When I first heard about Jerome Harris’ exhibit “As, Not For: Dethroning Our Absolutes,” I knew I had to interview him for the podcast. I was thrilled to hear him speak at this year’s Black in Design Conference back in October, and this conversation follows directly after that event.

Jerome does it all — he’s a graphic designer, an educator, a writer, a curator, a DJ, and even a choreographer! We touched on all those aspects in this interview, starting off with talking about his current work at Housing Works. From there, we discussed the trajectory of Black graphic design, and how that guided him through his studies at Temple and Yale and inspired his exhibit. Jerome also shares some of his current influences, and we step into the future a bit and look at what Jerome would want to work on in 2025.

Keep an eye out for Jerome — his perspective and candor are a refreshing antidote to current design discourse, and I think we’ll see a lot more from him soon!

Full Transcript

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

Jerome Harris: Okay. My name is Jerome Harris. I’m originally from New Haven, Connecticut. Studied advertising at Temple University and I got my MFA from Yale University in graphic design. For the last I’ve been working at MICA, Maryland Institute College of Art as a teaching fellow. So it’s full time faculty with one course taken off of the course load for research purposes. Now I’m the design director of Housing Works in New York City and I’m also a choreographer sometimes. I also DJ sometimes and I like to cook. Oh yeah. And I’m a big gamer.

Maurice Cherry: Sounds like you’re juggling a lot over there.

Jerome Harris: I mean some things take more priorities than others.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s talk about what you’re doing over at at Housing Works as the design director. What is Housing Works first of all? Then walk me through what you do there. What’s a regular day like there?

Jerome Harris: Cool. So Housing Works was originally the housing arm of the ACT UP activists collective from the late ’80s, early ’90s who were advocating for the rights of people with HIV and AIDS during the AIDS epidemic. So Housing Works was just the group of people who were trying to get people with HIV AIDS into homes so that they could … Because they believed that if they had a place to stay they would get better faster as opposed to being on the street or what have you. So that group of people from from this activist group grew into this huge NIO nonprofit organization. We have four health clinics around the city of New York, and then we’re self-sustained by 12, now 13 thrift stores. 14 actually, we just opened a new one. 14 thrift stores around the city. And then we have a bookstore cafe. And in addition to that, we do a four to five huge fundraising campaigns every year.

Jerome Harris: We moved beyond the scope of just HIV AIDS. We help homeless people, people who need to reintegrate into society after they get released from jail, drug rehabilitation, youth services for LGBTQ youth and of course housing, Housing Works. We have, I think, 600 plus units. That might be incorrect, but we have a housing around the city taking care of people with different illnesses, getting them care.

Maurice Cherry: Wow, that sounds like a lot of stuff that you all are doing there. It sounds really impactful.

Jerome Harris: Yep. So a lot of work. It’s all hands on deck. We have a huge team. We have two administrative offices, one in Soho in New York and one downtown Brooklyn where where I work and everybody’s there. Everyone’s down to do the work. It’s a very cool work environment. I mean given the population we work with you have to be empathetic and down for the cause. It’s funny cause a part of the job is were required to take part in civil disobedience as a part of the job. I feel like in your performance review they asked how many protests have you been to this year?

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

Jerome Harris: Which is cool. I’ve only been to one so far.

Maurice Cherry: You’re slacking. You’ve got to go to more.

Jerome Harris: It’s awesome.

Maurice Cherry: Get out on them streets.

Jerome Harris: It’s only been three months.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Okay. Okay. All right.

Jerome Harris: However, yeah, I like that. It’s awesome. It’s just the values and everybody there, we’re all working on the same team. No egos. Everybody is just getting work done.

Maurice Cherry: That’s good.

Jerome Harris: And okay, so you also asked about a day at work. Now designing is, I’m literally like three designers right now. We’re also hiring, so when this airs, if we haven’t hired anybody, we’re looking for a designer. I do a variety of things. I work for the thrift shops in the bookstore, so I do all of the marketing for that. So that can be just weekly events, sales signage, in store signage for the store. We do cut vinyl posters. I do motion as for social media, this is across the board, everything for the thrift shops. Same thing with the bookstore, just any of their needs.

Jerome Harris: And then on the other end, I do designs for fundraising campaigns. So that usually means building out an identity in the system for the designer that we’re going to hire and then our production designer to then build our assets for print, for screen, for social media and everything else in between. Like we just had a protest on October 8th in Washington DC for LGBTQ rights in the workplace. So I got to make protest signs and so usually protest signs are these scrappy things that people make them their own, but it’s nicely designed protest signs. It’s really nice to see. A whole coach bus of Housing Works employees went down to the Hill and protested and it’s just awesome. You know? It’s just a cool thing to feel that you’re a part of that, you know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. How did you first hear about them?

Jerome Harris: Well, I knew about the thrift stores. When I tell people about Housing Works, they’re usually like, “Oh yeah, I go to the thrift store.” I did know the history, which I liked, but I was contacted by the creative director because they had kind of contracting designers and hadn’t had anybody, a design director full time on the team for awhile. So she reached out to me because of my work, the exhibition, As, Not For, and thought that that would be a good fit for the workplace. And this was like back in January and I was like, I don’t know. I might stay at MICA. I don’t know. Academia was proving, after my second year there, was proving to be a little draining for reasons I don’t know if I want to talk about. I just wanted to move into something that was still fulfilling personally, but I still wanted to give back and I wanted the work to be fulfilling. So I talked to the creative directors. Said I’ll give it a shot. And I interviewed, went through a second round of interview, they gave me a design test and then they pulled me on in June.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. And so I know you’ve only been there, like you said, for just a few months now. What do you want to accomplish going into 2020? What do you see Housing Works becoming in the next year?

Jerome Harris: There’s multiple goals because it’s such a scrappy … I keep using that word, but everything moves pretty fast and everybody has to be all hands on deck. So I’m trying to get them to a place, particularly the thrift stores for example, to be in a competitive advantage design-wise with the retailers in the areas of the city that they’re in. They’re placed directly next to places like H&M and J Crew and Uniqlo and stuff like this around the city. And these are stores with huge design teams and these corporations with beautiful design. And so I just try to, even though it’s just me and eventually one other person, just try to give them a visual competitive advantage. They already have a great perception amongst their regular shoppers, but just drawing in a new community through more contemporary design and more slick design that fits into the environment where they exist.

Jerome Harris: And then the other thing is the fundraising campaign in the past, usually because they happen so fast, it’s so much work to do. In the past I’ve just been not completely well thought through, just let’s just get it done. So then I’m trying to really bring in more of the advocate voice into it and then also bringing more contemporary design sensibilities into the work. A little more thoughtful design into the work too. And that way, in addition to convincing people to give us money, make people feel good through the design, gain a better perception from the audience and the donor through the work.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Now, you mentioned a lot already about starting out a Temple, being at Yale, you mentioned your exhibit, all of which I want to go into of course, but I’m curious the story before all of that. So where did you grow up? I know you’re currently in Brooklyn right now, but where’d you grow up?

Jerome Harris: Yeah, I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, actually. Literally, I lived the walking distance from Yale as a kid and that was a interesting place to be because I ended up being in a way a benefactor of Yale being really close as a kid. There was the African American Cultural Center on campus and they had free tutoring. So I think all through elementary school and middle school, so I think maybe starting in third grade through eighth grade, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to private school, but they did want me to have some help. Some advantage. They understood the public school system can be a hindrance in some ways, sometimes. And so my parents brought me to the African American Culture Center for free tutoring. I literally went there three days a week for that five years between third grade and eighth grade and just got tutored.

Jerome Harris: I mean it wasn’t I needed tutoring, but I think that they understood that we are in proximity to this place. Why not give our son the leg up, which shout out to my parents for that. And then how I got into design was in high school we had Photoshop in our computer lab and in 2001 … The first thing I designed, which is really funny, in 2001 Aaliyah died. That was in August and 9/11 happened. And so I was so moved.

Jerome Harris: I was like, what do I do? And I made an image. I probably wasn’t using Google. I was probably using like Alta Vista or something like that. I was searching for images of the twin towers and Aaliyah and I made this whole collage of all these pictures of Aaliyah and her choreographer Fatima Robinson and all these people. That was the first thing I ever made. And then after that, that sensibility to isolate figures, which I feel like I most likely got from Cash Money Records album artwork fed into an interest in college and undergraduate to design party flyers. Because after that I got better and better and was using illegal versions of the Adobe Creative Suite back in the day.

Maurice Cherry: I think a lot of us were back then, so.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. No shame. No shame about it.

Maurice Cherry: Nothin’.

Jerome Harris: It became a side hustle. I was a Photoshop guru at one point and I would just design these party flyers. But yeah, New Haven was a really interesting place to grow up because you have the whole disparity. You have the poorest of poor and the most rich and elite all in the same place in almost evenly spread in a way. You get these crossovers of these different moments and Yale students crossing over with locals. And that happens in any college town but in New Haven it’s a particularly special mix.

Maurice Cherry: So I went to Morehouse here in Atlanta and I remember the first year that I was there, this was ’99 and I mean I’m from the sticks. I’m from the country. So it was already a bit of a culture shock coming into a big city, but not a huge one. Morehouse is one of those schools that has people from all over the world, from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and everything. And I remember my roommate at the time, apparently his mom told him that he needed to dress down if he was going to go out into the neighborhood because Morehouse is literally in the hood. It’s in the middle of not the best neighborhood in the city. It’s not terrible, but it’s the hood essentially.

