Running into high school friend Meghana Reddy in Manhattan sent Professor Clay Ewing on a journey that would eventually result in a 2016 Broadcast Education Association (BEA) Best of Competition award for ROC United Mobile Diners’ Guide

In 2012, Clay Ewing, interactive media professor at University of Miami School of Communication, ran into Reddy at a subway stop by the Apple Store in Chelsea. At the time, Reddy was working for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a national organization dedicated to bettering the wages and working conditions of the nation’s restaurant workforce. The two former classmates decided to catch up over lunch in the East Village.

During lunch, Reddy told Ewing about ROC United’s annual Diner’s Guide to Ethical Eating. Every year, the guide ranks the 100 most profitable restaurants in the U.S. based on their wages, paid sick days, and promotion practices. The guide was designed to help diners choose restaurants based on the way employees are treated.

Reddy explained to Ewing that ROC United was looking to develop a mobile version of the guide. As a developer focusing on apps and games for social change, Ewing was willing to take on the challenge.

The first version of the app was released in 2013. According to Ewing, the app was a good first start, but users expected it to be Yelp.

“When you give a person an app and they see it looks like Yelp, they expect it to do what Yelp does, and have every single restaurant, which is not what the guide does,” says Ewing.

For the second version, Ewing redesigned the app focusing on the user feedback. Along with the restaurants ROC United has rated, the app now also gives users the opportunity to submit new restaurants and rank them based on ROC United’s guidelines. Additionally, the latest version gives users the chance to participate in a survey where they can evaluate the level of diversity of the restaurant’s staff. 

The redesign was well received. In 2016, the app was awarded Best of Competition in the BEA Festival of Media Arts in the Mixed Category of the Faculty Interactive Media Competition.

The BEA Festival of Media Arts is an annual competition that awards faculty and students in separate competitions that range from dramatic narratives to non-fiction documentary and news, to the frontiers of interactive multimedia.

“It feels good, very good. It was also especially nice because I worked with Kelsey Kjeldsen, one of our grad students on the redesign. For her to be recognized for her work as well was great,” says Ewing.

Kjeldesn is a graduate student working towards a Master of Fine Arts degree in interactive media. The M.F.A. program at the School of Communication prepares students to innovate by understanding and experiencing the business, social, academic, and cultural contexts of emerging technologies.

As one of the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media’s professors, Ewing brings his experience into the classroom by using his work as examples to teach his students. He challenges students to think about the impact an app or a game can have on the people who use it. 

“Society is informed by the media we consume. Previous generations had television, newspapers and radio, but today we play games and use apps on our phones. If we design media that focuses on social issues the hope is that those issues are brought into the collective conscious.” says Ewing.