Tag Archives: AIGA

Powered by Effective Design

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The open office space of Oxide Design Co. has all the hallmarks of being inhabited by creative types: LEGO designs are the first thing you see when you peek inside the design and branding firm’s broad, south-facing windows. Then you notice the knick-knacks, like a curiously large amount of Aquaman memorabilia, a pinball machine, and a phone booth.

When Drew Davies started Oxide in 2001, he jokes that he got an office for his one-man business at the request of his wife to move his tchotchkes out of the house. But, Davies had a vision and, motivated by his passion for design, his business grew.

The four other creatives Davies employs are also passionate about creating successful design. Developer Wes Piper recently wrote on their blog site, “Successful design must answer this one question: Is it useful?”

The office embodies this theory. A couple of walls, the fabric on sofas in the lobby, and their logo include a bright red color; specifically, it’s true red, known as Pantone 032 in the graphic design world.

“Red is our corporate color, because it’s bold and passionate and a little bit dangerous,” Davies says. “I think it also speaks to our belief in consistency as much as anything.”

That red also appears in nontraditional ways around the office, such as in bathroom towels and planters.

Today, the firm consists of Davies, two more designers, a creative coordinator, and a web developer. Each adds to the collection of tchotchkes by personalizing their desks with their own.

“I love this office because it allows all five members of the team the space to build the kind of place where they want to come to work each day.” Davies says.

This also adds to the whimsical, team-oriented feeling in the office.

“From the top to bottom, it’s not a terribly hierarchical place to work,” says Mandy Mowers, creative coordinator. “We’re all one team.”

The small team is intentional. Its size allows Davies to remain involved in the design process.

“All five of us are working on the projects that come in the door,” he says.

The workweek at Oxide differs from the typical creative firm, Davies says. Everyone comes in around 8:30 a.m. and leaves around 5:30 p.m., allowing time to do their own thing in the evening. It’s an intentional schedule Davies says helps the creative process.

“It’s very important to me that everyone has a good work-life balance,” Davies says.

Oxide Design has worked with start-ups, Fortune 500 companies, and all sizes in between. Some of Oxide’s projects have included rebranding Metro Transit and Baxter Auto Group, and helping develop the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s national ballot design standards. Oxide has created unique designs for each client.

“We try to push all of our clients right up to the line of comfort, so that their design stands out from the fray while being perfectly appropriate for them.”

The graphic design community has noticed. The firm’s work has been recognized by major design competitions, including The One Show, the CLIO Awards, and Communication Arts Design Annual.

Davies stays involved with the design community. He has served as president of the local chapter of American Institute of Graphic Arts, and is currently national president emeritus. More than 50 percent of his firm’s annual work is pro bono, in part or in full. The charitable work is a key measure to Davies on how successful the business is.

“If I wasn’t able to do that, I wouldn’t feel like I’ve been successful,” he says.

Jill Wells has worked with Oxide on a number of projects for different nonprofits, most recently for Niobrara Valley Preserve. The writer hired Oxide to design a brochure that she says was invaluable for telling the story of the place.

“I have worked with Oxide for about 17 years, first at Nebraska AIDS Project and then The Nature Conservancy. Oxide is an ideal partner,” says Wells. “They listen to what you care about and then create something so beautiful and compelling—it still surprises me every time…Oxide designers care deeply about their community and it shows in their creativity, passion, and professionalism.

Visit oxidedesign.com for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.


June 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’re passionate about an activity, you want to seek out others who share your interest. The more niche an activity, the harder it may be for those with a common interest to come together.

Nebraska’s design community, though, has just the organization to meet that challenge.

The American Institute of Graphic Arts calls itself “the profession’s oldest and largest professional membership organization for design,” and it features an active chapter in Nebraska.

Amy Markham, 33, is a user-interface designer for Kiewit and the current president of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Nebraska. She studied graphic design at the University of Nebraska-Kearney and became involved with the organization because her professors stressed
its importance.

