Carolyne Hill

Revision Path is back across the pond this week for a rousing conversation with creative director Carolyne Hill. She is the founder of ChillCreate, a lifestyle brand that celebrates creative living and the choice to create happiness where you can.

Carolyne shared her inspiration behind starting the brand, which grew out of her love for Brixton and the Afro-Caribbean culture there. Carolyne also spoke about her time here in the United States, gave her thoughts on diversity in the UK creative community, and talked about her current work as a graphic design lecturer at Ravensbourne University! Carolyne’s creativity shines in everything she does, and I think you’ll agree after listening to this interview!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Carolyne Hill:
Hi there, my name is Carolyne Hill. I’m a creative director. I’m a specialist in branding and I have my own brand called ChillCreate and I’m a designer. I’m an all around creative.

Maurice Cherry:
What was your impetus behind starting ChillCreate?

Carolyne Hill:
So it’s something I’ve always wanted to do from when I was a little girl and I got to a point in my career, I was the director, art director, creative director of a design firm and that was my goal from when I started out in my design career. And I got to this goal and I was just really bored and I wasn’t really feeling the type of clients I was working for anymore. I wanted to do something different. And to be honest, I was even questioning whether I wanted to be a designer anymore. So I went off traveling, I took some time out, explored a bit, went full hippy, went off with a camera and a sketchbook. And when I came back, I just had some designs, some ideas, which were a lot more just completely different to anything else I’ve ever done. And it was a print. I ended up making some fabric and experimenting with a few products, which I got a friend to make for me. And that was the birth of ChillCreate. I basically wanted to start a fashion brand.

Maurice Cherry:
So what is sort of an average day like for you these days with ChillCreate?

Carolyne Hill:
Well, at the moment ChillCreate has kind of taken a back burner because although that’s there, it’s online, it’s ticking away, online sales still happen. Last year, I had to focus a lot more on my branding side of things to actually pay the bills as, I don’t know if you know, but yeah, as a creative, you often have the balance between the work that is your passion and the work that pays the bills.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely.

Carolyne Hill:
So ChillCreate is my passion and the work that pays the bills is my branding work. So I’m an independent design consultant. I help people build their brands, their communications, that type of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. How do you go about sort of choosing the types of clients and projects that you work with?

Carolyne Hill:
Well, I’ve been really lucky thus far. I’ve been an independent creative now for three years and I haven’t actually had to go out looking for work. So my way of getting work is through networking. I like socializing. I like being out and meeting people, so it’s really old school. But I get my business cards out, I chat to people, I tell them what I do and I get my clients that way. But I have to say I’m now in the process of actually beginning to think, “Right. How do I now choose the type of clients going forward?” I think trying to find clients which I can believe in what they do is really important to me.

Maurice Cherry:
And I guess they would also have to mesh with sort of, well, if you’re coming to them as a brand consultant and they might, I guess they’re like at the beginning stages of their business or does it really matter?

Carolyne Hill:
I do have people at that beginning stage of their business and that tends to be kind of start-up entrepreneurs. They are super excited and great and have super amounts of passion, but they don’t necessarily have big budgets. So the type of clients that I like to try and work with more are people that are perhaps already on the road with their own entrepreneur side of their business, they’ve probably been doing it for some time and now they’re trying to take it to the next level. They’re trying to step it up so they’ve already got their brand. They’ve already got their philosophies, but they now need time and help to hone in on their key values, strategies and identities.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. At work, we just wrapped up. We just wrapped up and launched a project last month where we use, it was a independent branding agency, I think kind of similar to what you’re doing with ChillCreate, and it was amazing just kind of seeing how precise they were with asking all these questions and really making sure to get to the root of what the brand was about that we wanted to build. It wasn’t just, “Oh, make us a pretty style guide.” It was what are the values and everything that go into it, which I thought was pretty cool.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah, I think it’s so important. For me, it makes the design process easy because sometimes if you’ve got a client who just wants you to make them a pretty logo, something that looks nice, I can go off, I can create a pretty logo. Yeah, but then they come back, “Oh, it’s not quite right. It doesn’t pop.” You know, the classic it doesn’t pop. But if you work with the client and you then start to understand their values, where they’re coming from, who they want to attract, then it really hones in on the actual style, the content, the philosophy, and it then becomes really easy to work with the client developer relationship where you both have an identity or project at the end which everybody’s really happy with.

Maurice Cherry:
When it comes to approaching a new project, what’s your process like?

Carolyne Hill:
I think to start with, it would be to sit down with the clients, have an open discussion about what it is they hope to achieve and I take them through kind of a brand strategy process that I used to use a lot when I was working for these other agencies. It’s where you build up a set of values, you then build up to the next stage. So it’s like a pyramid chart where you build up from the values, to the promise, all the way up to the brand essence. And then once you’ve got these things, you’ve got essentially without the actual design, you’ve got the brand. And then from there we go through sort of imagery search and creative stages of designing, feedback, and then applications. So it’s quite a straightforward process.

Maurice Cherry:
Are there any companies or clients out there that you would love to collaborate with?

Carolyne Hill:
Oh goodness. I guess I think for me, I actually asked, I’ve started lecturing recently and I actually asked my students this question just the other day. And while I asked them, I felt myself, “Who would I like to collaborate with? What would be the ideal, the most amazing project?” I think for me it would be, I’ve worked perhaps this year a bit more on my own personal graphic style and then I imagine that, I don’t know, [nightcore 00:08:08]. Somebody comes to me and says, let’s do a collaboration. I’m talking out of this world kind of ideals. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Well hey, put it out there in the universe. You never know.

Carolyne Hill:
You never know, right?

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the hardest part about what you do?

Carolyne Hill:
I think the hardest part for me is often working solo. I used to be the director, have a whole team, so I would have bosses above me. I had kind of strategy stuff on the left and then I had a whole team that I managed. And so going from that, basically being the boss, the middle person, and the person doing the running around, that has been one of the hardest challenges. And at times I have people to share the work with and other times I don’t. I sort of have to expand and contract, depending on the job. So that’s been quite a major challenge.

Maurice Cherry:
So let’s kind of switch gears here a bit. I know just from doing my research that you’re from London, right? You’re London proper.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. Born and bred.

Maurice Cherry:
Born and bred. What was it like growing up there?

Carolyne Hill:
I have very fond and happy memories growing up in London. I grew up in Brixton, which is South London, I guess the equivalent to stateside, massive might be like Brooklyn or something like that. So it’s a very Afro-Caribbean neighborhood with a lot of energy, a lot of vibe about it. And school and everything for me was great. I loved school, growing up in London was fun.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you know that art and design were things that you were interested in? Were you exposed to that a lot in Brixton?

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah, I was exposed to a lot from my parents. They were very creative parents themselves. They’re not creatives themselves, but they just have lots of creative friends, lots of artist friends. My grandmother was a painter and we used to go and visit her. She lived in Cheltenham, which is sort of just past Oxford and she’d have watercolor paintings going on the whole time. And I always wanted to be an artist. I think from a very young age, I was really excited when we’d go to galleries and look at art. I remember being about 10 years old and loving Andy Warhol exhibitions that my parents had taken me to. And of course lots of my parents friends were artists. So I’d grew up in this very creative community. So I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an artist or a designer or a fashion designer. And then yeah, I got to school and quite quickly I was kind of told, “Well, you don’t want to be a starving artist, Carolyne.”

Maurice Cherry:
Were your parents and family kind of supportive of you though, going that route?

Carolyne Hill:
Oh yeah, they were super supportive. I never had any problems in terms of convincing my parents that I was going to be an artist because I’d been saying it from when I was, like I said, about 10 years old, maybe younger even.

Maurice Cherry:
But at school you were hearing something different.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes, quite often at school you’re paired up with careers advisor. And I remember the careers advisors saying, “Well, I don’t know really about you being a designer or an artist. Maybe you should be a social worker, something a bit more achievable.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. Can you imagine?

Maurice Cherry:
I can’t imagine. When I was in high school, I had my guidance counselor at the time was always telling me that you need to learn a trade. And here in the States, learning a trade is blue collar work, like a mechanic or fixing air conditioner units or something like that. And now granted, I was valedictorian in high school. I graduated the top of my class. But she was like, “Well, just think about it. You might want to think about learning a trade or something because you never know. One day…” I’ll never know one day what, that doesn’t.

Carolyne Hill:
One day, what? Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah I was the same. I was top scorer in the school. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have been pushed to do exactly what we wanted to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And you went to the London College of Printing, which I said this before we recorded, I was like, “It sounds like a college for printing.” which seems like a very intensive thing to study. But what was your time like there?

Carolyne Hill:
It’s changed names now. It’s the London College of Communication because essentially the printing world is dead or depleted. But yeah, I guess it’s background, the London College of Printing was that it was an arts college, part of the London Institute, which focused on the kind of printing, publishing and arts, which then moved into digital. So I actually studied retail design and business management, which was actually an interior design degree for public and commercial spaces. So it was a mixture of sort of design, but also business and branding was very heavy, was a big part of it. So you had to both design the interiors, brand the interiors, and understand how you are going to make this commercially viable.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. That actually sounds like a really modern program. When I think about what a lot of schools try to teach, it’s more so just the design and not the business aspect of it.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. At the time, I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, the business side is so boring.” But actually, having left university when we only had access to computers one day a week, I kind of feel like everything I learned in university on the creative side was great. But as soon as I started the job, I was on the computer 24/7. So all this hand drawing skills that I learned, I never actually had to use in my job for a number of years. But the business side of things was very informative and I still kind of think about what we did learn and it was very good in that respect.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that’s really good. I mean we had back on the show, I think it was maybe about… God, I’ve been doing the show for seven years now. I think it’s been about two or three years ago, we had Douglas Davis who wrote this book about kind of the business of design, learning basically what you learned in college, learning the aspect of not just branding, but how do you design towards business goals. How do you keep those in mind while also still creating something that looks nice, that serves the client’s needs but is more than just a pretty thing?

Carolyne Hill:
Exactly. It’s the strategy. I think they changed the name of the course after I did it and they switched it around a bit. I’m not sure if they still combine the design with the strategic side anymore. But I remember there was one book which was really important at the stage. It was called the Design Agenda. It’s so old now, but that was like the course bible and it was basically brand strategy and design management.

Maurice Cherry:
And what did you say it was called? The design what?

Carolyne Hill:
The Design Agenda.

Maurice Cherry:
The Design Agenda. That sounds kind of sinister, but I kind of like it. The Design Agenda. No, I liked that a lot. So what were your first design jobs out of college. You graduated, you now have this not only design skill but the business skill. You’ve got the degree to back it up. What were those first design jobs like for you?

Carolyne Hill:
So my first job I got was designing for Tesco’s, which is one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and I got the job and I was super excited because it took me a while to get my first job and I said, “Great, thank you. I’ve got the job. Sorry, what is the job?” Because I didn’t actually know what the job I was applying for. They said, “Graphic designer.” And you just heard me say I actually graduated from an interior design degree. And that’s when I said, “Oh great. Yeah.” They said, “You can do that?” I was like, “Yeah.” I was just so happy to have a job. I wasn’t about to tell them that I’m not a graphic designer, I’m an interior designer. So I did it. I learned straight in at the deep end, designing for one of the UK’s largest supermarkets. I had to design buy one get one free messages, frozen food signage, just really boring till messages, anything and everything that you see on the kind of point of sales side within a supermarket.

Carolyne Hill:
That then gradually grew into being put in charge of whole departments, graphics, art direction for photo shoots of frozen food, being in charge of the entire UK’s carpark signage packages. So it was a fast paced agency, it was a massive agency. It was a sink or swim kind of situation and yeah, I went in, front stroke, swimming hard.

Maurice Cherry:
Well I think it’s good to kind of be in those sorts of situations because it pushes you to become a lot better I guess pretty quickly given how large Tesco is as a brand.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. You had to, you really had to deliver quickly. It was one of those agencies where you would work ’til sometimes midnight, two in the morning and you still had to be there at 9:00 AM. I learned a lot in that company. And I also learned straight away from my experience there that I didn’t want to work at another big agency like that again. So after that, I went to smaller agencies.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s amazing. I feel like the agency experience is universal. No matter who I talk to in any country about working for an ad agency or something like that, it’s the same type of breakneck speed or the same type of huge, just workload. That’s wow.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. I think you can handle it for a while and some people love that.

Carolyne Hill:
I think you can handle it for a while, and some people love that kind of vibe consistently.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think when you’re young it’s good, because you’ve got the energy to do that.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah, and you’ve got the fire to keep fighting and pushing back, constantly delivering. But I think I figured out very quickly that I didn’t really like working for other people.

Maurice Cherry:
So, you were doing these sort of small agency gigs. We spoke about this also before recording, that you worked even here, in the U.S., for a little bit. Just briefly, right? In New York City?

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah, I always wanted to come to New York and, I don’t know, I wanted to be a designer in New York. I came out, I did some house-sitting in Brooklyn, and then I got a really cool gig looking after somebody else’s apartment in the Lower East Side. While I was there I just was trying to find jobs, and it was very difficult, as a Londoner, trying to get into the New York agencies.

Maurice Cherry:
What made it difficult?

Carolyne Hill:
Well, there’s the whole issue of your green card and who was going to be your sponsor, and you had to prove that your service was not able to have been filled by a United States citizen. Agencies, they kind of weren’t really interested in having to go through all that rigmarole, and maybe I didn’t have the right contacts at the time. I was quite naïve in that respect.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s still tough. I have a friend, he’s from India. He went to school in Canada and he was here in Atlanta for a while, but now he lives out near L.A., in California. I remember even when he was looking for jobs how difficult it was, because of those same kinds of issues with companies that wouldn’t sponsor him, or he had to be sponsored on a certain visa so there were only certain types of jobs that he could look for and not something that could really advance him in his career. It had to be something more lower level, so you kind of were stuck at one point because the job may offer you the paperwork that you need to stay here, but it’s not really something you can succeed in or you can grow in.

Carolyne Hill:
Exactly, and that’s where I found myself. In the end I had a great time exploring New York, living the life, doing yoga. I was just hot-desking, going to cafes with my laptop, working on … I was actually working for magazines at the time and record labels from London, so it was quite a fun time. You know, coming out of the big corporate chain of supermarkets, high street retailers for a while, there was me designing cute stuff for record labels and magazine spreads for [Touch 00:20:49] Magazine, which was one of these kind of R&B Hip Hop magazines in London. So, it was fun.

Maurice Cherry:
What year was this, just to kind of put it in context?

Carolyne Hill:
Oh, my goodness. In context, I would say that would have been around, oh gosh, 10 years ago, now.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so right around late-2000, something like that?

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. Okay. All right.

Carolyne Hill:
I know. Time’s gone fast.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your early career experiences, up to what you’re doing right now, when you look back at those, what do you feel like those experiences taught you?

Carolyne Hill:
It’s been quite varied. I enjoyed being a freelance designer, as well as then going full-time to be an employed designer. The bits that taught me the most were probably the freelance parts, because you got to jump around to lots of different types of agencies and work on lots of different projects. Of course, each time you work on another project you kind of come back and you say, “Well, actually I can charge more.”

Carolyne Hill:
So, it gave me a really good experience across a wide range of types of projects: working with interior designers for a long time, which was great, because that’s where my original training started. I also worked with architects, and did a little bit of work with ad agencies. I worked with TV companies, mobile phone operators. It’s been really random and quite varied, so I think that’s the advantage that was given me, is that now that I’m working for myself, I do have a very varied type of client base. And I like that. I like things when they’re varied.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s one thing I really enjoyed when I was freelancing, too, that I could sort of bounce around and see how I can use my skills with different types of clients. Back when I had my studio, I would … maybe one month I’m doing something for a cosmetics brand, and then it’s pivoting to work for a software company, and then it’s pivoting to work for a solo entrepreneur that’s writing books, or something like that. And so, you find a way to kind of use your skills in these different ways.

Maurice Cherry:
What I think, and maybe this is different in other places, maybe this is unique to Atlanta, but what I found sucked was that once I went out looking for a job, they wanted you to sort of be a specialist. Instead of being a generalist that could take your skill and apply it to anything, they wanted you to only have worked in this particular type of design for years or something, which … I don’t know.

Carolyne Hill:
Is that when you were applying for jobs in big agencies?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I don’t know if they were all big agencies. Mostly they were software companies or tech companies. I think they just wanted to make sure they had someone that understood, I guess, tech. Like, right now I work in a software company. There’s a lot of jargon that goes around that I know probably most designers either don’t know, or don’t care about. I’ll be honest. I don’t care about it most of the time, but I know enough to be able to translate it, and know what I have to know for my work. But it wasn’t something where, “Oh, you have to have had this many years of experience in a SaaS company.”

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like … This is something that I want to explore more this year in general, is that it feels like everything is converging towards tech, every single profession in some way is converging towards technology. Maybe it’s because tech is everywhere, maybe it’s because even in things that I don’t think we realize, AI and machine learning are parts of them.

Maurice Cherry:
Even in the most seemingly low-tech job, like farming or something like that, there’s so much technology in farming. It feels like everything is certainly converging at some point towards tech, so having those singular kind of work experiences almost … I don’t know. I don’t know if that really prepares you for this sort of new world, where everything has to do with tech.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. I don’t know. I do think about that sometimes because I think, like you, I don’t really care for the techspeak and the … I use tech. I love tech. I love new things and learning new things, but I don’t necessarily want to be in tech, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, that totally makes sense.

Carolyne Hill:
I think for me, I would rather … I don’t know. I think personally, for my own creative ambitions, I want to [inaudible 00:25:19] more to the art side of things to step away from tech. Because although I understand a lot, I can learn, but I don’t really want to spend my time having to become a specialist in it. And I think so many people do it so much better, so why should I … I don’t want to make that my purpose. I want to stick with creative thinking, because I don’t think that will ever go out.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, no.

Carolyne Hill:
I think it might be short-sighted in the sense, “Oh, you need to be [inaudible 00:25:47] in tech,” but actually, it’s a very different skill to think creatively and to come up with creative strategy and ideas. Tech exists, but it needs ideas to make it functional. So, even if perhaps, I don’t know, maybe in the future I might have to get into tech, but I would hope that I get into it on the ideas side of things.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I see now … You can tell when a solution has been thought up by a group of engineers and there’s no tech people in the room, because it may work, but it doesn’t look good or it’s not user-friendly. Granted, design is a very visual medium, but there’s also UX design, and a lot of that has to do with more psychological things about-

Carolyne Hill:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
How does the user feel about this? Is this word choice proper? Things like that. I know one, this is a project I worked on with … this is with a client years and years and years ago. It was very clear that they wanted to have this new content management system for their newsroom, and the software developers there had come up with a solution. They were like, “Oh, well it works because it does these technologies and this, this, and this, and all this stuff.”

Maurice Cherry:
But the actual user interface was so bad to use. I think it was … God, was it DotNetNuke? It might have been DotNetNuke. It was something super-obscure that 0.01% of companies probably use right now. It’s not WordPress, by a stretch, it’s not something that’s simple to pick up. It’s like if you were making an article, you had to make an article in these blocks, and so you had to think of …

Maurice Cherry:
Say you were writing a piece, and the piece has five paragraphs and two images. Each of those paragraphs is a block, and each of those images is a block, and so you now have to abstract, “Oh, well you just take this paragraph and put it in this block.” Then someone’s like, “What if I want to put a picture next to it?” They’re like, “Oh, we didn’t think of that. Well, why don’t you put the picture underneath it?”

Maurice Cherry:
They’re like, “I don’t want the picture underneath it. I want the picture next to it.” Like a pull quote or something going outside the margin. It’s like the engineers didn’t even think of that. They were like, “Oh, we never considered that use-case.” That sort of thing.

Carolyne Hill:
So, it’s important. I think there will always be room for the non-tech, but in tech.

Maurice Cherry:
At this stage in your career, what is the London design scene like? How do you experience it?

Carolyne Hill:
I live and work in the Shoreditch area, which is like designer central. I’ve always worked in and around this area, which is how I ended up living up here. It’s fast-paced, there’s design companies on every corner. It’s big business, some of the worldwide agencies are here. But for me, my design community is perhaps a bit more local: as in my peers, my friends, the sort of creative family, and there’s a lot of crossover in between our creative endeavors.

Carolyne Hill:
Since working for myself, I’m beginning to perhaps work with fellow creatives, but on different things. So, I have people who are photographers, who are artists, who are fashion designers, writers, TV people, all in my circle of friends and associates, and I think there’s a great crossover.

Carolyne Hill:
I think at this moment, especially within the black arts scene in London, it’s a great opportunity and time, because there’s been a lot going on. I’m starting to see some of my peers, people that I’ve known for a long time now, actually reaching sort of great heights of success. I’m reading about them in publications, and seeing friends of mine who are now the artists being featured on packaging for quite famous products here in the U.K.

Carolyne Hill:
So, I think it’s a really good time. It’s an exciting time. It’s like if you’ve got the staying power to just keep going and reaching out to these connections, I think it’s a good time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It sounds like it’s booming, if that’s the case.

Carolyne Hill:
I don’t know about booming. I think London is one of these places where you can boom, but you can also bust real quick. There’s opportunity, definitely. There is definitely opportunity to boom, but it’s, I think, probably like anywhere at the moment in our societies. It’s quite hard work, but then you get these little nuggets of goodness and growth and prosperity, which keep you going until the next-

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I know here in the States the conversation around diversity in design, it seems like it’s ongoing. Is that the case also in London, or I guess in the U.K.? Do you find that there’s a lot of conversations around having more people of color involved in the design industry as a whole?

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. Yeah, there’s always this conversation. I think for myself, as a person of mixed heritage from Brixton, London, I’ve always been the only person of color, and often the only woman in the room in these design agencies that I’ve worked for. Working now for myself, I’m just working with all black people and loads of women, and loads of people who are just open to be creative. It’s kind of refreshing, because in my earlier career I’ve always been the only one in the room, so to speak. So, that discussion is going on. I don’t know how much it’s going on within these big agencies itself, because I stepped out of that.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, that makes sense. Because a lot of it, what I hear is mostly about employment. It’s not necessarily about all over, general numbers. Here in the States it started from the diversity in technology conversation, which was looking at big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and seeing how their workforce broke down. It started to go over into design, but I feel like it’s mostly been just about design departments at tech companies, and not about these ad agencies, or something like that.

Carolyne Hill:
Well, we’re seeing it a lot in the press. It’s slightly different, but even in the BAFTAs this last week we’ve had, there’s nobody of color that’s been nominated for anything, and that’s just completely shocking. Then you’re thinking, “Well, who’s doing the nominations?” Well, of course, is there anybody representing there?

Carolyne Hill:
But then over in the literary field, we’ve just had the first black woman to win the Booker Prize for her book, “Girl, Woman, Other,” a writer called Benardine Evaristo. Her book is fantastic. I recommend everybody go read it, it’s really good.

Carolyne Hill:
There are sometimes things are changing, but I don’t know. There always has to be the first, and then are there any others? And how do you keep it going? I think it’s a constant discussion and a constant struggle, so to speak. I think at the moment, with the society that I’m in at the moment in London in [Brexit 00:33:09], I feel I just have to get on and do it myself, in whatever that is that I want to do to make the change that I want to see.

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like here in the States, it’s similar to that. I think it depends on the industry. We just had the Grammys here a few weeks ago, I think. For people that are listening, we’re recording this in early February, so this is … Grammys were last week. My whole calendar is a blur, so I apologize. But I know the Grammys were recently, because unfortunately they happened the same day that Kobe Bryant passed away.

Maurice Cherry:
There was conversation, I think, around some of the big names in the music industry, black folks in particular, like Puff Daddy, some other folks, et cetera: about how the Grammys are not treating black artists well, and they sort of lump us in these other categories and things like that. I was having a conversation with some people, and the thing that came to me was, why don’t they just start their own awards?

Maurice Cherry:
I got pushback from it, I think for two reasons. The first reason I got pushback was because, how come we always have to make the solution? Like, the system doesn’t change if we just sort of make an alternative to it, which I don’t necessarily agree with.

Maurice Cherry:
But then, the other pushback I got was the value of what that even means. A lot of people in the music industry look to Grammys as some pinnacle of success that you’ve reached in your career. For some artists it means you will get paid more, it opens the door to more opportunities, collaborations, et cetera. That may not be the same case with a perhaps lesser-known award. So, it’s also about, I guess, the value that the industry gives to these types of honorifics. It’s like a whole power structure thing.

Maurice Cherry:
I agree with you about, we have to do it ourselves. Because if we keep waiting for the system or keep pushing at the system for things to change, sometimes it changes. Sometimes it does. It can be slow, it can change in unexpected ways.

Maurice Cherry:
But then if we’re able to do these things ourselves, we sort of become the masters of our own fate in that way. We can control and shape the exact message that we want to get out there without having to go through some filter, or gatekeeper, or something like that.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. I think sometimes if you’re constantly trying to prove yourself in a structure that has no interest in hearing you, you just get worn out and worn down. So, I think there’s a point at which you just brush it off and do your own thing.

