I knew about Aricka Lewis through our mutual volunteer work through AIGA, so I’m really glad we had a chance to talk so I could learn more about her!
Aricka is a senior UX designer at Ad Hoc, as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas, so our conversation began talking about the ins and outs of her work, as well as what it feels like teaching at her alma mater. We also spoke a bit about design communities in non-urban metropolitan areas and other designers who influence her, plus I learned about Aricka’s vocal stylings with the band The Honey Collective. According to Aricka, designers shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there, and I think this interview really drives that point home!
- Aricka Lewis’ Website
- Aricka Lewis on Instagram
- Aricka Lewis on Twitter
- Practicing Daily on Instagram
- The Honey Collective
- The Honey Collective on Instagram
Maurice Cherry: All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.
Aricka Lewis: I am Aricka Lewis. I’m a senior UX designer at a company called Ad Hoc, it’s a government agency. And then I also am an adjunct professor for the School of Art at the University of Arkansas.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. Talk to me a little bit about the work you do as a UX designer at Ad Hoc.
Aricka Lewis: Sure. So this is a new role for me. I’ve been there just a little over maybe a month and a half at this point, but my focus right now is on making sure veterans have access to all of the benefits that they can receive from the federal government. Right now, a lot of that information is spread across the internet and there are a lot of predatory companies that will charge veterans to learn about that access.
Aricka Lewis: And so it’s part of my job to understand what those avenues are, and consolidating them in one place, so that they are easy access, especially for those who might not have the ability, physically or mentally or emotionally, to take up the space to go out and look for it. So it’s really rewarding work. Definitely difficult at times. But I kind of like that it’s difficult, because it creates an empathy and awareness within me that I wasn’t fully aware of before I started.
Maurice Cherry: That’s not even something I consider when I think about UX roles as it relates to veterans. That’s an interesting thing. What’s kind of a regular day like for you?
Aricka Lewis: Oh, a regular day. It depends. So, let me think about that. I would say that it normally starts out with me researching and understanding veteran behaviors on the internet, because what we’re doing on va.gov is a lot of consolidation of a lot of other sites. It’s a lot of research on my part to go out and figure out what all is there.
Aricka Lewis: And it’s a lot of actually talking to veterans, which is a really, really cool thing for me, having come from an enterprise background previously, to actually be able to talk directly to the folks that are using the products. So a lot of researching, a lot of talking with them to understand how to put that stuff together. And then luckily, VA has a really extensive design system and it’s public. All of the VA repos on GitHub are public as well.
Aricka Lewis: So, just really cool stuff to learn about in that aspect of research, and then just putting it all together and testing. We work obviously, maybe not obviously, but we work in two week sprint cycles. So each sprint is a little bit different. But for the most part, there’s that research and validation with veterans or some format like that, each sprint.
Maurice Cherry: What does veteran behavior look like online? I’m curious, as much of that as you can sort of dive into. I’m curious about…
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, it’s actually interesting and I don’t know if it’s because of the military training, but veterans are really, really efficient. They want to get in and out. So they will oftentimes find a lot of really strange workarounds or shortcuts on websites.
Aricka Lewis: And so a lot of my work is me understanding like, okay, this isn’t the flow that I would have assumed, but would be the way that you would do this thing. But they’re just very, very efficient in the way that they use the internet, no matter really what age they are, they will find what they’re looking for no matter how. So, that’s been really interesting, for sure.
Maurice Cherry: What would you say has kind of been the biggest challenge so far with this role? Because you’re fairly new there, right?
Aricka Lewis: Yes. So the biggest challenge for me, especially being new, is just understanding how to talk to people who have seen a lot more than I will probably have ever seen in my life. And it’s really tough sometimes, but really worthwhile.
Aricka Lewis: And so I wouldn’t say design specifically is challenging, but more so personally in line with the empathetic thinking that comes with design. It can be challenging, for sure.
Maurice Cherry: I remember this was a while ago, I met someone who, he had a podcast where he would interview basically, elderly people. He will interview people I think maybe 60 and up or 70 and up. It was called The Greatest Generation, I believe. And I remember he mentioned sort of a similar thing with talking with them, it’s like how do you ask questions to someone who has experienced so much in life, so you don’t come off sounding stupid or ill-informed or anything like that? Do you find that the veterans are pretty amicable though?
