AIGA Chicago Diversity & Inclusion Committee and Women Lead Initiative: Top Row (L-R): Nermin Moufti, Marissa Strassel, Jonathan Sangster, Melis Sönmez, Bottom Row (L-R): Heather Snyder Quinn, Daniel Escamilla, Ingrid Nelson, Antonio García

All We Got: Meet the Team Behind AIGA Chicago’s Diversity & Inclusion Agenda

Antonio García
Apr 30, 2018 · 7 min read

In June 2017, the AIGA Chicago Board made the critical decision to create the chapter’s first Vice President role dedicated entirely to Diversity & Inclusion. Recognizing the need for D&I to be pursued as a standalone initiative and establishing a leadership structure for even greater commitment to the objectives of that initiative, I humbly and excitedly accepted the VP nomination.

Committing to the 3-year volunteer leadership role, I understood the gravity of the new position, what it represented to the chapter and what it could mean to the Chicago creative community at large. I also knew there was no way I could do it alone, so I set out to build a lean squad of diverse designers eager to tackle the systemic issues standing in the way of inclusivity and equity in design.

The summer was spent learning and listening over coffees and meals. While I interviewed some passionate, long-time AIGA members, I mostly spent time with non-members: designers who had left AIGA and those who never considered membership in the first place. Why had people left the organization? What was missing from the chapter’s offerings? Why didn’t the chapter represent the identities of all its members? What kept people from feeling a sense of community? How might the chapter evolve and improve to meet these needs?

Spanning industry veterans and critical new voices, I met with over a dozen Chicago design thought leaders including Dawn Hancock, Vernon Lockhart, Theresa Stewart, Sharlene King, Rusty Cook, Alex Gilbert and Scott Theisen. While the conversations covered a lot of ground, they where generally consistent in their themes and identified two major organizational blindspots:

  1. AIGA Chicago has almost no visibility into the composition of our membership. We don’t know how close we are to gender equity or what identities we actually represent. Without a sense of our demography, it’s hard to know how diverse we are or aren’t.
  2. AIGA Chicago must do more to make our programming, events and communications inclusive. Without a sense for all the ways our community identifies, its impossible to develop experiences where people feel seen, heard and invited to participate, shape and improve what it means to be an AIGA member.

Identifying these two strategic imperatives provided a launchpad for generative thinking (and more inquiry): Who are we leaving out? Whose voice isn’t being heard? How’s this impacting the community? How might the chapter establish a baseline with which to measure our D&I progress? How will we know what we’re doing is actually impacting the diversity of membership and inclusivity of our chapter? And even if we convene a more diverse group of designers, what are ways of creating the conditions where our members feel a true sense of community, belonging and engagement? (If you have ideas and suggestions, leave them in the comments!)

Six months into our work, we have some clarity on the questions above and the start of some answers (like our On The Daily Instagram takeover series and Signs of the Resistance event), but manifesting all these ideas in real life will take time and a team….

Assembling AIGA Chicago’s D&I Team

These early conversations connected me to several designers interested in serving Chicago’s creative community, bringing forward marginalized voices and perspectives and answering the questions above. These individuals now comprise AIGA Chicago’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Committee — and I’m honored to share the work and responsibility with them:

Jonathan Sangster, Co-Lead
Jonathan is an artist and graphic designer. He has an MFA in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he specialized in typography and print design, and a BFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he specialized in communication design and art history. He spends his time reading books printed on paper, practicing 35mm photography and trying to avoid having an existential crisis.

Nermin Moufti
Nermin is a graphic designer, a traveler, a cook, and a mother. She made her way from Syria to Chicago by way of Dubai and Toronto. Her creative practice embodies the belief that design can and should catalyze positive change and social justice. Nermin joined Firebelly in 2017, where she builds brand systems and gets to flex her hand lettering skills. Before that, she focused on brand experience and dabbled in UX/UI design. Her work has been exhibited in various galleries including The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and was part of Chicago’s Typeforce 8. Nermin holds a BSc in Visual Communications from the American University of Sharjah (UAE), and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, Media and Design from OCAD.

