Fact Craft: Radical Memes, Pioneer Works

A couple of months after Allyn Hughes graduated from Yale’s graduate school of graphic design, she found herself in a particularly intense working environment. She was a senior designer on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, where she was in charge of leading design for all of Clinton’s various coalition groups, which included special-interest groups like “Women for Hillary,” and “LGBTQ for Hillary.” 

For Hughes, who had left her job at a big name architecture firm to go back to school and study graphic design, it was the apex of what the medium could be—creative, wide-reaching, and in service of a worthy goal. “I wanted to design for a larger group of people,” she says. “I thought about how crazy it is for a design brief to be for America, and not just designing for people in Brooklyn, moms, or millennials.”

In her relatively short career, though, Hughes has found a way to design for all of those demographics in equal measure. Since leaving the Clinton campaign, Hughes spent time as a senior designer at the Brooklyn arts non-profit Pioneer Works creating posters and collateral for art exhibitions, and she’s currently a senior designer at the yogurt company Chobani, where she helps implement the brand’s instantly recognizable identity across its various products. (Note: Hughes is also the designer behind issue #03 of Eye on Design magazine.) 

Chobani Digest, Chobani with Anisa Suthayalai and Shira Chung

All careers are part determined plotting and part happenstance, but Hughes has managed to turn hers into a form of continuing education, where at every step she’s exploring a new corner of the graphic design world to get a better view of what graphic design really is. “I want to grow as a designer,” she says. “And I think having these different experiences are ultimately going to inform who I am and what other projects I decided to get involved with.”

At Pioneer Works, she was one of a team of two people who were responsible for creating visuals for the organization’s array of art, science, and music events. It was an opportunity, after the disciplined visual environment of the Clinton campaign, to figure out what her voice was. “I started to understand motion and texture,” she says. “My process is often just putting two different ideas together and like trying to sort through that. I think of myself as a connector in a way.”

Hughes work is often playfully irreverent with scratches, scrawls, and typography that can give her designs a collaged feel. She uses motion as another graphic element to interact with the structure of the piece. It’s smart and heady work, where the conceptual underpinnings feel just as important as the visual. “A lot of my work is just an inside joke with myself,” she says.

Reanimation Library, Pioneer Works

But for Hughes, graphic design isn’t a purely aesthetic practice. After Pioneer Works, she decided to go work at Chobani, a more structured environment where she works on a larger team. It might read as an unexpected move for someone who had spent much of her career, both in graphic design and in architecture, working within cultural institutions, but for Hughes it was a natural next step.

She knew she wanted to get branding experience. And she knew she wanted to stay in-house, where she could help develop a brand within a predetermined system. “I think in-house is something you have to come to love and appreciate,” she says. “Some people think of it as stifling, but to me it’s more like a puzzle where you’re trying to figure out how to work with these pieces to make something that stands out.”

“Graphic design is a gloss, it’s what makes people want something—it’s a very powerful tool.”

Chobani, it should be said, is not a creatively restrictive place. In recent years, it’s garnered a reputation as a company where its in-house designers are treated as an important element of the company’s success. Hughes says that joining an in-house team gives her the power to decide who she wants to work for. “The biggest draw for me is that I get to choose the company that I’m working for and it can align with my values,” she says. 

It’s a luxury that she realizes not every designer has. Being choosy about who you do work for comes with a certain level of privilege that Hughes recognizes. But graphic design deserves to be more considered—both its form and its impact. “If you’re a graphic designer and you make work for a company you don’t agree with, I think you have some responsibility,” she says. “Graphic design is a gloss, it’s what makes people want something—it’s a very powerful tool.”

Four Simultaneous Soloists, Pioneer Works