Lads of Liberty: Jonathan Grimm, Creative Director at ESI Design

Posted March 31, 2020

In May 2019, the new Statue of Liberty Museum opened on Liberty Island with experience and exhibits by ESI Design. The new museum is part of a $100 million Liberty Island-wide beautification effort that is funded by our clients, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

To celebrate we’re sharing the stories of some of the talented people who have worked for over five years to bring this world-class museum from concept to completion.

In this edition, you’ll hear from Jonathan Grimm, a Creative Director at ESI Design, who worked on the experience and exhibit design for the museum. Jonathan shared how his memories of learning about Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” in school gained new meaning after working on the museum’s exhibits as a visual designer. 

Name: Jonathan Grimm
Job Title: Creative Director, ESI Design
Years of Experience: 20 years
Age: 49
Nationality: United States
Languages Spoken: English, and a splash each of Italian and Spanish
Education: B.A. in Art and History from the University of New Mexico, Graduate degree from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program



What was your first encounter with the Statue of Liberty?

Jonathan Grimm, Creative Director: I know a lot of jaded New Yorkers who believe that seeing the statue from the Staten Island Ferry is just as good as going to the island – and less touristy. I was one of those guys before I started working on this project. My first visit to Liberty Island was with our team and I found that seeing the Statue up close actually doesn’t compare to a sail-by from the harbor. Feeling the scale and seeing the detail of the statue is totally worth it. At least once.

Jonathan analyzes the Becoming Liberty canvas.

What was your role on the project? What did that mean for you day-to-day?

JG: I worked on very early conceptual iterations of the digital content all the way through design revisions, production and then installation as a member of the visual design team. Day-to-day, that meant working closely with content designers and the creative media team to work out visual design and user interface components that met our experience design goals and aligned with accessibility and ADA guidelines.

You just opened a new museum for the Statue of Liberty — how does that feel? What does that mean to you?

JG: It feels great to have the museum open and for such a rich experience to be available to the millions of visitors to the Statue.

Why is having a museum dedicated to the Statue of Liberty important?

JG: Seeing the museum come to fruition at a time when our country is so divided and some of the fundamental benefits of liberty, such as freedom of the press and freedom of religion, are being tested really brought home the need for a place where visitors can examine what liberty means to them. I hope this museum makes people think about how to preserve the idea of liberty.

Jonathan was influenced by Lazarus’ poem ‘The New Colossus.’

After working on this project, has your concept of liberty evolved?

JG: I was most moved by the Emma Lazarus poem ‘The New Colossus,’ extolling America’s welcoming spirit toward people from disadvantaged or war torn countries. As a school kid I heard a lot about “huddled masses,” and the words seemed like something that people worried about in the distant past.  During the construction of the current museum, political upheaval around the world in places like Syria and Central America and our own federal government’s response to those in need of safe harbor, really reinforced the message of  “The New Colossus,” often in the most vivid terms.

What were the steps in your journey to this iconic project?

JG: As a kid growing up in Albuquerque, I was always drawn to visual design. I loved recreating airline logos and studying the patterns on hot air balloons. I didn’t have anyone in my family who knew what graphic design was or that it was a career option. I spent a lot of time “wandering the desert” with my history degree (waiting tables) before I found the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU where I found my footing in the field of digital visual design.

Since you started your career, what’s the biggest change you have seen in the world of design?

JG: It may seem obvious, but when I started in this business, people did not have cell phones. That access to so much information can now fit in your front pocket is a tough “design change” to ignore. Every book in the Library of Congress, every artwork by Michelangelo, every speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. can be accessed, even while you’re at the beach.

What advice would you give to your younger self starting a career in design?

JG: Learn as quickly as possible that the more collaboration you do with team members from disparate disciplines usually leads to a superior design. They see things you may not see at first.

If you were giving a tour of the new museum, what would be your top highlight?

JG: I’m partial to Becoming Liberty. It is rare that a museum explicitly asks visitors to examine a deceptively simple concept  – in our case, “What does liberty mean to you?” It’s also enlightening to see the data visualizations illustrating the home countries and collective choices of your fellow visitors displayed on the Becoming Liberty canvas.

If you have any questions for Jonathan, sound off in the comments!

To read the rest of the interview series, click here.

Michelle Lampariello

Michelle was ESI Design’s Fall 2019 Marketing Intern, and blogged about the latest happenings at ESI and beyond.

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