Maurice Cherry: I’m probably fucking that up. But anyway, I remember him saying his mom was like well they told me I need to dress down. Dress in less expensive clothing just to make sure when I go out that nobody’s going to rob me or anything. And I’m like that’s sounds dumb. But if you feel that’s what you have to do, go right ahead. So I know what that odd disparity looks like.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Now, It’s interesting enough because that area around Morehouse has cleaned up a lot. Mainly because the school just bought the land and tore the buildings down and stuff. But yeah, I know what that can look like in an urban setting.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, both of those things are really interesting to think about because I’m being reductive when I’m saying this. I’m just going to let everybody know I’m being self aware about what I’m saying. But there are a spectrum of black people and that was also, besides it being pretty racially diverse and socioeconomically diverse. I would have a group of black friends and some of them would come from money, come from more money, and their parents would be a little more like respectable. So they wouldn’t use the N-word and dressed a certain way. Some of my friends would not be allowed to go to somewhere like the all ages parties I would go to in high school or middle school. I totally understand that, know who that mom is. The mom of your roommate. But yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So you were designing these flyers at Temple. What was your time like there when you were studying and everything?

Jerome Harris: Temple was interesting because I didn’t realize that I wanted to do graphic design. Even when I was making party flyers, I was like, oh, I’m a party flyer designer. You know what I mean? I didn’t realize completely what I was doing. So when it came time for me to choose a major, I was like, oh yeah, I’m going to major in advertising because I didn’t, you know what I mean? For me that was a logical choice. You’re asking a 19 or 20 year old what they want to do with the rest of their life. I was like, okay, I think I want to do this.

Jerome Harris: I think around my junior year or so I realized, oh, Temple has a whole art school. Tyler School of Art. Maybe I should try to go there instead. I got shut shut down because I wasn’t coming from a fine arts background. I didn’t know that ling so well. I emailed the chair photo images of my party flyers. I don’t remember her name, but she said, “This is not graphic design. You can’t take classes here.” I was like, whoa. Then I actually went through the advertising school. There’s all these roadblocks. The art school’s different than the main college. Dah, dah, dah.

Jerome Harris: I was a little bit disappointed. At that point I was self taught anyway, but I didn’t have any guidance. My parents didn’t know what graphic design was, you know what I mean? I didn’t have anybody to say, “This is what you’re doing.” I was just doing it. Temple was cool. I love Philadelphia. I would move back to Philly any day.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m curious about that, that remark, because I don’t know, for some reason that just rubbed me the wrong way about them telling you that those flyers that you were doing were not graphic design. As you look back at that time, do you agree with that sentiment or no?

Jerome Harris: I think, and this goes into my issue with the understanding that modernism is the whole graphic design. Because what I was doing was a trajectory and black graphic design of following in the footsteps of the artwork used for Master P and Cash Money Records and DJ Screw. Artwork made by Pen & Pixel in Houston where they would isolate the figures, have all these affects and blingy texts and stuff. This still is a legitimate method of approaching graphic design. So these are the things that I was sending, but good design is modernist, right? It’s on a grid, it’s aligned, it has good proximity and space and asymmetry and it’s minimalist. Good design only requires a little bit to design. You know what I mean? These principles by the champions of the Bauhaus and Swiss, you know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Like Euro centric design principles basically.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. Became just the entirety of when you say graphic design, that’s what it is, right? Only. As a 20 year old, I was like, well I’m making money doing this. This is real. This is legit. But I didn’t know how to say that. My feelings weren’t really that hurt because I did see that what they were making in the graphic design program and I was like, oh this looks like what I see in Time magazine or what I was looking at the time. This is how the ads look. When I watch TV commercials, this is how things are designed.

Jerome Harris: It’s really interesting and in retrospect that person, and this is not uncommon, it’s just being a gatekeeper of what graphic design is and what it should be. And I think that’s a large part of what I’ve been writing about and lecturing about recently is about how just making people self aware that that’s not the only way to approach graphic design. There’s a bunch of ways to approach graphic design. It’s easy. Modernism gives an immediate legitimacy to any piece of work. If it looks like that, it’s immediately familiar to people and they’re like, this is good. And yeah. Anyway, I hope I answered your question.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So, after Temple you went back to your roots in a way. You went to graduate school in New Haven at Yale. What was the design program like there once you were actually in that institution instead of around it as you were before?

Jerome Harris: Yeah, it was interesting from a social standpoint. I was at school, I went to class, but I would go home and do my homework and then go to my parents’ house and have dinner. So it was a weird return back home because a lot of people who came to Yale were from other places as clearly as most people do in school. So their society was just their classmates. I was home. So I was like, “Well, I’ll see y’all later. I’m going to eat this fried chicken. I’ll see y’all later.”

Jerome Harris: And then from a academic point of view, it was literally like the clouds broke and the light shined through because I had never thought of approaching design from a research standpoint. I’ve never had to think about concepts any deeper than, okay, I’m designing for a gay party, so I’m going to put a dude half naked on the front. And it’s a beach party so I’m going to put palm trees. You know what I mean? I never thought any deeper than that. So it was like I had professors who were really pushing me to be more conceptual and really push it and get really weird and then say, okay, have I gone too far? Is this still accessible? So thinking about the range of visual references that you can make and thinking about who’s looking at it and who can access that.

Jerome Harris: And also methods of production. So like I had, for example, I had taught myself HTML and CSS prior to, but thinking about just not even using coding to make a website, but using coding just to make type a graphic form. You know what I mean? Just things like this that sound basic that you would learn in probably undergraduate art school were just new ideas to me and I was like, oh shoot, I like this. It was really fun for me and I had no understanding of how graphic design operated in the fine arts world. I used to go to museums and stuff and just look at this stuff but never thought about it in that way. So just learning the nuances and the subtle choices that designers make and the understanding of how to give people access people through images and texts was really interesting.

Jerome Harris: Also how to expand my thinking. How to broaden the way that I think about designers. That was more the takeaway from me being at Yale because I literally knew nothing that they had to offer. Whereas a lot of my classmates had an understanding of fine arts and graphic design and conceptual thinking and the heroes of graphic design. My heroes, I didn’t even know who they were actually. I was just reading Vibe magazine and Ebony magazine. Looking at music artwork for Hot 97, which is a hip hop station in New York. Hot 97 mixed tapes and Cash Money Records. All these things, that for me.

Jerome Harris: … cash, money, records, all these things. That for me it was graphic design in my black life as a youth.

Maurice Cherry: I would say it’s still very much is still graphic design. When we look back at it I think that’s the case. It’s interesting though that it sounds like Yale was the nexus point where you realized that, what I’m doing actually is valid and I can apply and explore different things through the work as opposed to like you said before, using the work on its face.

Jerome Harris: Yes, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s talk about your exhibition. It’s titled ‘As, Not For: Dethroning Our Absolutes.’ I heard about it last year. Someone sent me a link to it on AIGA’s Eye on Design. It was a whole article about it. Can you talk about the exhibit and where the notion came from to curate all this?

Jerome Harris: It’s really funny. When I was at MICA, we were required to do a research project and I had two topics that I wanted to do and I was actually leaning away from doing black design because I was a little bit exhausted with the notion of being a mascot for the race in a way in graphic design. I was like I don’t know if I want to do this.

Jerome Harris: And so my other topic, because I’m a gamer, I’m really interested in the maximal really saturated colors and compositions and if you look at a still of a video game and bring in that level of overwhelming-ness over into graphic design and communication standpoint. That was my initial idea and I was interested in fantasy worlds, but then I started going down both paths and researching both. I already had done a little research into Buddy Esquire. He designed hip hop party flyers during the rise of hip hop before it was even called hip hop. I think I just had the thought, “There has to be more people. They got to be out there.”

Jerome Harris: I felt like a detective because I started with nothing. I had him. I knew I had Cornell’s hip hop archive and I was like, how am I going to find anybody else? So I’m emailing people, asking people. I did an extensive search. I found out about Aaron Douglas who did illustrations during the Harlem Renaissance, but he wasn’t really a graphic designer. And I think I accidentally stumbled upon Emory Douglas, who was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panthers. And then Emmett McBain who had his own McBain Associates in Chicago. He had a black ad agency. I don’t know how I found him. And through him I found Leroy Winbush and Eugene Winslow all of which were black men who had advertising agencies in Chicago.

Jerome Harris: And then Archie Boston was out there. AIGA had written about him a bunch. So I kept stumbling upon people and I was feeling optimistic and at the end of that semester, that was my first year at MICA. We had to do a presentation of our research. And I did the presentation and my chair at the end of my presentation was like, “Why don’t you make this AN exhibition?” And I was like, “Okay, I will.” And I did.

Jerome Harris: And it’s a very graphic designerly exhibition. It’s 47 posters. It’s not like things. Of course a graphic designer would make an exhibition of posters and it went up. MICA asked, the communications office, was like, “Do you want to put together a press release?” And I was like, I don’t care. I was just trying to fulfill a requirement for my fellowship to be honest. I wasn’t thinking about it any deeper than that. And it really took off. People received it well. I think a lot of people were like, I did not know this was needed. And I was like, me neither. I didn’t know either. I just wanted to do this.

Jerome Harris: It was more of a selfish endeavor, more than an endeavor of trying to do some diversity inclusion initiative or something like this. It was just a black man searching for his history in graphic design. It’s really been received well. The show went to Virginia Commonwealth University. The students in a design research class are actually writing an addendum to Philip Meggs A History of Graphic Design, because he wrote that book while he was at VCU. So now they’re writing an addendum. I was told that they were going to do this through the class to include these designers and his history in that book, which I didn’t know that would happen.

Jerome Harris: And then the show is also at CCA, California College of Art in San Francisco. And the letter form archive is out there. And they found out about Sylvia Abernathy, who’s the only woman in my show, unfortunately, sorry. She had these beautiful record sleeves that she designed for Delmark Records for jazz music. They found out about her through me, actually acquired copies of the record sleeves for their archives, and then did an exhibition of design and music. So when I was out there I went to the exhibition and they had Joseph Albert, who was the first chair of Yale’s graphic design program. He had done some record sleeves for jazz music next to Sylvia Abernathy.

Jerome Harris: And that was one of those moments, I didn’t know that I wanted that. I didn’t know that I wanted to see this person who is highly celebrated next to this underdog on the same wall doing the same work for the same thing. Those moments are like these surprises that come up along the way. In addition to short conversations that I have with young designers who are like, “Thank you for doing this.” And I was like, “Well, it’s accidentally at the service of you, so you’re welcome. But you do something like this. You do it now. Continue the work.”

