Aaron Travis, Creative Director for SapientRazorfish
“Cambridge Analytica is what pulled me in full force [to civics]. I had to learn about everything – a deep dive into Constitutional history, leading up to how we got here. The ultimate test of freedom of speech; our values as a country, which we’ve taken them for granted. In the process I was forced to reconsider my belief that all speech is a net positive.”
Pronouns: He, Him, His
Meet Aaron. While Aaron is the creative director of an iconic digital agency, he’s also been leading a volunteer team on a redesign of We Vote, a tool that empowers citizens to make more informed and personalized voting decisions. He is a lifelong inventor, leveraging innovation, design, knowledge and empathy to solve difficult problems. While he has a Bachelors in Fine Art from the University of Michigan, he later decided to pursue an MBA to enhance his strategic and technological skills, enabling him to combine creativity and strategy. You can reach him via Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.
What Does He Do?
As the creative director for a digital agency called SapientRazorfish, Aaron’s remit includes leading the conceptualization and design of interactive experiences for the agency’s key client, Samsung. He enjoys the work because it taps into so many of his strengths, including understanding human behavior and needs and then creating digital experiences that fulfill those needs.
In addition to his day job, Aaron is leading a volunteer team on a redesign of We Vote, a citizen engagement tool that is endeavoring to make it fast and easy to learn about candidates and legislation, and stay involved. We Vote has a number of differentiators from other voter education platforms, offering perspectives and thirty-party endorsements which are aggregated in a single place and indexed with the issues a user supports, to present a unified score based on alignment with one’s values.
“For the We Vote user, learning is the first part of the citizen journey, followed by voting. Ongoing participation constitutes learning what you can do as an individual; actually engaging in your City Council, or joining a nonprofit. The final step is running for office, being part of leadership – or, ultimately as a direct advocacy of policies, starting up your own projects.”
Aaron worked on addressing usability issues with the current design leading up to the 2018 midterm elections and is gearing up for a full redesign in 2019 in preparation for 2020.
“Post-election we’re going to be taking a step back and talking with candidates, staff, organizations, and nonprofits: Finding out what do they need; what could make We Vote invaluable for them — a central hub for people to come en masse. Ultimately, the impact that We Vote is looking to make is increasing turnout – not just for elections, but in the ongoing civic space.”
How Did He Get Into This Work?
“Genetically speaking, I am the product of both my mother and father. Dad is a headstrong artist, and as a creative professional, was part of the Chicago advertising industry during its 1970’s heyday. My mother is pragmatic, logical, and a sometime detective.”
In college, Aaron’s passion for invention was sparked, requiring that he teach himself
patent law. In so doing, he discovered opportunities, loopholes in patent filings or patents that were really illegal placeholders that would never prevail in court. His Don Quixote moment was attempting to build a web browser. While the project was unsuccessful, Aaron deems it a worthwhile learning experience in that it informed not only his work at SapientRazorfish, but for We Vote:
“It was difficult to get support for a different web browser. I could see the openings based on their patents and strategically. But it was impossible to get people to overcome the fear to take on something that was such a big challenge. To take on a monumental task, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I’ve since learned that if you’re part of a network that is hitting the various aspects of a problem from different angles and aware what everyone is doing, it’s motivating more to do your part — to see that it’s part of a larger solution.”
For more than 15 years Aaron’s focus was on digital experience design for commercial companies while spending his free time developing new products, both as a creative outlet and avenue for a potential business opportunity. His “come to Jesus” moment came last summer as Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that our country was in mortal danger, showing just how easily our political system could be manipulated.
Aaron thought about what kind of a country his son would inherit and decided to stop what he was doing to step up to try to help: “We Vote is my first real experience working with both nonprofits and civic tech, although I tried to offer creative/user experience help to other nonprofits, and they didn’t know what to do with me, other than asking for money. I had to approach We Vote in the same way that we do at my agency, offering to do a redesign.”
How Did He Come To Civic Hall?
“Cambridge Analytica is what pulled me in full force [to civics]. I had to learn about everything – a deep dive into Constitutional history, leading up to how we got here. The ultimate test of freedom of speech; our values as a country, which we’ve taken them for granted. In the process, I was forced to reconsider my belief that all speech is a net positive.”
After the CA revelations broke, Aaron sought to learn as much as possible about civic engagement and found his way to BetaNYC’s Open Data Day, which in turn led him to attend our annual conference, Personal Democracy Forum. At PDF, he met the co-founder of We Vote and found out more about Civic Hall as well. While Aaron is a network member he’s very interested in building community and collaborating with members — not only in person but digitally.
What is He Reading/Watching/Listening To?
Aaron is currently pouring over The Righteous Mind by NYU professor Jonathan Haidt: “With the deep divisions in this country, I’ve made a concerted effort to try to understand the mindset of both sides of the political spectrum. This is especially important for making sure that We Vote is an impartial tool. As someone on the left side, I really wanted to understand better how conservatives think, so I picked up a copy of his book. I would highly recommend it for that purpose.”
Aaron also recommends The Flip Side, co-founded by Annafi Wahed, a daily newsletter which breaks down key issues from perspectives on the left and right.
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
For We Vote, Aaron is looking to grow the volunteer team for the redesign in 2019 (especially designers, researchers, strategists, and organizers), in preparation for 2020. Check out the platform and hit up Aaron on Slack if you are interested.
“As a network member, it’s difficult for me to get in and collaborate, to build friendships and connections. That’s the engine by which things come together. I would appreciate anything that can help me connect more, maybe starting off with an onsite workshop [at Civic Hall], as long as it can continue online for members who are too distant to help.”