Andrew Bass Jr.

We’re ending off the month talking to one of the unsung trailblazers for diversity in the design community — Andrew Bass Jr. Longtime fans of Revision Path will recognize Andrew as one of our early profiles back in 2013, and it was great to finally have him on the podcast to talk about his story and his work.

In the first part of this two-part interview, Andrew talks about his design consultancy Straight Design, and shared his story of growing up in Brooklyn and falling in love with graphic design. He also spoke about attending Pratt Institute, the battle scars he received working in print media and gave me a look at his career as a designer throughout the 90s.

Make sure you tune in next week for Part 2!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I’m Andrew Bass and I am essentially design strategist, educator, art director, graphic designer. Day job I work as a art and production manager at an association called RIMS, handling their member publication. And I, on the side, I also have my freelance consultancy, Straight Design LLC, where I take on various different clients, focusing a little bit more on the small business side and not for profit as well as I’m an adjunct lecturer at City Tech or the full name New York City College of Technology where I teach Design Thinking, Design Studio.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far? We’re kind of near the end of the year. When you look back, how would you say the year has been?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s actually been, in perspective has been pretty good. I’m employed so that’s good.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I’m getting transitioning more from my basic print background into more digital design, which is actually good, where I also trying to kind of squeak my way into doing a little bit more motion graphics. But it’s actually been going pretty well as I’m been focused more on my full-time job in teaching and a little pulled back away from Straight Design due to family thing, personal issues. So I went through a divorce, had to sell the house and all this during COVID.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. But 2022, has been compared to 2021 and definitely 2020, it’s been great. In the grand scheme of things, I really can’t complain about stuff, but it’s been going pretty well and I’m just trying to gear myself up to get, for 2023 to get a little bit back into focusing a little bit more on Straight Design and what that next evolution’s going to be for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I feel like the last few years for a lot of people have been this sort of, I don’t know, period of trying to just gets get acclimated to the way of the world now and especially now that it seems like capitalism is trying to push us out of COVID in a way that everyone’s really trying to think, oh well for next year I need to try to get back out there more. I need to try to do more, try to resume what life was like prior to all of this, you know?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I mean I will say for myself, and I’m still wrestling with quote, and I hate all these trend words that they keep coming out with, but quote “the new normal” because I now officially work from home and will be working from home for the next several years for my full-time job, saddle that with Straight Design, which is also still from home. The only time I actually go out for design is when I teach. Learning how to marry all that in one residence, basically my home without losing my mind and still maintaining that creative inspiration, is extremely hard and I’m still trying to formulate plans as to how to tackle it because I’m on what plan A.2 Now or something like that. Because I’ve gone through the 26 alphabet and gone through 1 through 10. So I’m on my third iteration of how to make this all go down seamlessly.

I think COVID just also put a pause on so many things that I think it is really hard to get, jumpstart ourselves back into, okay, this is how we did business, this is how we talk to each other, this is how we do stuff. And from the design aspect, I definitely have seen it become stagnated where I really feel that face to face has actually hurt a little bit of, at least my design process. In talking with both coworkers and clients that without that sort of personal face to face stuff, reading each other’s body language, playing off the vibes and stuff like that, that it has kind of stiffened a little bit of the creativity. I understand why everybody’s trying to say, “Okay, how do I get back into this normal life before COVID?”

Some of it I think is self-induced because for whole host of thing reasons 2020 was, I say from 2020, 2021 was a real big pot of let’s stir everybody, let’s scramble everybody’s brain with so much crazy misinformation about so many things. From the pandemic to politics to just how life is going to be to the state of the world and all that, that I think it really kind of, if I could say mind fucked us a bit that we still haven’t really kind of gotten out of it. But the thing is we need to, and the thing is, even during COVID, life doesn’t stop, you just have to adapt and figure a new way to do things.

And it’s slowly coming, it’s slowly coming. And I think as more and more folks get out that haze things will kind of lock back into place and pretty much kind of sync up as to how things were beforehand with just new processes, that’s all. It’s just going to be new processes. So it sort of forced the change for a lot of things. And we all know humans don’t like change very much. So it’s a shock to everyone’s system and I think it’s starting now to seep in and okay, this is what we’re going to do now.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. No, I mean you’re absolutely right. It’s been something I think a lot of us have just had to get comfortable with the constant pivots, whether it’s lockdowns or work from home or hybrid. And that’s we’re just talking about on a work kind of level. I mean personal level, there’s people that have lost loved ones, there’s people that have gotten COVID multiple times, they have long COVID, like there’s a lot that has really come out. And it’s continuing to happen, I would say even with the vaccines and such, there’s still just a lot that’s going on right now.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s something we just got to have to learn to live with and navigate that as anything else.

Maurice Cherry:
And we have to do it unfortunately on the individual level because I don’t think that structures have really been set up for us to do it on a societal level yet.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No, that it’s been misstep from day one and once it’s been misstepped, it’s very hard to start building that foundation and so that momentum is lost. So it is very much individually, which will be the success rate on that is going to be a wide range of stuff. Because some folks will do better, others will do worse. And the only thing is we just got to try and support one another when we can. I mean that’s lofty goals. Let’s hope that we all can do that and I think that’ll help things a little bit better. But yeah, it’s very much a matter of now it also kind of shows how fleeting life is and how, I mean a nanosecond, how things can shift and you have to either be ready to jump in and adapt or you just stay in that place and just cease to exist.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s lighten the conversation up because people probably tuned in didn’t expect us to be going all deep about COVID and stuff. Let’s lighten it up and talk about your design consultancy, Straight Design, which you’ve ran now for 15 years. Tell me about that. How did it start?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It wasn’t even planned, it just kind of happened because I will freely admit it started because of my arrogance. I was working in a time and a company and I was going to have the opportunity to start teaching as an adjunct and I just kind of took for granted that because we had such a relaxed work schedule there that oh I could teach classes during the day and come in four days a week and not just one day. This was before anyone ever did any sort of remote stuff. And I didn’t bother to tell my editor-in-chief that I had done this. And so basically I was tasked with, “Look, if you drop the teaching gig now or teach at night or you just got to leave the job,” it’s essentially you’re making, you accepted two jobs and this is your first job.

And I kind of refused. At that point, subconsciously I was kind of done with where I was working at. I had been there for a few years and there was a lot of changes. The company was going through a merger, I should say an acquisition. And things were changing in my department. My staff, they had had me actually cut my staff and so I was the only one working on the magazine at the time and through budget cuts. And I kind of just used that as an excuse subconsciously to of exit out. And so when I did that I realized, oh what am I going to do for money? So I was like, “Okay, we’re going to have to kind of freelance.” And I took some time to just kind of coast a little bit, get my head together and I was approached by a client to submit a proposal for developing a magazine prototype as well as what it would be to produce this magazine on a monthly basis.

And it was a magazine based in the Netherlands based on financial technology, which I had was completely unfamiliar with that subject. But I submitted my proposal and I was awarded the gig and that gave me the impetus to, okay, let me start Straight Design. Now at the time it was called AD Bass Designs until I changed the name later on. And that started the ball rolling for Straight Design and they were very good [inaudible 00:15:06] and it morphed from just doing the magazine and the production to doing event materials to promotional collateral and it spurred adding to my clientele roster.

And so I was running that in a physical studio in Manhattan for a good number of years, at least like five years in there. And then the recession of 2008 hit, as well as everybody else, I started losing some clients because they were cutting back on money, but I was still doing pretty well with that. But then once my big client sort of went away because the owner of that company didn’t realize what the financial investment was in starting up a magazine because a magazine doesn’t really break even for at least five to seven years. And the owner was like, “Whoa, this is taking too long.” And so they kind of pulled back on it, still kept all the event stuff and the event materials and stuff but just wasn’t doing the magazine.

I started losing clientele a bit because of the economic situation and at the time I was married and both my wife then and me were self-employed and with, we just had our daughter and I was like, “Okay, somebody’s going to have to go back inside because health insurance was as much as my mortgage.” And I was like this is killing my savings quick. And that’s when I had just made the transition to go back in-house. But I still kept Straight Design as my freelance consultancy so that I would basically do the projects that I still were very interested in on the side, but I didn’t have to worry about hunting down and bringing in clientele while maintaining my whole household. And I’ve kept that way from since 2012, I think. Yeah. From 2012 to now. Where I’m now thinking about eventually I might resurrect Straight Design in a more full-time capacity in the next several years. But that’s how I started it. It was really just a fluke.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s so interesting. Hearing you talk about how you started that reminds me of how I started my studio. It’s so funny that you said it was out of arrogance. Because I feel like I started in the same way. I was a senior designer working AT&T. I mean I was completely self-taught. I just felt like, oh I got this, I got this. And I mean I was working there in AT&T, for at least back then, I can’t speak to how it is now. This was 2008 when I quit. But it was very much a production house. It was all on the assembly line basically. You got packet with all your stuff that you needed to design and you did it in Photoshop and you sliced it up in Dreamweaver and coded. There was no love or soul into it because you had to crank it out and eight hours or less essentially.

And so you’re just doing this on a constant loop. And I was like I could do this better myself. And I just quit and started my own studio. I really felt like, yeah, I could do this, I got this. But yeah, it’s interesting because even when I started, I had a different name for my business. I started it out, it was called 318 Media because I wanted to, one, it was after my birthday and then two, I just wanted to have a cool kind of funky name. I ended up changing it later because there were other three blank blank media companies in Atlanta. There was a three, I know there was a 352 Media, there was a 360 Media and people were getting us confused and so we had to have a standoff, okay, somebody’s got to change.

And I was like, “I’ll change mine,” because I had a weird spelling for it too because I don’t know, I thought it was cool to have the number three, the word 18, but then I had to keep explaining it to people and then forms wouldn’t take a business thing that started with a number. It was a whole bunch of things.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I just changed it to Lunch in 2014, 2015 and completely rebranded the company. So it made more sense after I did all of that. And I even found business increased once that happened because one, people weren’t getting us confused with other companies. And then I had all these kind of gimmicks around lunch. My business card was one of those plastic key tag things where like CVS or whatever.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was like that was what the business card was. And every time I met with a client I’d mark off a little circle on the back.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh that’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’d be like, “Oh, if you get a certain number, you get a free whatever.” I could play all these little gimmicks into it and it was fun.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve thought about going back to freelancing now, especially since I am not working and the job market is trash, I’m thinking about it. So I get what you mean about always having it in your back pocket in a way is something that’s just your own thing, you know?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, I mean it was great experience, still is a great experience. It was a great experience having the actual physical space, dealing with clients coming into the office, going to presentations and stuff like that. Contracting freelancers to work on projects and something like that. But it was also a good experience in understanding that New York City does not small business. They don’t like freelancers. Unless you are a huge company, the state is just going to rob you blind.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And it’s really hard. It was harder than I really imagined to run a business in New York City and New York state because New York City is its own entity and then you have to deal with New York state as well and then you got the feds so you get triple hit.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It was very, very interesting. And I would probably not open up a business in New York City again. I would go to a different state. I’m starting to understand some of the reasons why some companies open up in particular states. Just from the business point of view, it makes a lot of sense. But it was a good experience I have to say. And it actually did very well, even to my surprise because I didn’t expect to do so well starting off. I thought I was going to have to kind of struggle a bit, but things just rolled in really nicely and I was like oh. And I knew that wasn’t going to last. I just didn’t know it was going to hit sooner than it did. But it was a great experience and it just helped strengthen how I do my consultancy now when I freelance and stuff, that I got a little bit better practice with clientele because I really don’t like that side of doing a business. I really just want to create.

And I was always trying to find, I said if I was going to do Straight Design as a company company again where there’s just more than me, I need to find somebody who’s this, who’s good on the business side that doesn’t mind doing all the numbers and the paperwork and stuff like that. Because now that stuff really does consume a lot of time and it really showed being a creative takes a lot. We all know being a creative takes a lot of our energy. But when that’s split with doing this sort of the other side of our brain, the more logical side sometimes how that can disrupt things now and it’s hard to get back into that creative flow after you’ve been dealing with invoices and setting out proposals and responding to RFPs and tracking down those clients that are a little late in their paying and then taxes. That, yeah. We don’t like taxes but that, that’s woo those quarterlies.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
[inaudible 00:22:50] on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
You are preaching to the choir on that one. I know exactly what you mean.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. So it was a great experience and I try to pass that information to students now and always have incorporated a little bit of business sense in my teachings with students so that they’re better prepared for that. Because I never got that when I was in school. There was business not considered part of the curriculum. It was about technique and creating and stuff. Not like, “Okay now you got to make a living, how are you going to survive?” But it was a great experience. I mean it still is a great experience but what it is now is that I can pick and choose what I really want to work on.

And I really tend to working on not for profits or trying to help businesses get their start and really understanding how important the strategy of design is. And not so much get sidetracked by all the nice shiny bells and whistles, but to really understand how this design strategy is going to help them propel their company’s message to ensure they are successful in interacting with their consumer, their customer base and stuff. And I kind of like that. And that working full time and doing the consultancy on the side, that enables me to do that a little bit more without having to worry about the slow times and stuff like that. So it has worked out pretty well for right now. Although like I said before, I’m thinking of the next evolution that’s probably going to happen within the next year.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean you mentioned nonprofits and sort of smaller businesses that you really like to work with. What does your creative process look like when you’re starting on a project?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Generally when I’m first starting on a project, this is assuming I’ve been awarded a project, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Okay. Because then there’s another process on trying to get that project. Once I’ve gotten a project, I really try to just hone in and identify what is the problem that they’re facing, what is it that they really need to happen? And in that, once I’ve kind of locked that solid, that kind of helps me figure out my focus on what I need to sort of really understand about them, their audience, what they’re actually trying to put out there. Whether it’s some sort of service, whether it’s about the face of their company. And I really try to learn as much as I can about them to sort of really put myself in their shoes and trying to put myself in the shoes of who they’re trying to reach so that way I can talk in the same tone, the same voice. And that usually that’s a lot of my discovery time.

I always tell my clients that I need a good, I give myself about four weeks of discovery time to go through stuff to understand, to talk to people, to be able to really understand the gist and the spirit of what this is and who they claim their audience is to see if it actually matches up before I ever begin thinking about creative solutions. And then once I’ve done that, that’s when I just go back to them and kind of confer my findings, where I sort of send back to them, for lack of, a creative brief, just letting them know, “Okay, this is of where I think this is at.” And just to get them the co-sign, “Yeah, this is what we see for ourselves, this is what we see our audience, this is where we definitely agree with this is what’s happening, this is the sentiment.” And then that’s when I start getting into my creative process where start trying to now understand the competitors, see what they’ve done, see what this company’s done and what works well.

Because sometimes companies don’t realize they have some good stuff, it’s just maybe not executed well or thought out correctly. And so I try to see what is good. Nobody wants to reinvent the wheel unless it’s necessary. And see, like I said, see what works, what doesn’t work and then start beginning to put those pieces together and start developing my own of creative point of view as to how I think the project should go and what’s going to be best for their purposes moving forward. Which again, that’s another big chunk of my time that depending on the scope of the project, definitely is at least a month for, I like telling folks weeks versus months because it seems shorter in weeks than months. Math. I tell them it’s usually about four to six weeks I’m going to start doing creative development if it’s a kind of small base project, small to medium side.

And that allows me to actually kind of run through a lot of my ideas because in all transparency, as a creative I also build in cushion time for myself with that. Because I’m not starting on that project right off the bat. I’m a procrastinator and I probably should not be putting this out on air, but I’m a procrastinator and sometimes it takes a while for me to jumpstart to get in things because deadlines really drive my juices. I don’t know why that is, but at least about a week or so I kind of just kind of float through the project in the development phase. Kind of looking at things inspiring myself before I realize, oh man, okay, I got to get my stuff going in into gear.

And then once I’m in gear though, I’m going through it. I’m flying through it to build up my mock so that way I can present to the clientele. And I walk them through the whole process and I explain, I kind of educate them about the aspect of design and why I have done exactly what I’ve done, the choices I’ve made from all the elements. So that they have a better understanding that this is not just about making things look nice and that colors, type, images just seems like random choices when no, there’s a calculated reason for the choices on this and what the desired result is expected from it because of these choices.

And then it’s a matter of, I don’t usually have not gotten from clients an extensive back and forth on things. It’s been a pretty quick, “Yeah, we like this choice, we’ve got these few little changes and then that’s it.” And then the end of the process is where I now start finalizing everything up. And that usually is the quickest part of the process because all the stuff I build up is to high fidelity in terms of the conceptuals. And so that way all I’m doing is just tweaking some things unless it completely requires a rethought and which we never want to do there. And luckily I’ve only had one or two of those and that’s an earlier part of my career because that’s embarrassing. Go back to the drawing board to because you completely did not catch what was going on. And then from there it’s just providing the materials to the clienteles and following up with them.

Now that’s one of the things that I think sometimes as designers, creators we don’t do is that we don’t follow up to say, “Okay, hey, how did things go six months out? How did everything happen? Are you satisfied? What’s going on?” To try and maintain and build those networks and those relationships so that it becomes a longstanding client base. But also I think it’s just good practiceship or businessmanship to follow up with your clients, make certain what you provided to them is doing what they needed to be done and that they’re satisfied and that it’s helping them. So, that actually tells you how well you’ve done yourself. But that’s [inaudible 00:30:48] my process. I hope I didn’t drone on that.

Maurice Cherry:
No, I mean I think that end part definitely is good because then it also means that you can possibly get repeat clients.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Repeat work from the same client. I mean that’s always good. I know back when I was doing my studio, I would have clients I do work for and then I would follow up and if they needed things on a more regular basis, eventually that graduated to becoming a retainer. And then that’s guaranteed monthly income, which we all love that. That’s great.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And referrals. Current clients can refer you to people, so you get new clients.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. Let’s kind of dive a little bit into your personal story. I think folks now can kind of hear the New York accent.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh my god.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about growing up there.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
You mean my Brooklyn accent? Yeah. Well I mean I’m born and raised in New York, specifically Brooklyn. Because people ask me, oh where I’m from, I say, “I’m from Brooklyn. I’m Brooklynese.” Because yes, people from Brooklyn, we have Brooklyn is a culture. Other folks realizing, or at least old Brooklyn now, because yes, I’m going to say Brooklyn is not quite the same as it used to be. So old school Brooklyn. Yeah, I grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, now during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Crack era and blackout from 1977. So Bed-Stuy was rough. It was not for the week of heart. And me growing up as the nerd, because I’ve always been a nerd, always been the tallest dude out of everybody, very quiet, reserved. So I was the art kid. And so naturally I was bullied growing up and for me to deal with that, I always used to just draw. Now I would just go into my notebooks and draw these fantasy worlds just to escape from all the crap that I was growing up with.

Because I also, my dad was an alcoholic. When I was younger it wasn’t as bad as it was when I got older, but when he did drink, it was not a pleasant environment. So coupled that with the knuckleheads in my neighborhood who were bugging me and my brother, I retreated to my drawing. Now I just went in there and I just started drawing worlds to just escape for a few hours and stuff. It was great therapy for me. Unfortunately, as I think back, a lot of the scenes that I would was drawing were conflicts. It was like war, space invasions, shooting. I was just blowing up shit. If you talk to a therapist, that means that’s a manifestation of what’s going on out there. And I’m like, but I had fun.

And with the drawing that actually got me interested in do people do this? And so I started looking deeper into cartoons cause I love cartoons and how they were drawn. I was like, oh people do this. When I found out as a kid, folks actually do. Because I don’t know what I was thinking as a kid, I just thought they magically appeared. I didn’t know you actually had to do that. And that fascinated me because I was like, “Ooh, maybe one day I can draw some cartoons.” And that shifted my invasion drawings into drawing characters and doing little mini cartoons. And to date myself, I used to do these little flip books where you draw them on the edge of the paper and you just flip them. And then-

Maurice Cherry:
I remember flip books. Yeah, yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
We all did that back then. It was just so cool. And people loved when I did it at my school and they’re like, “Ah, do one for me, do one for me.” And I started getting a little reputation for Andrew’s, “He’s the animator, he makes these cartoons that move,” and it was pretty cool. And I was like, oh, maybe one day I could do this for a living. But as I started growing up, I got into graffiti because the introverted kid started breaking out his shell a little bit. And I was fascinated with graffiti. Little did I know, that was my first introduction to design, specifically graphic design. Because what folks don’t seem to realize back then graffiti was just that was vandalism, got to get those kids. And I don’t advocate now at 55 to ever go paint up on people’s property. That is having been a property owner, I’m going to beat you up if you write on my property.

But it was beautiful work to see the letters, the formation of these characters and then the letters of the characters, and then actually the figurines you put into the pieces in the murals. Which all based off of the smurfs, Vaughn Bodē’s work, I forgot the character name with the mushroom head. Or at that time it was the, because that was the beginning of the hiphop culture. And I say hiphop purposely now because hip hop culture was the trifecta of MCing. Notice I say MCing and not rapping. MCing, breakdancing, and graffiti. Graffiti was the visual expression of all this, where breakdancing was the physical manifestation of the movement, and MCing was the verbalization of it. And there’s a distinct difference between MCing and rapping. Now, again, dating myself because we rappers today are not MCs.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no, no. I would venture to say rappers today are barely rappers.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Bingo. But that’s got me into graffiti. And I just fell in love with how you create your own letters and create these characters into these stylized formations. And then the color, when I had my black book with the markers, it was Pantone markers. Little did I know Pantone would actually be so much a part of my life. But those Pantone markers with the smell, I love those smell of those markers. It was pure alcohol now. Yeah, pure alcohol. And they soaked through everything, but they left beautiful pieces. And that was actually my very first foray into being an artist and drawing and in design. And from that point on, I knew I wanted to do something creatively for the rest of my life. Now I just didn’t know what now.

And I went through different phases as I went from high school where I went to Brooklyn Tech, which was, and still is a very specialized high school that focuses on math and science. But they had an industrial design program in there and a little bit of arts. And so I took that because I suck at math, I love science, but I’m not a scientist. And so I did industrial design, which was very much equated to let’s say package design, product design and architecture, which did interest me. And for a time I was like, maybe I’ll do be an architect. But I really liked more the spontaneous creativity in design oriented projects.

So when I left Brooklyn Tech, I applied, was thinking about college and I applied to Pratt, I applied to City Tech. At the time, City Tech back then was called New York City Technical College. That’s what it was called back then. And those are the only two schools I applied to because I didn’t know of any other schools. And also because my mother told me I was either going to go to Pratt or City Tech because they’re in Brooklyn. And so that way I’m close to home. So my mother was very much the SuperMax warden growing up. So I looked at both. I applied to both. I got into both.

I went through, I first focused on going to Pratt, but I couldn’t afford that bill. I was like, “Ooh, that’s too much money.” And I didn’t really have a true portfolio back then. I just had my black book and some work from high school. Because like I said, Brooklyn Tech was not based, was not an art school. So I didn’t know anything about building a portfolio, what’s needed or anything like that. So I just had little trinkets. So I went to City Tech or New York City Technical College at that time.

And that’s where I really started learning what it is to be in the creative industry. And I knew right then and there, yeah, this is the choice I want to do. I definitely want to be in the creative industry. Now I got to decide, is it advertising, is it this thing called graphic design? Is it this thing being an illustrator? Because a couple of my professors were pushing me to be an illustrator now. And they were like, “You just have this natural tone. You should be an illustrator.” I just didn’t like sitting in those classes for six hours drawing stuff. I was like, are you kidding me? That’s like, this is boring me. It did. It wasn’t as fun to me. And I did a year at City Tech and then I transferred, especially at the encouragement of one of my professors because I was all A’s, I got 4.0 for that first year.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
All my projects just didn’t feel like it was a challenge to me. Even though at the professor who I’m revering right now, her name is Dorothy Hayes, she’s passed on.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, I’ve heard of her. She’s been mentioned on the shows by a lot of people. Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Dorothy Hayes at the time when I was a student of hers, I could not stand her. She was too hard. I was like, she was always on my. Always, always Bass. Because she always called me Bass. Never call me Andrew. “Bass, Bass, you could do better. You could do better. Where’s your work, I want to see your work.” But looking back, I mean that really forged who I am and I’m forever thankful to her, and a few other professors I met. By the way, which they were all Black. I was lucky. I had quite a few Black professors in my design education.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Which was unheard of. That’s why I was saying that was destined to be and stuff. And so I transferred to Pratt and that’s where shit got real ,when I went to Pratt.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about it. How was it?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It was challenging. I wanted the challenge. I got challenged. It was like I almost dropped out at my, what was it, sophomore year? Well actually not, it was my transfer year. Yeah. Because when I transferred over, some of my credits transferred over, some did. Because Pratt had a foundation year that they required everybody to take. So I had a mix of classes that were from the foundation class and then classes that were able to be transferred over. It was a completely different environment. And we’re talking about 1986. Pratt was intense. The workload was nothing I had experienced at any school. It was weekly. It was a lot to manage. I mean many projects very much about understanding and defending the basis of your projects, which I hadn’t understand before that. I thought it was just about, oh, how do you make this stuff pretty. And then that’s where I first learned, no, it’s about why are you doing this and for who is it for? Basically what is your thinking behind this?

