Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

I was born and raised in Austin, Texas–the fastest-growing city in the United States. Seeing the changes over the past 21 years has been bittersweet at times, but I couldn’t be more proud to be from Austin. In May of 2022, my professor at university sent the design students an opportunity to design the ‘I Voted’ sticker for the Travis County area of Austin, the sticker that would be given to all voters in my county during the U.S. midterm elections. Since this was announced during finals time, we all initially shrugged it off. But, it lingered in the back of my mind. This was an opportunity to reach a large population for a worthwhile reason in my city. So, in the midst of all the final exam chaos, I sat down and iterated.

Photo: @TravisCoClerk (Twitter)

Now, the first thing I do before I begin any design is to have a mini internal therapy session where I ask myself deep questions about the subject. In this case, it was “What does Austin mean to me?” and “What do I feel when I think of this city and my experience growing up here?” 

One story immediately came to mind. When I was younger, my mother had a competition for our family. Whoever was the first to spot a bluebonnet each year was treated to Amy’s Ice Cream, a famous local ice cream shop that served the tastiest flavors. Even though I admittedly lost quite a few years to my sister, it was still a heartwarming tradition. Because the bluebonnet is the Texas state flower, I made a design featuring one that I was proud of and sent it over.

A few weeks later, I received an email saying I had actually won the competition and 100,000 stickers will be printed for the Texas Elections in November. To me, it’s the most important Texas election we’ve had in years because the results of these primaries have the power to affect more than we think. Although many of my friends and family shared that they never vote early, this time they did in hopes of receiving one of my designed stickers. Polling locations even reported the sticker running out in the first few days due to popularity. It’s incredible to think I played even a small role in encouraging my community to fulfill their civic duty and vote. 

Ashwara holding her designed sticker beside Governor of Texas candidate Beto O’ Rourke.

Nothing could have prepared me for all the media attention that also came with winning the competition. There are not a lot of Indian female graphic designers, let alone those of my age. But by winning this contest, I was able to bring Indian representation–which is something I am incredibly passionate about–to a large audience for a valuable issue. Around the city, reporters and social media users were asking me how to properly pronounce my Tamil name. During every interview and photo opportunity, I had the chance to proudly wear classic Indian jewelry. This felt like not just a win for me, but for Indian artists everywhere. 

While I’m not sure what’s next for me as I embark on my career in design, I do know I want to continue combining my interest for this city, my family, and our culture into beautiful–and impactful–opportunities.

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