Aricka Lewis: Oh, absolutely. I think especially because I’m working on something that will honestly make their lives a lot easier, they’re more than willing to talk and be open and honest about it. So oftentimes, they’re thanking me for even talking with them about this thing that they didn’t really consider a human being behind.
Aricka Lewis: So that’s nice, and personally pretty rewarding.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. Now, earlier this year you were at RevUnit, which I think that’s where I first heard about you. What was that experience like?
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so I was at RevUnit for maybe three and a half years or so. I think that’s right. And they focus primarily on enterprise applications and products. And so a lot of what I was doing was for large companies like Walmart, Zappos, H-E-B if you’re Texan, and some others. And so it was a lot of working with data, data visualization, and large numbers of people using really targeted and focused products.
Aricka Lewis: For example, I worked on a note taking app for employees of Walmart, so they can basically do their work a little bit quicker and easier and it’s digitized versus having to write them in notepads, like they were doing before. And it impacted hundreds of thousands of people. So the scale of work was definitely quite large at RevUnit.
Maurice Cherry: Wow. Now, you’re in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We talked about that a little bit before we, started recording. Is that where you grew up too?
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so I moved to Fayetteville when I was eight, I want to say seven or eight. My family is from lower Southeastern Arkansas, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. And my mom actually moved here to go to law school. So I’ve been here for almost 20 years.
Maurice Cherry: Wow. Was design and tech a big part of your world growing up? Were you exposed to it pretty early?
Aricka Lewis: No, not at all. So a lot of my family members are teachers. As I mentioned, my mom is an attorney, so a lot of academia, which I think I’m fortunate in that aspect. And because of that, I think my family members were really exploratory in the way that we were able to learn. So although we didn’t talk about design or maybe art as a career focus, there was a lot of creativity and problem solving in the way that we, I’m saying we, like me and my cousins, grew up when we were younger.
Maurice Cherry: I would imagine probably a lot of analysis too.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: How did you first kind of get into UX? Like how did you know this was something that you could turn into a career?
Aricka Lewis: It’s kind of a roundabout way, which I’m sure everybody says, since it’s such a new kind of industry. But I had a traditional, if you will, design job out of college for a couple months. And then I moved into e-commerce and when I was working in e-commerce I realized that I was, I didn’t know the term at the time, but iterating my designs based on the behavior. So click through rates and how much revenue was generated depending on which ad was being shown, and what banners were shown and things like that.
Aricka Lewis: And so pretty early on, I gained an interest in how people were reacting to the way in which I was designing. So I started working on the daily UI challenge. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of that or something very similar. And from there, I just decided, this is a field of design that I didn’t learn about in school. I want to take some more time and learn about it.
Aricka Lewis: So I took a junior UI job at RevUnit, the technology agency here in, it’s in Bentonville, Arkansas, but not too far from me. And it just went on from there. I was doing UI for a while and then realized, oh, user behavior is actually like a thing that I can focus on. So I moved into UX and user experience and understanding how people could navigate through the designs that I was creating.
Maurice Cherry: And you went to the University of Arkansas, is that right?
Aricka Lewis: Yup.
Maurice Cherry: What was their design program like?
Aricka Lewis: So the design program, when I was there, it was less than fantastic. I don’t want to put anybody on blast seeing as how I worked there. It’s changed a lot since I graduated. But when I was there, they didn’t have a graphic design program. It was like a, what is it? A bachelor of art in visual emphasis and visual design or something along those lines.
Aricka Lewis: And so really, it was a lot of art history classes and painting classes. And then I think I actually took four actual graphic design classes to graduate. I didn’t learn a whole lot by way of what I could do with design. But I did learn the principles of design, which I think have just still been foundational in my career.
Maurice Cherry: And now as you were there and you were going through the program, do you feel like they were really preparing you for the world out there as a designer in the job market?
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, I do. I’m fortunate, because the instructors that I had, a lot of them had been working, I don’t want to say in the real world, but in the real world outside of academia before teaching. And so it was nice to have them give us real world experience. And then they did have a professional development class too, where we would go to different agencies in the area and talk with people and understand like, okay, I went to design school, but I’m actually like a marketing agent now. Or, I’m actually, I’m the creative director at a tech company now or whatever it might be.
Aricka Lewis: So they did expose us to different types of jobs within the creative industry.
