Hidden Heroes: Zach Gourley


Hailey Dohnal, Assistant Sports Editor

AMES — Growing up on a farm just 45 miles north of Ames, Iowa, and hating art-related projects, Zach Gourley never saw himself doing anything on the artistic side of things. It wasn’t until taking a college course at Iowa State that he fell in love with graphic design. 

If anyone has ever taken a look at any team posters from Iowa State sports, Gourley created it. If anyone ever saw social media posts recognizing athletes for their success, Gourley created that too. 

Gourley is the graphic design coordinator for ISU Athletics Department and contributes immensely to the department. 

“Quite honestly, we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs without Zach,” Assistant Athletic Director/Communications Matt Shoultz said. 

A lifelong Cyclone fan, Gourley came to Iowa State and majored in journalism. He began working for the Iowa State Daily where he covered sports, and although his focus was on writing and writing feature stories, Gourley came to the realization that writing for a newspaper was not a long-term career path for him. 

Gourley then got to know people in the athletic communications department where he began doing communications work for the wrestling and gymnastics teams. 

Additionally, as an undergraduate, Gourley took a few classes related to graphic design. 

“Those were probably my favorite classes that I took, but I don’t really know why I never thought about graphic design as a career,” Gourley said. 

A specific class Gourley took involved designing his own business where he chose to make a shoe company. 

“I put way more hours into it than I should have, but that’s kind of where I realized that I really love doing it,” Gourley said.

He was then given small graphic design responsibilities during his internship with the Big 12 in Dallas, Texas. 

After a year in Texas, Gourley came back to Iowa State as a graduate assistant in communications. As time went on, Gourley found the job to become more and more graphic-design-based, and he found himself having a lot of fun with it. 

“We didn’t have a ton of graphic designers, so I kind of just put it on myself to learn more,” Gourley said. “I’d go home at night and just teach myself new tricks and new things.” 

Shoultz said when Gourley returned, it was clear that he would have a promising future in athletics. 

Following his two years as a graduate assistant, Gourley was offered a full-time position in 2017. 

“At that time, that was my dream job to work at Iowa State and communications,” Gourley said.

Although someone was in the graphic design position when he was hired full-time, Gourley tried to do as much of the graphic design as possible for the teams he was in charge of for communications. 

When the graphic design position became open in 2021, Gourley was asked if he was interested in applying. 

“I had never been a full-time graphic designer, and there was probably a little self-doubt like, ‘Can I do that?’” Gourley said. 

Gourley got the job and has been doing it ever since. 

“I just feel really lucky and really blessed that my job is to create things that hopefully look cool and advance Iowa State and the brand,” Gourley said. 

Zach Gourley, the graphic design coordinator for Iowa State Athletics working on a new design in the Jacobson Building (Robert Dillon)

The area of communications has continued to grow in the area of graphics and visuals to help tell stories. Therefore, Shoultz said it takes a special graphic designer to take instructions and turn them into something meaningful. 

Additionally, Shoultz said although Gourley is in graphic design, he is really just an extension of the communications office. 

“He has an extremely quick wit, and it is fun to banter back and forth with him,” Shoultz said. “He’s included in all of our office activities outside of work.” 

While the football team has its own designer, Gourley helps create posters and graphics for every team. He also creates graphics that are posted on social media platforms. 

Gourley also has a team of students that help with different projects and tasks. 

“I would be drowning without them,” Gourley said. 

Shoultz said with Gourley and his students working alone without having multiple people in the graphic design office, his efforts and quality of work still match with anyone in the industry. 

“Iowa State is extremely fortunate to have Zach on our team,” Shoultz said. 

One of his favorite tasks is making graphics that celebrate a student athlete’s or team’s success. After traveling with teams during his time in communications, he realized how much time and effort athletes put in. 

“There’s nothing better for me than getting to make something to celebrate them and being a small piece of that celebration,” Gourley said. 

Gourley reflected on his time in communications when he worked with the Cyclone softball team.

During that time, former Cyclone softball player Sami Williams was breaking records and achieving awards. 

“To me, it felt like, ‘Okay there’s pressure on me–you have to create something worthy of her and worthy of the milestones she’s meeting,’” Gourley said. 

That year, Iowa State softball also ended up making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in decades. 

“That team really pushed me,” Gourley said. “Like, ‘I have to keep up with them. They’re setting the expectations so high. I want my graphics that I’m making for them to show what a big moment this is.’”

After that, Gourley said he became hooked on graphic design. 

Zach Gourley, the graphic design coordinator for Iowa State Athletics working on a new design in the Jacobson Building (Robert Dillon)

As for his creativity, Gourley said it comes in waves. 

There will be times when there are simple things that don’t look the way he wants them to but also times when ideas flow freely.

“I’ll have weeks or months at a time where it feels like it’s coming so easily to me,” Gourley said. “That’s when I just love coming in to work.” 

When there are times he’s feeling burnt out, Gourley has a list of tasks that help him balance out times when his creativity may not be as strong. 

Gourley’s day-to-day isn’t always the same. While he may have projects to work on for months, he is also assigned to create graphics on short notice. 

“He is extremely current on the latest trends, and he is always able to adapt to the crazy deadlines that our office gives him with last-minute requests,” Shoultz said. 

When asked what he likes most about his job, Gourley explained that it is the people he works with that make coming in to work enjoyable every day. 

“I just care so much about the university and the athletics department,” Gourley said. “I can’t really imagine doing it for another school.”