Carolyne Hill:
I’m not saying you stop trying. I’m just saying you’ve got to focus on what means something to you and the passion that you have within yourself, creatively. Because the whole system can get on top of you to the point where you lose that creativity, and you lose that buzz, and the inspiration which made you want to enter these roles-

Carolyne Hill:
… inspiration, which made you want to enter these roles, competitions yourself in the first place. It’s kind of like you have to do everything, but for me the priority is you’ve got to focus on your own passion and your own self and your own community.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So speaking of knowing friends of yours that have had these sort of big campaigns and this visibility, you yourself had a popup exhibition at the Tate Modern last summer. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. That was so exciting. It was a really random opportunity that came my way, and I just said, “Yeah, cool, I’ll do it.” And I had no idea what I was going to do, but I was given a sort of loose topic to explore, and I ended up exploring the question: where do you come from? Because as a person of mixed heritage from London, I’m always asked, it’s the second question, apart from, what’s your name, that people ask you, “But where are you from?” And you say, “Well, I’m from London.” “No, but where are you really from?” You say, “Well, I’m from Brixton.” “No, no, no. What’s your heritage?” You say, “Well, my mother’s Jamaican, my dad’s English.” “Oh!” And so you’ve always got all these layers of questions that come your way.

Carolyne Hill:
So I felt, especially as the Brexit drama we’ve been having, this negative rhetoric about identity, which is going round. I wanted to explore it. So I did some posters, had this exhibition, was up there for a week, and it was just the most satisfying and exciting experience being at the Tate Modern, which is one of my most favorite places in the whole of London.

Maurice Cherry:
What was the reception that you got from it?

Carolyne Hill:
It was great. I had the posters and then I wanted people to come in and ask and answer the question themselves, where are you from? So I had people from all around the world come and make their own versions of my posters, which filled all the walls in this kind of pop-up space. And even this week I had a message on Facebook from a lady from Peru who came and was part of the exhibition. She was a poet and she just wrote me a message this week saying “Hello, I miss the time we had at the Tate Modern.” I was just like, this is amazing. I met so many people. It gave me so much confidence to think that I can be an artist, I can take my design skills, my creativity, and I deserve also to be here in this space at the Tate. Yes, so it was really good fun.

Maurice Cherry:
And I guess, also with taking those skills, you’re also now a part time lecturer at Ravensbourne University. So you’re putting it out there in the community as well.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes, that’s right. I wanted to have the opportunity to give back and to be that inspiration that you see. And like our conversation at the beginning here when we were in college or university, we didn’t necessarily have people that looked like us to necessarily guide us in that direction. And I just feel that my experience as a Londoner would be valid and useful to anyone at university for whatever their background. And so I’ve just recently started, I’ve given one or two lectures, and I’m really enjoying the tutorials and getting to know the kids. Yeah, really it’s quite exciting. It’s very different to my usual day job.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you finding that they teach you?

Carolyne Hill:
Man, they’ve got so many ideas. They’re teaching me a bit about tech. They’ve all got the latest computers and every single app and all the applications. I don’t necessarily have the latest computer myself. So what are they teaching me? Definitely just different kind of thinking. They’re coming from a different place to myself and they’re just ready to explore. They’re at that point of exploration. And I think for me it’s great to see that because it just opens your eyes again to exploring.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s an interesting thing about lecturing and teaching, especially if you’re self taught or you’re entrepreneurial in any way, because you take all these things that you’ve learned from trial and error and now you’re like teaching it to someone else. It’s a weird kind of feeling because, I don’t know, for me, when I did it, I used to kind of feel a bit of imposter syndrome, like, why am I at this place teaching this? Like I taught a brief class at Savannah College of Art and Design, and I was like, “I didn’t go to art school. What am I doing here? I’m just a guy off the street teaching these kids and stuff.”

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s amazing how that, I feel like they want to hear that though. They want to hear that kind of real experience because in a way that’s sort of where they’re at. Like they’re not a known entity or they don’t have these years of experience yet. So they kind of want to hear the real thing. They don’t want to hear the package speech, I guess, about, work hard and all your dreams will come true. Like will they? That sort of thing. So yeah.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. I think they want to hear the sidesteps, the roundabouts, the up and down that you go through. Because I think maybe this generation, they know that it’s going to be quite hard to get a job. They’re seeing it all the time. There’s no such thing as a job for life anymore. And even getting a job is going to be really hard for them. So I think they’re aware of that. And so I just think, I know what you mean about this imposter syndrome by the way, because on the first time I had to get up and speak, I was really nervous. And the senior lecturer, she did her speech, her lecture, which was good. And when she put up on the board all the clients that she’s worked for, I looked at it and thought, “Oh, we’ve worked for pretty much the same clients over the years.” So that’s one layer that dropped off of my insecurity, because it’s like, “Okay, I’ve done what you’ve done.” Her whole experience was completely different though.

Carolyne Hill:
And then the other lecturer gave her talk and she’s, I would say much younger than myself and the other lecturer, I mean, her experience was also completely different. And that’s when I actually became really comfortable because I was like, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m different to these other two. I don’t need to be what they are, who they are or where they’ve been, because I’ve got my own story and my own journey.” All of that imposter syndrome dropped off, and I saw the kids looking back at me smiling, which meant they must be engaged. So I’m good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s so good when you reach that point, because I mean, one, it instills in you this confidence that you know exactly what it is that you’re talking about, what it is you’re doing. Because it’s your experience. Who knows it better than you do? Your own experience. Right? So of course you can speak on that from a position of authority. I think the imposter syndrome does sort of come in when you try to do that comparison to what other people are doing.

Carolyne Hill:
It’s the worst thing you can do, isn’t it?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And it’s interesting because I’ve talked to people lately about, and it’s mostly just been about podcasts and some stuff about design, but they’re always like, “Wow, you’re so confident.” And I’m like, “I’ve worked my ass off to get here. So yes, I am confident because I know what I’ve done to get to this point to be able to talk about it with authority.” So it’s a good feeling once it does go away. So how do you define success at this point?

Carolyne Hill:
I think success at this point means being happy, yeah, success means being happy. If you’re working to pay the bills and you can’t quite make things stretch, are you happy? I don’t know. You need both the commercial success as well as the creative passion success. So for me, being happy means that I’m successful. That means that I’ve got enough money to pay the bills, I can take some holidays, but I’m also creating things that I am proud and happy to work on.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there anything that you’re obsessed with at the moment?

Carolyne Hill:
Just music. I’m always obsessed with music, listen to different music every single day. It’s what keeps me designing and keeps me working.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are you listening to?

Carolyne Hill:
Today is a complete mix up of music and tracks. I started off the day listening to, okay, then judge me, it’s going to be really random, yeah?

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Carolyne Hill:
Beyonce’s Homecoming was the first thing to get me out the house, a bit of Curtis Mayfield, then I jumped into some Nina Simone, then I’ve just seen Queen and Slim, so I listened to the Queen and Slim soundtrack. And then this afternoon we listened to some Alfa Mist. I would say I’m very obsessed with Alfa Mist, they’re are kind of UK ambient soul jazz band. They’re really good. I listen to them a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Carolyne Hill:
So it’s a very varied playlist for today.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s actually a really good playlist. That’s really good. I’m into like, so I don’t know, my music taste is all over the place. I don’t even know if this is something I’ve talked about on the show, especially when I was in college and my early 20s I was so, so big into British music. You have no idea. My favorite band was Jamiroquai. I listened to Radio One just on the internet or whatever. So I knew about producers and artists like Alice Russell and Ben Westbeech and Will Holland, and I mean, I still listen to a lot of that stuff. I think Alice Russell has a new album coming out this year, knock on wood, I hope she does. But I listened to a lot of stuff from the UK, a lot of music.

Maurice Cherry:
And I went there, it was the first time I was in London, it was in 2017 is actually, it was the first week that I started this job. They sent me to London for the first week. I was like, what? That was so mad. I did not get to listen to the radio, go to any bars or anything, because it was all work. I didn’t have time and I didn’t know where places were and stuff. I was like, “Oh man, I missed the golden opportunity to really be in the UK music scene or whatever.” But, oh man, I love it, love it, love it. But I’m not going to pull up my music director and everything, but I’m a big, huge British jazz fan, British soul. Oh, all that. Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. Well I listen to a lot, and it’s what gets me designing, and I feel really happy when I’m at my desk. I share a really nice little studio in Brick Lane with two other creatives, and I love it. And we play music all day.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s something that perhaps maybe not many people understand about you?

Carolyne Hill:
Gosh, put me on the spot there. I think one of the things, maybe not understand, but they don’t maybe realize is, you can very easily put out this persona, especially being like a brand owner, that everything is always going amazingly and ticketyboo. But when you’re a creative working for yourself, that there are often those times which are like major highs and that’s what everyone sees. So maybe people don’t necessarily understand that, me, this big vibrant person who’s very happy to be out socializing, can also be at times a bit of an introvert and can have those moments of self doubt.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Because I think now, especially with social media and design, it’s like you always have to be putting something out there for people to see so they know that you’re still doing it or that you’re still out there making work. So it’s hard to kind of, I don’t even want to say take a break, but you rarely see the downs, you mostly only just see the ups.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. And I think when you are working for yourself and you’re running your own business, you know, I run two businesses at the moment, you’re doing it all yourself, so you don’t necessarily have anyone to share that burden with in terms of on a business level. And to the outside, people don’t necessarily see that. And well, I think that’s just life at times, but maybe that’s what people don’t see or understand about me as much.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Where do you think your life would’ve gone if you weren’t working in design? Like did you have a backup plan or anything?

Carolyne Hill:
I really enjoyed sociology, studying that at school. I think if I wasn’t in design, I don’t know if I would have gone into that kind of social world, but maybe a different type of creativity if I wasn’t a designer, you know? I think stage design, it would be something that I would love to have explored, because it’s so conceptual and fantastical and random.

Maurice Cherry:
And I guess London’s a big theater city, so that would’ve worked out.

Carolyne Hill:
That could have worked out. Yes. I do a lot of work with theaters at the moment, and I really enjoy working with people, helping them visualize their creative concepts.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What do you want your legacy to be?

Carolyne Hill:
CarolYne Hill, creative from Brixton. I don’t know. I think my legacy would just be to be remembered as somebody who was a creative who designed and was here, maybe did a little something to change things.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s it’s 2025, what are you working on? Or what do you want to be working on?

Carolyne Hill:
I would like to think by 2025 my businesses are going really well. I’m perhaps actually running a team, not perhaps, I’m running a team. Things are pretty organized. And those things are ticking off nicely, but I think personally I’d like to have explored my artistic side more and be in the process of creating artwork as opposed to design and designing for other people. I think that would be a really nice thing to aim for for the next five years.

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

Carolyne Hill:
I have a website which is carolynehill.com. That’s Carolyne with a Y rather than an I. My other brand: chillcreate.com

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Carolyne Hill, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really just kind of sharing your journey. I know we didn’t include this in the interview, but the connection that you and I both have is from the late Jon Daniel, who was also on the show, and I know you mentioned him being a big inspiration to you, a big mentor to you. And I think with the work that you’re doing with ChillCreate, I mean, having an exhibition in the Tate, and then really I think just living a proud creative life, I think that’s kind of the dream for all of us, and I know, I really feel like that would have been the dream that Jon would have wanted to see from you. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Carolyne Hill:
Thank you very much. You’ve been a wonderful host.


RECOGNIZE is open for essay submissions for Volume 2! The deadline is April 30 – enter today!

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Fonz Morris

You know, I’ve interviewed hundreds of Black creatives over the years, but none of them have had the enthusiasm that Fonz Morris possesses. He is the growth design lead at online learning platform Coursera, where he oversees a staff of talented designers from all over. We talked about hiring, diversity and inclusion, and he gave some great advice for up and coming designers looking to land their dream job.

Fonz also shared his story of growing up in Brooklyn and teaching himself architecture, going to college in Atlanta, starting his own music distribution platform and creative agency, and how those experiences led him to where he is today. Fonz is all about pursuing his dreams, and after you hear his words of wisdom, you’ll be inspired to go out and do the same!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Fonz Morris:
My name is Fonz Morris. I am the design lead on the growth team at Coursera.org which is an online Edtech company based out of Silicon Valley focusing on transforming lives through education.

Maurice Cherry:
How did you get started there?

Fonz Morris:
Once my last startup that I helped get off the ground ended up not working out for me, I told my wife that if I was going to get a job back in corporate America or go back and lead the entrepreneurship space, I wanted it to be out in California. I just knew the community that was out here, I knew the weather, I wanted a change of environment. I’m a father I wanted to raise my daughter in a different environment than New York City or Philadelphia and I just started to pursue opportunities out West and I applied to different positions. Recruiters hit me up from different companies and ultimately I landed at Coursera in August of 2018.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. What kind of projects are you working on there as a growth design lead?

Fonz Morris:
So currently we just released our new homepage, which is doing fantastic. The numbers are up 4% across site wide which is really exciting for those of you who understand metrics. I have recently worked on redesigning our promo unit system framework, which is really important for us because we have a lot of different products that we need to promote to different learners at different times. So our old promo unit system was just ineffective and it wasn’t really producing traffic and it was really hard to develop the promo units, it wasn’t scalable. So we redid that, that was very successful. I also helped redo our degree white label framework. Degrees are a really important part of Coursera and for the future of Coursera and we have about 18 degrees now and each one is from a different university.

Fonz Morris:
So they need their own place to be able to house the necessary information. And another product that I worked on is our new UX search results page. We were having some issues with not getting users to the right content that they wanted so we completely revamped that. And then also being on the growth team I work on a lot of smaller experiments. We’re really experiment based where we’ll roll out two, three smaller iterations of something to get the data from that to be able to make a better educated decision on a design, which those are smaller tasks. So it’s split between big projects like the ones I said originally and then smaller ones that are more targeted towards growth specific and iterations.

Maurice Cherry:
I got you. So it’s a lot of, at least it sounds like it’s some user testing involved with it when you’re doing this sort of comparison.

Fonz Morris:
Yes sir. Lots of it. So once again, I’ll get technical real quick. Usually what we have is a control, which is what the actual live current site is. And then we’ll have a variant A, variant B, a variant C and then we’ll roll out each of those variants to a specific target group. And we’ll get the numbers back from those and then that way we can compare the effect that each design had on each target and be able to make a decision based off the metrics.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s a regular day like for you there? It sounds like there’s a lot of meetings, a lot of maybe cross functional work, stuff like that.

Fonz Morris:
Lots of meetings. I don’t think I would’ve ever thought that as somebody with designer in their title that I would have so many meetings. So I would say it’s funny, it’s really interesting and I had to get used to that because as a designer I was a solo person. I was used to just sitting in front of my computer zoning out and cranking out designs where now I would say my time is split almost, maybe 60/40 sometimes even 70/30 meeting design. And then we use split in not necessarily formal meetings but one-on-one meetings with the other designer that’s on my team.

Fonz Morris:
Because I’m a design lead I support the other designers on the growth team as well. So when you add all of that up, you’d be surprised how much time I actually spent meeting but that’s because I’m helping come up with decisions and helping other designers come up with decisions with things like that. To where my job is no longer only focused on what I can physically produce, but also what I can emotionally and technically help other people with or grow with and things like that. So it’s funny how many meetings I do have nowadays though.

Maurice Cherry:
So how many designers are on the growth team?

Fonz Morris:
Well, right now we’re about nine. At our highest we were about 12 but that’s something else that’s tricky out here is the turnover at companies because a designer wants a better opportunity or they’re a contractor or it’s just not a good fit. So you see teams grow and shrink way more often than I thought, but right now we’re at about a strong nine.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I would imagine out there in Silicon Valley because there’s so many tech companies out there, really so many design focused tech companies that if you’re a designer of a certain caliber you kind of can just bounce from place to place if you want to. You know?

Fonz Morris:
That’s what it feels like. You definitely get reached out to a lot of companies, but the hiring process at these companies are kind of tricky. So even if you are skilled you still got to go through their hiring process, which is definitely something that I wanted to talk about today. Because I don’t know how many people understand how much work it takes to get on at one of these companies and just how sometimes is also even just the luck of the draw. Because there’s so many phases of it, you never really know which phase could take you out or if you’re going to get through all of the phases as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Listen, let’s talk about it because I’m actually in the middle of hiring, well not hiring, I’m on the interview team so I’m doing a lot of phone screens and resume screens. Let’s talk about it because I actually have a lot to say about that. Talk to me I guess when it comes to what you are looking for out of designers. And it doesn’t necessarily I think have to be specific like skills. I’m sure you know skills are transferable, but what are you looking for when you’re hiring for someone at Coursera?

Fonz Morris:
I think the level of designer is important because that ties into what we’re going to ask them to produce. And by that I mean if we have a lot of production work, if there’s a lot of designs that need to be produced that maybe we’ve already did a lot of the work for and we don’t need to put a lot the full product design process into this, then we could say maybe we’re looking for someone who is not a senior level designer but they’re not really junior. And so because of that, now we’ll be looking for communication skills, we’ll be looking for the ability to do user research.

Fonz Morris:
We may not be expecting you to take a full project on that may go two or three quarters because you might not have had that kind of experience yet. But we’ll be expecting you to be able to lead some things to a certain extent without any handholding to a certain extent as well. And that you determined through asking questions, asking them what type of responsibilities they’ve had at their previous position. You’ll ask them what type of things they’re interested in and looking forward to working on if they get a new position. And then it’s your job as the interviewer to take all the information and see if the two situations align and feel like a good fit.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you find that there are certain skills or certain qualities that you’re looking for in particular?

Fonz Morris:
I think at the end of the day we want to work with really nice people, good people and that’s what I really value about Coursera is that I really like my coworkers. Everybody is friendly, everybody is smart, there’s not a lot of egos you feel you can trust each other and those are more on the personal side than they are the technical skills. So I would say and being transparent. When we asked you what your last job was about, we don’t want you to sound as if you were the best thing since sliced bread or you were the LeBron James of product design.

Fonz Morris:
Because we want some people to have humility, so we want you to be able to tell us how you worked with a problem and how you solved it. And if maybe you bumped heads with somebody on your team that doesn’t say anything about you, we are just really trying to figure out how you handle challenges. So we’re looking for those types of things as well of problem solving and being able to maybe compromise with some people to figure out how to get past a certain point if y’all both were bottlenecked on a idea. So all of these are not technical things, these are just soft skills.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s amazing to me how and this is something that I sort of knew this before, but certainly once I started interviewing and hiring designers and just creatives in general. Your personality and your behavior oftentimes are more important than what you have on your resume or your cover letter. I mean, certainly that will get you I think in the door or get you past the screen but like you said, you want to work with people that are going to fit within the culture. And I know culture fit can kind of be a negative term that is thrown about but like you say, you want to work with nice people. People that you can get along with and do work with, that’s really important.

Fonz Morris:
Cultural fit is important and I don’t understand why culture fit is a negative word. It’s important. Why is it important? Because as a black man, when you think of what does it mean for me to be a culture fit somewhere? What does that mean? If it’s not a black organization, then what culture am I trying to fit into? So I understand how it could be like a negative situation, but I also think it’s coming from the perspective of do you have an ego? Are you just a nice person? Are you friendly? Do you get along well with others on your team? Are you supportive? Do people want to come to work with you?

Fonz Morris:
And that’s just important because you’re with your coworkers more than you are with your family sometimes. So culture fit is important to me, but it does get tricky. And I know why people say that, but I definitely think culture once again goes into soft skills as well. And that’s just really important because if I’m not talking to you about designs or if you’re not literally doing the design, then you’re most likely using your soft skills. If that’s communicating or sharing or analyzing or critiquing so that’s why it ends up being really important for someone in the product space to be strong on both sides of the coin.

Maurice Cherry:
What other sort of advice would you give like for someone that’s not necessarily saying that they’re looking to work at Coursera, but if they’re looking to get into this industry. What advice would you give to an up and coming designer that wants to get a job in design?

Fonz Morris:
I love that question. That’s one of my favorite questions that I have actually spent days, hours, months trying to figure out what’s the best answer to that. And I recently spoke at AfroTech and I’m really happy to be able to have come up with the best answer to that question right before I did my talk. And my answer is I think you should take a second and think about all the different products that you interact with, and what’s your favorite, and then figure out would you want to work at that company. And if you want to work at that company then you should go to that company’s career page and you should look at all the positions that they have available.

Fonz Morris:
And if any of those positions jump out to you, you should go into it, you should read the job description and then you should read those requirements. And those requirements are pretty much your checklist of the skills and things you need to learn to be able to one day get that job. So I think that’s a no cost, really valuable step that a lot of people don’t do but could do and should do to really learn the details of what it would take to possibly land your dream job. Because why I say this also is think about it, somebody who has not developed any of their skills yet why just blindly develop skills or go after skills that you heard somebody else say?

Fonz Morris:
When you can think about where you want to be in your life, what company you think makes you happy. Or if you want to build your own product, think about a company that built something like that and then still go to their careers page because you still need that same information. You need a starting point and I think that’s something that I’ve learned from a lot of people that might be transitioning careers, or trying to reskill. They need a starting point and a job description is a really good starting point.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s some really good advice. I like the fact that you saying take that as the things that you have to do, the checklist to get that particular job. And I would even say especially if you still want to work for that company, even if that particular position may not be what you think it is, it can at least hopefully get your foot in the door there. There might be something else that you end up doing, the company might see what else you bring to the table they might make a position for you. I mean it’s a rarity sometimes, especially depending on how established the company is but especially in startups like tech startups? Absolutely. Like the job that you get, is not necessarily the job that you will keep if that makes any sense.

Fonz Morris:
Yes, that makes a ton of sense. But when you think of it, how many people visit a company’s career page? You don’t have to only visit that page when you’re looking for a job, they’re learning sources. They’re a knowledge base of this is what this company is asking somebody to do this position should know. And it’s literally like your syllabus almost, it’s like your career syllabus and that’s what I want my two cents to be to everybody. Is visit all of the job boards of all the companies you like and start taking notes and look and see if there’s any redundancy in some of the skills that they’re asking. Because then those are the ones you really know you should learn as opposed to just like I said, blindly trying to follow after somebody else and pull in skills that you think might be the hottest trends because those might not be the hottest translator.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) that is very true. One weird thing that I’ve run into with interviewing and I don’t know if this is hubris or just like garden variety racism, but sometimes I will interview non black candidates and just the tone that they take with me, or the way that they will answer questions or not answer questions. Or ask if there’s someone else that they can speak to because they looked at my LinkedIn profile and they’re like we’ll. I’ll give you an example and this is not tied to my current employer if you happen to be listening, but I’ve certainly interviewed people before that have said, “Oh well I looked at your LinkedIn and like you’re not really a designer, so is there a designer that I can speak to?” This is back when I had my studio, which I thought was very interesting considering like I run the studio so if you’re talking to me like the buck stops here. Oh yeah.

Fonz Morris:
People want it to only be interviewed by designers?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, and I guess, I mean I guess I’ll be transparent this has also happened at the place that I work. But it’s interesting how, I don’t know if this is like a new thing that happens in design, but like I don’t think people realize that just because you’re interviewing with one person that you’re also sort of suddenly being interviewed by an entire team. That person is trying to see if you fit not just in the company or in this role, this particular singular role, but do you fit with the team? Do we want to hand off work to you? Do we want to hand out projects to you? Do we like you at the end of the day? And if this is how you’re acting at the phone screen stage then you can forget it.

Fonz Morris:
Right, I understand what you’re saying. I don’t think that the… Okay, so I disagree with that. I think the first round should be anybody the company wants to be just getting a temperature check of where you are and who you are as a person. And being able to just what are you into? Why do you want to leave your job? Tell me about yourself. I don’t really think you need to be a specific profession to ask somebody those type of high level, let me get to know you type of questions. So I think the recruiter being the first person that you speak to makes sense because I need to vet as well as all the people coming through the door.

Fonz Morris:
I’ll let you speak to our designers and stuff like that in the second round where we’re going to get a little more technical, but for the first go, because it’s so introductory I don’t necessarily. I never felt as if the first person I spoke to needed to be a designer. I was just really honestly to be candid, I’m just always happy to even make it to the phone screen. So I’m not focusing on who I’m talking to, I’m more happy that I’m talking to somebody.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Okay. I can see it in that viewpoint. I still think though it just helps to not be a jerk essentially.

Fonz Morris:
Yeah. No, no always. I am always about respect and professionalism. I think that is so important I can’t even think of the… Enormously important. You should never be a jerk to anybody if you’re trying to get something from them, that’s just common sense. So if you’re trying to get a job and I’m your first access point to the company and you’re not being nice to me, I’m not sure how far you’re going to make it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s true. And I’ve definitely run into that several times, but I guess in terms of-

Fonz Morris:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. In terms of other advice, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a really good portfolio. I looked at your website, I see you have your portfolio and I mean it’s great because it lists not only the things that you’ve done, but also the thought process behind it. I know that I’ve talked to designers, young designers they’re like just starting out or just coming out of school. And I’m like, it’s so important for you to actually talk about your design decisions and not just show a bunch of mock-ups or a bunch of pretty pictures like that. Anyone can generate that, you can buy a mock-up thing from I don’t know, mighty deals or somewhere for like 14 bucks.

Maurice Cherry:
Slap in a few logos all of a sudden look at all this work that I did that’s on billboards and folders I’m like no, it’s not. It doesn’t really exist in the real world. But like to talk about the why behind why you’re doing certain things. Those shots might look pretty, but the critical thinking I think is more important as a designer. I mean, that’s why I think if you’re a visual or if you’re something like product or UX. It’s just still important to be able to articulate that in some way.