And that tripped me up because I was like, “Oh that seemed like a lot.” As well as at that same time, there was a lot of things going into my, not childhood, but at my home with my focuses at that point now. My dad definitely was heavy into his alcoholism. And so going to Pratt was a good and a bad experience. Good in the fact is that the work was intense. It forced me to double down and really get involved in understanding the nature of the work that I’m building. Because the very coming from four A’s to where I just thought I automatically get that coming in the Pratt. And then the end of that first transfer year, I realized, now granted also too, I was doing a little more partying that transfer year. Because I was like, “Ah, I got this. This is easy.” That’s when my GPA went from 4.0, dropped down to 2.0.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a dip.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh it’s a major dip. And couple of my teachers came to me, professors came to me and said, “Look, hey. You can do the work. What is going on? You’re not applying yourself.” And that’s when I woke up and said, “Okay Andrew, you forget this partying, you can party after you graduate. Let’s get on the ball.” And I worked my house off to try and get my grades back up. And it was never back to 4.0. I graduated what? 3.0. I worked it back up. But that one year did that much damage to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. And so the other good things with that was the, I’d have to say, with the intensity of the work, it was also the way the professors tried to instill some of the actual business dynamics into how you build a creative, but also how to be a creative. It wasn’t extensive, it was snippets. It was, what was her, it was my copywriting professor, Lorraine McNeil, who also happened to be Black. She was a Black woman. She would occasionally mention about the business aspect and what would be expected out of there. It wasn’t a full fledged business kind of introduction, that didn’t exist when I was going to school. But she did try to put some nuggets out there because I found out about business and stuff on my own.

Now that was the other good thing about Pratt is that they had an extensive library. And that’s where I really got a lot of my supplemental education was in that library. I was in the library too much. They had so many books I couldn’t keep my hands off those books. The bad aspects of Pratt was that I felt very isolated as a Black student. Pratt was predominantly white and there were students who basically came from more affluent families. There was a contingent of students of color on there. A lot of them stayed on the dorms because they were not basically from New York, they were from other states.

So I didn’t have that kind of connection because the folks who were in the dorms, they had their own clique. They focused more, a little too much more on partying than education. I always called the edutainment and I’m like, “I already saw the effect of partying on my grades. I was like, nah man, I got to get serious because we want to get a job. We got this is going to be our career.” The isolation was very detrimental to me in that aspect because I didn’t have a vacuum. I had, I didn’t really have folks I can confer with about how their education was going, how classes were, how projects were, to bounce off ideas with somebody else is to, what do you think about this? And something like that.

The other thing is too, I thought the teachers, the white teachers, I thought they were very sort of offhand with the students of color. They seemed very apt to help the white students but not so eager to help the Black and Latino students. It was kind of like, “You can figure this out on your own. I’ll just give you this little nugget and let’s see what’s going on.” But then you see them confer very regularly with the white students after class, off premises. They would extend numbers to them. I’m like, “Huh, how come we don’t get that?” The only professors actually did do that were the professors who happened to be of color. I had three of them. I had Richard Perry who was an English teacher, Dwight Johnson, who was one of my design teachers who also actually gave me my first freelance gig. Lorraine McNeil, who was my copywriter teacher.

Those were the three professors that I had through my years at Pratt that did offer me help, is particularly Dwight Johnson. Now he’s the one that really, in the beginning years, I modeled myself after him. Now he gave me first freelance job. I just personally and professionally, I styled myself after him because I just thought he was on point. I was like, “I want to be like him.” So Pratt overall, if I had to choose today, I would not necessarily go to Pratt. There’s so many other schools out here that are actually pretty good and cheaper that I probably would’ve went to. But that’s how Pratt was. There’s really not much to say about City Tech because at that time City Tech had a reputation of being a super high school. It was just a continuation. And then, I mean having worked at City Tech now and working at City Tech now I will say they definitely have changed that, which is for the better.

But back then it was really classified as just an extension of high school and folks acted the same way. So it was good to get that sort of foundation in City Tech. And actually meeting a few professors there, Dorothy Hayes, Joel Mason, Robert Holden, they were actually good teachers that kind of helped me build a real portfolio, so that when I, they applied to Pratt again to transfer over, my portfolio was much more readily accepted now that I had a portfolio. But yeah, that’s how my experiences, I don’t look too fondly on my college years. It was kind of rough on instances that I wish I had more camaraderie among some of my fellow classmates and a little bit more, actually not a little bit, a lot more help from my professors. It just wasn’t really there. May have changed now, I don’t know how Pratt is at this moment now, other than I know it’s highly expensive. But yeah, that’s how my experience was there.

Maurice Cherry:
So you graduate from Pratt. Tell me what your early career is like, because I want to also just kind of put this in a timeframe here. I mean you’re studying design at a time when personal computers were not really part of design.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No. No.

Maurice Cherry:
So I’d love to kind of hear what was your early career like once you graduated?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I have to say, I think my early part of my career probably was the most fun part of my career. Where I think I chalk it up to youth where, I mean there was no holds barred. I thought I could do anything. I was like I was ready for every stuff and it was pre-computer. So I was pretty good with my hands in doing that. Because in the beginning, in my beginning career, we did everything by hand. So we did boards, type was done through a, we’d send it to our type setting department or you would send it out to type setting companies and they would run off, what was that called? A linograph, I think it was called linograph. Basically it was just a sheet of paper that had the type set on there and you would cut that up, paste it on the board, with rubber cement. It was very hands on. That was where you would get your-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Letraset is that what you mean? Letraset?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No, Letraset was for the, if you’re doing display type.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But the actual body copy, the that text, if you tried putting that on Letraset, you would kill yourself. It would be tedious and oh so time consuming. So that was set by a machine that just ran off, sort of like photo paper you can kind of say it and you would just cut it down to size as you need.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, that’s linotype.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Yeah, linotype. That’s it. Not linograph, linotype. The Letraset really is for display type. If you want to do custom things and stuff like that. Especially like logos. If you were going to do logo stuff. Oh yeah, that’s what I was going to say back then, that’s where you would actually get your battle scars because by cutting all that stuff with the X-Acto blade or an actual razor blade, it was no way you were not going to cut your hand. And getting cut with X-Acto blade is better than getting cut by a razor blade. Because hoo, those razors are deep. But that was just par for the course. Your hands, your fingers would be all scarred up. You don’t see them so much now in my hands, but there’s one or two spots that you still see where I have some heavy cuts.

But that’s how we actually did stuff by putting them on board, gluing down the type. The images we would actually have to send out to a stat house and they would take basically what was a full scale image or a film. It’d be like they would send you a negative and you would send that negative to the printer. You would put down sort of a for all intents and purposes, like a Xerox copy of what it is, just to get them in position, placing everything down with tracing paper to cover everything up, do some inking when you needed to do some things. And that was a lot of pen and ink work, which I think is solely missed from today’s work. Folks are so reliant on digital that they don’t know how to create stuff by hand anymore. And there is a beautiful nuance between hand created stuff and digital stuff.

Digital can be too clean. Even the stuff that try to simulate manmade stuff, it still has a cleanness about it that doesn’t exist in handmade stuff. And all that would take us some serious time. So if you wasted time, if say, “Okay, I’m not going to work on this today.” You lost 24 hours that can really impact your deadline. Now, unlike today where everything is like, “Okay, well I’m not going to work on this right now, I’ll do it tomorrow.” You don’t lose that kind of time because digital is so quick, it’s so instantaneous. But working there, my very first thought was I had gotten an internship at a small ad agency out of the result of, at that time I was the president of the Black Student Union at Pratt and I was all about business.

So I was looking at the Black Student Union as a way to start linking us up with job opportunities to various different agencies and studios in New York City so that we can get a head start on the other students, ie our white students who easily have these connections and get into stuff. But folks were not looking for us. So I was determined to try and get us a jump start. And one of the agencies who participated in that program, I was awarded the internship, which was a whole story because essentially folks didn’t participate. There was only a few folks that actually came out and participated, which really disappointed me on that. And I got it because my portfolio was the best out of it and folks had issues with that. But I’m like, “If you don’t apply, you can’t complain.”

And so I worked there for the summer of 1989. So once I graduated they offered me a full-time job. So I worked there for the summer and I was doing, it was an ad agency, but I was doing a lot more design work and I was the defacto art director because I was the art department because the agency was, it was a Black owned agency, it was just the principal and two other people in there. Excuse me. And it was a good experience because I was able to do my first photo shoots, meet these photographers, do [inaudible 00:55:03], set up model stuff. I had to battle folks because folks were like, “You sure you’re the art director? You seem a little young.” And I was like, “Well yeah, I am young but I am it.”

The only thing that kind of saved my grace a bit where people gave people a little pause at time was that, yeah, I towered everybody. I was six, was I 6’6 then when I graduated? I was either between 6’4 or 6’6, because I don’t think I reached my peak until around 23, 24. And so I towered over everybody. So my height kind of gave me some more credence and credibility and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But I always had a baby face. I still sort of do have a baby face. I mean it’s getting a little older. And so folks questioned that. But once I started doing the work, they were like, “Okay, no, you seem to know what you’re doing.” Because I kind of learned it as I went because if I didn’t know something, I was determined to go find out how to do it. And that’s where, I mean, because that was pre-internet. So again, I hit up libraries now. I mean there was so much information out there that people just don’t realize if you just get up and look for it, there’s a world at your fingertips. And I would just find out information on the rare occasions that I’d actually just ask people in the industry, I’m like, “You don’t don’t know me, but can I just ask you a question?” And folks were surprisingly helpful. So I did that and I was pretty much given leeway to do stuff, which is not usually the case.

I don’t know why that actually occurred. I consider myself lucky in a lot of the places I was employed at, I was given a lot of leeway. I was given the autonomy to like, you are the leader, create your stuff. Now I don’t know if it was the aspect of how I carried myself, how I did my work, because I always felt I was nervous. I was a nervous wreck. I’m like, “Do I really know what I’m doing? I don’t know.” I was always doubting myself in my head, but I would not let that show, I would not let that be known to anybody. And so for those three months, everything was still done by hand. No, the only computers in there were for the administrative views. And I will freely admit I use that computer to play my video games. Because I’ve been on video games since Atari 2600. Even though Atari was crap, I had CalecoVision, but that’s a side note.

So we were still doing stuff by hand and I was doing some long hours. There was no, okay, it’s 5:00, everybody go home. No, I would stay until about 11:00 at night, 12:00 at night. And the owner would just give me the key to the place and say, “Just lock up when you need to.” Which I thought was, wow. Again, I seemed to endear confidence to people that they gave me this responsibility and I never broke that trust on that responsibility. So from there, after about three months, like I said, again, being a young creative, I was a little too cocky and I was like, “You know what? I’m tired of this. I can get me another job like that.” And so I quit. I was like, I wanted to do something else.

And that’s when I realized, no Andrew, that’s not how it works. It’s like I got a hard dose of reality. It was like that I need to get my ego in check. And I was out of work for a good number of months. Back then you found your jobs through the classified ads in the paper, which I know today everybody would be like, “What’s a newspaper? What’s a classified ad?” But it’s equivalent to a job listing online. And I found a listing for an associate art director at this publishing company. And I said, “Oh, okay, that’s a different genre. Let’s kind of see how that is.” Submitted my resume, they called me in for an interview and I got a surprise because when I came in for the interview, that’s when I learned that the magazine was for an adult. It was an adult magazine, it was an adult publishing.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And I was like, okay, this is interesting. But then when they actually specified what market in the adult publishing, it was a gay lifestyle magazine, I was like, “Oh, this is 1989.” And that was in the height of the AIDS epidemic, the Black kid from Bed-Stuy, there was a lot of stigma to the gay community and stuff like that. My concern was like, “Well okay, this X-rated stuff, can I get a job after this if I take this?”

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That was my main concern. And so did very well in the interview. It was interesting when they said this, I’ll share with everybody, in 1989, the starting salary at that position was $22,000. I thought that was a lot of money back then and it was a lot of money because it supported me very well. Went back home, had a conversation with my mom, like, “Hey I went to this job, it looked pretty good. What do you think?” And she was like, “Are you there to do what you earned your degree in?” I said, “Yes.” “What are they paying you?” I told her the salary. It’s like, “So what is the problem?” I said, “There’s no problem. It’s just if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be do not supposed to be doing, but if you’re doing what you’ve been, you’ve got your degree on and this is your career. What’s the issue? It’s your starting point. Now it doesn’t mean that’s your end point.” And with talking to my mom, I was like, “You know what, that makes sense.”

And so after that conversation, it again, coincidentally I got a call from the art director that I met. She offered me the job now and I was like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll take it, I’ll see you.” And I started working, I stayed there five years. And so I rose from associate art director to an art director for monthly magazines. And yes, they were all towards the gay market. I learned quite a lot. I learned that if you are a good designer, you can design for any market. It’s about understanding your market and understanding what you’re doing for, what are you doing in that project to address your market. And the benefit of doing that magazine was that it wasn’t a straight just pictorial kind of magazine. It had lifestyle. So they had editorial in there and it was, unless you know what the magazine was, it could have just been in any mainstream magazine.

At the time The Advocate and Out were two magazines in the gay market that just kind of came out and they were getting a lot of shine. They were the number ones and they were beautifully done magazines. They were beautifully designed. And I kind of used that as my inspiration to model, to sort do my lifestyle stuff as, which was very successful. And it helped me transition from there to my next gig, which was at Essence Communications. But in those five years, that’s when I started. We transitioned about a year. Yeah, I think it was about a year after I started transitioning into computers. The Mac.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
In 1991, I believe. Because that was the other premise I stayed with. Well I wanted to take the opportunity too is that they had said they were going to make that transition from doing stuff production wise with the mechanical boards to move into doing the work electronically. Now that they were going to use Mac. I’m sorry, that wasn’t in 1991. That was 1990.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, it was 1990 because I started in ’89 and then I think in the spring of 1990, that’s when they started introducing the Mac, gave us courses. We went out there and myself and my other coworker who was the other associate art director on the magazine I was working on, we just blew it out. We were at class and then we would come back to the office and take what we had in class to apply it and continue it. Learning and doing stuff and seeing how things work when we were back in the office. And our art director at the time was like, “That’s great because you’re going to help me learn this because I don’t get what’s going on.” And he was older than us and stuff like that. But it was fun. And it made things go so much faster. And now we are doing our own type setting.

We now scanning images so we now can place them into our documents. We actually have the live files where we actually start learning how to photo retouch, photo calibrate how to type, how to create special print techniques like masking, fit colors, all this stuff that. The bad side of that was it actually, with the advent of the Mac, it eliminated whole industries. We lost type houses. Those faded out because now people could do it themselves. We lost a lot of production folks who actually, if you didn’t actually do the boards yourself, you could hire people to do it. No, just create and then give the directions to them, to losing some of the business with the photostat houses, those closed out. And those closed out [inaudible 01:04:52] within one year after the Apple came onto the market. Changed the whole face of downtown Manhattan, which used to be all type setting printers and photostat houses. By 1991 it was virtually a ghost town from those businesses. They had gone.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
They had transitioned to something else. So some of the photostat houses turned into scanning places. So they could scan some original art now because illustration, especially big pieces. Because at that time a lot of the illustrators still did the work by hand. They didn’t do digital work and some of these pieces were pretty big. They couldn’t fit your normal day tabletop scan because all this stuff back then was pricey as heck. Tabletop scanner poly was like next to a $1,000. That was a lot of money. So it was cheaper just to send it out and get a $50 scan now and you just get that scan to you and you can put it on. But that changed the where you no longer now had your battle scars so your fingers were saved, you didn’t have to cut up your fingers anymore. And it also kept from getting blood on the boards. Because that was always interesting when we got blood on the boards. Because you had to wipe that out. Otherwise that’s in the actual, when they shoot it. Now it’s just clean.

And now at this point though, our role shifted as creatives because so much stuff relied on us. We actually had to know how to operate this Mac inside and out. Especially when if there was a problem with the Mac. Yeah, we had IT, quote “IT department”, but thankfully the Mac was and still is very sort of self-sufficient. So when things go down it’s kind of easy to figure out what’s going on to get it back up. But that usually relied to us. In the beginning we had a service that would come in and fix that stuff, but eventually the owner was like, “Look, you guys are working on this. Do you know how to do this because we’re cutting this.” But it actually opened up more doors on the creative side.

I mean, yes, we lost a lot of industry and a lot of people had to adapt, some folks didn’t because of the manual nature of design at that point. A lot of them were older generations. So they did not want to learn how to use the computers and learned these programs, very much today. It’s a generational thing. The older generation just was like, “I can’t change. I learned all this. How am I going to, I don’t want to sit down and learn this whole new program and this contraption to do this.” And that’s where a lot of folks didn’t make that transition. They either had to leave the industry and do something else or just completely retire.

And like I said, that changed the shape of downtown Manhattan because it also changed the printers. And a lot of those started consolidating and shrinking down to what we see today. But it also sped up our creative process. So if we had an idea, we could actually instantaneously see how it works. Where at that time it was QuarkXpress, that was the defacto thing. There was no creative cloud. Adobe was this brand new company battling with Macromedia, battling with, what was the other one? Oh, Publisher. Yes. QuarkXpress had to battle Microsoft Publisher back in the day.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember Microsoft Publisher.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, we had not Illustrator, but it was freehand and Photoshop was Photoshop. That never disappeared. And so you had to buy all these individually. So back then being a designer was expensive.

Maurice Cherry:
Expensive. Mm-hmm.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Because the Macs themselves were these god awful paper weights. Because the face of the Apple, I mean at the time it looks sleek, but looking at it now, it’s like, oh man, that’s [inaudible 01:09:16].

Maurice Cherry:
It was a big rectangle kind of thing, right?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was like the screen and the CPU were all in one.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yes, that version. Yes, they had that. The screen was probably no more than maybe 13 inches, which seemed big at the time. And then they transitioned to having the monitor separate from the tower because everything was a tower back then. And that’s where the screen started getting bigger and stuff. But it’s still, it cost a lot of money and everything was on a disc. Nothing was cloud-based. Because the internet didn’t come into play until 1985. Is that correct?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, the cloud wasn’t a thing back then. Everything was-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, the cloud didn’t exist.

Maurice Cherry:
Everything was floppy discs. And then the floppy discs gave way to those smaller hard discs.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Floppy to the ZIP to actually floppy to the Quest, to the ZIP to the dat. Thank God we didn’t have to do the dat much. And then there was something in between. It was a hybrid of a ZIP and the Quest, is that right? I forgot the technology in it. But it went through some iterations in the span of five years. Now each year was something new, which was expensive. It was crap. I mean it didn’t come out of my pocket, but it was expensive. But you had to adapt to each of those technologies and stuff.

Basically if you kind of damaged your CDs, there was no way to get a backup. If your machines got corrupted, the disc got corrupted and corrupted meaning by, just scratched the back of that disc because somebody did not put it up properly. It’s done. That would mean you have to spend another $1,000 to go buy some brand new disc of one program. Same with type, you have to do same with type, all that stuff. But it did enable to have more creative tools at hand. So if you had an idea, you could still do it by hand, but now you could translate it, do your sketch and translate it onto the computer where you can actually do different variations in the same day where it may have taken us a few days to do iterations of one idea.

And that sped up a lot of stuff and it was kind of cool. It expanded our imaginations. It put more responsibility on us, which I liked because I liked being in control and knowing what’s going on with the Mac and the program so that way I could troubleshoot myself. Because at that time I was thinking, okay, this is going to be helpful for one day when I want to start freelancing and get my own materials or when one day I have my own studio. Because back then I thought about my end goals. I had this studio, get this whole staff and become a small to midsize kind of well known studio. And that’s pretty much the early days. It was very much unexplored. So anything and everything was open and it was just, if you were into adventure, it was an adventure. You were so curious to see what the next thing was going to be.

Whereas today I’m like, “Look, slow down. Yeah, there’s too much stuff coming out. I just learned this, now you got something new. No, no, no, no, that’s not happening. That’s too fast.” As well as I think today, technology’s great, but I think it also makes people stupider, people put more faith on the tech versus their thinking and they’re not sort of, they’re relying too much on the machine and not relying on themselves. Because the machine is just a tool. And in the early days we did see that. It was just a tool. That’s all we looked at. It was like, unless we had our thoughts together before we went to the machine, we’d be wasting our time. Because you’re just fiddling around just getting lost in this virtual world. Today it seems to be the reverse. People don’t mind fiddling on there and they spend so many hours that basically are futile, they just waste stuff.

But that’s how the early days were. It was a really a fun exploratory, I don’t want to say Wild, Wild West, but it kind of was a Wild, Wild West. And then when the net came on board, because I remember fully using the internet in ’95, but we actually did have the internet. The company was called a Mavety Media. I think that came, we had that online around 1993 because I left Mavety Media in 1995. So yeah, I think it had just started. And at that time I think it was all, everything was AOL or Netscape. And the net just was, oh, we just went bonkers with that. It was just like, oh, I can get this right now. Even though that was on dial up. So that was taking a long time. Dial up, I don’t miss at all. You could not do any high files with that or anything like that. It just was too slow. But that’s what the early days were like. It was kind of cool.

Maurice Cherry:
When I give presentations sometimes I’ll tell people how in the early days of the web you had a fast lane and a slow lane. The fast lane was like if you had 56K and the slow lane was 28.8. I love that you’re talking about all of this because I feel like this is something which is definitely not talked about in this current age of design. Everything is done in the cloud, on the web, on a PC or a Mac so quickly. Sometimes even just on mobile devices. I see what people do designing on just mobile devices. And I’m like, “This blows my mind.” Because I was in high school in the ’90s when a lot of this technology was coming out. And to your point, as you were mentioning, these things were changing rapidly, as the technology was changing, there were no sort of monopolies like an Adobe, like we’re talking about now. But there was Adobe, there was Macromedia, there were other sorts of products. There was Quark. You had to try to figure out which one you wanted to do.

It was all extremely expensive and there really was no, I want to say there was no learning curve, but you learned by having to actually get in there and work it or go through those huge big, thick instruction manuals. Because there’s no-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s no YouTube video, there’s no class you can go to that’s going to teach you how to do this. You got to read that 1,000 page manual and figure out how to type set these columns and how to do all this stuff. I mean, to your point about the Wild, Wild West, it really was a time when I think innovation was happening at a speed where people were really just trying to catch up.

You had these different options. Like you said, you could do Quark, you could do Adobe, you could do Macromedia. And a lot of jobs sometimes even when you applied to them wanted you to know one more than the other. It wasn’t so much about whether or not I think you had the skill, but more so whether you knew the program. And I think that’s something which technology has definitely changed a lot. It’s less about the skills and more about, “Do you know how to use Figma? Do you know how to use Sketch?” And it’s like, “But I’m a designer.” And they’re like, “Well we really well we use Figma. So do you know how to use that?” It’s so different now.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I mean back then when I was looking at stuff, when I was doing job searches, when I was moving from space to space, the thing that did start happening was that they wanted you to know this insane amount of programs. I think they just listed these programs because that’s what was out. And they were like, we want you to know everything. And it’s like, “Okay, that’s impossible. You can’t know all this stuff.” And it was very much, I don’t think they really wanted skill set, but just to say, “Okay, well we have somebody who knows this,” regardless of whether or not they actually know how to use it. I could have just went into the program one time just to look at it, oh, I know this program now.

