How did you discover that you wanted to work in the design field? When I was younger, I created drawings by looking at a Garfield comic book. I have a very supportive mother who hung all of them up, and this was how my confidence in my creative skills grew. This was no small thing for a first-generation American kid who knew that this avenue of interest was usually not the most accepted.
I loved math and art, which led me to believe I’d become an architect. As a high schooler, I had a summer internship at an engineering company. On the final day, we shadowed the staff. I shadowed the graphic designers, who were called “desktop publishers” at the time! They helped me make an invitation for our end-of-internship party. It was shaped like a butterfly, was purple and black, and was a hit.
What personal influences or experiences have had the biggest impact on your work or style? My first job was at a design studio called HZDG. The work I did there was the catalyst for the work I am doing now. I dabbled in a range of really fun projects and varied client work. One day I was designing logos, and the next, annual reports. There was some self-discovery along the way, as I fell in love with the work we were doing for nonprofit clients, like the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Conservation Fund, which delivered the most beautiful photos for us to work with. These clients’ stories were beautiful, but the challenges were a little different, like smaller print budgets. I remember working with our production director to figure out how to make a kraft-paper folder—without the kraft paper. We pulled it off!
What did you learn from working as a lead designer on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign? Working with our design director, Jennifer Kinon, made me a stronger designer and leader. Working on a campaign encouraged me to bring more of myself to the workplace—literally all aspects of myself: identity, race, gender and culture. It wasn’t easy for me. But think of it like this: How do you help design for a diverse America if you’re not bringing you to the table?
What inspired you to begin working as the creative director at the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety? After the result of the presidential election, I knew there was still work to be done. I had imagined the outcome would be different and that I’d keep my design endeavors unemotional, perhaps, or simpler. But it made sense to continue working in the political space. I interviewed at many places before I got to Everytown. But once I was there, it felt like home.
The gun-control debate has strong advocates on both sides. What are the challenges and opportunities of designing for such a polarizing issue? Opposition will always exist. But if you change how you think about it—from the perspective of “sides” to focusing on gun safety—there is much less of a debate about what’s right or wrong. In working at Everytown for Gun Safety, the goal is to change legislation around the issue in an effort to make our world safer. As a designer, I love being part of that goal because we have an opportunity to educate Americans by simplifying the nuance of gun laws.
You’re on the council for the nonprofit initiative Fight Gunfire With Fire, which inspires and prompts students to submit creative ideas about how to combat gun violence. What excites you the most about this initiative? Students have been deeply affected by this issue, as it’s now infiltrated their learning environments. We’ve seen many of them become activists after the Parkland shooting, and we’ve heard their stories at March for Our Lives. Of course, design students are also fired up to say something on this issue. This is their time to speak out too and bring the power of design to this movement—their voices are the ones we need to hear right now, and I can’t wait to see what they add to this movement! Students from colleges, graduate schools and portfolio schools are eligible to participate in this initiative.
Will more designers work in the political sphere in the future? Yes! We’ve reached a moment where the things that are happening in our world simply can’t be ignored. If you’re willing to use your design expertise to contribute to politics, do it. The community of designers working in politics is small, but the value of the work that can be done is big. If you’re interested in better understanding what that means or looks like, here are some good places to start: hillaryforamericadesign.com and dothemostgood.design.
What tips do you have for a designer who’s interested in doing pro-bono design work? Working with pro-bono clients can be challenging because of limited budgets. Even if you’re not being paid, it’s important that you—and they—value your skills and time.
Ask yourself: What is truly at the heart of why you should take this on? Is your desire to do this work so strong because it aligns with your beliefs? Is bartering an option? Get clear on the value before you say yes.
But say yes to more paid work, please, so we do our entire industry a favor. As my mom said, “Whatever you do, make sure you always charge people—even if it’s just twenty dollars.” Thanks, mom!
What was your riskiest professional decision? Joining a political campaign. But it was also the best decision yet.