Ashleigh Axios — Strategic Creative & Advocate for Design’s Ability to Break Barriers & Create Positive Social Change
Do you remember where you were when you saw the White House lit up in a beautiful rainbow following the nationwide legalization of same sex marriage? We sat down with the woman behind this creative vision, and so many more, to chat about activism in the digital space.
Ashleigh is the Design Exponent at Automattic, a company with the mission of democratizing publishing and a passion for making the web a better place. Prior to her role at Automattic, Ashleigh served as the creative director and a digital strategist at the White House Office of Digital Strategy, where she created meaningful opportunities for engagement, dialogue, and understanding between the administration and public.
Ashleigh’s passion projects include the summer 2016 brand and web design for AmericanVoterGuide.org and chairing Racial Justice by Design — an AIGA collaborative effort exploring the intersections of race, equity, and design.
AmericanVoterGuide.org – which you designed – is a great example of how design has played a huge role in engaging Millennials with social issues and civic engagement. What inspired you to create this voting tool and where do you see the digital activism movement going forward?
I was inspired to work on AmericanVoterGuide.org after noticing the divisive nature of coverage and conversation around this election cycle. Rather than being a vehicle for sharing clear and compelling cases for candidates, many channels focused on their tone, demeanor and delivery. Instead of focusing on the proven track record or direct statements provided by each candidate, the focal point was on what influencers were saying about them.
In contrast to that, AmericanVoterGuide.org focuses on helping activate voters by sharing direct and clear information on where each presidential and state candidate stands on the major issues. It’s a tool with the intent to bring the power back to the American public so we, together, can fight the challenges of our day with education.
Digital spaces are always evolving and so our digital engagement and activism strategies need to adapt. Our engagements need to be on the channels where people spend their time, look for breaking news and engage with one another. They need to provide clear, credible information and compelling calls-to-action. And they need to enable people to be the vehicle — sharing the message with their friends and family in personal ways that allow the information break through.
I designed the candidate comparison tool to be embeddable, so it can be placed wherever it may be useful. I also made it easily sharable across major digital channels, so that people can pass along the objective information while having the opportunity to add their own voice.
By keeping hard facts at the center and allowing personal dialogue to revolve around them, the design reflects the current ideals for digital activism.
How do you think digital media and design made the Obama administration unique?
President Obama brought digital media and design to the White House out of the success of his first presidential campaign. His campaign was the first to use technology, social media, clear writing and quality design to connect the public with the candidate in an authentic way.
When those same virtues were brought to the White House, they helped open the doors to “The People’s House” at a level never achieved before.
Never before had so many video, photo and narrative behind-the-scenes moments been shared in-real time. The administration enabled this by getting the White House, White House offices and many individual staff members access to post to prominent digital channels. Never before had some of the most complex policy works been broken down by the White House for ease of public consumption. We did that by having designers, writers and policymakers working hand-in-hand to find clear, visual and compelling ways to tell the story within each prominent piece of policy. Never before had the brand of the White House reflected the people working within it. We achieved this by allowing the personalities of the staff, including President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, to shine through. We also used digital channels to grant more individuals the opportunity to meet the staff, ask questions or petition us on their concerns.
The result is a White House that is perceived as more open and, I would even argue, a president who is finishing his second term with one of the highest U.S. presidential approval ratings of all time.
From leading the design strategy for two State of the Union addresses to chairing the Racial Justice by Design efforts as an AIGA board member, you’ve worked on a variety of projects that have reached millions across the country. Is there a particular project that you are most proud of?
There isn’t one project I’m most proud of. I’ve been fortunate to contribute to many meaningful projects, especially during my time with the Obama administration. A few standouts include: leading the responsive redesign of WhiteHouse.gov; redesigning the White House petitions platform, We the People; supporting the historic Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage with the rainbow White House branding; and establishing a digital system for presenting the Obama administration record.