Amy Markham

“They were the ones that really pushed the idea of being a member of AIGA because being a part of that community is essential to your career as a designer,” she says.

AIGA Nebraska, Markham says, is all about bringing people in Nebraska’s design community together, putting potential collaborators in touch with one another and providing each other with job opportunities. The organization caters to graphic designers, web designers, user-interface designers, and the like, but AIGA has started connecting with other design professionals such as coders, videographers, architects, and animators.

“It gives them a platform to come together so they can have a voice as a whole entity,” says Cathy Solarana, 51, AIGA Nebraska’s diversity and inclusion director.

Mary Allen, 34, AIGA Nebraska’s director of communications, discovered a passion for design when she made graphics for the Facebook account of the parent-teacher organization at her daughters’ elementary school. Now she’s a full-time graphic design student at Metropolitan
Community College.

“In addition to hosting valuable events and providing design resources, AIGA offers discounts on products, software, and event admission,” Allen says. “Really, though, it’s the intangible things—friendships forged, passions discovered, and changes made—which make AIGA membership so rewarding.”

This year, many of AIGA Nebraska’s events are focused on helping its community to become more diverse and inclusive. Holding events, Markham says, is one of the local chapter’s hallmarks.

“Since we are an organization that is mostly events-focused, the events that we put on kind of create that sense of community,” she says.

“We’re not communicating particularly well if we communicate to only one particular culture or community,” Solarana says.

Cathy Solarana

On May 17, AIGA Nebraska, the Omaha Public Library, and 1877 Society hosted the Human Library at the W. Dale Clark Library. Visitors had the opportunity to come to the library and “checkout” people by speaking with them for 20 minutes, people with whom the visitors may not typically have the chance to interact, including Muslims, sex-trafficking survivors, and transgender people.

“It’s really hard to dislike someone when you are standing in front of them,” Solarana says. She also says that AIGA Nebraska hopes to hold another one in November and to hold two every year
going forward.

Allen recognizes that committing to the organization can be demanding.

“I understand that our membership and potential members are busy people, because I’m a busy person myself,” Allen says. “But something else I have in common with our membership is that we’re passionate people—passionate about design and about serving this community.”

Visit nebraska.aiga.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

Ethical Twists and Turns

May 10, 2017 by

It would be intriguing to map the thinking patterns of engineers, architects, and graphic artists. I expect the engineers to be linear thinkers, the graphic artists to be web-based, and the architects to be a little of both.

Of course these differences among professions are gross generalizations. But rather than focus on the differences, let’s look at the similarities, especially in the realm of ethics. I am interested in the question they all must address, namely, “How do I balance my personal values with my career goals and the goals of my firm?” Let’s see how the answer twists and turns as careers play out.

At the beginning of one’s career, a specific ethical problem is maintaining personal values while building credentials. For example, suppose that a young professional—whether an engineer, architect, or graphic designer—eats locally grown, organic foods because they feel that food from big conglomerates includes unnecessary salt, sugar, and fat. Yet, a food giant contacts them to do substantial work. Do they put their personal values aside to build their careers?

I recently asked students in my graduate class in Creighton’s Heider College of Business this question. One was extremely vocal. “I’d take the job. I have student loans that need to get paid off. I also have to get any experience I can. Later on, I can be choosy about the clients with which I work.” Another was just as vehement that, “whether it comes to a job or an investment, there are certain things I will not do and opportunities I will not take. Period.”

As the years go on, careers advance and professionals move up the ladder. A specific ethical problem at this stage is balancing personal values with significant business choices that impact the overall financial success of one’s firm as well as spouses and kids. So suppose that an engineer, architect, or graphic designer personally believes that smoking pot is bad for the individual and society. But they work for a company that will do contracts for anything that is legal. A Colorado marijuana firm contacts them to ask their company to do cannabis cultivation process thermal load calculations (engineer); a floor plan for a production facility (architect); or a website for the company (graphic designer). Do they put their personal values aside to advance the
firm’s profitability?