Maurice Cherry: I’ve seen some of the posters in the exhibit. It hasn’t made it to Atlanta yet, nor have I made it to where the exhibits are. But I’ve seen a couple of photos. I see that there’s album art from Def Jam, the record sleeves that you mentioned from Sylvia Abernathy, there’s movie posters from Art Sims who did a lot of work with Spike Lee. And I’m sure that like you said, you get a lot of questions about it. It’s getting a lot of feedback. Is there one question in particular that you hate answering about the exhibit?

Jerome Harris: I can’t necessarily put it into words, but I think that I always get caught up in some question about buzzwords like representation, diversity, inclusion. These catchall terms that when you see a person who’s not citizen white, they are fit into these groupings. At this point, me touring the show and doing workshops and stuff. Now I’m working at the service, but out of service of the field in a way trying to shake things up a little bit, because I see there’s the need. But initially, no, it was a selfish endeavor. I just wanted to know.

Jerome Harris: I needed to know and I needed to be able to defend my work and talk about my work, which came from a lineage of black designers and be able to defend that when people ask me about my work or why things look the way they do, et cetera. And so something about that feels a little reductive. Let’s just say, is this a diversity inclusion thing? Because what happens is if there’s something, dealing with the queer community, then you’re still put in a marginalized group. This is a queer thing. This is a black thing. It’s not, it’s a graphic design thing actually, and it’s been neglected. Just normalize it. Thanks.

Maurice Cherry: With revision path and I know that feeling that you’re talking about, because I started revision path honestly under part selfish part I guess petty I guess. And I’ve told this story on the show before, but I initially had the idea to do this way back in 2006. I had this event that I had created called the Black Web Blog Awards and one of the categories was for best blog design. And it’s interesting you mention vibe and album covers and stuff like that, because I knew who those designers were. I knew the people that were making those designs and they were not getting any level of recognition. I’m not talking about an interview here or there. Nobody knew who they were. Nobody was mentioning them. Nobody was talking about them. No one was asking them to speak anywhere or anything like that.

Maurice Cherry: And I wanted to do something around black design back then, but I was doing the Black Web Blog Awards, I was in grad school, and I was working a full time job. So I was like, I don’t have time to do all this. It wasn’t until seven years later after I had stopped working for corporate America, started my studio and was five years in on that. I was like, I have time to do this. So I really honestly did it as a selfish/petty thing, one to put my thumb in the eye of graphic design in terms of the graphic design community to be like we’re here, you just don’t see us for some reason. I don’t know. But then also to do it because I wanted to see more of us out there and I felt like, I don’t know who else is really doing this, at least on a level that is picking up any level of visibility.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m just going to try to add to it. I knew I wasn’t the first to do it, but I also hope that I’m not the last to do it too. So I get that feeling because what ends up happening is that as the project gains steam and gets out there in the community, it gets out there in the world really, other people start ascribing values to it that have nothing to do with why you started it. So like with revision path, people will say that it’s for people of color in the tech industry. It’s for black people. You can say black. You can say that. You don’t have to to codify it in that way. You can say it because that’s what it is. Or they’ll say, it’s only for African Americans looking to get into Silicon Valley.

Maurice Cherry: No, it’s not. I talk to people all over the world, not just in Silicon Valley, not just trying to get into tech. And I end up having to do a lot of clarification because people want to ascribe their own values to it because they see it, or at least they’re using it as a resource for diversity and inclusion. And that was never my initial goal for it. It was really just I want to see more of us out there and I want to celebrate what we’re doing and what we’re contributing. I’m not doing this as some sort of a way to highlight a deficit. I think AIGA already does a great job of that. This is no shade by saying that by the way, but they do the design census. They point it out every year so that’s a fact.

Jerome Harris: That was also problematic too, because people who are like me who are self-taught designers are not filling out that survey because they don’t know about it. They’re not a part of the AIGA. They’re making the things that they make. There’s a website called seven days, seven nights, which does nightlife in the New York City area and around the United States in general. But the pen and pixel aesthetic is still there. They’ve definitely pushed it forward. None of those designers are filling out that survey, because it’s Latino and black parties, I’m pretty sure it’s Latino and black people designing those things. So I feel like there’s still work to be done because there’s a whole batch of people who are making good money doing that kind of work and are not being included or their careers are not being acknowledged.

Maurice Cherry: And one interesting footnote on the whole pen and pixel style. I really love that style. For those that are maybe not familiar, go to Google images, look up Master P, Mia X, Silkk The Shocker, Juvenile. It’s the gilded cera font with the baguette diamonds for text kind of thing. And I think it was the art directors club or the type directors club or someone did a version of that for their young guns. I might be completely getting this wrong, but I remember the backlash from it from people saying, honestly it was mostly from black people saying, “I can’t believe that you would represent design in this way. It looks so ghetto. It looks so hood.” And I’m like, it looks like it’s design. Granted the way they did it, it did kind of make it look like the guy was a pimp inside of the art director club image with gold teeth and he had a forefinger ring. It wasn’t the best I guess presentation, but I got where the inspiration was coming from.

Jerome Harris: I’m not going to go too long on this, but the owner, Sean Burch, I don’t know how to say his name. He’s contacted me twice about including the work from pen and pixel in my exhibition. In fact, I can open the email right now. He made the point that, my studio was not a black studio. He basically didn’t want the public to think that pen and pixel was a black owned business. I can even read the email right now.

Maurice Cherry: This isn’t an expose is it?

Jerome Harris: No, it’s not an expose. I really don’t care because pen and pixel doesn’t exist anymore. It hasn’t existed for a really long time and it’s been featured. They’ve been getting a lot of press. People have featured them. But the work that gets featured has been, even in Sean Burch’s own words, was art directed by Master P, Baby Slim, DJ Screw. These people came in and said, “You know what I want? I want a Mercedes. I want a photo of me bent over the Mercedes. I want two lions on the side. I want diamonds in the text.” This is the work of an art director. For me and you pen and pixel is working more as a production designer because not all of their work looks like that. And I tried to explain that to him clearly. We had a long phone conversation and he pulled out the, “I have black friends.”

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Jerome Harris: Anyway, he emailed me a picture of his employees with his one black designer on the team. I was like dude. I was like do you know this is racist? Do you know?

Maurice Cherry: Listen, I’ll add a little something to the anecdote, not necessarily pen and pixel related, and I’m not going to name names here, but there a certain show that comes on a certain streaming service that highlights designers. They just had a new season which came up recently. And the people who create that show for example had made sure to reach out to me and mention that they had two black designers this year. Am I supposed to be doing cartwheels in the street over that? Okay, fine, wonderful. Thanks, that’s great. Because the first season they only had one so progress.

Jerome Harris: I do have to say, I try to listen to other design podcasts but there’s such a ubiquity. I’ll listen to the person and look at the work and I’m like yo, you keep interviewing the same person over and over again. There might be a shift in medium, but the work all looks the same and it’s really boring. And that goes back to the stupid modernism thing. It’s like you got to love a little sans serif typeface. Y’all love their modernist principles. Just build another Bauhaus. I’m honestly sick of it. There’s so many other ways to do a piece of graphic design to approach in any medium. Anyway, that’s not your podcast.

Maurice Cherry: Present company excluded.

Jerome Harris: The people you interview are very diverse and it makes me very happy. I’ve been listening for years. Shout out to you, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry: Thank you. I’m curious, do you think that your exhibit would have gotten the same visibility if it weren’t at MICA? Let’s say if it was at the Lewis Museum? For people listening, the Reginald Lewis Museum, it’s a African American History and Culture museum. Do you think that this exhibit would have gotten the same level of reach to white design spaces?

Jerome Harris: I don’t know. I want to suspect. I think no. But what ended up happening and MICA, they asked me, they were like, “You want us to put out a press release?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Because that’s the thing, once it started getting press, people were like, “Oh shit, there’s a black show. Let’s go see it.” And not just white people, but everybody was like, “We should go see this. This looks cool.” And so I don’t know if the Lewis Museum put out a press release if it would have been received the same way. I don’t know that. And also like I said, I didn’t expect anything for the show. Thought it was going to up for two weeks to a month and I was going to take the posters down and throw them away.

Jerome Harris: I can’t answer that question, but I suspect the perception of the institution did help. I suspect so. I don’t know though, because also the reception of the show was such that people did respond well regardless of what, so it might’ve. The show itself might have also drawn people to the Lewis Museum had it been there. Let me also say this though too. I have not shown at a black institution yet. I would like to. I’ve been trying to, so if you’re listening to this and you’re the HBCU or a white gallery or museum I would like to show my show there. Thanks. Bye.

Maurice Cherry: Bring it on down here to Atlanta. We got a few of them. We got Hammonds House. Actually Hammonds House is in my neighborhood. Hammonds House, Spelman has a art museum on campus. So just putting that out there. I’ve seen the exhibit also been referred to as incomplete. And one thing that you mentioned a little bit earlier in the interview is that there is only one woman in the exhibit, Sylvia Abernathy. Now that it’s on tour, are you planning on supplementing the exhibit with more designers as you discover more about them?

Jerome Harris: No, because I don’t have time, because I work full time and the exhibition. When I was teaching, I was teaching a two, three course load and that first semester when I was teaching two classes, that time off was the time I would use to research. I literally was taking a part-time job load, maybe 20 hours or so a week just dedicated to the show. And I just don’t have that time now. I know there’s more people. The curator of the Lubalin Center at Cooper Union put me on to an article in Idea Magazine, which is a Japanese design magazine from the ’70s and apparently somebody else did an exhibition of black designers in Japan and I looked at the spread. It’s in Japanese so I don’t know what it says, but there’s like 50 plus black designers that were featured, African Americans. And I was like, who are these people? I think the only one who I knew was Georg Olden and the rest of them I was like, I need to look these people up. In addition to Michelle Washington, she knows everybody. She also did a-

Jerome Harris: She knows everybody. She also did a show with Flo, I’m saying her name wrong.