Maurice Cherry: Okay. And just a few years after you graduated, you also teach there. You mentioned before that you’re an educator. What is that feeling like? I can only imagine like you were just there as a student and now you have students.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, it’s really bizarre, because I guess I can call him my colleague now, but he teaches the same class that I teach, but he was my instructor when I was there. So it’s definitely interesting to say the least. It also kind of keeps me on my toes because it forces me to be sharp in the things that have kind of become second nature. I think in order to teach, you really have to know what you’re talking about.
Aricka Lewis: I think sometimes it can be muscle memory to just execute work, but to teach people and to have them understand it, I think is a whole other beast that I’ve gained a great appreciation for educators, than I’ve ever had before.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And I would even say also, the other challenge that comes with that is that the stuff that you’re teaching is also sort of constantly changing and shifting. Can you talk about like some of the courses that you’re teaching?
Aricka Lewis: Yeah. So I teach the UX course and it’s interesting, because like you mentioned, it does change quite often, just the field in general. And so moving into it, students are used to having this very well laid out design brief or syllabus of the products that they’re going to do from their professor.
Aricka Lewis: But in this instance, in this class, I had been talking with a developer in the area who had an idea for an app. I was like, well, I’ve got this class and we can kind of see what we come up with throughout the course of the semester, using the design product lifecycle as a guide for how we’re going to move.
Aricka Lewis: Students are definitely not used to that, and I think it’s put them in an uncomfortable position, but one of growth and not necessarily something that’s undesirable. So that’s been interesting to seem, for sure.
Maurice Cherry: What’s it been like being a young faculty member? Do you find that students take you seriously or is it the opposite?
Aricka Lewis: They’re really respectful and I don’t know if it’s just the generation of people, but they’re just really, really nice. I couldn’t ask for a better group of students to have. It’s weird, because I don’t consider myself that much older than them. I think my students were born in maybe 1999 or 2000. I was born 1993, but I feel like the generational gap is a little bit different between them.
Aricka Lewis: So sometimes I still feel old, but I know that I’m not old. I saw one of my students wearing Air Force 1s and I tried to make a reference about how I still had mine from like 2006, and she was just like, that’s weird. But for the most part, they’re really respectful and I really enjoy having them.
Maurice Cherry: Are there any challenges that you face from them? I mean, aside from I guess just the fact that you are in the same generation sort of, but what are you… I’m just curious to know about like what current design students are going through, because there’s so many different choices for them now, and there’s so much information out there for them to get, whether it’s in the classroom, out the classroom, et cetera.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, these students, so they have classes like human centered design now, which was something that, it was starting up when I was there, but it wasn’t as fleshed out as it is now. Obviously, they’re still really into illustration and type and things like that too. But it’s been really cool to see students have such an interest in research as a design practice and human behavior.
Aricka Lewis: And outside of that, they’re just really, really talented. They are coming for my wig. I’m surprised. There’s sophomores and juniors who are doing incredible, incredible work. I think they also have this just awareness of social responsibility and they take that into account into their work.
Aricka Lewis: For example, we were doing user surveys, and I think someone put gender as an option on the survey and they were questioning if it was relevant to the survey data, and was it going to be relevant in our research? It’s just those questions that I wouldn’t have even thought to ask when I was 19 or 20 or whatever age in college. But it’s really, really cool to see how they’re thinking about environmental and social impact of their work.
Maurice Cherry: Interesting. I just came back from the Black in Design Conference not too long ago, and that was one of the things that they were talking about as they spoke on spaces, about carving out sort of these spaces where you can use your design work in a way that can have a social impact in that way.
Maurice Cherry: Other than what you’ve mentioned, are there other things that your students teach you?
Aricka Lewis: They have definitely taught me patience and they’ve taught me how to be clear and direct. I think-
Aricka Lewis: … how to be clear and direct. I think, oftentimes, a lot of us, but I focus, or I suffer from imposter syndrome quite a bit, and so they’ve really taught me how to be confident in the work that I know that I know how to do and how to communicate directly and clearly so that someone who doesn’t understand those things can clearly understand them.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. Nice. Now you’re still pretty early in your career from what I’m picking up here. Have there been any resources or mentors or anyone that has really helped you out along the way, any organizations maybe that have helped you out along the way?
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so these are two separate things, but organization-wise, I joined AIGA when I was in college to go to one of their portfolio reviews, and this is before we had a chapter here in Northwest Arkansas, but I joined it, the Kansas City chapter because it’s close, about three hours away from me, to do a student portfolio review, and I just met a lot of just connections and people that had so many different backgrounds in design or in tech that gave me really valuable feedback or even just advice, and I still have a lot of those connections to this day. I think through AIGA, I’ve learned, or I’ve met a lot of different people over the years who’ve also become mentors.
