Lee Walters + Shane Hutton


Pictured above from left to right: The Arcana Academy team: Shane Hutton, Kensy Reissig (back), Emma Goode (front), Dan Petit (between Emma and Kensy), Marshall Detwiler (far back – tallest), Jessica Darke (jean jacket), Mia Germain (grey hoodie), Lee Walters (purple shirt), and Jay Josue

Founded in 2011, Arcana Academy is an independent advertising agency in Los Angeles, CA helmed by veteran Creative Directors, Lee Walters and Shane Hutton arguably best known for their work on Jack Daniel’s and Volkswagen respectively. Current clients include BEHR/KILZ paint and primer, Dignity Memorial, and Epic Rights. The agency was honored as Print Magazine’s “Best In The West,” has received multiple Graphis awards and has had work appear in the Communication Arts Design Annual.

How did you become involved in socially responsible communications and why do you believe design can be an effective tool for this goal?

We became interested in socially responsible design in the early 2000’s working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. When thinking about social responsibility as your job, it just becomes part of your worldview.

Design has always been a very powerful tool to change minds and behavior. Perhaps because it can be so subversive. There are many examples of design being used with ill intent. Propaganda posters immediately spring to mind. So, it makes sense that in today’s social climate that same power can be used to change minds and behavior in a positive way.

One of the ways we’re using design in a socially responsible context is with our 501(c)3 charity, Balloon Brigade. We truly enjoy the ocean. We surf, we fish, and we love visiting our local dolphin pods. On almost every trip offshore we would notice foil balloons floating on the water, so naturally we started picking them up. Then we started reading about how dangerous they can be to ocean life, especially seabirds.

After collecting hundreds and hundreds of them, we started Balloon Brigade to bring more awareness to the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. We chose balloons to be the poster child partly because of the world of design possibilities they open up.

Communication and design around many socially responsible causes is very gloom & doom. Balloons provided a natural way to make conservation fun. Good design thrives in tension. The shiny, happy-faced balloons we all love juxtaposed against the horrible consequences they can have, was a rich area for intriguing design we were immediately attracted to.

Given the confluence of events and challenges our society now faces, does 2021 present any special opportunities, urgencies, obstacles to designing for good?

Relevancy and leadership are marketable assets in the agency world. The speed and scale of social changes in the last 20 years has forced all of us to adapt, even more so for designers who want to stay relevant at leading agencies within that larger social context.

And now, in a world still moving slowly toward a post-pandemic state, design is perhaps more important than ever. Design can help calm fears. Design can promote optimism. Design can educate, entertain, and encourage actions that can help us get there more quickly. From infographics that help make everything easier to understand to posters for a local band’s outdoor show that make you feel like normalcy is finally returning. Design can communicate in ways words alone can’t. Right now, clear, concise, sensible, well-designed communication is as urgent as it gets.

Looking ahead to 2022, there are obstacles to collaboration, which is often part of design, but there are no obstacles to design itself. Even the interface on the video chats we use to interact with each other needs to be designed by someone. The one with the best design, will probably be the one that wins. For a planet to be as beautiful as ours, that’s a rule that’s probably always been true.