Architecture and Design

Josh Higgins on His Work for Obama, Inspiration, and Changing the World Through Design

It hit him on a Friday night and was delivered by Jimmy Fallon. Josh Higgins watched as the Late Night host began writing his famous thank you notes on air. "Thank you, Barack Obama..." Fallon said as the image with the word "Forward," white against a blue background with that famous Obama logo filling the "o," flashed up on the screen. The image that Higgins, as President Obama's design director for his 2012 campaign, and his team had created was displayed for the entire country to see. It was then that Higgins realized the scale of his work and the impact it was having on the country.

"What a trip," Higgins says.

Of course, he immediately called his roommate in to share the moment. Higgins says there are a couple moments that changed his "trajectory," as he calls it, in life, and he'll be talking about them on Saturday, October 18, at the Method + Madness conference during Phoenix Design Week.

See also: Phoenix Design Week 2014: Your Guide to This Year's Events

Now, Higgins works as the manager for the communication design team at Facebook, but that's a long way from where he started.

Before Higgins even thought of design, he played bass guitar in the '90s punk rock band Fluf in San Diego. That is, until a friend suggested he take a design course at San Diego City College.

"I didn't know what design was. [My friend] had to explain it to me," he says. "But I've always been sort of artistic. That's what gave her the idea that I would be good at it. She saw something in me that I didn't see myself."

The rest is history.

You would think that the man who helped make history by leading the design efforts for our president's winning reelection campaign would be inspired by ideas of grandeur like beauty, truth, and love or something like that. And Higgins very well may be, but for him, inspiration comes from something a little humbler.

"I'm really inspired by people who do what they do really well," he says. "So whether it's the trash man or whoever, when they do really well and they're fully engaged in what they're doing, I find that really inspiring."

One such person was the manager for the storage space Higgins was using while he was in Chicago. Higgins says he was moved by how passionate the man was about his job and about how much he really cared that Higgins stored his stuff at his facility.

While some of the most unassuming people have affected his life, Higgins has done the same for a countless number of people with his design, which is funny because he says he always mentally called bullshit on his college design professor Candice Lopez saying that design can change people's lives.

Higgins now knows that his professor was right. Over his career, he has donated his talents to social and relief projects like those for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina. But he started out working with AIGA San Diego's LINK program, which connects creative professionals with at-risk teens, after he heard the founder of the Seattle version speak about it at a design conference.

"[The speaker] was talking about the effects it has," Higgins says. "The obvious ones are the kids you're helping, but the not-so-obvious ones are the personal ones that make you feel good...and it was true. It was super inspiring and rewarding."

Hear about these and other moments that affected Josh Higgins during his talk, "Moments That Changed My Life," at the Method & Madness Conference Saturday, October 18, from 2:35 p.m. to 3:25 p.m. But just don't let him catch you calling a typeface a font. If you don't know the difference, ask him about his pet peeve. He'll tell you.

Phoenix Design Week's Method + Madness Conference will be held on Saturday and Sunday, October 18 and 19, at the Phoenix Convention Center, 100 North Third Street. For ticket prices and more information, visit

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Evie Carpenter is a visual journalist. Using photography, videography, design, and sometimes words, she tells stories she hopes make a bit of difference in the world, even if those stories are in list form and include GIFs.
Contact: Evie Carpenter