Aricka Lewis: One person specifically, she’s not a member of AIGA, but her name is Lisa Baskett. She started at RevUnit a little bit after I did, but she’s like the most amazing designer/researcher I’ve ever met ever. She quickly became a mentor of mine when I was at RevUnit pretty early on in my career there. She helped mold where I wanted to grow and develop. I’ve kind of, for a while, I was mirroring how she was working, what she was doing so that I could kind of become as good as her. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I really looked up to her, and I still do, still talk to her all the time, but I think if she didn’t start there, I wouldn’t have known as much as I did early on about user research and user experience.
Maurice Cherry: What’s the design scene like in Fayetteville? I didn’t even know that Fayetteville would have had an active AIGA chapter or even AIGA group of people
Aricka Lewis: It’s interesting because there’s always been quite a few really good designers in the Northwest Arkansas area. There just was never a community to bring them all together. A group of I guess colleagues or friends of mine started the AIGA chapter here in Northwest Arkansas in the end of 2016, early 2017. I think that kind of encourage folks to start coming out and engaging as a group as a whole. There are a lot of little underground DIY scenes in the area, and so having kind of one meeting space for everyone to come together was a really, really great first step.
Aricka Lewis: Additionally, there’s a lot of companies here like Walmart and Tyson and J. B. Hunt that employ a lot of UX designers as they move into that ecommerce or whatever-you-want-to-call-it field, and they’re starting to kind of become tech companies internally within the organizations, and so a lot of their designers started coming to our events as well. The design community has really grown here, and our membership base grew wildly thanks to a lot of the companies here that provide jobs for them.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. I’ve always just been curious about that with small towns because we hear so much from Silicon Valley, San Francisco, LA, and New York about all the great design things there, but there’s tons of cities and communities between those extremes that you really just don’t hear about what’s going on in smaller towns. I relayed this story before we started recording about going to Raleigh-Durham a few years ago and noticing what a vibrant scene they had there, which I honestly would not have known unless I had went there. I didn’t know that the need and the drive was so strong in Fayetteville to start your own chapter and really start putting things together.
Aricka Lewis: There’s surprisingly… maybe not surprising. Not surprisingly to me, but maybe to others. There are a lot of small design agencies here as well. Some do work for the larger companies and some don’t, but there’s a really, really big design scene here, and I say big obviously per square mile maybe, I don’t know, but for it to be a small area, it really is growing, and more and more agencies are popping up, which is really, really great to see.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. Nice. Now what… Tell me some more about the work you’re doing with the AIGA. You mentioned this chapter, but you’re also doing something else with the task force, D&I task force.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so my role has kind of evolved over time. I started out as a programming director and am now a VP of inclusion and initiatives for the chapter. Recently, within the last couple of years, we had the AIGI D&I, the national D&I task force had a meeting here in Arkansas where we invited all of the members of the task force plus all of the D&I representatives from each of the chapters nationally to come to Northwest Arkansas where we just talked about the initiative as a whole and how chapters locally can impact their community and how we can diversify AIGA’s membership because it’s well-known that aid is not very diverse, and so how can we help facilitate the work to make space for those who are not represented in our membership.
Aricka Lewis: It was really, really cool to see. I was happy to have everyone come see Arkansas and make their own opinion instead of just reading what you learn in the news or whatever it might be. It was great to have them come and actually witness Arkansas for themselves.
Maurice Cherry: What do you think is the single most important skill that a designer needs these days? It can be a technical skill. It can be a soft skill. What do you think in your experience?
Aricka Lewis: The single most important skill that a designer should have. I think… Hmm. That’s a good question. I’m trying to figure out how to word it. I might stumble for a second. The ability to analyze problems, and I know that seems super vague and buzzwordy, but I say that because I think oftentimes designers like to jump to a solution or something they think they like or something that they’ve used before, and they want to apply it to the same situation, but I think the ability to really dive into a problem, understand who’s being impacted by it, what the impact is, and why it matters, why it’s important is highly valuable and I think even more important than just designing a solution because if you just go out and throw something out there, it could just… it couldn’t be the right thing or it could, but I think being able to understand either if it’s a user or if it’s just a blanket problem that might affect a lot of different people, those are important things to know.
