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6 tips for success from Obama's creative director

Neil Bennett | May 2, 2016
Until two weeks ago Ashleigh Axios was the creative director at the White House. It's a job that spans the online presence of the historic building, its position as an institution and of President Obama.

Until two weeks ago Ashleigh Axios was the creative director at the White House. It's a job that spans the online presence of the historic building, its position as an institution and of President Obama.

Key to this job is conceiving and managing the execution of projects to engage the American public about Obama's policies - as well as presenting the US President in a favourable light, which Ashleigh says is often about presenting him as a human being with values, opinions, emotions and the ability to laugh at himself.

Projects lead by Ashleigh range from the simple-but-effective - such as showing the White House's support for gay marriage by lighting up the building with the rainbow flag - to providing visuals to support the President's yearly State of the Union address to Congress. This included 127 slides that also ran online alongside a live video feed of the speech, and which were designed to be shared on social media and so had to work without the context of the speech as well as within it.

Speaking at last week's D&AD Festival in London, Ashleigh revealed five tips for working on design projects that resonate with millions of people - and creating an effective team to achieve that.

"Engage people as people"

Obama's plan to make extensive changes to the US healthcare system required winning over the public, especially after the website to let people access the new healthcare schemes didn't perform well when it initially launched. Ashleigh noted that some within government suggested that the best way to introduce the change was with "a white paper or putting someone on a podium."

Instead Obama went on the Funny or Die's YouTube show Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis (watch it here), a spoof interview show where the president was interviewed by a slovenly, aggressive and possibly drunk persona of Galifianakis' (who's best known for The Hangover movies). Here, between uncomfortable jokes, he managed to talk about the benefits of the new system, tell people the site was working fine now and even provide basic info about how to access it in to an audience that might not gain that information from news media.

"Encourage innovation"

"Even at the White House, a flat structure is necessary to give everyone a chance to thrive as a leader," says Ashleigh. Enabling people to lead their own projects encourages people to conceive and develop their own ideas, as they get to manage the creation of the projects they lead to (as long as they don't get too attached to them).

"Hire like you want innovation"

"Diversity breeds innovation," says Ashleigh - noting that there are two many different types of diversity including outlook, skillset and heritage. It's the last of these that gets the most discussion - and the creatives industries really do need to do more to hire more women and people from BAME backgrounds - but just as it can be unconsciously easier to hire people who look like you, you can also be drawn to candidates who think like you too.

 

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