Dwight Battle

What does it take to work for a company like Amazon? Well if you’re Dwight Battle, it’s all about forging your own path. As a self-taught designer, Dwight has honed his design skills at agencies from Atlanta to Seattle, including product design at HBO.

Dwight started off talking about his work at both Amazon and HBO, and then we talked about his live growing up in Ohio and moving to Atlanta to start his career. We also had a pretty spirited discussion about the changing tech and design scene in Seattle, the need for representation for Black designers, and why saying yes until he could afford to say no has been instrumental to how he works. Dwight’s living proof that success in tech is within your reach as long as you allow yourself to find your own way!

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Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Dwight Battle: My name is Dwight Battle. I am a senior UX designer at Amazon working on the Kindle team.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. You just started at Amazon a few months ago, right?

Dwight Battle: Yeah, I started at the end of August. Yeah, it’s-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, wow.

Dwight Battle: Yeah, it’s been-

Maurice Cherry: What has-

Dwight Battle: It’s been a crazy time.

Maurice Cherry: I was going to ask, what’s the experience been like so far?

Dwight Battle: It’s very much… The phrase I use a lot the first couple of weeks there was drinking from the fire hose, and it’s very true. I think people go in with a preconceived notion about what Amazon is and what working at Amazon is like, and it’s fairly accurate. You do hit the ground running, and your head kind of has to be on a swivel. It feels like… I’ve been there six, seven weeks now, and it feels like six, seven months. I’ve done too much stuff in that time.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. You say you’re on the Kindle team, like as much as you can discuss, can you talk a little bit about just the kind of work you’re doing?

Dwight Battle: Yeah, I am on what we call the reader team. We manage the, as it sounds like, the reading experience across our various platforms and the e-reader. Specifically, I am the main designer for the core app experience team, so really, the overall IA of the product and how things look, work, and feel on a very high level before you dive into a specific book or piece of media.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. What is a just a typical day like meetings, things like that?

Dwight Battle: I’m still so new there, I don’t feel like I’ve really gotten to normal yet. We have our usual standup meetings and sprint planning things and things like that, but I’ve been really focused on one particular feature at the moment so I’ve been really heads down trying to solve what is turned out to be a fairly meaty challenge for most of this time. I don’t actually know what an average day at Amazon is like yet because it’s been a very… I feel like it’s been a very unique experience right now.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. I know beforehand Amazon, you were at HBO. That’s when we first-

Dwight Battle: Was. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: We met in 2016 at HOW Design Live here in Atlanta.

Dwight Battle: This was at HOW. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and you are a senior product designer at HBO. Can you talk about what your time was like there?

Dwight Battle: My time at HBO was amazing. I was there for just under four years. We worked on the HBO Now and HBO GO streaming products here in the Seattle office, so that’s everything across phone, tablet, TV, desktop. I touched a lot of different things. What I really liked about that team, especially early, it was that it was a fairly small team so I got to do a lot of different things, and then as the design team started to grow, that focus became more and more narrow, but even then, it was narrow to a point where I could focus on things that I found interesting within the product and areas where I could affect change and make improvements to the product. They gave me a lot freedom to explore those things, so I got to do a lot of really cool things there.

Maurice Cherry: It sounds like you were there at the time when these big streaming services got off the ground. Of course, people knew about Netflix, but I mean, of course, HBO has HBO GO, HBO Now, like you mentioned. Amazon has its own Prime Video and things like that. How was it learning how to create those interfaces for TV because that’s so different from the web?

Dwight Battle: It was… When I made the pivot from print design into digital design, I made a focus on, or I focused on digital product experience in screens and TV screen to particular because I felt like that was a really interesting opportunity, and there wasn’t a lot of people doing that at the time. Coming into HBO and everything that that was, and yes, Netflix was around and Hulu was around and Prime Video was starting to kick up, and now everybody’s got some sort of a TV experience, there was a weird window of time where no one really had it figured out, and there was a lot of opportunity to say, “Hey, this is what navigating a screen with five buttons should look like and should feel.”

Dwight Battle: There’s so many interesting challenges there because you don’t have things like hover states or you don’t have long presses like you have on a phone or something like that. I think when Apple came out with their new swipe remote, that opened up a lot of possibilities with how you interact with a piece of content. It was a really fun and interesting time to be working in that space.

Maurice Cherry: I remember Android TV from around that time, and it was so clunky to use, not just because I think of the overall, at least back during that time Android was ugly, but aside from that, just the tools that you use to navigate, it wasn’t remote-friendly. I remember the Android TV I had, it was a keyboard. It was like a keyboard, and then on the right where there would be a number pad, instead there’s a track pad with a little, like buttons. It was a very odd experience, and it’s like-

Dwight Battle: That was a while ago. You’re, like-

Maurice Cherry: It’s like you can’t really lounge-

Dwight Battle: … Google TV, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: … on the couch. Yeah, you can’t really lounge on the couch with a keyboard and try to do certain things because of just ergonomics and such, so it has really come a long way.

Dwight Battle: I think a lot of times people tried to translate, especially in those early days, tried to translate the keyboard/mouse/monitor experience to a living room experience. I’ve always been really fascinated with media servers like Plex and Xbox Media Center and things like that, so I’ve been looking at that for a long time. That’s all it was, was taking that mouse/keyboard/monitor interface and throwing it on a big screen TV. That’s not how most people interact with a screen of that size. It’s much more of a lean-back experience, and you’re just kind of grazing the content, finding something to watch.

Maurice Cherry: I would say it’s also more of an audible experience, like you want to be able to hear those beeps as you go from menu to menu, from item to item where, like on my main computer, I don’t have speakers. I have headphones, but I may not always be wearing my headphones, but I can still navigate the web silently just viewing. It can kind of be hard to do that with television, especially if you’re not really looking at it. Sometimes you’ll be on the remote, you just point in the air and you hope that it did the right thing, but at least you hear that little audible cue that’s like, “Okay, it’s moving. It’s doing something.”

Dwight Battle: Yeah. I think that feedback is so critical, so when you hear the bloop, bloop. It’s funny, when I’m watching TV with my wife and where commercial hits, she’ll do the bloop, bloop, bloop, which is the TiVo sound, and that’s the sound for me that, “Hey, you should fast forward through these commercials.” That’s something… We haven’t had a TiVo for 10 years, but that has become such a known paradigm. That audible indication that something is happening is so much more important on a TV space.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, like the rise of audio branding as streaming services have grown has been really interesting. I think TiVo and Netflix really come to mind with that. When you hear the Netflix, like… you know, “Okay, this is Netflix, the show is starting, the episode is starting,” whatever. That’s the cue for you, the non-visual cue to say, “I need to pay attention.” I don’t know if any of the other services really have that. I don’t recall if Amazon or Hulu have it.

Dwight Battle: I don’t, I-

Maurice Cherry: I think Showtime might have something. Something, they have like-

Dwight Battle: Showtime’s got their little chime, but it’s tied in with their programming. It’s funny, everyone knows the Netflix, but what I grew up with, and honestly when I took the job at HBO, I posted this video, but back in the ’80s when it was the Saturday night movie premiere, the night, and they had that pan through the city, and then the HBO theme would play and the-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, yeah.

Dwight Battle: … HBO logo would come spinning, that was the sign that was like, “Oh, yeah,”-

Maurice Cherry: I remember that. Oh, my god.

Dwight Battle: …. “it’s about to go down,” it’s Saturday night, and that has always chimed. That’s always been a trigger in my head. When I took the job at HBO, I posted that video to say, “This is where I’m going next because that was so iconic to me.” When I see things like Netflix’s chime or Showtime’s chime, those are the things that I think about.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I think the broadcast channels have all picked up on that. Of course, NBC has the xylophone… and CW has like a little, I don’t know, like a soft rock riff or something, but all the networks have their little visual thing… or not visual… audio thing where you hear it, and it’s like, “Okay, this is something from that network or from that [inaudible 00:08:49].” It’s a really interesting kind of a branding thing.

Dwight Battle: It’s-

Maurice Cherry: I find that really interesting. You’re currently a Seattle, but you grew up in Columbus, Ohio, right?

Dwight Battle: Yes. Columbus, Ohio, home of the Buckeyes.

Maurice Cherry: Home of the Buckeyes. What was it like there?

Dwight Battle: I loved Columbus, Ohio. I have so many memories of what it was like growing up in Columbus. It seems kind of crazy to say that it was a small town, but at the time, to me, it was my world. I don’t know. I just remember… I don’t have a good answer for that question actually.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. When you think about that time, was design and art, was that a big part of your world growing up?

Dwight Battle: Yes, absolutely. That was one… I used to draw a lot. I think I always knew I wanted to be in some kind of a creative role, even if I didn’t know what that meant. I was always drawing. I was never really big into sports as a kid, which is crazy to people who know me now, but the thing that I used to always get excited for was a Super Bowl, not because of the game, but because of the commercials. I have distinct memories of being excited to watch the Bud Bowl and Spuds MacKenzie and things like that. I was always drawn to that, those type of experiences. I remember having a drawing of the old Camel mascot, which-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, Camel.

Dwight Battle: … the Camel cigarettes, met Joe Camel, and which probably isn’t great for an eight-year-old to be drawing, but I always knew I wanted to do this and something in that realm. I remember doing a shadowing experience. I followed, I shadowed a photographer for the day, and I went to his studio. I’ll never forget, he had this beautiful brick building, and he had this huge studio. He was showing me how to work the cameras and such. I was… and the thing that stood out to me was he was wearing jeans to work. I wanted to do that because he wore jeans to work because I saw my mom going off to work in her suit and sneakers and I saw my dad going off to work in his business attire. I was like, “I know… That guy is wearing jeans. Whatever he’s doing, I want to do that.” I’m always in this space, so.

Maurice Cherry: So you knew from an early age, this is exactly what you wanted to do?

Dwight Battle: Yeah, I didn’t know how it was going to manifest itself. I was really into comic books as a kid. I tried to draw. I’m a terrible drawer, but I tried to draw. I was really in a lettering, so I was trying to do something with that. It wasn’t really until, I think, high school when we moved to Minnesota that I even learned what graphic design was and started looking at that as a potential opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: Was your family supportive of you going in that route?

Dwight Battle: Oh, yeah. My parents have always been very supportive of this, of me doing this. I don’t know if they always understood what it meant, but I remember them putting me into art programs when I was young, like the summer school like at CCAD, Columbus College of Art & Design. I did a couple of summer camp things there, so they’ve always been really supportive of this.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. You’re in high school in Minnesota, right?

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: You graduated high school, and then after that, you went back to Ohio.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: University of Dayton, right?

Dwight Battle: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: Tell me about that.

Dwight Battle: Wanted to go to Ohio state, and I didn’t get into Ohio State, and so I thought, “Well, I’ve got family in Ohio. University is the next best thing.” They had a really good design program. I remember going out to visit the campus and being really impressed. For being a Catholic school, one, the number of black faces I saw around. It wasn’t a ton, but it was more than I was expecting, and the design program was really, really, the art and design program was really very good.

Dwight Battle: I took a year off after high school because I wanted to work, I wanted to save up some money for school, so I actually took a year off before I went off to University of Dayton. I started there, and honestly, when I look at it now, I was there for a year. I probably enjoyed the partying a little too much. I enjoyed the social aspects of college more than I enjoyed the class aspects of college.

Dwight Battle: But in hindsight, I think I was making decisions about my future from a very, very poor perspective. It was, “Hey, this is your… You’re 18 years old. You’re supposed to go to college. Go to college. This is what you’re going to do.” I knew I wanted to do something in design, but the idea of alternative pass for that never crossed my mind and the idea of I could’ve moved down to Atlanta early and done something. I wasn’t coming at it from the right space, and I don’t think, honestly, it was the right time for me to go because I went into it, and I kind of blew the opportunity. I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity that was in front of me.

Dwight Battle: It was kind of a sobering experience when I got the… At the end of the year, I looked at this next looming bill for the next year, and I was like, “I can’t afford this. I can’t afford to take out another loan for this, so I need to go figure it out something else.” I moved to Atlanta, moved in with my parents, which started a nice long period of moving in and out of my parents’ place for a number of years until I figure things out.

Maurice Cherry: It’s so interesting, the first year of college because… and I don’t know if it’s like this at other colleges, but it feels to me… and maybe it’s just a combination of freedom from the parents and being in a new environment, but it feels like the college throws everything they can at you to make you not go to class and to make you not want to study or do anything. It’s like there’s so many extra curricular activities, there’s football games, there’s parties.

Maurice Cherry: When I went to Morehouse, they had charter buses. The clubs would send charter buses, pick us up, take us to the club, and drop us right back off on campus. It’s like you don’t even have to worry about transportation to get to and from places. I don’t know. Maybe it’s different at other colleges, I don’t know, but it felt like, I mean, I had that experience freshman year. I think I’ve talked about this on the show where my freshman year Morehouse was rough.

Maurice Cherry: It was rough. I mean, I got kicked out of my dorm. I had to get into another dorm, and it wasn’t even so much because of the partying and everything, but it’s just there’s so many other things to do that have nothing to do with class, and you have complete total unfettered freedom to do those things, and there’s nobody to snap you back in line or tell you, “This is what you need to do.” You have to go in with this level of self-discipline that I don’t think a lot of 18-year-olds have.

Dwight Battle: It’s kind of crazy that we sit 18 year olds down to say, “Here, you need to decide what you’re going to do for the rest of your life over these next four years. You’re going to take out hundreds of thousand dollars in loans to do this, and we’re going to give you zero support. You’re an adult now. Figure it out.” It’s crazy to me that we do that because that was how it felt. It was like, “I’m an adult. I can do whatever I want to now,” and the switch never clicked that was like, “Oh, I also have to do these things because it’s going to move me forward and to the path that I think that I want,” but again, what I wanted at 18 years old is dramatically different than what I wanted in my mid-20s or even mid-30s.

Maurice Cherry: Right, and I mean, oh, my god, that’s so true. I racked up credit card debt. I just did dumb shit. I had a job. I did get a job. You remember College Club? Do you remember-

Dwight Battle: That sounds familiar.

Maurice Cherry: … their website?

Dwight Battle: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: It was a precursor kind of to Facebook, but College Club had this interface where they gave you a number, and you could call the number, and it would read your email back to you. They had all these little campus sites, so whatever school you went to, there was a site just for your school, and you could meet people at your school or at other schools. I ended up working there as a like a campus representative from Morehouse for College Club. Then I was hustling on doing that because I was getting paid to do that. The way that they had the pay structure set up was you got paid like… and this is wild now for people that are listening that are hearing this. We got paid $3 per picture and like $5 per new account.

Dwight Battle: Wow.

Maurice Cherry: Every time you took pictures, like you went around and you took pictures of campus life and uploaded them, I’m just counting in my head, “3, 6, 9, 12,” boom, boom, boom, boom. Same with accounts, 5, 10, 15, 20. I was in the computer science department at the time because I had majored in computer science, computer engineering that first semester, and I remember talking with a friend of mine… Actually, the same friend I told you about who teaches at Ohio State.

Maurice Cherry: We put together this macro program that we could basically just take pictures, and we would upload all the pictures to a folder, and then run the macro, and the macro would upload everything, and it would give us a total of what it would be at the end because the digital cameras we had… This is 1999. The digital cameras we had took a, like one of those hard floppy disks.

Dwight Battle: Oh. Wow.

Maurice Cherry: It was a Sony Mavica, and I remember it having like a box of disks in my backpack just like slotting them out, taking pictures and stuff, and the macro, we made another macro that would just make random accounts. We were getting money like hand over fist like every month, $4,000. What am I going to do at 18-

Dwight Battle: With [crosstalk 00:18:37]-

Maurice Cherry: … with… you think that I’m about going to class, and I’m making this much money now? I almost flunked out the first year. I was so just not even focused on it. The other reason also was because I wanted to do web design, and my advisor was like, “If you want to do that, you need to change your major because you’re not going to be able to do that here.” He’s like, “The web is a fad. There’s no way that people are going to be doing stuff on the internet in five years. What are we going to do on the internet? Play solitaire?” So yeah. So yes, so after-

Dwight Battle: Well, that person was right.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. After Dayton, you said you moved to Atlanta?

Dwight Battle: Yeah. Yeah. I was living with my parents. I got a job, bounced around, was working retail, just really trying to figure out what my next step was. I knew I still kind of wanted to go back to school, but I didn’t know what that path was. I think it was… I did that for a couple of years, and I think it was, ’99, 2000-ish that I found the Art Institute of Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, wow.

Dwight Battle: I went and checked it out. At the time, with a couple years of post-Dayton, I said, “Let me make sure that this is the right place for me,” and did my due diligence. It seemed okay. Then I got in there and realized what we all know now about the Art Institutes, but I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I remember, and I only remember this because this is what kind of kick-started my career was I had a class, and the teacher… They made such a big show about the teachers are working professionals, and so they’re going to their jobs and then they’re going to come teach these classes in the evening.

Dwight Battle: Well, the professor was never there. This woman basically wound up teaching us. It was a Photoshop class. This woman who was a classmate there basically just started teaching the class. She told me about this company that she worked for that was a small… It was a publishing company. They made apartment magazines. She asked if I was interested in a production job, and I said, “Well, sure. I need a job while I’m going to school, so this is perfect.” I started working for the apartment guide, which is such a quaint idea now, but they were little books-

Maurice Cherry: I remember those.

Dwight Battle: … that you can pick up at the grocery store, and you would have listings of apartments, and you would pick out your apartment. That was how you found where you wanted to live. I started out as a production artist there. By this point, I realized I was giving the Art Institutes a lot of money. I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I think there was one class I only showed up for three times and still got an A, so I said, “This is not the right thing.”

Dwight Battle: So I left there, and that was the start of my career. I started out as a production artist pumping out those books, and did that for three years. I was starting to think about what the next step was going to be. I started having conversations with what they called art directors, what was the next step after being this production artist, what could I do next? They said some of the cities were large enough to justify having their own in-house artists who basically ran the, quote-unquote, “art department” for these apartment guides. Originally, he was going to send me that Vegas, and thank god he didn’t. That sounded amazing at the time. Thank god I did not wind up there, but-

Dwight Battle: It didn’t. That sounded amazing at the time. Thank God, I did not wind up there. But he said, “We need an artist for the Puget Sound book,” and I had no idea what that was because I don’t know what the Puget Sound is.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And he said, “It’s Seattle.” I said, “I don’t know what Seattle is.” And so in 2003, I moved out here to Seattle. I knew exactly one person. I knew a girl I went to college with who was living here, so she was the only person I knew here. And I moved here in 2003 and did that for a couple more years.

Dwight Battle: Realized fairly quickly that print work in the Seattle market was drying up quickly, and I was trying to make this move into advertising because that was what I knew I had always wanted to do. And I talked to a friend/colleague at it, at an ad agency here, and I took him my sad, pathetic little apartment guidebook and poor portfolio and said, “What could I do here?” And he looked at my book, and he said, “Did you do these ads on a Mac or a PC?”

Maurice Cherry: Hmm.

Dwight Battle: And I said, “Oh. I did them on a Mac,” and he said, “So, it’s not completely worthless.”

Maurice Cherry: Oh, wow.

Dwight Battle: “I can work with you here.” He was like, “You need to get out of that job because this job is not going to get you where you need to be.” And I think it was shortly after that that I gave like two weeks’ notice or two months’ notice, and I said, “I’m going to go find something else. I’m going to go find something that is closer to what I want to be doing.”

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And that took a while. I did some exhibit design. I worked for a company that did all of Microsoft’s conferences and trade shows. So, it was their CES exhibits and their E3 things and things like that. I freelanced for a while doing a lot of logo branding work, websites, and things like that. And then it was about 2010 where I kind of saw the horizon of what was coming down, and it was the iPad. And I was so intrigued by the potential of that device and that screen and what it meant and what it could be that I immediately went out and bought one and changed my focus and said, “This is what I want to do,” and started focusing on that and made that pivot.

Maurice Cherry: So, I want to go back because you just covered a lot of time. The early part where you’re talking about you’re working in an apartment guide. I’m just curious. What was that time like for you? That’s three years. That’s a long time to be at a place for design, especially back then because there wasn’t really a lot of variance in what you could do for digital design like there is now. You can be product or UX or what, you know?

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Interaction and what have you. What was your mind frame like during that time when you’re working at the apartment guide just doing these print ads?

Dwight Battle: Honestly, it was a time where I said, “This is the time that I’m going to put my head down and grind.” It wasn’t design work. It was very purely print production work.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: So, it was throw headphones on and grind through these ads and grind through making these copy changes or whatever they were.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And so, I knew that that was a means to an end. I knew I didn’t want to do that forever.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: But I knew that I needed to pay my dues, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know because again, I was coming from basically two years of college separated by five years. So, I knew I needed to learn a lot. And so, I’d work on stuff during the day. And then, I would go home, and I would read books on design. I’d mock up my own ads, and I would do as much learning as I could on my own even with the limited resources that were online at the time. And just trying to read and soak up and inhale as much as I could so that the next time I was doing these print production things, I could do it a little bit more efficiently so that I could get through more things so I could go home and do more of this other thing.

Dwight Battle: And so, when the opportunity to … And I started having conversations with the people who would be my bosses about becoming an art director for a book about a year before it actually happened. I went to them and said, “What do I need to do to get here? Because this is what I want my next step to be.” And so, doing that was a big help because they basically provided the roadmap for me, and when the time came to interview for those roles, I had done everything they were looking for anyway. And I had shown that I was capable of doing all that work anyway. So, it really became more of a, not formality, but I had shown I was able to do the work. So, getting the job was easy.

Maurice Cherry: So, it sounds like that was your education.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: That was your college basically.

Dwight Battle: Basically, yeah. That’s kind of how I’ve started referring to it, yeah. My career started in earnest in 2003, and it was such a dramatic shift from what I was working on because I went from working in a production office pumping out things to having to support salespeople and having to work with people who had completely different priorities than I did and having to work with people who thought about things completely different than I did.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And so, it was a very strong fundamental shift in how I thought about design work because I was so used to just like, “Hey. I can design all these things in a vacuum, and it doesn’t really matter what happens outside of this.” And I moved here, and it became very much, “No. These things have a purpose.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: “We need to … There are numbers that I need to hit, so I need to make sure that this content matches that.”

Maurice Cherry: What was Seattle like during that time, during those early 2000s?

Dwight Battle: It was crazy. I knew Seattle because of Microsoft and Amazon and Starbucks and Nintendo. I lived … My first apartment was right across from the Microsoft campus, and it was like driving onto the Microsoft campus was I remember being shocked that it was literally a campus. I just, I guess for some reason in my head I always thought of a building, a big, tall building downtown that had Microsoft on the top, and that was Microsoft. And to see how much, how ingrained in the community it was was kind of mind blowing for me.

Dwight Battle: But I never really thought about Seattle as a tech city. It was just a city that had some tech companies in it. I stayed largely away from it because I didn’t want to work in tech. I wanted to work in advertising, and I wanted to work in design. So, I stayed away from all of that. I remember turning down interviews at Amazon, so it’s like, “I don’t want to work. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to work for Amazon.”

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And so, it’s crazy to me when people say that Seattle’s always been a tech town because it didn’t really feel like a tech town to me really until about 2010, 2011 when it was like, “Okay. Now, Facebook is here, and Google is here. And companies are starting to move here to take advantage of all the engineering talent.” And so all of a sudden, you would look around, and Uber’s over here, and Lyft’s over there. And Facebook’s down the street, and Google’s taken up like several city blocks over in Kirkland. And you looked up one day, and you’re like, “Oh, wait a minute. Yeah. This is now a major tech city.”

Dwight Battle: In 2003, it felt much smaller. It felt much more of a community. I loved my early days here. I felt like I knew a lot of people. I made it a conscious effort to get out and meet people because I didn’t know anybody here. And so, I had distinct friend groups of my design friends and my friends that I would go out to nightclubs with and my friends that I would play sports with. It just felt a lot smaller than it does now.

Maurice Cherry: Mm, interesting. I knew about Seattle from The Real World.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And now, I remember that because that was the year we first got cable, and I had heard about this stuff because we had magazines. I grew up in the deep South in Selma, and so anything that I knew about pop culture and everything came in the mail. We had magazines, and that was pretty much it. And I think when we first got cable in like ’97, ’98, and I think Real World Seattle? Was Seattle?

Dwight Battle: Yep.

Maurice Cherry: So, yeah. Seattle. Yeah. That was the one with where Stephen slapped Irene, yeah.

Dwight Battle: Yep.

Maurice Cherry: That was the first one I saw, and then I went to Seattle. It was 2002. I had got an opportunity to do an internship interview at Microsoft. Actually, that’s the only time I’ve been to Seattle now that I think about it. It was my first time there, and I was like, “I got to see The Real World house.” Never found it, but I got to see Pike Place Markets on the Space Needle. And I saw the Microsoft campus that you were talking about, and I just remember going there and seeing all the Segways and thinking, “This is like the future.”

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Like, “Oh, my God. People are driving around on Segways? I’ve only read about Segways. What?” Didn’t get the internship, but it was a really interesting experience. I’ve been trying to get back there ever since, so hopefully 2020 can make that happen.

Dwight Battle: Come in the summer.

Maurice Cherry: But, yeah.

Dwight Battle: Come in the summer. This is my-

Maurice Cherry: Come in the summer?

Dwight Battle: Yeah. This is the part that I think people who know me would be remiss if I didn’t say it. Don’t come in the winter. The weather here is terrible. I hate it.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: I would have said that summers are beautiful, but it’s about to start raining for the next eight months.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Dwight Battle: So, just fair warning.

Maurice Cherry: So, now that Seattle is kind of, I guess, changing into a tech city sort of like you’re saying, how has the culture changed? Have you felt that shift as well?

Dwight Battle: Yeah. I remember a couple of years ago. I remember reading an article about things that were happening with long-term residents of Silicon Valley and fighting against the … There are long-term residents of San Francisco fighting against Silicon Valley and stopping buses in the street and doing all these things to disrupt what was happening to their city. I remember, I think it was three or four years ago, the same thing happened here in Seattle, and Microsoft, I think, was using street bus stops or something like that. And somebody literally held up a sign and was stopping one of those Microsoft transit buses because you were like, “You’re destroying this neighborhood.” And so I’ve felt that. I’ve noticed that.

Dwight Battle: I remember, I mean my starting day, my first day at Amazon, and I think I was in a room with 300 other people. And that was their day one along with me, and I think it was 300 people. And they told me it was the smallest one they had had this month.

Maurice Cherry: Mm. Okay.

Dwight Battle: So, Amazon is bringing in a ton of people. Google brings in a ton of people. Facebook, obviously, is bringing in … I think Facebook’s second biggest campus is here. So, yeah. It definitely has had an impact on the community both in terms of obvious things like the cost of living and housing, but also in the way I feel like when I moved here there was care for, this is going to sound really out there, but it felt like there was care for other people. You didn’t hear a lot of talk about people as “they”, or at least I never did, you know?

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And I’m sure there was NIMBYism floating around back then, but it’s been very apparent here. We need to do something about the homeless problem, but we don’t want it over here. Do it somewhere else.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And I think that’s come from a lot of that, a lot of people coming from Silicon Valley up here, people coming in from other places because this is a more affordable place to be compared to some places in California. And so, there’s been a … And in the weather here is pretty moderate most of the time. And so, it’s become a destination, and so it’s become a destination, but there’s nowhere for anybody to live. And there’s people who have been living here for 30, 40 years that are fighting against all of that. So, yeah. I definitely feel it. I’ve definitely noticed it.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I’ve heard that from … There’s this video channel on YouTube that I really like that’s based out of Seattle called Cut, and they often will show, well, they feature Seattle people because they’re in Seattle. But every now and then, they’ll have something which sort of talks about the city, or they’re interviewing people in the city. And they’ll talk about how things have really changed with sort of the encroaching of tech upon, I guess, the Seattle culture and everything.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: So, that’s really interesting because I think about that with Atlanta, also. I mean Atlanta is a city that has been changing a lot over these past 10 years, mostly because of entertainment.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: Because a lot of film and TV that is done here, and that has certainly not just, I think, changed the culture, but also it’s changed the cost of living, et cetera. It’s not as expensive as a New York or a San Francisco or L.A., but it’s affordable enough where people are starting to move here, and that influx of people is changing the culture. I’ll admit I’m not super involved in the local sort of design scene for many reasons, but I’m wondering. Now that you’re at the position where you’re at, especially having done so much in the field, do you feel like there’s really a design community there in Seattle, or is it just all tech?

Dwight Battle: I don’t. I’ll say that with an asterisk. I’ve become an old man living in the suburbs. So, I go to work, and I come home. And I play with my dog, and I watch TV. So, I’m sure there are things happening that I just don’t know about. But I know when I was younger, I struggled a lot with going to trying to go to design events here, not feeling very welcomed, and getting frustrated and leaving.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And so, that happens enough times, and you give it another shot. And it happens again, and you give it another shot. And it happens again. Eventually, you just stop going.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And so, part of that’s on me. Part of that’s on the design community here. I feel like the things that I go to now have been more tech-focused, but I think that’s also because my career has been more tech focused.

Maurice Cherry: Mm.

Dwight Battle: I haven’t been to a design-focused event in a while here, and I feel like when I go to other cities … I was in Minneapolis for the IGA conference, and I went to a bunch of different design events and felt immediately welcomed in, and it was a great time. And then, I tried to come back to that same one here after that event. It just wasn’t very welcoming, so I’ve just stopped trying to go, and I do acknowledge that I need to be better about that because I also grumble about the fact that I don’t have any peers that I can talk to. So.

Maurice Cherry: I remember that from when we met in Atlanta. You were sort of telling me that. Do you think part of that is just the infamous Seattle Freeze?

Dwight Battle: You’re going to get me in trouble, Maurice, because I have very strong feelings about that. I think the Seattle Freeze, I’ve actually come around on a little bit on that idea a little bit. I think people here are you have to work to make relationships here. I don’t think that’s ever been in question. The way I always describe it, it’s a hard nut with the super soft center. And so, you’re going to take a lot of work to get through that nut, but once you get into the middle of it, it’s this very welcoming, great place.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: But you got to do the work. And if you come from somewhere like an Atlanta or Minneapolis or places where it’s very outwardly, like you walk past people on the street and then the next thing you know, you’re over at their house for Sunday dinner. That can be a hard transition to make.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: I fight against it myself. I don’t want to become that person. I don’t want to become that person that I have complained about for 15 years now. So, when people reach out to me, I do my best to try and follow up to them because I can’t complain about the Seattle Freeze and then freeze people out myself.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: So, I think my perspective on that has changed a little bit as I’ve been here for some while. I think Seattle might get a little bit too much of a bad rep for that. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible to meet people here.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I read a recent article from, I don’t know if you know this guy, Timothy Bardlavens. Does that name sound familiar?