Maurice Cherry: Fo Wilson.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Fo. And back in the back, I need to see documentation of that, too. I didn’t know that until we ran into Fo at Black in Design. I was like, “Oh.” Michelle hadn’t mentioned it to me. Then I also met other black designers who had done their thesis. I met this guy, Steve, in San Francisco, who did his thesis at RISD back in the 90’s on black designers and the representation of black people in design. So, it’s been happening. It’s just hasn’t been a thing that has gotten traction.

Jerome Harris: I think maybe the advantage for me is that, my show is kind of a research guide in a way. When you go to the show, in the didactics, you can see what archive I got the work from, the name of the work, the name of the archive, the city that it’s in, it’s almost like encouraging everybody to go ahead and continue the work themselves. If you go to the archive and look at the work or if you go to a digital archive, you might respond to the work differently than I did. So, it’s like a traveling archive, as exhibition. I mean, that’s the only thing. I would like to celebrate these shows. I don’t know. So, I would like to include those more into my work as well, somehow. I just haven’t figured out how yet.

Maurice Cherry: So before you mentioned, Vibe magazine and other publications and things, that were influencing you when you were first starting out, who are some of your influences now with your work?

Jerome Harris: It was really funny because, I’ve actually been looking at fine artists more than graphic designers, in addition to video games and things that are not graphic design. Let me see if I can find… You know, like Lorna Simpson for example, her collage’s. Or thinking about how Lorna Simpson’s work and then thinking about how Carol Walker isolates the figure and about how I was doing that. In reference to pin and pixels work, finding those those formal connections and thinking about different ways of applying that formal gesture in different ways, if that makes sense. Aaron Douglas for example, in his work, he uses a hand drawn type face, which looks like an art deco typeface, but he does it the same way on all of his illustrations. So, looking at this artists painting type, in a way.

Jerome Harris: Who else? There’s a bunch of people that, fine arts, I look at. Laila Ali, definitely. Glenn Ligon was a huge inspiration on my poster because he has the, I am man, with the notations. I forgot what it’s called, The Inspection Report or something like, This Quality Inspection Report, something like this, where he was pointing out the flaws in the poster. And that led me to do the markings. That and also looking at BASCA and doing the markings on the poster that advertises the exhibition itself.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. That’s a really dope poster, by the way.

Jerome Harris: Thank you. I appreciate that. And so, it’s this idea of searching, but also mark making. And me, I had a very, very messy notebook where I was making connections and I was like, “Oh shoot, all three of these guys are in Chicago.” Okay, sorry. That was a long ramble. But, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: No, no. As I was saying, I really liked that additional poster. It’s very rare… Actually, I wouldn’t even say it’s rare. I’ve never seen Jackie’s Back on a poster like that. When I saw it I was like, “Ooh. Are you serious?” I was like, “I got to interview this guy,” after I saw that.

Jerome Harris: There’s a couple-

Maurice Cherry: I don’t know if a lot of people that know about the classic, that is, Jackie’s Back. That movie is a classic.

Jerome Harris: Jackie’s Back is everything. [crosstalk 00:04:25].

Maurice Cherry: It’s all on YouTube, too. The whole thing is on YouTube.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, it’s on YouTube. Jennifer needs to get her money. So, anyway. For those streams. Yeah. I have, I mean whatever, this is going to be controversial. It’s kind of like, as, not for, and it’s kind of, moments in black pop culture that are as meaning, like just existing as your natural blackness or meaning, making yourself presentable or respectable or palatable to white people or something like this. So, in the top I have Spike Lee and then I have Tyler Perry crossed out, but that’s going to be a little controversial. Then I have Jackie’s Back, but then not Sparkle. Because Jackie’s Back was mocking a blaxploitation film, where Sparkle was a blaxploitation film. Then I have Richard Pryor, after he comes out behind The Wiz machine and then I have him crossed off as The Wiz machine. I guess all these little black pop culture gems that I put in there because people who get it, get it.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. So outside of design, you mentioned you choreograph, you DJ? You’re DJ Glen Coco, is that correct?

Jerome Harris: Yes, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: What do you spin?

Jerome Harris: It’s a very specific reference. If you get it, you get it.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Well, what do you spin?

Jerome Harris: Oh, mostly black ass music. I play cookout music. So, it’s Evelyn Champagne King, Love Come Down. Luther Vandross. There was this moment between disco and the 60’s and 70’s and then house music and the 90s, when black people were making this dance music, but it wasn’t a specific genre. It was just kind of like The Whispers. I don’t [crosstalk 00:52:23]-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, I love that genre.

Jerome Harris: I don’t know what that’s called. But, that’s what I play mostly and house music and disco and contemporary stuff that sounds like that. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I’ve heard the music called… So, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Axle F Party. Have you heard of this?

Jerome Harris: No.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. So, Axle F Party is this party in DC where they play all this music. It’s from ’77 to ’87. It’s Jheri curl funk, champagne soul, laser boogie. Those are the terms that they call that genre of music. If you’re in DC, you got to check it out. Even looking at the flyers and everything, the flyers are very much in the style, I wouldn’t say in the pin and pixel style but, I think even if you look at the flyers, you’re like, Oh, you can tell that they are pulling this inspiration directly from that time period. That music that mixes R&B with synths and vocoders and other electronic things of the time. I mean, I love that genre of music. It’s so good.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. That whole moment for me is, I don’t know, it’s something about it. If I’m at the grocery store and I hear, Patrice Rushen’s, Forget Me Nots, I can’t stay still. I’m like, How do you listen to that and stand still? You just can’t. That whole moment is maybe, my favorite little moment in music history. It’s just, nobody ever decided to call it a thing. Which is okay, I think I’m okay with that.

Maurice Cherry: I call it the shoulder music. Sometimes, you got to just like-

Jerome Harris: Ooh, I like that.

Maurice Cherry: You got to hit it with the shoulder, sometimes.

Jerome Harris: Cookout music is the closest. When you say cookout music, black people are like, “Oh, yeah. I get it.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. You definitely got to have some Frankie Beverly and the Maze in there. Some Earth, Wind & Fire. So, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Do you have a dream project that you’d love to do one day? That maybe melds all of these things that you’re passionate about?

Jerome Harris: I have two and knowing me, I mean, if you’ve known me since I was a kid, I was always doing, at least, three or four things. In high school I ran track, I choreograph for the dance team, I used to sketch and I was also part of a youth organization called, City Kids. We used to do youth empowerment. I did a lot. So, this is just who I am.

Jerome Harris: But my two dream things, dream projects are, I want to start a dance company. I don’t want to dance, I want to start a dance company. And I want to represent African-American design, street dance, things like this, on a concert dance stage and tour. I think that would be awesome, just black dance all the time on stage and get paid for it.

Jerome Harris: The other thing is I would like to start a nonprofit research organization for marginalized American aesthetics and design methodologies, because outside of the neglected history of black design, I know everybody else has their own history, it’s also been kind of shunned as well, and something that’ll bring those to the forefront… In my head, it will help to transform the trajectory of design, moving forward and maybe, help diversify the way that things look. There was a article even on my Medium today, I get a Medium Digest every morning and it was, why do all websites look alike? I was like, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Oh my God. I brought that up. Actually, I read that article. I brought it up in an interview I did recently about how all websites have the same hero image, three column whatever, parallax scrolling thing. Yeah, I saw that article.

Jerome Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it’s a thing. I feel like a lot of other people are sick of it, too. It’s a trickle down effect and I feel like it happens every couple of years. I feel like people in academia and culture write these essays and do exhibitions and talk about a thing enough, where people on the ground who are designing, all have this acknowledgement and say, “Oh, shit. Maybe we make a shift.” Then the shift happens. So, I feel that we’re in this moment now, and there’s a lot of folks in the design world, like Ramon Tejad at RISD and Silas Munro at… Have you interviewed Silas?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, episode 85.

Jerome Harris: Oh, shoot. Okay. I have to go back. Silas at Otis. I feel everybody’s tired of… Ramon and Silas have a thing called, Throw The Bauhaus Under The Bus, which I love. Questioning the Bauhaus, not shitting on the Bauhaus. Because they did have a huge contribution to design, but just also questioning it. Then as far as queer representation goes, Nate Piper and Nicole Kilian. They’re thinking about publishing and black publishing is not [inaudible 00:12:06]. So, everybody’s doing really cool shit. I feel like something’s happening right now. I mean, even thinking about your podcast and being a part of that as well. Because you get the conversations, not the neatly tied up essays and lectures.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I try to add a lot of diversity into what could be seen as a monolithic set of people. I try to get not just the top designers, captains of industry in Silicon Valley, I talk to folks in New York. I just spoke to a young lady yesterday in Fayetteville, Arkansas, about the UX community there, which, they have a UX community in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in case people didn’t know about that. I talk to people in the Caribbean, throughout Europe, throughout Africa. I’ve interviewed two people in Australia. I would love to get a black Brazilian on the show. I would love to just know about what the design scene is in Brazil, since it’s the largest country, but just in general.

Maurice Cherry: So, I try to add a lot of nuance and diversity into that, because I think people can see black designer and think just one thing. Also sometimes, and this is, I’m not trying to take shots here, but sometimes, especially with black media, when the term black design gets thrown out, it often ends up only being kotumb to the realm of fashion. They’re not looking at the web or graphic design or arts, in that way. It’s like, Oh, black fashion designers. We’re like, “Well, what about the rest of us?” So, yeah. I get that.

