Image credit The Ocean Agency/Adobe Stock.

The Ocean Agency is deeply committed to the cause of ocean sustainability, and the organization’s approach is to use a very human resource to make a difference: creativity. It’s a cause Adobe is passionate about, as well, and teams on both sides have been collaborating for years to come up with creative design solutions to protect our oceans. Since last year, The Ocean Agency and Adobe have been looking to the next generation of UX designers for help, creating designathon challenges, empowering them with Adobe XD tutorials, and hosting Creative Jams – the results have been nothing short of amazing.

To understand why young designers are so key in saving our warming seas, we sat down with Richard Vevers, the CEO and founder of the Ocean Agency. With an advertising background and passion for water photography, Vevers has created a unique non-profit model that puts creativity at the center of all their ocean conservation efforts. Vevers is excited about how, “new creative tools give us opportunities for accelerating ocean science and conservation.” He’s found that, “young students are coming up with all sorts of new creative ideas rather than sticking with more traditional thinking around tackling the issue facing our oceans.”

From their film Chasing Coral, to many creative collaborations with Adobe, the Ocean Agency is poised to foster the next generation of designers to create a new landscape of advocacy built on hope, and good UX design.

The evolving landscape of advocating for change: From outrage to optimism

In the past, environmental messaging would often use haunting and devastating imagery to create guilt and outrage, and the results were often a feeling of hopelessness. We can all probably recall seeing an ad of a lonely polar bear floating out to sea on a melted ice cap, or a sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged into its nasal cavity. Not to say those campaigns didn’t work, but messaging has moved off the printed pages of magazines and into the palms of our hands, creating a space ripe for engagement, hope, and optimism.

The digital space is more important now than ever before. In this “new normal,” as the world deals with the impacts of COVID-19, person-to-person meetings between advocates and others are far less frequent. This means that we need to look to the next generation of ocean advocates to share their passion for change on apps, social media, and other digital platforms.

Who best to craft and spread these messages? The next generation of designers, according to Vevers. “I would design a user experience in a very different way from someone who knows how to talk to 21 year olds, or designers, or people with a different mentality,” he said.

“I think it’s so important that we engage the young design community because they can provide the solutions that will have mass appeal. We need to bring in creative minds and people who really understand these new types of media.”

The Ocean Agency and Adobe partner to make change: Creative Jams

To foster their creativity and help transform their ideas into reality, Adobe partnered with the Ocean Agency to curate and host Creative Jams with design students from around the world. Adobe Creative Jams is a virtual event series where thought leaders share a behind-the-scenes peek into their processes and projects; meanwhile, teams compete in a tournament that puts their creative skills to the test using Adobe Creative Cloud.

Homepage for the Reefstar project by Ironhack Miami for Adobe Creative Jams.
Ironhack Miami’s “reefstar” project.

On September 13, 2019, The Ocean Agency and Adobe kicked off their first Creative Jam, Reef Stars, with four American design schools. According to Jonathan Montalvo, a member of the winning team, it was worth the sleepless nights because, “This was a great opportunity to work on something real for a team of specialists that are driven to better the quality of our world one reef at a time.” His teammate Maria Andrea Silva said, “This experience definitely helped me find my design purpose.”

Montalvo and Silva received a free trip to attend Adobe MAX and meet Vevers. “Thanks to the support of Adobe, we hired a couple of students from the first challenge to actually work on the project moving forward,” Vevers said. The lucky students were Edra Stafaj and Kerry Yu from The Master of Science in Information Experience Design (IXD) program at Pratt Institute.

Homepage for the Reefstar project by the Pratt Institute for Adobe Creative Jams.
Pratt Institute’s Reefstars” project.

For the second Jam in April, The Ocean Agency and Adobe threw open the doors to include any student who was curious about UX design in the United States or Canada. 254 students formed teams and participated in a two-week designathon. They were prompted to solve the very real-world problem of coral destruction. The brief was, how do we get people to engage with and support coral restoration? Armed with all the imagery and information necessary to tell the stories of ocean devastation, unreleased technology like Adobe Sign and Photoshop Camera, and a lesson in Adobe XD – students set out to create innovative solutions. “We were absolutely blown away by the response from students,” said Vevers. “Learning Adobe XD allowed them to turn their ideas into tangible prototypes for getting support for ocean conservation.”