Dwight Battle: Yes. I know the article that you’re speaking of.

Maurice Cherry: You know what one I’m talking about?

Dwight Battle: Uh-huh (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. It’s-

Dwight Battle: I have not met him.

Maurice Cherry: Oh. I haven’t met him either, but, yeah. He’s been on this show before, actually for an article he wrote back in 2016, also about AIGA.

Dwight Battle: Hmm.

Maurice Cherry: Back then he was talking about why he quit AIGA, and this recent article that he wrote was about how AIGA upholds white supremacy, which I mean, whoo.

Dwight Battle: That’s, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Right out the gate. Right out the gate. I was like, “Oh, shit. Let me sit up.”

Dwight Battle: Coming out swinging, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: Now, I sat up in my chair when I saw that headline. Like, “Oh, okay.”

Maurice Cherry: And it’s interesting because when you talk about sort of design community and when I think about design community, AIGA invariably does come to mind because it’s the professional organization for designers, and there are chapters in every city. And I know that there certainly are some cities that are more welcoming and open than others, but then it seems like as a whole, the organization just sort of has this issue with diversity. And design events tend to be tied to AIGA in a way where it’s like unless it’s coming from that chapter, you really kind of don’t see it in a way.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: I think Atlanta is unique in the respect that we’ve always had a really strong arts community here. It may not specifically be digital design, but you can meet people who write, paint, sculpt, what have you, and it’s not within the confines of a sanctioned professional organization, that sort of thing. Have you found that kind of community in Seattle? Just the creative community not necessarily digital design.

Dwight Battle: No, and I would love one. I really would. I wish, and if someone’s listening to this and knows about one, find me on my website. Please tell me because I would love to have a community to talk about just general design stuff and period. That article in particular I think encapsulated a lot of the frustrations that I had with AIGA both local, and, man, I don’t want to say nationally because I don’t have a lot of experience with nationally, but definitely locally. I just, I never really ever felt welcomed there except when they were trying to like, “Here’s our diversity event.”

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: “You should come to this.” But if I went to just a regular event, I just, it never felt right. And I have this group of friends that I’ve met through actually through the HOW Conference, and they all have a diverse set of backgrounds. There’s photographers. There’s artists. There’s entrepreneurs. We don’t have anything in common other than the fact that we met at the HOW Conference, and those are the relationships that I value the most because we come from such different backgrounds and because we have such different specialties that I value those relationships. We get together once a year, and it’s great. But I would love something like that locally.

Maurice Cherry: Well, if any folks in Seattle are listening, make sure to hit up Dwight about that. Absolutely.

Dwight Battle: Please do.

Maurice Cherry: There’s a post that I saw that you wrote on LinkedIn a few years ago. It’s called, Where’s My Ari Gold? Ari Gold for folks who might not know is from Entourage, right?

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, from Entourage. That’s a good show, right? In this post, you were asking about like, “Where are the agents that are representing designers?” You’re saying that like, “Musicians have agents. Authors, et cetera, but when it comes to designers, there’s often no one that’s advocating for the designer for better work and things like this.” I really want to get into that because, well, one, I’d love to get an agent.

Dwight Battle: Dude.

Maurice Cherry: I would love to have someone that could advocate for me about that, but why do you think that exists? Why do you think there’s that dearth of, I guess, representation for designers like that?

Dwight Battle: Well, let me start by talking about why I wrote that.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: At the time, I was in that transitional phase when I was looking for trying to get into the digital space. And so, I was working with a lot of recruiting agencies, and that’s a very frustrating experience.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And I remember having a conversation with a friend who is an illustrator, and she’s written a couple of books. And she was telling me about her agent and so on and so forth, and then I was having a separate conversation with another recruiter who flat out told me, “I don’t work for you. I work for the company that’s trying to hire you.” And that really changed my perspective of how I engaged with recruiters because they don’t really have our best interest in mind. They need to fill a role, and they’re looking for the best person to fill that role. But if I where I wasn’t at that time in my life, I’m looking to make the next step in my career, and I make looking to make a pivot in my career, I have no one that can advocate for me.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And I don’t have anybody that can say, “This is what this person is.” I’ve got my website, but I don’t have a person that can say, “Here’s why you should consider Dwight for this role.”

Maurice Cherry: Right.

Dwight Battle: And that was where it came from was I would happily pay somebody to go out and advocate for me and to help me negotiate salary, which is something I think all designers struggle with. I think underrepresented designers probably struggle with that as much if not more because we’re always making on the low end of the scale.

Maurice Cherry: People aren’t checking for us anyway.

Dwight Battle: Right, yeah. I don’t have somebody that can say, “Hey, on Twitter, hey, come work for me. Here’s a bunch of money.” That doesn’t happen. I just read this. It’s on as a tangent. I just read this article about the Game of Thrones guys.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, God, yeah.

Dwight Battle: How they basically were like, “We don’t know anything about this, but here. Here’s a bunch of money to go make this this fantasy show for 10 years.”

Maurice Cherry: Right.

Dwight Battle: And that’s not something that happens to designers in particular and underrepresented designers in general. So, that was where that came from was I’m trying to make this pivot into a space, and I want someone that can advocate for me. Not just advocate for me but help me get to that stage where I can advocate for myself.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And I had to do all that. I had to, again, find all that information and work through that stuff on my own, and I finally got it all figured out about six months ago when I was having these conversations with Amazon. So, that was where that came from. As to why we don’t have them, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s because there’s a lot of people out there who want to be designers and are willing to call themselves designers and-

Dwight Battle: … who want to be designers and are willing to call themselves designers and will take anything that’s given to them salary wise, job wise that there just doesn’t seem to be a market for that. I don’t know, but I know that there’s a lot of talented designers in this world that aren’t being found because they aren’t in the right circles, they don’t know the right people. And that seems to be a hole that could be fixed.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And you hear all the time, “Well, if we could find talented black designers, we would have talented black designers”.

Dwight Battle: And my response to them is always, “Well, you’re not looking”. You can’t ask your employees to go find talented employees and be surprised when they all come back looking like the people that you already have working there.

Maurice Cherry: Right.

Dwight Battle: And still wish I had an Ari Gold.

Maurice Cherry: I feel that one. It must be it for real because it’s one of those things where, I think the general thing that I get from you is there’s a lot of figuring out, and oftentimes as designers, and especially digital designers in this field, there’s already so many other things we have to figure out in terms of the right tools, and the techniques, and working with the clients and all this other kind of stuff. You want to be able to, I guess, offload some of that in a way, to an agent. I think that would be a good thing and I hope for people that are listening, they don’t think that this is coming from some kind of elitist state.

Maurice Cherry: I think anyone, once you get to a certain level in your career, you don’t want to have to keep fighting for the same things that you did when you started out. You shouldn’t have to go tooth and nail with someone on salary or on certain benefits or things of that nature. Maybe that’s just sort of the nature of whatever market that you happen to be in, if you’re in a big city, if you’re in a small city, et cetera.

Maurice Cherry: I know illustrators often have agents, so they are a part of an agency and that’s who tends to get them gigs. I don’t know if there needs to be something like that for designers, or if there’s just not … I don’t know. I would love to know what that is because I’ve certainly had folks on the show who are, what’s the best way to put it? They’re creative consultants or something. They work with designers, almost in like a collective sort of sense.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m thinking of one person, off the top of my head, Ian Davies, who I think I interviewed him back in 2017, 2018 something like that. And he has a collective of people that he works with and helps them out with gigs and stuff. But it’s very much a closed door sort of thing. You have to know someone who knows someone. I know of different creative collectives. Laci Jordan, whom I’ve had on the show, I know she’s part of the [inaudible 00:46:44] collective, which is made up of designers and writers and artists. So it’s a number of different types of creative people. I don’t know if maybe that’s the model that needs to happen, like a bunch of us just need to get together and be super friends. I don’t know what that would look like.

Dwight Battle: The Avengers.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. No seriously, because I’ve had designers of all stripes that have been here on the show and that’s a common thing. They want to be able to have people that are going to help push them to whatever the next thing is in their career. And that’s not necessarily a mentorship kind of thing. I won’t even say coaching or sponsoring, but it is sort of an agent thing because this is something like you mentioned in the post, you’re willing to pay for that.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: You would pay for someone to help you do this, whether that’s a percentage of the salary or what have you. And I think headhunters kind of do that, but even that’s tricky because the headhunters are not really for you, they’re for the company that they work for because they’re probably getting paid on commission or whatever.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Oh man, it’s real tricky. I hope there are folks that are out here listening who are in the creative field, that might know someone who does this. Please reach out to the show or something like that because I feel like that’s a really big need, especially for underrepresented designers, because what’ll end up happening is someone puts out a call on Twitter or something.

Maurice Cherry: I feel like that’s how I see a lot of these sorts of opportunities crop up. “I’m looking for such and such”, and then someone starts a Twitter thread with 50 people in it or something. And I don’t know if someone’s going to look at all 50 of those people or whatever, but it’s like a sort of lazy man’s way of aggregating that kind of information. But man, I would love to have an agent. Really just someone that could help out in that respect because as you get to a certain point in your career, the recruiters are just trying to hit quota. They don’t really care whether or not … I still get recruiters that will contact me for like, “Oh, we have a six month content writer position”. I’m not looking for six month contract gigs. Get out of here.

Dwight Battle: Yep.

Maurice Cherry: First of all, I’m employed full time and secondly, I’m not going to do contract work at this stage, especially for like … No, no, absolutely not.

Dwight Battle: I actually put that on my LinkedIn. That says, “I would rather not be contacted by third party recruiters”. And it doesn’t stop them.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. It doesn’t stop them.

Dwight Battle: But yeah, it’s just that. And I respect it. Listen, you have your roles to fill, you’ve got your numbers to hit. I get it. But I’m at a stage in my career where I would rather honestly take that energy that I’m spending trying to find my next job, and put it towards helping someone that is where I was 15 years ago and help them get their career started.

Maurice Cherry: Right.

Dwight Battle: And so when I spend all this energy trying to find a job, I can’t also do that. I get lots of emails through my website all the time, asking, “How do I do this? How do I get into this career?” And I try to respond to every one that I can. But that takes time, it takes energy, that takes your spirit. You’ve got to get into a mindset to do that.

Dwight Battle: I love that idea of collective. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I think one of the things I’ve always done in my career, and this has probably been because I spent so much time contracting was, I’m always looking at what the next step is. I took Amazon for very specific reasons. So once my time in Amazon is done, what’s the next thing?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea of having some sort of collective where a bunch of designers can be in one space. It can be a very creative space, you can run your own thing, you can come together. But then also provide opportunities for young designers who don’t have those contacts and who don’t have blue check marks next to their names, and who don’t have this huge network of people that are willing to just throw opportunities out into the Aether. I feel that strongly. I want to do that. I want to be in a position where I can do that because I didn’t have those resources when I was starting my career.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So just to shift gears just a little bit here. We’re talking certainly about the energy that it takes to put all this together, and certainly what I’ve gained from listening to your story is that you’ve had to really, and I’ve said this on the show before, but you’ve had to make the road by walking. You had to forge your own path through all of this to get to where you are right now. What do you think helps fuel that ambition?

Dwight Battle: I’m always looking forward and it sounds kind of silly to say that I’m never happy, but I’m never happy. I have this vision in my head for myself and so I keep moving towards that thing. So I take steps that I think will help me get there. I just started doing some motion design work because it’s something that I’ve always found interesting, I thought it’s something that could help me and somewhere down the line in my career, so hey, let’s start doing some motion design work.

Dwight Battle: And I think that may have come from the fact that the way I started out my career, I didn’t have the tailwinds of coming out of school with a degree and an internship and all these different resources and references and things like that. I had to do that individually, step-by-step and trying to find help where I can. And to be clear, I did not do this by myself. I couldn’t have done any of this without lots of support from various different people.

Dwight Battle: But I think that drive, always thinking about what my next thing is and thinking about, okay, once my time here at Amazon is done, I’m going to be however old I am and starting to think about the next step in terms of retirement. So what is the next thing that going to get me to that point? And what do I want to do? Do I want to be driving through Seattle traffic to go into an office at 55 years old? So if I don’t want to do that, what do we need to be doing now to get to that point?

Maurice Cherry: Can you afford to take a break?

Dwight Battle: No.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: I couldn’t take an extended break. I took a month off between HBO and Amazon, and got a lot of things done and did a lot of different things. I don’t know that I’m built to take a super long sabbatical. I don’t know what I would do, I think I would go crazy. I know I drive my wife crazy.

Dwight Battle: I don’t think I could and I don’t know that I would want to, unless I was doing something very specific like traveling. I’ve never been overseas so that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. But, no.

Maurice Cherry: The reason I asked that, I wasn’t like trying to like poke a hole in what you were saying, but I do feel like, particularly for underrepresented designers, especially when you get to a certain age, like late thirties, early forties it’s like, what’s next? Do I still want to be doing this 10 or 15 years down the line? Because if the industry has changed … Well, the industry will change. That’s just inevitable. What is my place in it?

Maurice Cherry: Much like you, I was self taught. I was doing all this design stuff as a hobby and lucked into my first design job in ’05 and have managed to build on skills and opportunities to get where I am now. And that’s great, but I don’t have a formal education in design, I’ve got my experiences in my projects which have helped me out. And it’s interesting even to have that.

Maurice Cherry: If I try to look at what the next thing is, then it’s like, does this transfer? Can I use this? Do I have to go back to school? What is the next thing? And part of me is like, well maybe I should just like take a break. And it’s not something that I think underrepresented designers, when we get to this stage in our career, really even this age in life, is not something we can really afford to do. We have to keep going and it sucks.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: It sucks. I would love to have just three months. I would get so much stuff done. If I could have just three months to not have to worry about what the next thing is I have to do, what the next step is. Like what’s the next project? Oh, yeah.

Dwight Battle: If you said, “Dwight, you have to take three months off”, I would spend most of that three months figuring out what I was going to do on day 91. And maybe that’s coming back to design, maybe it’s not.

Dwight Battle: I’m big into these home improvement shows, and so I was watching this show last night and the designers said something that really resonated with me, and I’ve always tried to put it into words. She said, “Always say yes until you can afford to say no”.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And I feel like I’m starting to get there. Over the course of trying to get to this job, I said no to other jobs. But when I think of that, holistically about my career, is there a point where I don’t want to be a designer anymore? She went from a fashion design career to being an interior designer.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: Is that a shift that I can make? And what does that shift look like? So I think if I took three months off, I would do basically that. Figuring out what that 91st day looks like.

Maurice Cherry: Always say yes until you can afford to say no. Wow.

Dwight Battle: I might get that tattooed on me.

Maurice Cherry: I feel like I’m starting to get to the know part, but even when I give the nos, it’s sort of like a, maybe. It’s a soft no. I haven’t gotten to that point yet.

Dwight Battle: I feel like it’s hard, especially for us. It’s hard to say no because you don’t know if you’re going to have an opportunity to say yes again.

Maurice Cherry: Exactly. Oh my God. Yeah.

Dwight Battle: So you feel like I have to take this thing, even though it might not be the best thing for me or for my career. I have to take this because I don’t know if there’s going to be another opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I’ll give you a prime example. So, two years ago I publicly was like, “I’m not speaking at conferences anymore”. The last one I think I spoke at was after How. I forget what it was. Whatever the conference was, but it was a pain in the ass to deal with the conference organizer, and travel, and accommodation.

Dwight Battle: I remember you telling me about this. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I was like, it’s not worth it to go through all of this to do 45 minutes on stage, for what? And at this point in time, I also was kind of thinking to myself, where’s my agent? Who’s advocating for me so I don’t have to put up with all this bullshit?

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: And I was on a podcast called Working File with Andy Mangold and and Matt McInerney. It was the two of us. It was Cap Watkins who was VP of design of Buzzfeed at the time and myself, and I was like, “I’m done. I am capital D done with speaking at conferences”. Have yet to get a conference invite since then. But I don’t know if it’s because I said no or if they’ve just stopped coming.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And recently, I spoke at Bowling Green State University and that was really my first time giving a fairly big talk, I’d say there was maybe about 150 people there. It was students. And I’ve done little things around town, here in Atlanta, but it’s like 50 people at a morning coffee thing or 75 people at a … Actually, I wasn’t even speaking about design, I was speaking about podcasting. I wasn’t even talking about my design work. This was the first time I really got back on a stage and talked about design stuff in like two years, and I was like, “This is good”.

Maurice Cherry: And I told myself then that I would like to speak at more colleges or universities because I just feel like I would rather impart this knowledge on students, so they can take it into the future, than on working jaded professionals right now, who are just here on a professional development budget.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I’m thinking of like what’s the impact of what I’m putting out there? As opposed to just being on the stage, so I can add a credit to my CV or whatever. I don’t care about that. But yeah. Oh man, always say yes until you can afford to say no. That one hit me deep. Oh man.

Dwight Battle: Yeah. I had to pause it and had to think about that for a minute because it hit me the same way it hit you. Man, that puts it all into words.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And the bulk of my journey this past year was that. Was okay, can I say no to this? Is it the right thing for me? And if I say no, is there going to be another thing? Because if I had just taken the next thing, I wouldn’t be sitting here, working at Amazon. I’d be doing something less interesting.

Maurice Cherry: Right. All the could have, would have, should haves.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Take a look back at your career, if you could put up a billboard, or a manifesto, or something to say anything to anybody in your field, what would that say? What would you want to put out there that you want everyone to know?

Dwight Battle: That path isn’t a straight line. Or I would say, the path that people think that you need to be on isn’t always your path. And it’s okay to take a left turn, even though the GPS says to go straight, and see what happens when you do that. You may wind up where you were originally intending to go. You might wind up in a better place. So feel free to get lost, I guess.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Feel free to get lost. I like that. When you look at other work from your peers or anything like that, is there any projects that you’ve seen lately that have really inspired you? That made you wish that you had done that?

Dwight Battle: I don’t know if it’s lately, but a couple of years ago there was an ad campaign. I think it was the Old Spice guy. The guy with the towel around his waist and was riding a horse with the diamonds or whatever. And this was when I was super trying to get into advertising. They had just rolled out this character and I think the guy went on Twitter in character and just started answering questions in character, and making commercials and putting them on YouTube in real time in this character. And I just thought that was so brilliant and such a good use of all of those mediums, instead of going forth then and building up this big, expensive ad campaign, something that’s going to air a handful of times for three months. Reacting to people in real time.

Dwight Battle: And that has always stuck with me, and I try to think about what are the things that I can leverage that are happening right now? Whether that’s, Tik Tok would be the thing now, but it would have been Snapchat last year. But, can I be ready to jump on a thing that people aren’t even thinking about, to communicate things to people? If I were to take this to the extreme in my role at Kindle, how could I leverage Tik Tok to get people reading more books? That’s always stuck with me. And that campaign was a while ago, but that’s always stuck with me.

Maurice Cherry: So one thing that I really have been trying to focus on for 2020 is how can we use the talents that we have to really, I guess, build the future. There has been campaigns and art installations I’ve seen about, there are black people in the future. Have you seen these before?

Dwight Battle: Mm-mm (negative).

Maurice Cherry: It’s like a billboard. I think there’s one in Detroit, or maybe it originated in Detroit, where a woman has a billboard and it says, “There are black people in the future”. Because when you see science fiction, we’re normally not there. It’s like, Uhura and Worf and Geordi, and whatever to do was on Deep Space Nine, that was the Vulcan.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Deep space nine. I’m showing my Star Trek nerdery here. But, when you look at the future, the next five years or so, what kind of work do you want to be doing?

Dwight Battle: If I look five years into the future, I think I want to be helping the next generation of designers get work and get paid. Those are the two things that I see in the future for me, as my career gets to wherever it’s going to be. I feel like I almost have that responsibility to bring people along and again, because I didn’t have those resources of opportunities. I hope I’m in a space where, whether it’s at Amazon or elsewhere, that I can be in somewhat of a position of power to bring people into the room because I think that’s also important.

Maurice Cherry: So you’ll have the Battle agency? Is that what it’ll be? Something like that?

Dwight Battle: I have such a fortunate last name that I really should leverage it more than I do and in a more creative way that I do. But yes, something around the Battle agency.

Maurice Cherry: I need to see how much it is to trademark though, because I come up with all kinds of stuff from my last name all the time. Some of it I see makes it out into the world, some of it doesn’t. I need to get on that.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Well just to kind of wrap things up here, Dwight, and this has been a great conversation by the way, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Dwight Battle: You can find my work at dwightbattle.com. You can find me all over various social medias at Dwight the mayor, and that’s Twitter, Instagram, Dribble, LinkedIn. All those links are on my website too.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Dwight Battle, I want to thank you just so much for coming on the show. Like I said, when we met back in 2016 and I heard about your story, and even hearing it again now, I think it’s really important for folks to know, as you said before, that any of the success and things that you see in the design field, in tech, none of it is unattainable. You don’t have to follow a specific path of this school to this company, to get what you have to go. I think you’ve been a prime example of someone that has really worked their way up through the ranks, paid your dues, learned as you went, made the road by walking to get to the success that you have today. And I hope that that becomes an inspiration for people that are listening.

Maurice Cherry: So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Dwight Battle: Thank you for having me. I had a great time.

Sponsors

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit facebook.design.

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Caitlin Crews

Adobe is a company that is synonymous with the creative industry, so I was really excited to finally talk with someone from the company for Revision Path! Meet Caitlin Crews: a creative outreach and design specialist on the Adobe Stock team.

We started off talking about Caitlin’s day-to-day work, which includes a lot of writing, interviewing, and discovering new designers from all over the world. Caitlin also talked about her photography background, her work with Lord and Taylor, and she shared how she’s helping use her current work to create a more equitable future. After listening to Caitlin’s story, I hope you’ll become inspired to contribute more to the world as well!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Caitlin Crews: Hi, my name is Caitlin Crews and I am a creative outreach and design specialist at Adobe.

Maurice Cherry: Now what does a creative outreach and design specialist do? I’m curious. Tell me a little bit about that.

Caitlin Crews: I actually worked on the Adobe Stock team. So a lot of people think of Stock photography, but we have what we call kind of complex or extended assets, meaning we have motion graphic templates, design templates, 3D models and such. So a lot of people just think of, this the tick vocal stock photography, but I actually work on the templates team. So my day to day with that is I’m working with graphic designers globally to bring their work into a marketplace.

Maurice Cherry: Now I’ve seen it inside of Photoshop where you can link to Adobe Stock and different libraries. I’ll be honest, I’ve never really used it. I feel like it was one of those things at Adobe because Adobe tends to just roll out updates come so fast and furious and there’s so many things in it. I’d never get a chance to really experience everything that the Adobe products can do.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah. So within the applications for illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign, we offer free templates. So we’re working with designers to do very specialized content. When Photoshop is rolling out something new or InDesigns rolling out a new feature, those templates that you find in the application are actually designed and best practice with the application to feature something new depending on what that new tool is. Also, it’s a way for us to kind of work individually with artists or small design studios to kind of bring their work a little bit more into the forefront. Also we have a subscription paid situation through our website and there are of course 10 more, a lot more templates there. But what you find in command in and the new dialog box for those apps are we’re refreshing them a couple times a year. So it’s a great way for people who really aren’t sure how to use InDesign, or people who are maybe familiar with illustrator but not Photoshop to kind of explore and see how files are set up properly. So it’s a lot of like design thinking and a lot of best practices being put into those templates.

Maurice Cherry: I see. I didn’t even think about it that way that you could really see how someone else’s file structure and things are. I’ve seen those sort of templates and designs before and I’m like I can’t do that. Well the candidate thing, it’s like a tutorial or something. I’m not going to do that. I just need to like resize this photo or something. That’s interesting to know that people are kind of using it in that way.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, let people we have strong download numbers I think week to week in that and those are free. Like if you’re a trial user and you want to kind of test and see what that’s like, it’s great. If you’re someone who needs a new resume and you want to do it InDesign those are just kind of like great places. I always tell people to start there. And then also people who are creating new work for the marketplace of Adobe Stock just as nice way to see like this is how it should be done and this is probably like maybe the best way for another user or your end user to be able to use this template. So yeah, it was a whole new world for me coming in this role. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: It’s like instructive as well as sort of a showcase in a way.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah. And I learned a lot. Like I’m adverse to Illustrator completely. I’m like, oh, I don’t want to touch it, no thank you. But being able to kind of see how it works and working with these designers on it, like day to day basis, I learned a lot very quickly.

Maurice Cherry: So in a normal day, you say you’re helping designers get on the market place. Can you talk about like what that process is like for designers that are listening now? How would they work with you say to get their work on the marketplace?

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, so what we do is our process right now is kind of like an invite only. So a lot of my job is researching and finding people online or through conversation that would be interested in doing this type of work. So it’s usually a pretty interesting conversation of like this is what you do, this is how it gets done. And we actually have like our specs, our requirements for everyone per application to kind of follow. There’s a contract that needs to be signed and then we kind of work. It’s mostly like, okay, I see somebody’s work online. I like it. I think it may be interesting to see it as a template and then we kind of go from there. Through that process I’m also kind of guiding them a little bit through creative direction I’m looking at what’s selling, what’s not doing so well.

Caitlin Crews: Actually asking people to switch apps. So if someone’s making a lot of work in Illustrator and I’m like, ah, this is actually better InDesign, can I give you the tools to revamp your work and InDesign because it may sell a little bit better or it may perform a little bit better. So it’s this multifaceted like mind switch. And working with people globally is been a really interesting thing as well. Like I sadly don’t speak a second language, but being able to decipher and be able to communicate with people that are in Spain or Italy or I think I have someone in like there’s people in like Ireland. You know what I mean? So it’s just kind of like this being able to communicate broadly. It can be a little difficult, a little bit hard, but it’s just really interesting to see like what you get back through those conversations.

Maurice Cherry: And so because it’s a market place, some things are free, some things are paid. So these designers are also earning revenue from being in the market too.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, earning revenue and kind of explaining how that works. A lot of the free content, like that’s a completely different contract. So it’s like you’re getting paid for your work, we’re not taking your work and just trying to sell it for free. But it’s a whole process when it comes to making sure that artists get paid and make a living. A lot of it for a lot of people is passive income and you can make a group of templates and we can get them online and you can just kind of like, okay, let’s see how it goes and test the waters and see. But a lot of it it’s kind of like a passive income. We’ve had a few people, a few Adobe Stock artists that were doing this in their spare time and we’re able to like open small studios and do it as their full time job is making design templates for marketplaces.

Maurice Cherry: Oh nice.

Caitlin Crews: Yes. It’s fun to see that happen.

Maurice Cherry: So when you’re doing this outreach, like I’m curious like what’s a normal day like for you or are you just like scouring the web and just reaching out to people?

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, scouring the web, reaching out to people. Also finding really good resources. I loved meeting people in person. I never really go in being like, hey can I sell you on this thing. It’s more like I really want to get to know the people, the artists that we’re working with. I really want to get to know like things that they want to try but they’re not really sure how to.

Caitlin Crews: So even meeting people in person has been, if you go to a talk or you go to a panel or what have you, just kind of meeting designers out in the real world I think is the most important and constantly keeping your eyes like on Instagram. I think predominantly everyone I follow now is like some sort of designer or illustrator. Just kind of like being able to see what’s happening right now InDesign and thinking about what it’s going to do in the future. Like, especially from an aesthetic standpoint, just what does it look like and how does it function? So it’s a lot of research and it’s a lot of just like kicking around ideas most of the day. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Now Adobe, I don’t know, it kind of has a contentious relationship I feel like with designers because it’s the tool that many of us started with. Like it’s the tool that many of us just sort of cut our teeth with whether we paid for it or pirated it as I or whatever. But like it’s the tool that we use to kind of not only sort of get our feet wet with what we could do digitally, but also to learn about like different terms and things like before design I had never heard of like cropping or rasterize. Because I didn’t go to design school so I didn’t know any of that stuff. But I knew I really liked graphics. I had a copy of Photoshop and I learned really kind of like a second vocabulary through the tools and learning about like different blend modes and what does that mean?

Maurice Cherry: And that got me more interested in learning about design. So for a lot of designers, Adobe’s like an education to them, like learning the tool, learning things from that. However, Adobe also gets a lot of flack because, well I think it’s probably most people know about the pricing. Adobe went from, well I think at one point in time they just had, you could buy the downloaded actual software and that was pretty expensive. So now going to this sort of monthly model, monthly subscription model of subscribing to all of the apps or any number of apps you wanted to, which a lot of designers in necessarily feel like was something they could do, like they can afford. And I feel like there was like an inflection point when that happened because then you started seeing a lot of these difference, almost anti Adobe design tools come out because they’re like, oh, I can’t pay for Photoshop, so I need to make something else that can do the same things or similar things.

Maurice Cherry: And a lot of that is borrowed from Photoshop, like the terminology, the things it can do, et cetera. A lot of that, I mean Photoshop like the OG in that respect. So that in like is it challenging talking to designers when you let them know like I’m from Adobe because of that kind of stigma?

Caitlin Crews: I think so. A lot of people, when I do approach them, I do talk to them. It’s like, no, you’re not. Like I’m not a real person. Like I was actually trying to assign a contributor artist onto stock and she was like, can you send me your LinkedIn page? I don’t believe you are who you are. And I was like, well, there are real people. There are a lot of us at this company and I think that when you have a product, like the products that Adobe has put out and I think has been around for a very long… It’s like some application had been around for 35 years and in the world of technology, that’s a long time. I think that what’s interesting is like, yeah, I mean as someone who also don’t tell anyone, but we’re going to tell everybody I also would pirate, you know what I mean Photoshop because I had to do something.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, I think that it’s just you know what I mean? It’s kind of like this barrier of entry and I think what Adobe is trying to do is to price things at a way that’s still competitive but also like it’s a company you have to realize they need to make their money too. But I think that with every step of the way and the new applications that are coming out and the new software that’s coming out, I think that just makes it healthy. I think that Adobe has always been kind of in the forefront of that technology, but it wouldn’t be a true world if there wasn’t someone out there to kind of push at that a little bit.

