A better world by design


Jim Wagner | AAS GD ’04 | Certainly Studio

For Certainly Studio, it’s good business to work with businesses that do good works. The studio provides a wide range of design to many clients, but the heart
of the operation is in collaborating with organizations and corporations who are making the world better.

There are many people who follow a game plan for their careers — they know what they want and they go after it. Jim Wagner was not one of those people… immediately. He came late to design after working in television for 20 years. And it wasn’t until he graduated from Parsons in 2004 that he began to actually think about how he was going to earn a living in New York from the passion that came with his newly acquired skills.


“I really hadn’t even considered what I was going to do after graduation. I went on a few interviews and met with recruiters and decided that I just wasn’t going to be a good pool designer in a big studio,” confessed Wagner.

So he doubled-down and started his own company, Certainly Studio. He came to that decision while in Asia in 2004, and upon his return, met with a mentor, the ABC News anchor Charles Gibson, who asked him some pivotal questions. He wanted to know how Wagner’s design studio would be different from the thousands of others out there, and how he planned to build on his reputation as a responsible and creative manager.

“They were good questions. And frankly, they provided the framework for my business plan. Since my first degree was in journalism, I really cared about the message. And with my second degree in design, I felt like I was able to meet my clients’ needs wearing two hats — a powerful combination.”

His company’s philosophy is that content is made stronger with good design; and design is made stronger with good content. Taking a step at a time and going in the right direction is more his style.


“If you’re headed somewhere that you want to go, or like how today feels, then tomorrow is probably going to be just fine.”

It sounds passive, but for Wagner, being rigid when it comes to design is not a good process. One must to be open to opportunities and take advantage of circumstances as they present themselves. So what direction did Wagner’s studio path take? Working for clients who have agendas that mirror his own set of beliefs and causes. For firms that like to collaborate and do important work. And with people who are respectful and at the top of their industries.

“When you start out, you take every job because you have no choice. But, as you grow and develop, you are able to be more selective about who you work for and what you care about.”

These decisions have resulted in Certainly having a core of extremely smart clients who are passionate about their work. These companies and organizations are truly changing the world.

For instance, Certainly works with the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science. They really ARE changing the world. The Weizmann Institute campus is in Rehovot, Israel. They employ around 3,800 scientists, graduate students, highly skilled research technicians, and the staff which supports them. They come to work every day with the goal of solving the most challenging problems facing humankind: global warming, world hunger and malnutrition, cancer and other diseases, safety and security, to name just a few. For more than 60 years, the Weizmann Institute’s curiosity-driven scientists have made thousands of landmark breakthroughs, and they continue to strive to make thousands more. Supporting this kind of work has really been not only gratifying for Wagner and Certainly Studio, but it also provides collaboration with extremely gifted people doing important work.

Weizmann Institute Annual Report

Certainly has also forged a very meaningful and long-term partnership with the SLE Lupus Foundation / Lupus Research Institute. These organizations are on the cutting edge of Lupus medical research and are known for their innovative approach to research and patient services.

“When you walk into their offices, you feel their passion; you sense their commitment. Every member of the staff is
laser-beam-focused on curing Lupus. So to help these passionate people position and package their important messages with great design is truly an honor.”



Certainly’s client list includes many other non-profit organizations who do amazing work including the Women’s Forum of New York and the YMCA of Greater New York. Certainly also works with many prominent businesses that are doing mind-blowing things in the private sector.

One stand-out relationship is with the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI). Certainly has worked with the New York-based company for more than four years.

“You just can’t imagine the brain power in their offices. It was intimidating at first, since the principals of the company are truly geniuses.” Their mission is to forecast turning points in economic growth and inflation for their clients. Needless to say, I had to do a LOT of homework before our first meeting,” explained Wagner.

 ecri Logo

“Certainly has provided brand and design support to ECRI over the years and attempted to make their brand as strong as their intellectual product. Which is a very tall order. But I’m proud to say, that their phenomenal success and branding have been in lock-step and provides Certainly some of our most rewarding design pleasure,” admits Wagner.

Wagner and his team have won many awards. Yet he says the pleasure that comes from working with smart people on meaningful projects is a much bigger source of pride for Certainly Studio.



American Graphic Design Awards (12)
Broadcast Designers Association (1)
Promax International Awards (5)
Daytime Emmy® Award (1)

Interview and photography: Katarzyna Gruda