That kind of impeded some people as they looked for jobs back then because it was like, “Look, I don’t know this stuff. I’m not going to put this down and then get busted when they give me this.” And like, “Hey, we need this full fledged project done in this, by this time,” and you don’t even know what you’re doing with it. I mean, granted, there were some people who did do that and coasted by until they got found out later on. But by then they could kind of sweet talk it through and then others shamelessly got blasted. I remember that back then. But yeah, it’s where it went from it was like more, “Okay, what is your true skill set and experience that you’ve actually shown a pattern of this,” versus, “Here’s our laundry list. Just let us know you’ve done this.”

I still kind of see that today though. And whenever there’s some new tech out, I do see some of these listings out here. It’s like, “Hey, do you know this?” I’m like, “Okay, that just came out last week. How are people going to know this?” But I mean I think that’s going to stick forever that’s going to be there. Because any new tech that comes out, I think people in the who post these jobs, I don’t think they’re really the ones that, and we all know it’s HR departments, and so the HR departments don’t really know what people do in their day to day stuff. So I think they just put all the trendy stuff in there just to cover their bases.

But I do miss some of that from back in the day. And it was kind of cool. And I mean, there is some new stuff like that today, particularly in terms of web and video that I see some parallels that I’m like, “Ooh, that’s intriguing.” But now with a seasoned book, I’m like, “Wow, that’s kind overwhelming.” I kind of feel overwhelmed at times. Like, oh, I don’t know if I’m going to learn all that. Yeah. But it would be cool. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right. Yeah.

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Chris Rudd

We’re wrapping up our interviews in The Windy City this month with Chris Rudd, founder of social and civic impact design firm ChiByDesign. Chris’ work is grounded in anti-racism, and that’s reflected not just in the clients ChiByDesign serves, but also by him building a collaborative and dynamic space for designers of color to thrive and do work that improves communities.

Chris and I talked shop for a while about entrepreneurship, and then he told me the story of how he started his firm in 2018. Chris also spoke about growing up in Chicago, studying at Stanford and becoming a Civic Innovation Fellow, and shared the one thing he still wants to accomplish in his career. I hope that Chris’ story gives you the confidence to be yourselves and push for the world you want!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Chris Rudd:
Chris Rudd, founder and CEO of ChiByDesign, and my role is to give leadership to the organization as we practice our anti-racist design and systems and social service work around the country.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s 2022 been going so far?

Chris Rudd:
It’s been good. It’s been busy. I think because our work is again, centered on anti-racism and designing anti-racist outcomes. After the racial awakening of 2020, lots of organizations and institutions are trying to figure out, A, how are they perpetuating systemic racism, and then B, figuring out pathways to stop and from our perspective, hopefully to heal the communities and folks that they’ve harmed over the past. So yeah, it’s been a lot. Great work, but also heavy work.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I can imagine. So I would guess you probably got an influx of work during that summer of 2020. I think there’s a lot of people I spoke to on the show where during that summer or right after that summer, they just kept getting hit up with requests to speak or to consult or to work or anything like that. Did you kind of have that same swell of interest during that time?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, a lot of speaking. I think during that time particularly, people were really trying to wrap their heads around what it was, and so there was a lot of, can we just talk to you? We want to hear what you’re thinking about this. Then the work started to pick up, but we actually developed a rubric for our firm on what we would do and what we wouldn’t do. So we really started to vet the organizations that wanted to work with us to see if they were actually about the change that they say they were, or if it was just we want to put a black face to the work to somehow validate the efforts, even if they knew it was going to fall short. And even if they didn’t know, we would work with them to say, “Hey, here’s where we see your shortcomings.” And da da da. And if they were willing to understand and accept that, then we could move forward. If they weren’t, then we were happy to walk away.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good. I mean, because I can imagine people probably came all out of the woodwork that found your firm and was like, wait a minute, that’s a black guy. Let’s talk to him. Let’s see if we can help him.

Chris Rudd:
I know. And then really they thought they knew that was a lot of all we got to do is just it will come out in this way. All we have to do is just make this one simple change and boom, racism’s gone, or we will function differently. And the hard part for us is helping them understand that changing an organization, changing a system, an institution is a huge shift or requires large scale shifts from top to bottom, not just in terms of personnel, but also in terms of philosophy, practices, policies, all these organizational structure. And so that was a hard thing for folks to deal with. Cause you’ve been doing this thing for so long and from your perspective, you’ve been doing a great job. Profit margins may be through the roof or you’ve put out a couple surveys of rate us, and for the most part, you send them to people that like you and you’re like, yep, those are great. And then the negative ones that come back, you’re like, ah, they don’t really get it. So yeah, it’s been an interesting journey.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s kind of dive in more and talk about your firm ChiByDesign. Which you describe as a collaborative and cultivating space for designers of color that already just, that hit me a ton of bricks there. Tell me more about ChiByDesign.

Chris Rudd:
Sure. That piece is huge for us. When I started the firm in 2018, I started out of anger, to be honest, honest, I was back home in Chicago and the philanthropic social sector was really starting to embrace design thinking at that time. And at that time I was like, “Ooh, design thinking is the bees knees. Here we go. We can use this methodology to change the world.” And so I would see these projects popping up around issues and health and safety and they’re always in Chicago is very, very segregated. People don’t know. It is probably, we battle Milwaukee for the top spot of most segregated cities in America every year. And it’s really hard for people who are not from here to understand what that physically looks like. And so for example, you can cross a street and the color of the people will immediately change.

So you’ll be on one intersection and on one side it will be almost strictly black folks. And then on the other side it will be strictly brown folks. The contrast is so stark here in many, many communities, and because of that, issues are very contained and acute in particular areas. So health disparities that affect black folks more heart disease, hypertension, blah blah, blah. Those are very concentrated in Chicago. And so there was these design projects, how might we improve heart health for black males? And it was like, oh, that’s great. I’m glad you all are thinking about that. And then I would look at the design firms that were the lead on the projects and it would be six white dudes and one Asian woman. And I just knew, I was like, there’s no way they’re going to get this right. And so at that time there was also this, where are the designers of color, we can’t find black people, da da, da.

We’re trying and they’re just not there. And so I just said, “All right, cool. I’ll start something and we’ll do that. We’ll bring them here.” And to do that means you can’t create the cultures that many design firms have because they are monochromatic. And so I wanted ChiByDesign to really be a place for black and brown designers to come be excellent, be great as we are, and not try to fit into some mold that is not natural to us and still be excellent. The notion that if we’re going to be us, that somehow it’s less than the notion of excellence that’s been perpetuated in our society. And so ChiByDesign is all about having a home for designers of color specifically, but for everyone generally. So one of the founding principles was that 75% of the people I work with at all times would be folks of color and 50% would be women based on the notion that you can’t design the future if you don’t have all those inputs.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m looking at the website and everything right now. I like that you have anti-racist design as of a core principle of everything that you’re doing because I know just from doing revision path, what will happen is sometimes people will look at what you’re doing and instead of seeing the positive way you’ve designed it, they look at or they sort of perceive it as exclusion. I could see someone looking at ChiByDesign and thinking, well, isn’t that discriminatory that you’re only going to have black and brown people and talk to WT as opposed to you doing that by design in very much the same way that maybe some other firms may have only white people by design.

Chris Rudd:
There’s not a thing where we’re saying there won’t be white designer. So we hired a white designer last year, and so we’re totally open and willing to do that. I don’t believe that white people don’t have a place in the anti-racist fight. They absolutely do. And to your point, yeah, it’s not about exclusion. It’s saying that we have to center the most harmed in the process, whether that’s the design team and/or the folks that we’re designing with. So we also practice co-design only. We are not a human centered design, traditional human centered design firm. We do not design for anyone. Every project we do, the folks most impacted by that system, by that organization have to be a part of the process. That’s based on understanding. They know their challenges, their strengths better than any of us. This idea that designers can develop empathy through one hour conversations and therefore create the optimal experience or system or service for someone, in my opinion is a bit ludicrous.

Maurice Cherry:
What does your creative process look like when it comes to starting on a new project?

Chris Rudd:
Sure. So lots of prep work with the clients of what is the issue, who’s most affected by that? Who do they, really trying to figure out who they have relationships with on the ground in the community. And that can be a for-profit client or a social service client. We need to understand what is your relationship to those most affected by the thing you do. And then we set out to hire co-designers to join our team. So once we know and understand who are the people most affected, we do intense outreach to hire those folks to join our team for the duration of the project. And that’s a huge thing for us because, again, this notion of how do we create a space for black and brown designers, it’s also creating a space for this pipeline. I come to design very late in life. I was in my thirties when I really first understood what it was.

And so I think folks of color are some of the most creative people on the planet based on our conditions. We have to be. And again, I don’t say that as thinking that we’re a monolith, but proportionately to our socioeconomic status, we have learned and have had to be very, very creative for survival. Yet we have been excluded from the professional practice of creativity in terms of design. And so we use every project as an opportunity to introduce more and more black and brown folks to the field, to the practice and have them lead us in our design process. We have a methodology, but they have the expertise. And so the more we can give what we have to them, the better equipped they will be to lead us.

Maurice Cherry:
Why do you think more firms don’t do that?

Chris Rudd:
I would assume, honestly, this was a journey for me when I first started projects and I was kind of independent consulting before I built up the team. It was scary to ask a client to pay for that. So I would hire people and pay them out of the money that I had designated for myself because I didn’t have the confidence to say, “Hey, this is so important that it should be important to you as well.”
I actually participated in a class, a friend was teaching at ID Institute of Design, her name is Mo, and she teaches, I don’t know, it’s adaptive leadership. And I went through the process with her students and we talked about this and finally one of them said, “Just put it in the budget.” And I just said, “Okay, I’m going to make this commitment to you all that I’ll do it.” And I tried it and the client didn’t go crazy. And so from that point on, I said, this will be a standard for every project we do. This is one of our criteria for acceptance. If they’re not willing to do that, we won’t work with them. It shows a lot about their mentality if they can’t value people in the same way we feel like we’re trying to value people.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Back when I had my studio and I was taking clients, I think I came to the pretty early realization that sometimes clients really just need to be told what to do. There’s the whole thing about, oh, the customer’s always right, yada, yada, yada. I get that. But if you’re coming to an expert for something that you may not have the skills in or you need the help in, I would think there has to be some level of deferment. And for you to be the experts, you have to be able to let the client know like, “Hey, this is what it is, this is what our process is. We’re not bending from that, we’re not changing that, or anything like that.” So it’s good that you’re sort of vetting clients, I think, and the way that you mentioned earlier, but then also just letting them know, this is how we work, and you can either get with it or not.

Chris Rudd:
And exactly to your point, they are looking for that guidance. So we’re not trying to position as a, you just don’t get it and you’re stupid. We’ve done this a lot of times, we’ve been recognized for it. It works. And if you really want to achieve what you’re saying you want to achieve, trust us that this will get you there. 100% of the time. They’re super happy that they did it. Their relationship with those folks amplifies and expands in ways that they never thought. We get information and direction that we couldn’t conceive of because, again, we haven’t been in that position. So there’s so much nuance that we will always miss if they are not there. And so yeah, I think more studios should definitely try, especially if you’re in social sector work. If you’re developing products for P&G, HCD will probably help you do that a hundred percent of the time and it’ll be fine. But if you were trying to redesign social services, if you’re trying to redesign society, we cannot do that in our studios away from the real world.

Maurice Cherry:
Are there any projects in particular you’ve done through the firm that you’re like especially proud of?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, we’re currently wrapping up a project with the state of Ohio to redesign the foster care system to be anti-racist. So this was a huge, huge lift, but very excited with where we’re at. We’re in talks with counties to actually prototype. The challenge with doing anti-racist work is, especially for social systems institutions and governments, is that they are very averse to prototyping, especially when it’s about anti-racism because it’s just the political climate in our society is many of us are like, “Things are racist.” And then there’s a growing set of the population that is just like, Nope, that’s not a thing. Don’t talk about it. Don’t, da, da da. And so these government employees are navigating that, which typically we have not won that side of the argument. It’s exciting that we might be able to prototype some of these ideas with them. And I think the hypothesis is that they would drastically change and reduce disproportionality in children’s services for black, brown and mixed race folks in Ohio, which could then be a standard for children’s services around the country.

That’s been a big one that I’m very, very proud of. And then we did a project last year here in Chicago to co-design an equitable food system with urban growers, with educators, with nonprofits, business folks. And it was one of those projects that just taught me so much. So learning about the land, learning about growing practices, indigenous practices, going back to our roots in a lot of ways, and how food is just so vital to humanity. I mean, we all know that, right? We eat every day. We’re like, we love food. I do. But just the breadth of how food is vital to culture, society, not just from the consumption of it, but the production aspect. And so that was a really cool and exciting project as well.

Maurice Cherry:
What gets you truly excited about what you do?

Chris Rudd:
Man, all of it. I’m getting excited as we’re having this conversation. My team, they’re just amazing, brilliant, awesome people to be with every day. The fact that we’re doing work that we all believe in, that’s just huge. I’ve talked to so many designers who are just like, “Ah, I’m so tired of creating new features on websites to help people pay faster for things they probably don’t need.” Or I don’t want to design another Pepsi bottle. They want their creativity, their brilliance, their skill sets to truly improve life outcomes. And so I just feel very privileged and very grateful to be able to do that. All of our intellectual capacity, all of our creative capabilities are really honed in on improving the lives of folks of color, which to your point earlier, would absolutely improve the lives of white folks too. If you lift our standards, my belief is that if you can eliminate racism, every racial group on the planet will have better outcomes.

Maurice Cherry:
True. Let’s kind of dive a little bit into your personal story. ‘Cause I’m curious to know where this strong foundation of civic duty in this way comes from. So tell me more about where you grew up. You’re from Indiana, I think you told me originally, right? But you grew up in Chicago.

Chris Rudd:
So originally from Gary, Indiana, and then we moved to Chicago when I was like four. So I come from the Midwest’s union strong. And so my father was a steelworker. A lot of the men on my dad’s side of the family worked in the steel mills. He eventually got a job at the post office and has been there ever since. My mom was on the railroads and then really entrenched herself in community organizing in Chicago, but is also an artist. So that’s where my creative side comes from. So she was an art teacher for a while and then went back to labor organizing.

And so I very much grew up on picket lines and at protests my whole life. So I always remember when you came back to school in September, the teacher was, “What’d you all do this summer?” And friends of mine were like, “Oh, we went on vacation to blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Yep. I was at a picket line for three weeks in Decatur, Illinois.” And those moments really shaped my perspective and my outlook and very much are with me in my design practice and in my life now.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned earlier that you didn’t really get into design until you were in your 30s. When you were a kid, did you sort of have a sense of what it is that you wanted to do outside of that?

Chris Rudd:
No clue. Zero clue. I think I was so many other people every year. It changed. Before the internet, for me at least on the south side, wasn’t a lot of options around you. Nobody in my neighborhood that I can think of even now had a professional career. We grew up in a very working class community, so people worked blue collar jobs. So that was kind of like my plan, if you call it a plan, it was finish high school, get a regular job. My parents had a couple friends that were professors, but I had no interest in going to college and especially for that long to become a professor. So my kind of goals growing up was to be a family man and get a job that’ll allow me to take my kids on vacation once in a while.

Maurice Cherry:
So when you started out in college, you went to City College in Chicago, Harold Washington College. Tell me about that time. What were you were studying at that time?

Chris Rudd:
So I studied youth development, so that’s actually one of the only two programs I’ve ever focused on. So I studied youth development. ‘Cause at a certain point, I think I was around 24, I figured, okay, I’ll be a teacher. A lot of the women in my family were teachers and I was like, “All right, I could do that. I like young people, I want to help.” So I went to Harold Washington to try to get my gen ed out the way so I can go into a teaching program. But what that actually led me to was working in the non-profit sector. So I took these youth development classes and it totally changed my outlook. I no longer wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to be a youth worker because I felt like being a youth worker was more around building relationships. You could not demand respect from young people as opposed to being a teacher.

You go into a classroom, I would be Mr. Rudd, but as a youth worker, I was Chris. And so they were able to refer to me as my first name, the same way I was going to refer to them by their first names. So it was more around reciprocity rather than hierarchy. At least that’s how I felt. And so I went to the nonprofit sector, working with young people in Chicago and just really trying to help them figure out what’s their path. It was tough during that time. We had a lot of violence. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean Chicago definitely has that, I mean reputation, as you know, hear in the media and stuff for having a lot of violence. I think a lot of big cities have similar reputations. I mean, I’m in Atlanta in the West end, and I mean it’s southwest Atlanta. It gets its kind of bad reputation too for that sort of stuff. But I think that’s just a byproduct of living in an urban city, that will happen. For you though, I’m curious, you wanted to go into youth development. Was there something in particular that really drew you to that?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, again, it was really around the relationship building. My early years were focused on organizing. I was an organizer in high school and I just knew that we’re going to make things better. We have to get to know each other, we have to appreciate each other, and then we have to struggle with each other to be our best selves. And that only happens as you are forming or developing relationships with one another. So this approach to working with young people, that centered relationship building really spoke to me. And so that’s where I focused my efforts. I didn’t go to school to become a teacher ’cause that I felt like this path was the right way for me. And it’s funny having this conversation. So much of that is very much a part of my design approach and process.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like it definitely stems from a place of community. So you graduated from City College. What does your early post-grad career look like? What kind of work were you doing? Is this where you started with these youth groups?

Chris Rudd:
Sure. Yeah. So I was working on the west side of Chicago. There was a young man had gotten murdered at that time, Darion Albert. And so it was national news and all of a sudden there was just all these resources poured into Chicago to curb youth violence. And so I was working at a non-profit on the west side, which I’m from the south side and in Chicago, south side folks don’t go west side, west side folks don’t like, we don’t go to South side. It’s strange. So I got kind of thrown into this whole new world, which I love and I love the west side now. And working with these young folks who at the time there was a rubric created to identify the 1,000 young people most likely to kill or be killed. I don’t know what was involved in the rubric, but there was basically an army of youth workers deployed to make sure that they didn’t die and they didn’t kill anyone.

And so every day I was on the west side working with a group of 10 young men, trying to get them to understand that game banging and doing whatever else they were doing was not the right way for them and for society and supporting them to get their lives in the place that they wanted to be. A lot of them didn’t really even want to be doing the things they were doing, but there wasn’t an alternative. Unemployment rates for young men, black men in Chicago, I think is like 80%. And that’s been-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, it’s unbelievable. And that’s been true for almost a decade now. It’s not a new statistic that happened post pandemic. This has been true in Chicago for many years. And so there’s a lot of judgment thrown at these young people. Oh, why don’t they just get a job? And now that there’s job openings everywhere, this may be partially true, but at that time it was not possible for them to get traditional work. And for many of them now, it’s not possible due to past convictions or honestly the way they look.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Chris Rudd:
We hear it all the time that soon as they walk into a place looking for a job, but they have dreads, absolutely not. The employer won’t even think about it. So a lot of this is not on them. Also, they’re children. These are teenagers, so we cannot put these expectations on them that we have on adults. And so yeah, that’s where I started. And then I moved to another organization that was less focused on violence prevention, like the one I was doing and more focused on youth empowerment, which was what I was practicing, because I don’t think youth or violence prevention is really around keeping kids busy and getting them into sports, which is all great, but my perspective is that you really have to change their outlook on life and help them figure out their own purpose, which to me is around that’s empowerment. And so I started working at another nonprofit that really focused on youth empowerment, helping young people find their voice or not find it, but use their voice. And that is what led me to the design world.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s talk about that. In 2015, you had become a civic innovation fellow through Stanford University. And so this was a fellowship program. Tell me about that experience. How did that sort of change things for you?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, I loved it. One, Stanford is like Disneyland. Never imagine anything like that. There’s always a joke that one, you’re in Silicon Valley, so there’s that bubble and then there’s a bubble on top of it, which is the Stanford bubble. And then there’s probably another bubble over that that you just can’t see because it’s too many bubbles. So it was coming from Chicago in this really deep youth work to taking a moment to just figure out what is it that I want to do? How can I really advance helping society? And then learning this new process of design that seemed very familiar. There was a lot of overlap to things that I had been doing before, but then there was also something new to it. It was this really diving into creativity as problem solving. It just really spoke to me, relying on people to help figure out the solutions, bringing diverse people together.

We talked about, it was always radical collaboration, and that was folks on the multidisciplinary. But for me it was always thinking about multiracial perspectives. If we’re going to solve societal challenges, it shouldn’t be on the shoulders of black folks and brown folks to figure out racism beyond the shoulders of women to figure out sexism. This is something we have to do together. And so I took multidisciplinary in that way. So Stanford was great. It’s got all challenges as Stanford, but for me to stay sane and not get consumed in the bubbles, I joined the organizing community out there and we were fighting against police murder. I think while I was out there, the police had murdered four people.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Chris Rudd:
All folks of color. And so there was a hunger strike. The Frisco five did a hunger strike. So I would spend my nights on the street of San Francisco, pulling guard duty for them. I ended up getting arrested when we had a protest in city hall against police murder. Those are all things that may seem divorced from design, but one thing I would always tell my students is that designers didn’t break the world and we’re not going to fix it. You as a designer is also you outside of your nine to five. So what are you doing besides your professional work to impact and change the world? So yeah, I really appreciated my time out at the D School. Still very close with all the folks in my cohort and my instructors become, I felt like I really became part of another family, a west coast family.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. You had designed a program during that fellowship called Youth Tech Design. Tell me about that.

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, the Civic Innovation Fellowship is a project fellowship. So you had to have an idea of what you wanted to do. And so when I was in Chicago, how they found me was I was working with young people here and we created a web app called Expunge Gio to help other young people expunge their juvenile criminal records. And so that’s what got the attention on the D school and had me go out there. So because that thing worked, I said, “Okay, how do we scale this?” And so how do we allow more young people to create technology that solves issues that they care about? And so youth tech design was created for that purpose. And then the second part was how do we utilize technology to allow young people, young people of color specifically to get into college. Lots of times we don’t have the opportunities to go on trips to Haiti to build houses that look good on your college application.

We have too many other responsibilities. And so when you have technology, you can scale impacts pretty rapidly, which for a young person from the south side of Chicago to say, “I built an app that helped expunge 1,000 records in the first year, which then led to a policy change in Illinois for automatic expungement.” That’s huge. And the young people that I worked with here can say that they were all able to say that without, it was true. It wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t an exaggeration that they were part of such a massive shift in society.

And so hopefully that would give them a leg up to get into institutions like Stanford or where we’re traditionally excluded. And so Youth Tech Design was set up to do that. And then when I left the Bay and came back here, I didn’t maintain it as an organization, but I still continue to do those types of workshops for young people on the south side. And currently right now at ChiByDesign, that’s one of our passion projects is to stand up a youth program in the same vein, but now no longer focus on just teaching human-centered design, but teaching co-design as the way for social change and with anti-racist practices and principles.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve been someone that’s been part of the Chicago community and now part of the Chicago design community for a long time. How would you describe it to someone outside the city?

Chris Rudd:
I feel like it’s pretty welcoming. Most of us from Chicago have a lot of roots in the south. So Chicago’s the big city with a southern hospitality vibe to it. I think it’s still pretty segregated as well, but I know that there’s efforts to change that. So I’m also on the ops board for the Chicago Design Museum. And I know in every meeting we have, we’re trying to figure out what engagements, what services, what possibilities we can create to bridge that gap. And there’s a lot of organizations working on that too to be honest. I feel like a lot of designers are trying to figure out how to use their talents for the city and for underrepresented communities. So I feel like it’s a good time. It’s very collaborative. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of tension, which is great. Sometimes people jockeying for space and all that, but I feel like everyone’s so open to working together and moving a pretty strong social agenda forward that it’s really nice.

Maurice Cherry:
And now after you started ChiByDesign, you also began teaching design as well. So this is another way that you’re kind of helping to give back to the community. You’ve taught at Stanford D School, you taught at UT Austin at IIT Institute of Design. What does teaching design, how does that help you?