Jerome Harris: Also the same thing with my exhibition, it’s the same sentiment. You can walk in and say this is black design, but then you have hip-hop party flyers and Black Panther, newspapers and Marlboro advertisements by having Emmett McBain and Cey Adams, The Violator, artwork from ’99 and Sun Ra, Sun Ra’s poems from his book, The Immeasurable Equation and Sylvia Abernathy’s jazz. It’s such a diverse group of work, that when you walk in, you’re saying these are black people, but there’s no monolith there. And each one has its own history. Sylvia Abernathy with the Black Arts Movement. Amiri Baraka and Cey Adam’s huge contribution to hip-hop and the Black Panthers influence. It’s so many moments in history through this [inaudible 01:00:51] that you can’t walk away from this collection of work thinking about black people in one way.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So speaking of black people, and I think also, just speaking of the future, we both were at a Black In Design. This year the theme was Black Futurism 2019, we are now at the end of the year, we’re at the end of a decade, we’re really going into the future. When you think of years that sit in pop culture as the future, there’s 1984, 1999, 2020 not just a news show, but you think of that as a future, ahead. When you look ahead, let’s say it’s 2025, what is Jerome working on?

Jerome Harris: That is a good question. I think that might be my planning phase for the next step. I would, right now, want to further build my portfolio in arts and culture and nonprofits and working with artists who speak up for marginalized communities. Louis Flemings project, like the queer in black communities and build up that set of work. And then with that sort of work, start doing my dream, one of my dream projects.

Jerome Harris: The research nonprofit, most definitely, is a huge… For me, it’s something important because I don’t know if anybody else is doing it. I have to do my research to see if it’s happening and if it’s not, then I definitely want to exploit that opportunity and really try to shift the dominance of the way things look right now. Like, all websites look alike. And if not that, if I get tired of design, I’m kind of tired of design, in a way. Because I feel like I’m fighting hard and I feel like I work really hard. I feel that all designers might feel this way. You do a lot of stuff, you’re staying in front of your computer for hours, you’re arguing with vendors and then you finally get a poster or a website or something. People look at it for two seconds and walk away, you’re like, “Okay.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I mean, digital design can be very, well it is, very ephemeral in that way. We spend so much time on something which has such a very short half-life, once it’s out there in the world.

Jerome Harris: I feel design itself is not, for me, not very important. It’s a set of skills. It’s a set of tools to get to essentially, help people. Right? You make things for people. So the thing itself is not really that important. I think that the reasons and the implications and the intentions behind what you do, is the more important thing. I feel like a lot of people should stop designing because they’re just making bullshit and wasting time.

Maurice Cherry: That’s a bold statement.

Jerome Harris: I mean, for real. It’s a lot of stuff out there that doesn’t need to exist. Especially with the condition of the world right now. You’re privileged by default to sit in front of a computer and make images all day. So, why wouldn’t you use that position to do something?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Yeah. See, that’s really what I like about the… To bring up the Black In Design Conference again, what I really like is that these are people that have design skills, clearly. But they’re using them in ways that are affecting and impacting the community. I first went in 2015 and it was about how do we affect the physical space from the neighborhood, to the city, to the state, to the region. Then in 2017, it was around spaces for organizing and for protest. Now this year, it’s about really, black people in the future, black justice black, black-

Jerome Harris: Wakanda.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Wakanda, basically. Black utopia. How do we take these skills and use them to ensure that we are in the future. So, I totally agree with that. Yeah. Well, to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work, online?

Jerome Harris: I pretty much have my CV on my… My website’s pretty much an interactive CV, at this point. My website is jwhgd.co and that’s also my Instagram. So, @jwhg.co and I also have an Instagram for my choreography that I do here and there. It’s @32counts. @32counts. The number’s 3-2, don’t type out thirty-two and that’s really it. If you want to give money to Housing Works, comes on to the fundraisers and yeah, that’s it. That’s really it.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well Jerome Harris, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, one, I think for an enlightening conversation about the work that you’re doing or the work that you done through your exhibit, but also, to show that… It’s interesting how even with the advent of technology design, or at least entry into the design industry, still seems to be roped into these particular narratives around, you have to have went to these schools or done these things or all this sort of stuff. I’m a self taught designer, too. I didn’t go to design school, so to be able to use the talents that you have, to not only, one, make a living for yourself, but also, to showcase others that are doing this, to help change and rewrite the canon of design history. I mean certainly, I empathize with that, because it’s what I’m doing with Revision Path. So, I applaud anybody that’s also walking that same path and making sure that more of us are being celebrated. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jerome Harris: Thank you. This was awesome.

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

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


I knew about Aricka Lewis through our mutual volunteer work through AIGA, so I’m really glad we had a chance to talk so I could learn more about her!

Aricka is a senior UX designer at Ad Hoc, as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas, so our conversation began talking about the ins and outs of her work, as well as what it feels like teaching at her alma mater. We also spoke a bit about design communities in non-urban metropolitan areas and other designers who influence her, plus I learned about Aricka’s vocal stylings with the band The Honey Collective. According to Aricka, designers shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there, and I think this interview really drives that point home!

Full Transcript

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

Aricka Lewis: I am Aricka Lewis. I’m a senior UX designer at a company called Ad Hoc, it’s a government agency. And then I also am an adjunct professor for the School of Art at the University of Arkansas.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Talk to me a little bit about the work you do as a UX designer at Ad Hoc.

Aricka Lewis: Sure. So this is a new role for me. I’ve been there just a little over maybe a month and a half at this point, but my focus right now is on making sure veterans have access to all of the benefits that they can receive from the federal government. Right now, a lot of that information is spread across the internet and there are a lot of predatory companies that will charge veterans to learn about that access.

Aricka Lewis: And so it’s part of my job to understand what those avenues are, and consolidating them in one place, so that they are easy access, especially for those who might not have the ability, physically or mentally or emotionally, to take up the space to go out and look for it. So it’s really rewarding work. Definitely difficult at times. But I kind of like that it’s difficult, because it creates an empathy and awareness within me that I wasn’t fully aware of before I started.

Maurice Cherry: That’s not even something I consider when I think about UX roles as it relates to veterans. That’s an interesting thing. What’s kind of a regular day like for you?

Aricka Lewis: Oh, a regular day. It depends. So, let me think about that. I would say that it normally starts out with me researching and understanding veteran behaviors on the internet, because what we’re doing on va.gov is a lot of consolidation of a lot of other sites. It’s a lot of research on my part to go out and figure out what all is there.

Aricka Lewis: And it’s a lot of actually talking to veterans, which is a really, really cool thing for me, having come from an enterprise background previously, to actually be able to talk directly to the folks that are using the products. So a lot of researching, a lot of talking with them to understand how to put that stuff together. And then luckily, VA has a really extensive design system and it’s public. All of the VA repos on GitHub are public as well.

Aricka Lewis: So, just really cool stuff to learn about in that aspect of research, and then just putting it all together and testing. We work obviously, maybe not obviously, but we work in two week sprint cycles. So each sprint is a little bit different. But for the most part, there’s that research and validation with veterans or some format like that, each sprint.

Maurice Cherry: What does veteran behavior look like online? I’m curious, as much of that as you can sort of dive into. I’m curious about…

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, it’s actually interesting and I don’t know if it’s because of the military training, but veterans are really, really efficient. They want to get in and out. So they will oftentimes find a lot of really strange workarounds or shortcuts on websites.

Aricka Lewis: And so a lot of my work is me understanding like, okay, this isn’t the flow that I would have assumed, but would be the way that you would do this thing. But they’re just very, very efficient in the way that they use the internet, no matter really what age they are, they will find what they’re looking for no matter how. So, that’s been really interesting, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: What would you say has kind of been the biggest challenge so far with this role? Because you’re fairly new there, right?

Aricka Lewis: Yes. So the biggest challenge for me, especially being new, is just understanding how to talk to people who have seen a lot more than I will probably have ever seen in my life. And it’s really tough sometimes, but really worthwhile.

Aricka Lewis: And so I wouldn’t say design specifically is challenging, but more so personally in line with the empathetic thinking that comes with design. It can be challenging, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: I remember this was a while ago, I met someone who, he had a podcast where he would interview basically, elderly people. He will interview people I think maybe 60 and up or 70 and up. It was called The Greatest Generation, I believe. And I remember he mentioned sort of a similar thing with talking with them, it’s like how do you ask questions to someone who has experienced so much in life, so you don’t come off sounding stupid or ill-informed or anything like that? Do you find that the veterans are pretty amicable though?

Aricka Lewis: Oh, absolutely. I think especially because I’m working on something that will honestly make their lives a lot easier, they’re more than willing to talk and be open and honest about it. So oftentimes, they’re thanking me for even talking with them about this thing that they didn’t really consider a human being behind.

Aricka Lewis: So that’s nice, and personally pretty rewarding.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Now, earlier this year you were at RevUnit, which I think that’s where I first heard about you. What was that experience like?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so I was at RevUnit for maybe three and a half years or so. I think that’s right. And they focus primarily on enterprise applications and products. And so a lot of what I was doing was for large companies like Walmart, Zappos, H-E-B if you’re Texan, and some others. And so it was a lot of working with data, data visualization, and large numbers of people using really targeted and focused products.

Aricka Lewis: For example, I worked on a note taking app for employees of Walmart, so they can basically do their work a little bit quicker and easier and it’s digitized versus having to write them in notepads, like they were doing before. And it impacted hundreds of thousands of people. So the scale of work was definitely quite large at RevUnit.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. Now, you’re in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We talked about that a little bit before we, started recording. Is that where you grew up too?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so I moved to Fayetteville when I was eight, I want to say seven or eight. My family is from lower Southeastern Arkansas, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. And my mom actually moved here to go to law school. So I’ve been here for almost 20 years.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. Was design and tech a big part of your world growing up? Were you exposed to it pretty early?

Aricka Lewis: No, not at all. So a lot of my family members are teachers. As I mentioned, my mom is an attorney, so a lot of academia, which I think I’m fortunate in that aspect. And because of that, I think my family members were really exploratory in the way that we were able to learn. So although we didn’t talk about design or maybe art as a career focus, there was a lot of creativity and problem solving in the way that we, I’m saying we, like me and my cousins, grew up when we were younger.