After two weeks, 45 colleges met the challenge and submitted 64 clever solutions prototyped in Adobe XD. From those entries, 10 were chosen to move to the Finals. On April 29, Richard Vevers, his colleague Colette Weintraub, and Kim Hogan from World Surf League provided insightful, pointed, and valuable feedback to all ten teams. Three teams from Canadian schools won.

First place went to Team GCS from Mount Royal University, Giselle Nowlan, Chase Schrader, and Steven Tran, for their See Me Now app that utilizes custom ocean-themed filters with Adobe Camera and Adobe Sign.
UI screens from team BlauHaus' Photoshop Camera Campaign Experience app for the Reefstar Adobe Creative Jam.
Team BlauHaus, made up of Alanah Lam and Abel Abraham from Simon Fraser University won second place with Adobe Photoshop Camera Campaign Experience.
Team Duck Duck Goose, Kimberly Leung, Peter Ip, and Gavin Liang, from Emily Carr University of Art + Design won third with Ripple Effect.

The third Creative Jam invited students in Japan to come up with creative solutions for the protection of the oceans in general through engagement and UX design. 172 students from 8 universities formed 68 teams to ultimately submit 54 prototypes. “These students came back with amazingly creative solutions,” Vevers said.

One intrepid idea came from Hikaru Muraoka and Yuri Miyano from Tohuku University of Art and Design. Their mobile app game, The Coral Planets, is designed to foster a healthy coral planet both in the game and the real world. Basically, a user creates a pet fish that swims when they spin their phone and others can join by creating a pet fish that swims with your fish. As more people participate in the game, their swimming fish create a huge current that lowers the ocean’s temperature – a phenomenon that actually happens in the real world. By rooting the gaming experience in real environmental issues, and creating community, Muraoka said, “We wanted to establish a system where the more you support the ocean, the more rewards you get. In this way, users are naturally motivated to continue engaging with the game [and ocean conservation].”

Instruction and login screens from The Coral Planets coral advocacy mobile game for Adobe Creative Jams.
To get started playing The Coral Planet, you select your pet fish, spin your phone to make it swim, and get on social media.
UI screens from The Coral Planets coral advocacy mobile game for Adobe Creative Jams.
Next, you can explore other “fish,” or users, in your area. When you all “swim” together, you’re theoretically lowering the ocean’s temperature. The more you play, the more rewards you get, like customization options for your fishy.

By leveraging social media, the game allows users to play and share their engagement with an international audience; thus, inspiring others to join the fight for healthier oceans.

A case for optimism: From UX design to legislation

The crusade against single-use-plastics is a great example of popular support for an environmental issue manifesting into governmental action. Typically, the people who avoided plastic straws and disposable coffee cups were environmentalists and activists, not the general public. But with great storytelling and compelling imagery, the cause grew to become an issue that everyone in the world cared about. Now, we have plastic bag bans in many countries, and a general awareness around how harmful single-use-plastics are. Vevers is hopeful that he can scale this model by, “Working with Adobe to create an impactful digital presence that can lead to popular buy-in and drive legislators.”

What’s next for The Ocean Agency and Adobe

2021 is a big year for our oceans. The United Nations will be meeting to create global policies that will craft the next decade of ocean conservation. To keep the ideation going and the global community of design students engaged, The Ocean Agency Creative Jams are evolving. “We’re creating briefs that anyone can take part in at any stage,” said Vevers. “Not just having the Creative Jams, which are specific livestream events produced for registered students at specific moments in time, we want something that can be done at scale, harnessing creativity in every corner of the world.” Something even more important at a time when in-person events remain rare. Register on to get involved. You can also go to to show your support for ocean protection – a new creative campaign developed by The Ocean Agency with Adobe.

Beyond the practicality of enlisting the next generation of UX designers to tackle the issues facing our planet, the fact remains – they will inherit decades of human destruction that has created the catastrophes we face today. Vevers is optimistic because these students are using the power of their creativity to concept and design real solutions around optimism and excitement for change; thus creating a message anyone can get behind.