I Am Board: Meet Raksa Yin, AIGA DC’s President

In a transient town like Washington, DC, community leaders who choose to plant roots are like diamonds in the rough. When it comes to leading DC design, it’s tough to find someone more devoted than Raksa Yin.

This Philadelphia native honed his design skills at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, where he first took place in AIGA DC’s portfolio review. His professors encouraged him to join the AIGA DC community, which led to joining the Board not long after graduation. A diverse range of roles followed, both on the Board and in his career designing for the finance, consulting, and startup sectors.

In his day job, Raksa leads visual and experience design innovation at Amtrak, the national passenger railroad company which provides rail service through 46 of 48 contiguous U.S. states. Since leading innovation for a 50-year-old quasi-public corporation isn’t enough, Raksa also serves as President of AIGA’s Washington, DC chapter. His presidential tenure follows six years of board service coordinating and directing programming. He also helped AIGA National define its Emerge program to support upcoming and underrepresented designers.

Raksa will soon step off AIGA DC’s Board after eight years of service. To honor his achievements, we asked Raksa to share his design origin story with us, and how his work with AIGA enhanced it.

Tell me about yourself! More specifically, tell me about the first time you considered pursuing design as a career.

I’m a lead experience and visual designer at AMTRAK Innovation, alongside serving as AIGA DC President. My dad was my big inspiration for [becoming] a designer. After he retired, he painted a lot and did artsy things at home. Growing up, I thought I wanted to be like him. I also want to give props to my elementary school teachers who let me play in the corner with doodles and shapes, just being creative.

For a long time, I thought [design] was just a hobby. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school when an advisor told me about art school. So, thank you to Miguel for telling me to pursue arts school and my passion for creativity at the Corcoran College of Arts and Design, where I was taught by a lot of great designers and professors who helped me define my own aesthetic and what I wanted to do with design.

I’m very thankful for all the people, from my father to my professors, who invested in me and my design journey.

We talked about your creative origin story; now, let’s discuss your AIGA origin story! How did you first become part of the AIGA community, then pivot to joining the DC community?

It goes back to my classroom at the Corcoran. My sophomore graphic design professor told us to get involved with AIGA for events and networking opportunities. I was heads-down on my work and shrugged it off until one Saturday night, when there was an AIGA portfolio review. The Head of Graphic Design asked if I wanted my portfolio reviewed, and I said, “I guess I can spare two hours away from my homework.”

That was my first involvement with AIGA, as a college sophomore. After that first program, I kept tabs on AIGA DC, and with graduation looming, I knew I had to put myself out there networking. I didn’t like the ickiness of networking, but I knew I had to do it. I went to a lot of AIGA DC events, and then a year or two after graduation, I saw a call to join the [AIGA DC] board.

Another thing about me: All my life, I’ve volunteered at all sorts of places. My brothers and I used to spend our weekends cleaning parks and volunteering in the Philadelphia community where we grew up. So when I saw the AIGA DC board opportunity, I applied and still remember getting the invitation to be interviewed.

They asked why I wanted to be involved, and I replied that I’ve always given back throughout my life. I wanted to give back to the AIGA DC community that had given me so much, and eight years later, here I am!

Tell us about your trajectory on the Board. You’re wrapping up your term as President, but you’ve had a long tenure in a range of roles. How did your board story begin relative to where it will end?

I joined the board as a programming coordinator and secretary. I was interested in the people/programming space, so I was happy to be offered the programming role and surprised to be offered the secretary position, but I held both roles for the first year.

My first event was doing an Agile lego-building workshop with Deloitte Digital. Shout-out to Rica [Rosario, past AIGA DC president] for making this connection! After that, I became the Emerge Chair, where AIGA National asked boardies across chapters to focus on serving emerging designers and represent our chapters on a national committee of 26 chapters that defined what the Emerge program should be. It was an honor to help define this initiative, host events like our DC chapter portfolio review, and meet friends from other chapters whom I’m still in touch with today.

After serving as Emerge Chair, I became AIGA DC’s Programming Co-Director for two years, and that led to me becoming the chapter’s President.

What is your favorite part of serving on the Board?

My favorite part is the execution of a program. It takes a lot of time and effort to think of a vision, plan it all out, make sure it’s a worthwhile topic, etc. But once people who buy tickets show up to the program, and leaders show up to give advice, it impacts our community in a way that’s really rewarding. It also lets us meet our community face to face, which is especially important after years of meeting virtually.

Tell us about your current creative impact, both on the AIGA DC board and beyond. What’s your biggest creative endeavor at the moment?

I have many creative endeavors! I’m only a year into my role at Amtrak Innovation. We are a brand new team that’s a little over a year old, and we’re a very small team tasked with helping all of Amtrak imagine the future of rail travel, along with making Amtrak a world-class, innovative business. So, that’s my day job creative endeavor.

I also play music! Before design, I thought I’d become a touring musician. My triplet brothers and I formed a band in our teens and played some local gigs before deciding to go in a different direction, but I still keep that music hobby alive.

And, most of my personal portfolio/Instagram highlights my hand-drawn typography. I fell in love with [typography] during college: It’s just fun to take letterforms and change up the characters. I like to tie my typography to specific events.

What’s something about you that you think our community would be surprised to learn about you?

I wonder if the fact that I’m a triplet is a surprise! I have two brothers who look very similar to me, and it was great to grow up with two guys who are also very driven and ambitious. We see creativity differently – they’re not in design – but we pursue it in our respective paths.

Thanks so much for speaking with us today! I think few people have contributed as much to DC design as you, and it was wonderful to learn about your path as you prepare to roll off the AIGA DC board after eight years of service.

I’ll be around! The community knows you can always find me at a lecture or talk. It’s an honor to serve the DC design community on this board, and I’m not leaving anytime soon.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

By Lauren Maffeo
Published April 29, 2024