Trained in traditional graphic and brand design, Kris Kiger has applied her expertise to the digital realm, marrying beauty with utility for interfaces, digital signage and more.
She's produced breakthrough work for many R/GA clients past and present, including IBM, Nike, Nokia, Target, Walmart and Pepsi. Before joining R/GA in 1999, she worked in corporate identity and interactive design on projects for clients like Time Warner, Bloomberg and Microsoft.
Muse spent two minutes with Kiger to learn more about her background, her inspirations and her favorite creative work.
Kris, tell us...
The town where you were born.
Royal Oak, Michigan.
What you wanted to be when you grew up.
My earliest memory is wanting to be a princess, but I quickly realized that probably wouldn't pan out. So I became more practical in my choices, but leaned into my passions and interests … a vet, an attorney, and a bio-genetic engineer, to name a few. I had so many different interests. It turns out design was a perfect answer. I'm able to lean into all kinds of interesting spaces through the clients and brands I work with.
How you discovered you were creative.
Creativity runs through my family in many different ways. My mother and grandmother are both very creative people. I grew up learning all kinds of traditional making skills and craftsmanship. If you could think of something, there was always encouragement to figure out how to make it with your hands.
A person you idolized creatively growing up.
My mother and grandmother were significantly strong creative influences for me. My design heroes were classic and survived the test of time—Milton Glaser, Saul Bass, Massimo Vignelli, and Charles and Ray Eames.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
After graduating from the University of Arizona in Tucson, I decided to pack my whole life up and move across the country to NYC. I knew no one at all in the design industry, but I was convinced New York was the place I needed to be … and it turned out I was right.
The first concert you saw, and your favorite band or musician today.
I think it might have been Captain & Tennille. I was super young and a friend of the family had tickets to an outdoor concert in the summer. All I remember was this weird song called "Muskrat Love" and a guy playing keyboards wearing a sailor cap. It was the late '70s, so I guess it made sense. Who knew … it was the origins of yacht rock.
As for current favorites, there are so many interesting artists, and they span a wide range … but I'd have to say Childish Gambino. He's pretty amazing. Good sounds, and he's not afraid to push into spaces that make people uncomfortable.
Your favorite artist.
Again, way too many to mention here. To name three very different ones ... Frida Kahlo as a portrait artist and a strong female artist in a world dominated by men. James Turrell for harnessing light into super magical pieces that envelop you and make you feel things. Andy Goldsworthy for his love of environmental elements and doing the impossible in the most natural way.
Your favorite hero or heroine in fiction.
Lots of heroes are out there, but I'd say Baymax is pretty amazing. He's unassuming looking … not the usual physique. Made of technology, but he has the best superpowers. He's got empathy and the ability to care for others. I feel those are the kinds of heroes the world always needs, but most importantly right now.
The best book you've read lately.
Becoming by Michelle Obama is an amazing biography. She's an incredible example for so many women.
But I also recently re-read the transcript of This Is Water, a commencement speech and essay by David Foster Wallace. He's a brilliant writer who has an incredible writing style. The parts of his speech that resonated with me spoke to how "you get to choose what to worship" as you go through life. It's important to understand how you can choose to frame up things in your mind. Freedom involves attention, discipline and awareness … and "capital T" truth is the awareness of things all around us and outside of our own point of view. Seeing the world with empathy and context is so important, and I feel he had a great way of reminding me of that.
Your favorite movie.
First favorite movie ever was The Wizard of Oz. It was such an amazing use of color and styling for its time. The main theme of the storyline still holds up. It's something I still believe … a lot of times, the things you're seeking have always been right in front of you, or even inside of you, if you just pay attention.
Spirited Away and all the Miyazaki films have always been favorites. Love the animation and imagination. Craft is huge for me in how the story is told. I also loved Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson. I mean, who doesn't love dogs? Also, the attention to detail and the painstaking beauty of the process is so incredible.
Your favorite Instagram follow.
For their beautiful inspiring photography.
People say the most ridiculous things. Especially in New York.
Gorgeous nature shots that you can't believe are real.
Amazing artwork using craft and nature.
Just too funny.
Your favorite creative project you've ever worked on, and why.
Nike Plus was a favorite project, in that it was one of the first projects where we were able to help create a product that hadn't existed before and design an intuitive, functional branded interface.
Your favorite creative project from the past year, and why.
I work on a lot of new business and big client engagements that are under NDA, so I can't really speak much about the details of a lot of my work. But I've loved the rollout of the rebrand for MailChimp. Our teams were challenged with how the design language is not only applied but evolves with the landscape of change. The work is functional and beautiful. And it really expresses who they are.
Someone else's creative project that inspired you years ago.
There are three...
The poster and title work of Saul Bass. Super simple and beautifully memorable iconic visual communication.
Massimo Vignelli and all of the design systems work he's done for highly complex applications. Through his work, he enabled his clients to replicate and make beautiful and effective design themselves.
Dieter Rams. His product work was so beautifully reduced, simple and intuitive. His design principles hold up so well in today's creative landscape. I still always refer to them.
Someone else's creative project that you've been envious of lately.
The New York Public Library's "Insta Novels." What a beautiful, creative use of the Instagram medium to revive classic novels for a target audience that lives in IG. Beautifully executed, it's a new format for book design that I'm so excited about.
Your main strength as a creative person.
Empathy and resilience.
Your weakness or blind spot.
Trust and openness. I believe everyone deserves a chance.
One thing that always makes you happy.
My family and friends.
One thing that always makes you sad.
The political climate.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
Something in science or art.