Chris Rudd:
Oh, I love it. So all of a sudden I got back to my dream of teaching, what maybe 10, 15 years after I initially had it. So this other thing, letting your purpose kind of drive you will always lead you back to where you should be. And that’s just something I really strongly believe in my heart. And so I love teaching. Honestly, my time at ID is what gave me the confidence to try to really break the mold of design. So again, going to the D School learning design Thinking Human, when I was there, it was like, oh, this is the Bible. This is how it has to be done. This is the only way it could be done. And when I started practicing, when I got back, it just didn’t feel right. I saw some validity in some of the things, but I was like, man, this is just not going to get us to the world that we need.

But I had no clue and I didn’t have the confidence that it could be something different. And so when I got to ID, I would start to express this to my colleagues and they were just like, “Well, change it.” And I was just like, “What? No, this is how it is.” And they’re like, “No, this is how it’s been. We made it up. All this stuff is made up. You make something different.” So that just set me, I was like, oh wow, okay, cool. And so teaching really allows you to learn, and especially when we’re talking about social issues, I feel like young people, and I’m not that old, but people younger than me just get this stuff in a much more nuanced, complex way and they just help push me. I felt like I was bringing things to them and they were absolutely bringing things to me that we were kind of challenging each other to be better and to think differently.

And then because you’re in an academic institution, you can experiment a lot more freely than if you’re doing client work. So when I was at id, I would get to try out these different methods that I was creating to see if they would actually help us understand racism in the system differently. Or if we tried these activities, could we create anti-racist outcomes? So one of the assignments that I created was making an inanimate object that pushed me so far to help understand the mechanisms of racism and then therefore, what are the principles that we need to embody in our work to create anti-racist outcomes. And so it was, as I was tinkering and teaching at the institutions, we were applying and refining at ChiByDesign. So they really worked well and in relationship with one another because what I was learning from ChiByDesign would help me teach more advanced concepts and methods in my classes. So I felt like that was a really exciting time. And students, I love them. They’re great.

Maurice Cherry:
So it’s, it all kind of feeds into each other, it sounds like.

Chris Rudd:
Absolutely. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your career and all your experiences, is this how you imagined yourself when you were a kid?

Chris Rudd:
Oh, not at all. Again, had no idea what design was big into art and making, but not in the practice that I would say we do now. A lot of elements transfer over. But no, I never saw myself doing this. I never saw myself owning a business. I tell my team all the time, I’m like, “Man, I’m ready to quit.” Just ’cause … But it’s great to have a team that’s supportive and they push me every day. And so I guess the one thing that I would say that is true now as what I hoped it would be as a child, is to be surrounded by people who care enough about me to push me to be better.

And so I always saw that a part of my work, whether it was I worked at Pepsi stocking shelves, and I always surrounded myself in those environments just as I am now with people who I could talk ideas with and could push me and I could push them. So I think that part is true, but professionally, you know what I was going to do eight hours a day, 10 hours a day, so different. But I love it. This is what I love about design. You’re paying me to draw and sketch and think about things. Who could ask for a better job?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, and I would say also with what you do is you’re designing, I want to say designing futures in a way, to be honest. I mean, it’s one thing, like you said, to be a designer that’s making graphics or something like that. But you’re really taking design and using it to design the world in a way design, help youth in how youth outcomes will be shaped. And even the work you’re doing with the foster system in Ohio, you’re designing on a much grander scale that impacts real lives in a real way.

Chris Rudd:
Yeah. And I would say that I think product design is similar. The folks who designed the iPhone changed the world and changed social interactions in a way that I’m sure they didn’t plan for the object. So that was the purpose around designing the anti-racist object is that the object can shape societal interactions in very large ways. As product designers, we have to be thinking about those things. It can’t just be about the form of the object, right? Socio=technical systems, how does that object now impact the human beings around it? What organization needs to exist? So now, because of the advent of social media, there are social media departments and organizations that are attached to communications teams.

Now that we’re focusing on sustainability, we’re thinking about life cycles of products differently. All of this stuff has so many larger impacts that I think a lot of us are trained, I know I was, not necessarily to think about. It was like you got a really great insight that it will improve customer experience and or user experience, which I hate that term too. And go for it. And so I think where we’re at now is, and it’s not me, it’s a lot of folks, we’ve got to slow down. We got to think deeper about the systemic social impacts of what we make because they absolutely have those outcomes.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there something that you want to accomplish that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?

Chris Rudd:
Actually, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I think I might go back to school to learn industrial design. I just want to get better at making tangible things beyond, I love thinking about the systems in the larger, complex problems and solutions, but I do want to get better at making things.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s a good natural extension though, of what you’re doing is to extend into things. I’m curious, have you heard of the Black InDesign Conference?

Chris Rudd:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been?

Chris Rudd:
I have not.

Maurice Cherry:
I think, well, let’s see. They have it every other year, so I know they’re having it next year, because they started it in 2015. And so they do it, it takes place at Harvard, their graduate school of design. And I feel like the work that you are doing would be such a perfect fit for what that conference is about. So that conference kind of tends to deal with design in terms of the lived space. Usually, it’s been architecture, landscape planning, stuff like that. But they’ve started over the years to extend it into areas of black futurism. I think they had one year they were talking about biomimicry and stuff like that. But I think what it is is showing the application of design in people’s lives to change outcomes and stuff, I feel like the work that you’re doing would be a really natural fit for that. They had the 2021 conference virtual, I feel like they’re going to have the 2023 conference in person again, but it’s at Harvard. It’s a good conference. I think you should check it out.

Chris Rudd:
Oh, definitely. Yeah, definitely. I’ve seen it. And I think I didn’t go in ’21 because it was virtual. I think I was just virtualed out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Chris Rudd:
But [inaudible 00:47:32] like the move. And it’s interesting that we’ve been doing a lot of work recently with organizations to help them figure out the future of their built environment. So there’s a lot of desire for new community spaces and activating, especially in Chicago, we’ve got a lot of vacant lots and stuff like that. And so we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries from organizations around that. So, which I think is great because architecture is just so focused on the build environment, they don’t necessarily have that perspective on what the lived environment is looking like. And so we just finished a project for a nonprofit here in Chicago that they’re trying to do, they’re trying to build a WeWork for education focused nonprofits so that they can really bring the ecosystem together physically so that they would, by extension work better and collaborate more on their programming.

And so we work with them to figure out what the principles of the space should look like. And so we did these co-design workshops with their staff leadership, the students that they serve, and helped them think through what is the ultimate vision for this place and what are the principles you need to design around as architects that we’re not going to build it. Don’t, I’m not going to tell you which materials and lighting and all that, that’s their expertise. But if they have this roadmap, how might that change their architectural desire? Because I’m sure for most architects, they’re dealing with the client.

So if you’re just dealing with the leadership of the organization, they can only tell you their vision. But that has nothing to do with, or not nothing that has little to do with the folks that they are serving. And so was really, it’s been interesting to do this alongside architects and hearing them say how valuable it’s been for them to be a part of those workshops and see those perspectives and see how they should create differently. So yeah. Are you going to be in Black InDesign next year?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m definitely going to be there. I remember the first year I went in 2015 and I was trying to get other black designers to go. And I couldn’t. A lot of people were like, I don’t know if I want to go. I mean, are they talking about Photoshop? Are they talking about Sketch? ‘Cause these were product designers, UX designers, et cetera. And I’m like, first of all, it’s 2015. There were no black design events going on back then. I’m like, this is the first time something this is happening. It’s cheap. I think the tickets were less than $100. I was like, let’s just go and just see what it’s like. And a lot of people I know didn’t go that first year, but they have it every other year. So if you don’t go the first year, you can check it out the next year.

They record all the sessions, they live stream it. So if you happen to not be there, you can go back and watch previous year sessions to kind of get a sense of what it’s like. But it’s such, when I last went, it was in 2019 before the pandemic and I did do the virtual conference, of course it just wasn’t the same. But it’s such a collegial, black family reunion esque type experience. I mean, I would say as much as you could get on Harvard’s campus, I’ll put it that way. They’re not bringing out the grill or anything like that. But I mean, it’s as much of a collegial space for black design as you’re going to find. And it’s students, it’s longtime designers, it’s educators. And every year or every other year when they have it just brings something different to the space itself. They have it at Harvard Graduate School and Harvard’s campus and it’s great.

It’s great. The thing about it is though, that because they do it every other year, they have a different staff every other year. So it’s always a little bit different. I hate to say inconsistent, but it’s a little bit different every time they have the event. So I’m curious to see what they pull out for 2023. For 2021, for example, the theme was around Black Matter. And so they were talking about designing for joy and black urban mobility. They had a bunch of workshops on spatial thought and things of that nature. So it was pretty good. I mean, I feel like they take design and really stretch it in a way that I don’t see from other black design conferences. And it’s even funny to say other black design conferences, because so many of them have popped up over the past couple of years now. But it’s a good event to go to. I think especially with the work that you’re doing, it’s probably good if not just for networking, but just to go and see and get inspired by what other folks are doing.

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, definitely. The other thing I’m thinking about is we started a fellowship program this summer for ChiByDesign. Again, thinking about how are we reaching back and making sure that we’re creating opportunities for young up and coming black and brown designers. And I don’t want to sound like those companies that I talked about in 2018, but yo, it was kind of hard. We were getting flooded with lots of applications from non folks of color. And I was like, “All right.” And we reached out to the HBCUs, they were kind of pushing us away.

Maurice Cherry:
The HBCUs were,

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, and I assume it was cause they didn’t know us, even though two of our team members are HBCU alums. So we were just like, all right, we got to do better and be more aggressive on getting our folks, I mean, we hit our goal, but yeah, we were shocked to be honest at what happened when we sent that application out. So yeah, it’d definitely be dope to be there. Network even more, not networking on the superficial, what can you do for me? But like you said, coming to the reunion.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely. What advice would you give to somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps? They’ve hearing your story now, they want to do a similar type of thing. What would you tell them?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, whew. Figure out who you are. Figure out who you are. Stand on that. Be confident on who you are, what you stand for. Don’t waiver. Things will get very hard. There have been many times where I’ve had to decide whether or not I was going to stay true to who I am and risk my job or just do what they wanted me to do and be secure. And I would like to say the vast majority of the time I put my career on the line, I can think of many instances, but I’m sure, I don’t want to be arrogant and say I did it every time. I’m sure there were times where I folded too. So that will happen. So then be patient with yourself. There will be mistakes along the road, but letting that purpose, that who you are, guide your work, the opportunities will come.

They may not be as fast or as you want, but they will happen. None of us knew 2020 was going to happen. And so I had started doing this anti-racist design work before that, and that’s when everybody was talking about equity center design. And so I stayed away from that because I didn’t believe it was possible under the system we have, under capitalism. So I was focused on anti-racism, and then 2020 happened and anti-racism became a thing and people started to embrace it. Kennedy’s book was a best seller.

And so again, it may not come at the time that you want, but as long as you’re staying true, it will happen. And even if it doesn’t, you’re standing your own truth. So I think for, again, it’s figuring out who you are, what you believe in, what you’re trying to accomplish, and then utilizing every skill set that you have to help get there. Right? Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm. Just ’cause it is doesn’t mean it should be and doesn’t mean it’s right. So keep pushing. I feel like so many young people are already doing that. But yeah, just keep doing it. We as a society will be better for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want of the next chapter of your story to be?

Chris Rudd:
Oh. So I feel like I will still be at ChiByDesign. With what role? I’m not sure, but I think we’ve built a thing that is exactly what I hoped for. And so part of that was also turning over power. So an example, we have at ChiByDesign, we have Ghana Independence Day off as a company holiday, and we have Diwali off as a company holiday because we have team members who are from Ghana and India. When I was developing the company, one of the craziest things that I found out about capitalism when our HR person was like, “What company holidays are you going to have off?” And I’m like, the regular ones. And she’s like, no, that’s not how it works. You have pick which ones you want and which ones you don’t. And I was like, that’s nuts. I thought it was the standard demand.

There was a policy that you had to have these things off. And I was like, “That’s wild.” But again, because we’re in the United States, they’re all American things. And so I didn’t want them to feel left out. We wanted to co-create this organization and we’re constantly co-creating the organization. And so I made a decision that we would celebrate as a company something that was important to them as well, so that they wouldn’t have to use their personal time or sick time to try to celebrate something that was meaningful to them. While the rest of us would always just get the things that we’re supposed to get off. And so I think we’ll keep co-creating and based on the people we have, it’ll always be the place that I want to be. I believe that. I hope that’s true. So yeah, I’ll be here, but again, I don’t know which role. I don’t think I will stay at the top in terms of title in five years, but I don’t know what it’s going to be. So I’m always excited about the unknown.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work, about the firm? Where can they find that online?

Chris Rudd:
Sure. So our website is www.chibydesign.com and Chi is CHI also, for folks to know it is ChiByDesign. We always get ChiByDesign, or She By Design? No, it’s Chi. It’s for Chicago. Instagram, Twitter, same thing, @ChiByDesign. And yeah, we’re always looking to collaborate with folks and make the world more anti-racist.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good to me. Well, Chris Rudd, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. One, I think just what you’re doing around anti-racism via design is so monumental and important that like your background of wanting to help out kids and help out youth, and now you’re being able to use this along with human centered design methodology and stuff to really impact and make change on such a grand scale. I’m really excited to know that there’s somebody like you that, one, is a designer, but is also someone that is really passionate about community and passionate about social justice and about using design to really make this a better world. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Chris Rudd:
Thank you. I appreciate that.

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The Design of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is one of the most anticipated movies of the year, and that’s not just because it’s a sequel to one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. After the tragic and sudden passing of megastar Chadwick Boseman, Ryan Coogler and the cast and crew of this film came together and put it all on the line to deliver a cinematic tribute truly fit for a king.

In this bonus episode of Revision Path, I sit down again with Reginé Gilbert, Jordan Green, and Paul Webb to dive deep into the symbolism, visuals, and music behind Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Warning: we spoil the entire movie in this episode, so if you haven’t watched the film yet, you might want to do that before listening.

Yibambe!

Other links mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, I am so excited to have all of you back again for this conversation around Black Panther, Wakanda Forever. The first conversation that we had was literally historic. You can go listen to it in the Smithsonian’s Permanent Archives. But before we really jump into this, I want everyone to introduce themselves. Starting off with Reginé.

Reginé Gilbert:
Hello, everyone. I’m Reginé Gilbert. I’m an industry assistant professor at New York University, and I am living in Brooklyn.

Maurice Cherry:
Jordan.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. Hey, my name’s Jordan Green. I’m out here in Seattle, Washington. I work for Boeing in the virtual airplane program as a UX designer.

Maurice Cherry:
And Paul.

Paul Webb:
I am Paul Webb, a designer developer. I just like making stuff currently residing in Cupertino, California.

Maurice Cherry:
And you all know me by this point, but if not, I’m Maurice Cherry. I’m the founder and host of Revision Path. So let’s talk about this movie. And I would say to anyone listening by this point, we are spoiling the whole movie. So if you have not seen the movie yet, you may want to see it before you listen to this episode. If you haven’t seen it and you still want to listen, it’s totally up to you. But we’re spoiling the entire movie. So let’s go ahead and jump into the plot. And I want to give a rundown of the plot, and I want us to go over it before we really get into the deeper meanings and symbolism and things that we all experience in the movie. But let’s start off with where the movie starts. It takes place, I think it jumps right into the big elephant in the room, which is the death of T’Challa.

One thing I thought that was interesting is how both of the Black Panther movies begin with the death. The first movie begins with the death of T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka. And then now we’re sort of thrust into what almost seems like an emergency room-type situation with Shuri drastically trying to synthesize something to save her brother T’Challa who passes away. So the movie already knows that the viewing public know that T’Challa is dead. And, of course, the actor who played him, Chadwick Boseman, has also passed. And so we go right into it. What did you all think about that?

Jordan Green:
Tears were shed, right?

Reginé Gilbert:
Tears were shed in the theater. And what I felt from that moment was that it was a moment of silence for all of us.

Jordan Green:
I really appreciate that Ryan Coogler and the whole cast really captured the chaoticness of the death, just how sudden it feels, how gut-wrenching it feels, how heartbreaking it feels, right? The whole opening scene was so masterly done. And I think for me, I think that’s the best way you could handle an actor, especially an actor who was really carrying the film, really carrying that franchise. That was his deal. I think facing it head-on and just the powerlessness that all of the characters feel and then having that just be around the meta moment of the powerlessness that everyone felt around Chadwick Boseman’s colon cancer. It was just, I’m getting choked up just thinking about it right now.

Maurice Cherry:
And I think the fact that they, I mean, even worked that sort of into the film to say that. I mean, we hear this I think a bit later on from Nakia about how she knew, but he didn’t tell anybody, which of course also alludes to something we find out near the end of the movie, which we’ll get to in a bit. But very much similar to in real life, where only the people that were really the closest to Chadwick knew of his illness.

And so it takes place, I think if people have watched this movie, they probably, I’m sure have watched Avengers End Game and all that stuff. Shuri was affected by the blip. She ended up coming back five years later. So the beginning of the movie is a little bit, I’m not really sure where it takes place in the whole MCU timeline, but it thrusts us right into this, I guess, franticness of Shuri trying to save to T’Challa. And then of course you have the ensuing funeral procession afterwards, with all the whites and them going through the sort of main thoroughfare in Wakanda, and then it flashes to one year later. So I think it’s interesting that the film doesn’t try to sit in that for too long. It gets right to what we all know, and then it’s now, here’s sort of the rest of the story.

So it picks up a year later. And what we know, I think certainly from the end of the first Black Panther, is that Wakanda is now open to the world in that not so much in a travel or trade or commerce sense, but it’s existence is now a known entity in the world. And so it’s interesting how geopolitics is a big factor in the entire movie. It opens up, well, Wakanda has been under pressure to share their resources with the rest of the world. And it’s sort through this address that Ramonda gives in this really striking purple regal outfit at the United Nations that she gives this address. And we learn about these sort of outside factors that have been trying to usurp Wakanda’s natural resources. That’s where we end up, of course, hearing the Dora Milaje again, we get introduced to Aneka, who’s played by Michaela Cole, and there’s almost like a target on Wakanda’s back in a way because of its resources.

Paul Webb:
That was one of my favorite scenes. She was just like, you all are trying to comfort us. Well, we don’t protect by bringing for fear of weaponry, we protected for fear of you. Talking to all the colonizers in the room. I was like, oh, sheesh. And then made the mercenaries who tried to hijack one of their facilities do the perp walk into the UN, man, France was looking like, and then she spoke in French to that woman, like, well.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah. And that’s one of the things, when we think about the design of this and all the things in this movie being done by design, one of the things that I think is really important about this film is language and the fact that language was used in a way that someone’s mother tongue was used with them. So when they brought those soldiers in to that room, she didn’t say in English, she spoke in French to the French woman. And throughout the movie we saw the transition of language so many times. And I think that’s an important piece, that’s by design throughout the movie.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, I’m getting excited because I’m just like, there were so many great things that were done in that scene. The fact that it’s Coogler’s vision, but the fact that the two countries that were pressuring Wakanda to share vibranium was France and the United States. The fact that France deployed its own troops locally to the Wakanda Embassy as an act of war was such a beautiful master stroke of reflecting world politics. And it was just the, I know Maurice, you’re doing the recount, but the fact that we end up going to Haiti later.

And so you have this really interesting and really beautiful way that Ryan Coogler is like, this is… The whole movie is just like, we’re going to make you sad, and also imperialism is the real enemy. And so the whole movie is this call, really literally a call in response of these are the world pressures, pressuring this African nation to share the resources and not really talking about France and the United States and Britain, really, were exploiting the hell out of Africa and they really didn’t touch on the Dutch or anything like that. But that was really great. The fact that they used, I don’t know if anybody else picked up on this, but the fact that they used different colors to symbolize which language was being spoken at what time.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah, I love that, too.

Jordan Green:
It was just so beautiful and it was just such a beautiful transition for you to know and just a really wonderful way to tell the audience, oh, now in case you don’t know, they’re speaking Talokanil, right? In case you don’t know, they’re speaking Wakandan, and the heroes were in yellow and blue, and then the white was for all of the colonizer places. It was just such a beautiful, beautiful master stroke because they did that with Spanish and English, and it was wonderful. I just thought that was such a nice touch.

Maurice Cherry:
I really love the way that language was so fluid throughout the entire movie. And this sort of effortless switch between, like you said, English and there’s French, there’s Spanish, there’s Wakandan, what was it? The Talokan language that they were speaking. All of that just seamlessly going between different environments and different cultures and different sorts of parts of the movie. Since we’re talking about Talokan, that’s sort of what we get to right after this scene is the CIA is trying to extract vibranium from the source and then they basically come across or they’re ambushed by these Talokan warriors.

And what I thought was interesting, and I don’t know if any of you all caught this, but the sort of siren song that Talokan did that sort of took over everyone to the point where they’re walking and jumping into the sea, which is, I guess, sort of an allusion to Greek mythology of the siren. They have the same sort of almost birdlike chirping thing that they’re doing, but it’s luring people into the sea. They end up taking over this aircraft carrier almost and killing almost everyone and really sending the message that don’t fuck with us, essentially.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. Yeah. No, that was the appearance of the Talokan. Just first of all, I don’t know how everybody else feels, but I have so much love for Ryan Coogler. One, because he is clearly, for me as someone from San Francisco, he is clearly from Oakland. He’s clearly from the Bay, and the way that he had the regalia of all of the Meso American folks, and I think it’s Mayan, but I don’t want to step out of turn, but people have been using Mayan and Aztec interchangeably. And I know that’s a faux pas, but I think it’s Mayan that he based all the regalia off of. And that is what all of the folks who are in Talokan are wearing, right? They’re wearing these indigenous outfits that are very true, and I love the fact that they’re wearing these beautiful crowns of feathers and things like that.

I remember seeing folks, dancers in the Bay wear those things. And so it’s beautiful to see that represented that kind of indigeneity. And then to have both the Talokan and Wakanda connected through vibranium and have that be the thing that sort connects these two indigenous cultures that were able to protect themselves from outside forces of invaders through literally something from outside of the planet, giving them sort powers to protect themselves from colonization. That, I mean, I just thought that was such a beautiful tie into both ways, and just having that be the thread was just wonderful.

Maurice Cherry:
The thing with, and we’ll get of course later to Namor and the Talokan and all of that, but I do get that, I think it was mostly Mayan, but I remember Shuri mentioning it as Meso American. So I think it’s mostly Mayan because the initial of point where they went down to the Talokan was the Yucatan Peninsula, which is Mayan. Even that sort of steep pyramid, terrorist pyramid that you saw in the background with Nakia, that’s clearly Mayan. But I feel like there’s also maybe some Aztec elements in it. There’s like some elements. I mean, that’s all sort of Central America, central Mexico, South America. I feel like it’s a good mix of that. But it is, I feel, probably mostly Mayan.

It’s interesting that when Namor is giving his backstory, and this is a little bit later in the film, when he’s explaining this to Shuri, how he ends up coming to the surface and sees all the Spanish conquistadors, the Spanish conquistadors wiped out, the Incons wiped out the Aztecs. I think there’s still millions of surviving descendants of the Mayan civilization. So they didn’t completely wipe them out. But I do like that they managed to show that portion of history as part of all of this.

Paul Webb:
And how he got his name in that moment, too. My enemies just like this dying terrible person just said, I’m born of no love. I’ll take it.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Paul Webb:
Namor.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, yeah. It’s no longer Namor, they’re like, oh, you all are going to know your R when you say that.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Sin amor is where it ended up coming from. Yeah. And it’s interesting. I mean, that sort of plays on something that the MCU has been, I feel like they’ve been doing in this phase where the names are coming from, the people themselves aren’t coming up with the names. The names are almost bestowed upon them. Even when we get to the point in the movie, and this is right after the attack when Namor ends up confronting Ramonda and Shuri, right before Ramonda is about to tell T’Challa’s secret, which again we find out at the end of the movie, but right as Ramonda I feel like is about to tell that they meet Namor, and Namor is like, my people call me Kukulkan, but my enemies call me Namor. I thought that was dope. Yeah.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. Oh, man.