Fonz Morris:
Right. So tell the story. That’s another piece of information that I would want to say is people want to hear a story. So when you only show the final design, you jumped to the last page of the story. So I don’t know what the story about, you just jumped to the end. You know what I mean? So it’s like, I don’t know what story you just told me and it doesn’t really show me how you got to that final design. And that’s why some feedback, I actually just did a mentor session yesterday at Adobe with a organization out of San Francisco.

Fonz Morris:
At Adobe with organization out of San Francisco named Kaskade SF. And it was fantastic because I got to actually interview about five junior designers and walk through their portfolio and give them feedback. And that was what I was focusing on the most was, “Are you telling me a story to get me from the top of the pace to the bottom of the page?” That’s what’s so important. And you do that through breaking it up with letting me know what the problem is and letting me know that you understand the industry that you’re in. And then walking me through how you think about this could possibly be solved and do you understand the user and understand what the user wants from this. And then that helps you figure out what your information and your content should be. And then it goes into information architecture. So it’s a whole flow that you can end up telling somebody that would really help them understand why you made the decisions you made. And that’s what people are really trying to get from your portfolio.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely.

Fonz Morris:
Yes, they’re trying to [crosstalk 00:25:06] about me page and read a little bit about you. But from your skill side, they’re trying to figure out how you handle this problem, what you did in the process and how you did it.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. So speaking of the story, we have you on here to talk about your story. So tell me about where you grew up.

Fonz Morris:
So I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I went to a public art high school. I’m a self taught designer, which I like to say that, not to brag, but more of as an inspiration for anyone to know that once again, like I said earlier, if you work hard at something I’m a true believer in you can achieve anything that you put your mind to. So I wanted to be architect when I was young and I taught myself architecture and went to a art high school. From art high school I went into computer science at Georgia State. Well, I started at Morehouse actually getting my degree in computer science. And then I transferred from Morehouse to Georgia State and that’s where I actually finished my degree in computer science.

Fonz Morris:
And I taught myself… In my senior year of college, Georgia State got a grant from the state of university from… Georgia State got a grant from the state to build a multimedia lab on campus and they completely furnished it with all new multimedia equipment, Mac equipment, PC, Adobe, Macromedia Pro Tools, Final Cut, new Canon equipment. They completely furnished it with all new things for us to use as students. And I pretty much just moved into the lab and I taught myself everything that I could possibly know there. And it was a great experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s step back a little bit. So self-taught designer also here, same way. Was your family supportive of you going into design or architecture? Did they see this as something that you could do for a living?

Fonz Morris:
I don’t think I spoke to them enough about it. I was always a academic type of student, so as long as I stayed in my books, my parents were supportive of anything that I was doing. I actually had a friend whose father was a black architect and then I tried to get an internship with another black architect and I took some courses at Parsons School of Design when I was in high school. And this energy showed my parents that I was really interested in architecture. So I did have support for them. But I will say, I don’t know if they knew to the extent or to the degree that I wanted to pursue design or pursue architecture at that moment. I tried to show them the best I could through the work I did at school and through my passion for looking at buildings and constantly reading architectural books and architecture magazines. So I would say that they supported me to the best that they knew how.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What drew you to architecture?

Fonz Morris:
I just feel I’m a… Because I like design at the end of the day. And growing up in New York City, you’re around a lot of skyscrapers and that’s where some of the most famous architects have planted their seeds and you’re walking up and down Fifth Avenue or when you’re walking in Soho or in Brooklyn and you see all these amazing art deco style buildings and these modern buildings from with all these different heights and windows. And then you see you got the Brooklyn Bridge and you got the Manhattan Bridge and you got the George Washington Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge. It’s so many different bridges that you’re seeing and these are all amazing examples of architecture. So I would think growing up in New York City is what exposed me to architecture. And being in the city is where they made me say, “I want to design one of these buildings one day.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now I also went to Morehouse, so I have to ask about it. What was it like when you got there? What was it like when you first got there?

Fonz Morris:
It was an amazing experience. Being a black man, wanting to connect with other black men in a higher education space. It was really self rewarding and I was very proud and accomplished. I also wanted to attend the HBCU as well. My sister went to North Carolina A&T, so it was almost as if I felt as if I had made it to a certain level, education-wise, because I had made it into Morehouse, which in my community was respected as a very prestigious school for black men. So I loved the experience. I ended up transferring though in all honesty because one, I paid for college out of my pocket and Morehouse being a private college…

Maurice Cherry:
Is very expensive.

Fonz Morris:
… The tuition is way higher than the State University as well as they don’t offer in state tuition. And then sadly, which this has a trickle down effect. The resources that I needed to be successful just wasn’t available at Morehouse while I was attending. But I don’t think that’s a shot at Morehouse. I think it’s an eye opener to understanding the value of getting funding and what you can do with the right money.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Fonz Morris:
Because Georgia State the other hand had all of the new equipment, all of the new computer labs, all of the things I needed to pursue my computer science degree successfully, Georgia State was able to give me. So that’s why I left Morehouse. From a cultural or from a personal feeling, I really loved going to Morehouse. It really made me proud going to campus every day and seeing so many other brothers trying to better their lives and their family lives to getting a higher education. But when it came to the resources, the State University just had an abundance of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And at Georgia State, geographically, you weren’t that far from Morehouse anyway.

Fonz Morris:
No, [crosstalk 00:07:07].

Maurice Cherry:
It’s you could take the 13 down to Fair Street and you’re right there on campus.

Fonz Morris:
Yeah. I can take Ralph David Abernathy right across would be there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Fonz Morris:
No doubt. So yes, yes. And Atlanta is still a very black focused city.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Fonz Morris:
So when I left to go to Georgia State, I didn’t have any regrets. I felt as if I was just doing what was the best for me at that moment.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Fonz Morris:
But I love Morehouse. I love Morehouse, I think it’s very important institution in our community.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so interesting you mentioned that about the resources. So you got there in ’97 I think you said? You got there in ’97 I got there in ’99. I also started out in computer science.

Fonz Morris:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
I started out, actually dual degree computer science, computer engineering because the scholarship that I had, we had to major in one of the STEM fields.

Fonz Morris:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
And I wanted to do computer science mainly because I wanted to do web design. I had been learning web design on my own, just reverse engineering webpages at my mom’s school’s computer lab and teaching myself HTML because… I’m from a small town, Selma, Alabama. We didn’t have a bookstore. The library had one computer that could get on the internet.

Fonz Morris:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
So we didn’t have a whole lot of resources around learning this stuff. At the college they had more resources, but I was teaching a lot of that stuff myself and so when I went to… And also I would say I wanted to major in computer science because I want to be Dwayne Wayne from A Different World.

Fonz Morris:
Nice. Listen, in all transparency. Part of the reason I wanted to go to a black college as well was because A Different World, like you just said, as well as TLC dropped the Baby Baby Baby video. It was like…

Maurice Cherry:
Man.

Fonz Morris:
… “Is that what college is like? Are you kidding me?” I’m not missing out on that.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if there’s a think piece or something out there on The Root or The Undefeated or something about how hip hop and the 90s and how they glorified college. You don’t see that now. There was…

Fonz Morris:
[crosstalk 00:33:13] wearing college sweatshirts.

Maurice Cherry:
My God.

Fonz Morris:
[crosstalk 00:33:15] college, let’s be smart. You know what I mean? You don’t have none of that anymore.

Maurice Cherry:
None of that. Man. But I got to Morehouse’s campus. I started out computer science, computer engineering. Switched to, I think I switched to computer science maybe after the first few weeks or so because I didn’t really want to do the engineering part. But I wanted to do web design and I remember, I was sitting, these names will take you back. I was sitting in Dr. Jones’ class and… Did you take a class with Dr. Jones?

Fonz Morris:
Which class is that?

Maurice Cherry:
I think I might’ve been computer programming one, I think? One of the intro classes.

Fonz Morris:
Man, listen, don’t make me show how old I am. I would have to go through my transcripts and look for any of my names and my professors.

Maurice Cherry:
But I remember, the thing that I didn’t like about Dr. Jones, and he’s passed on, rest in peace, but the thing about Dr. Jones was he wouldn’t teach. He would sit in class and tell all his anecdotes about his fishing buddies and growing up and all this sort of stuff. And we’re just sitting here, “When is the class going to start?” And I don’t know if this was a way to weed people out, but then when you are ready to go to the next class, then he would start teaching. It’s like, “I guess we got rid of all the stragglers now we can start learning something.”

Maurice Cherry:
But Dr. Jones was also my advisor and so I remember going to… You remember the secretary Mrs. Banks? Man. I don’t know if she’s still there or not, but man she was my best friend at Morehouse all four years I was there. Because I ended up switching my major to math largely because…

Fonz Morris:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I switched my major to math because I was… I met with Dr. Jones and I told him I wanted to go into doing web design and I showed them some design stuff I had did. I did the design for the Project Space Scholarship Program and I was like “Look at all this stuff I’ve done.” And he was like, “Look, the internet is a fad. All this WW web stuff, this stuff ain’t going to be around. That’s not what we teach you here. If that’s what you want to do, you need to change your major.” So I was like “Well, shit I guess…”

Fonz Morris:
See, that’s the problem is that computer science programs should have picked up web development years ago.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. But this was 1999 though. I don’t know that many colleges that would have had a curriculum. So, which is not to say that he was wrong [crosstalk 00:35:37] don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t have anything.

Fonz Morris:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
He was really like “If this is what you want to do, you need to major in something else.” And I thought about it and looked at my transcript and my credits and stuff and so I switched over to math because I had enough credits from taking AP math courses in high school and say “Well if I switch over to math I can just graduate early.” For me I was thinking “How soon can I get out of here?”

Fonz Morris:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
Because I was figuring like… And also my freshman year was rough. That’s a whole other story. But I was really thinking like “How soon can I get out of here and get my degree?”

Fonz Morris:
Right [crosstalk 00:36:14].

Maurice Cherry:
And I switched over to math and just stayed in math and I graduated in three and a half years. So I technically graduated in ’02 but I walked in ’03. But yeah, even then there was nothing. I remember the computer lab there being so… And not to rag on Morehouse because now it’s gotten better, now they have a whole technology tower. I think Dr. Chung was still teaching back then, but now he’s the chair. He’s the chair now.

Fonz Morris:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
But I remember they just had these old archaic Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics workstations.

Fonz Morris:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m like, “What in the hell is this? How am I supposed to use this? I have to use Linux?”

Fonz Morris:
Its tough. Right.

Maurice Cherry:
It was rough. It was really rough back then and I was like, “Man, maybe it was a good thing I did change my major.” Although, to be clear…

Fonz Morris:
But that’s why HBCUs need to be able to get the funding from the government to be able to pay for these things. You know what I mean? A lot of the HBCUs pay for this stuff with their own money and that stuff’s expensive.

Maurice Cherry:
Although to be clear, when I switched over to math it wasn’t I was going into a technological workplace either. They had these… I almost felt as sometimes I was sitting in a one room school house, just really bad quality desks. Blackboard broken.

Fonz Morris:
HBCUs need funding.

Maurice Cherry:
Then again this is… Yeah but this is ’99 to 2000. And I would imagine it’s different now. Honestly part of me didn’t know any better because I’m like “I came from Alabama. So we use chalkboards and overhead projectors because that’s what we use in high school.” So when we’re doing that in college I was like “This is what you’re supposed to do.” And then I knew people that were going to Georgia State and Georgia Tech using these smart whiteboards and stuff. I was like “What? I’m out here sketching out comic solids with a piece of chalk and y’all are just keying in an equation and getting the graph? What?”

Fonz Morris:
Man.

Maurice Cherry:
My God. Yeah. Yeah.

Fonz Morris:
Very funny. I agree with you and I understand what you’re saying and they’ve made a lot of progress since those days, which is good to see. I was down there about two years ago and when I walked on campus I could see the growth. It felt good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, they’ve definitely grown a lot. Now I would say they still… I don’t know. Morehouse has its, and not to rag on Morehouse, but Morehouse has other issues outside of funding and just curriculum and software and hardware and things like that. But it has grown a lot. I will give it that much. The performing arts center and all of new equipment…

Fonz Morris:
Yes, The Ray Charles Performing Art…

Maurice Cherry:
… And things, a revamped cafeteria and everything. Movies are shot on campus now. A good part of Hidden Figures was shot on Morehouse’s campus.

Fonz Morris:
Tyler Perry is changing Atlanta man.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Fonz Morris:
He’s bringing that film, they’re heavy, which is good because there’s a lot of money in that space.

Maurice Cherry:
Yep.

Fonz Morris:
Atlanta. I miss Atlanta sometimes. I honestly do.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey it’s always here. Always here if you want to come back.

Fonz Morris:
The [crosstalk 00:39:15] not going anywhere.

Maurice Cherry:
Nowhere. So you transferred to Georgia State and you’re talking about how it was different from Morehouse. Once you graduated from there, what was your first design gig? What were you working on?

Fonz Morris:
I started doing flyers for people and doing business cards and doing logos for anybody that needed it, no industry specific. And then I started to get better at that and that’s when I got my first project ever was… Well my first ever paying gig was a website for a furniture company, a small indie furniture company. And I think they paid me, I think the whole deal that my partner worked out with ended up being I think either 35 or 5,500 for a full website. And I just could not believe it when he came back with a 50% deposit.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Fonz Morris:
And I said to myself, “Are you kidding me man? They actually gave you that money?” And that’s what led me know that there was a lane for me. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that where Third Eye Designs cam out of?

Fonz Morris:
Pretty much. I’ve always been a believer in having your third eye open and then designs and that just felt the best name of a company possible to me was Third Eye Designs. And so that furniture company was Third Eye Designs first paying client.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. How long were you freelancing like that?

Fonz Morris:
I still do it to this day.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Fonz Morris:
They almost… Because it grew from freelancing into, now that I’m later in my career, it’s just consulting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Fonz Morris:
But I don’t call it Third Eye Designs anymore. But the process or the concept of doing freelance design work, I still do it to this day.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Fonz Morris:
But I’ll always be able to do that. Which that’s the thing, which ,message, this is why you always want to learn a skill because they can never take that skill away from me. So because I’m a designer, they can never take that away from me. I can always make money doing design, whether it’s at a company or whether it’s freelance or whether it’s trying to build my own product. So that’s the value of having a relevant skill.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely. So how long was it until you moved back to New York City?

Fonz Morris:
After I was doing Third Eye Designs, I realized maybe I could get a job in the industry and that’s when I got my first art director position at a money transfer company that was a small, tiny version of a Western Union and I did that for almost two years. And that’s where I really got my first bearings and understanding what it’s like to work with engineers who are going to be building your stuff and this is what a web developer is versus a web designer and really understanding the programming languages like that. And then I actually had a tragedy in my family. A little brother actually ended up getting killed in New York.

Maurice Cherry:
Man.

Fonz Morris:
And that’s what I decided to just leave Atlanta. It was just a whole life changing experience for me and I just felt I needed to be back around my family. And so I left Atlanta to go back to New York. And when I got to New York is when I got my first agency job where I was working on a lot of different marketing style materials. Banners, flash banner web banners, landing pages for entertainment companies, movies. And New York is a good place for design. So it was an easy place for me to get a job once I left Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry:
Now was this at My Artist’s DNA?

Fonz Morris:
No, this is not even… Portfolio, well not portfolios, but resumes are so hard to decide what to put and what not put. My Artist’s DNA was pretty much what Third Eye Designs… It was Third Eye Designs first product.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I gotcha.

Fonz Morris:
So I’ll keep going with this and it’ll start to make a lot more sense. So once I went back to New York and I started working in the agency space, I kept the Third Eye Designs idea going with the same partner and we started to do even bigger projects for even more people. We worked with Def Jam and we did Kanye West banners and we worked with Def Jam and we did Jagged Edge stuff and Rick Ross and we worked with Universal Music and we did movie releases. And we just realized, “Wow, we’re getting good at this. We’re actually getting real clients.” And then another partner of ours from Morehouse joined on board. He opened up his network and then we was doing work with real estate companies and all these other different new businesses. And what ended up happening is one of our clients that we had did a lot of work for, Aqua hired us. Actually the… It’s an amazing story.

Fonz Morris:
Our first angel investors were a family out of Pennsylvania, the Lomax family, the honorable Dr. Walter Lomax. He was actually Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s physician, his real physician. And that’s the craziest part, he’s a legend…

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Fonz Morris:
… That most black people don’t know. But his family were really focused on investing in a lot of black startups and black businesses all across the country and across the world actually. So they put up the money for me to build My Artist’s DNA. And that was my first product, which was supposed to be a way for indie artists to promote and monetize their brands. It came out around the time Myspace stopped and Facebook pages had just launched.

Maurice Cherry:
Man. So you go from attending Morehouse where Martin Luther King went to now getting supported by the family of his doctor?

Fonz Morris:
Greatest experience ever.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Fonz Morris:
Most people don’t even know of the Lomax family. They are amazing, amazing people. They have done so much. They’ve been behind the scenes for so many different things that people don’t know. And I just am very fortunate enough to have worked with them and they put up real angel money for us to build our first product. I will forever be thankful for them, forever appreciative. And it’s what really allowed me to get my product design career started. Because prior to this I was doing web design and graphic design, but once we started doing My Artist’s DNA, that was my first step into actual product design.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. So you also worked for a gaming company, is that right? High 5 Games?

Fonz Morris:
Yes. So the startup, My Artist’s DNA, we did that for about five years, but then we ultimately ran out of funding and I was engaged and knew I needed to get a job again. And then I was in Philadelphia at that moment and I thought to myself, “Well, I’m going to do something fun. I want to do something I haven’t tried before.” And High 5 Games was a video game company that built casino games for Facebook as well as in house casinos. So I was the art director there and I worked on the marketing team, which allowed me to try to help promote our new games that were coming out and I our new campaigns and come and go. So it was actually my first attempt at working on a growth team because my whole job was to try to create these amazing visuals to keep people wanting to play our games.

Maurice Cherry:
And so you’re in New York, you’re working at High 5 Games as art director doing UX stuff. When did you decide to move to Philly? What brought that on?

Fonz Morris:
So my first move to Philly was when we got the angel investment, because the Lomax family was based out of Pennsylvania.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Fonz Morris:
So we needed to be in Philly to be able to get back and forth to the office because they were our investors and we needed to go into the office to be able to talk and help strategize and plan things out. So that was my first stay in Philly. Once that didn’t happen and I moved back to New York, was High 5 Games, and then I left High 5 Games and went to Philly a second time to work at Comcast, which is extended use cable.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha.

Fonz Morris:
That was my second stay in Philly.

Maurice Cherry:
What was it like working there?

Fonz Morris:
I like Philadelphia.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Philly’s a great city. I went for the first time in… What year was that? 2017 I think? No, not 2017, 2018 I think was the first time I went. Great city. Great city, great food scene. I love Philly. A lot of people was telling me when I went to Philly, “Philly’s rough.” I was like, “Philly?” I had a great time in Philly. I enjoy Philly.

Fonz Morris:
Philly is rough. Philly is rough, I will be honest. But…

Fonz Morris:
Is rough [inaudible 00:48:01] but that’s if you go to the wrong place. I think [inaudible 00:48:07] is rough if you go to the wrong places. So what’s critical about Philly is its proximity to New York and its proximity to DC. It’s like a middle point between two major cities, so depending on if you’re in government in DC or if you’re in banking or real estate or finance in New York, you can even live in Philadelphia and commute to New York as often as you need. That’s what I was doing.

Maurice Cherry:
What was it like working at Comcast?

Fonz Morris:
It was interesting. It was interesting. Why do I say that is because I was a contractor and when you’re a contractor at these big companies, you get treated a little different. I mean you still go to work every day, but certain company meetings you don’t get to go to. They had a gym in the building that I couldn’t use because I was a contractor and you always have this kind of stigma over your head of you’re a second class citizen because you’re a contractor. When you can put that aside, which is not that easy, working there was cool because it was the hottest company in the city. I could walk to work. The building and the work environment was amazing. My coworkers were cool. I’ve actually worked on a lot of high profile stuff. I’ve got to work on the Netflix release, I’ve got to work on the Olympic stuff, I’ve got to work on that new X1 remote.

Fonz Morris:
I got to work on a lot of projects and different products and I learned a lot. I learned a lot about design systems and I learned a lot about the difference between art directors and creative directors and working with sales teams. It was a really important learning process for me and I learned a lot about things not only design related but just basic work environment related. That’s what made me realize I never wanted to be per se a contractor again at a company. That stability is not really there and I realized I needed to hone in on my skills and if I wasn’t going to do entrepreneurship, I needed to get a full time position somewhere because the contracting stuff just gets in the way sometimes. So that kind of clouded my experience at Xfinity a little bit in all transparency.

Maurice Cherry:
I worked at AT&T from 2006 to 2008 also as a contractor and yeah, I know what you mean about that second class citizen kind of status. Aside from the fact that they will just treat you in that way, there’s also the fact that … and I don’t know if it was like this at Comcast, but at AT&T they kept changing the goalposts when it came to what they measured you for success by. So the employees were I guess kind of set because they had a salary and so whatever happened happened, but contractors were held to this really super rigid, almost like a Glen Gary, Glen Ross, kind of standard of you have to make this many points a week and if you don’t make this many points a week, you’re fired. They would be quick to tell you that they will get someone else in to fill your spot like that. Like they don’t care.

Fonz Morris:
Also randomly, if you’re a contractor and you’re already feeling some kind of way, being the only black man on the design team doesn’t really help either, you know what I mean? There were certain times where I just had to really ask myself, “Is this the right place for me?” And did I really see myself having upward mobility in that company? Lucky enough, the same guys that I did my first company, myArtistDNA with, they raised another round of money and that’s when I left Comcast to join their team as head of design at my channel, which is a startup that was focusing on video telecommunications.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How long were you at my channel?

Fonz Morris:
For about two years. About two years. I started doing a little bit of part time work while I was still at Comcast and then we were making so much progress and the vibe and the energy was good. We were doing well. I just decided to leave and go full time at my channel. That was my second stent at entrepreneurship. Well my third one, honestly

Maurice Cherry:
So while you were at my channel, right after that was when you decided you wanted to move out West and pursue your career there.

Fonz Morris:
Yeah, there you go. So here we go. Full circle now and all this rambling I did makes sense. We’re right back to where it all makes sense of how I got here now. But you know what? What I want to honestly say is, and for anyone that’s listening to this, live your own path, you never know what’s going to work. Try different things out, make the best decisions you can. We’re all human. You’re going to learn so much from every step of the road. Don’t try to be too perfect because part of life is just figuring things out and I’m really happy with the path that I took in my life. I don’t regret any of it and I’m happy. It led me to where I am now and there was many points in my career that I didn’t see getting this far in design for whatever was going on at that moment, but also to tie back into some stuff I said earlier, that’s why you have to be patient with yourself and you have to have self confidence and you have to believe in yourself because you can achieve anything.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You mentioned speaking at AfroTech last year and AfroTech is a huge event. It’s all about diversity in the tech community. I would say it also ostensibly shifts over into diversity of the design community because design and tech tend to be pretty linked I would say with the tools that people use and things. How do we increase diversity in the design community?

Fonz Morris:
I think you have to find all the people that’s interested in it and you have to introduce it to people who may not have thought about it. Awareness is critical. That’s a really good first step. So let me say awareness, final answer.

Maurice Cherry:
And by awareness do you mean just awareness that we are here or just awareness that-

Fonz Morris:
That there’s a actual profession. That there’s a actual profession that you can go into that’s not necessarily just called design, but that there is a position title, UX designer, UI designer, writer, UX researcher, product manager, product designer. I don’t think a lot of people understand the granular levels of careers in tech. You just understand the overarching umbrella of tech and then you may go to the overarching umbrella of design.

Fonz Morris:
But when I speak of awareness, I want to let a population of people who may not be familiar with this understand all the different disciplines that you can pursue. By doing that you allow people to find what’s interesting to them as well as what they’re passionate about. Then by doing that, that’s how you help somebody make their first step into deciding, “I actually do want to get into design and I want to be X position.” But if you don’t know that there’s a such thing as a data scientist or as a product designer or as a UI or interaction designer, how are you really going to achieve to want to become one of them?

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, having that exposure is important too. To know that this is a potential thing. Sort of like what you said with the granularity. I mean when you and I started out, you were a web designer, you were a graphic designer, you were a webmaster. That’s pretty much it. And as technology and design have certainly evolved over the years, now you can get so, so specific with the type of design that you do.

Maurice Cherry:
I do think that makes it harder when you’re just coming into it, because there are these … and I don’t know if you see this too, but like I feel like if you want to get into the design industry, there certainly are paths that you can take that feel like they’re a little more … I don’t want to say reliable than others, but say someone will go to … they say, “You know what? I want to get into design.” So they hear about General Assembly, they go to General Assembly, they take the UX intensive course and I think it’s 10 or 12 weeks or something like that. They get out, they get placed at a place. Now their UX designer, they hate UX [crosstalk 00:56:37] but they went through it because they felt like that was a way to get in, you know?

Fonz Morris:
Right. See that’s where I’m saying they skip that first step of what I said almost 45 minutes ago of figuring out what part of this do you actually like? Don’t be so caught up in the UX part, be caught up more in … I liked the way Apple products look. I really like the brand style of that, so that’s not UX. So you go into UX, I don’t mean that’s what you’re going to do. Really take the time to focus on what you want to do.

