Associate Professor and Chair, Communication Design, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis
Aggie Toppins makes, teaches, and writes about graphic design. Before joining the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis last year, she taught at UT Chattanooga and served as the first female Department Head in Art. Aggie explores the intersections of history, theory, and social justice in design. Her writing has been published by Eye on Design, Slanted, and in the forthcoming book Baseline Shift: Untold Stories of Women in Graphic Design History. Her studio work has been recognized by Print RDA and the Type Directors Club with a Certificate of Typographic Excellence, and has been included in national exhibitions.
What are your biggest motivators?
When I work with clients, what motivates me is their social or public-facing mission. When I make work independently of clients, I look for ways to bridge my own visual/material curiosities to my interest in history and theory. I’m a voracious reader and I often find my independent studio work having something to do with my reading and writing practice.
What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
Great question! I’m proud of my work in Chattanooga, where I lived previously before coming to St. Louis. I was involved with several socially-engaged projects there from planning the annual city-wide zine fest to working with nonprofits on access to information about voting rights restoration or where to get fresh food. But I am very excited to be in St. Louis and to be on the faculty at Wash U. 2020 was a strange time to move to a new city, but I’m looking forward to building relationships here and getting involved.
If you could ask one fellow creative one thing, who / what would it be?
I’m asking a lot of questions right now about how to bridge design aesthetics to socially-engaged projects in which collaborators have a huge say in what things look like. I think it’s important for designers to be embedded in the places where they work and share authority with their constituents. But, this plunges aesthetics into new territories in which the designer has less control over the form. I kind of want to ask every designer I know what they make of “the formal question,” just to survey where the field is headed on this issue.
How do you spend your time away from work to recharge?
I tend to recharge by traveling. I find that when I’m tired, traveling gets me out of my mental fog and into a new head space. Travel’s not been possible lately so I have taken up gardening. I’m learning to grow food and it’s so challenging!
What’s your favorite design tool?
Probably Adobe Illustrator.
What’s your favorite place in St. Louis?
I’m still learning about St. Louis! So far, I really enjoy walking around Forest Park, and perhaps because I’m a newcomer, the Gateway Arch is just really beautiful to me.