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Meet Claudine Jaenichen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Claudine Jaenichen.

Hi Claudine, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I am a tenured professor in graphic design at Chapman University, Department Chair, and I am visual communication specialist for FEMA, the California Governor’s Office, and Emergency Management across the state of California for fire and tsunami public evacuation campaigns. I serve in elected roles as VP Communications for the International Institute of Information Design, Executive Board of Directors for Design Network for Emergency Management, and Board of Governors for Communication Research Institute. My wife and I were high school sweethearts, going on 30 years this February, and we share our lives with our incredible kids, our 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. Where it began. I didn’t want to go to art school. When the time came to declare what I wanted to pursue in college, I declared that I wanted to be a forest firefighter. My twin sister and I are first-generation German/Filipina raised by a single parent who worked graveyard shifts for most of our childhood. Education was always a priority and even though our parents supported whatever topic we wanted to pursue, fire fighting was something they couldn’t get behind (or maybe they just knew me better than I knew myself….which ended up being true!).

I went to CalArts to pursue my Graphic Design degree with a full push from my parents. I graduated and worked in advertising and design agencies, but I wasn’t happy. My hero complex itched and nagged. I finally committed and applied for the Santa Baraba Sherriff’s Search and Rescue team and began a year-long training program. I also attended night college to earn my EMT certification. There were two parts of me, designer by day and SAR on weeknights and weekends. Truth be told, my parents did know me better than I knew myself. Although I earned my EMT certification, I was on the verge of fainting seeing blood during my required ER internship hours. I still shake at the memory of giving CPR for 15-minutes to a young woman who didn’t survive. I would get car sick getting called-in for rescue and could barely stand to get my gear on without puking. But I didn’t give up until the ultimate pivot came during Swift Water Training. I had to be rescued during the final day of the certification as I dragged down the Kern River, my team slowly realizing that one of their own was in distress. That day was the day I ran back to graphic design, embraced it fully. I wanted to find a way for design to be a rescue worker, to help people in distress and in emergencies. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, so my wife and I left the country so I can pursue my graduate degree in England in Information Design.

I studied cognitive stress processing, disaster psychology, the psychology of ingress and egress, and committed to an interdisciplinary approach to design. I was hyper-focused on wayfinding for disaster planning and eventually received a reputation for being a specialist. I am a “translator” between national and local government and the public redrawing diagrammatic maps for wildfire and tsunami evacuation so they are clearer, understandable, accessible, and memorable. Instead of scientific GIS maps, my maps reference publication transportation maps with a combination of accuracy but more importantly, legibility and consistency. For the state of California, TsunamiClear and FireClear have become brands of their own no matter what county or city they are applied in. This is to ensure advocacy for public understanding so people don’t have to relearn different mapping systems, visual codes, or jargon. Traditional maps, although highly accurate for decision-makers, are not inclusive. The skill of having to read maps is complex, and under stress, ineffective.

For FEMA, we are unifying the description of shelter-in-place orders for various disasters across the United States that will be a unified voice that includes FEMA, the CDC, and OSHA. I have also worked with reunification information for students and parents for school districts with an increase in active shootings. This past summer, I worked with my university to develop signage in the context of COVID and am currently investigating the effectiveness of COVID messaging since the pandemic took hold in March 2019. As young adults, we learn that disciplines are territorial, that we have to choose one over the other. It wasn’t until I merged two distinct passions and stopped keeping them separate, owned it, that I found my true calling.

You’ve had an amazing career and it’s inspiring to hear how you are using your skills and experience to help out with Covid and Covid-releated public health messaging.  Looking back at your career, can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been an easy or smooth road in retrospect?
Obstacles and challenges are gems when it comes to success. I’ve had plenty that I am grateful for. If it weren’t for failures I had along the way, it wouldn’t have nudged me to pursue another direction. Working as a senior designer, I experienced 9/11 as a hammer brought down so hard it numbed me., took my hearing and senses away. That year was a cloud with a loss of feeling, understanding, comprehension. On top of the national grieving, the design industry took an economic hit. All of my colleagues were losing jobs but I had mine because our major clients became military driven industries. We were at war and I was designing surveillance and missile support catalogs. It was spiritually my lowest point in my career, questioning everything I was doing. That year was the year I applied to grad school. I was mid-career and my wife was finishing her graduate degree in psychology. We were just about to hit our 30’s and it was challenging to stop the momentum and live off $1 a day in another county being students again. With her support, we did it. The lowest moment in my career also became the most important pivot in my career.

Who else deserves credit in your story?
First and foremost, my wife, Sonia Lopez. She has been my #1 supporter, advocate, pusher, and has free fallen with me since we met when we were 15. She gave me the confidence that I deserved to go to grad school, that I could step up and be a professor and researcher. Her support continues to be neverending and unconditional. My twin sister who knows my weakness and strengths and is my foundation. She always knew I would have a career that wasn’t traditional and still to this day provides a platform to keep questioning how far, wide, and deep I can go! My parents came from different countries and didn’t speak English, even to each other! My dad spoke German, my mom Filipino, and their commitment to come to the United States and begin life from scratch has always been a model for me. My dad was a single parent and raised us from the age of six and worked graveyard for most of our childhood. Yet he was present and coached our teams, and provided us with stability. He gave me the platform without a doubt that forest fire fighting could be an option.

Julie Connor-Daniels was my first boss in a graphic design agency when I was 21. She taught me how to be a kick-ass female business owner with compassion, flexibility, and inclusion. She was my doorway mentor in the design business and included me in everything, from photoshoots to hosting client meetings and focus groups. Today, she is one of those people I keep for the moments I need clarity to ask “what would Julie do”? Paul Stiff, my graduate professor at the University of Reading in England. He opened a world in information design like no other. He spoke of information design in the most intimate and impactful way. His passion was contagious and infectious. He also introduced me to my first glass of whiskey at a class meeting (…hey, it’s England!). Mcyguyver (from the 80s). Every kid has a poster or hero they look up to. Mine was Mcyguyver. At an early age, his character taught me about problem-solving in crisis situations. I wanted to be him and perhaps found a way to make that dream happen.

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Image Credits
Teaching images by Xavi Ablaza Other images were personal photographs

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