Reginé Gilbert:
I mean, first of all, those feathers.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Jordan Green:
Talk about it.

Reginé Gilbert:
It just coming out and just seeing those feathers. And to me, something I noticed that I really don’t ever pay attention to was the lighting all throughout the movie. There was something about the way that folks were lit that made you really draw your attention to them, which I don’t really notice in other films, but I really noticed the light and how the light would hit people on the side of the face, or the light would hit through the costumes, or the light would focus in on certain aspects of things that made you pay attention to that thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. I mean, it was beautifully shot. I really liked the way that they did lighting underwater. Building on your point, the scene where Angela Bassett is underneath the water. I have never seen Angela Bassett so beautifully lit before, and that was just like, whoa, okay, well, I’m not sure if the technology is getting better, if people got better access to knowing how to shoot different light, just different folks with different skin tones. But yeah, Reginé when you’re talking about the way that they lit the folks from Talokan was they were always shot. It almost looked like they were almost always this ethereal underwater. Yeah, so that’s so wonderful.

Reginé Gilbert:
I mean, shout out to all the visual artists that worked on this film.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely.

Reginé Gilbert:
I mean, because I like to stay after and look to see all the credits and I’m like, look at all those visual artists that worked on this film.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so funny you mentioned that I was in the theater and I’m looking at the credits and I guess, because I’ve been doing this show for this long, I’m recognizing names. I’m like, wait a minute, that’s Nicholas Smith, he’s an illustrator. I know him. Wait, this is Handel Eugene, who I’ve had on the show before, who’s done work for other Marvel movies. I’m like, this is so dope.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, speaking of the end credits. I’m so glad they got Ruth Carter front end center because she put her foot in it again.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reginé Gilbert:
Can we just talk about Angela Bassett, every outfit that Angela Bassett wore was, I mean, I’m thinking about that silver, it was like a silver-gray outfit that had her one shoulder out, the purple, the adornments, all the adornment pieces that were added to the dresses. And I mean, we haven’t even started in on Shuri’s. Amazing. And that was in partnership. Ruth Carter did partnership with Adidas, I believe, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Reginé Gilbert:
Adidas.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah, can we talk about that? I don’t know, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m mean, yeah, I want get this-

Jordan Green:
I was like, isn’t Reginé the fashion expert on the panel? Come on

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yes. We will get to all of that. So since you talked about Shuri, to get back to the plot. So we’re at the point now where Namor has confronted Ramonda and Shuri and has set up this almost secondary conflict of the movie, which is find the scientists that was responsible for that machine that the Talokan destroyed that could detect vibranium and kill them. If they don’t kill the scientists, then Talokan is going to invade Wakanda.

And so Shuri and Okoye have to, they use Everett Ross to sort find out who the scientist is. They meet the scientists at MIT, it Riri Williams who, of course, I’m sure later, I think she’s going to have a Disney+ series next year, I believe, probably.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. And so we get introduced to Riri Williams.

Paul Webb:
Ironheart, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Who was this… Well, they don’t call her Ironheart in the film, but yeah, it is Ironheart from the comic books. So we meet Riri, who is also this technological genius, young black woman, younger than Shuri, actually. And so then it sort of takes place with this chase because the FBI has closed in on them. And then there’s like this epic chase scene throughout Boston and it ends up with both Shuri and Riri being captured by the Talokan, and Okoye ends up getting defeated. What did you all think about that part of the movie? That part really, to me, set things off in terms of where is the plot going to go from here?

Paul Webb:
Well, my favorite part was the banter between Okoye and Riri. And Riri said, she had a ashy head and they were going back and forth, and she was like, “Get out of my room.” And then she just brought out the spear, and she was like, “Oh, hell, you brought in a spear into my door room.” She was just freaking, that looks so realistic. And it was hilarious at the same time. I was just like, this is hilarious.

Reginé Gilbert:
What did she call her small, small girl?

Maurice Cherry:
Yes, that’s right.

Reginé Gilbert:
She called her small, small girl, which was just like, whoa, okay. And then her facial expression afterward as Riri is holding a heater, as if, what are you going to do with that heater?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Paul Webb:
Yeah. It was just like, I just sliced your Bluetooth speaker. You just threw at me. Come on.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Yeah, come on.

Jordan Green:
I mean, so that whole scene, I mean, I’m cracking up at the whole thing. Because the lead up to that where Shuri’s in the lab. So after T’Challa dies, Shuri just buries herself in the work, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Green:
And it’s one of those things that it’s like I saw myself reflected a lot in that moment, particularly when we’re talking about how do you deal with death? How do you deal with losing someone so close to you? And Shuri is, for me, it was just such an interesting thing because Shuri in the comics is so smart. She’s literally one of the smartest people on the face of the planet. And in the MCU, she was like, even when she was looking at Vision, when they brought her in to look at Vision and the other Avengers movies, it was clear Shuri was like, this is the most ghetto thing I’ve ever seen.

You’ve got this man up here stuck together with duct tape and bubble gum, you all couldn’t have at least called me. That’s how she is to Tony Stark. And so it is like, how does it feel when there was nothing you can do? Literally, you’re one of the smartest people in the world. You’re a genius. You could have figured it out if given enough time, and you couldn’t. So she just throws herself into work and she abandons all of her duties because she has to be the queen.

And of course, Ramonda steps up as Queen mother. And she’s like, okay, well, my baby is grieving. We’re all grieving, but someone’s got to lead this country and someone’s got to protect us and we’re a monarchy, so I’m going to do the damn thing. And that play-off of it. And all three of the women, Okoye, Shuri, and Ramonda, all of them in this dance of, a delicate dance, of maintaining Wakanda. And it was just such a brilliant moment. And then to have Okoye be like, “We got to get her out of this lab.” And to have Ramonda be like, “You better bring my baby back.”

Maurice Cherry:
And she doesn’t.

Jordan Green:
And she doesn’t.

Maurice Cherry:
And she doesn’t. The scene after that, if that’s not for your consideration for an Academy Award, I don’t know what Marvel Studios is just thinking because Angela Bassett-

Paul Webb:
Yes, that made my heart hurt.

Maurice Cherry:
… put her whole foot into that scene, “Have I not suffered enough?” And then strips Okoye of her rank as general of the Dora Milaje. And I think that’s an interesting set piece in the movie, not just for the reasons of, it’s almost like denatures one of the characters. Okoye in the first film is, of course, ever present as the general of the Dora Milaje. But it also indicates something that I think audiences may have muddied about the Black Panther, from the first movie, which is that the Black Panther being the protector of Wakanda, and the person being the ruler of Wakanda does not necessarily have to be the same person.

It happened to be that case with T’Chaka, T’Challa’s father. And it was the case with T’Challa. And of course, since we’re spoiling, it ends up being of Shuri later in the film. But it’s at this point where who is going to protect Wakanda, if the general of the Dora Milaje, who at this point is the, I almost would say the next in line in terms of protector of Wakanda, can’t even protect the soon-to-be queen of the nation, then what’s next? What’s left? That was such a great pivotal point in the movie.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, God. I mean, the thing about the, sorry, I want to circle back to the ashy head because it keeps being on my mind just having Okoye asking Shuri being like, “Is it the matching the right skin tone?”

Reginé Gilbert:
And then Fenty got a plug in the movie.

Jordan Green:
Yes, Fenty 440 or something like that.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah, something like that.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, that’s right. And just all of these ways in which black women have to be in consideration of how they’re appearing out of the world and just having that be naturally just part of these characters lives. You can tell that it was-

Maurice Cherry:
You can tell it was written by a Black man or a Black people, and you can tell that the Black women got to add in as well. Right? This is an experience that we would have. Also, I love the looks that they have for a Okoye and Shuri out in the world. And calling MIT a Wakandan primary school.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah.

Paul Webb:
That made me feel primitive, bro. Does that mean My high school was a preschool?

Maurice Cherry:
And I think also what’s interesting…

Paul Webb:
I am D-U-M-B, just dumb.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’d say an interesting presentation fashion wise is in the first movie when Okoye, when they’re in South Korea, Okoye has to wear the certain dress and this wig. And you can tell this time I guess because now Wakanda’s open to the world, she just has on a blazer over whatever her Dora Milaje-esque sort of like body suit is. I thought was really interesting.

Reginé Gilbert:
What about the bridge scene? We haven’t talked about that. When they’re on the bridge. Right before they get taken.

Paul Webb:
I was holding my breath. I was like just, “Get up, get up, get up.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Green:
I was just like, it’s hard for me to watch that scene because you kind of don’t know who to root for, right? Because the general of Talokan is doing the damn thing.

Paul Webb:
Attuma.

Jordan Green:
Tuma. Yeah.

Paul Webb:
Attuma. Yeah.

Jordan Green:
Attuma. Yeah. Yeah, Attuma. I was just… On a real, for me, Attuma being… That was the first person you see that’s heavy set and bare chested in any Marvel movie that I’ve ever seen. Hollywood heavy set, dude is still stocky. Still sturdy. It was just, I was really… They were trying to present them as a villain, but the more and more you learn about why they’re doing what they’re doing, you can’t see them as a villain. They’re literally just trying to protect their people. So I was just like… And at the same time, I was like, “Y’all going to tell me Okoye can’t kick this dude’s butt?”

Reginé Gilbert:
When he kicked her spear to her as if to say, “Come on, let’s keep going.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Reginé Gilbert:
Right?

Maurice Cherry:
And interestingly, him and Okoye are kind of peers in a way. They’re both sort of the main warriors of their individual cultures. So them going head to head was really sort a clash of peers in a way.

Jordan Green:
And plus when they meet later, it’s like she sees him and goes, “Warrior.” And they have that mutual respect like, “I don’t like you but I’m coming for you. But I kind of respect you a lot because you’re my equal.” They finally found that equal so I found that very pleasant to watch.

Reginé Gilbert:
And Namora is the one with the feathers.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. She has these almost like lioness kind of feathers, like lion fish kind of feathers for her sort of headdress I guess is what you would call it. Yeah. Beautiful.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. I really wanted them to… I know we only had so much time and two hours and 40 minutes is not enough time to get everything. But if there was one thing I guess I really wish we saw was more of Namora. I wish we understood more of her and her motivations, but it is what it is. And I’m not mad at it, but it was just she was equally a powerful woman. And I think that if we could do something else, it’s seeing Indigenous women of all different backgrounds being powerful and being complex characters. That would be the next thing that I would want to see is that because it would’ve been even cooler if Namora was the one going up against Okoye. But I’m not sure what they got in store for her in the MCU.

Reginé Gilbert:
And that was another place where language, the Gria was translating for Shuri to say, “Don’t kill her, take me.” And they obliged. So it’s this, I think throughout the movie we were like, “Do we hate them? Do we like them? Are we rooting for them? Who?” It was for me a back and forth, like I feel for you, but I don’t want to because I don’t like what you did. It was a back and forth.

Maurice Cherry:
And so here we kind of see the…

Paul Webb:
Their whole world is beautiful too. Just built on the same base stone and creating this architectural marvel, bringing the sun to his people, that line and just seeing that palace, I don’t even know what you would call that. Some underwater architectural marvel, that gave me chills and I was just like, “Ah, I like him.” Damn.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So at this part in the movie, we sort of see this split, what you’re talking about is when they end up taking Shuri and Riri down to Talokan and then Shuri gets to see Namora’s kingdom for her own eyes. And I’m pretty sure by seeing that, she saw in that protector role the same thing that she saw in her brother. I see that you’re someone that is trying to protect your civilization, protect your people. And then on the other end you see Ramonda who is just concerned about getting Shuri back. And so Ramonda ends up going to Haiti. I’m glad they called it Haiti and didn’t just say Haiti. So Ramonda goes to Haiti, meets up with Nakia and asks her to retrieve Shuri, which ends up happening kind of… It happens at an interesting time because you start to feel, at least from Shuri’s standpoint down in Talokan, that they’re starting to come to some sort of understanding and agreement. And in this case, Wakanda sort of forces the hand of the Talokan by basically rescuing Shuri and Riri and kind of bringing them back to the surface world.

Paul Webb:
And killing some people in the process. That part right there was just like, “Ah, if only you didn’t do that.”

Jordan Green:
See. Okay. Here’s the thing though, y’all couldn’t let Shuri call Ramonda and just let her know she all right? You know what I mean? That’s my thing. Y’all got all this advanced technology and y’all can’t just send a text message? You know what I’m saying? How you going to steal a Black woman’s child?

Paul Webb:
Yeah, because she has the Kimoyo bead earrings.

Jordan Green:
Right? She got the Kimoyo bead earrings down there, they got the sun underwater. You telling me y’all didn’t have no way of communicating? Okay. Okay.

Paul Webb:
I mean they had a conch shell, but you got to blow into it and throw it in the ocean.

Jordan Green:
You couldn’t send a SOS through the conch shell or something? That’s not a plot hole for me. It’s more like I don’t know if anybody’s hand was forced because Namor up here kind of forgetting basic etiquette. You know what I’m saying? Oh yeah, we got the princess. She’s doing a diplomatic tour of our country. She’ll come back, don’t trip. But you show up at somebody’s house, threaten them and then all of a sudden they baby go missing. And they know that they in your hood. Oh yeah, we going to send somebody. If there was one big mistake, that was it for me. It was like y’all just been communicating more. If y’all had just been establishing some communication and trying to do some trust. But Namor is arrogant. In the comics, he’s just the most arrogant son of a person you’ve ever met. Right?

Paul Webb:
Well, when you put it like that, he has been alive since what, 1471. Yeah, he should’ve known.

Jordan Green:
He should know better.

Paul Webb:
Yeah, he definitely knew. But maybe he just has not gone out that much in centuries. I don’t.

Jordan Green:
Okay. Okay.

Reginé Gilbert:
And the cave where they were holding them was so beautiful to me. I thought what? Again, going back to the lighting and setting a mood, that seemed like a very… Although they were being held captive, it was still a welcoming place. And again, there’s this duality throughout the film of like, do we want it? They shouldn’t really be there, but it’s okay. And then getting to go and see the city, obviously after putting on a… Well, I mean… Yeah, after getting the… You got to put on the suit, otherwise your bones will break because of all the pressure from the water. So yeah. That cave was just so beautiful.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, it was really beautiful. Also, I think one thing that was really clear to me was the humanity of your enemy is still in consideration. Right? Which is something that we don’t really see in a lot of other non… For me, this was a lot. I saw a lot of threads of Indigeneity. I saw a lot of threads of the basic humanity of a person is still considered. You’re our prisoner, but we’re not going to torture you. We’re going to make sure you get some… Are you hungry? Have you eaten?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, and also there’s a mutual respect. The Talokan brings Shuri a garment befitting of royalty. She’s not in any sort of prisoner garb or anything. They’re like, “We see you. We see you. We know who you are. We know what this is.” The Talokan’s are treating Shuri and I guess Riri by proxy with a level of respect and humanity that quite frankly you don’t see on the surface world towards Black people.

Jordan Green:
Or toward really any Indigenous person. I would make the argument that if we’re sort really looking at this with a little bit of a political lens, I don’t know if Shuri was captured by France or Russia or any of those nations that have been colonizing nations. If we would be seeing this kind of treatment, especially Black women, especially other women of color and Riri being kept alive and safe and whole. And that whole scene where they bring her Shuri, the dress and Riri was like, “Don’t put that on because what happens in these white films when you put that dress on.” And not having that happen to Shuri, not having Talokan try to… Or sorry. Namor try to force himself on her, try to marry her, anything like that. But just being like, “I’m going to treat you an equal. And I’m going to show you…”

Maurice Cherry:
He even gives her that bracelet from his mother, which ends up becoming an important part throughout, near the end of the film.

Paul Webb:
As soon as that happened, I was like, “Wait, what did he say that bracelet was made with?” Okay, so this is how we’re going to get the Black Panther back. I knew it. I was just like, “Ooh, I can’t wait for this part.”

Maurice Cherry:
So Nakia helps Shuri and Riri escape and then Namor and the Talokan’s completely retaliate against Wakanda. And I like that they did it in this almost river market type of setting. Because that’s not something that we really saw in the first movie. We saw these sort of grand, almost drone shot overhead vistas. Of course, you saw the main royal courtroom and Shuri’s lab and such, but you didn’t really get to see that much on the ground. And so the Talokan’s attack Wakanda, Ramonda is killed trying to save Riri or she’s drowned by trying to save Riri, the part you mentioned with her in the water.

And then Namor kind of gives this ultimatum. Basically he’s going to come back in a week and completely wipe Wakanda off the map and the Wakandan’s have to retreat to the Jabari land for safety. And that part of the movie, I mean this of course is really setting up whatever the next main conflict is. But it also thrusts Shuri right back into this grief cycle almost. Not to say that she really got over the death of her brother, but then a year later to lose her mother too. Oh my God.

Reginé Gilbert:
Being in the movie theater with folks when Ramonda died was, again, it was like the air was taken out of the room. Are you serious? Is this real? More tears are shed because one, Angela Bassett acted… I mean award winning no matter if she gets an award or not. In my book, she gets an award. But this is the matriarch. This is a person that we’ve seen fight for their family and go through hardship, lost their son, did everything that they could to get their daughter back, gets their daughter back and then dies. And now the daughter is left holding the bag. What? And being so young still and being consumed with revenge and vengeance.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reginé Gilbert:
And grief.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So at that moment, she basically retreats back to the lab. Of course, she has the bracelet from Namor’s mother. And like Paul said uses that to kind of synthetically end up reconstructing the heart shape herb. And so reconstructs the herb, 3D prints the herb, which I thought was pretty dope. 3D prints the herb, distills it into a tincture and then Shuri ends up drinking it so she can go to the ancestral plane. Because I think one, of course, is to try to seek knowledge about what’s the next step. Because I have no one at this point, no one else in my family is alive. And maybe the intention when she drank it was that she thought she would see her brother or she thought she would maybe see her mother. But then she takes it and end up seeing Killmonger.

Jordan Green:
Hey, little cuzo.

Maurice Cherry:
In the ancestral plane. I was like, yo, no way.

Jordan Green:
That was such good scene too. Because that confirmed to everybody that he’s dead.

Reginé Gilbert:
But yes, that one. But I really think about her being under the water, which water was a common theme, but being in the water, coming out of the water dry. Right? And seeing, again, the beautiful colors of the astral plane and then turning around and seeing, knowing someone’s in the chair and saying, “Mother.” And then walking closer and then seeing it’s not. That was so powerful.

Jordan Green:
So what was interesting about that, and I’m not sure if anybody else picked up on this, but in Black Panther one, when T’Challa takes it, he sees T’Chaka, who was the last Black Panther before. So when Shuri takes it, she sees the last Black Panther. Which was in N’Jadaka, right? So I was like, “Oh, that’s how that’s going to get around showing Chadwick Boseman.” Because he wasn’t the last Black Panther before he died.

Paul Webb:
That makes sense. Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Green:
So in terms of lineage. Yeah, in terms of lineage. And I was like, that’s such a master stroke. The whole movie is genius, but that is such a beautiful little detail. And then there’s this overlay of Killmonger is set for revenge and that’s where Shuri is going and all that stuff. But of course, Ramonda wouldn’t be part of one of the people. Because the ceremony is that you get to talk to the Black Panthers that will give you guidance. Right? Ramonda was never a Black Panther. And Shuri doesn’t know that because Shuri’s actually… There’s no priest of the Black Panthers guiding her through that journey.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Zuri passed in the first movie, right? Chancellor person.

Jordan Green:
And then the other Black Panther priests who come in later in the film toward the end, they’re nowhere to be found. So it’s Nakia who knows how to do the grinding ritual part of it, which is beautiful too. To have these three highly intelligent, highly skilled Black women making a way where there is no way. That’s a beautiful moment. But also there’s this layer underneath that of Shuri being like, “Oh, fuck tradition. I’m doing this so I can get my revenge.” And that is actually what Killmonger was doing too. That is these beautiful little parallels that are set up throughout the entire movie that are just so rich. I love that whole feat. That was so good. Oh man. So good.

Maurice Cherry:
So Shuri comes out of the ancestral plane, sort of fueled, I guess in a way of revenge from having spoken with Killmonger. And then she realizes, oh, she has the strength of the Black Panther. So she becomes the next Black Panther. And it’s interesting because she talks with… I think she talked with M’Baku after that, I want to say. And M’Baku was almost kind of giving her, you would think would be contradictory advice. The Jabari tribe being more kind of shunning technology and things like that. M’Baku almost giving her advice for peace. And instead Shuri wants vengeance and orders this immediate counter attack on Namor and the Talokan. Of course, Okoye is no longer the general of the Dora Milaje. Now, it’s Ayo who’s the general. And then Shuri gets the New Armor, the midnight angel armor that she had been making. Gives it to Okoye and then Okoye recruits Aneka to join her. So then the Wakandan’s all set out on this big ass ship to try to set a trap for Namor, to try to lure everyone to the surface. And it’s a huge epic battle.

It’s funny because you’re like, “Oh, the Wakandan’s got it.” And they’re like, “Oh no, the Talokan’s got it.” It really sort of goes back and forth. It’s interesting how when she talks with Riri, how of they get the idea of how to weaken Namor by just exposing him to heat, to dry him out. So there’s this whole interesting elemental symbolism cycle, which I do want to talk about, between earth, fire, air, and water that goes throughout the film. And so then it comes to near the end of the movie, both the Black Panther Shuri and Namor are fighting on this desert beach. You think that Shuri is about to kill him. And then she gets all these flashbacks and I guess messages from the ancestors and spares his life. And then they make an alliance. Namor accepts that, the battle ends. And so Riri ends up going back to Boston.

And the movie kind of mostly ends off, I would say, at that point. Of course there’s this mid credit scene which happens afterwards where Shuri goes to Haiti to finally do the ritual that she was about to do with Ramonda at the top of the movie, which was burning the funeral robes, the funeral ceremonial robes. And she does so on the beach, is finally able to grieve. And then Nakia is joined by a young boy who is her son, Toussaint. I think it says Toussaint in the movie, but Toussaint. And Toussaint tells Shuri like, “Toussaint my Haitian name. My Wakandan name is T’Challa.” And it’s like in this moment Shuri’s like not only do I now have family, family that I didn’t even know that I had, but now this young boy very well could be the next Black Panther, which I thought was a super clever way to recast in the future whomever the Black Panther will be.

Reginé Gilbert:
Prince T’Challa. He’s Prince T’Challa.

Maurice Cherry:
Prince T’Challa. Yeah.

Paul Webb:
Opens the door for future films with the same name. Brilliant.

Jordan Green:
Brilliant.

Paul Webb:
Brilliant story work.

Maurice Cherry:
And I stayed till after the credits hoping there would be another scene and it just said, “Black Panther will return.” I’m glad they just left it open like that. They just said Black Panther will return. That’s it. I don’t know what an after credit scene could have done outside of that because once I saw that part with Toussaint and them on the beach, my jaw was on the floor. I was like, “What?” That was so brilliant.

Paul Webb:
More tears were shed.

Reginé Gilbert:
More tears were shed. Well, that last scene of her sitting on the beach, and again it was almost like the beginning of the film and the end of the film were the same. And it was a tribute to Chadwick who Ryan Coogler beyond loved.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, loved, loved.

Reginé Gilbert:
Loved, loved. Like this isn’t just, “Oh, good working with you.” This was true love. And to me, this was the biggest love letter he could give.

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

Paul Webb:
I am so glad they did not do some 3D deep fake model of Chadwick to have him act in depth. I’m so glad they didn’t do that.

Jordan Green:
Oh my God. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
No Star Wars force ghost or something.

Reginé Gilbert:
No Tupac hologram thing. No. I was very happy. I was very happy about that too.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, it feels disrespectful to do something like that. Yeah. And it felt disrespectful when they did that with Tupac, to be quite honest with you. Anyway. We talking about Black Panther, I’m going away from…

Maurice Cherry:
So yeah, that’s the movie. I mean we spent a good bit of time going over the whole plot of everything, but then the movie actually was much longer than the first one and there was so much introduced. I remember seeing this interview where Ruth Carter said that nine new superheroes were introduced in this movie. And I was really like, “Namora, Attuma, Riri.” There were a lot of people that were sort of introduced. And so it was a lot to cram into one film. But I think it did a great job overall. And granted, this episode is not about dissecting really the plot of the movie. We’re here to talk about design, which we will get into right now. So let’s start with the fashion. I think the most striking thing for me is… Well, I mean there’s so many striking things, but the one that stands out to me, because we just talked about it, was Shuri as Black Panther in her Black Panther suit.