Fonz Morris:
I think that’s where you’ll decide do you want to really go into a UX program from General Assembly? That might not be the best step for you, but if you don’t really know what you want to do, I think that’s where you end up starting to make the decisions that you think might work for you as opposed to what really would work for you. I do agree with you as well that the exposure could bring some layer of complexity, but I also think that it will ultimately lead to a layer of clarity.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. I like that because oftentimes, just knowing that these positions exist is one thing. I think sometimes, to be honest with you, some folks get caught up in the salary. They’ll see that this place is paying this much and they’re like, “Oh, I got to get into tech. Oh I got to get into design.” And yeah, there is money if you go with the right company and the right position, but it’s got to be something that speaks to you, something that speaks to your unique skills and talents and what you like. It shouldn’t just be about chasing a salary. Because if anything, I think we both know … I wont say designers are a dime a dozen, but you can be replaced in some way. It’s not so much about just trying to make sure you get a paycheck at the end of the day.

Fonz Morris:
Right. I mean I agree with you. I agree with you on that. I mean money is definitely important for sure. But there’s a lot of people that make a lot of money that are not really happy. So if your happiness is important, then money can’t be the dominant deciding factor because that means you’ll take the money to work at a company for a position that you’re not really happy in. I think that ends up having a lot of negative consequences. I would tell anybody, male or female, to fight for the most money you can get, but also understand that there’s other things that matter when you’re looking for a career than just the money.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. What keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Fonz Morris:
I have a family to take care of and my family is really supportive and inspired by me and proud of me and I’m proud of myself. My growth over my career keeps me motivated. The love and support from my community. Shout out to you honestly, I just hit you up on Twitter and LinkedIn and asked you, ” how do I figure out how to participate in your show one day?” And you responded to my tweet in honestly less than an hour. You responded to my LinkedIn message in less than 30 minutes so that type of interaction, but that kind of interaction and support, that’s what keeps me motivated because that means people respect me and that respect goes a long way.

Fonz Morris:
That respect is what makes you feel good. That respect is what will also cheer you up maybe when you’re having a bad day. So the respect from my community I would say is what keeps me really motivated. When I say community, I’m using that as a broad term. I’m not just using that as the black community or my family. I’m using it as the design community, the tech community, the Bay area community, my community back in Brooklyn. So my community motivates me, honestly.

Maurice Cherry:
What haven’t you done yet that you want to do in your career?

Fonz Morris:
Well, what I’ve been doing that’s been in my last couple of months on, and then I want to thank you as well is more public speaking. A lot of people have told me that they think I could possibly have a lane in speaking. They think I have a motivational style and an inspirational style and I can explain things that could possibly be complicated in a more laymans type of way. And there’s a lot of value in that.

Fonz Morris:
I also really liked supporting people and I think speaking allows you to do all that. I would like to do more speaking, shout out to AfroTech. They’re the ones that really gave me my first, first shot at speaking on such a big platform like that. I had been doing smaller events here and there, but the success of AfroTech is what led me know that I would like to continue doing speaking as well as, I think I want to start some kind of online school to help with training the community to gain the skills that they need to decrease this digital divide gap that I see every day, that I work and participate in design.

Maurice Cherry:
One of the themes that we have for this year, that I’m trying to carry this throughout 2020, is basically how are we as black designers and developers, technologists, et cetera, how are we using the skills that we have to build a more equitable future? Because I mean the future technically is now I think 2020 … shout out to ABC … 2020 has been a year that has been in the collective consciousness for over 20 years. [inaudible 01:02:18] show was on ABC, so people have always had a notion of 2020 being like the future. Now that we’re here and you look at your life, you look at your career, you look at the skills that you have, how are you helping to build a more equitable future?

Fonz Morris:
I think by supporting other people to become a designer and blazing trails and making sure that I’m a face of diversity in design. I think there’s a lot of unique trailblazers and I’m not saying I’m the only trailblazer, but you need trailblazers to be able to bring awareness to situations and that’s what I’m doing every day. That’s what I put 125% into doing that. I also understand and think the value in supporting my community, mentoring, talking to people, going to portfolio interviews. Having one on one calls with people who may reach out to me that have questions about UX and UI. They don’t know anybody in product design that they can show their portfolio to or just ask a question. I think being that resource for people is really how I can give back the most.

Fonz Morris:
Yes, I can give back through my designs and I make sure to try to bring diversity to my designs and I’m really proud of that and I love being at Coursera because I can do that and I’ve seen that. I’ve seen my power of being able to use people of color on the homepage of Coursera and that’s a big step for us. That’s something that I spoke about in my talk at AfroTech. I think those are the ways that I’m able to actually give back and help.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. That’s funny you mentioned that, that reminds me of Diógenes Brito who we had on the show. This was years ago, but he was talking about how he changed the default slack hand to a brown hand and how even just that simple gesture was something that made shockwaves. Just the fact that you see the default hand is not a white hand, it’s a black hand or a brown hand. What does that mean? You know? It’s funny, even those little small, or what can seem like small gestures can have a really huge impact like that.

Fonz Morris:
Huge. They’re huge. I’ll tell one quick story. When we redid our promo unit platform that I spoke about working on, I was able to sit with some of the designers. They show the flexibility of the new system. One of the days that I logged on coursera.org I saw a brother in one of the new promo units that we just did. And I saw a sister in another promo unit that we did. Then when you looked at another place, there was another person of color on the site and it just really showed diversity and it was a good first step for Coursera and it was an amazing step for me. I don’t think you really should look at it as was it a big or small step, it’s a step that is necessary. Shout out to the brother who did the slack hand because that is amazing and shout out to everybody who is making a difference in whatever way that they can because we need everybody to do everything that they can.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025, what is Fonz working on?

Fonz Morris:
I think I have become a household name in design as far as a representative from the black community. I think I will have at least my prototype first version of some type of training platform off the ground to be able to help mentor and teach and educate future designers or current designers or people who want to upskill or re-skill. I think I’ll always still be designing as well. I may have finally launched the app. I’m thinking about doing some kind of an app that just allows people to have a place to talk and maybe vent and get support. So you’ll see me probably doing something entrepreneurship wise as well as still being a powerhouse in the design industry somewhere, leading some kind of team to victory.

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

Fonz Morris:
I’m very active on Twitter. You can find me at Youngfonz, Y-O-U-N-G-F-O-N-Z. You can find me on Instagram at Fonzmoney, F-O-N-Z-M-O-N-E-Y. You can also find me on LinkedIn at Fonz Morris. I’m not the biggest social media user for gossip, but I am the biggest social media user for networking and print promotion. You can find me on all three of those social media platforms as well as if you just want to see some of the work that I do. You can go to my portfolio which is Fonz, F-O-N-Z.design and you can email me. However you want to try to find me, you can reach out, I’m online. Trust me, you type Fonz Morris in the Google search bar, you’ll see me. Hit me up.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Well Fonz Morris, I want to thank you so much, so much for coming on the show.

Fonz Morris:
Me too.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean your energy, I mean for people that don’t know that I’m recording this, I’m recording this after my work day, so after eight hours. Your energy has me pumped now.

Fonz Morris:
Thank you. I hear such positive feedback from people like that and last night when I was doing the mentoring with the junior designers, I got some same feedback like that. So Maurice, that’s what I was saying, I think I have a lane in public speaking because my passion for design and my passion for my community and my love for just humanity allows me to be able to share that and bring that energy to the table everyday.

Fonz Morris:
So thank you for sharing that with me because those are the type of pieces of feedback that’s really important to me. I’m no longer as focused on am I just a good visual designer? I’m focused on that. And am I a good guy? Am I interesting? Am I exciting? Am I still bringing a lot of energy to the table? So I’m glad that you were able to receive that from me because I wanted to bring that because I feel really honored and excited to be a part of your podcast. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you sir. I really appreciate it.


RECOGNIZE is open for essay submissions for Volume 2! The deadline is April 30 – enter today!

MODA and Revision Path present Creative Atlanta 2020, an interview series highlighting Black creatives in Atlanta ranging from an award-winning cellist to a Harvard GSD Loeb Fellow.

Tickets are free with regular admission to MODA and include access to our exhibition. Space is limited, so grab your ticket today!

Sponsors

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

This episode is brought to you by Abstract: design workflow management for modern design teams. Spend less time searching for design files and tracking down feedback, and spend more time focusing on innovation and collaboration. Like Glitch, but for designers, Abstract is your team’s version-controlled source of truth for design work. With Abstract, you can version design files, present work, request reviews, collect feedback, and give developers direct access to all specs—all from one place. Sign your team up for a free, 30-day trial today by heading over to www.abstract.com.

Terry Biddle

Maintaining a creative career these days can be tough, but Terry Biddle makes it look easy. As product design director at DC-based edtech company EVERFI, he helps oversee a lot of UX work while also collaborating with his team to help create lasting social impact for millions of learners every day.

Terry talked about how his love of design came from film and animation, and recalled his time at Howard as an undergrad before continuing at Pratt Institute while holding down a full-time gig. He also spoke on his first design gig once he graduated, his side project The Knell, and how he created his own typeface under the teaching of the legendary Tony DiSpigna! Terry says he started his design career in a world with no undos, and that kind of determination is what has helped make him a success today!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Terry Biddle:
My name is Terry Biddle, I’m a product design director, and I live in Washington DC.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you work for a company called EVERFI, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, EVERFI is an education technology company, just to put it in a nutshell. We make education technology products, so anything that you can think of, as far as online courses, we make them. We make them from kindergarten through 12th grade, for adult learning, for technology companies, for schools, for banks, you name it. That’s what I do, in a nutshell. I make online courses for all types of learners.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How did you get started there?

Terry Biddle:
It’s kind of an interesting tale. So, before I worked at EVERFI, I had my own company, called The Knell, and I sort of got my feet involved in the tech community in Washington DC. And we may get into this a little bit later, but shortly before I was getting ready to start launching The Knell, my CTO left the company, and so, I was left with making a decision that a lot of tech companies have at the time, it’s , “All right, now what do I do while we’re right before launch? Do I keep this going, do I stay active, or do I find myself another job in the tech industry?” So, I found myself another job in the tech industry, basically, and one of my really good friends in the tech community ended up working at EVERFI, and he said, “Hey, they have some positions that are open for designers, maybe you should check it out.” And so, I did, and now I work at EVERFI, and it’s been a pretty good experience so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What kind of projects are you working on now? You mentioned these courses, but in general, what kind of stuff are you working on?

Terry Biddle:
Just to make it really easy for folks to understand, I basically make web applications. I design web applications. We make them for responsive design, of course, so it’s going to be [inaudible 00:05:41] on web, all in a web platform, like tablet, desktop, mobile phones. So, I lead a small team of designers, international designers. Actually, a lot of the designers that are part of the team that [inaudible 00:05:58] the courses that I help build are based in Argentina, mainly Buenos Ares, Argentina, and we have quite a few designers in the DC office as well. And we also do a lot of communication with our development team, also, just to make sure everything works the way we intend it to work. It’s really collaborative. UX is really involved, UI design is really involved in the process too. So, it’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of communication, also, with our content team. We work really closely with our content writers and our instructional designers and our learning experience designers, as well, to craft courses that are going to make sense to learners. So, it’s really a lot of, “Okay, does this make sense on this page? All right, now, does this make sense to navigate to that page?” It’s really, actually, a good deal of science that goes into it, it’s not just visual. So, that’s a lot of what my day to day is.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best thing about what you do?

Terry Biddle:
The best thing about what I do. I don’t know if I’ve thought about it in that way before. I really like collaboration. I would say the best thing about what I do is working with a team of people across all different parts of the product team, that are just… I work with a lot of really, really smart, super sharp people. I really enjoy, just, the comradery and the communication and just really coming together and solving a problem as a group. I really love that. So, for me, collaboration is a thing that I really take the most enjoyment out of, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I want to get more into your career, including The Knell, that you just mentioned recently, but first, let’s take it back a little bit. You grew up in Ohio, is that right?

Terry Biddle:
That’s correct. Cincinnati, Ohio, born and raised.

Maurice Cherry:
Cincinnati, Ohio, tell me about that.

Terry Biddle:
Well, it’s a city on the river. It’s right across the border from Kentucky on the Ohio river. I like to let folks know that Cincinnati, even though it’s considered a Northern state, it’s right on the border of the South, so it’s the last Southern state in the North, basically, is what I consider Cincinnati to be a lot like. So, you can go to Cincinnati and get good barbecue is what I’m trying to say.

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Terry Biddle:
That surprise you? And what was it to live in Cincinnati? So, growing up in Cincinnati, I lived in Cincinnati proper for the first part of my childhood, and then I ended up moving to the suburbs. My parents are both college educated. My mom was a teacher, so for her, education was super, super, super important. She wanted us to go to school in a district that had higher education standards, so we ended up moving to the suburbs, and now, went from living in an all black neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, to moving to a suburb called Evendale, Ohio. And it was a bit of a culture shock for me, living in an all black neighborhood and then moving to a majority white suburb. It was cool, as far as finding friends. I was a kid, I was eight or nine years old, so finding friends and playing was no big deal to me.

Terry Biddle:
This was about fourth grade, and in fourth grade, the first school that I went to, it was majority white. I think there were two black children in the entire school that I was going to. It felt a bit out of place. In retrospect, I remember a couple of instances of people saying things that we would definitely consider to be racist now, but it was something that was not considered that back then. And I remember, I had a best friend that I used to play with all the time, and then one day, we stopped playing, and then I found out, later, it was because his parents were racist and they forbid him to play with me anymore.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, damn.

Terry Biddle:
This was when I was eight years old, so that was probably my first experience with racism and sort of coming to grips with understanding what that was. So, it was a big shock to me, actually, just to experience that because before that, I wasn’t really aware of… I mean, you know people look different, but you’re not really aware that people… It was my first understanding that, “Oh, people can just hate me for any reason they want to.” So, that was my first… really coming to terms with it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I grew up in Selma, Alabama, so I know all too well, that feeling of people just not liking you, hating you, for whatever reason. I mean, they have a reason, it’s because they’re racist, but unfortunately, I know exactly what it is that you’re talking about.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, and it’s really weird. I didn’t even have the faculties to even understand what that was or how to navigate that at the time. Thankfully, it wasn’t a period that really persisted. I had that happened, and then there are things that happened over the course of it, but I will say that as I was growing up in Cincinnati, I always felt like something wasn’t… I didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt, a lot, I wasn’t able to be myself. I felt like being myself was seen as being rebellious. And it wasn’t until I got older and I went to college in Washington DC, and then, eventually, I went to grad school in New York City. It wasn’t until I was in those places, where I can be myself, anonymous, and nobody cared. It made me realize, “Oh my God, I can actually be myself and nobody is looking at me, nobody’s staring at me, nobody’s making me feel I’m an outsider.”

Terry Biddle:
I used to dye my hair and stuff when I was in Ohio, I think I dyed my hair red, I used to dye my hair red, and I’ve bleached it before. I used to have my ears pierced a while, I used to have my ears double-pierced. I had nose ring, I had a labret piercing. I used to do the stuff that a kid does, but me doing it, being a black guy doing it, it was like, “What is this guy? What is this guy? Is he a freak?” People would look at me funny, people would assume I was gay. Why would it matter if I was? I wanted to be someplace where I wasn’t made to feel like I was an other. So, being in DC and being in New York really made me realize like, “All right, I think I need to move someplace where I can be myself without feeling like I’m made to feel like another person.

Maurice Cherry:
And when you moved to DC, I mean, you went to Howard University for undergrad, which is, I think, probably a great place to find yourself.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, so there’s a bit of a story about that too. So, my freshman year of college, I actually went to Columbus College of Art and Design. I got a $20,000 scholarship to Columbus College of Art and Design because I originally wanted to be an animator for Disney, that’s what I wanted to do. When I graduated from high school. I was like, “I’m going to be an animator for Disney.” The Columbus College of Art and Design recruited students from Disney to become animators there, so that’s why I originally went to the Columbus College of Art and Design. When I went to that school, I found myself in a similar situation that I felt when I had moved from Cincinnati proper to Evendale when I was about eight years old, when I was in fourth grade. I was one of the few black kids there, and it was a really small school. I think it was smaller than my high school. And I felt, again, like I was an other, and it made me feel uncomfortable again, and I wanted to experience what it was like to not feel like an other, to not have no reason… not to have the most obvious reason for people to segregate themselves from me.

Terry Biddle:
So, that was why I went to Howard. I applied to Howard and CCAD and got into both. And after I went through my freshman year, I was like, “All right, let me go to Howard.” And also, the other part of it was, aside from Disney animation, I wanted to study film a little bit more broadly, so I went to Howard to study radio, TV, film in a more broad fashion, and not just focus on the animation part of it. So, that’s how I ended up in Washington DC.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So, what was your time like at Howard?

Terry Biddle:
Oh man, it was great. I don’t want to say it was the best years of my life. I don’t want to say that because every year brings something different. I loved going to Howard. I look fondly on the years that I spent there. I had a lot of good friends, a lot of them I still stay in contact with to this day. It was just a really good experience. It’s really fortunate, I think, that we live in a time that I think what it means to be black is very different than what it was then. I think a lot of us, we’re coming into our own with it. I started wearing dreadlocks when I was at Howard, I had dreads all through Howard. I’m trying to think how many years I had dreads. I had them for a long time. I had them for five or six years straight, then I grew them again for another seven years after that, I-

Maurice Cherry:
And what years were this?

Terry Biddle:
So, Howard was 97 to 2000.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, all right.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, I forgot I have to say the year because-

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, I’m thinking this is post-

Terry Biddle:
[crosstalk 00:15:47] listeners, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, no, I’m also thinking this is… when you talked about, sort of, the different ideas of blacks, I’m kind of also trying to quantify it within what else is going on in history and pop culture then, so this is post A Different World.

Terry Biddle:
Post A Different World.

Maurice Cherry:
L.A. Riots, that sort of thing, Million Man March, et cetera.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, in fact, I should probably talk a bit about that because… So, one of the big thoughts about going to Howard, then, was… this is when we didn’t really have any black directors that were mainstream successful at that time. And John Singleton, this was a few years after Boyz n the Hood came out. So, Boyz n the Hood came out and it just blew up the mainstream. Spike Lee was on the scene at the time as well. I should also say John Singleton and I actually had the exact same birthday on January sixth. His death really, really got to me because he was one of the people that I looked up to coming up, in addition to us sharing the same birthday. So, it was really shocking when he passed away.

Terry Biddle:
But yeah, I mean, this was what pop culture was like. And this is a pre-YouTube world, so when I came to this school… Google didn’t exist yet when I started college. Google didn’t exist, we had a couple of web search engines, I think, at the time. So, this is how far back. So, we had Lycos, WebCrawler, Yoohoo was the most popular at the time, Ask Jeeves. This is what was out at the time, this was a pre-Google world, and we couldn’t even write papers… You couldn’t even use the internet to write papers back then. To do research for papers, we had to go to the library, we had to use floppy disks. This is an area that a lot of folks don’t even know anything about. Dial up internet, having to download music with dial up internet. Man, I remember sitting in my dorm room, waiting 15 minutes to find tracks on Napster. It’s like, “All right, aw man, this track. It’s only going to be 15 minutes, cool, cool, cool.” And 15 minutes was an acceptable time to download one song.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terry Biddle:
It’s crazy. Just leave that stuff playing overnight to download an album. Oh my goodness, take me back, take me back now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Napster, Kazaa, I think there was one called Audioscrobbler.

Terry Biddle:
Limewire.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Limewire, all of those. Yeah, I remember that very, very fondly.

Terry Biddle:
Oh my gosh, man. That was the era.

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative). So, you’re studying at Howard, you graduated in what, 2000, you said?

Terry Biddle:
Graduated in 2000, yeah. I got my undergrad degree in 2000. That was in the School of Communication, shout out to School of C, radio, TV and film. So, my emphasis was mainly in TV and film. That was where the primary area of my study, so there was a lot of screenwriting and TV and film production. And this was back in the day, so we did video editing on Super VHS and Beta video.

Maurice Cherry:
So, what was your next step after…

Terry Biddle:
S and beta videos.

Maurice Cherry:
So what was your next step after Howard?

Terry Biddle:
Well, my next step after Howard I thought was going to be going into film industry and I couldn’t quite find a linear path into the film industry back then, the only way to get into the film industry. This was, again this was, everything was analog. I think when I came out of school there was only one mainstream motion picture that was shot on digital video and that was the Phantom Menace. George Lucas’ Star Wars movie was the first, I think, one of the first mainstream movies that were shot on digital video. So it wasn’t… Digital video wasn’t even mainstream at the time. Like now, most things are probably shot with Arri Alexas and Red cameras, that wasn’t even a thing then. So think back when, what you had to do to break into the mainstream to do filmmaking, you had to shoot on 16 millimeters.

Terry Biddle:
That was the only way to do it. So it was… And it was incredibly expensive, I want to say it was about $10,000 a reel to get 60 millimeter film. So it was incredibly expensive and you had to try to get funds like that. So if you were going to try to break into the film industry then, the only way to do it was to be a production assistant, and you really had to be a P.A in New York or LA to do it. I mean from Cincinnati, Ohio, not having any connections in New York city or in LA, I couldn’t really find a path to do that, I mean it was really difficult. Like they’d kind of walled you out so you would have crash on buddy’s couch basically and work for minimum wage or so to do it in New York.

Terry Biddle:
I didn’t see that path there. So what I ended up doing after that was, I was always a visual artist. That was the main reason why I went to school in the first place was to be a visual artist, to be an animator. So I was like, all right, so I know how to draw, I knew how to paint, so I should probably go back to school and do something creative as a profession. I need to find some way to use my creativity as profession. And I wasn’t actually familiar with graphic design at the time, so it was something that I sort of researched and I ultimately, decided to go into studying graphic design as a major for my graduate school. Some crazy stuff go out in between them. This was around 2001 too. Just to give, give your listeners a time frame and this was during, this was around 9/11 so there were quite a lot of stuff that was going on at the time.

Terry Biddle:
I had sort of made it, I made, I was making a decision. It was… What do you call it? Where you like… I was like flipping a coin basically to decide what was the right choice for me to do. So, I had applied for, I had asked for some recommendations from some professors at the time to apply to film school for my master’s program. But I also was thinking about doing graphic design as my master’s program.

Terry Biddle:
And this was right after 9/11 there was I don’t know if you, if you will remember this or listeners will remember this, but there was Anthrax, there was an Anthrax, a mail scare that happened right after that. And a lot of things were put in the mail and people weren’t getting their mail in. And I had some packages that were sent out that were supposed to go to schools that just completely got lost in the mail and I never got them. So I wasn’t able to complete my process. And the other side of the coin was graphic design. So I decided to go back to school to Pratt and studied graphic design there and their grad comd department that was based in Manhattan. So that’s kind of like a crazy, crazy way. And I ended up at graphic design.

Maurice Cherry:
You know, it’s interesting, there’s like a… And maybe it’s because I’ve had so many people on the show that I sort of followed a similar path but, there’s like this pipeline between Howard and Hampton to Pratt university or Pratt Institute, I should say, sorry, Pratt Institute. There’s like this pipeline where people will start out at one of those two schools for undergrad for design and then ended up going to Pratt. Did you find that there were a lot of Howard folks when you were there?

Terry Biddle:
There were a couple of Howard folks and there were some Hampton folks too. One of my best buddies at Howard as I was a, I’m sorry, one of my best buddies at Pratt was, it was a Hampton grad. I think they need to stop the Hampton pipeline. You don’t need any more people from Hampton going to Pratt. That’s a Hampton joke for folks that don’t know. And just to be clear on air, Howard university is a real H.U. I don’t care what anybody tells you. Howard university is the real H.U. just got to be clear about that.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I went to Morehouse, so I don’t know if I really have anything to say in this whole conversation, but I’ll let you have that one. Okay.

Terry Biddle:
You probably witnessed the turf Wars.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. So how was Pratt different from Howard, aside from it being, graduate to undergrad? How was it different?

Terry Biddle:
Oh man. I mean it’s, I don’t even know how to explain it. There were so completely different experiences. I mean, first I lived in the dorms at Howard, so it was a very, very different at Pratt, I lived in an apartment. I worked a lot while I was in school, so I didn’t really work full time when I was in undergrad, but I worked almost full time when I was in my Master’s program. So it was a very, very, very different experience like working in, I lived in Brooklyn when I was at Pratt and I would commute to Manhattan to go to class. So, it was a very, very different, very, very different experience as far as the classroom makeup was of course very different obviously. But there were a lot of international students that at Pratt too, which was really cool.

Terry Biddle:
It was nice to have different perspectives. We had a lot of students from South Korea that were in our classes, which was really cool to have some international perspective on things where we’re in class and I don’t know if I can really talk to the differences because my schooling was so different. I was really doing a lot of TV production and video editing when I was an undergrad. And then I, Pratt was very like, design focused design. I will say that Pratt’s program was really intense. It was really, really intense. And there were a lot of the big difference I would say that the grad comd department at Pratt, the professors were working full time, so a lot of them were there. They were doing it, they were in involved in the process, like they were actively working in the field. So I think the perspective that we were getting was a very, very different than what you can see sometimes at universities where you know folks are lifelong professors and that’s what they do full time.

