Alum Matthew Jervis believes everyone can be a designer

Matthew Jervis (Graphic Design 2004) believes we can all be designers. Design is fundamental to how humans survive and relate to the world, he says.

This belief took shape during Jervis’s undergraduate years at CCA and solidified when he wrote his senior thesis. Today, it’s central to his work as a learning designer and educator developing enrichment after-school programs for kids and creativity-inspiring events for adults through his Berkeley–based incubator Make It Creativity.

Jervis also spreads the word on creativity during speaking engagements at places like Mills College, The Maker Faire, and the Boys & Girls Club. And he’s published a book, How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids: Tricks, Tools, and Spontaneous Screen-Free Activities.

“All of my teachings are based on the creative process and empowering people to see themselves as creative,” he says. “It’s as much a way to approach work as it is to approach life.”

— Matthew Jervis

CCA years

Jervis enrolled at CCA to study graphic design and “left with an understanding of so much more.” He says faculty pushed his boundaries and encouraged him to go beyond traditional methods and materials to create work that extends beyond what had already been done.

He learned to see how design connects with much more than just a set of strategies and theories on how to approach the visual representation of a concept or an idea. When he works with his students today, Jervis finds himself drawing from his CCA experience, asking them to dig deeper: “How else can you get where you need to be? What other ways can you deliver on set expectations?”

Working on his senior thesis was a pivotal time as he spent a semester exploring the question, “Is creativity a human survival instinct?” He produced a 20-minute film with interviews of artists from punk rock icon Jello Biafra to food activist Alice Waters in support of his argument that the true definition of creativity has little to do with human expression and everything to do with problem solving.

An unexpected path appears

“When I left school I was consumed with the idea of making meaning as a graphic designer. I wanted to see my work exist as part of a solution,” he says. He worked as a graphic designer, mainly for nonprofits, and still does today.

Shortly after graduating, the path to educate was unexpectedly set when he picked up his son from kindergarten, poked his head into the classroom, and “noticed these little people struggling to make sense of the world. I saw an opportunity for me to do something.”

He asked if he could give a craft lesson, “an experiential workshop,” to see what creativity meant at that age. Due to the popularity of that class project, MacGyverClass was born: a workshop Jervis led at four schools in the East Bay—with many others to follow. Named after the TV character MacGyver, a secret agent, the workshop introduced students to random materials and abstract challenges to solve.

“The result was amazing. Little kids were excited to be challenged.” He was instantly hooked and began to design more classes.

MacGyverClass won Best in Class for Educational Program at Maker Faire, and soon Jervis was being asked to speak to teachers, homeschool groups, and at universities and to lead creative workshops for adults and corporate events.

Time for creativity

Jervis considers himself lucky to have been raised by artistic teacher and designer parents. He wants to cultivate that creativity in his home today with his two kids and make it easy for other parents competing with the computer/phone screen to do the same. So he wrote the book How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids.

The activities are simple and can be done independent of parental involvement (so parents can get a break!). For example, there’s an Old Fashioned Treasure Hunt: hide a single dollar bill in the yard and tell the kids there are two hidden. Let them keep searching for that “second dollar bill.” Is that cruel? No, it’s funny, Jervis says. And it keeps kids occupied for a long time.

“Above all it’s about our relationship with our kids,” he says. “Being with them and also letting them have creative time on their own.” And it’s teaching them to engage with the world through creativity and problem solving.