Caitlin Crews: And I think that’s the role of creatives always to question and also reinvent. So is that a good or bad thing for Adobe? I’m not exactly sure. I think as long as the wheel keeps spinning and we keep innovating, I think that no matter how you get the work done, you’re going to get it done. So that’s kind of my take on it. I don’t have any official word from my company, but-

Maurice Cherry: Oh no, no, no. Yeah, I completely understand that. I mean, and Adobe continues to innovate. I mean, with the subscription price, like so for example, I have mine through my company I work for, for Glitch and so we’re able to all of the Adobe apps, of course Photoshop, Illustrator InDesign, I use Premiere, I use Audition. There’s a number of different ones and then that also extends to the mobile apps as well. And I’m always finding something new aside from just new features that Adobe rolls out, I’m always finding something new I can do with Photoshop that I didn’t know that I could do before. I think probably one of the biggest game changes for me was two of them. The first one was how you could straighten images using the ruler tool. I had no clue about that. Like, I think I lucked up on that one day and was like galaxy brain, like I can’t believe I can’t do this now.

Maurice Cherry: I can straighten crooked images with the ruler tool. And then the second thing was the content aware fill how Adobe’s using like machine learning and AI to fill in parts of an image magically that don’t exist. I mean just it’s like magic. It’s like, oh this makes my job so much easier. I don’t have to like clone stamp and blur, clone stamp and blur to try to get the texture right or whatever. I mean, I don’t know. I see what you’re saying about, I kind of be in that healthy competition. I mean I do have Adobe apps, but I’ve also got the full affinity suite of apps. I’ve got designer and following publisher and I’ve used those as well on times where I couldn’t use Photoshop because it didn’t work for a certain thing that I needed to do, but affinity did. So I can see where that could be healthy competition.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah. I think it’s also just always important to know what tools are out there, no matter if it’s with an Adobe product or not. Just kind of like what can I do to get this done? And I think that’s just super important as well. There are tools in Photoshop I took a, we’ll probably get into it, but I took a break for a little while in the creative space to kind of stopped and coming back into using Photoshop I was like, where did this come from? Why didn’t I know about this? This would have saved me so many tears about three years ago. What happened?

Caitlin Crews: But it’s interesting to watch these products continue to develop because there’s a reason to why there is content aware fill now. You know what I mean? They’re realizing, oh okay, if we can do this through machine learning and AI, why not make it slightly easier for somebody? So I do find that to be really interesting and also like a big thank you when you’re doing design work.

Maurice Cherry: And speaking of content, I mean Adobe has been really like not so suddenly flexing in the content creation department. For the past few years, like there’s been live streams, of course there’s conferences like Adobe MAX. Of course there’s all the articles and things on the Adobe blog. How does that factor into your work, if any? Like that’s stuff that you have to work with as well?

Caitlin Crews: For sure. Outside of doing the day to day finding new contributors and finding new artists to work with. There’s also like we’re a pretty small team and Adobe Stock is rather new compared to other departments within Adobe. And so a lot of that the blog writing, doing contributor interviews and spotlights, writing about new features that we’re finding within templates or marketing that also comes from my team. So also on top of the day to day, and there’s also I’m writing blog post, I’m working with marketing teams, I’m also building collections. That’s another big part of my job right now is to build highlighting the best of the templates collection and making sure that that gets out to the marketing team. So on Twitter or on through internal communication, just so people know, kind of like what we’re doing and what we’re producing.

Caitlin Crews: And that’s something else that I work on. So it’s actually in ground very deeply into my role. So it’s like it’s not just one thing. You’re always wearing different hats and it’s always like, I call it the brain switch constantly. One moment you’re focused on, okay, getting someone’s contract done and processed and ready and the next thing you’re like, oh, okay, cool. I get to switch gears and write about an interview another designer. Have those like really awesome conversations about their process and how they thought of this concept or why did they choose this route.

Caitlin Crews: So yeah, it’s a multiple fold kind of job and it’s something that I think I like and I excel in, even with Adobe MAX getting prepared for that this year. There’s always something. It’s either you’re trying to find content to feature during MAX or this year the template scene, we don’t have too many features coming, but like a couple of years ago we announced Adobe Stock.

Caitlin Crews: So that was like really interesting. And I was there a couple of years ago working in the booth, meaning people. You get the craziest questions sometimes I don’t tell people I worked for Adobe because it’s like I was at a conference, I was actually at the Black is Tech Conference on a panel this was early spring and Adobe has their like booth up because it was also like a recruiting event for us. And I’m there and this kid comes up to me and call me kid, but he’s a grown man comes up to me and was like, can you help me with my Photoshop? And I was like, actually I can, so sure. But like every single time you mentioned you worked for Adobe, it’s like my account won’t think or like it’s just you get the craziest stuff and I’m just like, whoa, that’s so out of my lane. I don’t know, but let me try to find someone that can help you. That’s like the biggest thing is just like I may not be able to do it but like give me your information and I’ll try to help you out.

Maurice Cherry: You are like tech support basically.

Caitlin Crews: All of the time. All of the time. I was somewhere, someone was like, “Oh, where do you work?” And I go, “I work at Adobe.” And he was like immediately wait, let me open my laptop. Can I show you something? And I’m like, “Ah.”

Maurice Cherry: Oh boy.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, it’s a lot. It’s a lot.

Maurice Cherry: So we met in a slack room. We met in the Black is design slack room. And I know that your job has to do with, of course finding designers. I would imagine diversity plays a big part in that. And when you booked, you said the first thing that you said was, I really would love to chat about where to find diverse black designers. You are in the perfect place to have the conversation, so let’s chop it up.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: What questions do you have? I’m curious.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah. I think for me it was like I’ve spent my time in different fields, right? So getting kind of back into design was like a shift for me. And then realizing, I don’t know if you’ve felt this, but I’m sure you have. It’s like, okay, you’re the only one in the room. And for me it didn’t matter what industry is and if it was in the museums or art or if it was in fashion and photography. I was usually only the only one. So I was like, hold on, I’m in this position now to actually help and elevate designers at a company that is for designers.

Caitlin Crews: So my thing is just like, where do I find everybody? And then I found that Slack group and I was like, Oh, okay. I found it. This is great. It was just one of those things where it’s just like, well, where do I begin? And being in New York too, it’s I feel like things are so specialized and so niche sometimes where I’m just like, who am I to walk into this space? And the thing about also being in that Slack group, it’s like I didn’t come into that Slack group being like, hey guys, who wants to sign up to be an Adobe stock contributor? I haven’t done that at all. It’s more so I just want to get to know people where they’re…

Caitlin Crews: … to know people, where their struggles are in this space and what kind of person can I be in that moment as either an aid or someone who helps or mentors in this space. I think finding those pockets and those areas is super, super important. I also think that having those connections means a lot to a lot of people. Looking at the Slack groups and looking at different boards, I think there’s another group called African-American Graphic Designers and being in that space has been eye opening as well. I think I’ve found a few spaces since I put that question out there, but yeah, I’m always curious to be like, “Where is everybody?” All of the time. It’s interesting, like even my brother, he’s a sales dude in telecommunications, he’s a VP of sales for a company and we have this conversation all the time of like, “Where is everybody?”

Caitlin Crews: How is it this the age and this year and I’m still sometimes the only one in the room, it doesn’t make sense. So when you go to find that and you’re like, okay, and it has to be done in a meaningful way, where do you begin, where do you start? Actually finding that Slack group was, just for me, myself, my own personal career journey, a huge thank you. Because always and often in the world I can walk into art shows and be like, “Okay cool, how am I in New York and I’m the only black person in this room?” That’s insane to me. That’s the thing that I want to break down, but also preserve space, I think that’s super important as well.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. I’ve mostly just found people online. People always ask me like, “How are you able to find so many designers for Revision Path?” And I’m like, “On LinkedIn.” That’s usually how I do find people. I’ll search LinkedIn, I’ll go through their connections, I see who their connections know. Sometimes I’ll just pull up a company and just look through who their employees are and try to find the one or two black people that might be in there that might be in design. But then even just from people who I’ve had on the show, there’s been a lot of referrals.

Maurice Cherry: I’ll interview someone and I’ll say, “Oh well if you know some people who you think might be good to have on the show, let me know.” From there I’ve been able to build up not just the network for the show, but we’ve got a running list of about, I don’t know, maybe about 2,000 or so people that could be on the show. They’re not just in the US they’re worldwide. Which, even if you think about it is a small number just when you think about the size of the design industry, but they’re out there. It’s harder to find I think for one because of networking and two, because the overall design community has not placed any level of prioritization around spotlighting voices unless it happens to be that diverse voice’s affinity month. You’ll hear about us during February, that ain’t no problem. They’ll find black designers in February, they’ll find Hispanic designers between September and October for Hispanic Heritage Month. They’ll find Asian designers in, I think May is when Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month is.

Maurice Cherry: But it’s like you’ll find them during that time, but then other times of the year it’s non-existent because they haven’t made an attempt to really diversify really who they showcase. A lot of this is perpetuated unfortunately by design media, this is a big reason that I started Revision Path is that I didn’t see other designers I knew who were doing really great work ever being recognized or ever being showcased and I’m like, well, there needs to be a platform to showcase this work they’re doing, so I guess I have to be the one to make the platform.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, I think it’s a great platform. I’ve listened to this podcast, so it’s exciting for me to actually be here, but also part of my other role at Adobe is I am one of the co-leads for the Black Employee Network in New York for Adobe. So that has been an awesome experience as well, is to be connected with other black employees in New York. And the gamut, right? You have people in marketing and people in sales, you have people in design and people who are engineers and getting together with people and being able to talk about what those struggles are in our day to day. Then also having connections with other black employee networks in other offices for Adobe has been this amazing place and being able to elevate certain voices. So my job, my day to day is finding these designers, but I have literally baked it into my KPIs with my manager to make sure that I am elevating certain voices.

Caitlin Crews: I also set personal goals for myself every year to sign… I was like, I definitely want to sign on at least three black designers by the end of the year. I also want to be able to make sure that I am working with a lot of women designers as well because I was like, okay, we have this platform, we have this space, let’s make sure we’re using it to the best of our ability for those people who usually are looked over or are not recognized. I mean that might not be everybody’s goal, but it’s definitely one of mine in my day to day.

Maurice Cherry: For designers that are listening, how can they become an Adobe Stock Contributor? Is there a process or a form they have to fill out or anything?

Caitlin Crews: There’s a process and a form. I’m trying to think of the best way to go about it. But usually if you navigate through the helpx section of Adobe, you will find the templates page there and there is a form that you can fill out and that will come to my team and we’ll review portfolios and contact you. Our bandwidth isn’t the biggest compared to think what people may think it may be, but it’s a very small, small team going through the process. But yeah, through the helpx page and you can look for templates, there’s a form there and you’ll be able to find us.

Maurice Cherry: And that’s just helpx.adobe.com?

Caitlin Crews: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: Gotcha. Okay. Yeah, I’ll try to find it and put a link to it in the show notes because I’m sure people that are listening will want to be able to get in contact with the team and submit their work so we can help you meet those KPIs, we’ve got to look out for you. I want to go more into your career, but let’s learn more about you. I started doing my research, I saw you’re from a small town called Uniontown, in Pennsylvania?

Caitlin Crews: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: Talk to me about growing up there.

Caitlin Crews: Oh wow. Okay. I just talked to my parents today, so I’m feeling very nostalgic and excited to actually go back for Thanksgiving. If you would have asked me that a couple of years ago, I’d be like, I’m never going back. But it’s a really small town, about an hour and 15 minutes south of Pittsburgh, basically on the West Virginia border. If you can take a sense of what that’s like, it’s exactly what you think it is. It’s a small town of like 14,000 people. I think when I was growing up, it was maybe 16,000 so the population has definitely dropped off. When I was younger I wanted to get out as quickly as possible, but it’s a beautiful place to grow up. You’re near the mountains and there’s lakes and it’s very beautiful for nature. But growing up there was a little rough.

Caitlin Crews: My parents worked extremely hard to get us through Catholic school, my brother and I both. My mom was this public school teacher, so she was like, “I will figure out how to pay for this, but you’re going to Catholic school,” and I kind of hated every moment of it. I was also raised Catholic, so I was in Catholic school from kindergarten all the way all the way through high school and graduated with 76 people in my high school class. I dealt with a lot of racism, that’s just how it is there and it’s interesting because it is a mixture of people in that town. It’s just, when you’re dealing with people who aren’t from your life, it can be a really difficult kind of place to be, but I don’t think I would be the person I am if I wasn’t from there.

Caitlin Crews: You had to fight a lot. Not physically, but just making sure that you’re always on point with whatever it is you’re doing because the goal was to leave. That was also my parents’ goal, was to get us out. “You have to go, you cannot go to school around here. You have to go.” So, I’ve got that push from them mostly to get out and don’t look back. I mean I joke around all the time because I’m like, “Wow, it’s really cheap to live there, maybe I should just move back.” And my mom was like, “Absolutely not. Heck no, you’re not doing it. You can come back and visit but you’re not staying.” So yeah, I enjoy going back now and of course to see my family and some of my friends who still live there, cousins, but it was an interesting place to grow up for sure.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. I really grew up in a small town. I grew up in Selma, Alabama. A little bit bigger than Uniontown, I think we maybe had about like 25,000 people, but everything that you’re saying about small high school class, growing up with racism, all of that, we are here. I understand that 100%. Were you exposed to any art and design or anything when you were growing up?

Caitlin Crews: Yeah. My mom grew up in the city of Pittsburgh and my dad is from Uniontown. They met in college and got married and my mom moved away from the big city to this small town and she made it a point, we were in Pittsburgh almost every weekend. We were either going to like Phipps Conservatory to see the flower show, I was encouraged to take photos at a young age, going to the Carnegie Museum, going to the Andy Warhol Museum, taking a trip to DC, going to the Sicilian there. I was always exposed to stuff like that, and even in art class, even though we were just probably with crayons on like Manila paper coloring, we still had art. Then in high school, that’s when I started taking photo classes, photography. Black and white photography in dark room, my little 35 millimeter Vivitar camera, I still have it.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, I was always encouraged to do stuff, I was always painting at home or my mom always made sure that we were going to go see the symphony, we were going to the ballet at least once or twice a year. Those were things that my parents made sure that my brother and I both experienced. I think even for herself growing up in the city of Pittsburgh and a pretty large family, her mother made sure that she did that. It was just a natural thing, it wasn’t weird. Because then when I got to high school, I had friends that have never set foot in Pittsburgh before. It’s an hour drive. You have your license, what do you mean? “Oh no, I’ve never.” There are people who literally at 17, 18-years-old have never made the hour drive into Pittsburgh and that blew my mind. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I joined marching band when I was in high school and that was really my first foray out of Selma. Selma, I guess similar to Uniontown was like an hour away from the nearest big city. The nearest big city was Montgomery. Montgomery was to us, that was our New York City. They had a movie theater, they had a mall, they had a McDonald’s. All the things that I didn’t have growing up, I didn’t see any of that stuff until I was like 18 but anyway. I get that that sort of… it’s almost provincial in a way. I definitely grew with people who had never stepped foot outside of Selma or even never really stepped foot outside of the part of Selma they were in to another part of the city. Because Selma was very much a sundown town, there’s certain parts you just don’t do it.

Maurice Cherry: But yeah, I feel like if I wouldn’t have joined marching band and gotten to at least go to other cities in the state and I think eventually we ended up doing some out-of-state stuff, I don’t think I would’ve left until I left for college. I would’ve been one of those people that wouldn’t have left the city because it wasn’t even so much that I didn’t have the want to leave. I wanted to leave, I really wanted to leave, but I couldn’t see a vehicle and not like a physical vehicle, I couldn’t see a vehicle to get me out of it until I got to high school really until like junior, senior year. Once college and things came, I was like, “Oh I could do that.” I could go to college somewhere and my mom was like, “You are not going to college out of state. If you go somewhere, you’re going somewhere close.”

Maurice Cherry: If I told my mom I was moving back home right now, she would roll out the red carpet. She’s like, “Come back.” I don’t understand why, that’s a whole other podcast. There’s a, and you can probably attest to this, being in a small town like that, there’s this weirdly safe and insular feeling from the rest of the world and it’s like ignorance is bliss kind of thing. If you don’t know that it exists outside of the city limits, then it doesn’t matter to you.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, it’s been interesting going back now, when I go back for the holidays or something like that. The town itself is changing again and it’s really interesting. There’s yoga studios popping up, there’s art galleries popping up and I’m like, “Okay, this is really cool.” So people are either coming from other places or people are leaving, seeing something and coming back. So that’s been really interesting to see. I played sports a lot growing up and so in high school when I got into this photo thing, we took a trip to New York and I came back home and I told my parents that I’m moving to New York when I’m done with college. My mom was like, “Okay.” I was a very shy kid, like you wouldn’t know I was in the house. I am the person who was somewhere in a corner reading.

Caitlin Crews: I was very, very, very shy until about high school. Then making this declarative statement that I am moving to New York and then I did, but it was like this, even when I come home now and I seem them they’re like, “Oh, are you back now or are you moving back?” I go, “No, I’m literally here for the week.” It’s an interesting time and place, but it’s also really cool to see cities change, that urban sprawl almost again happening where people are finding these smaller towns to raise families in and to live in and to grow a business, I think it’s really interesting.

Maurice Cherry: That’s true because now, I mean at least you know for us in the tech and design industry, a lot of the work we do can be done remotely. I’m very fortunate that the company that I work for, they’re based in New York, but I live here in Atlanta and I can still do my job and excel in my job, not being at a physical location, which is great, which is probably a big reason why my mom wants me to move home because she’s like, “You don’t have to live in Atlanta to do this job.” And I’m like, “I know, I know that.”

Caitlin Crews: “But I want to.”

Maurice Cherry: Right. I totally understand that. Yeah. Before you moved to New York though, you went to Kent State and you studied photography. What was your time like there?

Caitlin Crews: It was a weird time, again from a really small town and then I go to Kent State, which is probably triple the size of the town that I grew up in. It was a culture shock for me to be around so many diverse people and to be on my own. It’s about three hours from Uniontown and it was out of state. It was almost a safe distance from my parents. There were times where they would come hang out and come visit for the day or a couple of days and so I did have a connection. One of my roommates actually in my freshman year, we went to high school together. It was a really close comfort in a way, but also this time to just explore everything. It’s a big school, people don’t realize it’s like the second largest school in the state of Ohio.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, wow.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah. A lot of people don’t know that. The reasoning for going there was, I actually started out as a pre law major. I was going to be a lawyer. That’s what someone said I should do and I was like, “Sure, great, let’s do this.” I got into some of the coursework, especially around criminal justice and realized that I can’t do this. Actually, we were sitting in the Rodney King case, in that frame by frame and I went to Kent in 2003? Studying the Rodney King case frame by frame and then getting to the point that like you would have to maybe defend someone that you don’t believe is guilty or innocent and I just was like, I can’t do this. I couldn’t sleep. I was having trouble sleeping after reading case law and diving even more into politics.

Caitlin Crews: I was like, this is too crazy for me. I don’t know how I can do this for the rest of my life. In a split decision moment in a call home, my parents were like both of them on the phone with me in probably two separate rooms in the house telling me that I need to do what I want to do and that you’re good at photography, why don’t you do it? You love art, you love history. I was like, “Oh yeah, art history is a thing too.” That’s what I did. That moment walked over to, I think I was housed actually in the journalism school and walked over and changed my major that day.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: How did that help prepare you for your early career? You mentioned moving to NYC, that was after college? How did it help prep you?

Caitlin Crews: Yeah. I took an internship with a celebrity portrait photographer. His name is Chris Buck. I actually saw his work in GQ because I was a big magazine… like I love layout, I loved the way things looked on paper. I love physically holding magazines and I knew that I wanted to be a photo editor, but I took this internship with Chris Buck and my first week was like four shoots. The first one was the New York Times. The next one was like Business Insider Magazine. Spin and I think Psychology Today. It was all within the first week of me starting in New York and just being like, “Wow, this is nuts.” It’s another level.

Caitlin Crews: I don’t think I would have had that experience anywhere else to work, to meet that photo editor of GQ or to walk into W Magazine or whatever, and just be like, “Oh, hey I’m here to drop off some proofs.” It was this really interesting couple of months for me. I was thrown in the deep end in New York in the middle of the summer. So yeah, kind of how I got here. Then from there, the economy took a nice dive in 2007-2008, so the recession hit and it was really hard to find a job. And when the recession hit-

Caitlin Crews: And so the recession hit and it was really hard to find a job. When the recession hit for sure you remember all those magazines were closing left and right and a lot of people got a job. So it was very hard to find a job. Actually didn’t move back home for 4 months. Then my parents came home one day from work and they’re like, you got to get out of here. Here’s pack your bag here’s a plane ticket go find a job in New York you’re depressing.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Caitlin Crews: And so I did and that’s kind of how I ended up at trunk archive actually. There was a few other jobs before that within retouching and color correction and production and printing. Then I landed at trunk archive.

Maurice Cherry: The work you’re doing at trunk archive was retouching like you were mentioning.

Caitlin Crews: It was more so like image research and keywording. It was more like, cause you’re getting images in and you’d have to keyword them and by site and then also researching like is this person the famous artist you know this is all before like AI being able to tech faces and you had to know like okay I think this is a model. Okay let me search through all the model agency websites and let me find this person so you could properly tag everything so everything could be searchable. Which is interesting cause it now comes into my job now like keywording and having metadata and all of that is so important. It’s just interesting that that now has kind of come part of my job as well. I kind of like was in this very fancy office in Soho at like 21,22 years old and kind of like just kind of thrown in it like you’re in the office with like famous photographers and you’re in the office with like models walking through.

Caitlin Crews: So it just was like this really interesting like those early, like early mid 2000 like years of just exposure to every creative field possible. So it was really cool.

Maurice Cherry: It sounds really glamorous.

Caitlin Crews: It was and I’m not a glamorous person so it kind of felt like a fish out of water. Like I’m the girl with jeans and like glasses and the flannel shirt on. You know what I mean? And so it has been like, it was really interesting to like kind of be in that world and have it not really affect what you’re doing. Cause I was like I’m just done I’m making enough money so let’s figure this out.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And now after that you held down positions at Lord and Taylor. You were at VF corporation for a while. We were doing the same kind of work there too.

Caitlin Crews: Yeah it was doing a lot of like at Lord and Taylor I was doing a lot of like image coordinating and like pre production work. It was like retouching working with retouchers also that’s kind of where I started getting more into like design work. I was basically like QC the quality control person for a lot of stuff went to print. So like looking to make sure that files were in black and not registration in Design. Making sure that like what I’m looking at as a final proof is what I’m seeing on screen. So when all those I was responsible for packaging up all of those materials and sending them off to a printer that’s kind of cut little bit into like design work and production work there. Then after that I went to VF Corp and worked mostly on Nautica and Kipling and that’s where I was like a full on retoucher.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Caitlin Crews: So I’ve like jumped a lot. But yeah, retouching in E-Commerce in the photo studio. So again, surrounded with like hair and makeup people who are still to this day friends with some of them. Some of the models are also really lovely too and just having like a really small young all female staff in the photo studio was also super exciting for me.

Maurice Cherry: What made you decide to go to grad school?

Caitlin Crews: Oh boy. I didn’t really see a future in what I was doing. I thought my choices were to somehow creep into creative direction but I didn’t see a movement there at all. I didn’t see an opening our clearing for me to move that way or it was to leave Nautica and go to another company just like it and do retouching there and do the same thing.

Caitlin Crews: And I was like i don’t get to be part of the decision making or the thought process behind a lot of things in that role. I was like okay, I’ve always wanted to work with nonprofits. I have always wanted to work a little bit more closely with artists. I decided to go to Pratt and get my master’s in arts and cultural management and with that thought process it was more so along the lines of i want to run or become like an assistant director or director of a nonprofit. That’s where my head was at the moment but the great thing about the program i will say it was really diverse in terms of curriculum. It’s like you’re learning how to budget, you’re learning IP law, you’re learning just how to communicate with different people in terms of leadership.

Caitlin Crews: It was at this really interesting kind of combination of things that really had me kind of entranced then completely into this idea of working for a nonprofit.

Maurice Cherry: Well you ended up in Adobe right after that. You worked for a museum actually for a while.

Caitlin Crews: I worked in the museum for a year. In the future a [inaudible 00:05:05] , okay, let me see if this kind of structure of nonprofits and kind of like an academic art world situation would be right for me and quickly decided that it wasn’t. I knew that I always wanted to be in touch with the artist community and just community building in general so in between all those jobs I also was always like working with friends and we started a collective. Where we were doing kind of like nonprofit artwork meaning we were throwing parties in Brooklyn art shows so I would find artists all over Brooklyn or friends of friends and kind of we would curate these shows and have bands play and all the money that we would collect would go to a local nonprofit in the neighborhood we were having a show.

Caitlin Crews: So that’s kind of what set me on the path of being really excited about art and how art in the community works because at the time it’s like bushwick was new in a thing and starting and you had these local nonprofits who had no connection with the community or you had community and artists who were living there but didn’t know anything about the neighborhood. So it was kind of like our duty almost to kind of go in and make those connections. Yeah so I was always doing that in between different jobs and different roles and then just found that kind of all come together within my master’s program.

Maurice Cherry: So with a lot of the work that you’re doing, I mean design and is clearly part of the conversation. I mean it’s interesting cause you’re working for essentially a software company that also sort of intersects a lot with the creative world and it feels like especially when we’re talking about tech that design tends to be really designed and art in general tend to be left out of the conversation. There’s been places where I’ve worked that it’s been like pulling teeth to try to get a design hire or something because they figured out what we can and demonetize it so they figured out we can just get a freelancer and doing it and it’s not super important to our brands as long as we just get like the thing that we need done. What do you think art and design tends to be left out of the conversation when it comes to tech?

Caitlin Crews: I think a lot of people will put this very high mark on like engineering and the skill set that’s needed for that and yes I understand computer science is not maybe the easiest thing in the world to study. If it was I think everyone would be a computer scientist and I know some people who have left the creative world to do that. I think that the thing that kind of needs to shift in thinking is the creative people that have to also implement their part of the deal. Like I don’t know a lot of designers that are paid like engineers and I’m really kind of curious to kind of explore a little bit further like to why that is. Why is a creative person almost less valuable than someone who knows code? And I think that also I work a lot with some students that are in high school at the high school level and every time you talk to a new group of students like I’m going to be an engineer, I want to be computer scientist, I want to do this.

Caitlin Crews: Like that’s cool but I think there are other things that you can do and learn and just as and be just as happy. Like if you are a creative person and you are an artist at heart, why do we have to make such a delineation? And a mark between the two. So I think that the conversation you were trying to push, especially young black kids into STEM and we’re completely leaving out. I think that for some people, and I definitely was one of those kids that I needed that creative outlet throughout my life and still do to be able to like I have a place somewhere. I think it’s something that people have left out because it’s easy to put I think like you said, a price tag on this certain skill. It’s still very hard to measure someone’s creativity and if they’re good or bad at it. You totally measure someone that if they’re not hitting something exactly it’s just I think that mindset completely has to change what is important in work.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah cause I mean the thing is that creativity is not an untapped resource like that. Like say for example, if you’re hiring someone to do like a custom image for you or do branding or something like that and instead of you coming to them with a discreet concept that you’re kind of coming with just the general thoughts. They have to do the research to try to find what you’re looking for. They have to do sketches there’s a lot of back and forth to kind of determine whether or not this is the right thing and it’s oftentimes when I’ve worked with big companies they always will just try to boil it down to a number of hours like Oh well how many hours will that take as if you can just click the stopwatch and then just automatically get to it. You know it’s not that simple of a process.

Maurice Cherry: I wonder if the commodification of it comes from the fact that it’s maybe just not seen as valuable especially in the tech industry. I mean I’ve had several designers here on the show and several developers also and it just seems to be this running thing of design not getting a seat at the table. It’s not I guess understood in a way that people realize that design influences people. Design is something that we’ve all had interactions with since birth.

Maurice Cherry: We all come into the world especially now as adults with a very rich design language. We may not be able to tap into it as readily as a designer could but that’s why they’re designers. They’re specialists in that way. Like we all know if something like if we get a shirt and it doesn’t like fit right or if we sit in a chair and it’s not comfortable or we use a pen and like the ink is leaking out over here, I’m like, those are poorly designed experiences and we all have these touch points or I’ve had these touch points throughout our lives with design so we know what we like and what we don’t like.

Maurice Cherry: I think designers have the keen sense to be able to tap into that more easily and then turn that into something that can serve a business’s goals and that’s a skill that translation, transmutation if you want to really get fancy with it. That’s a skill that a lot of people do not have to be able to make something out of nothing and I think with tech, what happens is like a lot of the executives that you see sort of propped up they’re not as funny. Not only are they engineers but they also didn’t go to college or they dropped out of college or something like that. So it’s not even so much the whole I want to be an engineer but also like not to say that college is the way because you certainly don’t have to go to college to be a designer but there’s a lot of interesting overlapping narratives that go into it and you know, of course capitalism is a big part of it because you hear about starving artists you don’t hear about a starving engineer.

Caitlin Crews: Exactly and I that’s kind of like my whole, like when I speak about designer and my path into it. It has to be I want people to know that It’s not like you said the starving artist. I know starving artists I know well but a lot of them have taken on other skills and I think that’s another thing too. I talk to a really good friend of mine recently about this idea of like do you specialize in something or do you become a generalist? And I feel like I’m a generalist I think I have like there’s something that has to be said for people who can pick up things learn them and execute them well and then also you mentioned something about like being able to design and that’s the one thing like with my current role is like looking at designers.

Caitlin Crews: You can design whatever but when you design a template you have the thing about your end user. How many people are thinking about that process like from conception to the end and it sometimes that design and that art doesn’t end with you. It’s picked up by someone who’s purchasing it or enjoying it so I think sometimes in the realm of like understanding I think all of them just don’t even understand what designers do. I’ve come across that a lot they’re being very specific words for what people are doing and what people are doing on their daily life of the job. I don’t think a lot of people deep down I don’t think completely understand what a designer’s role is and what the expansiveness of it can be.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah and to that end I have a question and this is sort of a thing that I’m trying to run with this throughout the year. Which is how are you using your skills as a designer or as someone who works with designers and creativity?. How are you using your skills to help create a more equitable future?

Caitlin Crews: Yeah, I mean I think for myself I am lucky enough to work for a company that is allowing for that space to happen within the walls of Adobe and being able to just connect with people in general and being almost like an ear or a support to them I think is has been not only great for me as someone who’s always looking to connect with people but also just for anyone else involved. Like I have younger coworkers that are like “I’m going through this” or “I don’t know what to do” and I’m like “Well I’m glad that you came to me to talk about it, let’s talk about it”. I think that being really open to the idea of helping other people and being maybe a little bit of a support system or building a support system I think is super important in your space.

