Ann’s Thumbnail Sketch of TED 2017

TED 2017 conference “The Future You”

I have attended over 20 TED conferences that have spanned 4 decades starting in 1984. I have captured countless ideas in my sketchbooks over the years.

Because of Chris Anderson’s vision, TED has become a richer, more vibrant experience as the topics and audiences have evolved from a white male perspective into a tapestry of diversity and an interconnected global community. This year, as a thank you to Chris and to the TED community, I am sharing my sketchbook from TED2017.

This year’s conference started with an enlightening and slightly frightening (to me) session on Artificial Intelligence. For example, if AI were to automate all work, what is the future of humanity? Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov warned us about the need to program human passion and purpose into AI. Robin Hanson introduced the idea of “ems” (emulations), a future where uploaded human minds run the world. Yikes!


Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks warned about the worship of self and challenged us to replace the word ‘self’ with the word ‘other’ and see what happens. Pope Francis, via live stream from Rome, was this year’s surprise guest speaker.  Jim Yong Kim, appointed as President of the World Bank by President Obama was a big hit. He talked about how to care for the world’s children from a policy perspective.


Elon Musk gave a heady vision of the future with high-speed tunnel network under Los Angeles and a solar roof that will last for infinity. And we saw an agile robotic dog that danced and pranced around the stage.


Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, created an allegorical scenario of our current political reality by showing us an image of Lorenzetti’s room-scale fresco, The Allegory of Good Government and Bad Government, completed in 1339.

One of my favorite speakers was Anne Lamott who gave a funny and very tender 12-point presentation titled, Every Single True Thing I Know.


Ann Willoughby is a leading voice in graphic design in the U.S. She has taught, written and lectured about the importance of women as design leaders in both business and as a social force. Ann began her design career in 1968 during the second wave of feminism and her life and early design practice were fueled by the social, political and design movements that transformed American during the last decades of the 20th century. She founded Willoughby Design in 1978, creating a thriving design firm while also addressing gender and family issues in the workplace. Since its founding, Willoughby has become nationally known both for its award winning design and for the stimulating and creative environment. The firm has worked with local, national and international clients including the Kauffman Foundation, Omidyar Group, United Nations, Hallmark Cards, Panera Bread, RideKC Transit, Hershey’s and Weight Watchers. In 2014, Ann was awarded the prestigious AIGA Medal, one of the first women in the midwest to receive this honor, awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design and visual communication. Willoughby has offices in Kansas City and San Francisco as well as the Willoughby Design Barn, a 100 acre creative retreat in Weston, Missouri.

Vote Yes To Pets on April 4

“Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test… consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.” –Milan Kundera


We love our pets here at Willoughby. On any given day you can find KC, Gordon, Colby, Fritzi, Annabelle, Wiggie, Beck, Buddy or some other pooch roaming around the office.

Willoughby Designer Gets Democrazy!

By Kevin Garrison, Design Director

At Willoughby Design, we are empowered and encouraged to get involved in civic issues that are important to us. For me, Design for Democracy from the AIGA, the professional association for design provides this opportunity.

For the past year, I’ve used the political conversation currently happening in America as inspiration for both a contribution to Design for Democracy Get Out the Vote Initiative, as well as personal projects. It’s my way to further engage people in a constructive and meaningful discussion about the democratic process.

My most ambitious project has been this 24-page self-published “risozine,” intended to open a dialogue about our democracy. It’s filled with illustrations and typography of impactful political quotes, past and present, to demonstrate why every vote matters. This self-published zine is printed on a  
Risograph printer with soy ink on recycled paper stock.




I would bomb the sh-- out of them!



Get Out The Vote 12-month calendar begins with the definition of the urban term, “Democrazy,” as well as images of the many, many 2016 Presidential contenders. Right off the bat it was a no-holds-barred race which spawned the idea to use the candidates “crazy faces” to show their enthusiasm, or perhaps their lunacy. Iconic political imagery is reimagined in illustrations for a new look at the American spirit. This self-published calendar is printed on a Risograph printer with soy ink on recycled paper stock including French Paper™.





I’ve also contributed posters to the online exhibition, 
Get Out The Vote, found at You can see all the poster contributions by AIGA members, including Ann Willoughby, Founder & Chief Creative Officer, and AIGA 2014 Medalist, as well as Zack Shubkagel, Creative Director and Partner at Willoughby SF.


Intended for use as debate and election watch party invitations, these “Politically Correct” postcards were created from overruns of the Democrazy Calendar. Printed on a Risograph printer with soy ink on recycled paper stock.

Politically Correct Postcards

I hope this series inspires you to register, get involved in your local community and ultimately, make your voice heard on November 8th, 2016 and VOTE!

Willoughby & Design for Democracy
Design for Democracy has been an ongoing and wonderful collaboration with AIGA. In 2011, we worked with the Secretary of the State of Kansas to create “A Guide For Effective Ballot Design.” In 2012, Zack Shubkagel, partner at Willoughby, served as National Chair for AIGA’s Get Out the Vote campaign, and curated exhibits of posters in Kansas City and at the National AIGA Offices in New York City.

A theory of fear & creativity

Moon Man

Like a part of the spectrum we know exists but cannot see, creativity is an elusive metaphysical property. Like gravity, we need creativity to function. But how can you select the best creative solution when it can be as abstract as anti-matter?

Every business leader wants creative solutions, saying “I’ll know it when I see it!” They have visions of landing on the moon. But when creative solutions are presented — they default back to earth.

As creatives it is our job to reach for the moon and sell our clients on buying great creative. Too often, the C-levels, Directors and Managers are selecting what they know will have least resistance. After all no one likes change. This leads to ho-hum executions that don’t stand out and don’t move the needle.

How do we push them outside their orbits? First we have to help them understand their fears.

A study conducted by Cornell University on the Bias of Creativity reveals a challenge we creatives have in selling our harebrained ideas. When participants were given a creative option vs. practical option they select the status quo. This appears to stem from our desire to reduce uncertainty. Considering our clients pressure to deliver higher earnings, improved profits and outcomes, creativity is the dark side of the moon.

“Our findings imply a deep irony. Prior research shows that uncertainty spurs the search for generation of creative ideas (Audia & Gonzalo, 2007l Tiedens & Linton, 2001), yet our findings reveal that uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most.” — Bias Against Creativity.

So how do we reduce this friction?


Be truthful with your clients from the beginning. Reassure them that you are in their corner and ready to walk them through what may feel uncomfortable at first. Taking that first step into the Uncomfortable Zone isn’t easy, especially if they aren’t empowered by their own superiors to make creative decisions. Give them the power to communicate your vision if needed.


Start with the close-in, the safe. Show the client what happens if they go status quo. If you don’t show it, they will ask or wonder, “What if?” But then step it out. Show them what they would least expect. Visualize the anti-matter with words, video, prototypes. Don’t pitch an idea solely with words. As you present each element pause and ask them if they have any questions.


NASA didn’t just land a man on the moon in one day. They sent several unmanned rockets with a few fatal mistakes along the way to learn and prove they could make the mission a success. Similarly you may need to phase into the final creative solution. Prove it works by testing it on various touchpoints. Talk with the stakeholders to ensure it can be adopted successfully. Be excited and they’ll be excited.

If you can mitigate the fear with baby steps, you may succeed in selling in that winning idea.