Russell Estes

RUSSELL_ESTES

SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, MONTGOMERY AL

I’ve been at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for 21 years. My start date was the one-year anniversary of the day Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonated a bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. There was no social media then; we kept our audience informed through print newsletters and magazines. But when we did publish about the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing we had a lot to say ‒ and show. Tracking hate and extremism has always been our specialty, and our intelligence team had, in fact, predicted such an attack. We even sent a letter to Janet Reno identifying the warning signs.

HOW AND WHY DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE AND/OR SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS, CLIENTS AND CAUSES?
These are dark stories to tell, but I’ve been lucky: Under the leadership of Morris Dees and Richard Cohen, I’ve had the freedom and support to tell these stories in compelling ways through graphic design. The SPLC’s mission is to fight hate and bigotry, seek justice for the most vulnerable members of our society, and teach tolerance to young people. Using litigation, education and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.

As the design director, it has been my personal mission to use the highest quality visuals as a tool to elevate our voice. I came to the role of design director specializing in print production and typography. These skills have served me well in a setting where the urgency of our mission demands swift and pointed communication. The stakes are high.

ARE THERE SPECIAL CHALLENGES OR OPPORTUNITIES IN PURSUING THESE GOALS IN 2017?
The SPLC has changed a lot in 22 years and so has our approach to design. But, as incidents like the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville this summer illustrate, the issues at the center of our work remain the same ‒ and they are more relevant than ever. When news breaks and the country is looking to us for answers, we need to be prepared with exactly the right image, the most compelling graphic and a clear understanding of the message. And, because we regularly engage issues of race, class, ability and sexual identity, we need to be fluent in the visual language of social justice so that our respectful treatment of the people at the heart of these cases can stand as a model.

I cannot tell the design story of SPLC without mentioning the contributions of our outstanding in-house design team. Their creativity is only matched by their commitment to social justice, and they keep me honest, focused and inspired.

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