Mentoring Speaker Series: Annie Riker

The morning of graphic designer Annie Riker’s presentation was a bone chiller. A cold winter morning that required far too many layers and hot cups of coffee. As she entered, however, Annie’s upbeat and playful nature filled the room and began to thaw the chilled graphic design students of West Potomac High School.

Annie started off by telling the high school students that she started considering herself a creative from the moment she was first able to hold a paintbrush. And although her parents hoped that she would take a more “financially secure” career choice, there seemed to be a sort of compromise in her entering the graphic design department of Ringling College of Art and Design. After she received her degree from the Sarasota, Florida, university, Riker moved to New York, and began the career that she had so long anticipated. She shared these experiences with the students with a great amount of ease and authenticity, recounting the successes and the trials as vital learning opportunities.

“Designers need to be tough,” she quips. “We need to train ourselves to handle constructive criticism effectively.”

In 2006, she moved to Washington, DC, where she continued to develop her creative skills in the fast-paced environment of Hirshorn Zuckerman Design Group (affectionately known as HZ to local design crowd). Four years later, she landed an in-house design position at the National Parks Conservation Association and realized a passion for the nonprofit world. Her impact as the only on-staff graphic designer has been monumental, and includes a redesign of the organization’s 50-year old logo.

As images of the NPCA logo re-design process flashed across the projection screen, Annie detailed the highs and lows of the process. “Evolution is much easier to sell than revolution,” she said, referring to designers hoping to make dramatic change in an organization. Annie noted that at one point that the logo was almost scrapped altogether right before finalization, due to one board member who wasn’t quite persuaded by the new look, and others who made “helpful” suggestions that would have proved disastrous. She pointed out the importance of listening to the client and illustrating why a suggestion may or may not work through visual examples, tactics that proved successful in the end.

As the bell rang and the class came to an end, the students shuffled their belongings together into bags and headed for the door, but not before individually filing up to Annie to thank her for the presentation. The students had clearly learned a lot about the real-world challenges facing a graphic designer, and the eye-opening possibilities of a design career were written on their faces.


Mariesa Dale is an AIGA Washington DC Chapter member, creative director and Founder of DC Device Lab. She covers the monthly AIGA DC Mentoring Speaker Series at West Potomac High, located in Alexandria, Virginia. For more information about this initiative or to speak at WPA, contact Dian Holton at dian(at)aigadc(dot)org.

By Mariesa Dale
Published March 24, 2014