Maurice Cherry: And I would say there’s so many UX designers out there now, which is really why I ask this question, whether it’s through a formal program like what you’re teaching or through something like general assembly or even self-taught courses, I feel like the number of UX designers over the years has steadily just been increasing. I think the part that you mentioned there about really being able to analyze problems, that’s something that is super important for any designer to know, whether it’s putting it together your portfolio, it’s not just enough to have a bunch of pretty images. You should have something which explains the choices behind why you designed it this way. That is, I think, will help set you apart from a lot of other people.
Aricka Lewis: I think being able to talk about your work is also valuable, so not only being able to show that you do good work, but talk about how you got there and your process. That’s something that I’m trying to get my students to do right now.
Maurice Cherry: When did you realize that you kind of had to put yourself out there in this way in order to kind of start making things happen?
Aricka Lewis: This is kind of sad, but I had a really, really tough client meeting when I was first starting out doing some UI work, and I couldn’t articulate why I had made the decisions that I had made. I started crying, and it was so embarrassing because I just couldn’t, I don’t know, I couldn’t talk about my work. I think it was because I was paralyzing myself and I was afraid of failure and I was afraid to put myself out there and just say, “This is why I did this, and I think it’s the right thing,” so instead I just didn’t say anything.
Aricka Lewis: I didn’t want to put myself in that position again, and so I learned from that. The next time I had a client meeting where I had to present my work, I was more confident in talking about my process and the method in which I got there and why I did what I did. It may not have been the right solution, but I was applauded for, I keep saying it, putting myself out there, but I was applauded for just being open to hearing feedback and for including people in that process. It really does impact more people than just yourself if you are the face of that confidence and that opportunity.
Maurice Cherry: Absolutely. What do you wish you really would have known about, I guess, the design world when you first started?
Aricka Lewis: If I’m being honest, I wish I would’ve known how not diverse it is. That was a really hard thing to go through when I first started. I’m in a sorority, and I was just used to seeing a sea of different faces in college, and so when I went into the workforce, it was jarring, and I was not expecting that. I definitely wish that I was… I don’t know how you become more prepared for that, but it would’ve just been nice to know. I was kind of blinded by it, and I want to say it’s because I didn’t have any professors of color when it came to my art career.
Maurice Cherry: Interesting. Now here you are as a professor of color, I mean, not teaching art, but teaching UX, so at least your students kind of have that to look up to as a possibility model.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of the reason that I agreed to do it because I was a little like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe they’re me. I feel like I don’t have enough experience under my belt,” but in reality, this experience that I have I think is just as valuable as someone who’s been in the field for 20 years who might not experience the same type of workforce that I do. I was willing to put myself out there so that that visibility is there for students who were like me and wanted to get into design but maybe didn’t see someone else who looked like them.
Maurice Cherry: Who are some of your influences? What drives you to continue with this work?
Aricka Lewis: I would say… so someone else asked me this question recently, and funny enough, I said you.
Maurice Cherry: Me? Oh.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah. I think that… so surprised, this is The Maurice Show now. No, I’m just kidding. I said you were one of my influences because you have put yourself out there in so many different avenues and have started a lot of different projects that, big or small, impacted a lot of people, and I think that’s important work, so definitely you, and then my professor who sparked something in me as far as social impact and social, I guess, justice go, Marty Maxwell Lane. She’s a big influence of mine. She does a lot of community work in the area, and now she is on the National Board of Directors for AIGA.
Maurice Cherry: Nice.
Aricka Lewis: Again, just people who are not afraid to just get out there and do stuff, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
Maurice Cherry: It’s interesting… I mean, first of all, I’m very flattered for you to say that. I’m a little taken back by that, but it’s interesting because, I mean, the one good thing that I will say about technology that has really helped with making projects like these is that it’s helped to democratize ideas, so anyone can have an idea, that’s great, but it’s just about what you’re able to do with it. Oh, my god, who did I speak to recently? I believe I was speaking to Ari Melenciano recently, and she said something that really clicked with me about how at first when she was trying to learn how to code, it was very difficult for her, but then once she got past the learning curve, she realized that you were just like putting pieces together.
Maurice Cherry: I think for me, when it’s come to making projects, I’ll know what it is I want to make, and it helps me to break it down into those components to know like, “Oh, these are the pieces that I need in order to do the thing.” For example, the recent anthology that I just published with the InVision, RECOGNIZE, that was something where, well, one, we received the grant from InVision, which was great, and I was like, “Okay, this is cool,” but then it came down to, “Well, how do I put all this together? Like yes, I want a submission process, so I got to put a website together.”
