Medill alumna Lo Harris talks following her passion and carving her own path

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Photo courtesy of Lo Harris

“STRUT,” a design by Lo Harris. Harris incorporates bright colors into her design to emulate messages of positivity and female empowerment.

Rebecca Aizin, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Lo Harris (Medill ’18) went from storing her daily illustrations in a green binder to partnering with Ellen DeGeneres and illustrating a children’s book in the same decade. Two years out of college, Harris has had work published in The New York Times, Bustle and, most recently, NBC News Digital. She has also partnered with Amazon and Disney.

However, she said these titles are not what is most important and does not define her.

“A lot of people (my) age get swept up into this false narrative that the worth of who you are is determined by the place that you work at on your LinkedIn,” Harris said. “Where you work is just a peg in your story. You are not defined by that, and it is just a small part of what you bring to the table and a small pit stop on your journey.”

The illustrator, motion designer and storyteller characterizes her work as a celebration of Black culture, female empowerment and social justice. She uses bright colors and strong figures, often drawing on her own background as a Black woman who grew up in Alabama. Her characters typically have culturally specific hairstyles and portray messages of confidence, positivity and joy.

While she was in school, Harris found that Medill didn’t offer a lot of classes in graphic and motion design. While the skills she learned in her marketing and journalism classes fold into and inform everything she does, Harris said she had to fill in the gaps in her education in more creative ways.

But Harris didn’t just fill in the gaps, she paved new paths. When she joined WNUR, Northwestern’s radio station, Harris created her own position as webmaster and designed the entire website. When she worked as an intern at The Chicago Reporter, she asked if she could dabble in animation. A video she created about police misconduct lawsuits went on to become the news organization’s highest-performing digital piece on social media.

“I like to create my own situations and push my boundaries in that way,” she said. “I always encourage students to write their own scripts and pave their own paths..nine times out of ten if you want to do it, there’s a handful of people who want to come along for the ride also.”

Harris’ classmate, mentee and close friend Ahlaam Delange (Medill ’20) also highlighted Harris’ determination to create a space for herself when there is none.

“Even if she wasn’t getting the external support she needed, she always found a way to do the things she wanted to do,” they said. “She set things, and she finished them.”

Harris’ coworkers could also see the burgeoning talent in her, even as an intern. During her time at Bustle, she grew close to Jenny Kim, who worked with her in the video department. Kim said from the beginning Harris stood out as someone whose skills and talent were advanced far beyond her years.

Harris’ main goal remains emulating messages of positivity and social justice through her work, Kim said. After George Floyd was killed by police officers in late May, Harris created an illustration of a woman with her fist in the air, fighting for justice. Harris has received purchase offers for the illustration, but she said she refuses to monetize the work. Instead, Harris put all the money she earned from printing the illustration on stamps and enamel pins toward the NAACP and the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network.

 

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A post shared by Lo Harris (@loharris_art)

“I’m proud of the fact that she’s not easily influenced by other people; she’s here to make a mark on her own and I respect that, wholeheartedly,” Kim said. 

Harris, who has spoken at multiple institutions including Harvard Graduate School of Design and New York University, said her best advice to college students is to always stick to their own intuition and write their own narrative, and most importantly: advocate for themselves. 

“There are certain pathways that are carved out, that are institutionally approved and proved paths for success, and just because you’re not participating in that doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own self-defined, self-driven path that you’re supposed to be following,” Harris said. “Take the effort to find out what fits, and if you don’t see it on campus make it up for yourself.”

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Twitter: @rebecca_aizin

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