Designing for the White House: Q&A with Ashleigh Axios

The White House’s Digital Creative Director Ashleigh Axios. The Coca-Cola Company’s Design Manager Alex Center. HDL’s In-House Management Programming Partner Ed Roberts.These are your judges of the 2015 In-House Design Awards. Final Deadline: July 10.


Sounds like a cool job, right? Digital creative director for The White House. (Yep, that’s The White House.) We look forward to Ashleigh Axios’s presentation at HOW Design Live, where she’ll pull back the curtain on designing for the most famous address in the country and managing a small and mighty in-house creative team. We recently asked her about her work.

First, tell us a little about yourself and your background. How did your career path lead you to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

I love design, illustration and the arts. I didn’t have things easy growing up and I believe in hard work, the power of ideas, creating your own destiny — and helping one another along the way. I’m interested in the role design can play in solving social problems, connecting disparate groups and generally contributing to something bigger than itself.

To my surprise and delight, these things have positioned me in the right place and with the appropriate skillsets for this role. The White House wasn’t a goal of mine, but I’m honored to have this opportunity.

WhiteHouse homepageYou’re digital creative director for The White House — what does that role encompass? How many people are on your team, and what are your primary responsibilities?

As creative director, I’m charged with determining the best ways to visually represent the brand and managing our small design team. As a member of the Office of Digital Strategy, I’m charged with creating opportunities for meaningful engagement with Americans and helping communicate the priorities of the Obama administration via digital channels.

Together, that means that I use everything at my disposal from the brand of the White House and President Obama to our platforms and tools to bring the administration and people together.

My team of less than 20 people is made up of executive leadership and content, engagement, video, design, analytics and development specialists. Everyone wears multiple hats and contributes big and small ideas to the digital strategy behind the Obama administration. We also work hand-in-hand with many talented and dedicated offices across government.

Super geeky question #1: Do you work in The White House? What’s it like?

I do, and it’s pretty incredible. I’m reminded of the extraordinary opportunity I’ve been granted each time I enter the gates. There are also perks like Bo and Sunny [the First Family’s dogs] sightings.

White House tourWhiteHouse.gov plays a multifaceted role — it’s like a history museum website, a policy forum and a news site all in one. How do you and your team manage all those components from a content and design perspective?

Areas of our site serve distinct purposes, have different audiences and require various levels of dynamism, so each get treated differently, ensuring that we’re meeting the needs of each visitor. We also look for opportunities to uplift our visitors by thoughtfully crossing those roles when it makes sense. And between all of the White House offices, we have no shortage of great content, so sometimes the challenge is giving everything appropriate feature time. We talk through those things each day to find the right solutions.

What’s a typical day like for you? And are you “on call” for late-night contingencies?

At the White House there is no typical day. Each morning, our team meets to discuss what’s happening that day and synchronize on longer-term projects. In a single day, you might find me branding a new initiative to communicating my vision for the evolution of WhiteHouse.gov, to setting direction for a new collaborative project. That’s just a portion of it. There are a great variety of creative challenges.

We do work long hours, including many nights and weekends, but it’s fulfilling and doesn’t always feel like work.

White House holidaySuper geeky question #2: How often have you met with the President?

I don’t have regular meetings with him, but he’s an inspirational man to work for. His vision drives the administration forward. He’s also expressed a strong appreciation for the work our team is doing and, in particular, the way we’re able to reach new audiences.

Finally, can you give us a bit of a sneak preview of your HOW Design Live presentation? Any particular projects you’ll be sharing with the audience?

I’m really excited to share a bit of the process and background for what my team did for the 2015 State of the Union.

In about 8 weeks, we designed and built a new, fully responsive page with integrated social engagement, personalized interactive components and a second-screen experience. In the final week, we also completed 127 slides enhancing the points in the speech with data and stories, and showing what the announcements mean to you. The day of the speech, we finalized everything and orchestrated real-time posting of the content synced to the president’s remarks and our social media content. It was a multi-faceted effort and the most interactive State of the Union to date.

I think you’ll be amazed to hear what a small team of dedicated people can accomplish with time, dedication, vision, and the obligatory blood sweat and tears. I’ll be sharing some insights into how we were able to accomplish so much so well in such a condensed timeline.

If you work in-house or you routinely manage complex, content-heavy web projects, then you can’t miss Ashleigh Axios at HOW Design Live — her presentation is on Thursday, May 7 at 3:00. Be sure to add Ashleigh’s session to your customized conference agenda. Browse the full HOW Design Live schedule and choose your sessions — and if you register by midnight March 31 you’ll save $200 on your Big Ticket all-access package.

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