Some say that professionals can seek guidance about this question by looking to their associations. Professional associations have codes of ethics (like AIGA for graphic designers) that are meant to be useful for addressing the ethical dilemmas relevant in their fields. These codes are important and significant ways of setting standards and expectations of good conduct. I firmly believe in them. However, while codes cover responsibilities to clients, honesty in marketing, and the like, such ethical codes do not typically help professionals address the balance between their personal values and the values of the organizations for which
they work.

Without external guidance, some advanced professionals turn inward and think about going between the horns of the ethical dilemma rather than hanging onto one horn as opposed to the other (as those at the beginning of their careers tend to do). A seasoned professional may use their years of experience to devise a sophisticated way to honor their values while keeping their job. One inclusive solution is to volunteer for, and financially contribute to, a local not-for-profit that provides services to recovering drug addicts. This is akin to people planting trees because, while they object to oil production, they drive cars and want to offset the CO2 emissions.

We have seen that the conflicts between personal, career, and organizational values are real and inescapable. And the ethical line we draw twists and turns as circumstances change. What is the moral of the story? It’s this: As we undertake positions and advance in our fields, the best we can do is to keep our personal values front of mind, and recognize that the twists and turns we take are a natural part of life’s exploration and ethical growth.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

Craig Hughes

October 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Craig Hughes graduated from college with what he calls a “design as decoration” attitude and went straight into the world 
of advertising.

As for the notion of conducting classic “field work,” he considered that a realm reserved for social scientists, anthropologists and others in the more “sciencey” of endeavors.

But Hughes, now the president of Nebraska’s chapter of AIGA, the professional association for designers, found himself in a hotel bar at an industry conference chatting it up with some of the legends in his field as the 2009 BP oil disaster 
was unfolding.

“What they need to do,” Hughes recalls one of the designers saying in gesturing to a TV as BP news reports flashed across the screen, “is get all of the engineers out of there and get in the designers to brainstorm.”

“But that’s not what design does,” Hughes remembers thinking. “The idea that you kind of have to fight this battle of disciplinarianism, that ‘get rid of all of these other people and design will save the world’ approach. 
It doesn’t work.”

The incident was just one of the sparks that fired an evolution in his thinking. Hughes soon began exploring other—much more diverse and disparate—ways of applying his design training, ones that have increasingly found him in the arena of doing field work alongside sociologists, architects, lawyers, anthropologists, and others.

Hughes is now pursuing a master’s degree in sociology through the University of Nebraska-Omaha. This fall he will partner with community organizations in a decidedly “un-designey” effort to seek solutions in urban planning initiatives that revolve around general themes of social advocacy.

In December 2012, he left his job as an associate creative director and opened Studio Polymath, a design firm that works with experts in a wide array of fields to solve interesting or persistent problems.

And that’s how Hughes found himself in a nursing home with a team of interdisciplinary experts, asking a 93-year-old retired cook what advice he would give to himself at age 43.

“Don’t live too long,” Hughes recalls the man saying.

Too long, the man told Hughes, came the very moment he walked through the nursing home’s doors and, in doing so, lost 
his identity.

Back in Omaha, Hughes and his cadre of thinkers spun ideas to address some of the problems revealed in their interviews.

“What are some things that we can be doing,” Hughes asks, “so we’re not just putting people in a box where they collapse spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally?”

The next step for the project is to test a pilot program that would give nursing home residents such new and more vital experiences as the chance to work with their hands or to teach as masters or amateur historians in their respective fields.

“A brain in use is a powerful thing,” Hughes adds.

And the more brains the better.

“Humans and our ancestors have been solving problems for millions of years and no single discipline has all the answers,” he says. “All of those things together are what will address those big, nasty problems that graphic design alone can’t solve.”