Caitlin Crews: Either if you’re a lot of people work remote and I think that sounds has to be I think semi hard for people too is like where do you find people to connect with? I always tell people like extra time like for networking and networking doesn’t have to be like okay, I’m dropping you my business card and networking can be like, Hey I have this question or I’m going through this experience. What has your life been like during this? And if I can tell anyone listen I’ve been in some situations and jobs with people that as being a woman of color and as being a black woman has not been favorable. It has not been an easy road by any means but I’ve always been able to ask questions and kind of seek out that you know information that I’m needing and for me it’s like if I can reduce the worry and the pain and the tears that I have had in my life.

Caitlin Crews: Being a black woman in art, design, creativity or tech it’s also something that I have to put on myself is to make sure that other people aren’t going through the same thing.

Maurice Cherry: Now it’s the year 2025 where do you see yourself? Like what kind of work do you see yourself doing in the future?

Caitlin Crews: It’s so interesting. I never as you can see, I jump a lot. In the future I kind of want to have my own thing going. I don’t know exactly what it looks like. I feel like every year I’m building on this idea of like what kind of creative agency I can have or what creative output I can have in the world. I’ve always kind of worked in bigger corporations. I would like to kind of see what it’s like to work for something smaller or to work for myself. I don’t know what capacity that would be yet but I still hope to be in New York or if I win the lottery have an Island somewhere who knows?. I always see myself, I feel like this in the past year I’ve kind of come into my own a little bit in terms of my career and what I excel at and what I don’t excel at.

Caitlin Crews: Like I know what I don’t want to do. I can see that but when it comes to wanting knowing exactly what I want to do I can’t pinpoint that. I’m always an open book to like it’s just like Oh that looks cool. How does that person do that? How do I incorporate that into my world?. I just think it’s like, I want to say open to the idea and the prospect but 2025 I would like to be working for myself only cause I want to have my own hours and do my own thing but I also love being connected to other people. I like coming into the office working with my team which is also a very diverse team as well so I kind of battle like I can do anything. That’s what I have to say.

Maurice Cherry: Okay, well just to kind of wrap things up here where can our audience find out more about you or your work or even the work you’re doing with Adobe where can they find that online?

Caitlin Crews: Sure. You can first start off by going to the Adobe stock website and checking out all our templates online. I’m also on LinkedIn. Find me on LinkedIn, it’s Caitlin Cruz and I will definitely connect with you and I love chatting. I’m kind of off social media. I don’t really do Twitter and I don’t have a Facebook anymore. I’m on Instagram It’s just Caitlin Cruz first and last name you can find me there.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Caitlin Cruz I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think first I want to thank you for really just giving us a little peek behind the curtain of Adobe. I mean just for someone who has used Adobe products for so long and it’s been such, I think an integral part of my development, early development really as a designer. It’s interesting to see how things work there and I think it’s really dope that the work that you’re doing really helps to showcase others. Like you were mentioning at some point when we were talking about how to use your skills for more equitable future and you’re saying that you kind of want to make those opportunities for other people and I feel like this work that you’re doing is that’s a prime example of making that happen. You’re giving people not just a space to be celebrated but also an opportunity to advance themselves through this and it’s really just as simple as a connection to make that happen. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Caitlin Crews: Thank you for having this. Awesome to speak with you.

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Anthony Harrison

We’re starting off 2020 with the one and only Anthony Harrison. If you loved the streetwear ads of the 90’s from brands like Akademiks and Nikel, then you’ve seen Anthony’s work. Currently, Anthony is overseeing graphic design and identity at Adidas over in Germany, and helps makes the intangible tangible for the massive multinational sportswear company.

Our conversation started off with Anthony talking about his work at Adidas, and from there he guided me through a retrospective of his career as a designer. We also talk about moving past the romantic area of design, the top two skills a creative person really needs to know, and what success looks like for him know at this point in his career. Anthony’s longevity in the industry and the scope of his work are worthy of praise, and I think beginning the year with this interview is a great way to get those creative juices flowing!

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Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Anthony Harrison: My name is Anthony Harrison and I am a creative director, mostly would describe myself as an art director, but I think that definition has expanded. So I’ll go with creative director.

Maurice Cherry: You’re currently working at Adidas, is that right?

Anthony Harrison: That’s right. I’m a senior director of graphic design and identity for Adidas. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Can you talk a little bit about sort of what kind of work you do in that capacity?

Anthony Harrison: Yeah. So in my team on the identity part, that’s the root of what we do. I’m in the brand design department and what we do is we come up with the full on graphic expression for any innovation or initiative that the brand is undertaking. So if there’s a new technology that comes out, we do the wordmark, we come up with the logo. We meet with the scientists, we look at the process, we follow how it goes. Then from there, we create a wordmark, but then the fully graphic expression. A lot of these are treatments that they’ll give to an outsole or an inner layer of a piece of footwear. So we’ll actually look at what those aesthetics are and build a graphic language from it. Also, around all of those wordmarks we create an animation.

Anthony Harrison: So it’s really building little brands inside of the brand for different technologies and innovations, which is really super interesting because our job is to make the intangible tangible, right? How do you take a sports innovation and make it something tangible for the average consumer. So that’s a big, big part of the challenge. The other side obviously is overseeing graphic design throughout the company for apparel, footwear, communication, equipment. We also do all of the brand management as well in terms of guidelines and that sort of thing. So we’re a pretty, pretty nimble team. Part of us sit here in Germany and the other half sit in our Portland, Oregon office and we bat things back and forth. We are truly a global operation.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. Adidas is such an iconic brand. I can only imagine just the amount of, I don’t know, I feel like that’s a big heavy lift for something that is so well known worldwide in terms of identity because there’s so many ways that you could take… The simple three stripe logo, there’s a lot of ways that you can interpret that. There’s a lot of ways you can play around with that.

Anthony Harrison: Exactly. Welcome to my world. That’s part of it. You know? I think that’s the big thing for me too. Just speaking frankly, the first logo I drew as a boy was the trefoil logo, the three leaves. Really not even realizing at the time that it was three leaves, but that’s one of the first logos I drew along with the Nottingham Forest kit because Adidas made the Nottingham Forest kit at the time my dad bought me. For me, it’s just a relationship with the brand like that is kind of coming home. Again, it’s a 70 year old brand, started in 1949 right here. So it’s really kind of an honor to be recruited to such a prestigious brand with a rich history and being trusted with kind of carrying that legacy forward. You know?

Maurice Cherry: How has your role changed since you first started at Adidas?

Anthony Harrison: Well, when I first got in, I was in creative direction. So the identity part wasn’t part of it. I came in under product really. So I worked with the SVP of design and the VP of design to kind of oversee a product across the brand. We’re set up a lot like other large sport brands where we’re broken up by sport, right? So each sport kind of creates its own product specialized to that sport and we oversee all of the graphic design that goes throughout those. My job is to build that graphic umbrella and we work, product wise, we work about two years out. Currently, we’re working on all winter ’21.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Anthony Harrison: Yeah. So you’ve got to be able to kind of forecast where you see the world going looking at trends, but not following them and then but at the same time, balancing that out with staying true to the culture of the actual brand. It’s really about looking out. That’s the most fun part for me was the fact that the role sits at the sweet spot of culture in between sport, music, art, film, food, travel. It’s right in the center of that and that’s where all of that art is created from. When I first came in, that was specifically my role. The role was a large role, I think for myself, but it got to be a bit… I’m very fidgety like most directors and graphic designers in general.

Anthony Harrison: So I needed more and in my spare time, I do a lot of kind of brandalism in my Instagram and my boss saw it and said, “Hey. You know you have like a passion for like logos and stuff. How do you feel about taking over this other team?” I thought, “Yeah, awesome.” Because there were some people in that other team that I really wanted to work with and it’s just been great. So I’ve been doing this role now for about a year and a half and with a really great team. My team are just the warmest group of people that I’ve probably ever worked with and we’re… Again we sit here in Germany, but we’re two Brits, two Argentines, one Portuguese, two Germans. It’s a nice diverse group and we just basically talk football, sports banter all day as we work.

Maurice Cherry: So how do you approach new projects given that one, the just sort of iconic stature of the brand and the logo and the fact that it sits at so many cultural intersections. You’re two years out. I’m just curious how you even concept for that amount of time and how you approach new projects.

Anthony Harrison: Oh man, that’s the fun part. I think for myself, it’s crazy man. I gave a presentation a couple of weeks ago and I had to kind of look back at my career and think about how I do what I do and why I do what I do and something came to light. When you talk about how do you create new projects? I think it comes from never turning off. As a graphic designer, I saw someone, I cannot remember what doc I was watching, but someone was saying that they were describing the laundromat down the street with a really bad letter spacing. Right? That’s kind of how we see the world. It’s just part of never turning off. So I think the way that I always approach new projects and if you’re thinking about two years out, how do you forecast? Naturally drawn to socio-political, the arts and how it’s all connected, those are the things that I’m naturally interested in, in my spare time, so I’d just pour all of that into the work.

Anthony Harrison: Also, we have a brilliant team of cultural trends and insights people, one of whom is my colleague Liz Callow. Upon coming into the brand, she and I got really, really close and she’s just all about insights, you know? My thing again, our job in graphic design is communication, right? Rather than decoration and embellishment. So what are we actually saying? What I get from her and from her team is, what are you saying? Right now, Muse is a 17 year old athlete, global. So what does their world look like? I love being able to look into this new world and juxtapose it against my own experience and just talk with as many people as I can and listen to as much as I can and imagine a world in the future, what tie graphic design to that? What does graphic expression look like? Just so we’re not stabbing in the dark and we’re making culturally, relevant, resonant graphic communication.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Anthony Harrison: I hope that answers the question.

Maurice Cherry: No, it does. I can only imagine how much research you have to do because it’s not just in the realm of athleticism. Like you say, you’re looking at sociopolitical issues, and art, and music and even other fashion or apparel brands. There’s a lot that you have to take in and sort of sift out what you think might be relevant. Two years from now, it just feels like that’s such a big… It’s a lot to think about.

Anthony Harrison: But you never turn off.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Anthony Harrison: You know what I mean? I think not everybody has such an easy time letting go of their heyday and understanding. I hear a lot of people my age lambaste the young and just say, ” That’s not hip hop? What do you know about hip hop,” “Well, that’s not punk. In my day, we used to…” Well, that’s irrelevant. I love to listen to what the young ones are saying because my music pissed my dad off. Right? That’s their job. So it’s our job to kind of get over this hump and just accept the new things that are happening and create for that, you know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So before Adidas you were kind of doing your own thing as a design consultant and an art director. Tell me what that time was like because I recently… Well two years ago or so, I was doing my own thing kind of as a studio and then went into kind of a full time job. So tell me about kind of what that transition was like for you.

Anthony Harrison: Well, here’s the thing. After I left the music industry, I went into apparel and worked at a few street wear brands and hopped around here and that. That’s when I decided to do my own thing around 2006, 2007. That was great. For me, it was really about… I’m a very entrepreneurial mind, entrepreneurially minded with [inaudible 00:09:12] 10 jobs and that’s kind of the root of it. Always wants you to do my own thing and understand, before I was even had a chance to graduate, I had a job, right? I was in the industry working. Once I realized that it was a living, breathing industry and that I was part of something bigger, right? This ongoing conversation of graphic design, it gave me a little bit of companies to go out there and just do all of these, use my fidgety nature to my benefit and be able to do all of these projects, release things I was working on: movie posters, branding, product design, graphic design, tee shirts, posters and copywriting as well and caricatures and that sort of thing.

Anthony Harrison: But it was the most fun time. I’d just wake up. We lived in Harlem at the time, so I would just on Eighth Avenue, sorry, Seventh Avenue and 138th Street and I’d wake up, play with my cat and just work. I’m a bit of an early bird, so I’d be up every morning just cranking stuff out. It was great because I was in no meetings, no summits, no meetings about meetings. It was pure work. That’s when Nike came into the picture and they were my pretty much my biggest client from that point. I got the chance to do some really kind of fulfilling work with those guys at that time too. Yeah, doing my own thing. Then I went in house there, came, then I left in around 2015, moved back to New York and then again, was just bouncing around doing my own thing and freelancing here and that, which is when Adidas came calling. Within a couple of months, we were here in Southern Germany.

Maurice Cherry: Was it a big shift? Well, granted I’m sure it was a big shift just geographically from New York to Germany, but going from that sort of freewheeling, entrepreneurial kind of thing and now being part of a regimented sort of nine to five corporate structure. How did you adjust to that?

Anthony Harrison: I was ready. You know? I speak to a lot of people who do freelance and have their own little shops and after a couple of years, you can get cabin fever. You get a pain in the ass of dealing with a bunch of different creatives and marketing and meetings. You’re a bit more numb to it. You’re like, “I’ll deal with that.” Because it’s all give and take.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Anthony Harrison: Right? Because on the corporate side, you have the obvious to deal with. But then all of the solo side, your time is basically split up in three sections, right? Chasing new business, doing the work, and then chasing payment for the work that you’ve already done. So you’re never really turning off. It is a benefit that you have your destiny in your hands. However, with the corporate side where it’s a gig, it’s kind of give and take. You have your good days, you have your bad days, but then you have that security that you have there as well. So that was the big difference for me.

Maurice Cherry: It can be a trade off. I remember when I stopped doing my studio, I did my studio for nine years, and then I started at the place where I’m currently at, at Glitch and it was interesting how from… Some of it was from my peers, but I think also it was just some folks here in the Atlanta design community who thought that I sort of failed in a way. [crosstalk 00:12:17] Like, “Oh, you were doing your own thing.” Because there’s the whole culture around you, “We sleep, they grind, hustle hard.” If you’re doing your own thing, you’re your own boss and now you’re back at the plantation. That sort of thing. [crosstalk 00:12:31]

Anthony Harrison: I know where that comes from, but that’s romanticism, man. There’s something to be said for being part of something. You know what I mean? It’s all give and take. It’s the same thing at the end of the day. Whatever you’re doing is going towards something. Being your own boss is great, but it’s not as easy as one would like. I think about New York, the amount of tax that you pay, you’re really discouraged from doing that. You know what I mean? You really can’t get a foothold. I know someone, I met someone the other day who’s moving to Ghent to start his studio because he loves it, right? He’s from London, but he’s just like, “Hey, listen man. Belgium’s got a nice little city and it’s a bit remote, but like I can do what I do and they have a creative community. I’m going there,” you know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. You’ve already touched on a few things that I want to dive more into. You briefly mentioned music career. You briefly mentioned Nike. So I want to talk about those things. But first I want to just kind of go back because I… Of course, we said this before you recorded. I’m picking up on the British accent. You’ve mentioned sort of bouncing around. Talk to me about where you grew up.

Anthony Harrison: I was born in ’71 in a place called Edmondson about 40 minutes outside of the city and it’s North London. It’s just up from Tottenham, in ’71 and yeah. My dad was an engineer, my mom’s a clerk. My younger sister and older brother just grew up playing football. Football was like my life. I was telling people the other day that I had three loves. It was drawing, football and drawing football. So if I wasn’t playing it, I was watching it. If I wasn’t watching it, I was drawing it. It was my religion and that’s wall kind of took up all my time. It was a really progressive time for kids; late seventies, early eighties was a really progressive time for kids in England and there were just countless television series that were saying that, “You can do anything you want with a little bit of effort. You can be whoever you want to be.” That was what they told us as kids.

Anthony Harrison: At that time, there were a lot of people in their late twenties who were punks that were writing all these books for children and making all these television series for children. There was one in particular called, “Fungus the Bogeyman .” They’ve since then made a live action version of it, but the original one was about this fictional family of ghouls that lived under the city in grime and they would eat disgusting things and things rhymed. It was completely disgusting and I discovered this around the age of like eight and nine and me and my friends absolutely loved it. That was the thing that really taught me about form and content because this world that they lived in, the way that it was illustrated was messy and dirty and grimy. I was like, “Wow, okay. This is how they’d get that world across, is it looks like what it is.” So very subtly, it was kind of teaching me those things.

Maurice Cherry: So it sounds like you sort of got exposed to design kind of early on in that way.

Anthony Harrison: Very early on. I like to say my career started at age six because my parents, I think with my dad particularly. I was just always in front of the television, but with my dad, I just really bonded around words. If I’d say, “Hey dad, why? What does this word mean?” He’d say, “Well, look it up and you come and tell me.” So from then, even to this day, we still call each other with, “Hey, I heard this word the other day,” that kind of thing. So that’s what kind of introduced me to the language that we use. I was always watching television commercials. I loved the supermarket. It was my favorite place to go just to look at all of the packaging and like, again, before you even know what logos or packaging or branding is or are, you’re just immersed in it.

Anthony Harrison: So it’s just naturally where I went, but I think the thing that really drove it home for me was football because around that time, like 1980, 1981 is when, not only names on the back of the jersey… Names weren’t on the back of jerseys yet. There was only a number, but on the front there were sponsors and in Britain, there was a natural reticence to brand things, right? So there was a real big push back to sponsors on jerseys. But in 1981, ’82 was when it just kind of exploded and that’s when you started seeing logos, not just on the sideboard of the pitch, but on the jerseys across the stomach. They were these really like super intricate logos and Panasonic, Candy, JVC, and I think that’s what thought that was it for me.

Maurice Cherry: When did you first know that, I guess, design was something that you could do for a living?

Anthony Harrison: Oh man. Let me think about that because in high school… I went to high school in Yonkers, Yonkers, New York, which is where like the Locks and Mary J. Blige and DMX are from. I went to high school with both of those guys.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Anthony Harrison: But around that time, I had a guidance counselor when I was in the art program at school, again around that time, 1988, 1987 everything else that happened in the US in the sixties and seventies happened in Yonkers in the eighties. So the government kind of stepped in and said, “Look, your school system is completely segregated and we’re going to have to mix it up.” So they basically created magnet schools. Same thing they’ve done around the country where each school would have a different vocation and you would get college credits for attending each school and this is how they were able to integrate the schools. However, that first year was pretty, pretty tough. The signs with, “Go home,” and all the rest of it, we had to kind of endure. But by 12th grade, that had all kind of calmed down.

Anthony Harrison: I had a guidance counselor who basically said… Again, that magnet school was around fine arts, so I’m taking fine art AP classes all through. My guidance counselor said, “Hey, there’s no money in art, so you want to go into architecture.” I’m like, “All right, fine.” So my first year in university, I’m in architecture and I just absolutely despised it. It was the worst. I was like I don’t care about foundations and sedimentary rock. I don’t care. I want to draw. So I transferred over to the graphic design department, which at the time was called commercial art. I thought [inaudible 00:18:24] just made me cringe, you know? It gradually it became graphic design, but that was it.

Anthony Harrison: As soon as I moved into that department, it just opened up a completely new world and I started learning about Paul Rand, Paula Scher, George Lois, and other little luminaries in the field following a young Stefan Sagmeister and really understanding what an art movement was and the importance of graphic design and art to society. That’s when I really found that out. But I think the graphic design bug really hit me during my first internship. I was interning at Jive Records at the time that they were doing, “Midnight Marauders, ” A Tribe Called Quest [crosstalk 00:19:00] the art direct there was a guy named Nick Gamut and just watching him wo-

Anthony Harrison: [inaudible 00:19:00] There was a guy named Nick Gamma. And just watching him work in Photoshop… I think it was Photoshop Two. No layers.

Maurice Cherry: No layers?

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, no layers and one undo.

Maurice Cherry: Woo.

Anthony Harrison: Right. Do you want to save some copies? You better save 10 versions of the file on your desktop.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, man.

Anthony Harrison: Those were the days. Those were the days. Yeah. When I saw this dude working in Photoshop and Illustrator, I was like, “Oh, my God.” That was it. That was it for me. And that’s when I knew, I was like, okay, this is what I want to do all day, every day, you know? And then my second internship right after that was at the Source Magazine. And working with Chi Modu… And Chris, the art director there was just another, just massive learning. Just sitting in the office and Tupac walks by, and it’s just one of those experiences.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. So you really got to be there at this, really, you’re at this like, really pivotal point of design and music and culture. Wow. I can’t imagine just how dope that must’ve been.

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, it was great. Man. I mean, there was another guy who was ahead of me. He’s like, again, iconic, Cey Adams. He worked at the drawing board.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Anthony Harrison: And just again, being a black dude, you want to see yourself represented. And he was an Elder. Him and another guy, [Ebon Ese 00:01:19] was the art director at Triple Five Soul. These dudes were just insane graphic designers and it just pushed me to do the best that I could, you know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I remember being exposed to those brands and things really through magazines. I mean, I grew up in rural Alabama, so we had nothing. Like, no mall, no movie theater.

Anthony Harrison: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, we had television but didn’t have cable. So like, the things that we were exposed to were extremely limited. And I just remember kind of living out my fantasies through magazines. There were so many magazines. I mean, The Source, Vibe… I mean, there were like, kids’ magazines, like Zillions, Sports Illustrated stuff… But there were even like black magazines like Y S B, Emerge, Ebony, of course… Jet. And like, these were things that kind of expanded my horizons as to like, there are all of these possibilities out there. And there are people that look like this, that don’t look like the people in my town. And to be at a place where you’re really documenting and controlling that, and portraying it. Wow. I just, that’s just seems like such a pivotal time to really be a designer.

Anthony Harrison: It really was, man. And you know, what’s the crazy part about it, the thing that it taught me, and looking back, because again, I think we’re past the romantic era, right? Where people of my generation and the people a little bit older than me, are telling the youngers like, “Yeah, we did this,” and kind of making myths about themselves. Because we didn’t know what we were doing. Right? Like, we were just doing it because it was cool, and we enjoyed it. Then it became something, it was like, gained like, a larger cultural footprint. But I do feel really fortunate to have been there at a time when you could basically take your portfolio, and just go knock on the door of a brand and talk to a creative person. And you don’t get routed through HR. You know what I mean?

Anthony Harrison: It was a really, really fortunate time. And I remember it was super pivotal, because when I got hired as a junior designer at Arista Records, within a year, our entire mechanical room was gone. We had a full staff of mechanical artists who basically put albums together the old way, with the acetate and the burners type, Xerox machine and the non-repro blue pencil, and the stack machine. Like, I use all of that stuff very early on, and I feel fortunate to have learned it the analog way. And then within a year everyone had a Mac. And even though we had one undo in Illustrator, it was still Illustrator.

Maurice Cherry: So, talk more about that time at Arista records. Because you were there for like, about seven years, right? What do you remember from last time?

Anthony Harrison: Oh, man. It was great. It was so mad. It was bugged out. So, just in how I got the job. Again man, it was such a time. And I find design now is quite tribal and kind of insular in the big places. And it’s just kind of groups of people who know each other and networks of, it can be that way. And I think the young ones are opening that up a little bit. But back then when, I was looking for my first full-time job, after having two internships in my school and not really having that many connections after work. I am going to do this myself. So I gathered all of my albums and went to the back of it.

Anthony Harrison: You know on the back. Usually there was like, the copyright line would give you the address. And sometimes it had the phone number, but if not then I would have to go to this thing called the phone book and look up the phone numbers and stuff. So I remember I had a list of like, maybe 28 companies, and I remember getting all the way to the bottom, calling each one and saying, “My name’s Anthony Harrison. I’m a graphic design student. I just want some experience. Paying or not paying, fine. I just want the experience.” Most people were really encouraging and polite. I remember getting to the bottom, and there were three left, and Arista was one of the three. I thought, “All right. Well, I may as well continue.” And I called Arista, and basically, the art director there at the time, this woman Susan Mendola said, “Hey, you know we’re looking for a junior designer because we just signed a bunch of subsidiary labels. Why don’t you come in?”

Anthony Harrison: Now, at the time when she said that and I was walking into the office, I didn’t know that those labels were Bad Boy, Rowdy and LaFace. So when I got there, I was like, “Oh, okay. Cool.” And it was really funny because I got the usual thing that I get at job interviews, where you call over the phone… This happens when I’m looking for apartments sometimes as well… Like, you call people over the phone, and you open the door, and they’re like, “Oh, Mr. Harrison.” And I was like, “Yeah, is the job still open?” But the great thing about that experience was that that wasn’t the case. You know, she was basically like, “Yeah.”, One of the things that I said was like, “Look, I know you’ve signed these labels. But I don’t want to get pigeonholed into doing all the R and B and hip-hop. I want to do everything, because I’m into everything.”

Anthony Harrison: And they were like, “All right, cool.” So as a junior designer, man, it was just like, it was like the Karate Kid. I got to learn in the trenches under like some really great designers. I had a boss named [Angela Scluris 00:06:02], and she was an art director formerly from Rolling Stone. She’s done just, iconic work. I learned so much from her about typography and composition. And [Mop Bodet 00:06:13] was another one of my bosses. He came over from Sony. Those times when you’re stuck on something and you go to your boss and you say, “Hey, I’m stuck here.” And they don’t give you the answer, they show you the path to the answer. You get what I mean? It’s that kind of, give a man a fishing rod, give him a fish, whatever the analogy is… Teach him how to fish, or give him a fish kind of thing.

Anthony Harrison: So being there as a junior designer, I’ve got to work on Annie Lennox, Kenny G, really kind of high profile. Patti Smith, stuff like that. And then when I became an art director, I was able to work on Whitney Houston, Waiting to Exhale, Monica, and Brandy, some of Monica’s solo stuff, Goodie Mob. My colleague in the office next to me did all the Outkast stuff. So we were working on Goodie Mob and Outkast at the same time.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Anthony Harrison: We also did a lot of the TLC stuff. So all this stuff. Basically, for the seven years that I was there, Arista was the top-grossing label in the industry. And it was just this building on West 57th street, like right around the corner from Trump Tower. So it was 7 West 57th street, right on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th street. So I would drive into the city every day down the Westside Park by the river, and walk through this mass of people every morning just to get to work.

Anthony Harrison: But it was seven like, fantastic years of really learning. Back in those days when you were an art director, you were a proper art director. You did everything. And I was really fortunate to be there at that time. And I was 23, and I thought, “I’m a junior designer. And by the time I’m 29, I want to be an art director. So I’m going to work my ass off to get there.” And then the next year, they promoted me to art director. So it was one of those “All right. Now what?” situations.

Maurice Cherry: You were so young, working for such iconic artists like that.

Anthony Harrison: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, you were in the elevator and like Freddie Smith, Freddie Jackson gets in. And you’re like, okay [inaudible 00:26:58] just walked by. Yeah, at an early age.

Maurice Cherry: Wow, wow. And like, I know that was like, early nineties then when this went on, right?

Anthony Harrison: Yep. ’93. ’93 I got hired.

Maurice Cherry: So this was after like, the big Milli Vanilli scandal with Arista.

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, the record industry was still reeling from that, but you know, there was, they’d been getting away with murder for years, so they got over that really quickly.

Maurice Cherry: Now, aside from just being a designer in the music industry, you are also a recording artist.

Anthony Harrison: Yes, yes. So again, as a football was my religion as a boy. Track and field. I loved track and fields, and sports was my life. And moving to New York, it just wasn’t available. It was… The last thing on my mind was sports. It was really kind of adapting to this new place and fighting every day because, I think there was a myth. People who’d watched a lot of Benny Hill, and they thought “Oh, we’re going to pick on the English boy.” Because they’d watched a lot of like, Oliver Twist. They had no idea that we used to fight in London more than them. So you kind of set the record straight.

Anthony Harrison: Part of my survival tactic was to really immerse myself in music. And around that time, I hated rap because I was just like, at the time it was like, Sugarhill Gang and Furious Five and all that stuff. And the first time I’d heard that was when all these like, English pop groups were kind of taking it off. So Adam and the Ants was one of my favorite bands, and they did like, Ant Rap. And that’s what I associated with. But by 1985, I heard Sucker MC’s by Run-DMC. And then, a little bit after that “Slow and Low by the Beastie Boys. And they were both produced by Rick Ruben. And that for me was like, the future. And that’s when I started kind of writing. When I heard Slick Rick, it was just like, “Okay, this is future music.”

Anthony Harrison: So that’s when I started writing. So it was just always a hobby from that time. And then when I was an art director at Arista, I still performing at the time. At night, just on the underground circuit with Shabaam Sahdeeq, Modal Technique, [inaudible 00:09:57]. Like, I’m going to forget all the names. It was like, the New York city underground rap scene, the Juggernauts, the Company Flow guys, all those guys who were all part of the, of the New York City underground. And I ended up getting a deal from that. So during the day I would work for Arista, and at night I would record my album for MCA. So I did that for about two years. You know, worked on the album. And it was a lot of fun, but it came to a point where I had to really decide what do I want to do, do I want design or do I want music?

Anthony Harrison: And again, when you work at a record label, you understand how the sausage is made. So this whole thing about being a star and being famous and making hits to me was just like womp, womp, womp. I couldn’t care less. I wanted to create art. And when I got signed… The first thing they do when they sign you is like, “We think you’re great,” and immediately they want to turn you into something else. So at that time, it just happened that everyone was a hard rock and hip-hop. And they were like, “Yeah, we want you to make some harder stuff.” And I was like, “That’s not what I do. I make funny stuff. I make political stuff like. And that’s just not what I’m going to do.” So the choice was really easy and I decided to just go into art and graphic design full time.

Anthony Harrison: I’m really happy as a fan these days, of music.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m curious, is your album like, on streaming services? Can people listen to it?

Anthony Harrison: It’s funny. There’s a lot of it on YouTube. Just like, the live radio shows. So there was an iconic radio show out of New York City, out of the NYU by Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito. And they’ve actually got a documentary about it on Netflix. But I was a guest on there several times with my friends Breezly Bruin and Juggernauts, and with Organized Confusion. We were on there together. So on there with my MC partner at the time, [inaudible 00:11:37]. But those videos are all over YouTube. They’re just audio. But yeah, I held my own.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. All right. So after your time at Arista, you worked for Mecca, which is a streetwear brand. And I mean, I’m not going to lie, I rocked Mecca hard around that time. Like, mostly thanks to Vibe magazine and… God, where do I get my Mecca stuff from? We had a store called On Time Fashions, and I honestly, I believe some of it was probably bootleg, but I wore anyway because it was the only place you could get it. But you’re like, you’d see it in the ad and then it’s in the store. And it’s like, why would they be shipping to rural Alabama? It doesn’t make any sense.

Anthony Harrison: You’d be surprised. They ship everywhere. Like, when we talked to our sales team, our sales team knows about all of the spots across the country. You’d be really surprised, man. They go everywhere.

Maurice Cherry: What was it like shifting from music to apparel that way? Was that kind of your first time working in that industry?