Maurice Cherry: I used a service called Persona, which is from the folks at Cargo Collective. It’s really great, really great for making little really small but artfully-designed websites so I don’t have to do a lot of code. It’s almost like Squarespace in a way, but it’s a little bit cooler, I think. But I knew I had to put together this website so I put it together, and then I knew I had to have these are the rules and things like that. I would say everything for RECOGNIZE came together in about three or four hours. That was really just a sense of like putting the pieces together because I knew that one part of the project I wouldn’t be able to do until I was able to get the website up because once I have the website up, then I can mark it, “Okay, we’re going to start taking submissions,” set up a really quick Google form, boom, submissions done. Submissions come in, then I know, “Okay, I have to work with an editor.” I work with the editor with InVision. We’re going back and forth on choosing the pieces. It’s done.
Maurice Cherry: I mean, even the people of InVision will tell you this. I had everything regimented out in like two-week blocks from March 1st to September 30th where I was like, “This is how it’s going to go. We’re going to publish by this date. It’s ample time. We can do this,” and it got done. It was great. Now, when I think next year, like, “Oh, I want to do this again,” it’s even easier to start from because I’ve already kind of put those little blocks together, and the learning curve is much simpler. Now it’s just, “Okay, when do I start and what is the theme going to be?” and then I can just put it out there in that way.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve set that foundation. It’s easier to keep going from there.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Aricka Lewis: Absolutely.
Maurice Cherry: We have a question here. This is from a mutual friend of ours, Regine, who has also been a guest on the show. She brings up the fact that you’re a musician.
Aricka Lewis: Yes.
Maurice Cherry: She wants me to ask you if the music that you make or create has an impact on your designs.
Aricka Lewis: That’s funny, so shameless plug: I’m in a band called The Honey Collective. It’s a jazz, kind of indie jazz band. It’s really good.
Maurice Cherry: Nice.
Aricka Lewis: I would say that… So growing up, jazz has always had an influence on me just because I grew up singing jazz and musical theater, and I think show posters were always something that I was exposed to, and so my default, and even when I started doing UI, my default was just to make it look like a show poster or like a gig poster in some way.
Maurice Cherry: Oh, interesting.
Aricka Lewis: Even in school, if I think back on my work, I’m like, “Oh, that does look a lot like… ” like I think of Paula Scher’s work that she did for… My mind, I’m blanking. What’s the theater? Anyway-
Maurice Cherry: Lincoln Theatre?
Aricka Lewis: I think… In New York.
Maurice Cherry: The Jazz Theater.
Aricka Lewis: Anyhoo.
Maurice Cherry: The Kennedy Center.
Aricka Lewis: Yes.
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Aricka Lewis: They’re just like jazz poster/music influence work, so that’s interesting. I don’t know if the music that I make inspires my work now, but freelance-wise, if I’m doing something just for fun or if there’s like a local exhibition or something, I think it definitely has an influence on my print work.
Maurice Cherry: That’s so interesting that it’s like gig posters and stuff. I think I saw this at an interview or I read this somewhere something about how older designers… Well, I won’t say older. We’ll say designers that have gotten their start maybe in the 2000s, like early to mid 2000s, a lot of the things that they were pulling from for inspiration were things like CD covers and album covers and gig posters and things like that because they were trying to replicate something on the web that they saw in Prince, whereas now, “Oh, you know what? I heard this on a podcast now that I’m thinking about it. Duh.” “I heard it on the Wireframe Podcast from Gimlet and Adobe,” but modern designers… we’ll say product designers from the 2010s to now, for-
Maurice Cherry: … designers, we’ll say like product designers from the 2010s to now for example, they are inspired by other websites. And so what ends up happening is that a lot of websites look the same in terms of structure because the inspiration is another website that pulled from that structure. So like, you know how you’ll go to a lot of websites and you see what hero image, a big headline, three column, then a big parallax slider or something like that. It all tends to end up looking the same. You can just sort of slot the content in and out and there’s nothing that’s really super, super unique about it. That really got me to thinking, because when I started designing, certainly, and this was back in ye olden days of table based web design, a lot of that was built off print design.
