Dian Holton is deputy art director at AARP, a Foundation working to win back opportunity for struggling Americans 50+ by being a force for change on the most serious issues they face today. She is a badass, badass art director whose creative shines through her various body of work and initiatives. Her background includes publishing (print/digital), integrated marketing, branding, retail installation, and styling. She grew up in the United States, Berlin, and Seoul.
Dian Holton is also a freelance visual/brand associate and currently serves on the AIGA Washington DC chapter board, managing the Diversity & Inclusion initiative and the Design Continuum Fund scholarship. Her passions include education, philanthropy, fashion, and pop culture. Dian received a BS in Graphic Design from Florida A&M University.
Dian has won a lot of awards as an art director such as 2018 DC Fem Tech Award for Design, 2016 Graphic Design USA, Person to Watch, 2016 Content Marketing Award, Best Overall Design – Digital*, 2016 Folio Eddie and Ozzie Award, Finalist* amongst many others.
For Creative Girls: Your Design/Art Director experience is vast and cuts across different publications and editorials! How have you been able to navigate working across these different publications?
I don’t sleep. I make a point of following and/or getting immersed in content that resonates with me. I form connections and do my research so that I can speak intelligently about the subject. I love working in the media, however, I also realized that I have a soft spot for many different types of media. I started with print: first newspapers, then magazines and now I’m 75% in the digital news arena. It’s been fascinating, stressful and fun.
Growing up in the US, Berlin, and Seoul must have had a great creative influence on you. How has it impacted your art and mindset/philosophies?
I learned to adapt and took up the mantra: if you can dream it, you can do it. Sounds cliche but its true. Whatever the medium, you can work with people to make it come to fruition. I also love that design solves problems, that you often didn’t realize you had. I enjoy working with other creatives to problem-solve and as a designer in media, to tell a story or narrative. So living abroad did not only help me gain perspective on US-based design, but also that of foreign environments. More importantly, it has helped me in looking at my work and others through a diverse and inclusive lens.
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rEsiSt • When @jessiarrington and @rommely reached out on behalf of #ProjectResist to invite me to design an enamel pin set that could benefit my charity of choice during this time where many are losing their funding, homes, and/or livelihood as a result of the current administration I immediately said YES! Design + Charity = Design4Good 💸 100% of the proceeds this month will go to Safe Shores . $20. Purchase now at https://projectresist.com/ or link in bio. There are less than 300 available sooooooo… 💸 MY CHARITY. @safeshoresdc is an organization that advocates for children and teens that suffer from violence and trauma. And while they’ve been in existence for many years and on my radar, I felt that it was important that I continue to amplify the need for financial donations to help them with forensic services, clinical services, prevention, outreach, books, and keeping their clothing closet stocked. Bottomline …kids need advocates too. PROJECT RESIST. This initiative serves as a resource for those who have the shared belief that ordinary people can take various actions by standing up and supporting each other during these disparaging times (which appears to be everyday). They hope that these pieces of resistance will serve as daily reminders and signs of solidarity to keep going. And if pins aren’t your thing or you’d rather donate directly to Safe Shores, please do at https://www.safeshores.org/donate/ # #resist #projectresist #charity #advocacy #donations #saysomething #safeshores #resistwithasmile #protectkids365 #limitededition #kids #teens #dc #trauma #violence #acreativedc #help #designforgood #twentybucks #socialimpact #thankyou 👄 *Thx Scott Millar and Bild Studios for sponsoring my pin.
Your heart seeps through every art of yours that we’ve ever come across. Why is art direction so alive in you and important to you?
I have to thank my parents for this one. I was born in Georgia and am the daughter of two Florida A&M University graduates, Deb and Walt. My father was an Army colonel (infantry no doubt), and my mom was a buyer who’s career pivoted upon marrying our dad to be a military wife. In addition to being a soldier and an accounting major, my dad dabbled in photography and painting. My mom was an artisan and had her hands in multiple things – quilting, sewing, basket weaving, curating and managing stores that catered to arts and crafts. She was an avid volunteer coordinator and passionate about helping those in need. I’d say in a nutshell that these two souls and the work they did and continue to do, contributed to shaping me into the person I am today. And that person is someone who is open to all ideas — who truly believes that diversity of thought and execution is important. For from them amazing campaigns are created and trends that people fall love with are born. I love being part of the shaping them and exploring what could be.