Anthony Harrison: It was. It was. So a friend of mine, Alioscha, he ran a brand called Alphanumeric, and the sister brand was Mecca. So the sister brand Alphanumeric was all skate and snow. It was like, super cutting-edge, and they were based in San Diego. And Mecca was based in New York and he’s like, “Hey, I need an art director. So come on in.” So this is where, as I mentioned before, as an art director for a record label, you could take care of your artist from soup to nuts. So you meet with them. You go to the studio. You develop their logo. You speak with their management. You talk about them about their lyrics and then work with them. So you’re really building them along the way. And all the way down to TV spots, video shoots, and the rest of it.

Anthony Harrison: So I found being in the apparel industry, I found making myself useful pretty easy. So I worked on graphic design for Mecca when I first got in, but then I just started doing all of the ads and a lot of the packaging. And then T-shirt graphics, and then kind of copywriting and that sort of thing. So, it was fun at the time. And that’s actually where I met my wife. So, she was an intern at the time, in the women’s department. And then she would assist me on photo shoots. And we just celebrated our 19th anniversary the other day.

Maurice Cherry: Congratulations.

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, yeah. I like to say I took her on full time.

Maurice Cherry: That’s an interesting way to put it. Okay.

Anthony Harrison: Her fingerprints are all over pretty much everything I do.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Anthony Harrison: We have that kind of a creative relationship where anything I’m doing, I’m always kind of getting input. And she knows me like a book, so kind of serves as a mirror.

Maurice Cherry: And now, after Mecca you went and did work for Akademiks. Was it a big shift?

Anthony Harrison: It wasn’t actually. I’ll tell you what was cool about that, was that Mecca was, this was the great thing, like back in those days, and my wife actually tells the story. She was at FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology. And when you would go to… See, and I’ll backtrack a little bit. During my high school years, rap music, you have to understand, those same circumstances around busing. Right? Think about it. This is where rap music came from. You know, we as people of color was shut out of mainstream art and mainstream culture. We weren’t wanted at Studio 54, right? So we went and created our own thing. So by my high school time, we were still being told as kids like, “What you’re doing isn’t music,” right? Like, “Your fashion is not real fashion.” So when my wife was at school, she was told by fashion teachers that, “This urban thing you’re doing isn’t real. You guys basically wear what we make for the mainstream. So it was not really real.”

Anthony Harrison: By the time Akademiks came around, everyone knew it was something. And you know, it was euphemistically called urban, when it was actually streetwear in its prime. But it was really funny to see brands that kind of separated themselves and said, “We’re not urban. We’re streetwear.” It was just this silly, silly mind-

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. That’s an interesting distinction.

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. It’s using one euphemism to cover another. But by the time Akademiks came around, my boss… It was owned two-thirds by the boss, right? Who’s a Black man, Don Juan Harrell from Virginia Beach. And when I came in, I came in as senior art director, and then was promoted to design manager. But I always had my hands in the work, and I have to say my time in Akademiks is probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Anthony Harrison: We were given complete creative control because our boss knew that we knew who we were making things for. Like, if we wanted to see who was buying our clothes, we could just go right out front and look at them. And you could see them. You take the train with them in the morning. Like, we live amongst who are consumer is. And they’re like, the next generation. They were younger people than us. So we knew what they wanted. And I think one thing that we were able to do with all of our themes, play these double entendres. So we were able to play Mainstream Americana, which is the stuff that we came up on. We came up on Nautica, Polo, and all those kinds of Eastern seaboard brands and like, along with like, Head and Prince. All these super preppy brands that weren’t made for us, that we would wear just because they weren’t made for us. All this like, super preppy [inaudible 00:16:37], like those kinds of brands.

Anthony Harrison: We were able to juxtapose all of that imagery against street culture. So for example, we would do, we were all into like, Americana, right? We all loved plaids and denim and work boots. So we did a whole theme around lumberjacks, right? But if you’re doing a lumberjack theme for the hood, we called it Big Papermakers, right? And we did these caricatures and that. So it was always like, a little chipmunk that says like, “Stack your chips for a rainy day.” Stuff like that. [inaudible 00:36:07] speak in these two different languages, which just, it was so much fun. And you know, our boss basically would protect us as a design team. So we basically had about three meetings with sales a year, where sales would give us their input. “Here’s what sold. Here’s what didn’t. And here’s why we think this was the case.”

Anthony Harrison: And then for us, we were basically just designing all the time. Putting the work up on the board, collaborating, working in different teams. We’d have music going all day and it was like death metal, reggae, salsa, Afrobeat, comedy albums, podcasts, like yeah… Fun, fun stuff. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So, speaking of this double entendre, I’m going to show you a photo. And for people listening, I’ll put this photo in the show notes as well so you all can see it. But I’m going to show you this photo. First, I want you to describe the photo to the audience, and then second, I want you to tell me the story behind this campaign and the feedback. So I want you to look at this photo now. I’m showing it to you.

Anthony Harrison: Ah, yes. All right. I remember this. So this is an attractive young lady with a lot of like, specialized like, ripped-up denim and some like, some short-cut denim shorts, sitting very neatly with her legs crossed, kind of in a fifties pose. Looking straight at the viewer, and she’s sitting on the lap of a man reading a book who’s paying no attention to her. And he’s sitting on a pile of about maybe 80 books. Says “Akademiks, genius level products, read books, get [inaudible 00:37:37].” So this was a campaign, and I cannot remember what year this was. I think it was 2003. So one of the things that we were always trying to play with Akademiks was subversion. And we understood that the audience that we were talking to understands and appreciates the coded language that we use, right? So like for example, “Stack your chips.” Like, “big paper makers.” We got another one that’s like “classic material,” and we spelled classic-

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, we have another one that’s like classic material and we spelled classic with a C K at the end, like that stuff to play on [inaudible 00:00:06]. They understood that, right? So we thought we’re about academics and at the end of the day academics was about learning. That’s what the brand was about. So we thought wouldn’t it be great because when you look at so many of these acts, they’re shamelessly selling sex. And when we were looking at culture at the time, at this time, Jay Z was the biggest hero of all of those young people. And the first thing that you would … If you just grab a kid off the street and you’d be like, “Why is [inaudible 00:38:34] the greatest MC ever?” And they’d be like, “Because he’s smart.” And it was the first time that we were looking at modern hip hop culture and saying like, “Isn’t it cool that it’s cooler and more desirable to be smart than it is to be hard?”

Anthony Harrison: And that we’ve really actually progressed and that the idea of the nerd doesn’t really exist anymore. Not like it used to. So that’s kind of where this idea came from. Read books, get brain. If you read, you get smarter, but also plays on the sexual term of it. And we knew that those kids would understand that was a joke. If you read books, you get smarter. And again, it’s just coded language for those who know, get it. So what happened was, this was really funny, when this came out, this was on billboards, it was in ads and it was everywhere. Now you know that before these things go out to the general public, they have to go through your own attorneys. They have to go through your own marketing department. So we presented this, I presented this to the team and to the brand broader and everyone knew about it.

Anthony Harrison: Towards the end of the run, some reporter from I think it was the Daily News had seen a train ad and someone on her staff had actually told her what get brain meant as a term that’s been used in all these songs. So then they come out with this ad and it says like, “Street Wear company is selling sex to kids.” And I was like, “These kids are hyper-sexualized. I don’t know what world you live in.” That’s what this is about. It’s about reading. So again, it’s cheeky, but we knew what it was. So it was really funny because I got to work that morning and my boss hadn’t gotten there yet. My boss didn’t usually get in until around 10:00 AM but all of the office shoots were there just like hand wringing about it.

Anthony Harrison: “Anthony, did you talk to them about this?” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I did.” “We’re going to have to have a meeting when [inaudible 00:40:23] gets in because you don’t talk to the press.” And I was like, “No. I told him exactly what it was. You guys saw it.” So then we start getting calls from channel two, channel four, channel seven, New York Times, USA Today. They all want to come by for interviews. When my boss got in and my boss was like, “What’s the problem? This is great. Anthony put on a shirt because you’re going to do some interviews.”

Anthony Harrison: It was great because I got to meet Carlos [inaudible 00:40:48] who is like a New York legend journalist and he was working for the New York Times at the time. I think he was a former Latin King. He may have been. I may be off about that, but anyway, he was a big community activist and journalist, and I met him that day and it was such an honor. But for that all to come through this ad was actually really, really funny and I got so many phone calls for this. I also got a few death threats for this, as well. Someone called me on my office phone and shared that I’d set black people back and I was just like, “Are you out of your mind?”

Maurice Cherry: What? From a clothing ad?

Anthony Harrison: Again, you think about what year this was. Think about where we are now. This whole fury around being knee jerk reactions and having something to be offended by was just starting. But yeah, it turned out to be a lovely piece of subversion for me. Now would I do this today? Probably not because this is not the climate for it. But yeah, but at the time it was good.

Maurice Cherry: Wow, that is wild. I mean I think one thing it speaks to just the power of design. The fact that something that was so kind of cheeky and clearly spoke to the audience of the brand ends up getting misconstrued in some way. And I think we see that a lot anyway with advertising, although it’s not as clever as this. It’d be much more … I guess I’d use the term hamfisted in a way.

Anthony Harrison: Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: I remember specifically seeing this, it was an ad. This may have been several years ago, it was the ad for pop chips with Ashton Kutcher and Brown Face. And it’s like the dumbest thing. It’s not clever in any sort of way. It’s just a really ugly, bad stereotype slash caricature.

Anthony Harrison: [inaudible 00:42:30] because again, it can quickly go cheap. And the funny thing is that you’ll hear from really poor marketing people sometimes is sex sells. The fact that people still say that, I’m just like, “Okay and more sex sells. So why don’t we put breasts in an ad if that’s the case and just put a logo on it.” It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. You know, I’ll say, too, to that point, there’s a lot … I hear this, this debate all the time about art and commerce and between design and marketing and how there’s this natural friction between the two. I don’t think many of those conflicts don’t come from the natural conflict. They really come from just poor ideas, cheap ideas. They come from laziness and apathy.

Maurice Cherry: So to that end, what do you think is … If you could distill this down to a few things, what do you think are the most important skills that a designer or a creative person really needs to have in this current climate?

Anthony Harrison: Oh, man. I think number one is objectivity. Well, before that even a hunger. You can’t force someone to want to know. You’ve got to have a hunger to know what’s current and to join the conversation. Understand that the graphic design and creativity in general, you’re not just making something new, you’re joining a conversation of something has probably been approached before. So if you want it to be relevant and to mean something and to actually match it, you’ve got to know about that conversation.

Anthony Harrison: But then secondly after just kind of curiosity and wanting to do, you’ve got to understand objectivity. And really I feel like design, graphic designers, is an anonymous job. If you’ve really done your job, no one knows you’re there. You are able to kind of compose this thing that communicates something. A lot of it is manipulation, visual manipulation, but you’ve got to be objective, and I’ve found a lot of people just lost their jobs or lost sight of what their job is and I’ll share this. At work for instance, this happened at a few different jobs I’ve had. You’ll find people who are more interested in the rules than creating something new. And I think this is the ultimate lazy thing that people do is revert to the rules.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, my God. Yeah, I’ve definitely been there where things get so stuck in process and rules that it’s like you don’t even get a chance to make anything.

Anthony Harrison: [inaudible 00:44:50] starts at no. And if you think about your viewing public, they have a wide choice today. So they would just go elsewhere. But yeah, I think the most important thing for you to have right now is objectivity. Complete objectivity, especially in such a changing world and a changing climate. Everything is completely new. So you can’t apply your old rules to whatever is kind of emerging now and becoming the new.

Maurice Cherry: What inspires you these days?

Anthony Harrison: Oh, man. Everything. Everything. Honestly, those who came before me and those were coming after me. I’m able to look back at old stuff. I was watching that Shane [inaudible 00:45:27] documentary the other day, the Rick Ruben documentary and someone in there picked up an old album cover and they said that it was an album of his from, I believe it may have been as late as 68, but he was the first person to use the term hip hop and it’s right there on the cover. Stuff like that just blows me away. When I think about, I went the other day to see the Kubrick exhibit at the design museum in London. I could’ve just hid in the corner and just kind of tried to sleep over. It was one of those, I just felt like a six year old. That stuff just inspires me.

Anthony Harrison: Seeing that some of these sets that I’ve seen, like Full Metal Jacket, that Vietnam scene was actually London. Yeah. They bombed the barracks and flew in Palm trees. But then, virtually, a lot of the stuff that the young ones are doing now, so like Tomboy, that series. So HBO. Euphoria is another one. Just the way it’s written because for me graphic design is about people. That’s it, right? It’s about who’s on the other end. It’s not about the rules, it’s not about the corporate slogan. It’s about connecting with people and making something for people. So I find myself watching a lot of television and film and reading a lot. I read a lot of crime novels, as well. Yeah. People is it.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So when you look at your career, you’ve worked at Street Wear Brands, you worked in the music industry, you’re currently still working with apparel, footwear, and stuff like that. How would you compare being one of the few black designers in a place like say Nike in the US? Portland is a very non black city. With like being one of the few at Adidas where you’re at in Germany.

Anthony Harrison: Yeah. It’s weird. It’s really weird. You know what’s funny? The move from New York City to Nuremberg, Germany felt closer than the move from New York City to Portland, Oregon.

Maurice Cherry: In what way?

Anthony Harrison: I feel more welcome in Germany than I do in Portland, Oregon. I’ll tell you that much. When you walk down the center of the city on a Saturday afternoon and people cross the street. It’s real. It’s very real. I mean, [inaudible 00:47:41] likens it to the boogeyman, being the boogeyman. You go places and people are scared of you. They think you’re going to harm them. So carrying that around, I don’t feel any of that here. You know what I mean? I go into stores, people don’t bother you. They don’t follow you. Police don’t mess with me. It’s very, very different. Now that’s the city. But in terms of inside the organizations, it’s the same thing.

Anthony Harrison: It’s the exact same thing. It’s the same thing that you come up against, which is again, which I think to myself where objectivity helps me is I like to kind of look at my experience through the lens of being a woman. What my own biases might be, the things that I grew up with, and how to handle it, and objectivity helps me every time. I put it this way. There was an England Bulgaria match the other day and England beat Bulgaria six nil at their own stadium. And there were monkey chants all the way through to the point where they had to stop the match a couple of times. They had to stop the match because England in the start in 11 I think England had six black players and two biracial. Something like that. And that’s just the way it is.

Anthony Harrison: So when I was a kid and my dad used to take me to matches, the home fans would boo our black players. And then pat me on the head and say to my dad, “Oh, you got a lovely little kid there. Isn’t he great? How you doing, little man? You all right?” And be super friendly. So having that understanding of it allows me to work in these environments and just you’ve got to bob and weave and I put myself out there. I’m an individual who speaks up and I’m not sensational about it, but I just feel like I have a duty for those who come after me to speak up when I see things no matter what it cost me and I’ve done it, so I don’t intend to stop no matter what it costs me.

Maurice Cherry: Now as I was doing my research, I saw that this was an interview you did with the hundreds almost 10 years ago actually. And you talk about that you sort of wanted to try your hand at doing food packaging or writing or illustrating a children’s book. Are you still interested in those kinds of projects or is there another dream project you’d like to do?

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, absolutely. I think the children’s book thing is just something I’ve always wanted to do. Actually my first internship before [inaudible 00:49:54] records was a children’s book illustrator on the Upper West side named Barbara Roman. So I used to assist her, but that was when I still had a life. I was like, “Wow, this is the life. I get to draw and then go see your publisher and again advance. I can do this.” But just in terms of what it means to children, that’s the thing for me to. It’s still a dream of mine I haven’t done yet. In terms of writing, I’ve been doing a little bit of writing. I’ve been practicing. Design is a little bit different. So writing fiction is good. I’m dabbling in it here and there, but I think my biggest dream project right now that I’m actually working on is brandilism.

Anthony Harrison: So on my Instagram I do a lot of that. So I like to say that during the day I create logos and in the evening I destroy them. So sometimes they’re jokes, sometimes they’re politically motivated. Sometimes they’re just an opinion on something. But I like to … Sometimes it’s just don’t make myself laugh or make my friends laugh. But every day I post something because I have to make something that isn’t briefed. I come home and I make something every night and I posted this thing. So what I’m doing is making a book of all of it with a couple of interviews with kind of luminaries from the field to people who I admire or have worked with over the years. And I’m hoping to put that out by the new year.

Maurice Cherry: At this stage in your, in your career, in your life really, what does success look like for you?

Anthony Harrison: It’s funny, it’s actually a big question. At my age now you start looking back and you think like … So I got introduced the other day when they introduced me, they were talking about my work and it was a bit embarrassing. If you’re British, pretty much everything is an opportunity to be embarrassed, but it was a bit cringe-worthy. But then I thought about it and I thought, for me, I have an old boss of mine, Katie Tish, really told me a lot. I owe her a debt of gratitude all through my career. I just had people who looked out, people were like … Once they knew that you were hungry, they were like, “Hey, come here, let me show you this.” So what she said was I feel like I haven’t done my best work yet and that’s exactly how I feel.

Anthony Harrison: Success for me feels like giving something back, which I’m able to do now. Nothing is more rewarding for me than to sit with my team and one of them come to me and go, “Anthony, look, I’ve got this thing here that I’m working on, but look at the S. God. I can’t get in the middle of that S right. What would you do?” Being able to just help someone with something as simple as that for me is just the most rewarding thing ever. And managing teams I never thought it would be as rewarding as it is, but it’s like driving without your hands on the wheel and it’s problem solving and success for me looks like just enjoying my everyday. I do what I love for a living, you know what I mean? If I could go back and talk to my seven year old self and explain my job right now, even on the worst of days, if I could explain that to that kid, it’d be, “Yeah, you’ve done all right.”

Maurice Cherry: So you are our first interview of 2020. We’re starting a new year. We’re starting a new decade. When you look to the next five years, what kind of work would you like to be doing?

Anthony Harrison: Wow. I think work, no matter what it is, relevant work, number one that matters to this changing world. Something that addresses everything that we’re talking about. Something that’s aesthetically pleasing obviously, and something that fits into the function. It needs to be functional. It needs to be purposeful. That’s my new criteria for what I want to do next because as I see design changing, as I see the nature of work changing, I want to put what I do towards some good. I’d love to work with inner city kids, rural kids who never thought they had a chance to be in graphic design and just kind of give them everything I can to just infiltrate our really kind of monotone industry with some character.

Maurice Cherry: Well Anthony, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and your work and everything online?

Anthony Harrison: I would go to my Instagram, which is Anthony Bones Harrison. That’s my at Anthony Bones Harrison. That’s my Instagram and at AnthonyHarrison.solutions. That’s my website, hasn’t been updated in some time and it’s probably about a 32nd of my work. So that’s kind of my website but I’m in the midst of rebuilding that so I can put everything on there and making it a little bit more editorial. But where you really want to go is my Instagram, which is at Anthony Bones Harrison.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Anthony Harrison, I have to thank you so much for being on the show. Of course, as you know, this has been a long time coming. I really love that this is the interview that we’re starting off this year with because something that has sort of stuck with me from last year has been the notion of what are we as designers doing to kind of build a more equitable future? And the skills that we have are often put towards things which are fairly ephemeral, especially if we’re talking about digital design. We put all this work into these things that in a few years are just, they’re gone.

Maurice Cherry: And so I think what you’ve been able to do throughout your career is take the skills that you have and you’ve been able to morph and move them in so many different ways, in so many different aspects of design that I think that’s something which is just really inspiring. And hopefully for people that are listening, they can see that you don’t have to pigeonhole your creativity into one specific type of industry, that you can take that and really use it in a lot of places. So thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I really appreciate it.

Anthony Harrison: All right, well, thank you for having me. This was great.

Sponsors

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit facebook.design.

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Navigating the creative industry is a big theme of this podcast. (Why do you think we’re called Revision Path? Well, that’s one reason.) For our final interview of the year, I had the opportunity to talk with motion graphics designer Handel Eugene. If you’ve seen Spider-Man: Homecoming or Black Panther, then no doubt you’ve seen Handel’s amazing animation work.

Handel talked about his typical day as a visual storyteller, detailing the tools that he uses, as well as how his educational and work experiences have contributed to his career. He also shared what he wanted to see more of in the animation industry, and wrapped up with discussing how he balances work, family, and staying fresh and creative in his work.

2019 has been such an amazing year for Revision Path, and I just have to thank you all for listening, downloading, and supporting the show! 2020 is just around the corner, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right. So tell us who you are and what you do?

Handel Eugene: Yeah, my name is Handel Eugene. I’m a Haitian-American, [inaudible 00:00:06] disciplinary artist, animate and designer. I’m also an instructor. I dabble in public speaking from time to time and I’m currently residing in the San Francisco, Bay Area.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. And now, you told me, right before we started recording that you were permalancing and you’re working at a bunch of different companies out there. Can you talk just a little bit about the types of things that you’re working on?

Handel Eugene: Yeah. So right now I’m freelancing for some different companies out here, basically in Silicon Valley. Right now I’m currently at Apple, and right now I’m just… Obviously Apple being Apple, super secretive, can’t talk about a whole heck of a lot what I’m currently working on. But I can touch on a little bit of what I’ve done in the past for them. I’m currently working on whenever they have a new product release or they have their events and such, to unveil their new products or their new service and what have you.

Handel Eugene: You’ve got to promote those different aspects. And my job is just to kind of like do creative advertisement, creative promotion, creative material and content to help unveil and roll out some of those different products. I’ve also worked on in-store content as well, the [inaudible 00:01:23] device content as well for them. Not just on Apple, but also I’ve gotten the opportunity… Fortunate to have the opportunity to work at Facebook and Google, doing those same different aspects. Just kind of creative advertisement and also doing some work on the platform internally as well.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. So what is a typical day like for you? I know you’re kind of bouncing between these different companies, although you’re mostly at Apple right now, but what’s a regular day like?

Handel Eugene: Yeah, yeah, of course. So yeah, I work in the motion graphics industry. It’s kind of like more of a specific area that I primarily work in and it’s called motion graphics, but I guess it falls under the umbrella of creative advertisement. So yeah, like a traditional day, let’s just say in my free day… I’ve worked in LA for seven years. So back then a job would come in through the studio. We’d have a brief, and a client’s looking to promote a service or a product or show, a new show.

Handel Eugene: Or even having the opportunity to have worked on a film. Obviously, that aspect as well. And our job is to service the client’s needs and provide them with creative solutions, creative designs, creative advertisements to kind of help tell their story and meet their needs of whatever they’re looking for in particular, and visually. What I like to describe myself, it’s kind of like a visual storyteller. Basically taking these aspects and these elements that are on paper, these kind of rough ideas and presenting different design options for them.

Handel Eugene: It can be design and animation. Either or, or both combined, and delivering that to the client. So I guess a traditional day just to get into the kind of nuts and bolts is yeah, you come in, you’ve got your brief, you’ve already been briefed on the project and yeah, you just chipping away at designs. Sometimes you have pitches where those are kind of like short form like, “Hey, let’s just kind of provide a buffet of options to the client for them to pick and choose from.” And once the client picks a direction, then we’re kind of like full steam ahead and just into production.

Handel Eugene: Taking that concept that won us the job and executing it. Executing it into design phase and animation phase, and ultimately delivering the product for the client. So it’s just kind of working on those different aspects. Again, I guess typical days, I’m getting more specific, I’m designing a Photoshop, animating side after-effects or cinema 4D. And I guess, those are primarily where I’m spending a lot of my time. Also putting pitch desks together, writing briefs and content and material. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Now what’s kind of been the biggest challenge that you faced with doing a lot of this? Like you’re working for these large companies, you’re looking at briefs and pitches and stuff. What’s the biggest challenge you face with doing all this?

Handel Eugene: Yeah, the biggest challenge, I mean, there’s lots of different ones. I guess trying to figure out what the biggest one would be. Trying to stay fresh and creative. It’s interesting. We’re all fortunate as designers and artist to do something creative for a living, which is amazing. But sometimes that can be exhausting especially if you’re kind of at a rapid pace. Some studios kind of work faster than others and kind of like have a lot of material and content that you kind of just jump on and get pulled on left and right.

Handel Eugene: So sometimes, it can be a little taxing. So I think one of the biggest challenges is to stay inspired, stay fresh and stay creative. Not to get burnt out. I think burnout is a real, real issue in our industry just because of the nature of what we do. Can be labor intensive, for sure. I mean if you’re working long hours, sometimes you can kind of get tunnel vision and it’s kind of hard to see the big picture. So I think that’s one of the more challenging aspect, is like trying to find that balance of working hard on something because you want it to be great, but then trying to not burn yourself out, stay inspired and especially be inspired outside of work.

Handel Eugene: So that way, the experiences that you’re having outside of work can kind of fuel and feed and form kind of your ideas internally at work. Because again, yeah, like working in a creative field, you’re always being asked to create new, fresh creative content all the time. So sometimes that can be a little hard at sometimes.

Maurice Cherry: Emotionally, I mean it’s something that you see anywhere from animation to product reviews to a number of different things. So I can imagine after a while it’s something… I’m just thinking to myself like as a viewer, it’s something you kind of take for granted. Like you expect everything to be able to move and work well. But certainly I think modern digital design, I should say, features a lot more animation. I would imagine one of the challenge, and you can correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’d also imagine one of the challenges is making sure that you stay kind of unique in a way?

Handel Eugene: Right. Yeah, absolutely. So what? Like let’s say 10, 15 years ago, our industry to have as a kind of like for clients was a luxury. It’s like if you knew how to key frame something from point a to point b, I mean you had a job and you were in demand. But nowadays there’s just so much content, and the bare bench entry has definitely been lowered. Technologies and applications have become cheaper, things have become more accessible. So there’s been definitely is a flood of material. Obviously, the way we consume content has changed.

Handel Eugene: Obviously with content coming straight to our phone with Facebook and Instagram. So yeah, there’s a lot more, I don’t want to call it noise, but there’s a lot more content out there for us to consume and a lot of more content that’s fighting for our attention. So yeah, to stand out is definitely, absolutely a big challenge. Stand out from the crowd because yeah, you’re competing against all these other… Some can be distracting and some can be really good content. Yeah, you’re competing against lots of other really good content as well.

Handel Eugene: So yeah, that’s always, always a challenge. You want to create something that’s meaningful, that’s impactful, that’s engaging with the audience and that’s something that we’re always considering and trying to meet and provide for the client. And yeah, that can be super challenging as well because that’s something you got to stay on top of and understand. And there’s trends, there’s aspects that you want to try and fight against, but then also there’s aspects that you need to incorporate because it’s new and it’s something that we’re… Yeah, it’s always something that you’re always balancing.

Handel Eugene: And like you said too, you touched on a little bit like it’s one of those things that requires a whole heck of a lot of work, but people nowadays may take for granted and just kind of like… Because we just consume so much content nowadays. So it’s definitely challenging for sure.

Maurice Cherry: One thing I’m curious about, and you can let me know how much of this you can speak on or not, is accessibility. So of course we have, like you said, there’s all this content. Things are always moving and shifting and changing. Even with just I think regular web design now, there’s a lot of animation that you can do with coding. Like with CSS, you can make things fade in and fade out or transition or stuff like that. How does accessibility play into your work, if it plays into your work at all?

Handel Eugene: Now, when you say accessibility, are you saying kind of like how readily available some of these animation techniques are to the general audience and general consumers? Is that what you’re-

Maurice Cherry: I’m thinking more I guess from the viewer end, like say for viewers that have say visual impairments or if a lot of moving things cause motion sickness or something like that or even, you know colorblind. Things like that.

Handel Eugene: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ll tell you, that’s something that there’s a team dedicated to that. There’s always like this struggle between creatives and let’s say the legal department or so. The creative wants to push this idea forward and be like, “Okay, we’ve got to consider this audience, we’ve got to consider this aspect or this might be too much for this particular audience.” So I’ll tell you, just as a creative and an artist, we’re always putting the creative first and pushing the creative. And then we kind of allow those two different departments that specialize in those areas to kind of rein us in and inform us of different aspects that need to be more accessible or more readable or adjustments and alterations that may need to be made.

Handel Eugene: So there are definitely departments that are dedicated to that, that will inform us. And we’ve definitely got through revisions and made adjustments that have made our content more accessible. I think just in general as a creative, and this is kind of like one of the fun part of the process, especially the pre-production process is you just start broad. You start broad, just kind of like trying to find, come across something. Those happy accidents are really something that you’re always searching for. And kind of like once you start broad then as you progress through the production pipe, I mean you start to kind of chisel away and get a little bit more narrow, a little bit more focused.

Handel Eugene: Trying to figure out what you can take away or what you can adjust to kind of make the content as strong as possible, but also reach as much people as possible. So that’s my angle and my perspective on it a motion graphic standpoint. But there’s been a lot. I’m sure lots of people have different experiences with that, but that’s just my particular experience.

Maurice Cherry: Now, I’m curious about that just because I know that there are… I mean we’ve had people on the show that have accessibility experts that have talk about this sort of thing. I was actually also even thinking of most recently Domino’s Pizza had filed a case and it even went up to the Supreme Court around accessibility. And I think it was more so just about accessing the site. But then also a lot of modern sites put motion in their transactions and interactions in a lot of ways that sometimes are good, sometimes they get in the way. Like parallax scrolling and scroll jacking and all that sort of stuff where you’re like, “I just want to view the page. I don’t need you to guide my decision.” And that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry: So I was just curious about how you deal with that or if you deal with that at all. But it’s interesting that it’s kind of is a thing with legal that you have to sort of go back and forth with. I didn’t even consider that.

Handel Eugene: Right. Yeah because it’s definitely not our area of expertise. I guess for me as the content that we’re creating, for example, working at a studio in LA. Whenever we get a brief there actually has been a lot of thought and already a lot of development that has went into the particular idea. And it’s just kind of like on us to develop and execute it. And once we deliver it to the client or present our first rough draft or first… Like there is a chain of command as far as where it needs to go and different eyes have to get on it to kind of approve it and get sign off on it, including the legal team as well.

Handel Eugene: Like this is something that I’m sure artists can relate, who’ve gone through this. But it’s always sucks whenever you get close to the finish line and then that’s when legal gets their eyes on it and then they ask for changes that should have been brought up ages ago, early on in the process. Again, from just my perspective, I wonder if pure graphic design, like that’s something that is considered more from the get-go than in my industry, as far as motion graphics and motion design. Yeah, just honestly, it’s not something that is at the forefront at the beginning of production, but it’s something that does come up in production and we kind of make adjustments and pivot if it’s something that’s not readable or accessible and such.