It had been intimated, I think through earlier interviews and such that Shuri was going to be the Black Panther. And you could tell, of course, there’s like the dots around the eyes that were very similar to the same ones that Shuri had in both the first and the second movie. I like how her suit was kind of this mix of black and gold, like Killmonger’s suit was gold, T’Challa’s suit was black. And so hers was kind of a mixture of two, I guess with that gold sort of symbolizing the sort of revenge or vengeful parts that she probably shares with Killmonger at this present time.

Reginé Gilbert:
But there was the scene where she was going for the… Looking at the face mask of her brother and then she moved forward to her own. It was a passing of the… Not a passing of the torch, but in ways, “Okay, I’m honoring you and I have my own.”

Jordan Green:
Yeah. And the comic Shuri does become the Black Panther at a time. And also she ends up having her own role and she doesn’t have any sort of code name, but she does become the keeper of the Wakandan history, the oral history. And when we’re talking about fashion, in the comic, she has these beautiful long, they almost look like elephant tusk earrings and she’s wearing them in the funeral procession for that. And so I thought that was a nice touch to sort of harken almost, if you’re a comics fan, like foreshadowing you know Shuri is going to have this role, this very prominent role. And so it was really cool to see the Black Panther suit. I really liked how it was like gold inlaid and having the speckles of white throughout it. So it really is Shuri’s instead of a recreation of Killmonger’s.

Maurice Cherry:
Reginé, our resident fashion expert…

Maurice Cherry:
Our resident fashion expert here. What did you think of how the costumes and everything were in the movie?

Reginé Gilbert:
I love all of them. I think that Ruth Carter and team did such a brilliant job of taking, not only the influences from the African culture, but influences from the Mesoamerica, from the Mayan cultures and really blending those and bringing those together. I thought the opening scene where they’re in the all white, which is traditionally in a lot of cultures, white is worn for funerals, and typically not in the West, people wear black, and so acknowledging that, I think was so important, and again, the colors, the scenes of the folks who are walking in the streets of Wakanda, everything is so colorful and bright, all their clothing. There was one person who was just wearing this really nice sweater, dressed in heels. I remember just seeing little pieces of everybody and the blue, I don’t know, striking colors of blue and the reds, again, the colors were popping throughout the movie.

Maurice Cherry:
You definitely had the color white as kind of this symbolizing thread, I feel like, throughout the film. Of course, with the funeral procession, I think Shuri, in a later scene, you see her in this white dress, I think this is after she becomes a black panther. Riri is wearing white at one point in the lab. So you do see whites used in a lot of places, but more so where I think it was really tied to T’Challa, tied to Chadwick, I felt like white kind of represented him throughout the movie and the ways that we saw it being presented.

Reginé Gilbert:
And I want every outfit Shuri had on in that movie. Every one, every single one was, when they went to the MIT campus, that jumpsuit was, I wanted it.

Paul Webb:
No, that was a fire jumpsuit. I was [inaudible 01:00:24] called and I am picking up, give me five of those.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s very, it’s tech wear. It’s this really nice kind of fitted jumpsuit that of course she was saying it, I can blend in with the students, but I would even say her hair, I mean you to talk about just Shuri’s hair journey, in the first movie, her hair is always presented in this very, almost regal, braided up do’s and things of that nature, and then with the second movie, it’s more, I guess, relaxed in a way. She has just these front curls at the top of her head. It’s very almost casual in a way, I guess, growing into her womanhood, because she’s what, a teenager, supposedly a teenager in the first movie? I think she’s probably what, maybe 21, 22 in Wakanda Forever.

Jordan Green:
I think she’s mid twenties in this film.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Also, I’m just thinking about the blip too, because there’s like a five year gap…

Jordan Green:
Yeah, that’s why I was saying that, yeah. I think she’s mid twenties, but as they say, black people age in plateaus. There’s not a linear.

Paul Webb:
I’ve never heard that, but I love it. I’m going to keep using that moving forward.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. So I do think that. I’m still stuck on Okoye’s outfits, to be quite honest with you, because they really put her in some very, very sharp looking suits, and I’m of a good looking suit on anybody, and they just really made it work. It’s just great.

Maurice Cherry:
And then further pushing that sartorial point, even when you look at the Talokan, you look at Namora and the people of Talokan, I feel like there’s so much that had to have gone into making sure that they got a lot of those elements as closely as they could culturally write. You’ll notice they’re not really wearing fabric, of course, as they’re underwater, but then the neck pieces are shells and coral and thinking about how they might have used vibranium to create what it is that they have and what they wear in their civilization. They obviously have to have things that allow for great mobility underwater. Even the face mask kind of thing that has water in it, I thought was pretty cool.

Paul Webb:
Yeah, I did know notice that…

Jordan Green:
Beautiful design.

Paul Webb:
… every time the Talokan were just moving around underwater, the things they were carrying were always in a mesh bag, which made a lot of sense as I was watching it, but I was just like, “Huh, I guess if I lived underwater, I was just doing groceries or whatever, I would want something that could just move freely with me.” And it was just a weird out of body thought I had while watching that, and then I was just like, “I don’t think I’m going to live in the water.” But that’s neither here nor there. Hannah Beachler’s production bible for the first Black Panther had to have been massive. So for this one, I still wish we could get a hold of it, but it’s still probably going to be top secret until maybe a decade from now, but I’m just so inspired by all the visuals that come out of that, and all the research that goes into just everything, because it is a lot. It has to be to make this film look and feel as great as it does.

Jordan Green:
Yes. Was Hannah Beachler part of this one as well?

Maurice Cherry:
She was. She was production designer for this. Shout out to her for that, and if you all want to listen to her episode, it’s episode 300 of Revision Path, you can listen to that on the website, but yeah, she was a production designer for this film too.

Paul Webb:
Great.

Maurice Cherry:
And as I found out later, came up with the Wakandan like glyph language that we also see throughout the film.

Jordan Green:
Oh wow, so also a typographer. Okay.
Also a typographer. Brilliant, brilliant, just killing it. I like with Namor and with Attuma and with Namora, how you started to see all these traditional sea elements as part of, just part what they were wearing. Namora was wearing pearls. He was wearing pearls in his necklace and in his kind of neck piece, and then Namor had these sort of big fish fins with her headdress as well as her kind of neck piece. Attuma, I think, had a sharks jaw on the top of his thing, that spread out. It was interesting to see how they utilized those as part of their armature, which really solidified them as being these underwater dwellers, as part of this underwater civilization.

Paul Webb:
Namor’s throne also looked like it was a mouth of a shark, and I was just like, “Oh, this guy’s badass.”

Jordan Green:
Yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Even his headdress, that big, huge circular headdress, majestic.

Jordan Green:
Oh yeah.

Reginé Gilbert:
And again, him coming down into the throne, that scene, where they’re about to…

Paul Webb:
Oh yeah.

Reginé Gilbert:
… go battle. So him coming down and again, just the lighting, the whole scene of coming down and then sitting…

Paul Webb:
Fire.

Reginé Gilbert:
… was just beautiful.

Jordan Green:
I love that. That whole speech was so good too, because what was great about it is he said, “I made a mistake. This is my bad, but now we got to go to war. So we doing this?” And everybody was like, “Yeah, let’s go.” How often do you see leaders be like, “Yo, actually I know I’m charged with protecting you and I made a mistake, so forgive me.”

Paul Webb:
Yeah, that never happens.

Jordan Green:
Right? Just all of these little bits were just so good.

Reginé Gilbert:
And another scene I’m thinking about from a fashion perspective was when they’re on the ship, and they’re about to start fighting, and the Dora Milaje start running to jump off that boat, and all you see are these red suits, right?

Jordan Green:
Right.

Reginé Gilbert:
Flying in the air and you’re like, where are they? Are they jumping in the water? You didn’t really know until they got caught and you could see them, and to me, that scene, and again, going back to the colors and the outfits and seeing the blueness of the bodies, in contrast with that red, it was an amazing scene to watch. It really was.

Jordan Green:
I really loved, and I’m not sure whose idea this was, and if anybody that was working on the Black Panther want to just reach out and come on the podcast and just let us know. That’d be great.

Reginé Gilbert:
Oh please.

Jordan Green:
But I’m not sure whose idea it was to make the Talokan people appear brown underwater, and blue when they’re on the surface. That was such a brilliant touch. I’m going to go see it again today, but the fact that there are these deep, rich stills, sort of these deep rich browns of the indigenous folks of Mesoamerica underwater, they can be how you remember them underwater or how we would remember them underwater, but when they come up to the surface, they’re changed into this blueness. That was dope, dope, dope, dope, dope. I loved that so much. It was my favorite bit.

Maurice Cherry:
I think they did a really great job. I talked about this earlier of showing, if we look at Wakanda, for example, just the architecture of Wakanda, how they really show more of what you would see on the regular, just surface level of being in the country, I would say, because I don’t think they really talked about any specific cities in Wakanda. They just sort of talked about Wakanda as a country, but I think it was near the end of the movie. It was the first time that I saw a car driving on a road, in Wakanda. This happens near the end of the movie where you see these Wakandan, the best I’d call them are like lakefront houses, they’re on stilts, right? But you see a car driving on a road, I was like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone driving in Wakanda. What the Wakanda traffic rules look like?

I don’t know. But you didn’t see stuff like that. But I thought that even showing the sort of marketplace where that fight took place and you started, you saw the bridges, you saw kind of the towering skyscrapers and buildings, but then on the ground it still feels and looks very, the best I could describe it is African, in that it still felt like it was very of the earth, even with all these technological advances, but then you see this other part out near this sort of lake house, honestly, that could have been Hilton Head in South Carolina. That could have been the Keys in Florida. It just looked and maybe it was, just in terms of actual physical setting, but I like how it showed you these different aspects of Wakanda. It didn’t give you what I think people would stereotypically think of as “Africa.”

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

Paul Webb:
I did see that’s in the beginning of the movie when they were flying into Wakanda, in the lower right of the screen, there was a subway. There were, that a train car coming in. I was just like, “Huh, okay, that’s cool.”

Jordan Green:
That was there, in the first one too, the subways.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. They had to transport the vibranium from the Great Mound.

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

Paul Webb:
Oh right.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. And it’s interesting with Wakanda, because again, I would love to see, if someone wants to come in and set me straight, just let me know, but I would love to see the production bible because there’s this whole movement of what’s called solar punk versus cyber punk, which is dystopian and the world is just going to end up the matrix. Solar punk, and they’ve been doing this in the comics too with Wakanda, is the integration of technology with the natural environment from the earth, and so that is a lot of what they have with Wakanda, right, is just this very sort, bright, hopeful future of it, and then you see that mirrored in the technology in Talokan actually, when it’s like, we’re going to be working with our environment instead of being distinct from it. I loved all of those productions to look at, those set pieces and things like that. I would pay so much to just spend time on that set. Just look at it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. When you said solar punk, that did really capture, I think especially in Wakanda, that kind of hopefulness of what the future could look like, not what the future necessarily is, and I would say in some way with Namor bringing the sun to his people in that sort of way, is probably an allusion to that as well, we did see there was some, I guess, primitiveness in Talokan City where you saw children playing and things of that nature, but it also was still very technological. So it’s almost like an underwater Wakanda, or maybe Wakanda is an over-world Talokan, but there’s definitely similarities that are going on there, as above, so below, that sort of duality.

Reginé Gilbert:
That’s what I felt. There were a lot of parallels between the two, in essence, countries, that they used what they had and made the most of it.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. I feel I know how to put this, but I feel like there’s this way that we, in Western mindsets, we kind of look at things as primitive and things like that, but I’m also, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You know what I mean? There are designs that haven’t changed for millennia. I think about just other places in the world that ,are older than the Western world, that use designs that have just been passed down over generations and generations, and you can’t build a better mouse trap. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, no, go ahead. Go ahead, I want to say something after that.

Jordan Green:
Oh, okay. Yeah, and just sometimes I think what’s sort of cool and radical about both Wakanda and Talokan, is they’re using indigenous technologies as equally as they’re using what we would consider Western or modern technologies, and it’s cool to see those designs held in the same regard, and that’s kind of the whole thing about what I really loved about this movie. It was the ways in which we’ve learned about native or indigenous folks, is that they were lower in technology and backwards and things like that, or primitive or things like that. And it’s just like, “No, actually they were actually fairly advanced and they don’t need to have all of these different design languages of the west to still be considered advanced.” I really, really loved that about all of the little pieces that I kept seeing throughout the movie.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
No, go ahead. Go ahead, Reginé, go ahead.

Reginé Gilbert:
I was thinking about what we see a lot of in the movie, and we saw this in the last movie too, was a lot of gesture based things, right? Hand tracking gesture based things, which right now in 2022, we’re seeing that a little bit in VR and a little bit in AR too, but this movie takes it to another level. I mean, when Ramonda raises her hands and you see all these…

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Reginé Gilbert:
… you see all the planes, I don’t know what you call them planes, but the planes come up and she’s in control of everything with her hands. It isn’t a control board and all of that stuff. So I think, again, looking at things from the lens that’s been applied to this, is a futurist lens for the folks of Wakanda and their technology, and I think it will influence what people end up making in our real world.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, I hope so. I’m still waiting for kimoyo beads.

Paul Webb:
Listen man.

Reginé Gilbert:
We’re all waiting for those.

Paul Webb:
Please. I have so many notes on those. They continue to be dope. You can take them off and have them as earrings, they can be flying bugs, they can be defibrillators.

Reginé Gilbert:
Exactly.

Paul Webb:
Are you serious.

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Well, all right. Well you know?

Jordan Green:
No, no, no.

Paul Webb:
With my kimoyo beads.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, you were supposed to be on that from the last movie. What’s going on?

Reginé Gilbert:
You had four years. What’s happening with those?

Maurice Cherry:
Are you okay, Paul? Is this an intervention?

Paul Webb:
No, man. So I was thinking about this again last night. I was like, “Okay, they’re all magnetic. How do they work together?” There was something else, I was like, “Okay, they must use Piezoelectric properties and all this stuff.” And then I was thinking about, “Cerbo Motors, accelerometers. How can we manufacture them to be as tiny to fit in these things? How would they connect to each other? Oh, well maybe the magnetic connection between them that keeps them together could also provide electricity towards in them.” Then I was like, “How would they be a defibrillator now?” I was like, “Okay, maybe if they can detect being on a body, that’s when they’ll do something or whatever. And then you present to them and then it would just release all the electricity stored in each and every one.” There’s so much that you can extrapolate on all this, which is why we need Hannah Beachler’s production bible.

Maurice Cherry:
Miss Beachler.

Paul Webb:
Please, just like, I will pay her. I don’t know, I just want all her notes on that, and another thing that bothered me about the film was, “How did the CIA bug them?”

Jordan Green:
Yes.

Paul Webb:
Can you bug kimoyo beads?

Jordan Green:
I’ve been thinking about that the entire…

Paul Webb:
I was like, “Really?”

Jordan Green:
I’ve been thinking about that the entire time.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Jordan Green:
I’ve been thinking about that the entire time.

Maurice Cherry:
Maybe that’ll be revealed in a future Disney Plus thing, because I get what you’re saying. What was her name in the film? Val Allegra de Fontaine who, who had her debut in the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which was the Disney Plus series from last year, is reintroduced in this film, not only as the director of the CIA, but also Everett Ross’s wife, I kind of felt that was, maybe again, that’ll be explained in another movie, felt a little throw away to me, felt like we got to put some other white people in here, so we got to tie it in some way to Disney Plus. But it kind of felt a little, “I don’t know if you can really get one up on the Wakanda like that?”

Paul Webb:
Yeah, I was just like, “Come on bro.”

Jordan Green:
I’m glad that the only plot magic that happened, that is the United States is somehow able to bug what a content technology like that, because everything else feels, we’re talking about people flying through the air and we’re like, “Yeah, that makes sense, that makes sense”, but how you going to bug kimoyo beads?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I wasn’t sure about that.

Paul Webb:
I can see how someone could become a muted by his mother drinking some fancy stuff, but I mean, come on, let’s be real, technologically speaking.

Maurice Cherry:
So I want to touch on something that Jordan, you said earlier around solar punk, which I think was an interesting, I guess, treatise throughout the film. Solar punk is sort of this vision of a future that embodies what humanity can achieve, but I think another key element of solar punk is, sustainability. It’s a point where humanity sees itself as a part of nature, which is what the Wakandans have done by using vibranium to build their civilization. It’s what the Talokan have used to build their civilization, and so you have these other cultures, Western cultures that are like, “Yeah, we want some of that too. You need to share with us”, when we all know it’s not about sharing, “We want to take it for ourselves. So you have nothing. We want to strip it from you so we can have it.” And I think it’s interesting when you think about that saying move fast and break things, how that is completely antithetical to solar punk ,moving fast and breaking things is pretty much just new school manifest destiny. We want to take what you have and make it our own thing.

So what I think is interesting, which with both Namor and Shuri, even at some points, mulling over this idea of an alliance, it’s like, “Look, we have more in common than you think with the rest of these people. The rest of these people just want to take, take, take.” Namor has seen it firsthand with the conquistadors. Shuri definitely has seen it with now the outside world wanting to take what Wakanda has, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That sort of thing, I thought was a really interesting tie between both of these civilizations that I would love to see how that plays out in future films, because at the end of the film, they do come to an alliance, but I would love to see how that plays out.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, I would love to see how that plays out. I’m also just thinking about, in a lot of activist movements, and especially in things like restorative justice, and things that are actively crediting like indigenous folks and actively crediting, unlike the United States who, our constitution is based on the indigenous people that our countries came in contact with, and we just janked it. We just ripped it off and tried to copy off the homework and all that stuff, but here, there’s this really great thing that’s happening where there is this, the thing that really made my heart sore about this movie is there’s this undercurrent, really truly of indigeneity, and indigeneity and working together and really thinking about the ways that we approach each other is very, very important, and even the main conflict for both of them happens, because these outside white Western forces are like, “We want this rare mineral and we’re going to use a young, a brilliant young black woman’s invention that she didn’t even [inaudible 01:23:45] to use.”

She did it to prove her professor wrong, and the professor who, we don’t know what he looks like, but he might get a little palm colored, sold it to the United States government from MIT, right? And so there’s this young black, and that the whole conflict is black women protecting this young, brilliant black woman from consequences of being brilliant, and people misusing her brilliance. You could definitely have that interpretation of the movie.

Maurice Cherry:
She was definitely exploited.

Jordan Green:
She was exploited, and so you have, the whole conflict comes from the fact that these white nations want to take something that is sacred to both of these cultures, and that they have sacred rights and sacred engagement with, and it was like, I loved that whole thing. I love solar punk because solar punk draws a lot from indigeneity and indigenous ways of knowing, and so does Afro futurism. All of these threads, I highly recommend people read a lot of, I highly recommend people read, period, but I highly recommend that people so long been dreaming, which is like post-colonial science fiction or reading the bones, sorry, what’s it called? Dark matter, Reading the Bones, which has also done some black Afro futurism stuff, because you’ll start to see these seeds and threads that connect black people and indigenous people together, around the ways in which we’re relearning how we approached each other and how we had our humanity preserved.

And it’s slower, it’s not as action packed. It’s not as exciting for Western audiences, because we’ve been primed for war. But I do want to imagine what it would’ve been like. That’s kind of why I’m upset with Namor, showing up on somebody’s beach, and I’ll pass it off, because he was a kid and nobody taught him the ways to do that, but you don’t show up to somebody’s house, not bring, oh, but he did bring a gift, he brought the vibranium thing, nevermind, he brought a gift, but you know, don’t show up threatening people, but it looked like, to me, I could have really interpreted this film as two indigenous nations, trying to fight off the effects of imperialism, and getting messed up along the way. Sorry, I saw it once and I was like, “I got a whole art, a couple of articles in a book in me, I guess about this. This is beautiful TV, it’s a wonderful show, it’s a wonderful movie. I loved everything that Ryan Kugler put into it, hannah Beecher put into it.

Jordan Green:
Everything that Ryan Coogler put into it Hannah Beachler put into it that Ruth Carter put into it. They did it.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah. And it’s so layered from a political perspective, from a social perspective, from a historical perspective. There are so many different layers to it that to me, just all equal brilliance. I thought that this was a very well written script with knowing.

Jordan Green:
Yes.

Reginé Gilbert:
That this script was written in grief.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Reginé Gilbert:
And it shows to me. It shows to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it does. But it was written in grief, but also with all of these layers. And it’s done with such care. I said this before, about this nature of the elements being symbolized throughout the movie, like fire, water, earth, air. It’s interesting. One, with the Talokan being this underwater civilization, but also most of Wakandan’s major ceremonies take place around water, at the Warrior Falls. When that’s happening, for example, to determine who’s going to be the next Black Panther, Killmonger’s quote at the end of the movie about being in the ocean. So water clearly plays this sort of pivotal role about, it’s a symbol of life. It’s a symbol of change, of flexibility. Just how all the Wakandan’s are saying that death is never the end.

So water is kind of this rebirth and reincarnation. Namor is born underwater. So I found there’s that interesting symbolism. Then there’s the opposite of that, which is fire, which is destruction. The Heart-shaped Herb was burned up. The final battle happens of a hot desert with things on fire.

Jordan Green:
Vengeance, destruction.

Maurice Cherry:
Namor is ultimately sort of defeated by fire. And you can even channel that into the rage that Shuri feels when she goes to the ancestral plane and she’s talking to Killmonger. She’s like surrounded by fire that happens to be in water, but she’s surrounded by fire.

Jordan Green:
And she wanted to make the world burn.

Maurice Cherry:
Make the world burn. Yeah.

Reginé Gilbert:
And he said, “Let’s do it together.” Right, earlier in the film he said, “Let’s do it together.”

Jordan Green:
So yeah, no, please continue. I want to hear air and earth.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean I think with Earth, certainly Earth is, we think of Mother Earth, the foundation, the symbol of fertility, the Heart-shaped Herb of course comes from the earth. So does the same herb that I guess Talokan has. That comes from the earth. But also the earth is something that we all share. All of us, all of our cultures share the earth. We share this planet. We share in its resources. And so you think of Earth as the symbol of humanity. Yes. We’re all fighting for resources. I think that’s said at one point in the movie about fighting over resources.

Jordan Green:
Yes. It is.

Maurice Cherry:
So you have-

Jordan Green:
Yeah, Namor is saying it to Shuri. It’s like, this is why they’re coming after us, this sacred resource.

Maurice Cherry:
And then air is used a lot I think. Well, I mean of course name Namor can fly, but a lot of the music around the Talokan-

Paul Webb:
And Riri.

Maurice Cherry:
And Riri, but a lot of the music around like the Talokan and Namor and everything is air instruments. It’s flutes.

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s conch shell that’s used as a trumpet, it’s ocarinas, there’s all these sort of airy, wind elements that symbolize the Talokan. And then of course the Kukulkan with the feathered serpents. That whole siren song you sing into the air, et cetera. There’s all these interesting, just sort of symbolic things around elements that are things that we all share on this planet that I feel really were woven very deftly throughout the film.

Jordan Green:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Even honestly, even the hand symbol, and this doesn’t necessarily apply to the elemental sort of thing I was talking about, but Wakandan’s have the crossed storm salute and it’s sort of close to the chest, an X almost. And then the Talokan have this open palm symbol. One palm is opened up towards the earth and then one is towards the person. And that’s actually represented in Mesoamerican art and things.

Jordan Green:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
So they’ve got their own symbol that is open.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s an O almost.

Paul Webb:
I had no idea.

Maurice Cherry:
So you have X’s with Wakanda, which is keeping things close to themselves. You have O which of course could symbolize openness, but also symbolize the planet earth that we all live on. That is mostly water.

