Event Recap: When Lightning Strikes, Volume 4

“Wonder” is defined as a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. In a room packed with some of DC’s most talented designers and creative professionals, six AIGA DC Fellows including Sam Shelton, Beth Singer, Pat Taylor, Antonio Alcalá, Ethel Kessler, and Rodney Williams, gave cause to wonder.

Sam Shelton: Education

Sam spoke about unexpected learning: learning from his own education at VCU; learning from starting his own design studio, KINETIK; learning from his students, and teaching Design Ignites Change; and learning from AIGA. As he explained, “you go from a phase of life where you pay for education and go into one where you learn.” I find this idea is incredibly important today, where your education never truly prepares you for your professional career. You must find opportunities to learn and grow in everything you do.

Pat Taylor: Self Promotion

From an independent design practice spanning more than 30 years, Pat gave us a history lesson by sharing some of the self-promotional pieces he produced over the years. “If you don’t get yourself out there and promote yourself, no body will.” Posters, logos, entire publications–my favorite piece was the paste-it-up-yourself calendar. In some ways it’s easier than ever to get yourself out there, but how do you standout?

Beth Singer: Legacy

During Beth’s presentation she posed the question, “Ask yourself: ‘How will the world have changed because of me?’” She continued to share some of her most visible work for nonprofit organizations. Of most interest to me was her work with elementary school children, teaching them about design, semantics and communication.

Antonio Alcalá: Success

Antonio began by presenting AIGA DC president Anthony Dihle with a pearl necklace, a traditional gift celebrating AIGA DC’s 30th anniversary. You’d be forgiven for thinking the rest of his presentation was a comedy routine, as he talked about his experiences starting his own design studio, as art director for US postage stamps, and teaching at GWU Corcoran. But mostly he spoke about success, and about what was important to him: family, happiness. With ironic imagery of men in fancy suits, expensive cars, Antonio stressed something that continues to stay fresh in my mind, “the only definition of success that matters is your own.”

Ethel Kessler: Luck

Ethel stood in front of a screen of color. A big, pixelated screen filled with slightly different shades of a single color: Yellow. Then yellow-orange. Then yellow-orange and some purple. She spoke about her early design experiences, and of landing prestigious clients, or projects that took her to far-far off places. When asked how, she could only rationalize it as luck. But, as one of her clients told her, and as she echoed to us, “Luck has nothing to do with it.” Make your own luck, and give yourself some credit every once in awhile.

Rodney Williams: Authenticity

“Sometimes you have to literally give your blood for authentic design,” we learned from Rodney as he told us about a photo shoot he was on. The composition needed real blood, because the readers (scientists) could spot fake blood. So, Rodney gave them real blood. During his presentation, Rodney spoke about his background, from being a designer at Playboy magazine in Chicago, to running his own studio in DC, and about speaking to his mentors everyday.

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It feels like everything moves so fast today. Standards are high, and expectations are higher as designers are more skilled than ever. It’s all-too-easy to replicate trends and conform to others’ ideas of success. We all want to be successful, to do meaningful work. But, in the same way that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, our paths as designers are our own. Our experiences and their effect on us are unique.

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AIGA DC has recognized 14 designers with the Fellow Award. The Fellows award is a means of recognizing designers who have made a significant contribution to raising the standards of excellence in practice and conduct within their local or regional design community as well as in their local AIGA chapter.

AIGA DC Fellows

2011 Leo Mullen

2010 Rodney Williams and Tamera Lawrence

2009 David J. Franek

2008 Antonio Alcalá

2006 Sam Shelton

2005 Judy Kirpich and Beth Singer

2004 Charles Michael Helmken and Ethel Kessler

2003 Terrence McCaffrey

2002 Stephen Kraft

2001 Pat Taylor

2000 Tom Suzuki


Ken Zinser is a designer, a graduate of the Corcoran College of Art + Design, and an AIGA member since 2009. He’s currently focused on strategy, design and development for the web. 

Photo by Jeremy Meek. From left to right: Antonio Alcala, Sam Shelton, Pat Taylor, Ethel Kessler, Rodney Williams and Beth Singer

By Ken Zinser
Published June 12, 2014