Handel Eugene: And again, most of my content that I create is in video format and stills and such. I don’t dwell too much into the web design space, because I just designed my own website. But yeah, most of the stuff that you’ll see that I’ve done is kind of like on the TV screens or content that you may consume on your phone or it’s like having… Fortunate to have to work on a couple films as well, so.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So it’s like more media and less web, I guess.

Handel Eugene: Right, right, right.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Handel Eugene: Yeah, definitely.

Maurice Cherry: So you mentioned being in LA for a number of years. You started out your professional career at Royale, which is the creative agency there. What was your time like at Royale? How did it help prep you for the work you’re doing now?

Handel Eugene: Yeah. So my time there was great. I absolutely, absolutely loved it there. And it was my first job out of school so I interned there for three months. And it was funny because I was just finished up with school. I was in Florida and I’m trying to convince my parents to be like, “Hey, can I move to LA?” And they were like, “Oh, you got a job up there?” And I was like, “Kind of a job. It’s an internship. Nothing’s guaranteed but it’s pretty promising. If I landed, it’d be a dream job for me.” And so thankfully, they were hesitantly supportive of me, encouraging me, supporting me to go out there.

Handel Eugene: And yeah, when I got there I just worked my butt off for those three months because this truly was a dream. Is a place I wanted to work since the beginning of school. And thankfully I was able to prove myself to them. I used my time there kind of like… I like to say this a lot to other people, I used my time there kind of like as grad school where I was still young, fresh and hungry but I still wanted to continue learning. I was like using it as like it’s a continuing education program to where I was trying to get my hands dirty as possible, testing out.

Handel Eugene: And I was also trying to find like my voice and what I really wanted to do because there was so many opportunities to touch different things there. And I was fortunate, grateful. Not all internships are like this, but thankfully at Royale, they do a good job of grooming their interns there by giving them lots of different assignments besides just the drought work or… Actually I did have to walk a dog once. But majority of the work day I got to do was like working on some real portfolio quality content that was great.

Handel Eugene: And yeah, so I was like a sponge, just trying to soak up as much information as possible and as much as possible. Mainly because I didn’t know how long they were going to keep me and I didn’t know if I had to go find a job after this. So I was like, “I’m going to try and take full advantage.” Because the saying, take advantage what others take for granted. I was like, I’m going to just work my butt off and grind as much as possible here so that way, I’m going to put my best foot forward and if I get [inaudible 00:18:40], great. If not, at least I can take all this experience with me to the next opportunity.

Handel Eugene: Thankfully, they kept me around and eventually went staff there and I worked there for five years.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Handel Eugene: Yeah. And seriously, up until the point that I ended up leaving, I want to say it still was like grad school and continued education. Like I was always learning, always pushing and always trying to grow and get better and push my skills there. And thankfully it was the perfect environment to allow me to do that. I really feel like if I’ve achieved any type of success, it’s primarily due to the foundation that I had during my time at Royale.

Maurice Cherry: What were some of the projects that you worked on there?

Handel Eugene: Man, I remember when I was, not to jump too far ahead, but when I left, I went back and tracked all of the projects that I worked on during the five years I was there. And I’m blanking on the exact number, but I knew I averaged about two projects a month there, and some of the projects I got to work on were just for clients all across the spectrum. I mean, we worked for Apple we works for Google, we worked for Toyota, Starbucks, Nike, Adidas and all those big brands. And of course like lots of local brands as well, like In the Raw and all kinds of different… Like video games, EA and the like.

Handel Eugene: And just working on creative content for them to kind of help promote, like if it’s a new shoe or new apparel or it’s this new promotional program at Starbucks that they’re rolling out for October, whatever the case may be. So all kinds of different content and it was great because again, having the opportunity to work on all those different projects just kind of got me up to speed so quickly with the industry and helped me learn. And thankfully I had an amazing group of artists and mentors and people who supported me and saw how hungry I was and kind of leaned into that and fed into that and gave me opportunities to continue to challenge and prove myself while I was there.

Maurice Cherry: Now, as I was doing my research, the biggest thing that I saw that came up was that you had even done some work for Marvel, more specifically for Spiderman Homecoming. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Handel Eugene: Yeah, yeah, of course. I got the opportunity to work for a Marvel two times, actually, in two different occasions. And the first one being for Spiderman Homecoming in the summer… No, late spring of 2017. I got the opportunity to fly out to New York and work at a local studio there called Perception, which was working on the titles for Spiderman Homecoming, and it was always my dream. It’s always my dream, right? To work on a film. Even before knowing that I would ever be in this industry, I was like, “It’d be cool to work on a film one day.”

Handel Eugene: It was cool when Perception reached out saying they’re interested in bringing me on board. It was for film, but they couldn’t tell me what film it was for and I was like, “I don’t care. Whatever film it is, I’m your guy. Let me know. I’ll take the gig.” And you have to sign the NDA paperwork and such, and finding out what the film was it was like, “Oh, wow. This is awesome.” Because it’s actually a film that I truly want to see. And it’s cool to be able to help out and work on it. And it was cool because I remember going into the studio and looking at all the storyboards that were onscreen and I remember it’s like, “Oh, Donald Glover’s in this movie.”

Handel Eugene: I was like, “Oh, that’s so dope.” Yeah. It’s like just seeing the cast and everything like that and the title itself. The work that I did on the film was the end-title sequence. So it’s actually the last thing you see before the credits roll. It’s a glorified version of credits where you see, directed by… And you see, starring… And you see the main actors and directors and the high profile figures that worked on the film, that were behind the film and were starring in the film. You’ll see them in end-title sequence as pretty much just taking the best of the film and interpreting it in a creative medium.

Handel Eugene: In this particular case for Spiderman Homecoming, our task was to take basically content from the film and make a title sequence that fell under the theme of high school art class.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Handel Eugene: Yeah, that was super fun because it was just like going back to your childhood and just like finding these different mediums of clay and plasticine, and colored pencils and watercolors, and all these different fun mediums to just kind of get your hands dirty and just go and just kind of create traditional art, which is great. And then bring that in, scan that in, stop motions, and bring it in and just incorporate it with digital assets and just animating all that together to create this really, really fine title sequence that you see at the end. So that was a whole heck of a lot of fun. And that was the beginning of what allowed me to have the relationship with Perception.

Handel Eugene: So I must’ve done a good job for them because they asked me to come back and work on another high profile film for them, which was Black Panther.

Maurice Cherry: Oh.

Handel Eugene: Yeah. And I have to say, when I was working there, I was working on the film. They had already started doing some early development on Black Panther. They were doing some research development, especially in their UI animations and their future tech designs. And while I was working there, I kind of saw that they were working on this. They’ve been working on it for like a year now. And I was like, “Guys, look this Spiderman Homecoming job, this is cool. This is cool. But man, would I love to come back and work on this, on whatever you guys are working on for Black Panther. I’d come back in a heartbeat.”

Handel Eugene: Because I was living in LA, but I flew out to New York to live temporarily there, just to work on that film. And I was like, “I’ll do it again in a heartbeat.” And thankfully they did. They called me again and it was like, “Hey, we’ve got another assignment coming in and we’d love to have you work on it.” So yeah, that led to the next opportunity to work on my second film, which wasn’t a bad film to work on, which was Black Panther.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. We did a whole episode on the art and design of Black Panther. I mean, you love Black Panther clearly. [Crosstalk 00:25:56] but no, I didn’t know you worked on that movie too. That’s dope.

Handel Eugene: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that was-

Handel Eugene: Yeah, that was probably the highlight of my career. I ask myself this all the time. I’m not sure what’s going to top that. I don’t know. But it was really a dream project to work on that. And you know, it’s funny because once she reached out to have me come speak, I’d been listening to some past guests on the show, and Hannah Beachler, I was listening to her episode and it was cool to work on my aspect, but I was like, wow. Like it’s how hearing her perspective on the film, which was great.

Handel Eugene: Like, I got to work on the film but I didn’t get to hang out with Ryan Coogler, and it’s actually just seeing how close she was to the production of that film was like, so awe inspiring. So, I just got to be kind of like a small fish, and I got to work on the first and last thing you see on the film, the prologue sequence, and the end title sequence which was a lot of fun, but it was just so, it was just so, because I was like, it was like reliving it all over again. You know, just hearing her perspective and hearing what she had done on the film. But, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Now, one thing I have to really give to Marvel is that they have really started, and I guess I still do in a way, they’ve trained audiences to sit through the credits.

Handel Eugene: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So you can actually, and I don’t know how many people are really paying attention. I would imagine they are because they want to see the mid credits scene, after credits scene. But, you now get to see just how many people have contributed to the work that you just saw. You know, before you watch a movie and it’s like as soon as those first few credits, people are up and out the door. Marvel movies, people will sit through the whole thing and I’m assuming they’re looking at all the names and being like, wow, there are like, thousands of people that went into this. And it wasn’t just the actors on screen. Like, it was like an almost a city of people that have helped to make all of this happen. I really have to give that to Marvel, in a very subversive way, making moviegoers appreciate, or at least have some sort of a recognition that a lot of people go into the work.

Handel Eugene: And you know what? You know what you want? A new found appreciation you’ll have for the amount of people that work on the film is everybody who came up to me, because my name was in the credits, which was super, super awesome. I was bummed because my name wasn’t in the credits for the Spiderman homecoming. I wasn’t sure if was going to be on Black Panther. Like, that’s one thing I would love to have, because I could show my grandkids this and thankfully it was. Everybody that came out to me, I was like, “Yeah, I sat in the theater and I had to look for your name for so long that had to go through all [crosstalk 00:29:02] , and it was so long. And then, by the time we saw your name, it was too late. It was like, we screamed like two seconds of your name, scrolled past”, and it was like, you have a new found appreciation whenever you’re trying to look for a specific name in the credits. Then, that’s when it’s like, wow, you really have a new perspective on how many people really worked on that.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I mean the fact that it’s in there is what’s important. Whether you got to see it even just for a few seconds, it’s there. It’s there for posterity. So, you don’t have to worry about that. So, you mentioned Florida, that’s what you grew up, in Florida?

Handel Eugene: Yeah. Yeah. Grew up in Florida. Born and raised.

Maurice Cherry: Was art and design and all of this kind of like a big part of your childhood growing up?

Handel Eugene: No, not at all. And it wasn’t discouraged or anything like that. It was more of, it just wasn’t introduced. Yeah, we dabbled in art, but it’s an elective, right. And you take that art… I had some drawing skills and everything like that, but nobody ever encourages you to like, “Hey, you’ve got something there. Maybe you should try to look into the [inaudible 00:30:13] .” Nobody even knew that you can make a career out of, at least not in my circle of influence. And it’s funny, because my brother, I always saw him as the creative in the family. He would craze on comic books, and he would sketch all the time, and draw. But it was just always like a hobby thing.

Handel Eugene: It was just like a fun thing to do. I kind of got started with all of this… kind of by accident, because I took TV production for three years in high school, and the only reason I took TV production was because my brother recommended it, because he said it’s an easy A, and there’s a couch in the room so you can hang out. So, it was like super chill and [inaudible 00:31:05], he’s got to do the morning show. And, for two years of the three years I took TV production, I was just chillaxing. I was just hanging out, just like, enjoying the time, easy assignments. And, it was fun. It was cool, but it wasn’t anything that we were pressured to stress about or anything like that.

Handel Eugene: But, for some reason, I ask myself this all the time, for some reason, for the life of me, I don’t know why. But, at the end of my junior year, I had this quarter life crisis, can’t even call it quarter life at that point, where I was like, “Man, I’m going to college in a year, and I have no idea what I want to be. So I got to figure out.” I thought when you go to college, as soon as you’re a freshman you have to know what you want to do, and you have to decide, and spend four years learning that. I thought that’s what college was, little did I know.

Handel Eugene: And so, that summer I was like, “All right, I’ve been taking this TV production thing. Let me try to take this thing seriously. I do know a thing or two about cameras, and editing, and I have done a couple of assignments. So, let me try to take it serious this year.” And, one of the best things anybody’s ever done in my career is my TV production teacher, Joe Humphrey, which he, this was like probably the simplest gesture, but it meant the world to me, is he saw how hungry and ambitious I was becoming to learn more about TV production, that my senior year he gave me the title Executive Producer of Terrier TV. And, to this day, still the greatest title I’ve ever been granted, and probably ever will be granted because he bestowed upon me this prestigious honor that I didn’t think that I was worthy of, and I was executive producer. It was the first time I’ve ever had a title of anything.

Handel Eugene: I felt like, it’s very empowering. So I was like, “I got to live up to this title that I now have.” And, so I took it even more serious and I was kind of like leading the department and doing video editing, and all that. Long story short, I did football highlights that that kind of got me some recognition, and eventually landed me a scholarship to go to University of Central Florida, where I learned and developed, and found after effects there and found that there’s this whole new industry, this whole new department. I didn’t know what the industry was. I thought I just wanted to major in after effects. I didn’t know about motion graphics or motion design at the time, but I started learning more and more and decided that I was at University of Central Florida, which was great.

Handel Eugene: I was at UCS sports video. I was kind of like a PA there and learning, and learning, and I was a camera man for their football team and I would record their practices, but the only reason why I was doing that it was because they also have this production department, which isn’t a job, they don’t have a job for you, but you can kind of like volunteer your hours. So my primary responsibility was to be this camera man and record practices, and work your way up to recording games and stuff like that, which I wasn’t too interested in. I love sports, but I just wasn’t crazy about that. But, I was volunteering my time, especially at nights going into the control room with their production room, like learning, editing and that kind of stuff, like picking up avid at the time.

Handel Eugene: And also, that’s where I met my first motion graphic designer. There was one in the department, and I saw what he was doing. So I picked up after effects to try to make my video highlights better. And then I just opened up this whole new world of possibilities. I was like, “Oh wow, there’s people that are actually doing this. Oh, you can actually major in this and go to school for this.” And so I looked into it more and more and more, and eventually transferred from University of Central Florida to Full Sail. So, I think your question was what started off with Florida. I kind of went on this long little journey leading up to like me getting into Full Sail. But yeah, I grew up in Florida. That’s kind of how I got into the arts.

Maurice Cherry: Full Sail has a great reputation in the motion graphics and digital design industry, I think probably more so than some. I think, probably a lot of four year, I mean, Full Sail is a four year institution, but you know what I mean, like some traditional liberal arts college kinds of places. And actually, when you were at Full Sail, that’s when I first heard about you, I’ve mentioned that I saw, I was a feature in Graphic Design USA. It was you and another student, I think another Full Sail student, maybe at a different location that were being profiled. I think Gordon K., who’s the publisher had asked a few questions about what are you working on, and that sort of stuff. And Full Sail caught my eye, one, because of its reputation, but two, because for-profit universities kind of get a bad rap in general, I think with education.

Maurice Cherry: Certainly, we’ve seen in the past three or four years, places like Westwood College and others like that, where they’ve done all this marketing for students, but they’re not accredited, and then they get shut down, and then it makes you wonder, “Well what’s the value of the degree?” or anything like that. But, for-profit education has tended to really make an impact in the design industry. General assembly is technically, I’m using air quotes here, but it is a for-profit model, where people sign up for classes and it ends up becoming a bit of a feeder industry into other positions, and things like that. And it sounds like Full Sail really kind of helped after you went to UCF. Full Sail is kind of what really prepped you for the work that you did at Royale. Is that right?

Handel Eugene: Yeah. So, it’s interesting that you said that, because there’s mixed reviews, right? It’s all just depending on your experience there. And I’ve had people who wouldn’t recommend Full Sail to anybody. And then there’s people like me who had a great experience there. And I think it’s largely due to the individual. You know, like actually, truthfully, honestly, I would have a hard time recommending Full Sail to anybody, not because of the institution, because more so it’s about the individual. Art school just in general is expensive, and I highly encourage anybody who’s looking into it to make sure that you’re at the right point in your life, to really be committed to something that’s going to really affect you for the rest of your life.

Handel Eugene: Because, I think one of the most tragic things is like having a friend who was a classmate of mine who’s not in the industry. He’s not even doing anything remotely close to, motion graphics, emotion design and such, because you don’t want to go to school to figure out what you art school to figure out what you want to do. That’s a formula for disaster. You want to make sure that, I think also too, a big thing is maturity. You want to make sure that if you decided to go to Full Sail, or any art institution, that you’re prepared to be fully committed to it and the more experience you have coming in, the better. That was probably my competitive advantage, but I was there, and why I was able to maximize my time at Full Sail is because I came in and I already knew the tools.

Handel Eugene: There’s one advice I would give to anybody, which is don’t go to art school to learn the tools. You can learn that anywhere. You can learn that online. There’s so many resources online to help you learn the tools. So, because I knew the tools, I was already ahead, and I was able to just focus on just creating projects and portfolio quality work. As soon as I got into the door, I didn’t need the beginning classes that they had you take, I was just spending the whole time just working in designing and animating. I didn’t have to go through the hurdles of doing the tutorials as any other.

Handel Eugene: So, a large part of it. Yeah, for sure, the institution provided me so many resources and was actually gave me access to Jayson Whitmore and Brian Homan who are the owners at Royale. Jayson Whitmore is an alum of Full Sail and he comes back to speak every so often to students at Full Sail. And Full Sail gave me access to him. I was fortunate to be able to show my work to him in a closed room with a couple of other students that were doing good work, and we got to present our work to him, and he eventually recruited me out there to come, and gave me an internship opportunity, which really just kind of jump-started my whole career.

Handel Eugene: So, from my personal experience it was great-and I went through the accelerator program. Now, they have the four year institution program. But I went through the accelerated program where it was 21 months, just under two years, and you go to class five days a week, eight hours a day. And it was intense. It was almost like a bootcamp almost. And again, that’s why I say as I can’t recommend that to everybody, because everybody isn’t used to operating under those conditions and everybody isn’t mature enough to fully take advantage of that particular aspect of it. But it was great for me, because it just got me up to speed. I had already done two years at University of Central Florida, so I already had like an unofficial Associates , as far as just having an experience in my industry and having gone through those early freshman, sophomore hurdles, or what have you. So, as soon as I got to art school, which is where I really wanted to go, I just hit the ground running.

Maurice Cherry: Now you’ve done work for Marvel, you’re doing work for Apple and Facebook and Google. So it’s all really paid off.

Handel Eugene: Yeah. Yeah, it really has. You know, it’s funny because I didn’t have anyone growing up that encouraged me to get again to the arts. But when I did transfer from an accredited university like UCF, University of Central Florida to this, what some may consider as trade school, to pursue the arts. There was definitely some pushback. There was definitely some people who discouraged me from doing that. And there were a lot of people- it’s interesting to hear you say that you’ve heard some positive reviews, but there’s definitely a lot of people, a lot of naysayers who told me the opposite, who gave me a lot of negative feedback. Like, “Oh, I had a cousin that went there and he just wasted a whole lot of money.” It’s like, “Don’t go there”, this, that and the other.

Handel Eugene: And that’s why I say it’s truly dependent on the individual. So , I went in there a bit hesitant because I was- not hesitant, but fearful of failure. I’d heard stories of people coming here and having failed, and I kind of used it as fuel to my fire to ensure and make sure that I work my tail off to be as to somewhat ensure some success during my time here. So I was like, “If that means me being in the top 10% of my class, then that’s where I need to be for me to be able to get to where I want to go.”

Handel Eugene: So yeah, getting there definitely was a struggle. And I’m a Haitian American and I come from a Haitian culture, an immigrant culture where both my parents were born and raised in Haiti. My grandma had eight kids and she came to America first, and she sent for her kids one by one to come to the US and I show that, because you’ve got this very strong figure in our family, and you’ve got this hard work ethic that’s just embedded and rooted in our culture and nobody knows about somebody who is successful in the arts, and you tell them that you want to go pursue that. It’s really challenging and tough, because you want to make your family proud, and you want to make your parents proud, and you want to do something that they will respect and will support you in.

Handel Eugene: And, the fact that nobody knows somebody who’s successful, there was a lot of pushback on that because you’re hesitant to give your well wishes to something like that because… Yeah, it’s just an exposure thing, and even myself, for example, if I have a cousin who wants to go into the music industry, I’ll be honest, there’ll be some cause for pause, some hesitation to encourage them to pursue that at first, because all right, the music industry is great. It’s a creative field, but you also want to be aware and mindful and you’ve got to pay your bills and on one hand, obviously, you’d love to see them to be successful, but also, what are the numbers, what are the statistics is on the other, and for me, for my family came from a good place.

Handel Eugene: It was just a place of concern, and so it took me a while to eventually get to Full Sail because I needed my parents’ blessing because I respect them too much to go rogue and just go do my own things. I respect and admire my family and my parents’ opinion. Thankfully, I was able to like gather enough evidence. I think it just pushed me even further. Honestly, I wanted to make my parents proud, and I wanted to prove to them that, “Hey, your son’s doing this, and he’s going to be all right.”

Handel Eugene: I’m going to be able to put fo- there’s the whole “broke artist” misconception that’s prevalent in society. And, it forced me to do as much research as possible and be like, “Oh look, there’s this person over here who’s doing it and you can actually make a living doing it over here.” It’s like, “Oh, I talked to this person on the phone, he’s doing this.” I think it forced me to do as much due diligence as possible to ensure that the decision that I was making, was going to pay off. And having had to go through all those hurdles, and those uncomfortable conversations, and trying to convince people that the thing that I’m doing, I really believe in, and I’m going to be successful at.

Handel Eugene: When I got to Full Sail, college, I just had this burning desire to like make sure that, yeah, there’s some risk involved, but I’m betting on myself. And I want to make sure that that bet pays off as much as possible. So, I’m going to do whatever I got to do to make it during my time here. So, that meant working harder than the next person. I think you’ve heard this before, just being an African American in general, it’s been said multiple times, you’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as much. There’s not as many African Americans in my industry and that’s something that I’m definitely cognizant of, and it’s something that I was aware of, and I use that as extra incentive to be like, “All right, maybe the odds aren’t in my favor, but if I’ve got a chance, then I’ve got to make those odds work for me as much as possible.” And that’s why I just worked as hard as I can. I’m going on with a long tangent here, but.

Maurice Cherry: No, no, no. It’s good to hear that. I was really going to ask this probably a little bit later on about kind of where that ambition comes from, but I mean I think being able to speak on it from, like you said, the perspective of one, not really being exposed to it that much growing up, and it sort of being more of a hobby, but then also having your family that kind of wants you to go into something that’s more stable because motion graphics or design or whatever you were calling it back then wasn’t really something they could see as being successful. So, you had to prove it to them in a way, but you also have to prove it to yourself.

Handel Eugene: Yeah, I was telling my mom and dad, “Don’t worry, I’m going to be all right” without having done it yet. It was like, I don’t know for sure what the future holds and I’m taking a big risk here. And so, all those different aspects…And I’m thankful I learned this lesson early on, you can use that to prevent you from pursuing something, or you can use that as a driving force as fuel to push you further. And thankfully, I chose the route of allowing that to push me to go above and beyond during my time there.

Maurice Cherry: So, what is your opinion about, I guess calling it animation was kind of just put a big tie in a big bow, but what is your opinion about diversity in the industry? Like, what do you want to see more of in your industry?

Handel Eugene: Yeah, I mean, this goes without saying, but definitely more black representation in general. You know, especially like at the decision making level. I’ve had to navigate through this industry in this field being the only black individual in my class, for example, or working at a studio, or freelancing at a place, or such, and being the only back individual in the room. And it’s so funny, because when you do come across those individuals that look like you, they’re just like the most talented people I know. And, it’s like, “man, there should just be more of that around and we need to…”

Handel Eugene: So, that’s definitely something that I’d love to see more of, and I’ll tell you, I was listening to one of the previous podcasts and I can’t remember who I was listening to, but there was something that you said that really stuck with me and this is why I’m really loving the work that you’re doing is that, you’ll reach out to some people and maybe they’ll tell you, “No, I’m not in a position to come on the podcast yet”, or “No, I’m maybe not as accomplished, or maybe not as successful or maybe I’m”, whatever the case may be. And they’ll put these barriers on themselves and I love that you say like, “No, that doesn’t matter”.

Handel Eugene: You want to hear from people from all different aspects and all different levels and all different areas in their life. And I love that, because that’s like, truthfully, honestly, had you asked me, I don’t know, two years ago, or something like that to come on this podcast, I would’ve said the same thing. And, it’s because it’s something that I’ve learning more and more now that, just in general, I think it’s so true, because you don’t see as many people that look like you. So, therefore you’re more susceptible to like imposter syndrome, like if you’re the only one here, you wonder if you even belong. And that’s something that I had to struggle with and had to deal with. It’s one of the reasons why my voice is… Like, I was very shy, very timid, not very bulky at all, but thankfully, like that hard

Handel Eugene: Thankfully, that hard work and ambition I had in school, that never left me. When I got into the industry, I just continued working hard, working hard, and thankfully my work started to get noticed, and my work started speaking for me, because I wasn’t screaming it from the hilltops or, “Hey look at me.” I wasn’t doing any of that, but I was sharing my work was in one word and just doing good work started in having that start to travel and, people were liking my work and it was just so, it was just so humbling because more people started reaching out to me, especially people that looked like me and African Americans. I’m going to say, “Hey, I’m rooting for you man”. “Like I’m loving the work that you’re doing keep up the good work”. And it, before it was, oh these are just some compliments and like, all right, that’s awesome.

Handel Eugene: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thank you. But appreciate this, that and the other. But it just started coming, just the more my work has getting more visible, more people started reaching out. It’s like I love seeing what you’re doing. I love seeing that you’re doing this, that and the other. And it’s just like I just got back, I just got back from speaking at a pretty big conference, one of the bigger prop conferences, my personal favorite conference called Lift Fest and I got asked to speak this year and come on stage and man, I can’t tell you the reception that I got after giving a talk on stage from the people in the industry that felt underrepresented and it was like they’re just love seeing you up there. So what I, what I’m starting to do more of, and I’m not perfect at this, but what I’m starting to do more of is embracing that platform and embracing that voice that I have because I can use that and I can use that to encourage and inspire and represent.

Handel Eugene: Because you don’t, they don’t hear from us that often, and so when they do, I want to make sure that we represent, I represent myself and others and represent the best of what we can be in what we, and so now I’m more embracing that, that aspect because naturally I’m out of my comfort zone. I don’t like attention. I don’t want to be the poster boy, anything like that. Like I feel like that’s a lot of pressure, but I’m learning more and more, especially hearing other people’s testimonials and people reaching out to me, sending me emails out of the blue. Hey, I just wanted to hear about your experience navigating through this space because just I’m just being as, as, as African American in this industry, I wonder if you are feeling this particular way because definitely how I’m feeling and I’m wondering if I’m the only one, I was like, nah man, I’m going through the same, I’ve got the same thing going through, still going through the same thing.

Handel Eugene: And so I appreciate again, what you’re doing with this podcast because it’s giving a voice to individuals and making it, letting us know that it’s possible and that we’re out there and we can be successful in design and in this industry and that we’re all going through a lot of the same things and experience a lot of the same things.

Handel Eugene: So as I’ve grown into my career, I’ve realized that I’m not just doing this for me, but I’m doing this for people like me. And, and that’s just something that I’ve been embracing a whole heck of a lot more as I continue to progress. So I, if there’s an opportunity for me to speak and voice and speak out, like I no longer shy away from that because even though that is my nature and that’s my tendency, I no longer shy away from that because if I can use my voice to again reach somebody else and purse somebody else to pursue the arts or to step up to the plate or strive for greatness, then I almost feel obligated to do so.

Handel Eugene: Because this is the best work that I can do is having the impact on others and influencing others, especially people that look like me to strive for greatness and to continue pushing forward.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. That’s powerful to hear, man. I mean it’s, it’s interesting like you mentioned, because I would imagine a lot of the work that you do, you are sort of behind the scenes as it, as it relates to the work that you do. The work kind of does have to speak for itself. And I get those same kind of emails too, where people just reach out and it’s a an advantage point because sometimes they’ll look at you as if you’ve made it, but you’re also still navigating through the industry because as your profile changes or as the work gets out there more, it puts you in different rooms and different places and different scenarios and you’re still trying to navigate all of that. It’s a really interesting kind of paradigm.

Handel Eugene: Yeah, for sure. For sure. It’s interesting because just being, just being in some of those rooms where you’re the only one representing your background, that’s the, and especially like in those decision making rooms, especially in those high profile creative environments, those and such, and having the confidence to speak up, especially in those rooms, that’s something I had to learn to do. I had to, I was just speaking at Ben Fest as I mentioned earlier, and a good friend of mine who’s also African American, man, where did you get that confidence from to go up there on this stage? And it’s so ironic and funny to hear her say that to me because I’m not confident, this is something, this is something that I had to truly work on, work really hard on and break out of my shell and, really kind of overcome that fear of that.

Handel Eugene: I think it’s something that, like you said, it’s always, you’re always working on and as you progress through your career, it’s always a struggle and a challenge. And, and I think I, like I said, we’re more susceptible to the imposter syndrome just because of how underrepresented we can be. And it’s not even [inaudible 00:58:16]. Like there’s real barriers, there’s real gatekeepers who want to prevent you from getting to where you go. So having to not meet those hurdles is a real struggle. There’s been like subtle slights that I’ve experienced for sure where there’s rooms where I felt like I should of been in or meetings I felt like I should’ve been in or like, especially like client basing meetings where I was, I felt I could bring a real strong perspective and outlook towards the particular project at hand where that didn’t happen.

Handel Eugene: So, yeah. And, and again, like I said earlier, I think there’s two things. There’s two responses to that. You can either use that to kind of draw further into your shell, draw back further into your shell and, and, and lower your confidence. Or you can use that as fuel to your fire and use that as a, I wasn’t asked to be in this particular this room, then you’re, you’re passing up on an opportunity that could make you better. I’m going to go and take, continue to work on me and continue to develop myself to make my skills and my talents and undeniable wherever I go. You know? So, so it just pushes it for me, it just pushes me further to, I don’t want to, I’m not looking for, I’m not looking, I don’t have a big debtor. I’m not looking to like prove anybody wrong.

Handel Eugene: I’m trying to prove myself right. Because I know what I’m capable of, I know my potential and I’m always constantly, I’m trying to strive for that and reach that and wherever I go. So it’s just more fuel to my fire for me.

Maurice Cherry: What does success look like for you now?

Handel Eugene: I’ve got somewhat of a controversial response to that. It’s not really controversial, just more so a topic that’s not touched or talk about. But like for me in my career I’m fortunate, I’ve gotten the opportunity to work on some great projects and I’ve gotten to work on opportunity work on some high profile projects, films and such. Got to work for high profile clients and such. And now I want to, for me, and I’m not here by any means, but I, I want to make a lot of money.