Maurice Cherry: I would imagine probably a lot of analysis too.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: How did you first kind of get into UX? Like how did you know this was something that you could turn into a career?

Aricka Lewis: It’s kind of a roundabout way, which I’m sure everybody says, since it’s such a new kind of industry. But I had a traditional, if you will, design job out of college for a couple months. And then I moved into e-commerce and when I was working in e-commerce I realized that I was, I didn’t know the term at the time, but iterating my designs based on the behavior. So click through rates and how much revenue was generated depending on which ad was being shown, and what banners were shown and things like that.

Aricka Lewis: And so pretty early on, I gained an interest in how people were reacting to the way in which I was designing. So I started working on the daily UI challenge. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of that or something very similar. And from there, I just decided, this is a field of design that I didn’t learn about in school. I want to take some more time and learn about it.

Aricka Lewis: So I took a junior UI job at RevUnit, the technology agency here in, it’s in Bentonville, Arkansas, but not too far from me. And it just went on from there. I was doing UI for a while and then realized, oh, user behavior is actually like a thing that I can focus on. So I moved into UX and user experience and understanding how people could navigate through the designs that I was creating.

Maurice Cherry: And you went to the University of Arkansas, is that right?

Aricka Lewis: Yup.

Maurice Cherry: What was their design program like?

Aricka Lewis: So the design program, when I was there, it was less than fantastic. I don’t want to put anybody on blast seeing as how I worked there. It’s changed a lot since I graduated. But when I was there, they didn’t have a graphic design program. It was like a, what is it? A bachelor of art in visual emphasis and visual design or something along those lines.

Aricka Lewis: And so really, it was a lot of art history classes and painting classes. And then I think I actually took four actual graphic design classes to graduate. I didn’t learn a whole lot by way of what I could do with design. But I did learn the principles of design, which I think have just still been foundational in my career.

Maurice Cherry: And now as you were there and you were going through the program, do you feel like they were really preparing you for the world out there as a designer in the job market?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, I do. I’m fortunate, because the instructors that I had, a lot of them had been working, I don’t want to say in the real world, but in the real world outside of academia before teaching. And so it was nice to have them give us real world experience. And then they did have a professional development class too, where we would go to different agencies in the area and talk with people and understand like, okay, I went to design school, but I’m actually like a marketing agent now. Or, I’m actually, I’m the creative director at a tech company now or whatever it might be.

Aricka Lewis: So they did expose us to different types of jobs within the creative industry.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. And just a few years after you graduated, you also teach there. You mentioned before that you’re an educator. What is that feeling like? I can only imagine like you were just there as a student and now you have students.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, it’s really bizarre, because I guess I can call him my colleague now, but he teaches the same class that I teach, but he was my instructor when I was there. So it’s definitely interesting to say the least. It also kind of keeps me on my toes because it forces me to be sharp in the things that have kind of become second nature. I think in order to teach, you really have to know what you’re talking about.

Aricka Lewis: I think sometimes it can be muscle memory to just execute work, but to teach people and to have them understand it, I think is a whole other beast that I’ve gained a great appreciation for educators, than I’ve ever had before.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And I would even say also, the other challenge that comes with that is that the stuff that you’re teaching is also sort of constantly changing and shifting. Can you talk about like some of the courses that you’re teaching?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. So I teach the UX course and it’s interesting, because like you mentioned, it does change quite often, just the field in general. And so moving into it, students are used to having this very well laid out design brief or syllabus of the products that they’re going to do from their professor.

Aricka Lewis: But in this instance, in this class, I had been talking with a developer in the area who had an idea for an app. I was like, well, I’ve got this class and we can kind of see what we come up with throughout the course of the semester, using the design product lifecycle as a guide for how we’re going to move.

Aricka Lewis: Students are definitely not used to that, and I think it’s put them in an uncomfortable position, but one of growth and not necessarily something that’s undesirable. So that’s been interesting to seem, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: What’s it been like being a young faculty member? Do you find that students take you seriously or is it the opposite?

Aricka Lewis: They’re really respectful and I don’t know if it’s just the generation of people, but they’re just really, really nice. I couldn’t ask for a better group of students to have. It’s weird, because I don’t consider myself that much older than them. I think my students were born in maybe 1999 or 2000. I was born 1993, but I feel like the generational gap is a little bit different between them.

Aricka Lewis: So sometimes I still feel old, but I know that I’m not old. I saw one of my students wearing Air Force 1s and I tried to make a reference about how I still had mine from like 2006, and she was just like, that’s weird. But for the most part, they’re really respectful and I really enjoy having them.

Maurice Cherry: Are there any challenges that you face from them? I mean, aside from I guess just the fact that you are in the same generation sort of, but what are you… I’m just curious to know about like what current design students are going through, because there’s so many different choices for them now, and there’s so much information out there for them to get, whether it’s in the classroom, out the classroom, et cetera.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, these students, so they have classes like human centered design now, which was something that, it was starting up when I was there, but it wasn’t as fleshed out as it is now. Obviously, they’re still really into illustration and type and things like that too. But it’s been really cool to see students have such an interest in research as a design practice and human behavior.

Aricka Lewis: And outside of that, they’re just really, really talented. They are coming for my wig. I’m surprised. There’s sophomores and juniors who are doing incredible, incredible work. I think they also have this just awareness of social responsibility and they take that into account into their work.

Aricka Lewis: For example, we were doing user surveys, and I think someone put gender as an option on the survey and they were questioning if it was relevant to the survey data, and was it going to be relevant in our research? It’s just those questions that I wouldn’t have even thought to ask when I was 19 or 20 or whatever age in college. But it’s really, really cool to see how they’re thinking about environmental and social impact of their work.

Maurice Cherry: Interesting. I just came back from the Black in Design Conference not too long ago, and that was one of the things that they were talking about as they spoke on spaces, about carving out sort of these spaces where you can use your design work in a way that can have a social impact in that way.

Maurice Cherry: Other than what you’ve mentioned, are there other things that your students teach you?

Aricka Lewis: They have definitely taught me patience and they’ve taught me how to be clear and direct. I think-

Aricka Lewis: … how to be clear and direct. I think, oftentimes, a lot of us, but I focus, or I suffer from imposter syndrome quite a bit, and so they’ve really taught me how to be confident in the work that I know that I know how to do and how to communicate directly and clearly so that someone who doesn’t understand those things can clearly understand them.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Nice. Now you’re still pretty early in your career from what I’m picking up here. Have there been any resources or mentors or anyone that has really helped you out along the way, any organizations maybe that have helped you out along the way?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so these are two separate things, but organization-wise, I joined AIGA when I was in college to go to one of their portfolio reviews, and this is before we had a chapter here in Northwest Arkansas, but I joined it, the Kansas City chapter because it’s close, about three hours away from me, to do a student portfolio review, and I just met a lot of just connections and people that had so many different backgrounds in design or in tech that gave me really valuable feedback or even just advice, and I still have a lot of those connections to this day. I think through AIGA, I’ve learned, or I’ve met a lot of different people over the years who’ve also become mentors.

Aricka Lewis: One person specifically, she’s not a member of AIGA, but her name is Lisa Baskett. She started at RevUnit a little bit after I did, but she’s like the most amazing designer/researcher I’ve ever met ever. She quickly became a mentor of mine when I was at RevUnit pretty early on in my career there. She helped mold where I wanted to grow and develop. I’ve kind of, for a while, I was mirroring how she was working, what she was doing so that I could kind of become as good as her. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I really looked up to her, and I still do, still talk to her all the time, but I think if she didn’t start there, I wouldn’t have known as much as I did early on about user research and user experience.

Maurice Cherry: What’s the design scene like in Fayetteville? I didn’t even know that Fayetteville would have had an active AIGA chapter or even AIGA group of people

Aricka Lewis: It’s interesting because there’s always been quite a few really good designers in the Northwest Arkansas area. There just was never a community to bring them all together. A group of I guess colleagues or friends of mine started the AIGA chapter here in Northwest Arkansas in the end of 2016, early 2017. I think that kind of encourage folks to start coming out and engaging as a group as a whole. There are a lot of little underground DIY scenes in the area, and so having kind of one meeting space for everyone to come together was a really, really great first step.

Aricka Lewis: Additionally, there’s a lot of companies here like Walmart and Tyson and J. B. Hunt that employ a lot of UX designers as they move into that ecommerce or whatever-you-want-to-call-it field, and they’re starting to kind of become tech companies internally within the organizations, and so a lot of their designers started coming to our events as well. The design community has really grown here, and our membership base grew wildly thanks to a lot of the companies here that provide jobs for them.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. I’ve always just been curious about that with small towns because we hear so much from Silicon Valley, San Francisco, LA, and New York about all the great design things there, but there’s tons of cities and communities between those extremes that you really just don’t hear about what’s going on in smaller towns. I relayed this story before we started recording about going to Raleigh-Durham a few years ago and noticing what a vibrant scene they had there, which I honestly would not have known unless I had went there. I didn’t know that the need and the drive was so strong in Fayetteville to start your own chapter and really start putting things together.

Aricka Lewis: There’s surprisingly… maybe not surprising. Not surprisingly to me, but maybe to others. There are a lot of small design agencies here as well. Some do work for the larger companies and some don’t, but there’s a really, really big design scene here, and I say big obviously per square mile maybe, I don’t know, but for it to be a small area, it really is growing, and more and more agencies are popping up, which is really, really great to see.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Nice. Now what… Tell me some more about the work you’re doing with the AIGA. You mentioned this chapter, but you’re also doing something else with the task force, D&I task force.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so my role has kind of evolved over time. I started out as a programming director and am now a VP of inclusion and initiatives for the chapter. Recently, within the last couple of years, we had the AIGI D&I, the national D&I task force had a meeting here in Arkansas where we invited all of the members of the task force plus all of the D&I representatives from each of the chapters nationally to come to Northwest Arkansas where we just talked about the initiative as a whole and how chapters locally can impact their community and how we can diversify AIGA’s membership because it’s well-known that aid is not very diverse, and so how can we help facilitate the work to make space for those who are not represented in our membership.