Maurice Cherry: We would design something in Dream… No, we would design something in Photoshop and then we would slice, we would make slices, because Photoshop could export an image that you’ve sliced, it can export it with the HTML. Photoshop in a way could make websites by itself. This is, I mean Dreamweaver was around, but I think this was like a, I don’t know, way to do conceptual sort of stuff. You had a lot of people that would make these really splashy looking print design things, but then it’s all chopped up into tables and cells and stuff like that. So when you go to the page, it all loads in a weird way.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: And then you’ve got one little section in the middle that maybe has text in there, but when I think about what the design looked like of things during that time, it was a lot more innovative and out there because the web was like this open canvas that you could really do what you wanted to do with it. I mean, now it’s the same way, but I find a lot of sites tend to end up looking very much the same.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, and that’s interesting because I feel like people before, there were these standard looking websites, the way that people used websites was a lot different too. I think that because design started looking similar, the behavior and reaction to that is similar as well. So we talk about standard user behavior, but I wonder if that would be different if we drew inspiration from other things than just websites that looked the same. You know?
Maurice Cherry: I think so. I really think so. Yeah, wow. So grew up with Jazz and everything, I grew up with Jazz too. I played in a Jazz band in high school. I played in my, well, it was the local community college had a Jazz band and I had started out… God, this was in another interview. Was this in the… This might’ve been in the same interview I mentioned before with Adi, where I had mentioned that I learned how to play music from video games.
Aricka Lewis: Oh, yeah.
Maurice Cherry: I was really inspired by, we had gotten a Super Nintendo and I was inspired by the game Final Fantasy II.
Aricka Lewis: Oh, the music is beautiful from that game.
Maurice Cherry: Final Fantasy II. Yeah, oh my God. [inaudible 00:39:08] but yeah, Final Fantasy II in the US, Final Fantasy IV in Japan, but I mean, I loved the characters and got into the story, but the music was just so good and I was like, what is this music and why is it making me feel things? I had a little like, I don’t know, I got this little tape recorder thing I got from Family Dollar or something, and I would hold it up to the TV while it’s recording and then take the song and go to my little Casio 32 key keyboard and try to write out the music for it, and that’s how I learned how to play music.
Aricka Lewis: That’s amazing.
Maurice Cherry: My mom saw that and was like, “Oh, you should… You know, have you learn an instrument or something.” She wanted me to play, I think she wanted me to learn how to play piano, but I just never got the coordination for it. The instrument I ended up settling on, well not settling, but the instrument I ended up learning was the trombone and I played that all through middle school, all through high school, all through college. Played it out of college in a couple of pick up bands and stuff around the city.
Maurice Cherry: I haven’t picked up a trombone in years. I know it’s like riding a bike, it’s sort of like you don’t forget it, but it’s amazing how much music has been an impact on my design, because one thing that I would do a lot when I was just trying to learn how to do Photoshop is try to recreate album covers and CD covers, and try to make this weird effect or anything like that. I don’t know, music, I empathize a lot with any musician that is also a designer. So props to that.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.
Maurice Cherry: Do you have a dream project or anything that you’d really love to work on one day?
Aricka Lewis: Oh, a dream project. Yes. So, for a while I was really into researching welfare and the actual demographic for welfare and who receives federal funding and why. I’ve always been interested in getting some kind of grant to do a big exhibition, like a bunch of posters on it’s not who you think it is. That’s all I have right now, but I’ve just had this idea of festering in my head, so maybe I’ll report back in a couple of years and something will come of it. But that’s definitely a dream of mine, is to inform the general public on actual government regulation and behavior versus what we think we know. Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: What are you most excited about at the moment? Anything in particular?
Aricka Lewis: I am most excited about, like work-related or just anything?
Maurice Cherry: Just anything.
Aricka Lewis: Anything in general?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Aricka Lewis: Okay. Well, this is not related to design, but we just started a new D&D campaign with my group of friends.
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Aricka Lewis: And it’s really good, so I’m excited to keep playing it. I’m also, I’m actually really excited about the work that I’m doing with Ad Hoc. I am super new, so I’m just excited to settle in and kind of figure out my niche, my niche, and where I as a person will fit into the whole picture. I’m still finding my way. So that’s something to look forward to.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Now, we’re coming up on not just the end of the year, but also the end of the decade. I mean, we’ll be in 2020 very, very soon. When you look at the next five years, what’s in store for you? What do you want to be doing?