Daniel Escamilla
Daniel believes solving communication challenges requires empathy, curiosity, creativity and design. A Columbia College Chicago graduate, Daniel is a creative mind through and through. Daniel is a freelancer contracted most recently by Carrier Direct, Emmis Digital, The Sports Marketing Company, and Career Builder. Daniel’s own personal journey overcoming cultural barriers motivate him to offer the same encouragement and goodwill he received from the Chicago design community to others—particularly minority and marginalized designers. His interview series Latinx Creatives finds, highlights, and connects with Latinx creatives to share their stories.

Ingrid Nelson
Ingrid is a graphic designer born and raised in Haiti. She recently graduated to the Rhode Island School of Design and moved to Chicago. She’s passionate about branding from the creation of the mark to its translation in physical and digital spaces. Her natural empathy coming from her upbringing in a developing country pushes her to want to create change on a larger scale. She wants to see more faces like hers and people from a diverse background in design.

Melis Sönmez
Melis is a design researcher with a background in product design and brand communication. She has spent the past four years collaborating with design and strategy teams tackling complex challenges and contributing insights and strategic thinking to high-visibility projects. She is also the founder of Bright Side, an initiative that shines a light on the positive impact immigrants have on the world. Melis also coordinated the team’s use of DuPuis Group to host our monthly work sessions. An extra special ‘thank you’ to Ivana Nikolic for supporting our efforts.

Antonio García (me)
Antonio is AIGA Chicago’s VP of Diversity & Inclusion and Group Experience Director at Rightpoint. Antonio also teaches Visual Storytelling and Communication Design at Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute. A frequent contributor to community conversations on the topics of diversity, culture and creativity, Antonio believes design’s sole function is to cause change.

The D&I team we’ve assembled includes designers of all types: in-house, studio, agency, independent, and government. It includes people with well over two decades of experience and those brand new in their careers. It is majority female and includes a mix of religious, cultural and ethnic identities. That said, we could always be more diverse! So if you’re interested in getting involved and supporting our D&I efforts, please volunteer.

Women Lead Initiative + Diversity & Inclusion

Working alongside the all-new D&I Committee, is the chapter’s Women Lead Initiative led by Marissa Strassel and Heather Synder Quinn. Marissa and Heather were active well before I joined the board and have an established Facebook community and several successful events under their belts. It’s been an easy and natural partnership for our respective groups — aligning their commitment to “empowering women in design and advancing the vital discourse on issues facing professional women today” with our diversity and inclusion work makes perfect sense.

Marissa Strassel
Marissa is an award-winning designer with extensive experience creating integrated design programs for B2B and nonprofit clients including Make-A-Wish,, and Northwestern. She is an adjunct instructor at DePaul University and works full-time leading multi-disciplinary teams as a Creative Director. She is an advocate for the environment and women in business.

Heather Snyder Quinn
Heather is a designer who also goes by the persona @Louise451. Heather teaches at DePaul University, and previously taught at Rhode Island School of Design. She has worked as a designer for 22 years at agencies including, SapientRazorfish, Fitch and Essential Design. In 2001 she founded her own studio working with clients including: MIT OpenCourseware, The United Nations and Adopt-a-Minefield. A mother of two daughters, she is a passionate advocate for women in the arts, and recently received DePaul’s Woman of Spirit and Action Award.

So there it is. The origin story of AIGA Chicago’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Committee and our partners-in-solidarity, the Women Lead Initiative. We certainly have our work cut out for us and will need continuous support, energy, feedback and accountability from the broader Chicago design community. We’re also not interested in reinventing the wheel and will be posting resources and learning as we find them to help accelerate others’ efforts in this mission. We’re all counting on everyone and each other. Because we’re all we got.

The 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Committee owes a great deal to the earlier work of Diversity Co-Leads Elaine Lopez and Lashun Tines. Leading up to the chapter’s new structure, they laid the foundation for today’s team: championing the issues, designing events and fielding a preliminary survey of Chicagoland studios which revealed the need for greater awareness, better tools and a fundamentally new approach to addressing D&I failings within our industry. The team owes our future success to this duo.

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