This month our Member Spotlight shines on Kristin Dankanich!
Tell us a little about yourself. What is your current job?
I specialize in herding cats and focusing chaos.
Currently, I lead an in-house design team at Vanguard. We’re responsible for developing a breadth of marketing communications for our business division—traditional print collateral, sales presentations, emails, exhibit design, video and social media graphics. Our team is part of a broader User Experience team that is really pushing the leading edge of data-driven design and technology use at the company, so it’s a really exciting time to be part of it. I’m actively working with a small core team to localize the master brand in a way that best resonates with our particular audiences.
Before that, I was the creative director for many years another global company specializing in corporate internal and B2B marketing communications across 15+ different industries.
What do you geek out about?
Work: Building strong, high-performing teams. Branding. Design thinking. Human psychology. Leadership. Process. My unicorn collection. Personal: Unicorns. International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Kettlebells and strength training. Making acrylic pour paintings. My Volkswagen R. Cool hair. Rothy’s shoes. But mostly, unicorns.
Why design? What inspires you to do the work you do?
I’m not sure how I really landed in the design industry, but I doubt I could see myself working in any other field at this point. Others have always seen me as an artistic person long before I identified that in myself (but I’m also horribly susceptible to “impostor syndrome”). I think I’m just naturally aesthetically minded and good at connecting seemingly dissonant things.
One thing I love about design is the importance it places on aesthetics as part of the conversation about usefulness to an end user. Good design is the entry point in understanding information. I believe good work is born out of being a good listener and using your curiosity and empathy to ask probing questions. I’m a communicator by default, and I love how employing design principles can enhance our understanding of any message. And that’s the goal, right? We all just want to connect with another human and really feel like we were heard. So, I enjoy my little contributions in that equation.
It’s hard to say succinctly what inspires me, but I try to keep my eyes open wherever I am and enjoy the small details and surprises of life.
I find that color and nature are immediately energizing for my work. For example, I recently visited Toronto, Ontario for the first time. I really enjoyed the things you might imagine I would—the delicious food, cool architecture, the incredible artwork of Graffiti Alley, the interesting museums—but my most favorite moment of the whole trip? The aquarium. And it was completely unexpected. I found myself in front of a particular exhibit that featured gorgeous gradients of light that pulsed along with the movement of floating jellyfish. I was mesmerized. I felt like a little kid again. And I stood there in front of that exhibit for over an hour (lost track of time) with my camera phone taking hundreds of pictures and videos of them. I don’t even really like jellyfish. But the color, the movement, the total feeling of the exhibit made me live in that childlike sense of wonder for a moment, and it’s those kind of experiences I strive to be open to.
Who helped get you here?
Wow, entirely way too many people to call out by name. But I will say that I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had many informal mentors throughout my career who have been advocates of my talent and potential, who have given me opportunities to try and fail, and who have offered me great advice and perspective along the way. Now, I try to pay it forward as much as humanly possible.
I thank my parents for instilling a hardworking, never-quit attitude in me that’s been my foundation of grit and resilience. Both are necessary to be an effective design leader.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to my alma matter, Kutztown University. My professors there prepared me so well for entrance into the workforce that it barely felt like a transition at all.
How long have you been an AIGA member? Why did you join?
I’ve been a member since 2006. I honestly was totally freaked out about getting a “real job” when I graduated college. I ended up joining per the advice of my college professor, mentor and advisor—Professor Karen Kresge at Kutztown University. That decision, plus some additional advice from her I attribute to landing me my first job immediately out of school. That job gave me a ton of experience, built my confidence and positioned me well for the career growth I’ve enjoyed in a relatively short period of time. I’m forever thankful for that advice and the opportunities that the AIGA has given me then, and since (like the Business Perspectives for Creative leaders program at Yale—what a fantastic experience!).
What do you enjoy most about the Philadelphia Chapter of AIGA?
I love the mentorship program that the AIGA Philly offers. I’ve participated for many years now as a mentor and I still keep in touch with many of my mentees. I’ve learned just as much from them as they have from me, so it’s been a really fantastic opportunity all around. Collaborating with my mentee on the “Words to live by” advice booklet during the 2015 mentorship program was a special treat. I also really appreciate how inclusive the AIGA Philly has been in developing content and opportunities for in-house designers in our community.
What gets you through a rough day?
Finding something positive in each day. I’ve noticed the more I gripe about my day or have negative feelings, that cycle continues to perpetuate itself. Positivity attracts positivity.
Other than that, I’m typically pretty busy, so even if I’m dreading a certain day or week, I know there’s always 57 other things to do right after, so my attention can’t park for too long on the rough stuff.
Focusing on self-care when I’m not working is critical for me. I try to listen to what I need in the moment and honor that. I recharge by spending time with my partner and friends, weightlifting, sitting in my sauna, taking a bath, getting extra sleep, and eating pizza.
What else are you up to these days?
In my “off” hours, I also work as a kettlebell coach for group fitness classes. I fell in love with kettlebell training years ago and pursued my instructor certifications as a personal achievement, but ended up putting those to work about eight years ago, just for fun. I love putting my leadership and coaching skills to work in a different way to help people gain strength and confidence.
My newest adventure—after the coaxing of many friends—is starting an Etsy store. My current partner, who is a self-taught acrylic pour painting and resin artist, taught me the technique at the start of this year. I’ve used it as a bit of art therapy up until now, but have now made the leap to offer some of my artwork for sale since my collection is growing, and I need space to make more! Check it out on Instagram @nebulastudios.art
Reach out to Kristin on LinkedIn if you’re interested in connecting or mentorship.