 

“We didn’t try to work that project in the way of putting out this shiny, fluffy public relations version of ourselves,” he says. “We wanted you to know what it was truly like to work at the company and everything that came with it.”

In April, Hammonds spoke at the State of Black Design Conference at Texas State University which was presented by IBM. The conference focused on networking, development and career opportunities for younger designers.

Hammond spoke about his past and how it impacted his professional career.  The conference taught him that the Black experience is not a monolith, he says.

“You can’t take one Black person’s perspective and use it as the perspective as all of our experiences,” he says. “We each have our own stories. We each have our own journeys. And more people need to hear those stories.”

You can learn more about NKU Alumnus Hammonds here.