Visual communication design alumna Abbey Pitzer joins Biden’s Office of Digital Strategy team.
Expect to see alumna Abbey Pitzer’s designs on the biggest stage for years to come.
After Pitzer worked on Joe Biden’s successful presidential campaign, the White House tapped the class of 2019 visual communication design grad to be part of its Office of Digital Strategy.
“It will be about connecting the White House to the American people in transparent and engaging ways,” she explains. “There’s an incredible opportunity to bring people together, and digital plays a huge role in that.”
Pitzer shares how Jefferson prepared her for this role and why she loves graphic design, provides advice to current students, and more.
Why did you decide to attend Jefferson?
Growing up, I always liked art class and loved to draw. I knew I would be happy pursuing a creative career but didn’t know how to go about figuring out what that looked like. My mom was a teacher and my dad was an engineer—two professions that can be creative in their own ways but not what I envisioned for myself.
However, I give my parents so much credit for their support. My mom recommended graphic design and thought it could be a good fit for me. Once I researched it, I realized it was something I already cared about and enjoyed doing—whether it was designing a poster for my Spanish class or entering a T-shirt design competition for my 11th grade English class.
In spring 2015, I attended Jefferson’s Graphic Design Discovery Day, an annual event of tours and Q&As for accepted and prospective students of the program. This event sealed the deal for me—I wanted to pursue a degree in graphic design.
While in the graphic design program (now called visual communication design), I took advantage of all the resources, including accessing studio spaces, learning from professors and using the mighty alumni network that ultimately landed me a summer internship with Bailey Brand Consulting in 2018.
What was your career path to your current position as a designer in the Office of Digital Strategy?
After graduating, I knew that I wanted a job where I could bring illustration and graphic design to the team. I spent summer 2019 applying for jobs and striking out quite a bit! One day, a friend sent me a link for a junior graphic designer position with the Biden presidential campaign at his Philadelphia headquarters. My friend knew I was a fan of the former vice president. As someone right out of school, I fit their criteria for this position and applied that night.
All the late nights, all the stress to hit tight deadlines, all the pressure to execute well, it was all worth it.
I heard back from my current boss, Carahna Magwood, a few days later. She explained that the brand was in the early stages and she was looking for many things, including help with brand illustrations. The idea of growing a brand from scratch excited and scared me (all the pressure of how many eyes would see it!). But that’s why I knew I had to do it—it would push me out of my comfort zone for sure. Also, being part of an in-house design team made me giddy, and I liked the idea of working with one brand from start to finish and knowing it from the inside out. Additionally, I loved the ultimate purpose of the job—to elect Joe Biden.
I started on the campaign in September 2019 when the Democratic primary was beginning to get in full swing. Carahna and I worked tirelessly to internally support the campaign with many design needs, from rally signs to event signage to merchandise. As we got closer to claiming the nomination in spring 2020, the pandemic began. We left the office and adapted to working remotely.
By September, our team grew from two to 25 people and we honed in on each member’s skill set. For me, I was designing all sorts of assets in the primary, but illustrations and social graphics became my focus in the general election. Since this is my passion, finding a place for illustrations on this campaign was such a highlight.
I developed a whole system of brand illustrations and icons with the help of my team and the amazing Pablo Stanley. We came up with a slew of illustrated people for different types of campaign assets, such as event graphics, tickets and the JoeBiden.com homepage. We made sure these illustrated figures represented people of various races and disabilities, and ultimately, we wanted them to radiate the positivity of a potential Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration. During this time, I received a promotion to brand designer.
On Election Day, I watched on TV with my family as the polls closed, hoping there would be a decisive victory that night. As we all know, it took a few days to count all the votes, but I will never forget when Biden was declared the president-elect on Nov. 7. All the late nights, all the stress to hit tight deadlines, all the pressure to execute well, it was all worth it—we had won. Joe Biden would be the next president of the United States.
