Tracy West


Leading a creative life requires the ability to combine complementary skills drawn from the head and the heart, and Tracy West, 50,000feet’s Group Creative Director, embodies this pursuit. Overseeing creative teams in both Chicago and New York, Tracy works closely with a diverse range of clients and helps to lead the agency’s efforts across every practice and discipline. Her multidisciplinary design expertise includes advertising, brand identity, broadcast, corporate communications, environmental systems, retail experience and publication design. She has created award-winning work for major brands including AARP, Abbott, BMW, Knoll, Mastercard, MINI, Northern Trust, Perkins+Will, Sappi Fine Papers and USG. Tracy has also become an active voice for mentorship and team-building, helping to support and guide talent in all areas within the organization. In addition, Tracy has served on the board of AIGA Chicago, and she helps to oversee 50,000feet’s work with the Design Museum of Chicago, including management of the agency’s philanthropic efforts. She lives in Chicago with her husband (a fellow creative director) and their exuberant 6-year-old son.

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

My insatiable curiosity and empathetic disposition draw me to initiatives that aim to address complex social issues. At 50,000feet, we’ve met some pretty incredible people and organizations who do good around the world. Working alongside these clients, I believe that looking at problems from new angles and coming up with unique ways to accomplish things, no matter how large or small the challenge that we’re trying to solve, pushes us to create with more meaningful impact.

Recently, we had the opportunity to develop and publish an online course educating university students about alcohol abuse for Catharsis Productions, a Chicago-based company that produces behavioral programming. “Binge Thinking” needed to challenge stereotypes and cultural attitudes toward alcohol consumption and abuse — a topic prevalent on college campuses – while maintaining a disarming and approachable delivery. With that purpose in mind, we avoided a slick or methodical tone, opting instead for a conversational and down-to-earth approach. The course needed to have elements of fun and lightheartedness while discussing tough topics. To tap into students’ imagination and steer away from stereotypes, photographic cutouts and whimsical hand-drawn doodles helped bring the script and characters to life in a simple and understated way. Because we only reveal our fictional narrator by way of her illustrated hands, the gestural style had an authentic touch of attitude matching the voice and delivery, making “her” all the more relatable. The interpretive approach felt more engaging and non-disruptive to the critical messages and lessons being imparted.

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

The pandemic accelerated technology development, introducing new ways to work and connect with others. However, digital acceleration without a focus on accessibility is leaving many at a disadvantage. Digital accessibility — not just usability — is something we should all support. Now more than ever, design professionals must balance aesthetic choices with utility to ensure that their work is interpreted and understood by all audiences. We can begin by simply adopting and advocating for a few accessibility design principles set by W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).