Creativity at Work

Hilary Robinson juggling

Hilary Robinson

Hilary Robinson's office looks like that of an advertising agency's creative director. However, she is not located in a building on Madison Avenue or Wabash, but in the Argus Building of Ann Arbor. There, at Michigan Creative, she improves branding, relationships, and marketing communications solutions for U-M.

It's high-pressure work, but someone has to do it. Hilary loves it.

She's been working her way here for 32 years, and has no intention of leaving any time soon-Michigan Creative or Ann Arbor. "I'm a townie," she says.

Hilary's father and mother graduated from Berkeley in the 1950s. The family migrated East when Hilary was five, landing first in Evanston when her father accepted his first teaching job at Northwestern, and a few years later, in Ann Arbor. Hilary went to middle school at Tappan, and high school at Pioneer. She remembers the political turbulence and bomb threats. "A large part of some school days was spent out on the lawn [while the police checked lockers]."

Her father, Jay Robinson, was hired as a professor in U-M's English Department, and later became department chair. Hilary's mom worked at U-M's School of Public Health, before becoming Assistant Dean at Rackham. "We are a U-M family," says Hilary.

The day we met, Hilary was dressed in bright green and lavender, with beautifully crafted earrings she had designed and made herself. While her occupation involves managing creative people and projects, Hilary is also an artist, in part inspired by yet another family member. "I have an uncle who was an artist, very well known on the West Coast, in New York and Chicago, (contemporary painter/sculptor) Sam Richardson," she says.

Hilary took art classes throughout her years as a student. "In fact, my senior year in high school, I took Ecology, British literature, and four art classes, because I figured that would be the last time art classes would be free."

After graduating from Michigan State University with a Fine Arts degree in Photography and Ceramics, she returned to Ann Arbor and got a job as a medical photographer for the U-M Health System.

While she admits copying prints, making slides for presentations and taking "before" photographs of patients having surgery "wasn't really art," she adds, "I learned a great deal." One skill she honed was making people comfortable.

From medical photography to Michigan Creative

Hilary stayed in medical photography from 1981 through 1985, and then returned to school to study Graphic Design at Washtenaw Community College. This allowed her to transition from medical photographer to graphic designer. Then she was doing "a lot of charts, graphs and illustrations, posters, brochures," and some video.

She didn't really change departments, but the U-M's marketing communications organization changed around her. Biomedical Communications, where she worked, became BMC, and merged with Marketing Communications which became Michigan Marketing and Design. In an effort to unify, the University's creative marketing team centralized into one "agency," and in the Fall of 2012, changed its name to Michigan Creative. Hilary is a Michigan Creative Associate Director.

As associate director of account services, Hilary works directly with Michigan Creative clients. She does more business than art these days, but enjoys straddling the two. "Most of what I do now is meeting with new clients, working with clients to get a really great creative product, and helping them with their marketing strategy. I am the interpreter, the liaison. I help the clients define their vision, and what vehicles to use to deliver their message."

Hilary works a lot of work with UMHS, as well as the Schools of Music and Social Work. "You get to meet with the brightest people who are doing incredible things," she says.

She worked on all the grand opening materials for Mott Children's Hospital. "Isn't it wonderful?" she says, referring to the hospital.

Hilary's husband is a carpenter who enjoys renovating older homes, and they have three sons, two still in college. "So I'm going to be working for a while," says Hilary. (Their oldest son is a school teacher in Plymouth, Michigan.)

Hilary keeps clients happy. She seems happy, too.

"I am around creative people, and I have wonderful clients that I work with. They really value the work we do, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of that."

- Jan Schlain