Jordan Green:
And it’s a greeting. It’s a greeting and it’s receiving. Right. So there’s this thing around, I’m here. I receive. It was so good. That was such a good bit of design right there, where the ways in which we greet each other-

Paul Webb:
The literal Yin and Yang.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. The reciprocity, the mirroring of the two worlds, Wakanda being on land Talokan being under the surface. What we haven’t really touched on is the writing that was done for Talokan. So we’ve talked about Hannah Beachler doing the symbology and the type for Wakanda, but I want know who did it for Talokan. Because they’re really drawing from Mesoamerican art with that stuff. It’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
I wonder if that was part of, I mean she had to have had a hand in it, I’m sure. But even those intricate drawings that Namor was doing on the wall and that’s history. At one point, I think near the end they show the clash of the panther and the serpent, which is Wakanda and Talokan.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. Wow. I missed that bit.

Jordan Green:
Yeah. Oh man.

Reginé Gilbert:
Again, this is something that I don’t know, for me, I need to see this movie multiple times because there are so many little things that happen in the film that each time I watch it, I see something new.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, I’m going to go see it tonight. I’m kind of wish it was streaming because if you’re going to wreck me this, I’d like to be the comfort of my own home where the food is a little free or it’s already bought, so I can eat my feelings a little bit more.

Reginé Gilbert:
Yeah. The first time I saw the movie, the woman next to me was very emotional. [inaudible 01:34:20].
I was like, what are we in for here?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean huge props to Ryan Coogler and the entire cast for not just persevering through obviously a gut wrenching loss to their entire casting crew, but then to also pull out this amazing story with all these lush, symbolic elements out of that. I mean, I think that is something which hopefully as creatives all of us we can really be inspired by.

Jordan Green:
Yeah it was inspiring.

Reginé Gilbert:
They turned their pain into art.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. They really did.

Reginé Gilbert:
They really did.

Maurice Cherry:
The last thing I want to touch on is the music. I don’t know if you all have had a chance to listen to either the soundtrack or the score. Of course with the soundtrack. There was the Rihanna song “Lift Me Up”, which came out I think maybe about a week or two prior to the movie’s premiere, which was her return to music. Shout out to Riri-

Jordan Green:
Shout out to Riri.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s also interesting. Rihanna’s called Riri, there’s a Riri in the movie, anyway, but…

Jordan Green:
She’s named after Rihanna.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh she is?

Jordan Green:
She’s named after Rihanna.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. That I didn’t know.

Jordan Green:
The character, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I didn’t know that. Rihanna also has a second song in the movie, which was just added. It was just added to the soundtrack, I think Friday, the day the movie came out. She has a song, I think it takes place near the end of the movie called Born Again. So it’s another sort of ballad piece. But if you haven’t listened to the soundtrack or the score, go check them out. They’re both on streaming services now. But even both of those pieces are just these rich cultural tapestries. There’s English, there’s Spanish, there’s Zulu on there, there’s the South African Xhosa language on there. There’s a poem near the end that’s this indigenous Mayan language that’s being spoken. And of course when you hear it, it will take you back to the movie because the soundtrack is what’s used for the vocal music and then the score is what’s used for the instrumental music.

So you’ll hear a lot of these elements from it. But I just heard about how much research went into putting together the score and making sure that it wasn’t just, I don’t want to say one note, but I think from the first movie, what the first movie did was really bring a lot more Afro beat artists into American mainstream.

Reginé Gilbert:
Right.

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean after the first movie, of course we know about TEMS, we know about Mooski, Burna Boy, Rotimi, Beyonce had a whole Lion King soundtrack. It’s very prevalent now to have Afro beats as part of mainstream music in a way. And it’s interesting how with this soundtrack, you can really hear the different cultures that he’s trying to pull from in order to make these individual soundscapes. I think this happens maybe kind of near the end of the movie where you hear the flutes and the flutes are kind of symbolic of the Talokan going to war almost.

Jordan Green:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s this really beautiful song, I think it’s on the soundtrack, not the score, but I think it’s called, I don’t know the name of it, I’m not going to try to say it. I’ll link both the soundtrack and the score in the show notes. But it’s like this underwater where, it’s the music that’s playing when Namor takes Shuri through the city. This really beautiful, almost like, synths and harps kind of thing going on.

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a beautiful soundtrack. It’s a beautiful score. There’s parts of it that I was, when I listened to the soundtrack, for example, there’s this one song called “No Digas Mi Nombre”, which means “do not say my name”, which I attributed it to Namor. And it is very much a traditional kind of Mexican song. It’s a Mexican Mariachi song. Wasn’t used in the movie. I didn’t hear it in the movie. Maybe it was used somewhere, but I didn’t hear it. But when I heard the soundtrack I was like, where are they going to put this in the movie? Because it’s so thematically different from everything else. I mean E-40 is on the soundtrack. Stormzy is on the soundtrack, of course Rihanna is on the soundtrack. So you have all these-

Paul Webb:
Did you say E-40?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, shout out to the Bay.

Jordan Green:
Ryan Coogler is from Oakland, y’all/

Maurice Cherry:
But it is, I mean both the score… I remember from the first movie how I was saying that I felt like, I think I said the score to me felt more like T’Challa and the soundtrack felt like Killmonger. I didn’t really feel like any specific characterization from either the score or the soundtrack. But I do think they both did a good job of symbolizing, you know you hear the term World Music thrown around a lot. And normally when I think World Music, I think of, I don’t know, something you’d hear at a massage parlor or something, like some pan flutes or some stuff like that. But this really felt like a mixing of Africa and Mesoamerica as well as the U.S. Just kind of all mixed together in this huge just, I don’t know, musical gumbo in a way. Both the soundtrack and the score are really great. I hope people get a chance to listen to them.

Jordan Green:
Yeah, touching on that, I know that Ludwig, whose last name I can’t really pronounce very well…

Maurice Cherry:
Göransson.

Jordan Green:
Göransson. Who did the soundtrack for this one and for the first Black Panther movie. It was, I really appreciate that he was very clear, I had to stretch myself a lot. And it’s really cool to see “World Music”, which is really just folk music of different people being incorporated into orchestral music, which is often used for scores and often used to… Orchestral music is often very, very white or that’s its perception. And so to see them bringing in African instruments, Mesoamerican instruments and using them to give dignity and render dignity to the scenes that use indigenous folks and African folks, it was, it’s wonderful. Yeah, I hadn’t listened to the score yet, so thank you for saying that, because I’m going to go check that out now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Göransson had said about the soundtrack, he said, “If we use the song in the film, we wanted it to be the entire song and to be connected to the story thematically. We wanted to move the audience from grief to celebration. When you listen to the soundtrack, you can close your eyes and relive the experience of the movie, that was the intention.” Which I… mission accomplished.

Reginé Gilbert:
I agree, because I felt sad listening to it and then I didn’t, right. Because I was like, is there going to be an upbeat song? if you listen to the music, you’ll be taken on a journey. In the movie you’re taken on a journey and it’s life’s journey. Life’s journey is bittersweet. We have these ups and these downs, these deaths and these rebirths. And that’s what this movie is.

Jordan Green:
We rise and we fall.

Reginé Gilbert:
We rise and we fall.

Jordan Green:
We’re just ordinary people out here in Wakanda. I’m sorry…

Maurice Cherry:
Like I said from the first movie, I had said that I want to get the director’s cut and see what’s been cut from the movie and everything. And I say that because of two songs on the soundtrack. Tracks 18 and 19, when Göransson said that he wanted to move from grief to celebration. I don’t know if there were that many celebratory moments in the film. It was definitely a meditation on grief and how you persevere through that. But the last two songs on the soundtrack, and this is, well really it’s, I guess the next to last two songs on the soundtrack since they added Track 20, which was the second Rihanna ballad. But “No Digas Mi Nombre”, like I said, it is very much a Mexican Mariachi, you might hear that at a quinceañera, kind of song. And then Track 19 is called “Mi Pueblo” by Guadalupe de Jesus Chan Poot.

And when you listen to it, it is a poem. I want to know what the translation is because they don’t list the translation. But if you listen to it, you hear waves crashing and then you just hear this woman reciting this poem, which has been done in this traditional Mayan tongue. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know if that’s something that they meant to put in the movie and they cut it out. I want to know what it is because I got to the end and I was like, what is this? And when I watched the movie, I was listening for those two distinct pieces of music and did not hear them. So I’m like, what was cut that had these things in them? I’m just mad curious about what those things were, considering I know how much love and care and craft was put into the soundtrack. Why they ain’t the movie? What happened?

Reginé Gilbert:
I mean, things get cut. That’s why, I think things get cut. And then sometimes, I mean the movie was long. And so what is really going to, I think shout out to story editors because they really bring things together and in amazing ways. But I hope one day, Maurice, you get your answer because then you could tell us. I’m very curious too.

Maurice Cherry:
Listen Hannah, if you’re listening, put out the production bible. We want to know. We want to hear it.

Paul Webb:
Please.

Jordan Green:
Please. What I got to do. Do we ever get a director’s cut of Black Panther one? Because I’m like, did that drop?

Maurice Cherry:
We have to look into that.

Paul Webb:
I don’t remember.

Maurice Cherry:
I the DVD, but I don’t remember.

Paul Webb:
But I have the Blu-Ray.

Maurice Cherry:
Me too.

Jordan Green:
Oh, you have the DVD, I should get the DVD and Blu-Ray.

Maurice Cherry:
We got to check that out.

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Final thoughts about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I asked this question at the end of the first time we did this for the first Black Panther movie. And I want to ask it again for this one. The question really being, what do you hope comes out of this?

Reginé Gilbert:
My hope-

Paul Webb:
I have a couple things.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no, Reginé go for it.

Reginé Gilbert:
Oh, I was going to, my hope is that we get to hear more indigenous stories, because I feel that we are, so much of history has been forgotten, hidden on purpose. There are so many things that we don’t know about these cultures and we’re getting a glimpse. And even though this doesn’t exactly align with the comics, this is exposing us to a culture that we were not familiar with, a majority of us. A lot of people don’t know about Mesoamerica or anything about the cultures or the, people are made out to be savages and all these things that are not actually accurate. You know who the savages really are. And so my hope is that we get to hear more of the stories that we haven’t in the past.

Maurice Cherry:
Okoye said, “A colonizer in chains.”

Reginé Gilbert:
That was a great-

Maurice Cherry:
That was a great line. Paul, what about you?

Paul Webb:
Oh man, I forgot about that. Oh, that was damn good. I was like, yes. What would I like to see? Obviously another film, please. These things take time, so they got to take all the time they need. We already mentioned we would love to see the production Bible. Definitely. Yeah. I think tagging on to what Reginé said, yeah, just more stories. I would like to have more information about Namor’s background and people in his city or country more, just more of that because man, those visuals, I feel like 40% of the movie was just underwater and I would like to see more of that.

Maurice Cherry:
Jordan?

Jordan Green:
I actually want to kind of come in right in between Reginé and Paul, I would love for Marvel, I kind of like how DC has been doing with their Earth Prime comics. I would love for Marvel to release an MCU line of comic books that were written by indigenous people with black people. And they’re kind of doing that with Wakanda Forever. But I do think that Talokan, not being Atlantis, but being Talokan and really being citied in Mesoamerica, that in and of itself is brilliant. And I know that the MCU under Kevin Feige has been really expanding the stories to be super diverse.

And you don’t see that reflected in the comics as much and you don’t see that reflected in the current lore of the comics, so I would love to see those stories and I would love for folks to really get curious about Mesoamerica art, art of the Pacifics in general and just getting curious about the stories that are hidden from us and are locked away in academia and not really accessible. Not really accessible anywhere outside of that. And really taking them again and making them their own. Yeah, I think the greatest thing about this film is this. It shows what happens when stories that come from people from the diaspora are given the proper care and treatment and budget to tell their stories the way that they want to be told. And so I hope that that is what continues to happen.

Maurice Cherry:
And for me, I feel like I’m piggybacking on everyone’s points here, but I definitely want to see Marvel tell more of these types of stories that really dig into different cultures of the world. I think for so long, particularly from the inception of Marvel comics, what we’ve been shown has been through a white lens. We get Greek mythology, we get Norse mythology. And I feel like I just know this from honestly playing the Shin Megami Tensei persona games. There are so many other world mythologies out there with amazing characters and stories and how it all sort of ties into the thing with that I think is very interesting in the movie, because we talked about the fluidity of language. All of these myths were created by humans to understand the world around them, which means that in a very primitive way, we all kind of experienced the same feelings.

We may call it different things. We may have different representations for them, but they all boil down to the same core feelings of loss, love, regret, anger, vengeance, et cetera. I want to see Marvel tap into that more throughout continued works throughout the MCU. And I hope that that encourages other people to do the same thing with their storytelling. Be more creative, be more experimental, be more hopeful. We talked about how this movie is really sort of a meditation on grief, but then we also flipped it to talk about how it has these solar punk hopeful elements to show us a future where we are one with the world and humanity. And we do that to try to become better people in general. So that’s what I hope really comes out of this is that it becomes sort of a clarion call similar to the first movie, but in a different way, for people to just get more creative.

Jordan Green:
Yeah.

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Tiffany Stewart

While the World Wide Web has evolved tremendously over the past couple of decades, it can still feel like we are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to accessibility, even though this push for accessibility has existed since the first set of guidelines created by the W3C in 1999. Making the Web more accessible is a benefit to everyone, and Tiffany Stewart is working hard to make sure that happens.

Our conversation began with a discussion on her work at Thomson Reuters, and she shared how she got into design systems and accessibility. Tiffany also talked about moving to the U.S. from Jamaica as a teenager, attending college in Mississippi, and spoke on what prompted her to shift her focus from engineering to UX. Thank goodness we have future-thinking designers like Tiffany Stewart to ensure that we have a Web that we can all use!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Tiffany Stewart:
Hi, my name is Tiffany Stewart. I’m a senior UX designer specializing in digital systems with a focus on accessibility. And yeah, that’s me. Very much a blurb and just really passionate about accessibility and UX.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going for you so far? How’s 2022?

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh my gosh, 2022 has been a blast and then some. I bought a house.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Tiffany Stewart:
Right. I am officially now a homeowner and I am in the process of building out my office. So I went and bought the IKEA cabinets and I attached them to the wall and I’m painting and I’m sanding and breaking out the miter saw. That is my life at the moment.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a huge accomplishment. Congratulations.

Tiffany Stewart:
Thank you. It was a lot. The process was a lot because I think it was right before the interest rates went up, so it was just like, “Oh my gosh, I have to hustle and get this house before everything just goes to pop.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, that’s such a big accomplishment already for the year. Is there anything else that you still want to try to accomplish before 2023?

Tiffany Stewart:
I have so many, but I think for the immediate goal for me is to see this Black Panther movie that’s coming out this year, the second one, the Black Panther. And then on my professional work and getting my design system up and running to a point where it’s doing what it needs to do and folks are able to use it in a meaningful way. So yeah, those are my big ones for the end of the year.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Let’s tap into a little bit about the work that you do. You mentioned you’re a senior UX designer and you’re working at Thomson Reuters. Talk to me about that.

Tiffany Stewart:
I think they initially hired me as a contractor to work on one of their products as a regular UX product designer. And then once they heard about my previous work on a design system prior, they’re like, “Oh, we’ll just move you over to the design system side so we can get that up and running and you can help facilitate that process.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.” And so I shifted into that particular space. Design system tends to be more, because I think not many people know what design system designers do. It’s more of a space where you’re looking at applying concepts across the board holistically for several products and several teams and spaces. So my day to day is really thinking about, “Okay, how do I apply the concept of warning across a design system so that all of the products are consistently representing warning in a way that’s meaningful and consistent?”

So my day to day is that, making decisions about what our colors are going to be and how they’re going to be expressed and just setting all of that up so that the designers can build their products relatively quickly because all of these decisions are already made for them. So they can already just bring those into play. And then working closely with the accessibility team, which I’m very excited, the first time I’ve actually ever had one. Usually, it’s just me doing it by myself. But we do have a dedicated accessibility team at TR and they’re amazing to work with and we just make sure that the DS is accessible as possible, that our products are accessible as possible. So that’s my day-to-day.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me more about that accessibility. I’m curious, what does that look like at a news organization like Thomson Reuters?

Tiffany Stewart:
A lot of it is making sure that we are meeting WCAG requirements. We’re making sure that within the code itself, everything is labeled with the correct ARIA labels, that the DOM is in the correct order, so that when you are tapping through with your headings, everything gets represented semantically type of thing. Making sure that people who are using screen readers are able to get their news in a way that is accessible and meaningful to them. Because I think most people when they think of accessibility, they think, “Oh, I just have to match the color contrast ratio of 3:1 or whatever it is at the time.” But no, it’s actually making sure that the code works, that someone who is a purely keyboard user can tab through, everything makes sense when they tab through, they can read things, whether they are blind or otherwise situationally disabled.

And so we meet with the accessibility team regularly. My particular specialist that we work with is Yvonne, hey Yvonne. And then I think on the other side is Fariel. So we meet with them regularly. There’s a whole team of them, they’re amazing. We reach out, we ask questions, we pair and make sure that the code matches as well as the Figma files match so that all of our products in theory, leave the board fully accessible.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like that’s a lot to do from day to day. What does your regular everyday job look like?

Tiffany Stewart:
It is a lot of pairing. So I will pair with devs, I will pair with like I said, Yvonne on accessibility. And then it’s also a lot of research to make sure that we are meeting the use cases that are given to us by the various teams that we work with. And then figuring out those solutions for how do we solve their problem, but make it agnostic to a design system because it can’t be really specific. The teams are usually responsible for the more specific work that they do in terms of the workflow for their particular product. But from the DS side, it’s more of a super relatively agnostic approach to how can I apply, what does a header look like in an agnostic way that everybody can just pull from the DS and use. Modify here and there. But for the most part, this is generally what a header should look like and where things should go and it is accessible because we’ve already sorted out that when you tab through, it’s going to go through here, here, here and here.

Maurice Cherry:
And just to be clear, a design system would be different from say a brand guide or something because it seems like because you’re applying this across several different products, there’s just going to be different, like you said, situations or use cases where you may not be able to apply it directly, but maybe some elements of it. Am I getting that right?

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, that sounds about reasonable. Now brand does sort of inform a lot of the things because we can set those colors and that typography and some of the spacing as set colors within the system. And then if you are that brand and you are on the brand team, we at least have those in the system so that you can pull them if you need to. Those decisions are already made. So your H1 is in whatever font with whatever spacing that’s already set in the base token work. So whenever the engineers go to code it, they don’t have to worry about it. That H1 is always going to be that H1.

Maurice Cherry:
Got you. What’s probably the most difficult part about what you do?

Tiffany Stewart:
Probably convincing other designers that accessibility is the thing. That is probably the hardest thing. Now, I will say that my coworkers and my teammates at TR, we’re all very passionate about accessibility, so it’s not so much a problem there per se. But I’ve worked with other designers before or other strategists or other brand folks who are just… It is pulling teeth to get them to do the bare minimum of a contrast check on a color or a button or trying to understand that there are people… Is there a focus state that’s set? What happens if you try to tab through? Because a lot of sites will break. I think in my example at the State of Black design talk, I was just trying to buy a book from a website, but just using my keyboard and it completely failed. And so I wasn’t able to check out.

So in my mind, if we’re making a use case for it, which I don’t generally like applying to accessibility, but if you do need to make a use case or a business use case for it, you’re preventing people from buying your product by not making it as accessible as possible. It’s easy to throw away accessibility, I think because people as a very general rule, and I mean very generic here, seem to be willing to ignore people with disabilities or having a disability in general. You hear all these stories nowadays of airlines who are completely throwing away people’s wheelchairs or people not allowing the dog for the blind user in this space because of whatever. There’s a level of disposability there that I personally don’t enjoy and I don’t like seeing it. And more so too, if you’re looking at the numbers in the U.S., a good majority of the people who have disabilities do tend to be Black and brown people. So then I’m doubly more so like, “Oh no, no, no, we have to get into this.” We absolutely have to get into this.

Maurice Cherry:
And accessibility is one of those things that has definitely increased in importance over the years. Not just because more and more people have gotten on the web, but there are now more and more ways of experiencing the web that is not just through a standard computer monitor. There’s laptops, there’s smartphones, there’s smart watches, there’s probably a toaster out there that can get online. There’s all these different ways now to access information on the web. And granted those use cases are important, but also just as you mentioned, just differently abled people will have different sorts of things like vision requirements for high contrast or colors or even the alt text that you put on images is I think almost remedial accessibility and that’s still something a lot of people hem and haw over.

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh my gosh, they will fight you down. They will absolutely fight you down. Or they’ll produce this interface that has no contrast whatsoever. And so you’re just guessing at this point as to what is happening on that page? I don’t know. Because I think the new thing now is everything is light and bright, so there’s no borders on anything and everything just fades into the next one. And it’s very pretty aesthetically, I will give it that, but unfortunately it’s not really usable by everyone. And I think often people forget that by and large, when you make something that is accessible, that is usable by everyone, everyone benefits. Everyone benefits there. Like the grab bar in the bathroom, I am not disabled. However, the amount of times that I have slipped on the conditioner and that grab bar saved my life. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
And it can look cute too. So yeah, it’s just accessibility works literally for everyone, so why not just do it?

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And accessibility also makes sure that as many people as possible can experience what it is that you’re putting on the web.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember back in the day, we’re talking this is early 2000s, maybe even before that, when websites would have those badges that are, this site is best viewed an Internet Explorer 6 on a desktop that’s 1024 X 768. It was almost like a bouncer at the door telling you, you have to be this old to get in or something.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah. Well, no, it’s a matter too, because I think what people don’t include in accessibility when they are thinking about the digital part of it too, is that they don’t include access. Not everybody has access to the best monitor, not everybody has access to the fastest processor and not everybody has access to a credit card. When we make everything credit card only for the longest time, I think before a Venmo and a PayPal came into the play, it was just the people that don’t have a credit card or don’t have that level of financial literacy don’t deserve to buy things. What are we saying when we don’t include that as part of the conversation around access and accessibility?

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say one thing that is also, I think made accessibility more important is the increase of multimedia on the web.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
We’re recording a podcast. This podcast will have transcripts for accessibility.

Tiffany Stewart:
A transcript? Yes, thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Videos with captions-

Tiffany Stewart:
I was going to ask.

Maurice Cherry:
And things like that.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
We’re starting to see it be more and more commonplace now that the media that we consume is not just what we read, it’s also what we hear, what we see. Even smart speakers and devices, you have to talk to them in a certain way in order to get back what you need. All of that is a factor of accessibility.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, no. I think they just released a study maybe day before yesterday that Netflix was saying that the good majority of their users that have subtitles turned on are not blind or deaf.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, there’s some shows I would watch with subtitles. I used to watch Scandal with subtitles just so I can make sure I can catch everything.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes, I keep mine on. Yeah, I know because I’m like, “I don’t know what’s happening.”

Maurice Cherry:
Another thing that it’s good for, and this is not so much accessibility, but if you’re watching foreign language programs, to have subtitles in a different language. For me, it can help with learning a bit of the language because you know what they’re trying to say and what you hear, your mind connects those things together. But even with accessibility, there’s bad captions out there.

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh my gosh, I live for those.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a whole thing.

Tiffany Stewart:
I need to make a website that’s just bad captions. Because they’ll be like, “Pop music playing enthusiastically.” And you’re like, “What, where did that caption come from?” The descriptions are great, I love it. Yeah, yeah. No.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
But I’m just glad that they’re there at this point because like I said, people don’t think about those things a lot of times.

Maurice Cherry:
And we’re talking about now accessibility in a largely, I don’t want to say 2D context. You might see where I’m going here, but there’s been all this talk about Web3 and the metaverse, and you want to talk about inaccessibility? It’s inaccessible even for the average person because, it’s not only about what you can hear or see, but just to get it… And maybe this is a tangent of accessibility, but you have to be watching on a certain device that costs a certain amount of money and you’ve got to have a high speed internet connection. There are other barriers that I think people might not look at as accessibility that does factor into accessible web experiences.