Handel Eugene: Right? And that sounds, that sounds controversial, but the reason being is it because I desire money in it of itself? That’s not the reason I want to use money. I want to use the money I earned to buy back my time. At the end of the day, we trade our time for money, right?

Maurice Cherry: True.

Handel Eugene: In the form of a job, right? We trade the type of money, but yet, what’s more valuable, right? Time or money. Like most people would say your time is more valuable than money, right? And so if, if time is your most valuable resource, right? So then the more money you have, the more time you can buy back in your day. Right? I want to I want to spend more time with my family for instance. I want to spend more time pursuing creative endeavors that are important to me.

Handel Eugene: Right now. My most precious resource I have is being allocated to a job, which is the norm, right? That’s the norm of society. But I’m working hard to try and create an alternative lifestyle that kind of circumvents the traditional system that we have with what the traditional job and such. So, and I say that and I wanted to, I say that because we make money in this taboo subject, right? But it’s a topic of discussion we need to have more of and we need more talk more you talk about, especially in our culture in general. Again, I don’t value money in itself. Money is just a tool. It’s a resource we can use to buy or trade for something of greater value. Right?

Handel Eugene: So yeah, I’m just working really hard to find, try to find creative ways, trading passive income, residual income, trying to find these different revenue models that allow me to buy back my times, that way I can pursue projects that are important to me without having money being an issue.

Handel Eugene: So I want to talk about that, how that discussion, because a lot of people may not realize that that’s an option.I think people may only considered just having a job being the only way, to navigate through life. But I’ve learned that I’ve seen and observed different alternatives. So I’m working, striving again, not there yet by any means, but I’m working, striving to try and get to that point. I’ve like, I’ve made a step in the right direction already currently.

Handel Eugene: Right? Like for example, I’ve always said, and this is just me personally in my, my personal glove, I’ve always said I don’t want to, I don’t want to worry about how many vacation days I have left. That’s something that’s always been a goal of mine. And thankfully I’ve actually achieved that goal somewhat by being freelance now. And having put it like now the ball kind of is in my court, to where I can take as much time as I want off. I feel that though, obviously I feel that financially, but I’ve kind of taken a step in the right direction and creating a career that is in enough of a demand to be able to take time off and turn down work. So where I can pursue some things that I want to pursue that are important to me and make the impact that I want to have, spend more time with my family.

Handel Eugene: I’ve got a beautiful wife, a young daughter and a young son. And as I mentioned earlier this industry at times can be labor intensive, can be long hours and although it’s incredibly rewarding and I do enjoy it. When you’re working in a job, you are building somebody else’s dream you’ll work hard to create a business and a machine that’s a for-profit machine that’s building up their dreams. And I want to take that time and devote it towards something that I truly, truly believe in and want to work on and pursue and build up my own dreams and my own business, my own in part empire and such. So that’s something that I’ve been thinking of more and more so lately. In the past there were certain priorities that are important to me that maybe aren’t as important to me now.

Handel Eugene: And so that’s something that’s something that I’m currently navigating and currently trying to solve. And like I said, I’ve made some steps in the right direction. Hopefully in the near future I’ll be able to have that autonomy to be able to do that.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, speaking of your wife and your kids, how do you balance all of that? Like while still striving to do great work and, and staying relevant in everything in your career?

Handel Eugene: Yeah, absolutely. For sure. It’s an adjustment for sure. It’s a major adjustment. It’s funny how much time we take for granted and how much time was a luxury for me and not realizing it. Until you have, until you have kids. I said that very same thing when I had one kid and I was like, man, I took all that time, extra time. I took that off granted, but then when I had two kids, I said it over again. I was like, man, that’s like what I had one kid. I was like, I was taking all the extra time for granted man. Like even less time now.

Handel Eugene: So yeah, well it’s something that is a major adjustment and it’s one of those things I’ve constantly, constantly trying to learn about how I can use this precious asset as effectively and efficiently as possible, so that way I can maximize, when I do have those times to pursue things, I can maximize that time. So there’ll be things that I’ve, I have to decide and know what’s a priority. There’s a saying that goes don’t major in the minor things. There’s some minor things in my life that I’ve had to be like this isn’t worth the time commitment.

Handel Eugene: Like I have my time is a valuable resource and I have less of it now so I can’t allocate it towards some of these other things that are things. Maybe there’s some leisurely stuff that weren’t of incredible importance to me and my family is that I may no longer need to, to indulging, and so I’m being more and more strict and more tenacious about the different things that I allow to consume my time now, because it’s becoming, because again, my time is so valuable. Even down to every little aspect. Before, I felt the need to respond back to every email that came into my inbox, and I was realizing how much time that was being that was taking away from, from my, there’s this small little things in my life that I’m like, all right, is this, is this a valuable use of my time right now?

Handel Eugene: And so now I don’t feel bad for responding back to somebody like two weeks later because, that sounds terrible, but it’s the truth because, because I can’t respond back to every single email or every inquiry or right away, I’m not that bad. I’m not too bad. Maybe a week. But no, but I just being very, without touching on too many sensitive topics, but like social media is another aspect that I’m like trying to curve as well and all these other different aspects of that conditioner, even distractions that can utilize your time that you can be otherwise using product productivly. Because I want my family to be our priority for sure.

Handel Eugene: Like it’s my number one priority and I don’t want to compromise on that by any means, but also to, I worked really hard to get to this point in my career and I don’t want to let that subside, and I want to continue. I feel like the older I get, the more I progress in my career, the more ideas and more I feel like I have more ideas now that I want to pursue than ever. And I want to, these are ideas that I want to pursue and I feel like they would have a major impact and I want to work on work that, is greater than me and transcends me and Travis further than anything I’ve done before.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, you want to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You work hard, you want to be able to at the end of the day, be able to leave work at work and enjoy your family, enjoy your free time. So we’re at the end of the year also. The end of the decade. When you look, let’s say the next five years it’ll be 2025 before you know it really, you sort of mentioned already the sort of feeling that you want to have, but what sort of projects do you think you’d want to be working on? Like where do you see yourself in the future?

Handel Eugene: Yeah, absolutely. Hopefully in five, ten years or so. My career path has led to the opportunity for me to pick and choose the type of jobs that I want to work on without, I touched on this a little bit earlier, but that without money really being an issue. Hopefully I’m at a point in my career where I have that autonomy that allows me to be able to take initiative and don’t develop projects that are important to me and using my skills and God given talent for good for social issues, I’m working on projects that are bigger than me and make an impact and are meaningful because like it’s, it’s, it’s one of those things like in my industry, which I’m incredibly grateful to be able to earn an income and work for some amazing clients.

Handel Eugene: But maybe a pessimistic alternative viewpoint of what it is that we do is that we’re kind of glorifying products, or services and selling to consumers things that they might not necessarily need. And so if anything, I want to offset some of that by just working on projects that are meaningful, that are impactful, that are informative, that are educational and have a purpose and advocating change and raising awareness on particular projects. So, and that’s not even five, ten I, that’s actually stuff that I’m working on now, honestly, that I’m trying to, to pursue more of. And there’s always the whole money versus and time issue aspect of it, whenever you’re pursuing those jobs that necessarily aren’t for profit but they’re there for the good of society, so those are the projects that are like incredibly interesting to me and project that I want to pursue.

Handel Eugene: Because it’s interesting because as an artist, as artists were uniquely positioned to speak a language that the generation today speaks. We speak it fluently, right? And the language that degeneration today consumes, and there’s a real power in that and it’s a cool uncle Ben here to be like super cheesy, but with great power comes great responsibility. If you think about it, like just think about how powerful just, they think about Cambridge Analytica and how powerful having access to those resources and influencing individuals to swing an election that’s crazy and insane. And to think that’s how much power you can have just by advertising to two people, well what if we use that power for good too to advertise, and promote and push and encourage ideas that that need to be heard. So that’s something that I’ve been thinking of more and more lately and what I’m trying to pursue more of is just just pursuing those projects that are more meaningful and using my talents and designs for. Good.

Maurice Cherry: Well just so to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and your work and everything online?

Handel Eugene: Yeah, absolutely. My website is in handeleugene.com and you can find all my socials on there and all my work and everything that it is that I do. And, yeah, I just want to say too, like anybody has any questions about, we didn’t, we didn’t go into all the different things, millions of things that I could have talked about. But I guess the biggest thing I wanted to leave too with your viewers, if there’re any questions about navigating this industry, like motion graphics, most of the design, even the creative industry just in general. Just reach out, reach out to me. My email is on my website and you can reach out anytime and, and I’d love to continue like discussing this further with anybody who’s interested in and pursuing this, this industry and just in general.

Maurice Cherry: Sounds good. Well handle Eugene. I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. One, not just for sharing about the work that you’re doing with Apple and other companies is as well as the work that you’ve done with, with Marvel and in films and everything. Your story and your drive I think or something which is kind of the core of what revision path is about. As it relates to showing that there are people that are in the creative industry that have the same passion and verve and work ethic to really create great things. They just don’t necessarily always get recognized. And so it’s important to be able to not only provide a platform for them to shine, but also, as you alluded to, just a few minutes ago to find ways to use those skills to better the world around us.

Maurice Cherry: A lot of the work that I think we do as, as digital creatives can be very ephemeral. You designed something really great and then a year or two later it’s been phased out for whatever the next thing is. And then you wonder, I put so much time and energy and effort into this thing that now is no longer existing. So how do you use your skills for something that can be more impactful? And I think your story and everything that you’ve had to share, it’s something that is a great thing for us to end up the year on. So, I mean brother, I really want to see where you are in five years. Because like I told you, I’ve been following you since full sail. I’m so proud of the work you’re doing. I really just want to see where you’re it in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Handel Eugene: Thank you man. I appreciate it and thank you for all the work that you’re doing. Seriously, once I found your podcast, I immediately became a better person, a more informed person, and learned so much. Just from hearing from you and hearing from the guests that you’ve had on the podcast. I seriously, I recommend it to anybody that I come across that’s dealing with the same issues that we’re dealing with. And I can’t thank you enough for having done over 300 episodes, interviewing so many talented and amazing creatives in the industry and just making us more visible and making more people aware of our potential and, and what we can strive for and what we can do. Seriously. Thank you.

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit facebook.design.

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Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown. 

What do you get when you combine top notch graphic design and illustration talent, the intensity of punk music, and world class skills in facilitation? Why, you get this week’s guest — Kendall Howse! As we head into this festive holiday week, I couldn’t think of a better person to share their story and remind us of the power of inclusivity and empathy.

Our conversation began by exploring Kendall’s current work as a senior marketing designer at Red Hat. From there, we talked about employee resource groups at tech companies, the crisis of consumption in the Bay Area, and Kendall’s time growing up in Boston before moving out to California. We also discussed Kendall’s work as a facilitator with Frame Shift Consulting, his community work with Bay Area Black Designers, and his Black liberation hardcore punk band Mass Arrest. For Kendall, creating the space to thrive is key to who he is, and I hope that’s a message we can all take into the future. Happy holidays!

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Kendall Howse: My name is Kendall Boo Boo Howse. I am a marketing designer for Red Hat, and I’ve been designing for a long time.

Maurice Cherry: How did you get started at Red Hat? What does your regular day-to-day look like there?

Kendall Howse: I’m on a really fantastic team that was called creative strategy and design, but we’ve just absorbed the brand team as well. I think now it’s brand and creative, but it’s a team of about 30 to 40 people including graphic designers, animators, filmmakers, 3D illustrators. It’s really a dynamic team.

Kendall Howse: Within that team, I do a lot of graphic design, digital graphic design and illustration, for everything from web assets to print assets to our major annual trade show conference called Red Hat Summit where we cater to about 8,000 attendees and do a full-immersive three-day experience with that. There’s a lot of variety to the work, which I really appreciate.

Maurice Cherry: Now, before that you were at CoreOS, which got acquired by Red Hat. Is that right?

Kendall Howse: Yeah. Yeah. At CoreOS I was hired. I was an employee in the 60s. I was the third designer. At that time, the design team was doing all of the marketing design and all the product design. It was a software company, one of the first companies in the Kubernetes space. We were doing everything from social media ads to conference booth work, but also doing the user interface to the actual product. After a little while we ended up splitting the design team into marketing and product, where I then became the sole marketing designer.

Kendall Howse: I was supposed to build the team, but we ended up doing a hiring freeze because, unbeknownst to me, we were in the process of being acquired. When that happens, you stop spending money. I then spent the final year of CoreOS as the only person doing all marketing and sales design, but that led to us being acquired by Red Hat, me being acquired by Red Hat. Then about eight months later, Red Hat got acquired by IBM. A lot of little fish being eaten by bigger fish.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Has there been a big shift in the work or the work culture since the acquisition?

Kendall Howse: There has. CoreOS was a really small startup. I think in the end we had 130 employees, after four years. Very San Francisco, very venture capital, Y Combinator. A lot of hoodies. Young. Really young, too. Most of the employees, I would say, were under the age of 30. When we were acquired by Red Hat, Red Hat had been around for 25 years. Red Hat is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, so opposite coast, and was like 13,000 people, so a big cultural shift.

Kendall Howse: When we were acquired, as often happens, the majority of the original employees, within the first year, left for other opportunities. There was a massive shift of culture, not for the worse in any way. I mean, there’s I think appeal to a lot of people, the idea of working at a startup, but the thing about startups is it’s very touch-and-go. It’s very insecure. Whereas a big company…I mean, like a startup, you don’t have HR until you have to have HR, right? Where a big company like Red Hat has worked a lot of this stuff out literally decades ago, and so it’s a much more secure environment. It’s a much more fully realized idea.

Kendall Howse: Going from being a team of one to being on a team of 30. I’m someone who much prefers to work on a team. I’m really inspired by the work that other people do. I also really like contributing as much as I like creating. For me it was amazing to suddenly be on this big creative team. Culture change, yes. For the worse, no, definitely not.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Now, as I was doing my research about Red Hat, I saw they have…it’s funny that you mentioned this, about these larger companies having it all worked out. They have a whole nine-page white paper that addresses culture, diversity and inclusion at the company. In that paper they talk about one of their five main D&I communities. One of them’s called BUILD, which is a acronym for Blacks United In Leadership and Diversity. Now, you co-lead this group, is that right?

Kendall Howse: I do, yep. Employee resource groups are I think a really important thing. When I was at CoreOS I had co-founded Blacks At CoreOS, which was our black employee resource group. There were three of us. We all worked on different teams and didn’t even live in the same cities. Just having that, being afforded the space and the resources to come together and advocate for ourselves and our community, was really important.

Kendall Howse: When we were acquired by Red Hat, that was the first thing I looked into. There was some trepidation from me being in the Bay Area, living in Oakland, walking down the same streets as the founders of the Black Panther Party. That spirit is still very alive in Oakland. Being acquired by a company out of the South was for me pretty intimidating, or I just didn’t know what to expect.

Kendall Howse: That was the first thing that I did, was try to see if they had a black employee resource group, and that’s how I found BUILD. BUILD, as I understand it, was Red Hat’s first ERG. It’s the pilot program. It started organically, where a few brothers who were software engineers started getting together unofficially and had their own IRC chat or some such. At a certain point…and I don’t know exactly how it developed…they were able to approach someone in the company and say, “We think that this is something that Red Hat should be supporting officially. It should be open to not just black employees but also allies as well, and should have some executive sponsorship.”

Kendall Howse: It’s great to be a part of this ERG, because it is the most established at the company. I think it’s about three years in, but it’s also the pilot program. We’re the ones who…there’s a lot more pressure…I would say…on us…but we are the ones who are forging the way for all of the other employee resource groups. I mean, now, like you said, we have five. We have a queer employee resource group which is hugely supported. We have one for veterans, one for indigenous people. I don’t know if we have a Latinx one.

Kendall Howse: I don’t know, but all of which is to say like it’s great to see that this is a movement. The employee resource group movement is something that’s growing, and my trepidation about working for this Southern company has shifted severely, because this ERG is really, really well funded.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I’m thinking about what is the nexus point in a company where they decide that they want to do this. Because you said when you started it, CoreOS was a small company. BUILD was initially just three people. Do you think that there is a certain time when a startup should be taking this thing into consideration when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

Kendall Howse: Yeah. I mean, especially for startups, day one. I mean, it should be a part of the culture. We talk about diversity is something that tech companies and people who work in computation find really appealing, because it’s really quantifiable. I mean, it’s easy to say we have X number of a subgroup. Inclusion is the hard part, because it’s not measurable, it’s not quantifiable, and it’s not visible to the people who aren’t a member of the marginalized group that’s being included or excluded. My white manager can’t know if I feel included or not. I mean, unless she asks me, right?

Kendall Howse: I think when the D&I big push was happening in San Francisco five years ago, the focus was really on diversity and hitting numbers, but not about shifting culture in any way. That’s a top-down decision, which means it’s a lot of cis, straight white men, just filling their numbers, and that proved to be ineffective.

Kendall Howse: With employee resource groups, what you’re doing as a company is you are giving the people who are the marginalized group the resources to be able to advocate for themselves. We know, through community-building going back a hundred years, that’s the best way. To say, “You know what, I don’t know what, say, a woman from El Salvador needs to feel welcome and included in an environment. Why don’t I give her the tools and the resources to be able to start advocating for herself?”

Kendall Howse: In that way, we can build a more positive and inclusive culture, because then the ERGs too will work together. There’s five ERGs at Red Hat, but we’re constantly working with each other as well. Not only are we learning how to advocate for ourselves, but we’re also learning what our colleagues, who are of another marginalized group, also need.

Kendall Howse: I think that when you’re forming an organization, whether it be a startup, whether it be a Meetup group, whether it be a Slack channel or anything like that, you should be thinking that as early on as possible, like day one, for sure.

Kendall Howse: Honestly, I think if you start a company, your first black employee, be like, “Hey, do you want to have a employee resource group? What do you envision might be helpful for you? Like how can we open the door to more people like you, so that we can have true diversity and have people feel welcome being here?”

Maurice Cherry: It feels like there’s been a shift with that, because I remember. You’re talking about five years ago. I know that a lot of the language around then was about not putting the onus I guess on the employee, in a way, to do the D&I work, that it should be a top-down thing. Which I still agree that it should be, but now it seems like putting those resources in the hands of employees is a safer bet.

Kendall Howse: Yeah. I think you bring up a really good point there. I don’t know about you, but I as a black person have definitely been in a lot of situations where it’s been shoved into my lap. “Well, I don’t know, you figure it out.” It’s a lot of unpaid hours. It’s a lot of unsupported work, like where maybe the chief of operations is saying do this, but your direct report manager is like, “Well, you don’t have time to do this.”

Kendall Howse: I think the key to good D&I is executive sponsorship. It has to be supported at the highest ranks, so that your manager can’t tell you that you can’t work on it. Your PM has to pencil in time, because it has to be the company has to show from the top tier that it’s deeply dedicated to this work.

Kendall Howse: It can’t be leaving an individual or a small group of people to seem rogue, to seem, for lack of a better term, special needs. That isn’t the case. The executive leadership has to say, “No, this is a part of the core tenant of this organization, of this community that we are building, and including our customers. All of this is core to our values, and so we’re going to put in the time, the money, the resources, to make sure that this happens.”

Kendall Howse: Now, one interesting thing that happens in a lot of companies is the executives are still straight, cis white men, and so I don’t know of a single ERG…actually, I probably know a couple, but the vast majority of the ones I know of, including my black employee resource group, it’s technically led by a white man, because our executive sponsor is a white guy.

Kendall Howse: Now, I could see situations where that can be problematic, but in our case it’s actually great, because there’s an opportunity where I know that there are people. I mean, at this point there have been so many leaked Google memos that we know that there are people who aren’t a part of these groups that are really taking offense, and that are really having an issue with the fact of these groups. They just don’t understand the value and the necessity of these groups. To have someone like them saying, “Well, look, I’m okay with it. Not only am I okay with it, I sign off on it. I support it. I’m facilitating this thing.” I think that that representation is really important as well.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Five years ago, to that point, you said earlier there were a lot of these really big tech companies…Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft…that were all about, “yes, we’re going to put our numbers out there and we’re going to try to bring in more people of color to diversify our workforce.” I think all of these companies have certainly had great business success. Like Microsoft bought LinkedIn and Github, Facebook doubled their monthly active users. They’ve had all this business success.

Maurice Cherry: Then when it comes down to diversifying their workforces, the percentages are still single-digit, plus-or-minus rises or falls. You would think that if you put all of that money and resources into this, if after five years you didn’t get anywhere, you would think that someone probably wouldn’t have a job. It doesn’t seem like there’s any consequence for not diversifying.

Maurice Cherry: I even know in some circles…I mean, this conversation I think was coming up a lot last year…where people, mostly white people, were vocally being like, “I’m tired of hearing about D&I.” Like, “Oh, how convenient.” “I’m tired of hearing about diversity.” “Oh, that’s nice.”

Maurice Cherry: The inclusion part is…I liked that part where you said that diversity is quantifiable, inclusion is not, because it’s all about once you have those diverse hires in the door and they’re working for you, how do you keep them? What does that attrition data look like, once you’ve brought these people on? It seems like it’s probably falling in a lot of these companies.

Kendall Howse: I think too that a lot of these companies…like imagine being on a product team, where you’re shipping constantly and things. You’re working in scrum, you’re doing these three-week sprints. There are real milestones that you’re hitting constantly, right, and everything is deadline-driven. Then you have this vague thing called D&I that doesn’t have a goal, not a clearly-stated goal. It doesn’t have an established timeline.

Kendall Howse: It’s just this vague thing, that a lot of people…there’s so much eye-rolling, of majority-group people and minority-group people. Eye rolling, like, “Ugh.” “Oh, yeah, I went to your website. It looks like you have one black employee, but you made sure that she’s in every single photo.” Like a lot of that eye-roll, and I think that…I mean, I blame the leadership. I blame the lack of direction. I have not been in the boardrooms where it was decided that a lot of these companies were going to focus on diversity and inclusion, and really diversity. To be honest, no one was talking about inclusion.

Kendall Howse: I don’t know exactly what prompted it, but there were these things that were happening, these scandals that kept hitting the news, that were terrifying people. Uber was the first one that I remember being really big. Google I think was next. There’s that, “Oh, we have to do something about it,” but there are all of these stories and things I experienced myself where maybe somebody comes in and gives a slideshow, and says like, “It’s really tough to be a woman in the workplace,” and like…and then, okay, what do you do? One company I worked at, they just set up a Slack channel called Diversity, but there were no [inaudible 00:17:05] and there were no guidelines. There was no mediator. There was no expert. There was no…there was nothing.

Kendall Howse: There were some horror shows that occurred, and then there was just a lot of like really well-meaning people really hungry for solutions, wanting. I mean, like straight white guys who were like, “How do I help? How do I advocate? How do I become an ally?” There was no one there, and no system in place to help guide them. It doesn’t surprise me at all that there are people eye-rolling. I remember one time standing up front of the company at the Monday morning all-hands check in.

Kendall Howse: My colleague and I, who is a wonderful designer, she and I got up and were giving a D&I presentation, and this is pretty early on in my D&I work journey. I just remember one of the engineers who does customer support…so he’s a problem solver, he’s solutions oriented…says, “Well, how many black people should we have?” It was like, “I don’t know,” you know what I mean? He wanted to know what the goal was.

Kendall Howse: I was so at the beginning being like, “Oh, we need to open the doors,” but he was asking to what ends. I think that if solutions-based people aren’t given a goal, then it’s nothing. It’s nothing. I mean, it can just sit in the ephemera, just hover in the atmosphere and just never been taken seriously, because there’s nothing to solve against. You’re not trying to beat anything, beat a deadline, beat a quota. It’s just…it means nothing.

Kendall Howse: When you take a lot of these companies where their mission statements would be so vague or fluffy, where it’s like, “Change the world with positive influence.” You’re just a grocery delivery app. How about just [inaudible 00:19:14] groceries to people efficiently? When you already have these vague notions, I think a lot of people just think of it like marketing-speak or think of it as just like it’s bullshit.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I wonder certainly, I think, as we’re going now into a lot of companies starting to partner with other organizations, or like I know Google most famously. I think it was back in maybe 2015, 2016, they did like this partnership with Howard where there’s Howard West out at Google’s campus, and so some of the freshmen from I think the computer science department were able to go there and learn and study from Google engineers.

Maurice Cherry: I’m interested to see how some of these programs, what the dividends are from some of them, because a lot of them I feel like have certainly been started in the wake of these horrible numbers that are coming out with workplace percentages of diversity. Then like you say, there’s also these horror stories of people that have worked there and then it goes south. It’s in TechCrunch, it’s in Mashable, it’s in USA Today. You’re hearing about it, and I don’t know really how much of an effect that has on hiring. For some of these companies…to be honest, I think Facebook probably might be one of them…they might just brush it off, like, “Oh, okay. What’s next?”

Kendall Howse: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think the reality is, around here at least, I don’t think that there are people of color or queer people or queer women of color. I don’t think that they’re turning down jobs at Google because they’ve heard it’s a toxic culture. I’m sure that there are some, but the reality as I see it is that there’s been…the pipeline argument has just been around forever, and I’m of the opinion that it’s been disproven over and over and over again.

Kendall Howse: People hire themselves, in one way or another, so frequently. They want to hire from the program they went to in school, because they know those professors. They know what’s being taught, they know what the challenges are, and they know what the results. Or they’re hiring from the company that they worked for last. What was the team they were on at their last company? Well, they’re going to poach whoever they can. They’re establishing their own pipelines the whole time.

Kendall Howse: I think that, to really have a diverse enough space that diversity no longer is even a topic, you have to fundamentally change. You have to break up the pipelines, and so it’s going to happen on a lot of different fronts and it’s going to happen at every single level, from the individual contributor all the way up to the CEO. Everybody should be, in one way or another, focused on it, in order for it to work in any sort of timely fashion.

Kendall Howse: Some of these programs, like working with Howard, yes. I love that about BUILD at Red Hat. They’re down south, they’re in North Carolina. They are in HBCU heaven. There’s so much outreach going on in partnership with the local HBCUs. That is how we change pipeline.

Kendall Howse: A thing that I was working on at CoreOS…we were acquired before I was able to realize it…but our intern program was building, building, building. It was getting bigger and bigger. It was all from the same university, or one of three universities. It was where the CEO and CTO went, together, where the head of one of the engineering teams went himself…he went to Rochester, they went to Oregon…or Stanford. That was it. It doesn’t get more homogenous than that.

Kendall Howse: I mean, so we were just getting like 17, 18 of these interns in, and they all were…they all knew each other. They’re all the same. We’re in the Bay Area, where there’s this crisis where the tech industry is eating up everything, and you have an area that had such great black representation, Latinx representation, Chinese and other East Asian and Asian Pacific Island representation, yet none of these people are working in what’s becoming the only industry in town.

Kendall Howse: When I was a kid, especially immigrant parents, black parents, would be like, “Oh, you’ve got to grow up and be a doctor, or you’ve got to grow up and be an engineer.” Now it’s like you’ve got to learn to code. It’s not a generational thing, because most of these people, it’s not like their parents had been doing this stuff. It’s like their parents were building websites in the ’60s. The industry the way we know it didn’t exist.

Kendall Howse: Here they are, trucking in all of these interns from all of these places. Meanwhile at their feet, literally, like on the ground floor of the building, is a cafe full of people from the neighborhood, from the area, that are working there with absolutely no access.

Kendall Howse: That’s when I was pushing it to try to partner with some of the local colleges, of which there are many, and try to get a pipeline built in. It’s like, “All right, for every two Rochester kids you bring in, bring in one from Oakland. Bring in one from Berkeley. Bring in just one, because there’s no reason to believe that your own path that you’ve taken, your own experience, is the only legitimate one or the best one.” It’s that type of thinking that really limits the opportunities for others.

Kendall Howse: Will working with Howard make the company better? I don’t know, but is it a good idea? Absolutely. Absolutely. I support it. These programs shouldn’t be left to stand on their own. They should be a part of a fully-supported, fully-fronted …

Kendall Howse: A part of a fully supported, fully fronted, I guess, war on homogeny. Wow, that sounded really dark.

Maurice Cherry: I feel you’re coming from though, like you have to be able to utilize those resources if you want to make that change.

Kendall Howse: Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s wild to me that like HBCUs aren’t even being talked about around here or women’s colleges. It’s not, it’s like…

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Kendall Howse: I just wish there were more black people at Stanford. Well, I mean I wish that too, but there are lots of other colleges to look at. You just… You got to go out, you got to you got to put in the work of finding people.

Maurice Cherry: I remember doing some consulting with, I think this is with Vox back in like 2015, and I had just made mention like, “Oh, well have you all done anything at Howard?” And it was like, you could see people’s minds explode. Like, “We never thought of that”. I’m like, “Really, it is not that far from y’all. Like you’re headquartered in DC. Like it’s not that far. Go to a career fair. Talk to some people”. It’s, I don’t know, it’s interesting. Just to kind of switch gears a little bit here because you mentioned the Bay Area. Did you grow up in the Bay Area?

Kendall Howse: No, so I lived in… I grew up in Boston, in and around Boston, and I moved to the Bay Area 11 years ago. It was a 2008, I moved to the Bay Area.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. So growing up in and around Boston, were you exposed to art and design kind of in your childhood?

Kendall Howse: I was, so I was raised a musician and my brother, who was a couple of years older than me, is a phenomenal illustrator. He was that kid that was a little… He was shy and so he’d be in the corner with a pen and a sketchbook at all times and now he’s really kicking off his career as an illustrator. But he’s just unbelievable. And so I was always… He was my older brother and my hero. I was very influenced by what he was doing. And probably I started going to shows where was like 11. Joined my first band when I was 12 and at that time, this is 1991, we were broke. Everyone that I knew that was from the area, we were just poor kids. And so when we were starting our first band, somebody had to make a t-shirt, somebody had to design the tape cover, somebody had to make the flyer and being influenced by my brother and being kind of aesthetic minded, I was oftentimes the person who was doing it and I loved doing it.

Kendall Howse: And so I was doing it for myself at 12, 13, 14, and then other bands are asking me to do designs for them. And then record labels and tour managers are having me do posters and t-shirts and record covers for them. And so that kind of kicked off design as a hobby/passion for me for years. But I didn’t have, by my estimation, I didn’t have access to college. And so this was a side thing that I did for a long time, for about 20 years, 15 years, something like that. And it went from then bands, labels, tour managers to then small brands, coffee shops, tea brands, things like that, and then I just found that I was getting more and more into it and then… And just devour whatever books I could read on the topic.