Terry Biddle:
But having the perspective of being a designer that’s working is really, really helpful too, for students to understand what market, what the market is and not just, understand what the design principles are. because I mean I’m just going to be honest, a lot of what we learned in design school, it goes completely out the window when you are working at a big company. It just doesn’t compute and you’re going to make, you’re going to have to make choices that are completely like counter to what you think you learned in design school. And it’s good to have the perspective of folks that you know that are working to put food on the table that are working to employ other people because they have a different, they’re going to come at it with a little bit more reality I think sometimes then than what we can learn in a university system.

Maurice Cherry:
That actually is good to know. I mean, I didn’t go to art school at all, so I was always curious about sort of how much of that transference happens once you graduate and you get out there in the working world, do you feel like it’s equipped you with the basics or not? So that’s interesting to know. So right after Pratt, you got your master’s degree. What was your first design gig after that?

Terry Biddle:
My first full time design gig was at Reader’s Digest. I worked at Reader’s Digest for almost a year. It was, they send a Midtown Manhattan and DC and sorry, Midtown Manhattan in New York city on your Bryant park, which is, I think we’re good morning America puts on their little music show on the summertime there’s summer stage. So that was kind of fun walking past there sometimes in the summertime, seeing the shows. Yeah, that was my first gig working in publishing and in Reader’s Digest, which is really big company, but it was, I really learned a great deal from working there. I got a lot of good jobs. We’re talking about a lot of back in a day stuff. So let me just let your listeners know what the deal was then.

Terry Biddle:
So the first program I used Quark 4, to get started and Quark 4 for folks that don’t know had no undo’s, zero undo’s. This is, I started my design career in a world of no undo’s. So just so folks and understand that Adobe distiller, you had to make a postscript file and then you had to convert that to a PDF. So,that was like the workload back in the day. Adobe distiller, Quark 4 no undo’s. That’s how I started my design career.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember Quark 4 not fondly for that reason. I do remember it though because we used, we used Quark and I think we ended up switching to, maybe it was Adobe PageMaker or something. This one I was, I was probably still in high school at this point. No wait. You said… What year was this when you were doing this?

Terry Biddle:
This was 2005

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no. I was out of high school by then. We did use Quark in high school, but it was a previous version that also did not have undo’s. So I feel your pain there. Absolutely.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah. It was crazy. I mean, you learn, you learn really, really quickly how to, how to make it work.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, absolutely. You end up adapting to the situation for sure. Now let’s talk about The Knell, where did the idea come from to create that?

Terry Biddle:
It’s interesting, so like we have, it came from a lot of, we were just talking about, so I came out of school as an undergrad and a pre YouTube world. There wasn’t any way for the creators of color really to get their work out into the world at the time. When I came out of school and it wasn’t really easy. But now, I mean, I think when I thought of this idea, vine was still kicking around, YouTube exists or Vimeo exists, but there still wasn’t quite the pipeline to get creators of color. You know, a moment to shine.I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, but social media is completely broken in the United States. The way Twitter and Facebook have sort of, so I’m looking for amplified the loudest voices and it’s really difficult to be heard outside of the noise and outside and some of that negativity.

Terry Biddle:
I wanted to try to find a way to create a platform where, marginalized voices would feel like they had a place to showcase their work, but also a place where they could feel safe online without dealing with the idea of harassment. So I wanted to create sort of a video. I wanted to create a video platform that was for marginalized voices and that’s really what I, how I thought of the idea for The Knell. I wanted to create the platform that I wish existed when I was, coming out of school at Howard. That [inaudible 00:31:02] idea came about.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I checked out the website and looked at the video. I really liked that kind of bell animation kind of reminds me of almost like afterschool special when they have the little rotating texts or whatever. Like this is a specialist afterschool special announcement or something. I really liked the branding with that. How has it been going so far?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I’m going to be real. I’m probably going to wrap it up and in the near future it’s really, really difficult out here for black entrepreneurs to sort of get the key behind, stuff like this. It’s really hard to find, the funding and to find the people and the manpower to really get your thing off the ground. And I will say that I learned so much from it. I learned a great deal in the tech space from doing it, but it’s been really, really difficult to get off the ground. And I think it might be a time to put it on the back burner for a while until I can come back to it at another time. Now they’ve got a full time job and I just, I’m actually, I have a one year old daughter who just turned one a few days ago. As a matter of fact, being a dad, being a dad man, having a full time job, I’m going to have to let my other baby chill out for a little bit until I can come back to it in a better, in a better spot.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You have a whole new, a whole new life to take care of though.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, definitely. She definitely keeps me busy.

Maurice Cherry:
With everything that you’re doing, I mean with work and everything. One thing that really sort of stuck out to me as I was doing my research, and we talked about this a little bit before recording, is that you’ve created your own typeface. we’ve had a few typo…Well, I think we’ve only had two, two typographers on the site, on the podcast before, but tell me about your typeface and how you came about creating it.

Terry Biddle:
Oh man. Let’s see. How did I come about this? I’m like a type geek. Like I was obsessed with typography, when I went to grad school at Pratt. One of my professors was this a gentleman named Tony DiSpigna and I don’t know if folks know who Tony DiSpigna is, but I Shall let people know that he’s like one of the, he is a kind of a design legend. He worked for Herb Lubalin, a lot of the type faces that are really popular now, he helped design like ITC lubalin graph, avant garde, Serif Gothic. Those are, I think he’s credited with creating Serif Gothic. It’s for, folks, that was one of the type typefaces. I think that was used a lot in the 80’s I believe even the [inaudible 00:34:01] it and its titles as well.

Terry Biddle:
Hand lettering. So I learned a lot of typographic techniques from Tony DiSpigna and I for my grad school thesis. I did like a really like a type-based thing where I sort of, I did a re-design of the New York city subway system and where I designed a typeface but I studied, it was pre UX. It was like, I did all the legibility tests and all that, all that. So I was really, really into the geekery and the like the science behind legibility and understanding cognition and things like that. And after, having my hands and my getting into really, really nitty gritty type design, I kind of want to do something that was a little bit more fun, more free. I really loved hand lettering. Hand lettering was something I pretty much always did growing up.

Terry Biddle:
It wasn’t until I went to Pratt that I found an actual application for understanding how to make typography legible. So I was like, all right, let me just play around with some letters. And I just started drawing these letters, and inking them with an ink brush. And I was like, I really like looks I think my initial ones where I was making a new website for myself and I was just drawing a bunch of type and one of the treatments that I had done with Hamlet or type I really liked and I wanted to take it further. So I just drew it all by hand. I drew every single individual letter out by hand and then I started scanning it in and decided to make a typeface out of it. Now little did I know when I started doing that, how difficult it was going to be from start to finish because it took me several years to actually get it going.

Terry Biddle:
If I were to put it all together, I would say from start to finish, it probably took about 2 years total to do it. But I sort of stopped in between on the way and then came back to it later on. But it was fun. I mean it was a lot of fun. But then it gets really, really super, super technical after a while and because it’s a layered typeface. So folks who can’t see it, the typeface that we’re talking about is called Bizzle Chizzle. It’s actually like a series of 4 fonts, but you layer 3 of them on top of each other and they make a dimensional typeface. So it looks like it’s chiseled out of stone. And when you do that, you have to make sure that each layer lines up exactly perfectly. There was… After I had designed it and then could submit it to MyFonts for fonts creation and after you submit they give you pointers.

Terry Biddle:
I’m like, all right, your [inaudible 00:36:21] off and like, yeah, you need to work on this. And your tracking and all they, they give you all these details about how to get your font ready for commercial release. So did some more tweaking after that. And then low and behold they accepted. It was pretty cool. It was a pretty fun experience. So come back to it and then like I have some typefaces for sale on MyFonts, so that’s something I can say I did. Oh, that’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Would you ever make another typeface one day?

Terry Biddle:
Oh would make another typeface someday I’ve made other typefaces. I just haven’t released them yet. I keep like I have some type of basis that I just use for my own personal use. I made a handwriting typeface that I keep on my computer that I just use from time to time whenever I’m making a comic type treatment, things like that.

Terry Biddle:
I might someday expand this set and release it. But it’s a lot of work to do a typeface. There’s just so much work and it’s, it can be a really tedious process. It’s typical sometimes to find the time to do it, but yeah, I mean I think, I think one day when I’m like retired on my Island or, or at the beach or something, I might just like crack open, some font software and just like start making some typeface again, when I have some more free time, I can see myself too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. There’s a typographer we’ve had on the show. You may have heard of him. His name is Trey Seals. He’s out there in the D.M.V area. He’s made a number of different typefaces, mostly centered around, I think like protest signs and protest imagery from the 60’s and before, but he’s made a number of different typefaces. I remember when I had him on the show, he talked about how it’s, it’s really, it’s a very painstaking process that goes into it even.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a very painstaking process that goes into it, even for something that you would think, oh, there’s like 26 letters and you know, upper case, lower case, maybe throwing some numbers, some punctuation. There are these glyphs that we see all the time, but we’d never really think about construction of them because especially in a unified family sort of way, like a typeface.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, it is painstaking. It’s a lot of detail that goes into it. It’s not as easy. Like if you’re doing something hand handwritten, it’s not as easy as just like, “Oh you draw it and you scan it in.” Well, when you scan it in you’re going to bring in a lot of artifacts that you have to really clean up for the font software because you have to make it readable by the software that you’re going to use, so you have to simplify the line work a bit. So it’s quite a lot that goes into it. I mean some of that nitty gritty stuff though can be the fun part of it once you get into it. The next thing that I want to do is I want to take a crack at making a super family.

Terry Biddle:
I really love like a type of super families. So I would love to take a crack at doing that at some point. But that’s, of course, a lot of pains staking work, but one of these days I would love to have a bit of time to really sit down and do it. I love sans serif faces with true italics, man. I want to make a super family. I want to make a sans serif super family with a true italics. So that’s like one of those things that I’m going to do on my wishlist.

Maurice Cherry:
Alright, and now also as I was doing my research, I saw that you have also been a design educator at an HBCU. You taught at University of District of Columbia. Tell me a little bit about that experience.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, I mean, I really like teaching, and one of the things that I told myself before I went to grad school, it was one of the big reasons I wanted to go to grad school is that I wanted to be able to teach other students. I think it’s important to me in particular to sort of give back in a way, to pass knowledge on, to give people insight, and to help them grow in a way that may not have been available to you at the time. I want to be able to do that for other people. So that to me, was one of the main reasons that I really wanted to be a professor. I really love talking about something in class and sort of seeing their eyes light up when you can tell that you’ve completely blown their mind.

Terry Biddle:
There’s just nothing like that, when you see them have this aha moment where you’re like, “Oh man!” Where you can tell that they really got something that you said. And it may not even be something big or something grand, but it’s something you say and you see them take it in. That’s really rewarding. It’s really rewarding to see a student learn. I just love being able to pass that on and really helping folks know their path in the future. So that’s one of the main drives for me to teach. I really wanted to do that, to give back some of that knowledge and to make a path easier for others.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think your students teach you?

Terry Biddle:
Everything. I mean, it’s funny you say that because one of the things that I always say to my students is, “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always learn something from somebody else,” and say, “As much as I would like you to learn from me, I’m learning from you as well.”

Terry Biddle:
I don’t think it matters what age you are. You can always learn something new. That was something that I learned from my grandma. My grandma was a voracious reader. She would read always, always, always until the day she died. She was reading, absorbing books and was always up-to-date on what’s happening in the political environment. I would remember calling my grandma. We talk about politics all the time. She used to watch C-SPAN. I mean my grandma watched C-SPAN 24/7. I think what I love learning from people that are younger than me is just a new way of thinking. There’s always a new way of thinking, a new way of doing things, and I like to be open to learning something new. You know I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point in my life where there’s not something I can learn from someone else.

Terry Biddle:
I mean, I learn from my daughter every day. Actually, one of the things I learned from my daughter is just what it’s like to find out what’s new in the world or just be exposed to what’s new in the world. That was the coolest thing about now having a really young child is you actually get to witness someone learning something for the first time. Everything to them is new. So it really sort of makes you… I learned how not to take things for granted in a way by seeing people learn something new every day. It just really keeps you open and makes you really grateful and thankful for what you have.

Terry Biddle:
When you see how amazing things can be, like when you see the kids’ eyes light up when they see something for the first time, you’re just like, “You know what? That is really neat, right? That’s really cool.” It is amazing that this sunset is amazing. Those colors are amazing. Like, look at that rainbow. You know, just stuff like that that we’re just like, “Alright, keep it moving. Yeah. I’ve seen that sunset 20,000 times.” But, you know, if you spend a little extra time looking at that sunset it’s amazing. There’s just so much beauty I think that we take for granted, and that’s something that I think of that I learned from everyone is just how they experienced something… can always learn something from another person’s experience with something.

Maurice Cherry:
What keeps you motivated and inspired these days to create?

Terry Biddle:
What keeps me motivated and inspired these days to create? I don’t know if I have one particular source. One thing that I usually do is.. What I usually get inspired is something that’s completely opposite of the thing that I’m doing. I find that it’s best to have your head outside of the realm that you’re in to find something new. Like I don’t read a lot of design blogs. Back in my younger early career, I used to read all the design blogs. I used to read all about design. I don’t do that as much anymore. I like to read about tech and science and math, sometimes everything, art, music. That’s what I do. I read a lot. I love reading. I mean there’s so many things that you can learn. The reason I like looking at something that’s completely opposite of what the creative thing is that I’m doing is that it frees your mind from the thing that you’re actively trying or problem that you’re trying to solve.

Terry Biddle:
And you may find an answer to the problem that you’re solving in something else. Cause we are all part of… I mean the world is more interconnected than we often like to think. You know, the golden, I’m about to throw a design term out, but you know, like the golden ratio. I think about that all the time actually. How many times is that shape replicated throughout the world? You know, in the things that we make, in patterns outside. Everything is connected in some way. So I think a lot of times finding a solution to something or finding inspiration in something comes from outside of the thing and outside of the realm that you’re in. I think that also keeps your mind open and it keeps your mind open. It doesn’t block you in to thinking that the answer to what you’re looking for exists only within your particular realm or only your particular avenue. So for me, it can be anything that’s not design is really where I look for inspiration. Anything that is not specifically in the design world, I look for inspiration.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you appreciate most about your life right now?

Terry Biddle:
This one’s easy for me. Being a new dad is the thing I most appreciate about life right now. There’s nothing like being a dad. I’m a first time parent, so I’m probably gushing more. I’m sure folks who have more kids who might be listening to this are like, “Mmhmm, wait till you get to the third one.” But you know, right now I’m still in that little baby bliss period. So it’s really cool to me… It’s just nothing like it. It’s really changed my perspective, being a dad. A lot of the things that I would do, before I had a child or not, the things that I would do now to me my main priority is getting home and seeing my daughter, getting home and having dinner with my daughter and seeing her off the bed or like giving her a bath and things like that. That’s hands down pretty easy for me right now is spending time with my daughter.

Maurice Cherry:
So one of the themes that we kind of have for the year here, you know it’s 2020, the whole future is now sort of thing, is like how are you using the skills that you have now to basically do good in the future. So I’ll ask you this question, how are you helping to build a more equitable future?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I spent a good amount of my life post 2016 with The Knell doing that. That was really my big driver for quite a while. Right now what I’m doing is I am participating in some groups, company I work for at EVERFI actually, we’re about to start a mentorship program. So right now I think I am going to be helping the next generation of kids coming up to help them get a foothold in the design and really in the professional world. So mentorship is my next step, I think. I did a little bit of that as professor, but now I’m going to be able to do a bit of that now where I work and I think that’s what I’m going to be doing for 2020 for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What did you think you were going to be doing five years ago? Like in 2015, what were you thinking you’d be doing now in 2020?

Terry Biddle:
Man, oh man, that’s a really interesting question because 2015 was sort of a pivotal year where I was sort of making decisions. What did I think I would be doing right now? I think that I thought that I’d be doing pretty close to what I’m doing now, or I’d be doing something in the entertainment realm. I had another little detour where I did some stand-up comedy, and actually 2015 was interesting because I helped do Washington DC’s first Comedy Hack Day where I sort of got into or sort of like made a connection to tech. But I’d also had some connection to the comedy world because I started doing stand-up comedy during that time, so it was sort of like an intersection between my entertainment background and tech. So I would say that I would probably be doing something pretty similar or The Knell in some way right about now. So I think I’m surprisingly pretty much where I thought I’d be in 2020.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now to look forward, where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I’m about to get woo-woo on you. As one of the big changes I had in my life was that I really started to embrace more living in the moment and living in time, so I try not to think too much about what’s going to happen in the future. But, since you asked the question, there’s two paths I could see for myself. I love entertainment. I love script writing. One of the reasons I got into comedy back in the day, it wasn’t back in the day, actually it wasn’t that long ago, but one of the reasons I got into stand-up was because I love writing and I would love to be as part of a comedy writer’s room or a TV writer’s room. So I could see myself back in entertainment doing that.

Terry Biddle:
Or I would love to either have my own company and/or work in the VC realm. I think what’s most needed in tech right now is a really diverse representation in the VC industry. I’m saying in order for the tech industry to change more broadly, we need to have more representation in the VC realm, and I would love to see a more even representation amongst women, minorities, LGBTQIA tech folks to really start driving broader change in the tech industry. So I would love to be part of that movement if that movement were to come in the VC realm.

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

Terry Biddle:
Well, you can find me on TerryBiddle.com and you can also find me on Twitter at TBiddy.com. Not TBiddy.com. TBiddy is my handle on Twitter. You can find me there. I do own TBiddy.com, which I used to use as a URL shortener for Twitter, but you can find me on TerryBiddle.com and on Twitter handle TBiddy.

Maurice Cherry:
Alright, sounds good. Well, Terry Biddle, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s funny when we talked about this before, you were saying like, “Oh there’s not really something in particular I sort of wanted to discuss,” but I think as we’ve heard your story and definitely as we’ve seen you kind of grow throughout the years just based on what you’ve told us, it’s clear that forging your own path to be a creative is not an easy task. And I think that’s something that a lot of people may forget because creativity from the outside looking in can often look like a very easy thing. Like, “Oh you just sit around and just come up with ideas all day or you draw all day.” The things that are attributed to creativity when you’re a child tend to be discarded as frivolity when you’re an adult, which I think is really odd.

Maurice Cherry:
But certainly I think what I can draw, and hopefully what others draw from your story, is that carving out a career like this is something that takes time. It’s not necessarily an easy thing, but I think as long as you have this sort of underlying goal of what it is that you want to put out there in the world that you can really sort of make a name for yourself. And I think certainly you’re on your way. I mean, even with the typeface, I am blown away by the typeface because I want to make a typeface. I don’t know how to make typefaces. I too am a type nerd. So you got props from me just for the typeface.

Maurice Cherry:
But overall I think with your startup work with The Knell, your education work, and even the work you’re doing now through EVERFI, you’re on your way man. I mean we profiled you for 28 days of the web, so clearly you’re out here making an impact. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I really do appreciate it.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.


RECOGNIZE is open for essay submissions for Volume 2! The deadline is April 30 – enter today!

MODA and Revision Path present Creative Atlanta 2020, an interview series highlighting Black creatives in Atlanta ranging from an award-winning cellist to a Harvard GSD Loeb Fellow.

Tickets are free with regular admission to MODA and include access to our exhibition. Space is limited, so grab your ticket today!

Sponsors

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

This episode is brought to you by Abstract: design workflow management for modern design teams. Spend less time searching for design files and tracking down feedback, and spend more time focusing on innovation and collaboration. Like Glitch, but for designers, Abstract is your team’s version-controlled source of truth for design work. With Abstract, you can version design files, present work, request reviews, collect feedback, and give developers direct access to all specs—all from one place. Sign your team up for a free, 30-day trial today by heading over to www.abstract.com.

Roland A. Wiley

I was recently in Los Angeles for work, and while there, I had the opportunity to do a live show with AIGA Los Angeles and interview renowned architect Roland A. Wiley.

Roland spoke to a packed house about his day-to-day work through his firm, RAW International, including the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project, Destination Crenshaw, and other projects in the Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills neighborhoods.

He also spoke about how his faith helps inform his work, gave his thoughts on gentrification and afrofuturism, and also had some great tips for those who are looking to use their skills for helping out their community. Roland is a true urban visionary, and Los Angeles is lucky he is there to help transform the city for Black folks!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

May de Castro:
How this is going to take place is Maurice is actually going to be interviewing Roland Wiley. Maurice Cherry works as a creative strategist at Glitch. He is also the host and founder of Revision Path, the award-winning podcast that he launched in 2013 and what we’re about to witness tonight live. His in-depth interviews, showcasing black creatives all over the world, has the honor of being the first podcast to be added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American… Yes… of African history and culture.

May de Castro:
Other projects Maurice has provided to the world include the Black Weblog Award and 28 Days of the Web to name a few. Maurice is the recipient of the 2018 Steven Heller Prize for Cultural Commentary from AIGA, was named one of Graphic Design USA’s 2018 People to Watch and included in the Root 100, the annual list of the most influential African Americans ages 25 to 45. His projects and overall design work and advocacy have been recognized by Apple, Adobe, AIGA and NPR.

May de Castro:
Let me now introduce Roland A. Wiley. He considers himself an urban visionary, whose ultimate goal as an architect is to build cities from the people up. He has over 37 years of experience and is founding partner of the LA-based architectural affirm, RAW International, a nationally-recognized, award-winning studio whose projects range from transit planning to sanctuary design.

May de Castro:
He has passionately advocated for the sustainable revitalization of urban communities through both professional and civic activities. Notable projects have included the Union Station Gateway East Portal Building, Motown headquarters in LA and more recently on the planning and design of transformational projects here in the Crenshaw community such as the Crenshaw LAX Transit Project, Leimert Park master planning and Destination Crenshaw. His firm has served in a leadership role in all of these projects with a consistent goal of transforming the physical environment while empowering and preserving the culture of the existing residents. Please help me welcome Maurice Cherry and Roland A. Wiley.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you, May, for that introduction. And thank you all for coming out tonight for this live recording of Revision Path. Roland Wiley, do you prefer Roland Wiley or Roland A. Wiley?

Roland A. Wiley:
Well, let’s see, Roland Wiley just because it’s easier to say, but I like Roland A. Wiley, because those are the initials of our company, RAW.

Maurice Cherry:
RAW International. Gotcha.

Roland A. Wiley:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. All right. We’ll start things off. Roland, tell us who you are and what you do.

Roland A. Wiley:
My goodness, Maurice, this is a tough one. That would last all hours if… Let me see where I start. I would start with I’m a man of God. I’m a husband, a family man. I have a beautiful wife who’s here, Andrea. Let’s give a hand for Andy, my wife. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. I have two sons, Randall, who’s 21, and Roland, who’s 23. I’m an architect, and being an architect, that is something that is really my passion. I truly enjoy it and it’s a very tough profession for anybody, but particularly a black man. It’s a very hard profession.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, we’ll get into that certainly throughout the rest of the interview, but for starters, just tell me about your day-to-day work.

Roland A. Wiley:
Oh man. We’ll just start with today.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Roland A. Wiley:
Get to the office at 6:00. I had a large presentation at the Veterans Affair in Westwood. It’s for a 800-car parking structure. Now, you may think, “What’s a parking structure?”, but a 800-car parking structure is a big deal. There’s like a room of 12 people, everybody with a different opinion, from administrative to safety, to psychology, to architecture, to landscape architecture. Everybody has an idea, and we are the ones, we are the leaders. We have to direct all of these interests, all of these varying interests into a project that’s safe, cost-effective, and beautiful. As an architect, that’s the challenge.

Roland A. Wiley:
So after that, I get to the office, and we’re working on the Beverly Hills City Hall. We’re renovating the tower at Beverly Hills City Hall. I just find out we get our plan check corrections from Beverly Hills City Hall, and they’re voluminous, so then I got to wonder, “Okay, I got to deal with that.” I’m leaving town tomorrow, so then I have to plan all of staff to make sure staff is assigned and they know what they’re going to be doing while I’m away. In addition to that, there was an employee issue that a long email went out, and I had to be the peacemaker to mitigate whatever feelings were hurt from that email that went out. Then after that, before I got out the door, my CFO made sure I went through all the invoices that had to go out and determine how much we were going to get paid for the month. So it just goes… Every day is intense. Every day is something. That’s what keeps you in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So some of your current projects that were mentioned in the intro, Destination Crenshaw, Crenshaw LAX Transit Line, can you talk just a little bit about your involvement in those, how those came about?

Roland A. Wiley:
Yeah, I’ll go chronologically because the Crenshaw LAX Transit Line, which most of you know, should be opening this year, outstanding the delays. That was somewhat the catalyst to what really energized me as an architect and urban visionary. That was in 1993. We started planning this project in 1993.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s right. So that’s how long it takes for a transit project to come to reality. That is not an exaggeration. From concept to planning to funding to construction can easily take 20 years. But from that I started to get to understand, to start to envision how transit can transform a community because Crenshaw… I live in the Crenshaw Corridor. I live in View Park, and I’ve always been disappointed about the Crenshaw Corridor. The commercial retail infrastructure is so great, but yet the investment is so small.

Roland A. Wiley:
The history of that goes back to the white flight in the early ’60s after the Watts riots, where the major commercial retail base disinvested from Crenshaw and moved to the Valley. Then what moved into the Crenshaw Corridor were smaller mom and pop stores, barber shops, hair salons and that kind of thing, but it wasn’t commensurate to the income of the folks that lived in View Park, Windsor Hills, Baldwin Hills. They had just as much or more income than the people that then moved down into the Valley, so I couldn’t understand why don’t we have the same level of goods and services that were there prior.