Tiffany Stewart:
Absolutely. I talk about it all the time. I’m like, “So let’s talk about the actual experience part of this. How am I meant to experience this when I don’t have access to any of these things?” Maybe your point is to gatekeep, I don’t know, maybe. Because that’s usually the argument that will come up too, is that like, “Oh, well those people are not my target demographic.” And I’m like, “Run me by again, what exactly is your target demographic?” Because every demographic has someone who may or may not be disabled. So I’m not really sure why. Again, it just plays back the disposability of people with disabilities. So it’s stressful to me. I get annoyed all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s switch gears here a little bit. Let’s learn more about you, about your origin story. I can tell you’re very passionate about UX and about accessibility, but I’d like to get a sense of where that came from. So just to start off, where’d you grow up?

Tiffany Stewart:
So I am originally from Jamaica. I moved here when I was about maybe 14, 15. Don’t ask me about the numbers. It was a long time ago. And then moved here. And the immigrant family story, my options were either engineer, doctor, MBA. My career choices were very narrow based on that particular set of criteria, which to be fair, I gave my mom her engineering degree so I could be left alone. Right? But everyone in my family is either a physician or a NASA scientist in my cousin’s part. So we’re all pretty diverse in terms of our applications to STEAM and STEM work.

I was actually going to be a surgeon at one point. I was attending NYU as a bio major to do that. But I think working with my mom in terms of listening to her talk about medicine as it’s in medical practice as it functions today in the U.S. and really hearing the stories about how people with disabilities or even older people are treated in the hospital system. I was like, “I can’t sit back and not say anything about it.” So I think I got a lot of it from going to work with my mom and seeing how people were being treated within the medical space. And even being handed their prescriptions and they couldn’t read it or they had to fill out online forms and they didn’t know how. And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to fill out online form via a hospital, but it’s usually a very bad process. Nothing is readable, any of those things. Don’t even ask them about a language option for you.

So going through all of that and watching my mom do it and then getting into the digital space and then understanding and linking the two was probably what drove most of my passion for accessibility.

Maurice Cherry:
From what it sounds like, just based on life experience, that you had this early desire to get into this, but then you also just said, I gave my mom her engineering degree. I want to talk a little bit about that. You went to undergrad, you went to the University of Mississippi and majored in electrical engineering. Did you have an interest in it or were you just like, “This is what I need to do to get my family off my back?”

Tiffany Stewart:
No, no, no, no. I did. I really, really did. So back, oh my gosh, my mom is going to be so mad. So I dropped out of NYU, to which my mother was livid and that’s fair. But then I dropped out of NYU because the company that I worked for at the time had given me a promotion and wanted to send me out to California to train their engineers on a particular ticketing system that we were using for our IT program. And so while I was out there, I ended up switching jobs and then my job was basically what they call a client support specialist is what they called it. And I was basically a liaison between the engineering department, project management and the sales people and customers in order to get them moved into their co-location space, set up their routers, all of that extraneous good stuff.

This was back before when we were doing network address translations and you had to do a letter of justification in order to get IPs because they thought that the IPs were going to run out. It was a whole thing. It was pre 2000, so pre Y2K, they were very concerned about these things. So I did that. But then the Dotcom Bubble essentially burst. And so a lot of us in Silicon Valley got let go. And so I came back and I was like, “Okay mom, I’m ready.” So because of that work that I did with that ISP, I determined that I wanted to build computers because I thought that was fun. So I did electrical engineering specializing in computer engineering. So in theory, I could build you a badass circuit. So yeah, that’s how that happened.

Maurice Cherry:
But you had the interest in it though. That’s the important part, right?

Tiffany Stewart:
I am of a person who I like to take things apart and tinker. I like to work with my hands. Like I said, I’m building the shelves in my office. So miter saw, table saw, planar, let’s go. And I’ve always been that person. And then I’m also an only child, my mom’s only child. So she was very much of this is broken, you need to figure out how to fix it because I have to go to work. So I was like, “Well, got to figure it out.” But I’ve always had an interest in it and it was fine. I enjoy taking things apart. I’m a very curious person by nature. So I’m always fascinated about how things work, how things are put together. And you’ll see, you see me use the phrase all the time, “Oh my God, that’s fascinating.” Because I’m generally, I am that person.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, no, I understand. I went to college and I majored in math… Well, no, let me roll that back.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes, math major.

Maurice Cherry:
I first majored in computer science, computer engineering because this was turn of the century, like ’99, 2000. Started college in ’99 and I had been already dipping my toe into web design with Tripod and Angel Fire, GeoCities, reverse engineering view source websites and stuff like that. And I thought, “Oh, if I become a computer engineer, I can design a website,” because I didn’t know. I had not heard of what a web designer was or if that was a thing. And I that first semester, I was taking courses in I think it was intro to computer programming, learning C++. And I was like, “This is not HTML. What is this? How do I make a website with this?” And I’m going to my advisor and telling him what I want to do. And my advisor, Dr. Jones, he was like, “If you want to do this internet stuff, that’s just a fad. If you want to get into that, this isn’t going to last. That’s not what we do here.”

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh no. Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
He’s like, “We don’t do that here.”

Tiffany Stewart:
But I will say they are teaching you the backend part of it. So they just completely tossed you over for the front end. But they gave you the backend part.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, but again, this was-

Tiffany Stewart:
You had that Java stuff too.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. And this was ’99. Our lab had Sun Microsystems and SGI Machines and stuff like that. So this was still very, very early in the web/internet days. And he was like, “We don’t do that here. We’ll teach you assembly, we’ll teach you C++, but if you want to do this web design thing, you might want to change your major.” And so the next semester, I changed my major to math. And then that’s just what I ended up getting my degree in. I like math, but people are always surprised with me being a designer that I have a math degree. I would imagine people are probably surprised you as a designer have an electrical engineering degree. They’re like, “How does that work?” For me, math teaches me how to think. Yeah, go ahead.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes, that’s what I was going to say. I think for engineering, it teaches you how to identify a problem and think about the steps needed to solve the problem. So engineering for me teaches you how to think about problem solving, which as a UX designer, that is pretty much all that we do is problem solve. How do we get the checkout flow to work in such a way that they actually finish checking out? What are those steps? And if there’s an error, what happens? So going through all of those steps and iterating on that process by testing every time. It’s very much an engineering mindset, I think.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And I know with math, the thing I think that struck me at one point learning math in college was that, “Oh, there are some equations that have either no solution or infinitely many solutions.” And that blew my mind at the time because I was like, “Wait a minute, I’ve been taking algebra and trig and calc and all these things.” They resolve to something. And they’re like, “Well, there are often going to sometimes be equations that don’t make sense, that are not going to have a solution or they’re going to have an infinite amount of solutions.” And so when I say it teaches you how to think, at least for me, it teaches me how to take something I may not know and process it and break it down. The steps of writing a mathematical proof to me are the same steps to writing a research paper, the same steps to writing a proposal for a client or a statement of work. It’s the same logical flow of take these elements, prove this thing, therefore this, all of that.

Tiffany Stewart:
I used to love those.

Maurice Cherry:
I look back at some-

Tiffany Stewart:
I was that weird kid in class who loves doing the geometric proofs. I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to show you that this is a right angle. Let me break it down right quick.”

Maurice Cherry:
I looked back at some of my old stuff. I found my thesis from, god, 20 years ago. I found my thesis recently that I wrote in college on sigma algebra and measure theoretic entropy with the existence of Lie groups. I have no idea what any of those things mean now. But I’m looking back at it and it’s just symbols and letters. I’m like, “I used to really know this. I don’t know it now.”

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes. Listen, I stopped because with electrical engineering, especially at Ole Miss, they were like, “We can’t let you do a math minor. You’d have to double major do EE and math.” And I was like, “Listen, after differential equations, I’m good.” It was differential, discreet, all of that. And I think after those classes is when you start getting into the theoretical math where they just don’t use numbers at all. It’s just theory and proving that this process works.

Maurice Cherry:
My last year and a half because I majored in pure math and my last year and a half, it was differential equations, it was topology. And my teachers, great teachers, but absolute sadists. They would be like, “I’m going to give this test and not everybody is going to pass this test.” Or they’ll say, “Well, these last two questions are only for my top students.” And there will be infinitely just wild stuff like, “What in the world? When am I ever going to use this?” I’ve never had to use anything with differential equations, ever. I love it though. The thing is, I went into math because I love it. I love to do the problems and solving and all that sort of stuff, which is a lot about what design is. It’s about solving problems, different kind of problems, but you’re still solving problems. And math teaches you those steps and ways to think and consider in a way that… I didn’t go to design school, so I don’t know, but I feel like it teaches you that logical way of thinking through something that perhaps design school may not.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah. Because I think for me at least, it felt like design school was more about the psychology of things. So understanding color theory and understanding that different colors make people feel a different way than other colors do. So it’s more so about how these things make you feel more so than anything else. And so it was the engineering part that taught me the problem solving and then the design part that taught me the aesthetic piece. Is that the word?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, the aesthetic piece. Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
The aesthetic piece Of it, and how things make you feel.

Maurice Cherry:
I totally get that. Yeah. Because for example, if you put red text on a blue background, yes, that’s going to be really jarring.

Tiffany Stewart:
I will fight you.

Maurice Cherry:
They won’t go together. But then mathematically, I know it’s because of the frequency of the color red against the color blue causes your eyes to do this weird jump shift. It’s really tiring to read that. So I’m like, “Okay, that’s why it doesn’t make sense.” I’ll always be trying to think of the reason behind the feeling instead of just going with the feeling, which I don’t know, maybe if I went to design school, I’d have more of that, “Oh yes, these colors, they mesh. I get it.” As supposed to being like, “Well, this makes sense because of some other reason.” But you end up going and majoring in design after you got your degree from Ole Miss, you went to Mississippi State and you majored in graphic design. Why did you make that switch?

Tiffany Stewart:
Well, because I wanted to be an animator. Funnily enough, I think they had not updated their website at the time. So Mississippi State was like, “Oh, we have an animation program.” Because I really wanted to do graphic design for film or design for film. And so I was like, “Oh, I can combine my problem solving with design if I become an animator and do that.” That was a thought process in my mind. I don’t know why. So on their website, they hadn’t updated it. And so I enrolled and got in and I was super excited and they were like, “Oh, we no longer have that program. All we have for you is graphic design, good luck.” And I was like, “Huh? Okay. Well let’s try it and we’ll see.”

But then I think at the time, maybe it was more so print focused than anything else. So I could tell you all the things about the GSM of paper. We did watercolor photography, all of those things. One of my favorite classes was 3D design. And so that’s when I spent most of my time in the wood shop. The instructor at the time, I think he was a famous furniture designer, but he was teaching us how to build things by sketching it out, thinking about from a 3D space perspective, how something would look and then we would have to build it, build it, build it. So did some sculptural work. It was great. Oh my gosh, that design program at Mississippi State, I loved it. It was great.

And then they also allowed me to pair with video game designers they had. And so I was doing design work for that too. So it was a good time. Even though it wasn’t necessarily an animation program, I learned a lot from the graphic design program at State. I will say that.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds like a lot of fun, actually.

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh my gosh, it was so much fun. And I’m still friends with a lot of people there. And the people that left that school went on to do amazing things. I think Tim is out here designing the graphics for Roku. Let’s see, there’s another young lady, She went on to work at Gensler as an architect. So the class is good. The classes are really, really good. And some of the students that came out of there based on the teachers that we had at the time were just amazing, amazing folks to work with.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel like your background in engineering helped you out in any way when you were majoring in design?

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes and no. It helped me figure out how to approach thinking about what I was going to do if I needed to put together a logo per se. I knew, I’m like, “Okay, this is the result that I wanted. What are the steps to get there?” So in that sense, the planning of how to do it was helpful. However, engineering is very much, I like things to be symmetrical. There’s always those projects that we had to do that were you had to make something asymmetrical. And I did not enjoy that because my brain just refused. And I think that just came from the engineering side. It was like, “No, it has to either be in order or it has to be on a scale of some sort that I can understand like 2, 4, 6, 8,” that type of thing. I can’t have you jumping around all over the place in the design. It makes my brain not work well.

So it does both. And more so now with the digital side of things. Like I said, it mainly applies to the problem solving part of it where I’m like, “Oh, okay, if we want to get this result. How do we apply that concept in a way that scales on a DS?” And I can do that through my engineering thinking, coupled with my design thinking.

Maurice Cherry:
So once you graduated from Mississippi State, you’ve got your design degree, you’ve got your engineering degree. Did you go right into UX design after that?

Tiffany Stewart:
No. I actually got a job at a church. It was one of those big churches, biggest churches in Austin, Texas. And I basically was doing everything. So I was doing all of their print work, so designed magazines, all of their photography. So I was a photographer. And then I was also responsible for building and maintaining their website. So it was a full on, you’re the only person here, you have to do everything type of moment. And I learned a lot from that job for sure. Yeah, printmaking and printing things is no joke. Web work is no joke. Because I think at the time they only had access to, what is it, WordPress? So that was the medium that I was working with. And WordPress has its own caveats. So putting all of that together and making sure everything got out on time every Sunday, I learned a lot. I learned a lot.

What I remember the most is we had to print magazines because the rector at the time wanted us to put out a monthly magazine where we interviewed various people from the church. We had to take pictures of everything and there was whole thing. So I was like a Vogue Magazine editor with the big old board where you put things up and your articles are there, and you pick what pictures and you basically art direct that whole entire process. But then after that was done, assembling them in this giant InDesign file and then sending that to the printer because we had a dedicated printer room. And figuring out how the printer worked, troubleshooting all of that, and then actually printing it, trimming the edges, cutting it, mailing it. I actually ended up sleeping at the office doing a magazine run. It was a good time. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was a good time.

Maurice Cherry:
You were truly a webmaster.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Doing all of that. I especially tip my hat to you about the magazine thing. The last gig that I worked at, we put together a quarterly magazine and that was a lot just to try to get it out the door, hopefully every three months. I can’t imagine every month. How big was the magazine?

Tiffany Stewart:
It wasn’t very big. It was a very… I want to say how many sheets as I’m looking through my paper. Maybe like 24, 32.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. That’s still a lot though-

Tiffany Stewart:
So it wasn’t too bad.

Maurice Cherry:
To try to pull together every month.

Tiffany Stewart:
Listen, my main thing was because people would submit photos and the photos that they would submit, I’m like, “This cannot be printed. It’s entirely too small.” So then I’d have to schedule a photo shoot and run out there and retake all the photos and then run back. But the church had money, so we did what we had to do. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Tiffany Stewart:
It was a good time. Like I said, I learned a lot because it was literally only me. So I was responsible for all of it. From the rooter to the tooter, as they say.

Maurice Cherry:
As they say.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, as they say, the rooter to the tooter. And so it was just picking the font, understanding how the typography was going to be laid out in an enticing way on the cover page. Figuring out how the table of content should be displayed, what was the concept and theme for the magazine. And then making sure that we got all the articles and everybody returned their corrections on time. And then making sure that we had the correct paper in stock and making sure that the printer didn’t jam. And then after all of that, running it through the cycle of getting it mailed out to the individual households that were part of the membership was a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
That alone is a job. The fact that you were doing that on top of web stuff, on top of graphic stuff. My hat goes off to you because I’ve had those positions before where you’re doing all the things because you’re the only person that can do all the things.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah. It makes you indispensable to a point, but you get serious burnout after a while because it was one thing after another. And I think a few minutes later or a few months after the choir director left and the choir director was responsible for printing the Sunday brochures. So after he left, guess who was responsible for printing the Sunday brochures?

Maurice Cherry:
That was you.

Tiffany Stewart:
Mm-hmm, yep. I was at that job all the time, actually slept there. And one would not think that of like, “Oh, you’re just a graphic designer at a church.” No, no friend.

Maurice Cherry:
No.

Tiffany Stewart:
No, no friend.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve done church work before. Because sometimes what will happen, and I don’t know if this happened maybe in your case, but sometimes what will happen is that your obligation to your job ends up getting wrapped up in some level of religiosity where it’s not just the work that you’re doing for the church, but you’re doing the work for God.

Tiffany Stewart:
None of that, fortunately that was not. They were very nice. I want to say the church was Episcopalian. And I just was like, “Mm-hmm, Mm-hmm. This is great. I’m very happy for everyone involved. Yes, exactly that.”

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I feel like maybe if it had been, for lack of a better word, a Black church, that might have changed. Because I feel like there’s a level of guilt, I find.

Maurice Cherry:
Guilt? Yeah, that’s what I was going to say.

Tiffany Stewart:
I know, I’m trying. How do I say this nicely? But there’s a level of guilt that only Black churches because-

Maurice Cherry:
I hear you.

Tiffany Stewart:
Because they’ll be like, “Oh well, your grand mama Marlene.” And I’m like, “Oh no. So now I have to do this flyer.”

Maurice Cherry:
I empathize with that a 100%. Oh my God. Okay, yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Especially if your parents or family members or members of the church too. It’s just like, “Yeah, no, I’m absolutely going to just have to make this flyer and make Miss Martha look good.”

Maurice Cherry:
So after your work at the church is when you got more into, I would say digital design. You worked as a product designer and then a UX designer, which is what you’re doing now. Was it a big shift to go from doing all the things at the church to now just focusing on product or focusing on UX?

Tiffany Stewart:
Honestly, no. And I think that’s because the church in its way of making me do everything, prepared me for the slightly, and I do mean slightly, slightly less work of being a product or UX designer because I’m only focused on one thing at that point. I’m not focused on doing everything. So it was a breath of fresh air because I was like, “Oh, okay, I can just focus on the digital. I don’t have to worry about the magazine and whatever and whatever, whatever. I can just do the digital.” And then it also helped that I worked for a luxury travel agency. So I was just staring at beautiful pictures of hotels all day long and being like, “I will go there some day. Absolutely.” But yeah, no, it wasn’t too bad at all.

I think a lot of my experience with my work in print actually helped with my work at digital because they actually also did print magazines, but I was responsible for the digital version of it. So since I already knew how to do all of that work from the church, it was like, “Oh no, no, this is good. This is great. I can do this.” And I think the engineering team had already set up a pretty decent templating system. So at that point it was basically just making sure that all of the digital stuff was set up in a way that I could just very quickly upload it to the web what I needed it to, whenever they needed to release a digital article. And on my side, it wasn’t a set thing. So we only had released maybe one or two articles a week. And so it was just basically sourcing photos and making sure that all of the digital stuff was set up on there.

It wasn’t until they decided to end the print half or move the print half and mainly focus on digital in terms of booking flights and booking hotels. Then that’s when it was like, “Okay, so now we’ve shifted to the user experience side of things.” Because before, it was a lot of really just allowing consumers to just read articles based on our recommendations for things. And so it was very narrow in that sense. And then when it came time to book things, then it became, “Okay, so how does our booking thing work? How does search work? What is the experience if someone were to try to book a flight?” Is it that it goes to the travel agent or can they book directly? And what did the steps look like for that?

So that’s where it shifted is that that last piece of the UX of completing a full entire process to get that booked result versus I’m just serving you up an article on the best restaurant in LA type of thing. Does that make sense?

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. And I think for people that are listening, I feel like at least nowadays, UX and product tend to get conflated in a way. There may be subbed out one thing for another. So I’m glad that you were pointing out what the differences are between those two.

Tiffany Stewart:
They do both carry an aspect of user experience in the very basic sense of how is a user meant to experience reading an article on restaurants versus how is a user meant to experience a checkout flow for booking a flight? So they do share that in that regard. You could use them interchangeably, I don’t think anybody would be mad. However, I do have friends who are product designers and I think they call them industrial designers now. I remember they’d be like, “Oh, I’m applying for a position for a product designer.” And I’m like, “Ooh, that’s not what you think it is, friend.” So it also depends on what the company defines a product designer or a UX designer as well in the job description. And so a lot of my industrial designer friends were like, “This is lame, we’re the product designers, not you guys.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
So, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What gives you purpose to keep doing the work that you do?

Tiffany Stewart:
So I follow several people on Twitter who are in the disability activism space. And while I don’t comment per se, them sharing their experiences fuels me to make the web better. The internet is not going anywhere as far as I know. I would love it if they made it a utility, but I digress. And so I want everyone to have an equitable experience on the web. I want for, or I would like to be able to help that further along, whether it’s being passionate about making sure that there’s a contrast and the code is right and whatever.

But I want the web to be as equitable as possible. Because a lot of times when folks don’t have access to these things, people’s lives are in danger. No one talks about that side of it. But if all of a sudden you’re saying access to government grants and access to COVID vaccinations can only be achieved by going to a website, how many people are you cutting out with that one decision alone? Especially if the web is not accessible enough to accommodate everybody. And so following these women and their work in that space really fuels me to make sure that I champion it on my end as best as I can.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you work to stay your authentic self throughout your career? certainly I think when people hear this interview, they get that you’ve got a bubbly personality and working in tech and then working in design and working in tech in news. I would imagine you encounter a lot of different types of folks, we’ll just put it that way. But how have you worked to stay your authentic self?

Tiffany Stewart:
Antionette told me to, I think you’ve interviewed Antionette Carroll?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, I’ve had her on the show. Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So she used to come hang out at the house whenever she would come in for South by Southwest and we would have these long conversations about the work that she was doing in design equity. And she’s amazing and she’s also another inspiration. But Antionette was like, “Listen, you have to be authentic in your work all the time. You just have to be.” And I said, “Okay, yes ma’am.” I just did what she said. I trust her and she’s an amazing human. And I do find that it is helpful because people then know what they’re getting from you. And I do tell people in front. I remember teasing my poor boss. I was like, “Are you sure you want to hire me? Because you were getting this mouth along with the hire, so I need you to be okay with that.” And he was like, “No, no, it’s fine. Please, by all means, bring your authentic self to work.”

And so I appreciate that about my bosses at my company. They’re very much supportive of that. And I have not run into a situation, because sometimes they’ll say that and they don’t mean that. But I have not run into that thus far here.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good.

Tiffany Stewart:
So I’m very grateful for that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
Very grateful for that.

Maurice Cherry:
#AntionetteTaughtMe.

Tiffany Stewart:
Listen, that could be a series in and of itself. My goodness, I miss her so much.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the best piece of advice that you would give to somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps? They’ve heard your story, they want to be like you, they want to be where you’re at, at that level. What would you tell them?

Tiffany Stewart:
Stay curious. Be curious about everything. How everything works, how people feel about things. Be observant. Watch people, watch how things function. You would be surprised what you can learn just by looking at a thing and being like, “So what was that meant for?” We always used to joke that there’s these products out there that the designers built them for one way and then the users use them in a completely different way and you’re just like, “That’s not what that was meant for.” But even that is some semblance of feedback. So just observing and being curious and watching and learning. Stay learning. Stay curious and stay learning. Never stop learning.

Maurice Cherry:
To that end, where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Tiffany Stewart:
I feel like at the moment, my big thing is I’m planning on having my mom come live with me. So learning more about accessibility in terms of interior design and home design and making sure that everything is set up for her to live comfortably if she chooses to come live with me. So just furthering my experience in accessibility, but just applying it to different things and seeing what that looks like. And then whatever I learned, share it with everybody who asks or didn’t ask. Y’all gon’ get this accessibility on today, as I say, often.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work? Where can they find that online?

Tiffany Stewart:
I tend to keep a low profile, but I am on LinkedIn. You can find me there. I am on Instagram, but I don’t post often. I am a lurker, as it were, one of those things. Those are my two spots that I’m usually-

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the Instagram name?

Tiffany Stewart:
Elemango.design. It’s from an old graphic design project that I did for my senior year at university.

Maurice Cherry:
All right.

Tiffany Stewart:
But yeah, elemango.design. Elephants and mangoes.

Maurice Cherry:
I thought that what it might be.

Tiffany Stewart:
My two favorite things.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounded like that’s what it might be elephants and mangoes.

Tiffany Stewart:
Elephants and mangoes. My two favorite things. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Awesome. Well, Tiffany Stewart, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Tiffany Stewart:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you’re someone that is just passionately curious about a lot of things and you had the opportunity to be able to really go into a lot of places with your career. Engineering degree, then doing design and then doing all these other things. It sounds like you’re someone that is always trying to keep on the pulse of what’s next. And I think of course, with accessibility being such an important topic to our world right now, I feel like we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more from you in the future. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Tiffany Stewart:
Thank you. So lovely to do this. This is a lot of fun. So yeah, no, I appreciate it very much. Thank you.

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