CCS: Communication Design (Graphic Design) Programs


Alison Horner

Senior Art Director and Creative Strategist

"Everything is design. Everything." Legendary American graphic designer Paul Rand taught his students a valuable lesson through these words.  With over 12 years in the advertising industry, Alison Horner has found them to be true.

Horner is a senior art director and creative strategist in the health care/pharmaceutical industry around the Philadelphia-area. What makes her career so intriguing is that in addition to overseeing exception quality advertising for her clients, Horner has redefined the role of "graphic designer" and helped restore integrity to the field of pharmaceutical advertising.

"Most of today's pharmaceutical advertising campaigns aren’t worth a glance--two pages of microscopic print following a bad stock photo of a couple walking on the beach, leaving you to guess what the ad is really for," Horner observed. "It wasn’t always this way though. In the 40s and 50s, pharma design was an exciting new frontier. There were no restrictions. The artists had the glorious challenge of taking complex pharmaceuticals and visually translating them into abstract pieces of art, elegant forms of communication where concept was the golden rule.

"The pharma companies absorbed the creative, then turned it into a farcical display of unrealistic situations. Simplicity died. Ad campaigns were starved for any sort of real and valid meaning.

The beautiful work of Warhol, Rand, Beall and Lubalin withered and tarnished me thinks--or has it?"

What Horner envisions is a return to simplicity, interesting spatial relationships, elegance and minimal color palettes as potential strategies for restoring order and beauty to the confusion.  She also recognizes an even greater need for problem solvers in this dynamic, competitive field.  Above and beyond coming up with solutions for "creative" problems, Horner envisions designers providing significant contributions to the overall organizations or companies for which they work.

"Through conversations with shrewd, talented thinkers (Chris DeBartlo, David Zaritsky, Tina Fascetti...), I came to see the importance, and the imperative need, to have a voice at the table," said Horner. "Graphic designers are often labeled as problem solvers. But, in reality, they are given a solution to a problem unknown to them and told to execute on it. Many designers don't even think to question why they are making what they are making, or ask how it will influence the client’s business problems and what conditions led to this change.  Designers must transcend mere decoration and instead impact the core functions of a client’s business--not only through design, but through research, experience and, in my case, unbridled curiosity."

So, what does Horner mean by "unbridled curiosity"?

"As I began to look into business strategy, brand strategy, interactive strategy, media strategy and so forth, I found it was easy to get lost in the land of terms and titles," said Horner. "Graphic designers, Art Directors, ACDs, CDs, ECDs, Design Researchers, Design Strategists... I say forget what your title is. Everyone should be thinking strategically, doing research, getting out of the office and meeting those they serve.

"I stopped doing what my role was supposed to be as a 'senior art director,' and, with a little common sense, just did what felt right. It led me down roads I never expected. And before I knew it, I started to see the connective tissue between the entire problem solving process.  How surprised a client was to hear a creative talk about positioning and go-to-market strategies! I fostered new relationships, called universities, did research, and then, when it came time to take all the chaos and funnel it into something tangible, I was informed and inspired. I can’t tell you how happy clients are to see a passionate creative gush on about the way their company will evolve.

"I've earned my seat at the table, and I'm ready to offer not just design, art and creative direction, but a range of strategic thinking and services. Following my heart, gut, mind, passion, I believe I am doing what not only feels right, but is right--bringing integrity back into a field it should never have left--and doing it with eagerness and indignation."

Before she made her mark on the field of advertising, Horner planned to major in fine art (oil painting) and spent a summer in Venice (Italy) studying watercolor. Then, after transferring from Northwestern Community College (Traverse City), she changed her major to graphic design, the art of visualizing ideas and problem solving. She returned to Europe and took part in internships under Studio LUST and NLXL in the Netherlands.

“My time abroad was so inspiring and meaningful,” said Horner. “I appreciated the European cultural influences to a better degree and how all these interplay to develop a diverse flavor that’s expressed through all art forms.

“Transferring to CCS was one of the best choices I have ever made."

"It helped me discover my own innate talents and drives, and placed me in a career I love. How fortunate I am to be able to combine my energy, pleasure and particular gifts with my ‘job.’ Isn’t that a small word compared to passion?”

In her spare time, Horner enjoys flying (she's a licensed pilot) and traveling. Her portfolio can be viewed at