Kendall Howse: Whenever I met a person who was practicing design, who was also interested design. It just, it really like blossomed for me into, really, obsession. And then I hit the point where I was tired of being a barista/bouncer/bike messenger/a chef and just really wanted to focus on the design. But for me I was a pretty latecomer. It wasn’t until my mid twenties where I was able to focus on design directly and with the school and was able to refine my craft.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. It’s interesting how I think a lot of designers tend to get into this through music in some sort of way. I was actually, I interviewed Erica Lewis. We’re all in the same slack group. So I interviewed Erica Lewis and she’s a jazz singer and she was talking about how she got into doing design through like being exposed to like posters and album covers and stuff like that. And it got me to thinking actually about this, as we’re sort of talking about design a little bit here, how websites have all started to kind of look the same. I heard this in a podcast from Adobe, they have this podcast called Wireframe and so one of the latest episodes, they were like, “Oh, you know, all websites are looking the same,” with the rectangular hero image and the parallax scrolling and how in the early days of design, like in the, I don’t know, late nineties, two thousands, et cetera, probably a little earlier than that, a lot of design was very free form because you got on the web and you realize you could make anything.

Maurice Cherry: A lot of that stuff, at least from when I remember, back in the old days of table based design, you basically made something in Photoshop and you export it in slices and it came in these tables and you uploaded it and that was your website. And you could really kind of go wild with how it looked because you weren’t… I guess you weren’t really designing so strictly within the concept of a grid, even though that’s what tables are. You were able to kind of be a little bit more free form, but now that everyone is kind of speaking the same design language through, I would say, bootcamps and education and just the way companies are now taking design more seriously. Now everything is starting to kind of look the same. Which is, it’s an odd concept when you think about it because, I would say, digital graphic design is still a fairly new thing.

Kendall Howse: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, especially compared to poster design, for instance. But I think, I feel like I’m of the last generation of the LP, where as a kid, I would get a record and put it on, and this 12 and a half by 12 and a half thing, sometimes with a the poster inside. I would just sit there for hours and hours and hours looking at this art and looking for the Easter eggs. And it was okay for there to be hidden elements. It was okay for there to not be immediate comprehension, that you could have… You could have a period of your brain trying to unlock the message. And I think early days of web were very much about that. I think there was this idea of personal expression, much like jazz poster art, for instance, where you could break rules or bend rules at least.

Kendall Howse: And that was really exciting for designers. I think the big difference is, it’s not necessarily as exciting for the viewer on the web because I think that most of the web, we’re using very differently than poster art or LP art. And I think that when I talk with newer designers, I think that I spend a lot of time trying to talk about separating the ego from the work because you’re not designing for yourself and it’s not necessarily representative of your personality. You’re aiming for clarity, you’re aiming for accessibility, you want, you have a client that has a message, a point of communication. And so you want it to be clear. You don’t want the brain to have that time of trying to decipher the message. You want it to be right up front.

Kendall Howse: And so it makes sense to me. Though, I know that for some creative people it’s a real bummer that the space looks so, I guess kind, of prefab. But from an accessibility point of view, it makes a lot of sense. And I think that that’s where the web is maturing in so many ways, where it’s not just… Early days of web was just backend engineers that knew HTML and putting things up and a lot of it is just, “Oh, it’s just good enough,” or, “Oh, you can read this,” but it’s like, “Oh really? You did like yellow type on a black background? Like okay, like that’s not necessarily the best answer”. And so as much as I bemoan, the lack of creativity, I applaud the increase in accessibility and more understanding that there are just so many different types of people that are trying to get the information that meeting them where they’re at makes sense.

Kendall Howse: Now because of that is why I designed professionally, but then I do my poster art and stuff on the side because when I’m designing, I’m not designing for myself, but when I’m doing my poster art or my own band’s work, that gets to be completely my ego. That gets to be my complete expression of my own personality and I get to keep the two separated, which I think is important.

Maurice Cherry: Now, when you were deciding to do this professionally, you said you kind of came into it in your mid twenties was your family supportive of you going into this route?

Kendall Howse: Yeah, totally. In fact, my stepdad is a graphic designer himself. He runs Anchor Ball Studios and he was a great resource for me too. Yeah, I was [inaudible 00:34:53] my first couple of years I did a lot of freelance work with him and so really helped me learn about that separation, really helped me learn the difference between designing a punk flyer and expressing myself and my subculture and speaking in an insular fashion where I’m speaking to an existing audience, as opposed to something on a much broader platform where I’m trying to attract new audience and I’m trying to attract as many people as possible. So that was huge for me. Huge for me. And then again, my brother is an illustrator. We definitely have blue collar upbringings and my brother actually has only gotten this, starting his career very recently. He’s a decorative plasterer for 20 something years and now he’s getting to focus on illustration. So my family, I’ve been really, really fortunate. It’s a small family, but a very supportive family.

Maurice Cherry: What was your early career like? This is pre-Red Hat, pre-CoreOS. What was that early design career like, when you look back at it?

Kendall Howse: Hungry, scrappy, desperate. Yeah, I started off freelance. My goal was to eventually get into an agency was my hope. And so I was by Kruger, by Crux, I was just trying to find freelance clients. And so I was fortunate to do a work with Anchor Ball and that was probably 20% of what I was doing. And I was just out there hanging up business cards, shaking hands, meeting people. I remember I played, my band played a show. I played a festival in Oklahoma City where I met a woman who… We ended up at the airport, going our separate ways and she was like, “Oh, well I run like demand generation,” or, “I work for a demand gen company. We’re always looking for design”. And next thing I know, it’s 20% of my work now is doing design for her.

Kendall Howse: Like it was anywhere I could find somebody that was willing to pay. And I did that for years. I did that for years and it was hungry work, especially in November, December. A lot of companies, so that they can post fourth quarter gains, one of their tools is they just don’t pay any money out. And so you can be doing 40 hours of work a week for a company through November and December and they’ll just stop answering your calls about pay because they’re going to pay you in January, but they need the work out of you and… But they’re not going to pay you. And I had some really lean months and really scary months. Yeah, it was a grind. It was a grind every day.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I remember when I first started just doing freelance work, I was still in college. I think I started doing freelance for other people and yeah, those early clients were… It was tough because one, they already, at least for me, they were like, “We don’t really take you seriously because you’re not in design school”. Like I was in school studying math. No one was looking at me. Even though I had design stuff under my belt, people were like, “Oh no”. And I would have, I mean my clients, my early clients were rough man. Me and I had this one client who only wanted to pay me in Sunday dinners because she didn’t really… It’s not that she didn’t believe in paying, she just preferred to pay in a non-monetary fashion. We’ll just put it that way. She was like, “You can come over and I’ll fix you a plate”. And I’m like, “That’s not really… I mean I have a meal plan at the caf. I can just get whatever,” but…

Maurice Cherry: And then even when I started my studio years and years later, my first few clients I had would really be trying to stiff you on just the most minuscule amounts, like 200 bucks. Like dude, it’s $200 worth of work. Now granted I probably shouldn’t have been doing that little amount of work, but I had just started my studio and I was hungry to just get a few client names under my belt and it was rough.

Maurice Cherry: I ended up landing into working on a political campaign, I’d say maybe about a year after I started my studio, which really came at the right time because I was looking for jobs after that. Before that I was like, “This is not working out. Like I thought it was”. I had quit my job kind of in protest. Obama got elected and I was like, “Yes we can”. And I already hated the job that I was working at and I was like, “I’m just going to do it. I’m just going to put it out there and try to do it”. And yeah, those first few months, really that first year was really rough and my mom was sending money and she was like, “You know,” you can put your pride to the side and just like get a job. I was like, “No, I’m going to do it”. And I landed in this campaign and it ended up working out from there. But those early scrappy days man, something has to be said for just the time where you will just do any kind of work just to get the money.

Kendall Howse: Oh yeah. Oh, and it may talk about like removing the ego. There was just so much times where, as designers, we’re essentially problem solvers, right? So I will use my training and my skillset to come up with a solution. But so often these people, they’re bringing you a solution and not only are they bringing you a solution, but in their mind they’ve already solved the problem and they know how much that that solution is worth. And so they’re like, “Well, could you do this thing? I already have an idea of what it should look like and I already have an idea of how much it should cost and how much… And because it only took me five minutes to come up with it. I think I should only give you $10,” and there was just… I was just eating so much crow being like, “No, that’s not the way to do it. That isn’t… I can show you research, I can show you best practices, I can show you examples and show…”. They don’t care.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, clients, they’re not looking at that. They don’t care.

Kendall Howse: No, and especially, I think that… I mean there’s a ton of devaluing of design. It’s something that comes up all the time that, as designers, we’ve talked about all the time, but it’s this idea that people think that it’s just a gut shot. It’s just all intuition and it doesn’t occur to them that there is research behind it, that there is method and best practices. And so there’s a lot of notion of like, “Oh well, my nephew or niece, they are good with colors”. That’s what that means, you know what I mean? Or their outfits always match or something like that.

Kendall Howse: And so there’s a lot of that tug of war before… As a designer you have like a realized sense of self, a realized sense of realistic worth, worth of work, not worth of person. We’re all worthless, like are… Not worthless, priceless. We’re all priceless. But a lot of that tug of war where you don’t want us to know. Most of the clients that I did work for, I wouldn’t do work for now. Clearly the way you look at design and the way you look at solutions and what you want out of the designer is actually not what I provide. So, best of luck. I wish the best for you, but we’re just not made to work together. But back then it’s like, “All right. Yeah, no cool. Only $10?” Or, “Only a Sunday dinner?” Like, I’m not hype on it, but I got to eat.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I remember I heard from a designer one time at a conference that I think it was something along the lines of what you were saying about kind of the speed it might take to do something. If you do a job and say, I don’t know. If you can look at a job and say, “I can do that in an hour,” but the reason you can do it in an hour is because you spent five years learning how to do it in an hour. So you’re really paying for the years. You’re not paying for the hour.

Kendall Howse: Right, right. I mean isn’t it-

Maurice Cherry: And company. Yeah. No, I’m saying companies look at… Companies, I think clients too, they just look at the hours as if like that’s the discrete amount. Like “Oh that’s what the cost is? Well how many hours is that?” And it doesn’t break down that discretely that you can just take the cost and chop it up in that way. Because it then commoditizes design to the point where you think, I guess anyone can do it and it’s not really the case.

Kendall Howse: Right, absolutely. I mean… What is the… Is that an old story? I don’t know if it’s even true or not, but about Picasso later in life. Having like a… A woman asked Picasso to draw something and he-

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I heard that.

Kendall Howse: Just something very simple and she’s like, “It only took you five minutes,” and he’s like, “My dear. It took me my whole life”. I think that there is real value to that. I mean someone like Aaron Draplin for instance, when he does a tutorial on how to do a logo in five minutes. I feel like what he’s trying to show is that anybody can learn to design and I 100% believe that. I don’t think that it takes inborn talent. I don’t think it’s inherent, I think that anybody can learn the craft of successful design. 100%. I think though that there are some spectators who see Aaron doing that, that think, “Oh, well I could do that,” in a dismissive way. The whole, “Like if my kid could draw this, then it’s not art,” that bullshit line.

Kendall Howse: And so not to get in the weeds about this, but I think that people are… Because it is an hourly charged thing so frequently, there’s a lot of people with a dubious attitude that are like trying, without knowing what actually goes into it, they’re trying to figure out how you, as the designer, as the hired person, are trying to pull one over on them and they [inaudible 00:44:43] mistrust. And that’s why like I think it is important to, when you’re specking out a project, to put as much information as possible. Like “Oh, like first thing I’m going to do is like this many hours of research, but here’s what I’ll be researching. Here’s what about looking at here’s how much time I spent putting together this brief and this outline”. Because it’s tough that so often as a designer, especially earlier on in your career, you have to be constantly defending the value of design. Constantly. But that’s part of design. Part being able to speak to your design, being able to build the value into it and express the value. Unfortunately, it’s a part of the part of the games.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Part of the game. I feel you. Now, aside from your design work, you also do some facilitation work with Frame Shift Consulting. I learned about that because at Glitch we had Valerie Aurora, she gave an ally skills training to us earlier this year and I was looking at the website. I was like, “Wait a minute, I know him”. How did you get started with them?

Kendall Howse: So when I was at CoreOS, the CTO, Brandon, of CoreOS, is a great guy and he had been… When he was going to Oregon, he was a Linux developer and he met Valerie as one of his Linux mentors. She was a developer for the Linux kernel, which for developers, is a very impressive thing. And so at the same time she was doing the ADA Initiative. She was part of the Geek feminism. She was doing a lot. She was already doing advocacy work within her direct tech communities. Really for women, fem-identified and queer people. And over time she stopped developing computer software and really focused her attention, a hundred percent, into Frame Shift Consulting and into this facilitation work. And so Brandon had her come and teach her ally skills class to our small company. And I got so much out of that workshop as an ally and as a member of a targeted group.

Kendall Howse: It was really clear, it was really concise. And watching the discovery process, I’m in a room of, maybe, 30 people, nearly every single one, nearly every single one, CIS straight white man, but it’s a volunteer only program. So it’s people who wanted actual skills to be better at advocating for people around them. This is the inclusion part. Here’s the difference between diversity and inclusion. Inclusion is how we work to make ourselves and each other feel comfortable, invited and welcome. And so it was great seeing them actually learn these tools, and myself as well, learn these tools. And I learned things about my own privilege and privileges that I didn’t know before.

Kendall Howse: And so after that workshop was through, she then came back and did a code of conduct development and enforcement workshop with us and I was doing a lot of event work at the time. And so I got to work with her again. And then she had announced that she was doing a train the trainers and CoreOS paid for me to go and get trained. And since then, Valerie and I have developed a friendship and a real great kind of idea sharing around this stuff. And so it wasn’t long before, it just made sense that I love the work so much and it’s so important to me, that I just come on board with Frame Shift and start facilitating the workshop on my own, which has been a really great experience. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. And now also, I mean aside from your design work, you’re doing consultation, you are also helping out with the design community sort of in the Bay Area. Is that right? You’re, co-leading or co-chair of a group called Bay Area Black Designers, which is founded by Kat Vellos, who we’ve had on the show before. How have you started to see the Bay Area kind of change in terms of the design community since you’ve been there?

Kendall Howse: It’s changed quite a bit. One of the things that’s interesting about the Bay Area, I think, I don’t remember, maybe it was Mike Montero that heard point out that in places like New York, design is its own community and its own industry. Whereas in the Bay Area, design is very much a niche of the tech industry and the tech community. So whatever we do is kind of predicated on tech and that solid innovation, which really, I mean it changes a lot. So right now design, is huge in the Bay Area. I would say it’s primarily UX design. They get paid the most and there are award-winning UX design teams at most of these major tech companies. I’m seeing…

Kendall Howse: … these major tech companies. I’m seeing that design is being more readily accepted as a worthwhile thing. But again, UX has a lot of quantifiable aspects to it, right? Resourcing gets so much hard data back, whereas graphic design is much more nuanced. So, the difference between a graphic designer and a UX designer in this town is probably about $80,000 annually.

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Kendall Howse: Yeah, it’s pretty dramatic. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t attach the word graphic to my design title. So when I discovered the Bay Area Black Designers, which Kat had started at about two years before I did, I was working at a tech company. I was one of the only, if not the only black person there. I was the only black designer I knew. I did not know a single other black designer.

Kendall Howse: This was around the time of, I want to say it was pre-Ferguson, but it was the month, the year leading up to between Oscar Grant and Michael Brown, Oakland was on the march. We were marching all the time. We were out in the streets, we were being teargassed by police, chased down. This was my reality after work and the horrors I was facing. Then I was going into work with these 25 year old guys that just … it was just across the Bay in San Francisco, but it was a world apart.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah.

Kendall Howse: It was incredibly isolating, incredibly isolating. I remember one day I was just really, really frustrated and I Googled black designers Bay area. Well, thank goodness Kat Vellos has her SEO game on point, because it popped right up. A week later or two weeks later, I was at my first meetup and was able to meet all these amazing black designers. What I noticed right away was none of us were from the Bay Area.

Kendall Howse: It’s grown from there. I mean, there’s now, on paper, there’s around 400 members of Bay Area Black Designers, and that coupled with the employee resource groups, a lot of the ERGs, Autodesk for instance, has a great black ERG. Salesforce’s ERGs are unbelievable. They’re so well-funded, well-supported. You have people like Rachel Williams who is just an amazing DNI leader.

Kendall Howse: They get us all together in these rooms. I mean, gosh, we got to be in a room with Issa Rae and Ryan Coogler two weeks ago, thanks to Salesforce. It’s all of these black professionals in tech, almost none of us are from the Bay area, which tells me that we’re still not supporting the area. That’s really important to me, because a lot of the older folks my age and older in BABD started as print designers and pure graphic design, typography, things like that, and haven’t had the opportunity or the means to shift into digital design and are being left behind, which is a real tragedy.

Kendall Howse: So, I mean, even like Mike Nicholls who does Umber Magazine, which is a blessing to our community.

Maurice Cherry: Shout out to Mike.

Kendall Howse: Shout out to Mike, all day. That itself is a tool for him to stay relevant, and it’s a tool for him to stay visible. Because otherwise as an analog illustrator and a typesetter, there’s just not space for him. So I am seeing more black faces in the crowd, but I’m not seeing more open faces. I’m not seeing more San Francisco, Richmond, Vallejo, the Bay Area isn’t being represented. That’s terrifying to me, because we’re seeing an eradication and a replacement of entire communities, at a scale which I’ve never seen before.

Kendall Howse: So, I would say that’s how I’m seeing design change. But also, design is so popular and there’s a lot of self-aggrandizing, self-back-patting that I see happening. I was a member of the San Francisco AIGA and they did a mentorship program about two years ago. I remember I signed on to be a mentee, because I’m not done developing my career, I’m not done developing in my skillset.

Kendall Howse: I remember one of the mentor, mentee mixers, talking with a guy who was probably, I would guess 23 or 24, very cocky, very self-assured. He was like, “Oh, I’m here as a mentor, I’m a mentor.” I’m not going to begrudge anyone. I mean, there are brilliant, very, very young people everywhere, so it’s not unreasonable to think that this guy could be a mentor.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Kendall Howse: But the way he was talking was just so cocky and self-assured. Then the more and more he talked, he’s like, “Oh yeah, I’m a creative director.” I was like, “Gosh, wow, you’re a creative director at your age, that’s really impressive.” But then it turns out it’s because his brother is the founder and CEO of the startup. There’s only six people at the startup and this person is pole vaulting over a whole career path. I’m like, “Okay, well, where’s your mentee?” “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know where she is.”

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

Kendall Howse: She is just out of college, she’s 22. She’s looking for real development, real assistance, real anything, and this dude is not … I realized that he was much more into this idea, this persona of the designer, of the creative director. In doing so, in my opinion, was doing this really great disservice to this woman of color who’s just finished school, is a member of AIGA and is looking for development.

Kendall Howse: That, I think, for me it was a very San Francisco moment, where there are great swaths of people … of course, there’s incredible talent in this area, and I don’t want to take away from that. But there are also a lot of people who think of designer as more of a lifestyle and are just getting in these rooms where they’re just patting each other on the back and it’s being like, “We’re the best, we’re the best, we’re the best.” That’s disheartening.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I see that a lot on Twitter, which is why I really am not on design Twitter a whole lot, because I see so much of that. Designer as a lifestyle sort of thing, where they’re not really giving back to the community in any sort of way, they’re just providing unnecessary snarky kind of … I see that a lot. I see a lot of that.

Kendall Howse: Yeah, look at when any company rebrands. Suddenly everybody is an expert in design and it’s just finding new snarky ways to really devalue something that took years, right? Your hot take doesn’t matter, there’s a whole team. You don’t know what they were solving for, you don’t know why they changed it. There’s a lot of that that goes on. Then also, there’s, like you said, giving back to the community.

Kendall Howse: I remember I think about five years ago, there was a group of tech people who had moved to Oakland and they were like … this, I would say, the era of app building as a career. They were like, “We got to get together with the community of Oakland. We’re the new people, we’re the newcomers, we have to give back.” So we’re going to start meeting at city hall and we’re going to develop things for the community.”

Kendall Howse: At that time, Oakland was very black, very brown and very white, but also very working class, very poor. There were a lot of struggling communities at that time that could have used a lot of help from people with means, with access, with money. What this group did was they developed an app to make it easier to call the police. Black folks don’t need that. Black folks, the Projects don’t need that, the Arab communities down in the Acorn and lower bottom, it couldn’t be further from what they need.

Kendall Howse: What these people did is they walked in and said, “Well, what do I see missing compared to what I’m used to? Oh, there’s crime? Let’s not try to chip away at the [inaudible 00:58:42] reasons why there may be crime, let’s just bring in the cops.” That for me, that’s a problem, that’s an inherent misunderstanding of really what’s at stake and what’s going on. It goes to show that your hot take, your designer persona and whatever, none of it matters if you’re not solving real problems, if you’re not doing the research to find out what needs to be done or listening, asking.

Kendall Howse: These hot takes on Twitter or in other designer spaces, it just really tells me that you’re just responding to your own ego. You’re just responding to your own desires, your own way of life. To me, that’s the antithesis of design. For me as a designer, my two greatest tools are empathy and compassion, that’s it. Without those two things, I cannot be effective at my job, because I’m never the demographic, I’m never the person that I’m designing for, it’s always for somebody else.

Kendall Howse: If I’m not spending the time to learn what their challenges are and what their needs are, it’s moot, it’s ineffective. So on Twitter, yeah, okay, go ahead, talk all the shit that you want to talk, but who are you actually helping? Who are you serving? Because if it’s just been like, “Oh, the new Instagram logo is crap,” I couldn’t care less. It’s not an opinion with any foundation and it’s not useful, it’s not useful critique.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So speaking of empathy and compassion, you’re also the lead singer for a hardcore metal band.

Kendall Howse: Right, yes.

Maurice Cherry: I’d would be remissed if I didn’t mention your music [inaudible 00:10:32]. Talk to me about Mass Arrest.

Kendall Howse: Okay. Mass Arrest is my black liberation hardcore band. It’s a political punk band with a very singular message, which is really promoting the ideas of black liberation, representation and survival. Punk in general, hard core punk in particular, which is the faster, harder and more political wing of punk that started in the early 80’s, it is very often very, very, very white. I have been involved in it since I was 12 years old and I’ve been touring and playing in bands since then.

Kendall Howse: Oftentimes, I was hearing a lot of political rhetoric that was very vague. There’s a lot of say anti-police sentiment, but it’s, “Fuck the police, because they won’t let us break the law. They won’t let us like drink on the streets,” or whatever things like that. I was like, “But there’s these people over here that are actually being killed, that are being murdered, that are being incarcerated, that are being unjustly persecuted. I mean, if we’re going to talk about the police, can we talk about that rather than talking about them not letting us drink 40s on the sidewalk?”

Kendall Howse: So a lot of what I learned about community building, a lot of what I learned about do-it-yourself culture, a lot of what I learned about self-advocacy, I learned through punk. I mean, I never would have been able to travel to Europe when I was 19, had it not be touring with a band. I never would have had friends and connections all over the world, were it not for punk. I mean, really important skills came out of it. But what I was finding was what I was learning from punk wasn’t being reflected within punk, and I was still feeling very left out and underrepresented.

Kendall Howse: So there are a few kind of single topic bands, shout out to G.L.O.S.S. from Olympia, who was a trans hardcore band. The singer Sadie, she just made sure that everyone knew that this band, you’re welcome to come to the show, you’re welcome to party, but these songs are specifically for and about trans folks. I was just really inspired by what they were able to do with their band.

Kendall Howse: So, friends of mine were starting a band, who were white, friends of mine who were white, were starting a band. Asked if I could sing for it, and I was like, “Okay, but it’s going to be a black power band.” They were like, “Yeah, we know you. It’s fine. We understand that that’s what this is going to be about.”

Kendall Howse: So, I just hit a point where I realized I had a platform, where for years and years and years I was being invited into rooms to sing to people, to talk about things, and I was talking about a lot of issues that weren’t specific to my own experience. So with this band, I made a really conscious decision to make sure that when we play, what, we were in Oklahoma city a couple weeks ago, we played in Toronto, Canada, Olympia, Washington.

Kendall Howse: Oftentimes, I’m in these majority white spaces and so it’s an opportunity for me to advocate for our people to people who are interested in doing work for improvement and liberation for all people, but they just don’t have access or knowledge of, they have point of access, but they don’t have knowledge of the specific challenges that we’re facing. So, it’s just more of that work.

Maurice Cherry: Now between your design work and the facilitation work and the community work and the music, what do you think helps fuel all these ambitions that you have? Where does that drive come from?

Kendall Howse: I mean, you’re probably one of the busiest people I’ve ever known, but I bet you don’t even think of yourself as being that busy, except in frustrating moments. For me, I feel driven, I think because of the punk, I think because of growing up poor, having to create a lot of the things that I wanted. If I wanted something, I had to make it or I had to find someone who could make it or work with someone. So that, I think, has driven me to want to create. But I also realized that I’ve had a lot of help through my career and through my life, and that I wouldn’t be anywhere. I probably wouldn’t be around, were it not for that. I want to give back, I want to lift people up.

Kendall Howse: I mean, that moment where I felt so isolated to be the only black designer I knew, I don’t want anyone to feel like that. So thankfully for me, Kat Vellos had already put the work into creating the community, the least I can do is uphold and promote that community. Because honestly, I feel like if I’m not putting this time and this work into these things, then I won’t get to have them in my life, right?

Kendall Howse: It can be tough to be the only person of any targeted group, any marginalized group in a majority room, right? Well, if I can do some work to help that room understand what this person is going through or how to advocate for this person, that means that eventually, ideally, I’ll be in a room full of people that may not look like me, but can understand some of the challenges and concerns that I have, and can approach me with empathy and compassion and make my time easier.

Kendall Howse: So I guess in that sense, it’s self-serving, but also, it’s appreciation as well. They say be the change that you want to see, I’m like, “That’s so real.” Even in the most granular level, that is absolutely so real. I think that we all have influence, small or large. It was a big “Aha” moment for me when I realized that, and Mass Arrest is part of this, where I realized that I had influence, I had a platform, but I wasn’t taking ownership of it. So all of this stuff is me taking ownership of whatever influence I have and whatever platform I have, to make sure that I’m using it in a thoughtful way, that, ideally, it would benefit my life and the lives of people I touch.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, is there a dream project or anything that you’d really love to do one day? Because I agree with you, in the sense that … I feel the same way. You have to create the experiences or create the space for yourself, especially in this society that is continually trying to marginalize and push out and press out black people in general. I mean, people of color in general, but specifically black people. It can be hard to kind of see where we in the future, let alone in the present. So, I get the sense of having to make that space.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, we’re really fortunate that technology has kind of democratized creation in a way that allows us to do that. I mean, there’s so many things I can do now, that even just 10 years ago would’ve really been, I wouldn’t say impossible, but it would’ve been a lot harder. But technology has allowed me to kind of take different pieces from here and there and make the spaces that I need for whatever it is that I’m trying to do or trying to accomplish or trying to just put out there in the world.

Kendall Howse: Yeah. So what’s the question?

Maurice Cherry: Oh, sorry. I said it, then I went on another tangent. No. Do you have a dream project that you’d love to do one day?

Kendall Howse: I have so many. I mean, really, I’m a collaborator more than I am a creator, I really love working with people. So I think of the people that I want to work with, and there are so many people right now that I really look up to. I mean, whether it be Essa Rae or whether it be Walter Hood, brilliant Berkeley architect and designer. The opportunity to collaborate with people is something that really excites me and that I’d like to do more of and let the project be just the product of that.

Kendall Howse: I think that right now we’re seeing a black Renaissance in pop culture removed from hip hop. Kind of like 90s black TV, I think we’re seeing some of that in Hollywood. So I would love the opportunity to work with some of these people that are making the things that are enriching my life. I mean, I know that … shout out to [inaudible 01:09:48]. He’s a designer, young dude, young brother from West Oakland. He’s 22 years old, he has a brand called [inaudible 01:09:56] Future.

Kendall Howse: Every time he puts something out, I buy it right away. He’s hell of young and endlessly creative, endlessly talented. If he called me up tomorrow and whatever the project, he was like, “Hey, would you work with me on this?” Like, “Yes.” That’s what I want to do, because I need to be inspired and I want to be a part of interesting things with interesting people.

Maurice Cherry: Now we’re coming up on the end of the year. We’re coming up on the end of the decade, really. When you look in the future, let’s say it’s 2025, which already seems like a long way away, but what do you see yourself working on? Where would you like to be in the future?

Kendall Howse: Well, I mean, I like where I am, I really love the team that I’m on. Getting to work on some of the most interesting and cool projects that I’ve gotten to work on professionally. So, I really hope to continue to develop my career within that space learning new tools. This is the year where I … motion graphics, really, I’m all about it. I want to learn animation, I want to learn After Effects, I want to learn 3D rendering. [inaudible 01:11:16] has been doing really interesting work around that.

Kendall Howse: Then, I don’t know, I don’t see myself in the Bay Area. It’s untenable, it’s getting too expensive. There’s just too much greed from the property owners taking too much money that they don’t deserve. I don’t know where I will be. I see myself ideally doing more advocacy work, maybe a book, and still designing and hopefully making cool stuff.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, I know we’ve been going for a while now, but where can people find out more about you, about your work, about your music? Where can they find all of that online?

Kendall Howse: The best place to find all of it would be my Instagram, which is resistance.is.brutal. Then on Twitter, I’m kchowse. H-O-W-S-E.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Kendall Howse, Boo Boo, man, it has been so good to talk with you.

Kendall Howse: Always a pleasure, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, I think just one, hearing your story about the work that you’re doing right now through Red Hat, and I can really feel the passion with your advocacy work through facilitation and things like that. But also, just this whole notion of making sure that we’re using our creative talents for good things, to put good things out there in the world. That’s something that I really walked away from this year’s kind of Black in Design Conference, really kind of feeling in my core, our creativity is going to be what saves us. Us as a people, us in the future, that’s how we’re going to survive.

Maurice Cherry: I really think that with the work that you’re doing and the spaces that you’re helping to cultivate and create and everything, that we’ll make it happen. You’re out there, through your music, giving a voice to people, you’re helping community through the Bay Area Black Designers. You’re, of course, working at Red Hat doing all this great stuff. So I’m going to really be interested to see what you’re doing in the next five years. But yeah, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Kendall Howse: Thanks for having me, brother. I always enjoy spending time with you. I’m a big fan of the show, and so this is a great honor. Thank you.

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Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown.