To say that Alicia Blackard embodies the very soul of an artist feels like hyperbolic ass-kissing, but here we are.
She’s 321’s enigmatic Art Director, and a quick conversation emphatically imprints how her passion for design weaves its way into her work, her leadership and her DNA—from the curated sleeve of evocative tattoos to the warmth that radiates when she speaks of leading her team.
Raised by the Sunshine State but chiseled by New York City’s cutthroat clamor of dreamers, Alicia built a name for herself under the world’s brightest lights, claiming her degree from The School of Visual Arts and launching a meteoric agency career.
Here, she speaks to the incredible lessons that brought her to 321 The Agency.
What is the most important aspect of good design?
Alicia Blackard: The story and the why. Design tends to fade in and out, but if there is a reason and a story behind it, good design lives on forever. You can choose this color, or that image, or this typeface, but if there isn’t a reason behind each decision that is made, the design feels flat and things become just “pretty.”
What’s your approach to elevating creatives?
Alicia: A good manager needs to balance empathy, direct challenges, honest feedback and constant communication! I often over communicate just to ensure that we’re all set up for success. I love teaching and I believe a collaborative experience always leads to a better end result. I pride myself on being honest and open in all situations on both receiving and giving feedback.
Maintaining the same goal in mind at all times—to do great work—keeps the team and I grounded in our true purpose. That’s why when it comes time for feedback, the conversations are always easy, open and collaborative.
What are the qualities that make up a “good” creative? What do you look for from your team?
Alicia: Flexibility, dedication and the hunger for more.
The most successful designers I know always ask questions. They always push beyond what is initially asked. Constant iteration always feeds the best end results; it’s all about The Process. I tell my designers to do one version—completely put it aside—and do it again.
Flexibility is an incredibly valuable quality in an agency setting. The reality is that you’re jumping from one client to another, so you have to be able to pivot and be open to adjustments (whether you like them or not).
Above all, when you truly love what you do, you’re always looking for opportunities to push the envelope and elevate your work.
What are three things that make you unique?
Alicia: My tattoos are a big part of my individuality. I expressed myself through my wardrobe, my hair and my makeup. I feel so lucky to operate in an industry that welcomes uniqueness.
I’m very into astrology and cartomancy. I love reading tarot and oracle cards, diving deeper into personalities and learning about people. I’m all about depth and challenging myself and others to dive into themselves. That carries over into my relationships—why I care so much about them and why I invest so much into them.
And then there’s my humor and personality. I’m super expressive and love to keep things fun and casual. I’m very outgoing and inclusive. I love to be the host of a party or just simply making everyone feel welcome and maintaining the “vibe” of the gathering.
Before we get out of here, what do you love about working for 321?
Alicia: Since day one, I’ve felt accepted and welcomed.
321’s culture goes above and beyond. I’m the first official Art Director at 321 and I’ve been able to plant my flag the way I wanted to. Even more, I was applauded for it every step of the way.
Not a day goes by that I don’t feel supported in my role. I have an incredible team to lean on, to be inspired by. They’re truly the backbone of the agency and it makes me so proud to work alongside them and to learn from them.