For over 17 years, Justin Ahrens has led his creative firm, Rule29, in its commitment to “Making Creative Matter®” through great design and by helping others think differently about the world around them. With a collaborative approach to both strategy and design, Rule29’s culture is just as important as the work it creates; the firm is involved in many social causes, including substantial work in Africa.
Rule29 has been recognized by major competitions and publications, including AIGA where he currently serves as a National Board Member, Communication Arts, Graphis, HOW, Print, The Webby Awards, and many more. Ahrens has been a consistent voice for the design and business community in areas around Design for Good and work/life balance, which he has spoken about at the AIGA Design Conference, Design Thinkers, Adobe Max, Brand New, and HOW, and has written about in his book, Life Kerning™: Creative Ways to Fine Tune Your Perspective on Career and Life.
J. Dontrese Brown
J. Dontrese Brown is a motivational creative design professional who has brought passion, inspiration and dedication to each opportunity in his professional journey. He is a leader among leaders who is relentless in his pursuit to challenge those around him in order to stimulate growth and elevate performance. “D” always has a smile on his face and idea in his back pocket. His passion and drive have resulted in garnering the highest respect and praise from all who know him, personally and professionally.
A courageous leader, Dontrese is committed in helping others maximize their potential. From teaching graphic design at his alma mater Georgetown College (KY), to being appointed Chair for AIGAs In-House INitiative Committee, he leads by example and builds teams accordingly. His thirst for good design, creative strategy and teamwork is the driving force that inspires all those around him. He is an exceptional communicator who fosters a culture of excellence through a compelling vision of respect, integrity and empowerment.
Dontrese enjoys relaxing with his family and friends, having a neat bourbon with a nice cigar and reading anything and everything that feed his hunger for motivation, thought leadership and inspiring others to change the world through design.
Named “one of the most influential designers working today” by Graphic Design USA, Debbie Millman is also an author, educator, brand strategist and host of the podcast Design Matters. As the founder and host of Design Matters, the first and longest running podcast about design, Millman has interviewed more than 250 design luminaries and cultural commentators, including Massimo Vignelli, Milton Glaser, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, Barbara Kruger, Seth Godin and more. In the 11 years since its inception, the show has garnered over a million download per year, a Cooper Hewitt National Design Award and—most recently—iTunes designated it one of the best podcasts of 2015.
Debbie is the author of six books, including two collections of interviews that have extended the ethos and editorial vision of Design Matters to the printed page: How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer and Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. Both books have been published in over 10 languages. In 2009 Debbie co-founded with Steven Heller the world’s first graduate program in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Now in its seventh year, the program has achieved international acclaim. The inaugural class wrote and designed the Rockport book Brand Bible: The Complete Guide to Building, Designing and Sustaining Brands, in 2013 the students created branding for the Museum of Modern Art’s retail program, Destination: New York, the class of 2015 worked to reposition a Kappa Middle School in Harlem and the class of 2016 rebranded Mariska Hargitay’s JoyfulHeart Foundation.
Debbie was the President of the design group at Sterling Brands for twenty years, where she worked with over 200 of the world’s largest brands, including the redesign of Burger King, merchandising for Star Wars and the positioning and branding of the No More movement. She is also President Emeritus of AIGA, one of five women to hold the position in the organization’s 100-year history and a past board member and treasurer of the New York Chapter. She is a frequent speaker on design and branding and has moderated Design Yatra in India, presented keynote lectures at Rotman School of Management, Princeton University, Michigan Modern, the Hong Kong Design Association, the Melbourne Writers Festival, Design Thinkers in Toronto, the Festival of Art and Design in Barcelona, Webstock in New Zealand, QVED in Munich and many more. She has been a juror for competitions including Cannes Lions, The Clio’s, The Art Directors Club, The Type Directors Club, Fast Company, HOW Magazine, Print Magazine, ID Magazine, AIGA, The Dieline, and more. Currently, Debbie is the Editorial and Creative Director of Print Magazine, the oldest magazine about design in the United States.