Designing From a Female Perspective: Ann Willoughby

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One of the best parts about recruiting judges for the Regional Design Annual: Getting a chance to browse their archives. Today, fifth in a series of six judge profiles, we bring you the words and works of Ann Willoughby, who will be judging the South region of the RDA this year.


Official bio: Ann Willoughby has been a national and global leader in communication design, design education and branding for the last three decades. She has taught, written and given lectures from Asia to Europe and throughout the US.

Ann founded Willoughby Design in 1978. Over the years, Willoughby has found a special niche: designing creative brand experiences from a female perspective. Willoughby has designed groundbreaking brand strategies, identities and communications for scores of clients, including national and international organizations such as Kauffman Foundation, the United Nations, Hallmark Cards, Lee Jeans, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Panera Bread, as well as Kansas City civic and community organizations and causes such as Visit KC, KC Chamber, Central Exchange and the win|win initiative.

Ann has been active in AIGA nationally and locally throughout her career. She is a national medalist and served on the AIGA National Board of Directors and chaired the 2004 AIGA National Design Conference in New York. Ann is currently co-chair of the AIGA National Centennial Celebration, and helped launch the pilot AIGA Design Leadership Program at Harvard Business School. She was also one of first designers to write and speak about sustainability and systems design as a way to measure the economic, social and environmental impact of human activity.


Path that led you to design: As a kid I was always making up stories and building things like miniature landscapes with towns linked by roads that were scaled to the size of my die-cast matchbox toy cars. There was a natural evolution from those imaginary games to the type of work we do today. For example, we are naming and creating the identity for the Kansas City regional transit brand and for our modern new streetcar system. Same game with bigger toys.

Your career, in a nutshell: Young girl in Mississippi, civil rights, visual merchandiser, fashion illustrator, freelancer, teacher, sketchbooks, start-up, 37 years working with truly amazing designers and clients: Lee Jeans, Bagel and Bagel, Hallmark, IBC, AIGA, Aspen Design Conference, TED conference, Three Dog Bakery, Gordon Mackenzie, KU, KC Art Institute, HOW, Kevin Carroll, sketchbooks, Einstein Bros Bagels, Willoughby Barn, Spin Pizza, Kauffman Foundation, United Nations, Sustainability, Good Food, Mohawk, Kansas City: Visit KC, KC Chamber, Max, Streetcar, Lyric Opera, AIGA Fellow, AIGA Medal, AIGA Centennial 2014, Sketchbooks, young at heart woman in Kansas City.


Design Philosophy: Great design is timeless. It illuminates life and satisfies the human soul.

The key to good design: Curiosity, imagination, humanity, empathy, craft, discipline, practice.

Work of which you’re most proud: Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball.

Moment in your life of which you’re most proud: My children and winning the AIGA medal.


Cause that means the most to you: Women and girls.

Favorite designer: Milton Glaser.

Favorite typographer: Mathew Carter.

Favorite artist: So many.

Favorite city (anywhere): Rome.

Biggest inspiration: Dogs.


What the South means to you: Fried okra, magnolias, blues, literature.

What tends to make your region’s design unique?

Motto: Show up every day, and “Imagination is more important than Knowledge.” —Albert Einstein

Anything else: Gratitude is Good.

Have you entered Print’s RDA in your career? Yes.

2012 Annual Meeting

Print’s Regional Design Annual 2015: Enter Today< span>The 2015 Regional Design Annual is now open. Don’t miss your chance to have your work reviewed by the best minds in design today and to be spotlighted in our most popular issue of the year—the industry’s most prestigious and well-respected annual.