You were born in New York, grew up in Phoenix, and have lived in Hawaii, Ecuador, Boston. What brought you to Miami?
The common thread here, aside from a 14-year stint in Boston, is warm weather. That would be the easy and probably obvious response. However, what brought me to Miami (the weather, being closer to friends and family, the ocean) is different from what has kept me here. I’ve been most surprised and completely delighted by Miami’s creative scene.
You spin, swim, scuba, and do yoga. These are all pretty much individual activities. Would you consider yourself a team player or a solo artist?
Ha, now that you mention it. Perhaps I’ve found my own way because I was never great at sports and usually the last one picked for any team. That said, you can’t dive without a buddy (mine are my dad and my brother), so there’s that. And as far as yoga, swimming, and spin, yeah, all pretty solo. My design work, on the other hand, is pretty much always a team.
You have a master’s in public health, not design. That’s curious. What inspired you to become a designer?
If you had asked 13-year old Michelle what she wanted to be, she would have said an artist, hands down. That was before one of my art teachers in middle school told me how “hard” it was to be an artist. That news hit me really hard and at an age where I wasn’t particularly confident in myself. Actually, I didn’t take another art class until after grad school. But I could never escape it. I found a way to design everything from agendas to flyers at different jobs early in my career. When I realized I could combine design with public health (designing campaigns, materials, etc.), it was as if I had won the lottery! The intersection of social justice and my strong belief that health is a fundamental human right, combined with good design, is the only place I really want to be.
Before joining NTEN, you designed 21NTC, our first virtual conference. Speaking of virtual, what was has been your favorite/most memorable virtual activity/event?
That’s hard to narrow down. Since the pandemic, I’ve had so many great virtual experiences. Some highlights are a kombucha class, a private virtual tour of Amsterdam, falafel making with an Israeli couple living in Spain, sangria class with drag queens in Lisbon, a day-long mindful retreat, James Baldwin book club, drawing classes, weekly happy hours, and a virtual Seder. However, I think the most memorable was the week I attended a wedding for my neighbor and his husband in New York on a Tuesday, a virtual celebration of life for my friend’s father on Wednesday, and a live-streamed funeral for another friend’s brother on Thursday. I never felt so close or so far.
What are you reading?
I’m currently reading Extra Bold: A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-racist, Nonbinary Field Guide for Graphic Designers by Ellen Lupton (Thinking with Type), Farah Kafei, Jennifer Tobias, Josh A. Halstead, Kaleena Sales, Leslie Xia, and Valentina Vergara. Described as “part textbook and part comic book, zine, manifesto, survival guide, and self-help manual, Extra Bold is filled with stories and ideas that don’t show up in other career books or design overviews.” We are all creative and would recommend it even if you don’t consider yourself a designer.