Arts & Humanities

Art + Design Educator Mike Daines Among TDK's Top 30 Design Educators of 2023

By Emma Lee |

Mike Daines

Mike Daines, graphic design associate professor, was recently recognized as one of the top 30 design educators internationally of 2023 by TDK (The Design Kids).

TDK is an international design organization based in Sydney and New York that recognizes the top 30 students and emerging designers annually. This is the first year TDK has also recognized educators with their “2023 Top 30 Lecturers.”

“TDK's designation of Professor Daines as one of the top 30 design educators at the national and international level speaks to Professor Daines's impressive achievements in the classroom,” said Art + Design Department Head Kathy Puzey. “Mike is a highly accomplished and recognized designer and is equally impactful as an instructor.”

While Utah State’s Art + Design program aims to provide instructors recognized for their quality work, Daines helps bring this vision home with his attribution to recognition for his style of education.

“It feels good to get recognition for the program as a whole and I also have to thank the alumni who are out there doing amazing things, which includes supporting my nomination,” Daines said.

Daines’ long history with design and becoming an educator reflects his approach to life and art. He was raised in Cache Valley, just a short walk from the university, as the son of a professor at USU. He then decided to study design at USU in 2000 after being introduced to digital design tools while helping his father with a research project. After graduating, Daines had his sights set on moving to Seattle, which was a design hub in the early 2000s.

“I’ve always had a bit of a naive overconfidence, and have never let the fear of failure stop me from taking risks,” Daines said.

However, toward the end of his undergraduate program, he fell for a fellow design student who wanted to move to Los Angeles.

“In the end she won,” Daines said. “Without any real job prospects or second thoughts, I packed all of my belongings into the back of my car, bought a fold-out map of Los Angeles and put Logan far in my rear-view mirror.”

He then worked various jobs in LA, first as an art director at a small agency in the city’s downtown area. Soon after, he decided to start his own agency with his brother, Matt.

“Suffering from a bit of overconfidence, I assumed six months of industry experience was sufficient to start my own company,” Daines said, “and I convinced Matt to move his wife and newborn out to Los Angeles where, together, we would strike out on our own.”

Two years later, when his brother decided to pursue an education in architecture, Daines decided to go back to school for a graduate degree in design. This led him to studying in Michigan at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he was initially introduced to teaching.

“It was common for design schools in the Detroit area to hire Cranbrook graduate students to teach in their departments,” Daines said.

After graduating with an master’s and gaining some experience teaching, Daines and his wife moved back to Los Angeles, where he worked in motion design and advertising for high-profile clients like MTV, Columbia Pictures, Red Bull North America and Adidas.

Around 2013, Daines heard of one of his former professors at USU, Alan Hashimoto, passing suddenly of a heart attack. Upon hearing the news, Daines fondly reflected on the time he’d spent at his hometown university, which led to thoughts about a potential opportunity.

“Due to the circumstances, I started to entertain the thought of returning to my roots to teach design at Utah State,” Daines said.

He applied for the job and was hired shortly after interviewing.

“They told me I had to be in Logan in two weeks,” said Daines, who had little hesitation on accepting the job. “I put in my notice at work and packed up.”

Daines has now been teaching at USU for almost 11 years with an overwhelmingly positive experience among his fellow faculty in the Art + Design department. Two of his colleagues, Bob Winward and Dave Smellie, taught Daines as an undergraduate student at USU.

“They were both integral in providing me with the education I needed to be successful as a young designer in Los Angeles,” Daines said. “I’m a product of this program, and it has been exciting to bring back the knowledge and experiences I’ve gained to continue to build upon its success.”

His approach to teaching uniquely combines two approaches: a no-nonsense industry focus relying on fundamentals and a Cranbrook-influenced style embracing graphic design as a toolkit for contemporary art practice.

“A degree of contradiction is healthy at times, and I encourage my students to embrace the notion that two opposing ideas might both be valid — especially in accordance to context.”

Daines has shared incredible experiences with students, with many positive things to say about them.

“We have amazing students — extremely hard-working and determined,” Daines said. “Seeing their continued success is what makes the job so rewarding.”

While teaching, Daines hasn’t put all his marketing design in the rearview. In fact, he is currently the overall creative director of the Afton Klein Group (AKG) out of Salt Lake, a successful design and communications agency he helped start. AKG has created work for entities such as Columbia University, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Prada, the Hallmark Channel, Andretti Racing and others.

“My role at AKG has a symbiotic relationship with my role as an educator and mentor at Utah State University,” Daines said. “My experience in teaching has greatly informed my current position in the design office, and conversely, my studio practice has had a pointed impact on my ability to prepare students for their future design careers by staying directly connected to industry practice. I attribute much of my success in the classroom to this very real connection to professional practice.”

Mike Daines exemplifies not only the caliber of success Art + Design graduates often find, but continues to practice this success while continuing through teaching at the university from which he graduated. This reflects the excellence demonstrated throughout the program provided to its students.

“Our graphic design students are highly sought after upon graduation from the program and continue to win awards year after year,” Puzey said. “These outcomes speak to Mike and his colleagues’ quality of training and commitment to our graphic design program. Our students are very fortunate to work with such high-caliber talent.”

With great pride in the techniques, practices, and education shared in their halls, the next generation is currently prepared to follow in the footsteps of role models such as Mike Daines.

The full article regarding Daines’s recognition can be viewed on the TDK website.


Emma Lee
Communications Specialist
Caine College of the Arts
(909) 670-3273


Mike Daines
Associate Professor
Department of Art + Design


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