In mid-November, our digital director, Rob Flaherty, asked me to stay on the campaign through the inauguration to help with social graphics lifted from our @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris social channels and occasional graphics for the campaign’s email team.
It will be about connecting the White House to the American people in transparent and engaging ways. There’s an incredible opportunity to bring people together, and digital plays a huge role in that.
Then in late December, Rob called me again—this time to offer me a position as a designer in the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House. Working on the campaign and inauguration already has been the honor of my life, and I’m thrilled to continue onto this next chapter.
What will be some of your main responsibilities, and what do you hope to bring to this position?
I will continue working with Carahna (she will be the creative director) on digital and printed assets, such as social graphics, slide decks and invitations. We look forward to continuing to represent President Biden and Vice President Harris at the White House and transitioning the brand in innovative and new ways.
For us, it will be about connecting the White House to the American people in transparent and engaging ways. There’s an incredible opportunity to bring people together, and digital plays a huge role in that.
How did Jefferson best prepare you for this job, and what were some of your favorite projects you worked on while here?
Jefferson definitely prepared me for this job. I owe a lot of credit to the visual communication design faculty led by Beth Shirrell (see sidebar). Before coming to Jefferson, I had never opened Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign. The University’s visual communication design program teaches you all of that from the ground up. But more importantly, it instills a solid foundation of design thinking that’s necessary for problem solving in the real world. They focus on teaching design thinking and thinking about a system as a whole—it’s a cognitive and strategic approach that goes beyond making something look nice.
In my senior year, my systems design class worked with the 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health. They approached us about a problem: The diabetes epidemic is more prevalent than ever in Western Pennsylvania, specifically Cambria and Somerset counties. We soon realized these areas are rich in agriculture so we wanted to empower these residents to improve their quality of life by educating them about healthy eating habits, collaborating with local farmers and creating a sense of community. I worked with two other design students, Eryn Griffin and Patrice Sakalosky, to create and brand Farm to Fridge Mobile Market—a produce truck that takes produce from area farms and brings it straight to the residents of these two counties.
The design community is extremely supportive and helpful. People want you to excel. I’ve found this atmosphere both at Jefferson and in the real world.
What are some of your long-term career goals?
I hope to keep finding projects that mesh design with a sense of purpose. I feel blessed because I have that in my current job. I think some people are turned off by politics because they see it as a messy place. I’m not here to say it doesn’t get messy, but I feel good fighting for policies and ideas that I believe would make this world a better place. Down the road, I could see myself seeking that kind of “do good” mantra in design, beyond politics. Eventually, I’d love to illustrate a children’s book or run my own design studio. We’ll see!
What do you love most about working in graphic design?
I love that it’s everywhere. You go to the grocery store and can see it in the packaging of food on the shelves. Or you can pick up a magazine and get lost in the publication design. There are so many routes you can take in the graphic design world.
I also love the people. The design community is extremely supportive and helpful. People want you to excel. I’ve found this atmosphere both at Jefferson and in the real world.
What advice do you have for aspiring graphic designers?
A former boss once told me, “Trust your gut.” It’s such a simple phrase, but it’s so true. If a decision doesn’t feel right, listen to that little voice telling you that. Try something else or take a break. Sometimes we just need to zoom out a bit to gain clarity. It will make everything better in the long run.
Any other key points you would like to add about your time at Jefferson or your new position?
I’d like to highlight Rebecca “Rubie” Nathanson, a fellow Jefferson alum of the visual communication design program who joined the Biden-Harris design team in September 2020 during the general election. She deserves as much credit as I do for the team’s success. She joined at one of the busiest times of the cycle, tackled the work head-on, and gave so much light and good energy to the group.
She designed social graphics on the Biden inauguration design team, and I’m excited to see where she goes. She’s currently a student in Jefferson’s MS in user experience and interaction design program.
I’d also like to highlight the University’s visual communication design faculty. They taught me so much, and I’m very grateful to have been a part of the program.
READ MORE: Visual Communication Design Director Reflects on Abbey Pitzer’s Path to the White House