Suggested Read – Blacks in Advertising: A Platform Amplifying Black professionals in Advertising
You manage the Diversity & Inclusion initiative at AIGA Washington DC chapter board, what does your work entail? And what practical steps do you advise that organizations and societies need to start taking to execute Diversity initiative?
Our chapter has recently decided to weave Diversity and Inclusion through our board instead of having a chair. So as Strategic Initiative Director, my focus is to not only be conscientious of D&I but also design for good – our Design Continuum scholarship, Women’s Leadership and Design for Democracy. My goal is to ensure that we are thinking of D+I, through everything we do: programming, blog posts, and conversations.
It’s my job to help my board and others minimize unconscious bias and focus on providing an experience that considers a variety of perspectives. We should build in the time to evaluate our designs and expand on the way it affects everyone. Let me point out, that even if a company doesn’t have the resources for focus groups, an individual can do their own research: poll friends, read articles, study case studies, and join meet-ups. Easier said than done, but by doing so, the opportunity to develop a new inclusive practice for a larger group is probable. As designer Elise Roy says, “When you design for the disabled, you design for all.” This theory can be applied across demographics and disciplines. In a nutshell, drop the excuses. Pledge to be better, do better.
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miC cHeCk 1,2,1,2 • Last night @designsponge invited my new besties and I the opportunity to dive into a unfiltered discussion on #ecosystems, selfcare, #diversity and #creativity with the DC community! So we put on our scuba gear (thx @jennydeluxe ) and unpacked a series of topics. It was wonderfully therapeutic and inspiring. Thank you Grace. If you haven’t, please snag a couple of her inaugural issues and join the mailing listing! You won’t be disappointed! 👉Featured and businesses I encourage you to know are: @NicoleMCrowder #teambath @kathrynzaremba #teamnap @pennybrewdc @duendedistrict and the host @solidstatedc #acreativedc #aigadc #bythings #dcdesign #dontgivedianthemic
What are some of the things you want your Art and work to change or stand for?
I want my art to be one if not all of these things: relevant, inspiring, and philanthropic or designed for impact & good.
What does every day look like for you as the Deputy Art Director at AARP?
Haha. That’s funny. I don’t know what its supposed to look like but for me, its a stream of consciousness played out in the form of pixels and emails. Because I art direct for AARP the Magazine and serve as creative director for thegirlfriend.com and sistersletter.com, my day-to-day is all over the map. Most of the time, I feel as though I’m project managing, sitting in meetings and trying to figure out how to solve technical problems or what the visual strategy is for the online platforms. The other half, I’m designing pages for print or researching talent.
AARP focuses on 40/50+ aged women and that is just incredible. Did the need for building AARP and creating The Girlfriend newsletter come from research or how did it start?
It started with research. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for its conception — that would be Myrna Blythe who is the co-founder of the now-shuttered More Magazine. I report to her for both thegirlfriend.com and sistersletter.com. She gave me the keys to the car to help execute the website and oversee all creative.
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miC cHeCk • Want to learn a little more about my Sneaker-Lab collaboration (which is available online only through March 15) or what happened to dailydigits® 🤔 Visit @fullserviceradio to listen to my interview w/ Morgan West of #acreativedc and my new group #teamtoomuch 🤪 for a candid talk about inspirations, challenges, AND what’s coming next. #sneakers #NIKEID #nike #sneakerdashlab #streetstyle #streetwear #hypebae #hypebeast #bythings #DianHoltonXsneakerlab
What does Creativity mean to you?
Creativity to me is the ability to express oneself through mediums, ideas, and expressions that resonate first with them. And I do believe everyone has creativity within them. It’s just a matter of figuring out what it is.
Tell us about 3 women you admire.
They are all women of color:
My mom. Deborah Holton. There’s not enough space to explain but once you meet her you understand.
Gail Anderson: icon, infallible, witty and incredibly talented.
Kristy Tillman, head of design for SLACK: because she honestly, has 0 Fucks to give and is unapologetic.
Bonus: Adowa Aboah. She is everything and I love what she’s doing/advocating in regards to women.
Your favorite websites and books.
vogue (British Vogue) print and online.
*I don’t have a favorite book presently
Follow Dian Holton and her life-changing work as an Art Director on her website, Instagram page, and Twitter.
Featured pictures via Design Observer and Delux Magazine.