Roland A. Wiley:
Then you look at transit investment. A typical transit station probably costs I’d say about 50 to $75 million just for the station. The entire transit system from Exposition to the airport costs about $2 billion. That’s a major investment in our community, and at those stations you’ve spent almost $100 million. You know they ain’t going to keep a barber shop or a hair salon. You know they’re going to make some kind of investment. That’s when the term urban visionary came to me. I started to see, “Well, this could be so much more than what it is.” Some of those renderings show what we envision, what our firm envision of how transit can transform a community.

Roland A. Wiley:
That went on for from ’93 all the way until today. There are several steps. You have a feasibility study. Then you have a major investment study, then you have a route refinement study, then you have a draft environmental impact study, and then you start to get into preliminary engineering and design and construction. That takes 20 years, and here we are today, 20 something years later, and Crenshaw is about to open.

Roland A. Wiley:
But from there you just start to… Then there’s spinoff projects, development around the station areas. Then from there, you look at Destination Crenshaw. That’s how Destination Crenshaw was born. For those of you who don’t know, Destination Crenshaw is a unapologetically black art program that goes from Crenshaw-Slauson to Leimert Park that was born by Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson. He came to my office or he called our office. By the way, he specifically looked for a black architect. Although you think that might be usual, it is not usual. It’s disappointingly not usual. He wanted a black architect who knew this corridor, and so we worked with Marqueece and Joanne Kim, his deputy. He wanted to make lemon out of lemonade. In other words, that section from Slauson to Crenshaw is at grade and everybody feels they got the short changed by having an at-grade train as opposed to everywhere else is subway. So there was a lot of contention about that.

Roland A. Wiley:
The Councilman wanted to make lemonade out of a lemon, and we thought, “Well look, this is the only place that somebody coming from the airport would see any part of Crenshaw, that section. Everything else is subway. So what can we do to talk about Crenshaw? What can we do to talk about who we are?” That’s how we came up with the idea of this lineal art gallery that celebrated black culture, black culture in Los Angeles. There’s so many people that grew up, that worked, that lived, that learned in the Crenshaw Corridor who are famous, Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner. It just goes on and on, and they’re not celebrated. They’re celebrated everywhere else, but not here.

Maurice Cherry:
In our community.

Roland A. Wiley:
Yeah. So that was the idea to represent us in a way that celebrated our culture and people coming from around the world would see it because it would be at grade, people were looking out of the train and they said, “Well, wait a minute. Why don’t I get out of here? Why not check it out?” That’s, in a quick story, how I became so passionate about transformation.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Well we’ll definitely dive a little bit more into those projects as we keep talking, but I’m curious to know where the spark came from. Where did you first get the notion of like, “Architecture is a thing that I want to do. I can see the vision of things”? I want to take it back. Tell me about where you grew up.

Roland A. Wiley:
Oh man. I’m going there tomorrow. Indianapolis, Indiana.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s right. That’s my hometown. It’s a great place to grow up. I’m a proud product of a public schools, public grade school, a public high school. I got a state scholarship that paid my tuition. Ball State University was the only accredited school of architecture in the state. Graduated from Ball State University and came out to Los Angeles immediately after graduation. I always wanted to be an architect. I love buildings even as a child and ironically I still remember the day I discovered I wanted to be an architect.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell us about it.

Roland A. Wiley:
I was with my mom and we had a little Volkswagen. I was about five or six years old. I don’t know if you guys remember the Volkswagens on the dash had this little rubber handle that you grab onto. I remember I would grab onto the handle and kind of chew on it. I was a kid. I was a kid. I’d to chew on it and look out the window. I’d be downtown looking up at the buildings, and I asked my mom… I said, “Mom, who makes the most money?”

Roland A. Wiley:
She said, “Well, doctors.” Even then, I knew, “I don’t like blood, not going to be a doctor.” “And lawyers.” I was like, “Well, that sounds kind of boring.” Then she said, “Architects.” I said, “Architects? What’s an architect?” She said, “Well, they build buildings.” That was it. At that point, I knew I wanted to be an architect because I love buildings. I love the built environment. I love just the energy of a building, just looking at a building and seeing the dialogue it has with you. Every building is saying something. It’s many times negative, but they’re all saying something. That’s where I went.

Maurice Cherry:
Roland and I was driving around LA yesterday and we passed by… I think it was a police station.

Roland A. Wiley:
Right, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It had all of these really sharp, jagged, amber rocks outside, sort of like how you would normally see shrubbery or topiaries or something. These were rocks, as if to say, “Don’t come here, don’t sit here,” or whatever. It was really a odd bit of defensive design.

Roland A. Wiley:
Like I said, every building, it says something to you. That was in Skid Row by the way. That was, “Don’t even think about laying down around here.” I think that’s really unfortunate, but that’s the language. Architecture does have that ability to speak. From that point, I wanted to be an architect, and I was very fortunate to have role models or to see architects who looked like me at a very early age. That was a blessing.

Maurice Cherry:
So that was in Indianapolis, you were able to see those role models there?

Roland A. Wiley:
Yes, I was about fourth grade. We went on a field trip to an architect’s office. His name was Walter Blackburn. I didn’t know anything about anything except, “He’s an architect and he’s black and I want to be an architect, so I guess I’m going to be architect just like him.” That was a blessing. It really was. I didn’t know at that time that you don’t really get to see those role models. That was a very fortunate set of events because in my mind I wanted to be an architect. “I saw a black architect. I saw his office so what’s the problem?”, although there were plenty of people who didn’t think I could be an architect.

Roland A. Wiley:
When I was in high school graduating, my guidance counselor, I told him I wanted to go to architecture school. At that time I had a work-study program where I’d work. I’d go to school in the morning. I worked at the city hall in Indianapolis on the 20th floor. My counselor said, “You got a great job with benefits. What do you want to go to architecture school for?” I just looked at him. I was like, “Ah, you know… But on the serious tip, just think how many young black men have been discouraged from following their dream because they didn’t see a role model and they had a person of authority that told them they couldn’t do it. That’s what’s disturbing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You had asked me this yesterday during our drive. No, it wasn’t during our drive. We were here in Leimert Park. I don’t remember what the name of the coffee shop was.

Roland A. Wiley:
Hot and Cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Hot and Cool. Okay, we were at Hot and Cool. You were asking me out of the 300 plus people I’ve talked to, what’s one of the common things, and I was telling you it’s that, that like lack of a role model or a person that they can see that’s in some position of authority or whatever when they’re a child or when they’re in their formative years to say, “Okay, this is something that I can do myself.” That seemed to be a very sort of common thread. So that’s interesting that you were able to kind of have that as an early influence for you. Was it like that also at Ball State when you were studying architecture?

Roland A. Wiley:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Roland A. Wiley:
Architecture is… That’s where I started to learn it’s a… Back then and today, it is a white male elitist profession. The curriculum, you get indoctrinated into the white male elitists and you don’t even know it. It’s just defacto. The architects, the classical architects, the modern architects, the cutting edge architects, they were all white male with no exception at that time. That’s something that to this day disturbs me in terms of the architectural curriculum and how one is indoctrinated into a certain way of thinking where you don’t see yourself, you don’t see your culture. You don’t see a way to express who you are. You have to find a way to fit in and to speak that language when your language is just as relevant, if not more relevant, if given the chance and given the venue to express and to practice it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It reminds me of… It’s an essay by the late Sylvia Harris. It’s in this anthology from Steven Heller called the Education of a Graphic Designer. She has an essay in there titled Searching for an African-American Design Aesthetic, or I think it’s a black design aesthetic, but she talks in there mostly about education and how black design students are often learning out of imitation as opposed to kind of like what their culture is about. They learn about Swiss styles and German styles and Dutch styles, etc. But then it’s like, “Well, if I’m a black design student, are we learning about Nigerian styles or Botswanan styles or South African styles?” And the answer is no.

Roland A. Wiley:
Is no. I wonder why is that still today when we have access to the internet. We start to know… Our history is available, but yet we still don’t know who we are. When I was at Ball State… And I don’t know how or why I did it. I researched the pyramids and the construction of the pyramids and what’s crazy, I didn’t realize they were black, the Egyptians were black, because the illustrations that I researched, they were all just… People drew illustrations of how they were built with white-looking Egyptians. I knew it was in Africa, but it wasn’t until far after I graduated and I went to Egypt that I saw those folk look like me. They look just like me. We designed those pyramids. Folks that look like me designed structures that far exceed what the classical Greek temples were, that far exceed any monuments that have been built to this day… Were designed and built by people like me, that looked like me.

Roland A. Wiley:
So that opened up a door to me to explore more about, “Well, what else do I don’t know? What else have I been indoctrinated and that is not true?” That’s the journey I’m on to this day to discover who we are as a people so that we can express our design aesthetic that comes from our spirit, not that comes from some discipline that you’ve been given and that you’ve been taught, but it comes from your spirit. We are very spiritual people, and I think that we are in danger of losing that spiritual connection because we are so busy trying to adapt, adopt and fit in to what popular culture is, which is not us.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you end up moving to LA? Was it right after Ball State?

Roland A. Wiley:
Yep. People ask, “Well, why did you come to LA?” I’ll say, “You ever been to Indianapolis?” Hey, anybody from Indy… It’s a great place to raise a family. It really is, but in terms of a career in architecture, I can imagine what pigeonhole I might have fallen into in Indianapolis. I just wanted some to be someplace that had warm weather. It was extremely cold.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s fair.

Roland A. Wiley:
In Indianapolis. That was just, again, another blessing. I just feel that God has been very good in my life. I had a lot of interviews right out of school. Then a nice little resume and had interviews set up. One of the interviews, it was at Gruen Associates. They’re an internationally-known architectural firms. They’re known for inventing the shopping center. I was in the lobby, this great international-style lobby, and this silver-head, caramel-skin woman walks up to me. I thought, “Oh, that’s the secretary of the guy who I’m going to interview with,” and she introduces herself, “I’m Norma Sklarek, and I’m going to interview you,” Norma-

Roland A. Wiley:
… Sklarek, and I’m going to interview you. Norma Sklarek is the first black licensed architect in America.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Roland A. Wiley:
It was history from there. I mean, of course I was terribly intimidated. She had a New York accent, very nice-looking woman, and she took me back to the studio, a sea of white shirts and white men, and she’s the boss over them. She walks me down the row, because I did well in the interview. She made an offer.

Roland A. Wiley:
The first person she stopped to introduced me to was this young black man named Steve Lott. Steve Lott was just Mr. Cool LA. He was just real cool. I was Mr. Polyester-wearing Country. We became very good friends. He taught me the ways of LA and we became business partners, and we’re business partners to this day.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice. What was LA like back then, when you first got here?

Roland A. Wiley:
Oh, man. I’ve got to look at Andy. That was before Andy and I got married. LA was live. Back in the late ’70s, ’80s, LA was live, and it was a new experience for me. There was just so much action, so much activity, so much to explore. People, black people, upwardly mobile, interesting, had layers of experience and travel, and the party scene, all of that. It was just happening back then, that back then they had clubs. The Speakeasy, Jackie O’s, Red Onion, places you could just go. Some of y’all know what I’m talking about, but just places you could go and just experience LA.

Roland A. Wiley:
Then on the other hand, I had friends from all spectrums, so I’d go backpacking up to Sequoia National Park. I’d race. I had a friend that had a Porsche, and we’d go Porsche racing. It’s just there were so many opportunities that I had no clue about in Indiana, that just this whole wide world was opening up for me, and it was just every day was an adventure.

Roland A. Wiley:
Then at work, just getting tremendous opportunities. Norma, I think I was a pretty good architect, so if you’re good, she’s going to give you a shot. She’s going to open up some doors for you. Professionally, Norma opened up doors for me and gave me opportunities to work on really good projects, really high-profile projects, and I got a chance to work closely with one of the partners, Allen Rubinstein, and he just opened up more doors for me. I started to make personal relationships with some of his clients, who they just talked to me because I got the job done, and Allen was happy.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What was it like being a black architect then, versus now?

Roland A. Wiley:
Again, I was blessed because I saw Norma. I was like, “Okay, I can do this.” Then in Los Angeles at that time, there were several successful black architectural firms. Bob Kennard, Harold Williams, John Williams, Jack Haywood, Vince Proby, just it went on and on. They were successful because they had political leadership that would advocate for them, that they would tell a developer, “You are hiring this black architect, end of story.” There ain’t no minority or small business.

Maurice Cherry:
No MBE kind of thing?

Roland A. Wiley:
Yeah. “You’re hiring a black architect.” That enabled black architects to build a really good body of work. They got major county projects, they got major institutional projects, they got major educational projects, because the leadership would advocate for them. Once again, I was very fortunate to see examples of success, examples of black architects who were successful.

Roland A. Wiley:
Then also, to give honor to Paul Williams, he died the year after I got here. He died in 1980, and I remember the day at Gruen. Somebody walked up to my desk and said, “Paul Williams just died.” I said, “Well, who’s Paul Williams?” They looked at me like I had three eyes. I didn’t know, and a lot of people didn’t know. People are only now starting to understand his legacy and his greatness.

Roland A. Wiley:
There was always a glass ceiling for black architects, always. However, that glass ceiling was substantially higher than the ceiling for black architects is today, for black architectural firms today. I mentioned that earlier. There are two statistics we need to know about black architects. One is that nationwide, there’s only 2% of all licensed architects are black. That’s been the same for 50 years. It’s stayed at 2% … is that right, Steve? It’s for 50 years, 52 years.

Roland A. Wiley:
Two percent of all licensed architects are black. That is a sobering statistic, but it speaks to the lack of nurturing, the lack of opportunities for black architects. I might go a little further, Maurice, to say that I don’t blame white society for that. Actually, I blame more black society. We don’t need white folks to hire us. If black folks would hire us, we’d be just fine. I believe that situation goes across the board.

Roland A. Wiley:
We’re at this crossroads right now. We’ve got to turn around and start helping each other. We’ve got to start reaching back. We’ve got to start trusting one another. We have to start loving one another, but that’s all connected to knowing who you are and whose you are and where you come from. That’s the spiritual aspect that I believe is continually being pushed out of our culture that is essential to our culture, and essential to us being able to come together.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, early on, when you introduced yourself, that was the first thing you said. You’re like, “I’m a man of God.” How does your faith influence your work and the projects that you take on?

Roland A. Wiley:
Well, number one, it influences me to keep getting up and coming to work, believing that the vision I have for myself, my profession, my career, will happen. It may not happen in my time, but it’s going to happen as long as I stay under this umbrella of faith, stay under this belief in God, this God-centered life where God is at the top of my life.

Roland A. Wiley:
It’s like a pyramid, where God’s at the top. My family and my community is at the base, and everything else fits inside that pyramid. As long as I stay within … I call it an integrity box … I believe that I will achieve what God has set for me. It’s a journey of obedience, it’s a journey of humility, and it’s a journey of discernment.

Maurice Cherry:
Something that’s big right now I think in LA, probably in many other urban areas, is gentrification. Something interesting you said in our earlier conversation we had was that you see gentrification as a catalyst to Afrofuturism. Can you expound on that a bit?

Roland A. Wiley:
It goes back to the point I said about a crossroads. We’re at a very critical point in our society and in our country, and I believe it’s really dependent upon all of us, especially black people, to break out of this chain we have around our brains and to express ourselves. We are getting pushed out, pushed around, oppressed, and yet you’ve got the talented tenth that they’re always going to get theirs, but then you got 90% that aren’t. This is what’s happening.

Roland A. Wiley:
I think “gentrification” isn’t a fair word … but that’s the word … because it’s a negative. There are positive things about gentrification, and Steve talked about good things can happen, but you have to have ways to ensure that we are not displaced from our communities. This right here, Leimert Park, View Park, Baldwin Hills, Windsor Hills, this is one of the last intact black communities in urban America, and we are threatened.

Roland A. Wiley:
This, we’ve seen what happened in Harlem. We’ve seen what happened in U Street. We need to understand that, and come together with our unlimited creativity and work together to make statements that help to mitigate this term called “gentrification,” so that we can have this balance. We can stay in our communities, and other demographics are welcome to come in our community, but this is our community, and we should have a culture that speaks to our community.

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s why Leimert Park is so important. It’s so important to amplify what Leimert Park is. It is the cultural capital of black Los Angeles, and I believe it will set an example to be the cultural capital of black America. There’s so much potential here in Leimert Park, and it’s a matter of catalyzing all the potential.

Roland A. Wiley:
We have this building here, owned by a black man. Now I’m getting old. I forgot. Calloway, Fred Calloway. Thank you, Damien. Across the street, Community Build is owned by a black organization. You’ve got Ben Caldwell and KAOS, black-owned. Then you’ve got the anchor of Art + Practice. They own about three buildings. Mark Bradford, the internationally-known artist, a black man.

Roland A. Wiley:
You’ve got all of these black ownerships. There’s a housing project was owned … well, he sold it, but he’s a black man, and some of those buildings on 43rd Place are owned by … black-owned. Well, Fred Calloway owns this whole block, so you’ve got this opportunity. Across the street, across the street, this parking lot should be black-owned.

Roland A. Wiley:
It’s going to go out for a developer RFP. I’m going to be the developer. I’m telling you all that right now. I’m going to be the developer for this site across the street, and it’s going to be an African American cultural and conference center that celebrates our culture, that talks about our history. From whether you want to know the Hebrew history, the African history, the Moorish history, all of the rich history that we have that we don’t celebrate, that many of us don’t even know.

Roland A. Wiley:
We don’t even know our roots before slavery, which are deep and important, that define us, but we don’t know. Once we do know, I tell you, that’s when we’re going to have our power. When we know who we are, when God reveals to us who we are and whose we are, that’s when the power’s going to happen, and that’s when you’re going to see tremendous change.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Right. Absolutely. We’ve been seeing some of your projects here, cycling behind us as we’ve been talking. When you look back at the portfolio of work that you’ve done, is there one project in particular that really stands out to you as being your signature project?

Roland A. Wiley:
Not yet.

Maurice Cherry:
Not yet?

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s easy to say. That’s one of my biggest struggles, is my body of work, and the only comfort I have is that architects don’t really reach their stride until they get in their sixties and seventies. That’s my comfort, is, as you know, the best is yet to come, and that cultural conference center across the street. I feel very good about the future, my experience and my body of work. I’ve had a lot of great projects. Destination Crenshaw was a great experience.

Roland A. Wiley:
I got to work with Nipsey Hussle. I was there the night that the name Destination Crenshaw was born. View Park Prep, the new school, the middle school. We had a community meeting, and Nipsey Hussle had agreed to be there. The whole school showed up, and then more people. There ain’t never been no kids show up at a community meeting. The whole school showed up. We had captured them, and we got some great ideas from them about what this project could be.

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s why it’s so important for us to build that bridge with our young people. They’re the ones that came up with the idea to call it #DestinationCrenshaw, because they wanted to make it a … again, I’m not a social media person, but they wanted to have it as social media, and it was born out of their vision, out of their understanding of where we are today.

Roland A. Wiley:
They had that kind of vision, that creative vision of social media, and we have that knowledge of architecture, planning, infrastructure. That’s where I think that the power is going to be, when we come together, the two generations.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s shift gears a little bit. There’s an anecdote that you told me yesterday while we were riding around about Muhammad Ali. You can share the anecdote if you want to, but as a lead-in to that, who have been some of the people that have really inspired you throughout your career?

Roland A. Wiley:
Norma Sklarek. She was one of the first people that I was just in awe of. Actually, my two business partners, Steve Lott and Steve Lewis. Steve Lott is one of the most talented men I know, and Steve Lewis is one of the nicest men that I know, and talented. Between the two, I grab something from both of them and try to be who I am.

Roland A. Wiley:
There have been men. My dad played the most, the influence in my life of being a good man and being honest. He got up, he went to work every day. He took care of his family and never failed. I got the benefit of seeing that, seeing how a man models manhood. No matter how he was discriminated against … he came from the South … even in his job, he still kept doing what he did. That inspired me to just keep getting up. There’s always going to be disappointment. There’s always going to be discrimination.

Roland A. Wiley:
Then Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali, as a young man I observed him, and I was so impressed by how you couldn’t stop him. He was so confident and so arrogant, to a point, but he believed in himself. You have to be that way in order to win, to fight that fight. Even though they took away his belt, he kept fighting. Even though they prosecuted him and tried to hold him down, he kept fighting. He sacrificed. He sacrificed his life for what he believed in. He sacrificed his livelihood for what he believed in. That’s something that’s very important to me.

Roland A. Wiley:
I think as all of us get into the business world, you have to be careful not to compromise, because your integrity is so important. As you get older and you start to maybe enjoy some success, you want to have that success with some integrity. That’s what I saw in Muhammad Ali. That’s what I saw in some of the older athletes, but particularly Muhammad Ali, and it’s just always stayed with me.

Maurice Cherry:
Do your sons want to follow in your footsteps?

Roland A. Wiley:
No. They want to follow in my footsteps in terms of being a businessman, but they see how hard I work, and they see that, “Hey, where’s the money?” The kids, they’re about getting paid. They’re about getting paid and not working hard and having fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds about right.

Roland A. Wiley:
It’s a whole nother kind of value system that the millennials and the … whatever the other generations, you call them, but it’s very digitally based, and they just work from a different paradigm. Both of my sons definitely have high ambitions and they want to do well in life, and they would be interested in working with me if I’m able to turn the corner and turn an architectural firm, a traditional architectural firm, into something that is nontraditional, that speaks to some of the community-building that I’m talking about.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. That’s interesting to hear. We have a lot of designers here in the room, of course. This is AIGA, American Institute of Graphic Arts, all that jazz. What advice would you give to designers that are looking to use their skills and their gifts for I want to say community activism? Because I feel like a lot of the work that you’re doing is putting back into the community. You’re making and creating these built spaces that not only celebrate the community, but also it gives it a place. It gives it a marker of some sort. What advice would you give for someone that wants to follow in that same fashion?

Roland A. Wiley:
The first thing I would say is believe in yourself. Whatever it is that’s in your heart that you’re passionate about, you’ve got to believe in yourself, because the world is going to try to tell you different. The world is going to try to make you conform to what they think you should be, whatever demographic you fit in. Believing in yourself is number one, and give back. You’ve got to give back. It’s so important to give back. To share your gifts is so important.

Roland A. Wiley:
I think if you do those two things, things will start happening, because when you’re giving back, things happen. Doors open, opportunities come. I mean, this opportunity, Terry Scott, because I’m in Leimert Park giving, and Terry just said, “Hey, talk to Roland,” and here I am.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, we were around here yesterday again. We were at the coffee shop, and I got to see it in action. I mean, every person out here came and shook your hand and you talked with them. I think you even talked someone down that was having a bad day and everything. It’s amazing how much you’re a part of this community and how much you give back to it. It really establishes you as being, I mean, well, one of the community, but also someone that cares about where the community goes in the future.

Roland A. Wiley:
Yeah. Well, I just think that’s important, and everybody … I can see you asked me for that advice. Everybody, everybody, has a way of giving back. Your way may not be coming to Leimert Park, dealing with homeless people and stuff like that, but everybody can give back. Everybody has a way, has a gift to share and to give back.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s been the most important lesson of your career?

Roland A. Wiley:
Man. My goodness. I think that’s very interesting. The most important part of my career I think is my constitution of integrity, because there have been some tough decisions, and I’ve made the decision based on integrity although it was extremely tempting to go the other way, and I chose integrity. Now, it certainly didn’t help my bank account, but I chose integrity, and I have peace. I think peace is the most important thing that a man or a woman can have in their life.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, all of your projects, at least from the ones that are cycling behind us and Destination Crenshaw and the others that you mentioned, they have these very long timelines, so maybe this question might not apply, but I’ll ask anyway. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025. What do you see yourself working on?

Roland A. Wiley:
I see this cultural conference center just being completed. It’s a five-year plan. We’re in the second month of that five-year plan. I see two years spent getting financing and getting the right financial proforma funders, partners, all of that lined up, and then a three-year construction project. Our offices are downtown. My lease expires in five years. I plan on having my office on the top floor … it’s going to be a five-story structure … of this cultural conference center.

Roland A. Wiley:
I plan on using that as an example to encourage communities across the country on how to pool their resources together, and not trust or depend on government or any charitable venues, but to be self-supporting and have a level of self-determination. My wife doesn’t like that, that term “self-determination,” but the fact of putting it all together with your own resources.

Roland A. Wiley:
I use Booker T. Washington as an example. Back in the day, there was this clash, if you will. They like to divide us. Back then it was Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Then it was Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Booker T. Washington started the first architectural school at Tuskegee, and his whole curriculum was designing, construction, maintaining, building, making the bricks, understanding the whole cycle of building construction. That’s when an architect was a master builder. That was the first black architectural school.

Roland A. Wiley:
The second school was Howard University, and Howard University, one of the leaders was W.E.B. Du Bois. Howard University needed federal funding to fund the school, so they had to act like the traditional white architect, who is don’t roll up your sleeves, white shirt. Don’t get your hands dirty, just design. Unfortunately, that school of thought became prevalent in all of the black schools of architecture. We melded in with the traditional white male elitist form of practicing, and that’s not who we are. Emulating. We wanted to so much be like them, and so here we are, 2%.

