Designer of the Week Nathaniel Axios is an art director at Deloitte Digital, where he helps clients build deeper experiences and stronger brand credibility through design, creative thinking and technology. He’s led creative development for numerous companies, non-profits, and federal agencies, and his passion for mentoring is evident in the interview below.
Read on to hear what Axios thinks about the importance of mentorship in design, his thoughts on staying relevant as a designer and his advice for those designers feeling “stuck.”
[And if you want to soak up some of the wisdom that Axios has accrued over his 18 years in the field, you can catch him at HOW Design Live this May in Atlanta, where he’ll be delivering a session in the In-House Management track called “The Art of Managing Digital Transformations.”]
Name: Nathaniel Axios
Name of Firm: Deloite Digital
Location: Washington D.C.
Design school attended:
My undergrad is from the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a double emphasis in interaction design and graphic design. My MFA is from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in digital media.
How would you describe your work?
My work strives to be visually rich and clean to establish credibility while paying attention to the experience of the work to communicate, and lead to, the desired actions.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes from those I have the privilege of mentoring and coaching. My relationship with growing designers continually humbles and bolsters me. While I help them find their way through to the next phase of their career, I find myself recognizing I have what it takes to get through whatever challenge I’m facing through calling upon my own past experiences.
From the perspective of visual inspiration, the more recent college graduates I work with are faster, and more efficient, with their “filtering” of trends. They share with me stories and projects that keep my mind reeling with potential. Bottom line, mentoring is my inspiration.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
My favorite artists would be Luke Chueh for the cute and twisted commentaries of his work. Ray Caesar’s work is the epitome of an artist processing emotionally trying experiences through his craft as a 3D modeler. Todd Baldwin and Paul Miller of Airline Industries from the 90s created rave flyers for Buzz D.C. Their work deeply influenced me during my college days.
Putting aside visuals and talking about impact; Michael Bierut is definitely up there as a favorite. Sure, he’s an outstanding designer, but his exhortations speaking at Shine D.C. to find a mentor, and become a mentor, make his personal impact on me significant. I had the opportunity to work with him at the American Institute of Architects and host him in D.C. when he was speaking. He’s a genuinely amazing guy.
[If you, too, are a fan of Beirut, see his most recent award-winning work in the 2015 Regional Design Annual gallery.]
One last designer of note is a person who doesn’t get the recognition she so richly deserves. Mollie Ruskins of USDS.gov. Her work continually changes the face of design for our country from facilitating better care for our veterans to establishing a suggested design guide for dot gov web properties. She’s one of several designers quietly working behind the scenes and not getting enough recognition for serving our country.
Last, and definitely not least, my wife Ashleigh Axios remains a hero of mine. As the creative director for the office of Digital Strategy for the Obama administration, the work she has done [will] literally be archived into history. Just search for articles on the the two-screen experience of the State of the Union address, and you’ll understand why she is so amazing.
[PRINT took a look inside the White House with an exclusive interview with Ashleigh Axios.]
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
My current favorite is an ongoing pro-bono project for OpenCityAdvocates.org [see above]. The work includes rebrand, marketing, and strategy work. The two founders make a significant impact on the lives of the youth they work with on a personal level as well as improving our justice system. I’ve never met two more dedicated and inspirational people.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
Without intending to be so meta, the first project that came to mind is that of my own career. Staying relevant as a designer means continually growing in three areas: design trends, technical advancements and developing people/culture. I find myself constantly juggling all three areas and figuring out the right approaches within each to keep myself growing in applicable ways. I’d say I’m still working on it and haven’t quite found the right cadence to keep all three areas thriving.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
My aspirations range from completing a custom motorcycle build to creating my own line of clothing. However, the one thing I value the most is in impacting the lives of hundreds of designers throughout my career and the ripple effect they have on the world over. I truly believe accomplishments live on in the lives of others, and not just within the visual/experience solutions designers create. If I help develop just 100 designers and each of them goes on to create beautiful solutions and in turn mentor a few more designers…
What’s your best advice for designers today?
I’ve met a lot of designers that deeply desire to become more than production designers but are stuck in a space where those around them don’t value what they do. With the field of design growing rapidly, if you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you.
Also, find a mentor and become a mentor.
View more of Axios’ work here.
In this 69-page ebook, we’ll hear from 13 experts on thinking creatively in the digital age. Soak up their wisdom as you develop a flexible mind that is ideal for visual communication, digital marketing or social media, and you’ll undoubtedly increase your value as a designer—to your clients, your employer, or simply your own work.