As we prepare for the inaugural AIGA Eye on Design Conference, we meet some of our esteemed speakers to find out more about them, their work, and what you can expect from them on the big day.

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Wendy MacNaughton is the San Francisco-based illustrator and graphic journalist behind numerous books, including Meanwhile in San Francisco, The City in its Own Words (Chronicle) and Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology (Bloomsbury). She’s the back page columnist for California Sunday Magazine, and has worked for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Lucky Peach, and IDEO. MacNaughton is the co-founder of Women Who Draw, an open directory of illustrators who identify as female. She’ll be speaking on our Women in Illustration panel at the conference.

Before working as an illustrator full time, you worked in East Africa on several social marketing campaigns, including creating a national educational campaign in Rwanda. Similarly, your illustrations serve as a commentary on our society—how far do you feel there’s a responsibility for creatives to make work that reflects the times in which they live?

Not only is it a responsibility, I believe it’s a requirement that creative practitioners use their work for positive social impact. Visual communication is powerful—perhaps the most powerful force in the world today. It creates opinions, sets priorities and influences behavior. As visual communicators, if we aren’t using that power to create a positive impact on society and the world then we are doing the opposite—and that’s irresponsible and dangerous, not to mention a waste of our time, energy and talent.

What different perspective do you think women can bring to illustration compared to their male peers?

Everyone brings a unique perspective to their work based on who they are and their life experience.

If we’re seeing work from mostly white, straight men, then we’re only hearing one perspective. This results in a loss in quality, in interestingness, in curiosity, in experience, in empathy, in new and unique vision, and is ultimately a huge disservice to society and the world.

We need a wide diversity of voices represented in what we see, read, hear. We need to make sure we are seeing and creating opportunities to see the work of women, sure—and work from women of color, queer people, trans people, from all people whose lives and perspectives don’t get airtime in visual communication.

When did you know that you wanted to be an illustrator? Which people or collectives/agencies would you say impacted that decision, or your style?

I call myself an illustrator because I use the tools of illustration to tell stories about the world around me via publications. But I have this unusual background I bring to the work I do; along with drawing, I am trained as a social worker, I was a writer in advertising, I worked with nonprofits. All of those things factor into my work as much as drawing does. About 10 years ago I decided to commit myself to drawing full-time. Some of the artists who demonstrated that a person can use all parts of themselves in their artwork—not sacrifice impact for beauty, or creativity for purpose, and still communicate with large groups of people—were Tibor Kalman, Kathy Kollwitz, Saul Steinberg, Ben Shahn. Each of these artists are also illustrators, activists, and visual storytellers. I go back to their work often for inspiration or a kick in the ass. 

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