How I Got Here: Hillary Coe, AKQA

Designer, drag racer and analogue astronaut Hillary Coe has joined AKQA as principal of experience, following a position as director of design at SpaceX. She talks to us about creating roles for herself that didn’t exist and embedding adventure into her life and work

On the wall behind Hillary Coe is a printout of NASA’s beloved worm logotype. It’s a simple nod not only to her previous role as director of design at private aerospace company SpaceX, but also her career which, despite constantly shapeshifting, has sat squarely at the intersection of design and innovation.

Growing up in LA, Coe developed a sense of curiosity and a penchant for storytelling which she later translated into a career working at globally renowned companies. She has previously held creative director positions at TBWA\Chiat\Day and Google, and has freelanced for clients such as Intel and Apple. In between all of this, she has taken on modelling gigs, broken a world record in drag racing and volunteered as an analogue astronaut, which involves doing field tests in locations that have similarities to extreme space environments (she recently returned from a simulated version of Mars).

As she settles into her role at AKQA, she talks to us about her journey from climbing trees as a child to adventures in aerospace.

An early education in storytelling I was a real latchkey kid. I didn’t really have those  connections to family – my father worked, my mother worked and I was always kind of left to my own devices. Us artists are strange anyway – I always had trouble communicating with people so I would tend to make up stories in my head, especially having so much time to myself – climbing trees and stuff.

I would create these worlds that I could bring people into or at least attempt to, and that to me started to distil the power of storytelling and what it could do to the human spirit and how we connect to each other. It was the only way that I could connect to other kids.