Rachael Hardy is a Chicago-based creative director, brand architect, and designer with a proven track record of curating successful design solutions. She’s helped to build brands for companies like P&G and Walgreens and has worked all across the country from LA to NY, PHL to Chicago.
Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I’m originally from the Midwest, born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’ve always been relatively independent and into art and self-expression in some way. Whether it focused on deconstructing an article of clothing, playing the clarinet, or turning my parent’s basement into a batik lab if there was something creative in my head it needed to get out.
How did you first get interested in design?
I loved magazines and their ads very early on, I’d collect them all. National Geographic, GQ, and Vibe were my go-to’s. My parents told us to focus on an industry or job that we’d do for free. I didn’t know graphic design was a thing at the time, but I knew I’d look at magazines, the advertisements and letters for free any day.
Tell me about the work you've done?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work in my field since completing college.That’s a blessing! But I’ve had to be agile and work in a number of fields across graphic design. From environmental design for museums, brand packaging for brands in the P&G portfolio (Febreze, Olay, Pantene), rebrands for new business clients (Blockbuster back when Blockbuster was a thing) and Kraft Foods. In more recent years, I’ve been able to lead teams and shape design strategy. For JET Magazine, our work was the first cover-to-cover redesign in the magazine’s history. Being able to shape Beauty at Walgreens and to help define what diversity looks like for a global beauty brand was huge. Most recently, building the in-house design team for Trunk Club from the ground-up, shape what campaigns look like from a marketing perspective and create consistency to coincide with what Nordstrom (their parent company) is executing.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
My time at JET Magazine felt historic. Working within Johnson Publishing with the team that we had made it worth the effort. Everyone has since moved on, but we remain close friends due to the passion we had for the content we were creating.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
Being Black in design has always been an anomaly. From being one of few in design studios and design organizations to that then translating to the workplace. It’s an industry that’s presented a cultural divide from the onset. Plus, being a (Black) woman in a very male-centric industry has presented challenges especially as I’ve risen higher into leadership. Having to strike a balance between being an authority, yet “approachable” as well as how to present (or defend) your design savvy is a complicated tightrope that I’ve worked hard to master.
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?
Not unlike my peers, I had to learn who I was in this industry and see it as my advantage instead of a shortcoming. Being within corporate brands really taught me the power I have as a black woman in these rooms. I’m a part of the very community that the corporation wants to engage. I’m not guessing about what people will like and if the cultural nuances are appropriate. A lot of the things we find second nature are gems for the advertising world.
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
Empowering. It’s very obvious that I’m one of few people of color in most design leadership roles and that used to be intimidating to me. Now, I know it’s my superpower.
What are your biggest motivators?
My three (almost 4) year old daughter pushes me out of my comfort zone daily. I’m always facing a new challenge. It’s caused me to take the same leaps in this industry knowing I can succeed. Other, younger designers keep you on your toes as well. You have to remain inspired and teachable.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
A lot of my friends are exposed to design or do things similar to my industry, so we inspire one another and get really excited about our wins. My family legitimately has no idea what I do, how I get paid for it, or why companies let me do it.
What do you love most about working in design?
It’s competitive, inspiring, always changing and it equips you with a talent you can leverage at any time.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
We need to open the doors and see all the people. Without exposing brand secrets, there needs to be a way to encourage collaboration and inspire growth within the design world. We also have to start paying one another what we’re worth so we can continue to demand it from our clients.
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
Early introduction to information and resources are key. Getting Macs into computer labs, teaching students at a very young age how vast the design and arts industries are.
What are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
Right now work is for myself so it’s fun. I’m doing a lot of brand work and helping corporate companies address diversity, inclusion and social biases in their creative presence. I also have a non-profit, Lines of Liberty, that’s a passion project of mine. It’s centered around donating school uniforms to children in need to encourage learning by instilling confidence and boosting self-esteem.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
Absolutely. I know I’ll still be in this industry, hopefully continuing to mentor, leading strategy and growing brands for the cultures.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in design or hoping to get into it?
Do your research, remain teachable, learn something new , be agile, be nimble and ask for the help you need.