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s what we want to do with this cultural conference center, is build it, manage it, maintain it. There’ll be a catering kitchen. Partner with LA Trade Tech. Build jobs. Have people having a sense of ownership to this project, and offer public shares. The community can buy shares into it, because it’s not a charity. It’s a profit. There’s revenue streams.

Roland A. Wiley:
We want to make something that people can feel they own, people can feel that they’re getting paid, and it’s being a source of jobs. We just didn’t get that. Architecture school just teaches you how to build pretty buildings. Then on top of that, only 10% get to do that.

Roland A. Wiley:
And then on top of that, only 10% get to do that. I think the whole education, architecture education process particularly for black architects needs to change.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you think black architects can design like white architects?

Roland A. Wiley:
We try and you see where that’s getting us.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you mean by that?

Roland A. Wiley:
Well, okay, look around. Somebody point out a building that was designed by a black architect and that’s probably a nice building. My point is there ain’t a whole lot. And if you look around the city scape today, you drive up and down Crenshaw, all these new buildings going up. I’m a be safe to say one of them was designed by a black architect. I don’t know if it was, but I’ll just be safe. I would say none. Now that’s a horrible statement. But we’re trying so hard to be like them and sometimes I think they just laughing at us because we’re not moving forward.

Roland A. Wiley:
We’ve got to come together and understand it’s about us.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Roland A. Wiley:
And we don’t need them, it’s everybody else is all good. But we need to start supporting us. We need to start loving us. But then it goes right back to we don’t know who we are and that’s what this cultural conference center, the concept of it is to teach us who we are. This is a place of learning. We are broken people. We have 400 years of slavery, oppression, affliction. We’re traumatized and we’re sitting around here not recognizing it. The end result is where we are. And so to understand that and it’s biblically based. If you read the Bible and not look at it as a myth, but look at it as a history book and don’t allow society to marginalize it because the moral trends of society today think the Bible is old fashioned and you should just do what you want to do.

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s very dangerous because the Bible is our history and that’s a paradigm that many of us don’t know. It’s not just Jesus was black, it’s all of them was black in the Bible. If you go back to biblical times and look at what did people look like-

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Roland A. Wiley:
… thousands of years ago in Israel, in Persia, in Syria, they look like us. When you read the Bible, you reading about people that look like us. We don’t recognize that. If we knew that, that’s where the power is and that’s why I have peace. My wife, she’s much more aggressive about it. I don’t have time, the people I started talking about it, eyes started glazing over. I like, “God’s might have to touch you because I am going to drop the seed and I’m moving on. I got to get paid. I got work to do.” I know that’s selfish. I’m sorry.

Maurice Cherry:
No.

Roland A. Wiley:
I’ll do better, my wife’s going to make me do better.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, bro this has been a great conversation. Again, I want to thank you for just sharing about your work and about your life. Where can people find out more about you and about your projects and what you’re doing?

Roland A. Wiley:
Www.rawinternational.com. It’s a very outdated website that needs help. I’m happy to get your coWww.rawinternational.com.mments. We have the Leimert Park Village, Terry, www.leimertparkvillage.org , we’ll talk about the cultural conference center. But that’s one of the things, my goal is to get better with social media and understand the digital age a lot more, I need to do better with that.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean I think certainly with this work that you’re doing that’s making these big public spaces and everything, the word will get out there. So being ahead of it will help a lot I think.

Roland A. Wiley:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well I mean that’s the conversation I want to thank you Roland so much for coming on the show for sharing your story. When you were introduced as an urban visionary, I really saw it yesterday when we rode around for people that are listening. We rode around LA and you showed me View Park and I think it was the view coming down towards St. Bernadette’s Church, I believe-

Roland A. Wiley:
The Catholic school on Stock, not Don Philippe, Don Philippe, and I forgot the cross street-

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve never seen a view like that. And when I think of the term urban visionary, it makes me think for you that you probably see so many spaces, you see the possibility. You can look at the empty lot and see what can come up there. You can look at maybe the blighted building and see what it should be. And I feel more of that is what’s needed as we progressed into the future. Because certainly, LA is a big city, LA is a overpopulated city and so there’s going to be a need to have more spaces that are not just for us, but also to help make sure that we have an equitable future. And I think it’s really great that you’re one of the Vanguards of helping to make that happen. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Roland A. Wiley:
Well thank you Maurice. And I do want to also congratulate you on your achievement with the Smithsonian and I know your mom is very proud of you.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so where’s my, I think we have-

May de Castro:
Time for Q and A, if anybody has any questions, if you can just come up here please.

Speaker 2:
Two things real quick. One, just to clarify a point of correction about Norma. She was the first black licensed female architect in California. The other thing is the constant return to how we have been victims of miseducation or under education. How important do you feel inculcating our true histories authentically told by us today into curriculum would be in freeing, just providing that knowledge that you feel is essential for particularly our young people to go beyond where they’ve been able to go so far?

Roland A. Wiley:
Well, I have a simple theory about imagery, and television, and education. It’s all about inspiring people. And I think the majority demographics get inspired all day long, reading history about their history and their achievements and they’re just all good. But it’s rare that we, and particularly in architecture, read about our success, our journey, our knowledge. So I think just by showing and illustrating those kinds of success stories, even something about Norma, something about Paul Williams, that’s in our curriculum, that it starts to, young people will just be automatically have that kind of impression that, “Oh, okay, somebody like me is doing it. I want, I know I could do that.” So that’s where I see that need in education.

Speaker 3:
First, I’m going to give you props in your shoes with some sick shoes.

Maurice Cherry:
They are some nice shoes.

Roland A. Wiley:
My son gave them to me for Christmas, I was like, “These are bad.”

Speaker 3:
He has good taste. You mentioned earlier about how building will speak different things to you and [inaudible 00:57:31] project would take years and years. How do you maintain keeping your vision along with not getting lost with politics or things like that on during a project?

Roland A. Wiley:
One of the things that keeps me motivated on these long projects is to have in the queue more projects. Crenshaw is opening this year, hopefully. We’re working on the West Side extension, which is a subway to the C under Wilshire Boulevard, that’s not going to open for another six years, but see that’s in the queue and you think the Crenshaw project is going to be transformative, watch this Wilshire project. The Wilshire Corridor is going to just explode. You’re going to see high rises. It’s going to be like New York. Now it may take 10, 20 years, but you look 20 years from now, the Wilshire Corridor between say LaBrea and Beverly Hills, it’s going to look like New York. It is going to look like New York. And so those are the kinds of things that keep me motivated. We’re also doing the planning for the Crenshaw North project, which means it’s going, the Crenshaw line will extend from Exposition all the way up into Hollywood. That’s going to be transformative. So to have the opportunity to be a vision and all of this transformation, that just gives me, 10 years goes by and it just keeps going.

Alison:
Thank you so much for being here. When I first went to school, I went to Columbia in Chicago and I was going for interior architecture and I didn’t see anybody who looked like me. So I wound up being a project manager for eight years. So I was burned out and pushed out by the ivory tower of it all. And now that I’m doing my own thing, how do you see people like me who are not necessarily of this neighborhood but are of this people I want to be able to give back, but how do we stop thinking that blackness is this one monolith because I don’t fit in, or I don’t look like you, or I don’t have your experience for us to be able to come together and be accepted into these neighborhoods which maybe we haven’t been from originally but are a part of because of our culture.

Roland A. Wiley:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). The first, I’m sorry, what is your name?

Alison:
Alison.

Roland A. Wiley:
Alison. One thing I would recommend is to be active in organizations, cultural organizations, professional organizations and I stress the word active.NOMA, the National Organization of Minority Architects, every year we have a project pipeline, it’s a summer camp to introduce young kids to architecture. To just be involved in that and then it’s just doors start to open, you start to meet people, you start to network. Leimert Park has, we love Leimert Park, and that’s young people like you that are promoting Leimert Park. You have to search, but once you get in, then you start to see this network, but that’s what I would really, really encourage you to do. Even if you just start with NOMA, that it just branches from there. LA has a tremendous network of black folks who are actively trying to make a difference in a positive boy.

Speaker 4:
Okay.

Roland A. Wiley:
Here’s Shaw.

Speaker 4:
Here is the next question. Based on all of your years of studying architecture, what life philosophies, understandings about life, about people have you gained over time? What have you created? What else ideas do you share with people based on the ideas of architecture?

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s deep. Number one, philosophy. Number one, you never give up. You never give up. Number two, I see the humanity of everybody. I see the human person first and I think that’s important, whether white, black, brown, yellow, whatever. I look for the humanity in a person. I’m from, I think it’s a Midwestern thing where you give people the benefit of the doubt. Just because you’re white, I’m not thinking, “Oh, you’re a bad person,” or anything like that. I look at their eyes, I feel their spirit and then I listen. So I think that’s, and it gives me a sense of confidence in any place that I go, that I look for the humanity in a person and then I go from there. It’s really simple. I don’t have a complex set of rules or, I really base my life on biblical principle. I follow my passion. There’s something in everybody that you know, you know, that’s what you want to do and it doesn’t matter that well maybe it’s not going to make a lot of money or maybe everybody else isn’t doing it. If that’s what you want to do, if that’s where your passion is driving you, you should continue to pursue it.

Speaker 5:
How you doing Roland? Thank you so much for you both doing this and for the center for doing this. I have two questions. One is short, one requires detail. The first one, what pushback, if any, have you experienced when it comes to using more sustainable materials? And things like containers, shipping containers or recycled materials when it comes to actually contributing to that structure. Because I know there is pushback. And then the second part of the question is what push back have you experienced when it comes to making our cities look futuristic? You know what I’m talking about? So can you speak to that for a little bit?

Roland A. Wiley:
Yeah. The first question, sustainable materials, two things, cost and logistics. Costs is simple but with sustainable materials, there’s a brother here today, Richard Tim, and he has a system of glass. It’s not solar panels, but this glass can transform into electric energy. And so I was immediately intrigued and interested however my question is cost. And so he gave me the answer that it can pay for itself and plus tax incentives. And then the second question is logistics. Logistics from an architectural perspective is UL rating, ICBO number, research report number, has it been used before? What are some of the drawbacks that you don’t know about yet? So those are the two major push backs, if you will. It takes innovation and courage to take that step. I definitely want to follow up with Tim, number one, because he’s a brother and I… Anyway, I can help a brother who’s, and that’s another thing. If you see a brother or sister is about something positive, y’all got to open up a door.

Maurice Cherry:
Amen to that. Absolutely.

Roland A. Wiley:
That’s just what we should be doing. Now, the second question, repeat that second question again.

Speaker 5:
I feel like our cities are not looking how they should look in a 2020 vision, right? Promised flying cars in year 2000 right? We have those, but they’re not readily available.

Roland A. Wiley:
Okay. So great.You laugh about flying cars, but I’m, I’m going to go back to what I’ve been talking about since 1989 and that’s autonomous vehicles.

Speaker 5:
There it is.

Roland A. Wiley:
These autonomous vehicle technology has been in place since 1989. You know why we don’t see it yet besides people being scared, but that’s not the reason.

Speaker 5:
It’s money.

Roland A. Wiley:
Insurance companies can’t get paid, auto mechanics, can’t get paid, taxi drivers can’t get paid. All these people, drivers unions don’t get paid. All these people to stand in line, not to get paid are blocking. And that’s what happens with technology. Now when a crisis happens, then people start getting out of the way. But right now that kind of technology, futuristic technology is here, it’s just there are competing interests that stand, they ain’t going to get paid. So what I’m figuring is they’re making deals with the insurance companies now, they’re making deals with the truck drivers union so they can share and somehow these can move forward.

Michael:
Well thank you for doing this tonight, man. It’s always a pleasure to listen to you and you sharing your passion and your knowledge is really important. I had a question that goes to something where your notion of your community center and the fact that you’ve talked about having it be a sustainable operation. What do you think? And you can look forward maybe another 10 years, what do you think is going to happen in terms of ownership in the broader community here? Because you see it changing right now and how does this community look like it does today if you don’t own it?

Roland A. Wiley:
Well, the truth is Michael, that this place is going to look different 10 years from now. But that doesn’t mean that our culture should not be the predominant culture. I’m a true believer in an open society and I am very, very pro-black, but that doesn’t mean I’m anti anything. I’m just unapologetically black. I think that if we continue to promote our culture and we continue to ensure that projects like Destination Crenshaw are implemented, projects like that Cultural Conference Center are implemented, that we patronize our black businesses to sustain them. I think ]that we’re going to be fine. I just think it’s going to be different. But to me that’s a good thing.

Alison:
So I guess to follow up with that question of what does the future look like, sustainable materials, how do we get young black people to understand urban planning, and transit, and things like community land trusts? How do we get us to get together to understand all of these things and to understand parking is a huge issue when we’re talking about housing for the one-to-one? For every unit that needs to be built, there needs to be a parking space for it. How do we do that? How do we put that education into our landscape?

Roland A. Wiley:
Community activism is very important. You talked about [inaudible 01:07:54] community land trust. The owner of this space, Mr. Damian Goodman is one of the largest voices about community land trust and advocating for our community. We have to rally around leaders who are willing to be a voice. And I think one thing that we have to know that there’s power in numbers. Our electeds, they pay attention when they see numbers. If they just see Damien’s voice, that’s Damien, but if they see Damien and 2000 other people, then they’re going to start listening. I think it’s very important that we do rally around folks like Damien who have a vision, who have a true heart to improve our communities, and we be a voice. We sign the petitions, we make the phone calls, we show up at the meetings and this is just community 101. You go to any other community in it, I can promise you that’s what’s going on and it’s just that we need to adopt that culture. Again, that comes to that whole realization or that revelation if you will, of who we are.

May de Castro:
We’re going to wrap it up on, on behalf of AIG LA, I want to thank you all for being here tonight and to our wonderful, amazing guests, Maurice Cherry and Roland A. Wiley. Another round of applause please.

Roland A. Wiley:
All right, Maurice, can I do a shout out?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, go ahead.

Roland A. Wiley:
All right, I get to shout out! Shout out to my folks in Indianapolis. My mom, my sister, my cousins, my boys, Greg and Tommy. Shout out to my folks at RAW International. Shout out to my two sons. Shout out to Steve Lewis who’s right here and last but certainly not least, shout out to my lovely wife Andy.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you everybody for coming out.


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Jailyn Easley

For Jailyn Easley, combining design and technology with her work is like second nature. As a member of Accenture’s experience design team, Jailyn uses her phenomenal design skills with cutting edge tech like machine learning and mixed reality to create next-level work. But her journey as a designer doesn’t stop there!

We began our conversation talking about Jailyn’s brand design work with the popular Atlanta restaurant Slutty Vegan, and she shared how growing up in Baltimore and working with and being taught by luminary Black designers Leon Lawrence III and Jennifer White-Johnson helped hone her design skills and put her on a path to continuing her studies in Atlanta. We also spoke on Atlanta’s growing status as a creative hub, and she shed some light on her latest project titled 100 Days of Design. You’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for Jailyn — her star is on the rise!

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Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Jailyn Easley:
My name is Jailyn Easley and I am a Baltimore race creative now currently living and working here in Atlanta. I specialize in design strategy and interactive designs, so I like to do a lot of things that are dealing with just different design trends and things that are going on currently as well as emerging technologies that some people may have heard of such as MR, Mixed Reality or VR, certain things like that. And I like combining the two worlds to see the different possibilities or opportunities that we’re able to reach.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. And now you just recently started at Accenture, is that right?

Jailyn Easley:
Yes, back in October, yep.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What’s an average day like for you there?

Maurice Cherry:
So at Accenture I work in our innovation hub, which is the largest office in the Southeast region. I currently do experience design, so I help support our internal teams and whenever we have different clients that come in that want some sort of consulting workup done, we help support those pods that do mainly more of the strategy and business side of things. So they’re the ones helping close the deals and everything while we’re on the back end doing all the visual assets.

Maurice Cherry:
If a different client comes in, then we would make all types of assets, everything from digital signage to say welcome to that company name badges. We would do PowerPoint decks and we kind of come up with the theme around what the visual looks like for when that company comes in to do that workshop. So it’s a pretty interesting time. I get to learn a lot of different technologies and softwares and things like that. For example, I’m working in [inaudible 00:04:45] right now, which is kind of interesting because I never thought I would be actually doing real motion design stuff. So it’s pretty … It definitely pushes the limits when it comes to combining technology and design.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. It sounds like it’s pretty fun so far.

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah, it’s awesome. I love Accenture. There’s so much to offer there.

Maurice Cherry:
I would imagine working in some place called like the innovation hub, that sounds very next level futuristic kind of stuff.

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah, we definitely, there’s so many things that Accenture is working on in house and just their dealings with other companies and things like that. We get a chance to put our hands in every little pot. So for example, we have a 360 camera that we’re testing out right now to see how we can use it within some of the workshops and helping to get that innovation piece, I guess, to the clients or communicated well to the clients so that they can see that part of Accenture as well.

Maurice Cherry:
What drew you to working for Accenture?

Jailyn Easley:
I think just the way that their company is progressing. They’re definitely not a brand new company, but a lot of the things that they’re doing in the market, they’re definitely dominating and being able to push the limits when it comes to thinking outside the box honestly. Because so many different problems to solve that we’ve done on the job and it’s just like whatever the client comes in for, we always find a really interesting way to problem solve around it. Honestly, coming out of SCAD, something that I wanted to do was being able to combine strategy and design. I liked the concept thing around designing and coming up with the theme and the abstract for it and everything like that. So I really was kind of drawn to that strategy and that consulting so to speak side of Accenture, so that’s definitely something that drew me forward to them.

Maurice Cherry:
And now for those that are listening and may not know specifically what experience design is or why you would combine strategy, which is something that’s probably more left brain cerebral with design, which is more right brain and creative, can you talk a little bit about that?

Jailyn Easley:
Accenture has a few different necks when it comes to their overall brand. So they have an Accenture strategy, they have an Accenture interactive, but I think the interesting part about that is that they co-create in one space. So definitely the importance to that, we’re being able to come up with different and innovative new looks on something that could have been easily solved with one, two, three. A lot of times that strategy involves using some sort of new technology, whether it’s a software or whether it’s an actual physical item. We use these things on a day to day basis, like artificial intelligence for example. We use it when we unlock our iPhones during the day or when we’re logging into our computers, but it’s never seen to solve a problem but more so just be a whistle and bell.

Jailyn Easley:
I guess just trying to incorporate that into day to day life is going to start to make it easier for, I guess for all users. An experienced design is something that some people might see as when they think of experience design, they think of user experience which in a lot of cases is UX and UI so to speak in industry term, that’s doing a lot of wire framing and looking at apps and the development or more so the design of the development. So you’re doing a lot of sketching, you’re doing a lot of prototyping and things of that nature. But in this sense, experience design is being able to create an experience for ideation for co-creation to happen. Because that’s ultimately what’s going to help take our clients to the next level is being able to co-create one room and come up with a solid solution that has to deal with pushing the limits as well as sticking to what the company’s core values are.

Maurice Cherry:
Now before Accenture you were doing art direction and doing brand design for a very popular local restaurant here in Atlanta. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah, so before I came to Accenture I was working with Slutty Vegan. A lot of people know them as like the hot vegan burger joint and it’s definitely quite the experience having worked with such an amazing team like that. Back in I guess November of 2018 their team had a social media challenge which was package designing. Of course people knowing that I’m a foodie and I had been telling people, “Hey you guys should eat at Slutty Vegan. The line is super long but you guys should eat there,” to people sending me these different or the post from the package design challenge. So I ultimately ended up entering and I was like, “Okay, There’s some other designs out there and it should be interesting to see if I even make it to the next round.”

Jailyn Easley:
But then a few days later I get a notification that, “Hey, you made it to the top 10,” so of course people are voting on line. And I’m every day searching through the comments and even Jermaine Dupri voted on mine, which was kind of crazy and ultimately ended up winning the design challenge in which they paid me for the design. But then they also made me their personal freelancer. So all of their design needs were I guess driven towards me. And then with that, them having posted me on their social media, I also got all of these different freelance clients and I mean I was working on like 10 clients a month at one point and it was just crazy. So then once I was like, “Okay, freelancing was nice and everything,” but I think I was ready to make that full time commitment with Slutty Vegan as they were with me.

Jailyn Easley:
So probably around May of 2019 they hired me on full time and so I was able to create so many different types of designs for them. Everything from the bags in their restaurants to the fry cups. They just came out with the new Slut Sauce in stores near you soon and a few different other items that have reached a lot of people ultimately. And something that was also interesting, Pinky originally told me, she said, “I want you to put your name on the design.”

Jailyn Easley:
I was like, “Wait, you want me to put my actual name on the back?” Like, “Yes. Put it on there.” So I ended up putting it on there. She uses these bags every day now. So I have different people following me and out to me every day just because of something that I did almost or I guess almost like a year and a half ago now. It’s definitely been a great experience and I still work with them to this day, just on a freelance base. But definitely something that I recommend for any designer that wants to push their limits. Working with local businesses is a great idea.

Speaker 2:
Wow, that’s a pretty awesome story.

Jailyn Easley:
Thank you.

Speaker 2:
I mean you want a design contest, ended up working with them and they even, of course, I mean trust your work enough to want to work with you, but then to also say put your name on design. Like you never hear companies try to put that much investment into their design in that way or to their designers. That’s really good.

Jailyn Easley:
Exactly. And you know, the really cool thing about Pinky was that anybody that she hired on, she had known already that they were I guess contractors so to speak, so they still had their own businesses but Slutty Vegan was one of their clients. So she always put it as, “This is going to be that company that helps you step forward into whatever you’re looking to do.” So I definitely thank her for supporting my designs and being able to … I mean like I said I branded so many different things that, some that I can’t mention because they haven’t rolled out yet, but others that reached so many people, it was definitely a really good opportunity.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I have yet to make it to Slutty Vegan. I keep hearing about the lines and that puts me off because I don’t want to go and have to wait an hour in line. I don’t even know if there’s a good time to go. I’m assuming it’s still super popular where people are waiting in those long lines. Right?

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah. I mean literally you’re with everybody else in Atlanta. They’re like, “I would love to go to Slutty Vegan, but the lines are always terrible.” Okay. So here’s a cheat. So I would say go on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon are usually the best time. So that 4:00 to 7:00 period because there’s usually no line there.

Maurice Cherry:
Good to know. Good to know. I’m going to have to edit that out but no. So at the top of the show you mentioned being from Baltimore. Tell me about growing up there.

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah, so I am born and raised Baltimore. Family is from there. Went to an all girls high school, the oldest all girls public high school in the nation, Western High, as did all of the women in my family. So it was a traditional thing. So my high school was originally where I started doing design and I had taken a few AP art courses, which were pretty much just graphic arts instead of visual arts. So there I started playing in Photoshop and seeing what the different effects would do and I was able to get a few portfolio pieces out of that to insert when I went to Bowie State. So from high school, Baltimore was a really interesting place to grow up because when you’re younger you never really reach out. As an adult you might go to D.C. from Baltimore just because it’s an hour away but you’re never in D.C. unless it’s a field trip or something like that. So it was pretty interesting being so close to another really popular city but never really interacting with them I guess.

Jailyn Easley:
And so I went to university, I went to undergrad at Bowie State University, an HBCU out in Laurel, Maryland. And so there, I actually met one of my design mentors and one of your previous interviewees, Jennifer White Johnson. She was my professor at Bowie. So she was really influential in my life and still is. She is an amazing visual artist. She is definitely a master of all tricks. I mean every time I see something different on her Instagram, I’m like, “Oh my goodness, you’re doing this now.” She’s amazing. And she definitely helped me get through those college years of designing and just being able to articulate yourself as a designer of color and getting out what you’re really wanting to express. So that was pretty interesting. And she also definitely pushed me to go to SCAD during my, I guess senior year towards the end of Bowie. So she encouraged that move and when I moved down to Atlanta, I definitely kept in touch with her as well. Just sending her stuff and keeping up on what she was doing definitely inspired me to keep going as a creative. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So talk to me a little bit about just what it was like in that sort of Bowie State learning environment. You’re right, we did have Jennifer, she was on the show I think two or three months ago, a few months ago. But I’m curious because I’ve heard a lot about Bowie State and I’ve certainly heard a lot about the program through Jennifer, through other teachers that are there. From your perspective as a student, what was it like?

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah, so originally I honestly did not want to go to Bowie. I didn’t want to be in the state of Maryland. But you know when you have tuition and stuff it kind of limits you. So I ended up going to Bowie. A friend of my dad’s, which was another one of my professors, he showed us during my last year of high school, showed us around that building, which is the VCBMA, Visual Communications and Digital Media Arts building. So they had everything from theater to design and they had all these nice computer labs and it just set the tone for me to say, “Okay, if I really wanted to be in an environment where I’m able to flourish and also work amongst other designers that are my age and also that look like me then this would be where I would want to do it.”

Jailyn Easley:
So especially at an HBCU, I knew that that was something that I wanted to do straight out of high school was that I wanted to be around my people. So I went to Bowie and my years there were pretty awesome just with my … I guess there I was Campus Activities [inaudible 00:18:14] Vice President there and I was on a lot of the initiatives under VCBMA, so different art clubs and things like that. And also, I would work to get sent to different conferences. So throughout my time at Bowie, I think they helped me go to two different conferences. One was HBCU South by Southwest, which is [inaudible 00:18:37] by a startup called Opportunity Hub that’s local here to Atlanta actually. Also a computer graphics conference called SIGGRAPH, which is over in LA. And they have it in a few different other places.