Aricka Lewis: In the next five years, I hope that I’ll still be doing some sort of impactful work and creative problem solving. Maybe it’s not UX, maybe it is, but I want to make sure that I can use my design process and design thinking mindset in a way that will have real impact on real people. I know that’s vague, but maybe it’s in policy creation or policy change, or whatever it might be, but I’m definitely interested in maintaining my work with just helping people for the sake of helping them.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I don’t think that’s a vague thing. I mentioned earlier before about coming back from the Black in Design Conference. That’s a lot of what that whole conference is about, like I know when I first went to it in 2015 I was trying to get people to go and they were like, “Oh, but they’re not going to be talking about Photoshop, or they’re not going to be talking about Sketch.” And I’m like, “It’s Black in Design. When is this ever going to happen again? Let’s just go and just see what it’s like.” Over the three times that I’ve went, because they have it every other year, I am consistently inspired and blown away by just how people are taking their design knowledge and applying it in so many different ways.
Maurice Cherry: Now granted, the Harvard Graduate School mostly deals with architecture, landscape design, stuff like that. More concrete, I would say, applications of design than UX or something like that. But when you see how people are just extrapolating, some of the very same skills that you’re using, interviewing, researching, making decisions and stuff like that for much larger scale projects, it is, it’s fascinating. There’s this woman, she gave the closing keynote, Deanna Van Buren, and she’s talking about how she used her design knowledge or how she uses her design knowledge to help out basically to stop the cycle of recidivism for incarceration.
Aricka Lewis: Wow.
Maurice Cherry: So I mean, it manifests itself in a number of different ways, like making modular housing for people that are inside of the prisons or for halfway houses or things like that. Even seeing how they can repurpose structures in the community that once had, like an old jail or something like that, and repurposing it into a welding school or a peacemaking center. So then something which in the community was maybe this blight is now a source of restorative justice in a way. It is so… And the good thing about it is they, well one, they stream all the things, but you can also go online and watch past sessions. So I’m able to go back and re-watch stuff and follow the work.
Maurice Cherry: If you ever get a chance to go, the next one’s going to be in 2021, which already sounds super far away, but it is such an inspiring conference just to see how people are using their work, using their design skills in many varied ways. And then just the networking, because there is all kinds of people that are there. There’s students, there’s educators, there’s just a whole bunch of people there. It’s a really great time. I recommend to everyone who I have on the show to go, because it’s just, to me, I feel like it’s one of the few events that I feel affirmed as both a designer and a black person, and they make sure that your blackness is centered first. It’s called Black in Design, it’s not like the Design Black Conference or whatever.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: And there’s been other events that have popped up that are similar to that. Afrotectopia is one of them. Data for Black Lives, which also takes place in Cambridge where Black in Design does. There’s Blacks in AI, there’s Bitcon, which I think takes place in Minneapolis. Of course there’s Afro Tech, which a lot of people know about. So it’s amazing that there’s all these kind of events and spaces now that are not just about I think the practical applications, which is good, but also it’s for inspiration and for fellowship. I like that those spaces are now being carved out for us to fellowship.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.
Maurice Cherry: Well, Aricka, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?
Aricka Lewis: Well, I have Instagram and Twitter. My handle is the same everywhere. It’s ArickaCL, A-R-I-C-K-A, C-L. I also have a Instagram where I practice the ukulele if you care to watch me practice music pretty poorly. It’s called Practice Today. And I have a website which is ArickaCL.com.
Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Aricka Lewis, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.
Aricka Lewis: Thank you for having me.
Maurice Cherry: Well, yeah, and I just, I mean I try to have people that come on at all different levels of their career.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.
Maurice Cherry: I’ve certainly had people before who I’ve asked on and they’re like, “No, I’m not…” Oh, this is so funny. I was at Black in Design and there was this guy I’ve been trying to get on the show for years and he’s like, “I’m not ready.” I’m like, “You are teaching work at MIT Media Lab.” He was like, “Yeah, but you know, we in trouble right now.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I get it.” But I try to have people at all levels just to, one, show that there’s people out there that are doing this just like you, but also I think it’s really good to be able to go back, you know, like when you’re in the future, go back and listen to who was that person back then and what was I working on, and do I still have those same hopes and dreams and wishes for what I want to do?
Maurice Cherry: So hopefully I think people will really connect with this. I mean, you know, by all means please share it with your students, but yeah, I think this was a really great episode and it was really great getting a chance to talk with you. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Aricka Lewis: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
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