Capitol Communicator is running a series featuring in-depth profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this “Up Close and Personal” profile, we feature Allison Chess Ruiz. Photography for Capitol Communicator’s profile series is by Cade Martin. Wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup was by Patti D Nelson and Janice Kinigopoulos for THE Artist Agency.
Allison, please provide us a short bio.
I started my career as a summer undergraduate intern at Ogilvy PR in D.C. My education was rooted in fine art at the time, so the professional experience I gained on the job was paramount. I worked with some incredibly talented designers and creative directors who most certainly helped to shape my career path in the design industry. Eventually, I went on to serve as a senior designer and art director at a few other agencies and a small design shop in NYC. I currently serve as an associate creative director for MetLife’s Customer Experience + Design group. I am based out of a studio in Washington, D.C., but commute to MetLife’s NYC headquarters regularly. I’ve enjoyed straddling both cities over the course of my career and taking advantage of the vastly different creative energy they each have to offer.
Are you involved in any other organizations?
I’ve been an AIGA member for over 15 years. I appreciate the range of perspectives on design thinking from experts across different industries and find it particularly useful as an in-house professional. Their INitiative program offers great insights and inspiration that speak to the unique challenges faced within the in-house space. Overall, it’s an excellent resource to stay connected to the design community and keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening within the industry.
What are the things you are most proud of?
My two sons and their consistency with saying “excuse me” and “ thank you”. They are your typical crazy little boys at times, but they both have turned out to be little gentleman, which makes me extremely proud as a mom. Additionally, having my home office featured in Dwell magazine. I am captivated with interiors and all things modern. As a Dwell superfan, I was incredibly honored to have my space offer design inspiration to others.
Who are your personal role models?
I have a few, but I’ll highlight my top three. First, my other half, Jose Ruiz. He’s carved his space in the art world on his own terms and I am incredibly proud of his accomplishments. He has managed to combine his socio-political interests, entrepreneurial drive and art career experience to do what he always wanted to do: open a gallery and an art production incubator – Present Co. in Brooklyn and FURTHERMORE in D.C – both of which are supported by a sound business model that enable him to take curatorial risks, make art and teach. His ability to turn ideas into a reality is truly inspirational.
Selena Malott is another personal role model of mine. She was a senior designer at Ogilvy who took me under her wing when I was just 19. She is a fiercely talented, strong woman and has influenced a lot of my design decisions over the years, but she also taught me so much outside of the professional landscape. She’s one of those people who emits an infectious passion for creativity. I always walk away from our conversations feeling energized and fulfilled. She still remains one of my best friends to this day.
And, design luminary Milton Glaser. I was fortunate enough to study with him when he taught a summer design program at the School of Visual Arts. The lessons learned from him were unparalleled. In many ways, the experience changed my life and I will always be grateful for the insight and inspiration he bestowed upon me. What I find so special about him is that he has managed to maintain the integrity and authenticity of his vision without succumbing to design trends and hype. His work is brilliant, beautiful and timeless.
Did your role models offer professional advice that helped you in your career?
Jose has taught me the importance of taking risks and falling in love with an idea’s intent, not just a particular version of it. I’ve learned from him how to be adaptable, pivot and change course when necessary. He lives by the “done manifesto” in many ways, so he’s encouraged me to just run with things and worry about perfecting it later. It’s a model that has certainly helped me balance the responsibilities of work and life.
Selena advised me to create boundaries and always advocate for my work and myself. Most importantly, she inspired me to see the value in designing for social good and contributing to something bigger.
And, Milton Glaser told me to always trust my intuition. He held the unconscious intuitive factor with such great importance in terms of embracing associative thinking to yield innovative results. He felt that those who possessed strong intuitive powers were skilled at making good decisions. I’ve applied this advice to everything I do personally and professionally.
What professional advice do you have for others?
To quote Diane Von Furstenberg, “You know who is going to give you everything? Yourself.” Work hard to be the best at what you do. It’s essential to have mentors and supporters, but it’s up to you to achieve your goals and aspirations in life. Be passionate and persistent – it will propel you forward.
Work on personal projects. They can be mini projects that don’t take a tremendous amount of time. They always have ways of informing your work professionally without you realizing it.
Experiment. Go down paths you haven’t gone down before. If you have been doing the same thing for the past few years, abort it and go in another direction. That’s where I am right now. I know that a lot of the work that I’m doing can be pushed to be better. It’s important to continue to challenge yourself in order to grow and create better work.
What advice do you have on what’s appropriate attire for your organization?
MetLife is a large organization made up of a variety of different business units and job positions, so people dress appropriately based on their role. It’s not one-size-fits-all. For me, working in the creative space, I’ve always felt that it’s important that people are able to express themselves through their appearance and attire. As design becomes a greater focus for the company, it’s nice to see more of this creative expression radiating out across our offices globally.
Where do you buy most of the clothes you wear in business?
My favorite pieces are from AllSaints, a British fashion retailer. Their clothing is polished enough for the office, but still has an inherent sense of style and street edge that I love.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
Since we’re talking about fashion, I guess I’ll reveal my eyewear obsession. I have a variety of Moscot frames that I frequently rotate. Their glasses are super iconic. I keep going back for more styles to switch it up depending on my mood.