Aaron is a graduate of the University of Missouri St. Louis with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and a minor in Advertising. He enjoys designing, storytelling and taking on opportunities that allow me to be creative.
Mann’s senior thesis project “Equal By Design” won the 2017 AAF Mosaic Award for the Student Multicultural Advertising Campaign. His goal for the project was to show that African Americans are in the graphic design field and have made significant contributions to the industry. It hopes to spark curiosity among black youth, inform readers on the history of African American designers, and give future graphic designers some reassurance. Equal By Design Creative
Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I was born and grew up in St. Louis, MO. As an only child, I had to have an excellent imagination to occupy myself. I believe that’s where my creativity came from. My grandma gave me a box of LEGOs for Christmas when I was 7 and sparked my desire to build and create things in the years to come. In high school, I took as many art classes as I could and turned my basement into my personal studio.
How did you first get interested in design?
In high school, got involved with St. Louis ArtWorks, an organization that allows high school students a chance to work as an art apprentice. It was there that I knew that a career in creating was for me and decided to pursue a career in graphic design.
Tell me about the work you've done?
Working with an agency, I’ve worked on print material, website designs, and packaging for some St. Louis companies and nonprofits. I got to work closely with clients, developers, and printers, seeing a project through till the end. I’ve been able to wear a variety of hats that make the career more exciting for me.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
Being able to say “I worked on that” is an accomplishment for me.
My proudest accomplishment was winning the AAF’s Mosaic Award. The AAF’s Mosaic Awards recognize companies, agencies, and individuals whose commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident through their creative work and organization-wide initiatives. I accepted the award in New Orleans during the ADMERICA National Conference.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
Once in college, I started to hear that finding work in graphic design can be tricky. When I asked for advice, people suggested I have a backup plan. I didn’t want to be a “starving artist” and with no one telling me graphic design is a valid career, I changed my major to art education. After transferring schools, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted and got back on track with graphic design.
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?
I view graphic design as storytelling. I’m constantly seeking and learning new ways to tell a story.
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
Early on through internships, I noticed there was a diversity shortage. I found out later that this is an issue prevalent in agencies and design firms. It left me with questions and eventually helped fuel my thesis project.
What are your biggest motivators?
Being able to use my talent as a designer for a good cause. I love design that supports the environment, sustainability, learning, and building stronger communities. Knowing that we as designers have that type of power feels good.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
They are impressed. My family loves seeing the work I’ve done over the years and are truly my personal cheerleaders. I can get an honest opinion from both groups coming from a design and known design background.
What do you love most about working in design?
Seeing ideas grow through design and communication. Being able to hold the book in your hand, watching the video, or seeing the website go live, and knowing you had something to do with that feels good.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
The design and advertising field should be as diverse as the world it is marketing to. I would like young minorities to see themselves within the field.
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
By keeping art in schools and creating programs that encourage art and design.
What are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
I’m currently reaching the next point in my career and constantly learning and growing as a designer. I plan on expanding the project Equal by Design.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
Yes! In 5 or 10 years, I see myself working on design projects that foster growth within individuals, communities, and environments.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in design or hoping to get into it?
Follow your passions so you can enjoy what you do. Every day won’t be hard, but when you fall on turbulent times, you’ll be able to make it through more comfortable knowing it’s where you want to be.