Jailyn Easley:
So it opened the door for me to say, “Whatever you want to do, you have that ability to do it, so why wait?” Something that I was passionate about, this was something that had allies in I guess. Because sometimes when you don’t have friends that do the same things that you do or they don’t really understand your thought process and lot of things, then you get a little discouraged or unmotivated in some ways. So good to have a support system around me that cared about my growth and I also cared about theirs. And I’ll say that also about the professors. Many of them were supportive and one of them helped me get my first internship with another one of your interviewees, Leon Lawrence. I actually worked with him. That was my first design internship during my senior year. I commuted back and forth for a whole semester from Bowie to D.C. every two days or so. And I went to go work at NACo, the National Association of Counties, over in D.C. near the Hill. So that also was another step-

Jailyn Easley:
[inaudible 00:20:00] that also was another step in my education, I guess, that kind of opened my eyes to say, “Okay, there’s not just design for aesthetic or design for whatever. There’s designed for political things too.” That was something that I hadn’t even thought about. It was really interesting the way that he kind of ran his team as well. It got me exposed to a lot of different types of methodologies and just ways of doing certain things. Also, I ended up learning some different softwares there as well. But overall, being in college at Bowie you have the HBCU life mixed with the design life mixed with just being a part of the campus, so to speak.

Jailyn Easley:
Again, I was Campus Activities Vice President, so we kind of helped throw homecoming and spring fling and all those different events. I guess on top of that, I also helped design for those things too. I was designing all of the homecoming posters and all of the posters for different activities going on at school and any events and stuff like that. So that also kind of gave me the experience that I needed when I started venturing out to do more freelance work. So it was like, “Okay, I have something to build off of now.” It was definitely a really huge experience from me there.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Shout out to Bowie state and there. One, I’ve heard a lot about how great the program is, but hearing you talk about it from the student end to see just how encompassing it was, not just to you as a designer, but also to you as a black person because you’re also working in these design environments with other black people. So you’re able to see kind of, “Oh, this is what the possibility can be for someone who looks like me.” You know what I mean?

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. When you first got down here to Atlanta, what was your first design job? I feel like there’s a story there.

Jailyn Easley:
I signed up with a recruiting agency, which was the Creative Group and usually they have different clients and they’ll place you at these different places if fit the criteria or whatever have you. So I ended up interviewing with them. They didn’t have anything at the time, but I was interested in just being able to help, I guess other creatives get different design jobs and just being able to help also other creatives of color get design jobs because I felt like that was something that I had had a little bit of experience in on the design in, as well as on the the mentoring end, so to speak. So I ended up getting that job, which was just being a recruiter for different companies and things like that. So if, let’s say if Home Depot needed a website designer, we would help find them and place them there. That was really my first introduction to the business of design, so to speak.

Jailyn Easley:
I got to learn a lot about what design agencies function like on the internal scale. So being able to know what a creative director was, what an art director was, what they did, what kind of projects they worked on, and more so for me, help me progress, what are they looking for in resumes? What’s the price point for those? How do I get the most out of what I’m doing now? So that kind of helped me or so to speak, pushed me to be able to start to venture out to these different companies and say, “Hey, I want to start applying for certain places so that I feel like I have kind of a wealth of knowledge to be able to compare.” I wanted to start to apply for jobs at that point.

Jailyn Easley:
I think my first job here as a designer was more so freelance. So I was doing a lot of freelance for clients around the area because Atlanta is a really big place for entrepreneurs and everybody owns their own business here. Everybody has a store. They have social media presence, so everyone needs a logo done or some branding or some packaging for a new product they’re coming out with. A lot of my time was dedicated to helping other people kind of progress the branding of their business and sitting down with them and kind of looking over exactly what they needed to help, I guess progress with whatever visual assets they were trying to produce. Whether that be an apparel line or a candle line or a music label, whatever have you.

Jailyn Easley:
Then my, I guess Slutty Vegan was technically black my in-between job because it was still a startup environment, but I didn’t really have a design team there to support me and kind of balance with me. So I guess Accenture was my first real design job, so to speak, where I have some say in the creative decisions where I’m able to kind of produce what I want and have voice, so I can help support these different workshops and helping to gain the clients and things like that. Yeah, [inaudible 00:25:28] was definitely, I guess my first real industry job, so to speak.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really good that when you started out here, it was in a capacity where you could really kind of see what companies were looking for in terms of hiring because… So I’ve been here now in Atlanta for 20 years now and I’ll tell people, like designers that want to come here or designers that are interested, I’m like, “Atlanta is great for freelancers, but it’s terrible if you’re looking for work,” because like you said, there are so many people that are doing something. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken an Uber or Lyft somewhere and I happened to mention I’m a designer. All of a sudden, “Oh, let me get your card because I’m looking for somebody. I need a logo for this.” If I was still freelancing, I could be getting work left and right, but then I’ll have people that will contact me. They’re like, “Oh, I’m moving from New York or San Francisco and I want to know what product design jobs are down here.” And I’m like, “I don’t know.”

Maurice Cherry:
Also, the Atlanta, and I feel like maybe this is starting to change, but I still feel like the Atlanta business landscape doesn’t really respect designers, at least not in the same way as say New York or Silicon Valley when as it relates to kind of the competitiveness and the types of jobs and the amount of jobs that are available. Atlanta still feels like it’s a little behind in that respect. I’m curious when you were doing the recruiting, what is it that companies are looking for outside of what’s on the resume?

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah. Atlanta, like you kind of said, it’s definitely a pretty big, I guess business park so to speak. I say that in the way of there are a lot of companies starting to move here on Georgia grounds just to get a little bit of the tech scene here because outside of Silicon Valley, Atlanta is definitely starting to be a hub of innovation that’s growing. There’s so many different startups and other technologies here that companies are wanting to move here. So these companies are primarily looking for… A lot of them like… Okay, and I’ll say this too. There are certain companies that like people that are fresh out, people that are going to schools like General Assembly, which you could do UX and UI and graphic design, that some people that are coming out of Georgia State or local colleges like SCAD too. But then there are some companies that want people that are seasoned professionals, so they want the people that have maybe freelanced for Cartoon Network and ESPN and all these other places because they understand and they can kind of bring something to the table.

Jailyn Easley:
So I’ll say a place like the Home Depot, they have a huge hub here in Atlanta, but they definitely like to hire on a lot of the new talent because that’s what kind of keeps their designs fresh and that’s what kind of keeps their, I guess everything moving for them is they’re getting those people that are fresh out and they know the industry, they know what trends are going on. So they like that. It definitely just depends on your tenure and where you want to go. But in addition, they’re looking for people with obviously, their own full websites that are interactive, that look really good. They’re looking for people whose resumes are super on point as far as layout and simplicity goes, a really big trend, and this is nothing new to you or anyone in the industry is minimalism.

Jailyn Easley:
So everyone likes to see something clean because honestly, maybe half the time, when the people that are hiring these designers aren’t designers themselves. The person that hired me at Accenture isn’t a designer in any way, shape or form. So it’s pretty interesting. You would be surprised to know that a lot of these companies are having a design manager who may not have anything hands-on to do with the design that’s hiring this person; definitely just to keep the perspective fresh in terms of what you’re putting out their stuff. Those are just a few things, but if you go to any of these recruiting agencies, they’ll kind of tell you what the client is looking for in that particular instance just so you’re getting the best out of that situation.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. I had the roughest time with design back when I was really looking before I started… Well, not really before I started my studio, even when I was winding my studio down, it was tough. I remember going to one, and I’ll name names because I don’t care, but I went to not the Creative Circus, I think it’s the Creative Circle or something. They all have, “creative,” in their name in some [crosstalk 00:30:21] or whatever. But this was like the Creative Circle and I remember going and I had my resume and I had shown that I had my own studio here called, “Lunch.” This was at the time, I think we had just passed the eight year mark and I was like, “Yeah, I’ve done my own studio work for eight years. But then before that, I worked at Web MD, AT&T and whatever.”

Maurice Cherry:
I remember the recruiter looking at my resume and she’s like, “Uh-huh (affirmative),” and then she put like a big X over my freelance experience on my resume and said, “So it looks like you stopped working in 2008. What’s that about?” And I’m like, “Wait, what? Do you not see the 2008 to 2017 part here where I clearly have been working and I’ve won awards and here are the awards and everything?” She’s like, “Yeah, none of that really matters. We’re looking for people to have actual employment experience because we have to be able to check references and make sure that you’ve actually done the work and not just sat at home and said that you’ve done the work.” And I was like, “Well damn, okay. That’s rough,” but the reason I’m asking that is because I know like we said, there’s a lot of people here that do freelance work I’m basing it off my experience, I can’t really talk to others, but it seems like that freelance experience often doesn’t count sometimes.

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah. Sometimes in some instances it doesn’t for when you’re trying to get into those Fortune 500 companies. They want to see what, “real work,” you’ve done so to speak, and I say that quote unquote because they can see the you did this and that for this football team or the NFL. They want to see these big, large names that kind of strike some sort of excitement within them because if you’re doing anything on a smaller scale, they call it mom and pop shop stuff. So it all depends on the job that they’re looking for.

Jailyn Easley:
But I’ll say when I was working with the Creative Group, we looked for all levels of people, people that were still in school and there was some people who were like, okay, we really wanted them for a particular job, but they were still in school and they didn’t have any real work experience. But then there were some people with 15 years plus work experience that we were like, “Okay, this person looks good because they’ve had this experience with A, B and C.” Definitely just depends on the scenario there, but I would say choose wisely and don’t put all your eggs in one basket because like you, I obviously didn’t have that well of luck with recruiting agencies because I ended up working for one.

Maurice Cherry:
That makes sense. I feel like the Atlanta ecosystem is very unique in that we have these top art schools like SCAD and Art Institute.q We have even really great programs at four year institutions like Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory, et cetera, but then we’ve also got all these HBCUs here. So you have this really interesting mix of talent from a lot of different points of view, a lot of different backgrounds, all different types of experience. It just seems like the Atlanta market has not necessarily found the best way to really tap into that. I still get conversations from people like, “Oh, we can’t find diverse candidates for our hiring pool.” In Atlanta? You mean to tell me in Atlanta, you can’t find a black designer? I refuse to believe that, but whatever.

Jailyn Easley:
I was going to say something that, going back to Accenture, that I really admire about them is they not only promote diversity and inclusion, but they are one of those companies that shows it. I always kind of joke with one of my other senior managers and she’s like, “This is as many black people as you’re going to see in one environment at one time, so definitely soak this up.” I’m like, wow. It’s a huge mixing pot when it comes to so many different backgrounds and where people are from. I’ve met people from all different places all over because it [inaudible 00:34:37] all these different offices. It’s something that I’m happy to be a part of and I’m glad that they’re actually promoting that when they’re recruiting from these different universities and stuff like that.

Maurice Cherry:
At your current stage right now, you first of all, congratulations. You recently graduated from SCAD, so congratulations on that.

Jailyn Easley:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Between that and the work that you’re doing at Accenture, how do you see the current design scene or the current design community in Atlanta?

Jailyn Easley:
I would say that the creative community here in Atlanta is diverse, not only in capabilities. There’s so many different types of design and creative, so to speak here; everything from set design to creative direction to brand design, but also, actually in I guess, physical appearance there are different types. I knew that going to SCAD it wasn’t going to be an HBCU or a PWI necessarily, but I was interested to see what that experience would be like. Surprisingly when I got there, we were probably still the minority, but there were a lot of different kinds of people there. There were Nigerians, there were Asian people, there were people from Columbia and Brazil and it was just a huge opportunity to be able to gain those different perspectives and just about what other people are thinking about and what other people are doing in their design. I still have really good design friends that are from all different backgrounds that kind of offer their own I guess, pizzazz, so to speak, to design. They definitely are able to articulate themselves in a whole different way than maybe you or me do.

Jailyn Easley:
It’s really interesting to see that scene of people coming into the corporate world and of course, you want to keep up with different classmates and things like that. So they’re working at different agencies that deal with different ad agencies or they’re working on freelance or they’re working in the corporate space. It’s definitely becoming more of a… I guess corporate is starting to catch up to where the younger designers are just in terms of different trends that you kind of see going on in design right now and just through what their product is or what they’re advertising, what their ad looks like when it’s put out. So that combination of designers and environment is really starting to I guess, make Atlanta so to speak. Whenever anyone asks me, “How’s Atlanta,” or, “What are you doing down there?” Or, “How’s the creative scene?” It’s always something different going on. There’s always sort of installation going on or pop up or vendor market or even conferences. There are so many different meetups here.

Jailyn Easley:
Having worked for the Creative Group, one of my recruiting tools, so to speak, was meetup.com. So we would find events that had to deal with design and we would go to them to find people that we wanted to kind of recruit for the Creative Group. We would go to different events just that were being held based in UX design or based in development or there were all different kinds of designs. There were study groups, there were just having fun kind of game night design types of things. It’s definitely a really interesting combination of people versus environment.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So one of the projects we’re working on right now is called, “The 100 Days of Design.” Where did the idea come from for that?

Jailyn Easley:
I had just been kind of looking to doing a different medium of design. I had been doing your black and white graphic design, so to speak, which was using Photoshop and different Adobe tools to help with the designs. But I wanted to start illustrative style just because it was something that I had seen but I had never tried. Honestly, I was a little afraid or intimidated because I had seen so many different renditions and interpretations of different artists doing their own illustration.

Jailyn Easley:
So I started doing, “100 Days of Design,” and I looked for a challenge actually, to do, but I couldn’t find anything. I think there was one, but it started in April and I was like, “Well, I want to get started now.” So I made up my own challenge and it’s probably some other designers have probably done it, but I just called it, “100 Days of Design.” So each day, I am pushing myself to not only create one thing each day, but also share it because something that I had seen in the past just with my own work, was that, especially a lot on my social media with Instagram and Facebook and things like that, was that I hadn’t put too much of my work on there. I wanted to get into the habit of being able to share my work with others, not because I wanted them… Well, I guess not because I want to promote myself, but just because I wanted to get my art…

Jailyn Easley:
Not because I wanted promote myself, but just because I wanted to get my art out there into the world and you know, not just have it on my website or because I was actually talking to a friend and he was like, “You should start to put your stuff somewhere else other than your website.” And I’m like, “Well, why? Like why does it matter?” He’s like, “It’s a way of expression.” Because he’s a photographer. So, if you’d look at his Instagram, it’s all his work as opposed to just pictures of him and random stuff. So, it’s just a way for me to be able to push myself to create every day, to keep going, to be able to route to different opportunities with my design and see where I can push the limits personally. So.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How’s it been going so far?

Jailyn Easley:
It’s good. I am not the best when it comes to time management. So, I’m still definitely trying to figure out a good schedule because with me working full-time plus I do yoga after work and still kind of studying it and I got my certification in yoga last February. So, still kind of studying it whenever I have the time to and doing design and it’s like I wanted to be able to, I guess, find some time for myself to do something that I like to do while not sweating all day and working hard diligently all day.

Jailyn Easley:
So, besides that part of it, I think it’s going pretty well and I’m starting to explore the different types of illustrations I can do and different ways that I can start to incorporate different things like color palettes and themes and things like that. So, it’s gone pretty well.

Maurice Cherry:
Well the good thing is you don’t necessarily have to do it every day. So, like a hundred days, there’s 360, well, this year there’s 366 days. So, you can get a hundred days out of that, doesn’t have to necessarily be consecutive.

Jailyn Easley:
Right. I’ve been like some days I’ll group them together. Like this past weekend I just grouped Friday through Sunday together. I was like yeah, here’s all of the weekend stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean that’s kind of what you have to do, especially when you’re working full-time and you’ve got other stuff going on. I did a project back in 2015 called the Year of Tea. It was a podcast and I would do a different episode, like a short episode, like less than five minutes reviewing a different type of tea or a different brand of tea or whatever. And I didn’t do those every day. I would batch them, especially if I knew I was going to be off at a conference for a week or off somewhere else, I would just batch them so they would schedule to go out. Now I kind of shot myself in the foot a little bit because I said like a year. So, I had to do it every day. A friend of mine, Diane Holton, who has been on the show, she’s a deputy art director at AARP in D.C. And she did a whole thing also on Instagram, a whole like daily-ish design practice called Daily Digits where she fashioned numbers out of different found objects. So, like she would get-

Jailyn Easley:
I think I saw that.

Maurice Cherry:
… like little candies and make the number eight or something like that, you know? Oh, you heard of it?

Jailyn Easley:
I think I saw it because I had followed Diane at one point. With the whole D.C. And Bowie thing, they always brought someone new from the creative D.C. space to Bowie, so I think I had met her.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, she did the campaign, well that wasn’t a campaign. I know she did end up doing a campaign with HP on the whole like thousand, she did a thousand of them for Daily Digits. So, it was just interesting seeing how she would take these random objects and just make numbers. Like I’m looking at it right now. One of them, she took Kit-Kat wrappers and made 997 and then she used ramen noodles and flavor packets to make 998. Used gummy worms to make 999 so it’s interesting how you see all these different objects and figure like, oh, what’s a way to create something out of this? You know, that’s a really good thing. I wish more creatives did that just as a practice, not necessarily to have like a body of something to show off, but it does kind of, it engages that sense of discovery and creativity that sometimes can get lost if you’re just doing a nine to five or if you’re hustling as an entrepreneur, you kind of lose that spark a little bit unless something new comes along and then this forces you into that on a pretty regular basis, I think.

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah, absolutely. And, and I’ll say, going from the startup life with Slutty Vegan and it was kind of like a 24/7 thing because it was weekends, it was during the week, it was all the time. So, ultimately I was doing stuff for them, but I never was able to kind of get out my own creativity and be able to push myself to say, “Okay, let’s think of something new. Let’s create something new.” When I came over to Accenture, it was like, I’m still in this transition period and I had some other things in life going on, so I wanted this time to be able to start fresh this year. You know, not having made any resolutions, but more so just intentions of being able to help myself grow and help that self-discovery, like you were saying. That kind of made that internal spark from me because it was something that, when you haven’t done it for a while, it’s like you almost a little bit lose that motivation.

Jailyn Easley:
And that’s something that is what makes you, you, it’s something that encourages you do better. It encourages you to keep going and it encourages you to be this free being. So, it was something that I wanted to be able to still have and say, “Okay, this is something that I’m going to do for me.” I’m just more so sharing it just to get into the habit of sharing it. But this is definitely something that is all for me and not to, like you said, have a huge body of work, but just to have, to see my progression over my works and to see which ways I can do different things here and there. So.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So, just to kind of switch gears here a little bit, what are you excited about at the moment?

Jailyn Easley:
Currently … Okay. Can I name two things?

Maurice Cherry:
Sure.

Jailyn Easley:
One is a quick thing, so I’m excited about South by Southwest this year. I want to go, and obviously Accenture being a huge company in innovation they’re always doing different events there. So, not only for them, but I went back in 2017 and it was, even without having a conference ticket, I mean we had one, but outside of the conference is where the installations were and the companies were doing these huge pop=ups and all different kinds of stuff. So, I would love to go back to South by Southwest this year. So, that’s my number one thing.

Jailyn Easley:
Number two. So, at my job right now at Accenture, we are trying to push our internal teams to start doing more things that are combining technology with design and more so, so that it makes sense to them combining technology with strategy, so to speak. Because when you’re talking to them, it’s more so just about the tactics behind things and how you’re going to do what you’re going to do to get there. But the what and the how that you’re going to get there in. We’re trying to make that aspect of it technology.

Jailyn Easley:
So, for example, we have an internal application that allows you to use this artificial intelligence and this augmented reality to be able to present these huge PowerPoint presentations just at the touch of your fingers, but certain things like that. Obviously, it sounds like a really extravagant idea, but things like that take time along with testing and just being able to figure out the kinks, figure out where it works, push its limitations, see how it engages with its audience and things like that.

Jailyn Easley:
So, certain things like that within our hub we are kind of testing just to see what, I guess, how we can advantage it the most. So, that’s definitely something that I’m excited about as well.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s something that perhaps not many people understand about you?

Jailyn Easley:
Oh, I would say a lot of people don’t understand my perspective. Having come from Baltimore within the inner city goes to school there and coming from there to Bowie to Atlanta and going to different places along the way. A lot of people don’t understand my thought process when it comes to how I’m thinking about things. And I guess the fluidity in which I’m thinking about certain things, I always like to get variety and get other people’s perspective and get just a round table view of what’s going on. Because I feel like before we do any problem solving or solution oriented tactics, we need to figure out what’s currently at the table and get it from each angle. So, I’m always the one to say, “Well, have we thought about this? Well, how did we get here if we haven’t gotten there?” Or I’m always the one to ask questions.

Jailyn Easley:
And to some people it may come off as, well, maybe I don’t want to use the word arrogant, but sometimes it may come off as like a know-it-all type of situation, but more so it’s just pushing people to be able to understand the different sides of one situation. Because outside of your view, there are the person that you’re talking to and the people that they’re talking to. So, always pushing people to see the different perspectives in life.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of the people that influence you?

Jailyn Easley:
Some of the people that influence me, I would say a lot of them are within the educational sector. Two of them which I went to Bowie with or which were my professors at Bowie, one is actually Jennifer White-Johnson. She definitely had a huge impact on my college life when it came to design and things like that. But also another one of my mentors at Bowie, Tamisha Ponder, she is my yoga mentor, so to speak. So, I have my design, I have my yoga. They definitely helped shape the person I became at Bowie from the different programs that I had joined with both of them in it, or the different events that I attended that they may have hosted or certain things like that had an influence on what I thought or what I made of the different topics that were brought up.

Jailyn Easley:
And just being able to get exposed to certain things like that, as opposed to just doing the college thing, going to class, going back to my room, being really interactive with things that were going on, not only on campus but outside of campus, what can you do? They would always push me to do things off campus because one of them did go to Bowie and the other, I think, Jennifer White-Johnson went to UMBC. So they were like, do things outside of here. Don’t just say here, venture out. So, that’s definitely something that impacted me throughout my college years.

Jailyn Easley:
And just now to this day, they both give me a really positive influence on life. And I would say one other person is a professor that I had at SCAD, Judy Salzinger. She is definitely a character. I love Judy so much. I remember one of the first things she said to me, she was like, “You know what Jailyn?” I say, “Yeah?” She said, “You’re a smart ass.” And I laughed. [inaudible 00:52:40].

Jailyn Easley:
I was like, okay, good. Yeah, Judy is amazing. She was also one of those people that helped me see the different views on things. She was a professor for a few of my classes at SCAD, but she’s also the chair of the department of advertising there. So, just through, she took us on different field trips and just from sitting and talking with her, she was an industry professional before, so she had some experience in the things that I wanted to do and the places that I wanted to go. So, her being kind of my on-site influence because she was here in Atlanta when I came down here. And then just having my two other mentors back home and keeping up with them still. So, it was kind of a nice, easy balance between the three of them and the impact that they kind of put on, not only my design life but life outside of design as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Like it’s 2025 what kinds of things do you want to be working on?

Jailyn Easley:
So, in 2025 I would love to, over the years just start to learn how to design in these different softwares that are dealing with virtual reality and augmented reality. Hopefully wouldn’t take a full five years but definitely would be looking into starting to utilize that in people’s day-to-day lives. These are things that some people think are just the bells and whistles on the car, but in reality these are the moving parts to it. And these are things that we can start to incorporate into what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis. So, I would love to just be able to kind of articulate that with a company that is that forward thinking and that open-minded, so to speak, to give that leverage towards me to be able to help promote these different technologies and help put them in a way that is not only solving a problem but also is, obviously visually pleasing. So.

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

Jailyn Easley:
So, you can go to my website, www.jailyneasley.com. J-A-I-L-Y-N E-A-S-L-E-Y. And you can find me on Instagram @finessewilliams, like finesse, F-I-N-E-S-S-E, finessewilliams_ _ on Instagram.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I like that for Finesse Williams. That’s dope. Well, Jailyn Easley, thank you so much for coming on the show. I think as I mentioned to this to you, when I reached out before I was like we’ve actually had crossed paths before. This is back when we were trying to do our whole student perspective series. I think you were still at Bowie at the time and I think to look at that and now especially as you’ve talked about your story coming down here to Atlanta, going to SCAD, working with these brands. It’s amazing how much you’ve been able to accomplish in really a fairly short amount of time and I think it’s great that you’ve had the support of other black designers and other really honestly black people in entrepreneurship and business to make that happen. And I feel like that’s something that we just need to see more of and I’m really excited to see what you do in the future.

Maurice Cherry:
Like as I was hearing you talk about this, you reminded me a lot of someone who we’ve actually had on the show three times now, Sarah Huny Young, who, she’s now … What does she want Sarah do now? She’s a DJ now, I think, but she’s been a pivotal part of design and stuff for like the past 15, 20 odd something years. There’s like three interviews over on the site so people can listen to it. But as I was listening to you describe all of these different experiences you’ve had and working with all these different brands, I was like, I can see just how grand your career is going to be. So, I’m glad to have the chance to talk to you at this stage of your career and see just how things are going. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jailyn Easley:
Yeah, well thank you for having me.


Submissions for Volume 2 of the design anthology RECOGNIZE open on March 1! For more information, visit recognize.design!

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