Aricka Lewis: It was really, really cool to see. I was happy to have everyone come see Arkansas and make their own opinion instead of just reading what you learn in the news or whatever it might be. It was great to have them come and actually witness Arkansas for themselves.

Maurice Cherry: What do you think is the single most important skill that a designer needs these days? It can be a technical skill. It can be a soft skill. What do you think in your experience?

Aricka Lewis: The single most important skill that a designer should have. I think… Hmm. That’s a good question. I’m trying to figure out how to word it. I might stumble for a second. The ability to analyze problems, and I know that seems super vague and buzzwordy, but I say that because I think oftentimes designers like to jump to a solution or something they think they like or something that they’ve used before, and they want to apply it to the same situation, but I think the ability to really dive into a problem, understand who’s being impacted by it, what the impact is, and why it matters, why it’s important is highly valuable and I think even more important than just designing a solution because if you just go out and throw something out there, it could just… it couldn’t be the right thing or it could, but I think being able to understand either if it’s a user or if it’s just a blanket problem that might affect a lot of different people, those are important things to know.

Maurice Cherry: And I would say there’s so many UX designers out there now, which is really why I ask this question, whether it’s through a formal program like what you’re teaching or through something like general assembly or even self-taught courses, I feel like the number of UX designers over the years has steadily just been increasing. I think the part that you mentioned there about really being able to analyze problems, that’s something that is super important for any designer to know, whether it’s putting it together your portfolio, it’s not just enough to have a bunch of pretty images. You should have something which explains the choices behind why you designed it this way. That is, I think, will help set you apart from a lot of other people.

Aricka Lewis: I think being able to talk about your work is also valuable, so not only being able to show that you do good work, but talk about how you got there and your process. That’s something that I’m trying to get my students to do right now.

Maurice Cherry: When did you realize that you kind of had to put yourself out there in this way in order to kind of start making things happen?

Aricka Lewis: This is kind of sad, but I had a really, really tough client meeting when I was first starting out doing some UI work, and I couldn’t articulate why I had made the decisions that I had made. I started crying, and it was so embarrassing because I just couldn’t, I don’t know, I couldn’t talk about my work. I think it was because I was paralyzing myself and I was afraid of failure and I was afraid to put myself out there and just say, “This is why I did this, and I think it’s the right thing,” so instead I just didn’t say anything.

Aricka Lewis: I didn’t want to put myself in that position again, and so I learned from that. The next time I had a client meeting where I had to present my work, I was more confident in talking about my process and the method in which I got there and why I did what I did. It may not have been the right solution, but I was applauded for, I keep saying it, putting myself out there, but I was applauded for just being open to hearing feedback and for including people in that process. It really does impact more people than just yourself if you are the face of that confidence and that opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: Absolutely. What do you wish you really would have known about, I guess, the design world when you first started?

Aricka Lewis: If I’m being honest, I wish I would’ve known how not diverse it is. That was a really hard thing to go through when I first started. I’m in a sorority, and I was just used to seeing a sea of different faces in college, and so when I went into the workforce, it was jarring, and I was not expecting that. I definitely wish that I was… I don’t know how you become more prepared for that, but it would’ve just been nice to know. I was kind of blinded by it, and I want to say it’s because I didn’t have any professors of color when it came to my art career.

Maurice Cherry: Interesting. Now here you are as a professor of color, I mean, not teaching art, but teaching UX, so at least your students kind of have that to look up to as a possibility model.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of the reason that I agreed to do it because I was a little like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe they’re me. I feel like I don’t have enough experience under my belt,” but in reality, this experience that I have I think is just as valuable as someone who’s been in the field for 20 years who might not experience the same type of workforce that I do. I was willing to put myself out there so that that visibility is there for students who were like me and wanted to get into design but maybe didn’t see someone else who looked like them.

Maurice Cherry: Who are some of your influences? What drives you to continue with this work?

Aricka Lewis: I would say… so someone else asked me this question recently, and funny enough, I said you.

Maurice Cherry: Me? Oh.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. I think that… so surprised, this is The Maurice Show now. No, I’m just kidding. I said you were one of my influences because you have put yourself out there in so many different avenues and have started a lot of different projects that, big or small, impacted a lot of people, and I think that’s important work, so definitely you, and then my professor who sparked something in me as far as social impact and social, I guess, justice go, Marty Maxwell Lane. She’s a big influence of mine. She does a lot of community work in the area, and now she is on the National Board of Directors for AIGA.

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Aricka Lewis: Again, just people who are not afraid to just get out there and do stuff, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

Maurice Cherry: It’s interesting… I mean, first of all, I’m very flattered for you to say that. I’m a little taken back by that, but it’s interesting because, I mean, the one good thing that I will say about technology that has really helped with making projects like these is that it’s helped to democratize ideas, so anyone can have an idea, that’s great, but it’s just about what you’re able to do with it. Oh, my god, who did I speak to recently? I believe I was speaking to Ari Melenciano recently, and she said something that really clicked with me about how at first when she was trying to learn how to code, it was very difficult for her, but then once she got past the learning curve, she realized that you were just like putting pieces together.

Maurice Cherry: I think for me, when it’s come to making projects, I’ll know what it is I want to make, and it helps me to break it down into those components to know like, “Oh, these are the pieces that I need in order to do the thing.” For example, the recent anthology that I just published with the InVision, RECOGNIZE, that was something where, well, one, we received the grant from InVision, which was great, and I was like, “Okay, this is cool,” but then it came down to, “Well, how do I put all this together? Like yes, I want a submission process, so I got to put a website together.”

Maurice Cherry: I used a service called Persona, which is from the folks at Cargo Collective. It’s really great, really great for making little really small but artfully-designed websites so I don’t have to do a lot of code. It’s almost like Squarespace in a way, but it’s a little bit cooler, I think. But I knew I had to put together this website so I put it together, and then I knew I had to have these are the rules and things like that. I would say everything for RECOGNIZE came together in about three or four hours. That was really just a sense of like putting the pieces together because I knew that one part of the project I wouldn’t be able to do until I was able to get the website up because once I have the website up, then I can mark it, “Okay, we’re going to start taking submissions,” set up a really quick Google form, boom, submissions done. Submissions come in, then I know, “Okay, I have to work with an editor.” I work with the editor with InVision. We’re going back and forth on choosing the pieces. It’s done.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, even the people of InVision will tell you this. I had everything regimented out in like two-week blocks from March 1st to September 30th where I was like, “This is how it’s going to go. We’re going to publish by this date. It’s ample time. We can do this,” and it got done. It was great. Now, when I think next year, like, “Oh, I want to do this again,” it’s even easier to start from because I’ve already kind of put those little blocks together, and the learning curve is much simpler. Now it’s just, “Okay, when do I start and what is the theme going to be?” and then I can just put it out there in that way.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve set that foundation. It’s easier to keep going from there.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Aricka Lewis: Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: We have a question here. This is from a mutual friend of ours, Regine, who has also been a guest on the show. She brings up the fact that you’re a musician.

Aricka Lewis: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: She wants me to ask you if the music that you make or create has an impact on your designs.

Aricka Lewis: That’s funny, so shameless plug: I’m in a band called The Honey Collective. It’s a jazz, kind of indie jazz band. It’s really good.

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Aricka Lewis: I would say that… So growing up, jazz has always had an influence on me just because I grew up singing jazz and musical theater, and I think show posters were always something that I was exposed to, and so my default, and even when I started doing UI, my default was just to make it look like a show poster or like a gig poster in some way.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, interesting.

Aricka Lewis: Even in school, if I think back on my work, I’m like, “Oh, that does look a lot like… ” like I think of Paula Scher’s work that she did for… My mind, I’m blanking. What’s the theater? Anyway-

Maurice Cherry: Lincoln Theatre?

Aricka Lewis: I think… In New York.

Maurice Cherry: The Jazz Theater.

Aricka Lewis: Anyhoo.

Maurice Cherry: The Kennedy Center.

Aricka Lewis: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Aricka Lewis: They’re just like jazz poster/music influence work, so that’s interesting. I don’t know if the music that I make inspires my work now, but freelance-wise, if I’m doing something just for fun or if there’s like a local exhibition or something, I think it definitely has an influence on my print work.

Maurice Cherry: That’s so interesting that it’s like gig posters and stuff. I think I saw this at an interview or I read this somewhere something about how older designers… Well, I won’t say older. We’ll say designers that have gotten their start maybe in the 2000s, like early to mid 2000s, a lot of the things that they were pulling from for inspiration were things like CD covers and album covers and gig posters and things like that because they were trying to replicate something on the web that they saw in Prince, whereas now, “Oh, you know what? I heard this on a podcast now that I’m thinking about it. Duh.” “I heard it on the Wireframe Podcast from Gimlet and Adobe,” but modern designers… we’ll say product designers from the 2010s to now, for-

Maurice Cherry: … designers, we’ll say like product designers from the 2010s to now for example, they are inspired by other websites. And so what ends up happening is that a lot of websites look the same in terms of structure because the inspiration is another website that pulled from that structure. So like, you know how you’ll go to a lot of websites and you see what hero image, a big headline, three column, then a big parallax slider or something like that. It all tends to end up looking the same. You can just sort of slot the content in and out and there’s nothing that’s really super, super unique about it. That really got me to thinking, because when I started designing, certainly, and this was back in ye olden days of table based web design, a lot of that was built off print design.

