Five minutes with Judy Su
Judy Su is the creative director at Blue State, a progressive campaign consultancy based in Brooklyn, New York. She chats with Transform magazine about her work on the Elizabeth Warren Presidential campaign, working for a politically partisan agency, and the most important lesson she has learned in her career to date.
I think it’s fair to say Blue State prides itself for the social values it holds. Have you always held strong opinions of what is right and wrong, and what was your path to finding a way to combine those values and your expertise as a creative designer?
I started my career at a few advertising agencies, designing for large brands — and really enjoyed both the work itself and the creative challenges that it posed. I didn’t necessarily enter my career feeling like I needed to work in a space that aligned with my values, nor did I truly realize that was a path a designer could take.
But after several years, I started to feel an itch to do something more; to use my creativity and skill set on work that could make a different kind of impact than just consumer products. And right around that time, a recruiter from Blue State reached out to me to join the team, and so I spent a year working on non-profit clients with them, which was a wonderful change.
From there, I kind of fell into political work. One of my clients at the time was Elizabeth Warren, who was running her re-election campaign for Senate. After that, I joined her Presidential campaign and really followed this path forward to where I am now.
I’m sure there are many examples of creative designers who have done excellent work for more conventional brands they do not use or particularly like. But do you believe it would be possible for a creative to work on a political project such as Biden/Harris 2020 without truly sharing the core values of the project?
I can’t speak for everyone but for myself, knowing that I share core values with a certain campaign or a project (or even my team members!) helps to propel continued passion for the work. I’ll be honest — it can be a challenging space to work in. But keeping the larger mission in mind and choosing work that aligns with my values has kept me interested and creatively challenged for many years.
Was it therefore difficult personally and creatively to work on a project for nearly a year that sought to put Elizabeth Warren in the White House, only to end up helping Joe Biden become President four months later after Warren’s campaign failed?
At the time, not really. Don’t get me wrong — I and others from the Warren campaign certainly took that loss hard, but we were proud of the work that we had done, the campaign that had been run, and our candidate. And there were bigger challenges that we were up against, such as stopping Donald Trump from winning. A lot of people chose to throw their energy into the Biden campaign, and of course, we’re grateful that he won.
From an outsider’s perspective it appears that the Democrats and Republicans have both been guilty at times of pushing each other into a downward spiral where dangerous accusations of electoral fraud are fair game, for instance. Does it ever worry you that with Blue State being quite so partisan, notions of common decency - that I’m sure you and your colleagues hold - may be sacrificed to party politics?
The work that we do aligns with our values, so whether that’s encouraging young people to push Congress to pass a climate bill, fundraising to send winter coats to refugee children, or supporting a candidate who has broad union backing, we do it because we feel it’s the right thing to do. The organizations and candidates that we work for support our vision for the future of our country and world.
A year ago we created an online database for Public Wise that tracks elected officials who were involved in the January 6th insurrection. Like many of our clients at Blue State, Public Wise is a non-partisan organization. That being said, most of the people involved in the insurrection and spreading the Big Lie do belong to a specific party — but no matter the affiliation, we wanted to help Public Wise hold the people elected to represent us accountable for their dangerous actions. And notions of being decent and doing the right thing will always be what we strive towards.
You have worked on some enormous, generation-defining projects in the past three years alone. What is the one thing you take from these experiences going forward?
It has been so humbling to work on these projects over the past several years. I’ve met some of the most talented, hard-working, and passionate people around, and their drive and courage inspire me every single day.
The one big takeaway I have from these experiences is how important it is to surround yourself with people who will make you better, and who will encourage you to take care of yourself when you need it.
This work, while rewarding, asks a lot of people. When your goal is as lofty as making the world a better place, it’s easy to feel personally responsible for results and emotionally invested in the failures. Having a team to depend on and share that experience with is essential!