SINCE 1978 Willoughby Design has been a small and mighty group of 12-20 creatives designing award winning identities for clients including Kauffman Foundation, the United Nations, Hallmark Cards, Lee Jeans, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Panera Bread and the new Kansas City Streetcar system. Ann is a national AIGA Medalists and Fellow who credits the Willoughby team for much of her success. Ann was featured as one of the most influential women designers of the 20th century in the design book, Women of Design.
WILLOUGHBY DESIGN IS THE OLDEST WOMAN FOUNDED DESIGN FIRM IN THE UNITED STATES (1978). DID YOU EVER ENCOUNTER ADVERSITY AS A WOMAN RUNNING HER OWN BUSINESS IN THE LATE 1970S?
AT THE TIME I WAS BOTH FEARLESS AND NAIVE. For example, I could not get a bank loan in spite of healthy receivables and a good reputation. So I adjusted my growth plan by working at home and hiring freelance help occasionally during heavy work flow. This meant I had to turn down a lot of work. My first large client, Lee Jeans, helped me stabilize the business by providing predictable work throughout the year so that I could grow through revenues without loans.
HOW DID BEING BORN AND RAISED IN MISSISSIPPI INFLUENCE YOU CREATIVELY?
MISSISSIPPI HAS ALWAYS BEEN FERTILE GROUND for artists and writers. Storytelling is in my blood so I tend to think about everything in words and pictures.
WHAT'S THE BEST PART ABOUT LIVING AND CREATING HERE IN KANSAS CITY?
I LIVED HERE through the creative renaissance of the 1970’s and it feels like we are going through another re-birth. KC’s vibrant creative cultural continues to invigorate me.
“I LOOK FORWARD TO
SEEING MORE WOMEN
AND DIVERSITY IN THE PROFESSION.”
WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT IN REGARDS TO THE FUTURE OF GRAPHIC DESIGN?
I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING MORE WOMEN AND DIVERSITY in the profession. Our culture and attitudes have been shaped mostly from a white male point of view. I judged an international design show a few years ago and I was surprised and delighted to see the remarkable work created by women in other cultures.
YOU RECENTLY WERE AWARDED AN AIGA GOLD MEDAL, GRAPHIC DESIGN'S HIGHEST HONOR. WHAT DID THIS MEAN TO YOU AND YOUR LEGACY?
I WAS THRILLED AND HUMBLED to receive this prestigious national medal. I also see the AIGA medal as an honor for Willoughby Design and for Kansas City. I hope it will inspire others to recognize that opportunity and recognition is no longer restricted to those who live in cities on the coasts.
“KANSAS CITY IS A PLACE OF UNEXPECTED BEAUTY, (AND) CULTURE...”
IF YOU COULD MEET 1 PERSON DEAD OR ALIVE THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM?
I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW ELEANOR ROOSEVELT. I would ask her to tell me about her passion to fight for the rights of women and workers.
IF YOU COULD SELECT ONE PIECE FROM YOUR PORTFOLIO THAT YOU ARE THE MOST PROUD OF, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
WITHOUT A DOUBT, it was the book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball. The project was born out of a long and deep friendship with Gordon MacKenzie. He had the ability to inspire others to be their best and his speeches were transformative. His book, which took 17 months to design and produce was an act of love with many collaborators along the way. Gordon loved every minute of the process which brought an abundance of joy to everyone in our office. Michelle Sonderigger, the principal designer worked on little else during this time. The result was worth the extra time and effort many times over. I continue to read and re-read Gordon’s words whenever I need a little inspiration.
WHAT UNIQUE TO KANSAS CITY RESTAURANT, STORE OR SPACE DO YOU LOVE? WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
KANSAS CITY IS A PLACE OF UNEXPECTED BEAUTY, culture and renowned chefs. I love the restaurant Bluestem right down the street from our office. Don’t miss their happy hour! Check out the antebellum town of Weston and stop by the Willoughby Design Barn on the way home.