Maurice Cherry: We would design something in Dream… No, we would design something in Photoshop and then we would slice, we would make slices, because Photoshop could export an image that you’ve sliced, it can export it with the HTML. Photoshop in a way could make websites by itself. This is, I mean Dreamweaver was around, but I think this was like a, I don’t know, way to do conceptual sort of stuff. You had a lot of people that would make these really splashy looking print design things, but then it’s all chopped up into tables and cells and stuff like that. So when you go to the page, it all loads in a weird way.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And then you’ve got one little section in the middle that maybe has text in there, but when I think about what the design looked like of things during that time, it was a lot more innovative and out there because the web was like this open canvas that you could really do what you wanted to do with it. I mean, now it’s the same way, but I find a lot of sites tend to end up looking very much the same.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, and that’s interesting because I feel like people before, there were these standard looking websites, the way that people used websites was a lot different too. I think that because design started looking similar, the behavior and reaction to that is similar as well. So we talk about standard user behavior, but I wonder if that would be different if we drew inspiration from other things than just websites that looked the same. You know?

Maurice Cherry: I think so. I really think so. Yeah, wow. So grew up with Jazz and everything, I grew up with Jazz too. I played in a Jazz band in high school. I played in my, well, it was the local community college had a Jazz band and I had started out… God, this was in another interview. Was this in the… This might’ve been in the same interview I mentioned before with Adi, where I had mentioned that I learned how to play music from video games.

Aricka Lewis: Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I was really inspired by, we had gotten a Super Nintendo and I was inspired by the game Final Fantasy II.

Aricka Lewis: Oh, the music is beautiful from that game.

Maurice Cherry: Final Fantasy II. Yeah, oh my God. [inaudible 00:39:08] but yeah, Final Fantasy II in the US, Final Fantasy IV in Japan, but I mean, I loved the characters and got into the story, but the music was just so good and I was like, what is this music and why is it making me feel things? I had a little like, I don’t know, I got this little tape recorder thing I got from Family Dollar or something, and I would hold it up to the TV while it’s recording and then take the song and go to my little Casio 32 key keyboard and try to write out the music for it, and that’s how I learned how to play music.

Aricka Lewis: That’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry: My mom saw that and was like, “Oh, you should… You know, have you learn an instrument or something.” She wanted me to play, I think she wanted me to learn how to play piano, but I just never got the coordination for it. The instrument I ended up settling on, well not settling, but the instrument I ended up learning was the trombone and I played that all through middle school, all through high school, all through college. Played it out of college in a couple of pick up bands and stuff around the city.

Maurice Cherry: I haven’t picked up a trombone in years. I know it’s like riding a bike, it’s sort of like you don’t forget it, but it’s amazing how much music has been an impact on my design, because one thing that I would do a lot when I was just trying to learn how to do Photoshop is try to recreate album covers and CD covers, and try to make this weird effect or anything like that. I don’t know, music, I empathize a lot with any musician that is also a designer. So props to that.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: Do you have a dream project or anything that you’d really love to work on one day?

Aricka Lewis: Oh, a dream project. Yes. So, for a while I was really into researching welfare and the actual demographic for welfare and who receives federal funding and why. I’ve always been interested in getting some kind of grant to do a big exhibition, like a bunch of posters on it’s not who you think it is. That’s all I have right now, but I’ve just had this idea of festering in my head, so maybe I’ll report back in a couple of years and something will come of it. But that’s definitely a dream of mine, is to inform the general public on actual government regulation and behavior versus what we think we know. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: What are you most excited about at the moment? Anything in particular?

Aricka Lewis: I am most excited about, like work-related or just anything?

Maurice Cherry: Just anything.

Aricka Lewis: Anything in general?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Aricka Lewis: Okay. Well, this is not related to design, but we just started a new D&D campaign with my group of friends.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Aricka Lewis: And it’s really good, so I’m excited to keep playing it. I’m also, I’m actually really excited about the work that I’m doing with Ad Hoc. I am super new, so I’m just excited to settle in and kind of figure out my niche, my niche, and where I as a person will fit into the whole picture. I’m still finding my way. So that’s something to look forward to.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Now, we’re coming up on not just the end of the year, but also the end of the decade. I mean, we’ll be in 2020 very, very soon. When you look at the next five years, what’s in store for you? What do you want to be doing?

Aricka Lewis: In the next five years, I hope that I’ll still be doing some sort of impactful work and creative problem solving. Maybe it’s not UX, maybe it is, but I want to make sure that I can use my design process and design thinking mindset in a way that will have real impact on real people. I know that’s vague, but maybe it’s in policy creation or policy change, or whatever it might be, but I’m definitely interested in maintaining my work with just helping people for the sake of helping them.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I don’t think that’s a vague thing. I mentioned earlier before about coming back from the Black in Design Conference. That’s a lot of what that whole conference is about, like I know when I first went to it in 2015 I was trying to get people to go and they were like, “Oh, but they’re not going to be talking about Photoshop, or they’re not going to be talking about Sketch.” And I’m like, “It’s Black in Design. When is this ever going to happen again? Let’s just go and just see what it’s like.” Over the three times that I’ve went, because they have it every other year, I am consistently inspired and blown away by just how people are taking their design knowledge and applying it in so many different ways.

Maurice Cherry: Now granted, the Harvard Graduate School mostly deals with architecture, landscape design, stuff like that. More concrete, I would say, applications of design than UX or something like that. But when you see how people are just extrapolating, some of the very same skills that you’re using, interviewing, researching, making decisions and stuff like that for much larger scale projects, it is, it’s fascinating. There’s this woman, she gave the closing keynote, Deanna Van Buren, and she’s talking about how she used her design knowledge or how she uses her design knowledge to help out basically to stop the cycle of recidivism for incarceration.

Aricka Lewis: Wow.

Maurice Cherry: So I mean, it manifests itself in a number of different ways, like making modular housing for people that are inside of the prisons or for halfway houses or things like that. Even seeing how they can repurpose structures in the community that once had, like an old jail or something like that, and repurposing it into a welding school or a peacemaking center. So then something which in the community was maybe this blight is now a source of restorative justice in a way. It is so… And the good thing about it is they, well one, they stream all the things, but you can also go online and watch past sessions. So I’m able to go back and re-watch stuff and follow the work.

Maurice Cherry: If you ever get a chance to go, the next one’s going to be in 2021, which already sounds super far away, but it is such an inspiring conference just to see how people are using their work, using their design skills in many varied ways. And then just the networking, because there is all kinds of people that are there. There’s students, there’s educators, there’s just a whole bunch of people there. It’s a really great time. I recommend to everyone who I have on the show to go, because it’s just, to me, I feel like it’s one of the few events that I feel affirmed as both a designer and a black person, and they make sure that your blackness is centered first. It’s called Black in Design, it’s not like the Design Black Conference or whatever.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And there’s been other events that have popped up that are similar to that. Afrotectopia is one of them. Data for Black Lives, which also takes place in Cambridge where Black in Design does. There’s Blacks in AI, there’s Bitcon, which I think takes place in Minneapolis. Of course there’s Afro Tech, which a lot of people know about. So it’s amazing that there’s all these kind of events and spaces now that are not just about I think the practical applications, which is good, but also it’s for inspiration and for fellowship. I like that those spaces are now being carved out for us to fellowship.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

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

Aricka Lewis: Well, I have Instagram and Twitter. My handle is the same everywhere. It’s ArickaCL, A-R-I-C-K-A, C-L. I also have a Instagram where I practice the ukulele if you care to watch me practice music pretty poorly. It’s called Practice Today. And I have a website which is ArickaCL.com.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Aricka Lewis, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Aricka Lewis: Thank you for having me.

Maurice Cherry: Well, yeah, and I just, I mean I try to have people that come on at all different levels of their career.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: I’ve certainly had people before who I’ve asked on and they’re like, “No, I’m not…” Oh, this is so funny. I was at Black in Design and there was this guy I’ve been trying to get on the show for years and he’s like, “I’m not ready.” I’m like, “You are teaching work at MIT Media Lab.” He was like, “Yeah, but you know, we in trouble right now.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I get it.” But I try to have people at all levels just to, one, show that there’s people out there that are doing this just like you, but also I think it’s really good to be able to go back, you know, like when you’re in the future, go back and listen to who was that person back then and what was I working on, and do I still have those same hopes and dreams and wishes for what I want to do?

Maurice Cherry: So hopefully I think people will really connect with this. I mean, you know, by all means please share it with your students, but yeah, I think this was a really great episode and it was really great getting a chance to talk with you. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

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.

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

While the internet has helped loads of people get into design, it’s design educators like Jennifer White-Johnson who really help teach the next generation of our industry. As a multidisciplinary artist, designer, photographer, activist, and advocate, Jennifer brings all this to her work as an assistant professor of visual communications and digital media arts at Bowie State University.

Our conversation began with talking about HBCUs and the responsibility they bear, and we discussed Jennifer’s background in art and photography and how a small stint at MICA prepared her for her current teaching career. We also talked about KnoxRoks, an advocacy photo zine dedicated to her son which helps give visibility to children of color in the autism community. As we move into 2020, I’m glad for this conversation and I hope it helps you think about how you can use your design talent in the world!


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.


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


The best way I can describe Ari Melenciano is that she is a renaissance talent. As an artist, researcher, and creative technologist, Ari is always finding new ways to express herself, speak to social issues, and find ways to use her art to enhance the lives of everyday people.

Ari talked about her residency at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, which helped her create Afrotectopia, a multi-day new media arts, culture and technology festival. She also spoke about growing up around art and music, including how technology ended up being the catalyst for the work she does now. I don’t want to spoil this great conversation too much — we were both coming off of this year’s Black in Design Conference, and I think you’ll really feel the spirit and energy that both of us still had from the event! Ari is out here doing important and vital work, and this episode captures that perfectly. Thank you Ari for showing us a vision of an equitable future!


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.


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


As designers, we are uniquely equipped with the skills to tackle any number of problems. Randy Ellis knows this, and our conversation really reflects just how much of his career and creative energy goes towards this very goal.

We talked about his work through his consultancy, 5ivehat UX Agency, and then went into a spirited discussion on diversity in the design community. We also touched on design education and the for-profit university model, teaching at General Assembly, and even cryptocurrency! It’s a great big world out there, and it’s clear that Randy has what it takes to make an impact!


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.


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