Anthony Harrison

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

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

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Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Anthony Harrison: I hope that answers the question.

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

Anthony Harrison: But you never turn off.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: No layers?

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, no layers and one undo.

Maurice Cherry: Woo.

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

Maurice Cherry: Oh, man.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

Anthony Harrison: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Congratulations.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: What? From a clothing ad?

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

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

Anthony Harrison: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: What inspires you these days?

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: In what way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsors

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

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

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

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

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handel Eugene: Right, right, right.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Handel Eugene: Yeah, definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handel Eugene: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: True.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I heard that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Shout out to Mike.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Howse: Right, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Howse: Always a pleasure, Maurice.

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

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

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

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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What does the “middle” of a designer’s career look like? Does the “middle” exist outside of a corporate company’s career ladder? I examine these questions and more with this week’s guest, the one and only Chanel James. As a designer for EAB, Chanel works on production and design and for a number of different projects, all with the goal of making education smarter and our communities stronger.

Chanel talked about what attracted her to work for EAB, and also spoke on her work with AIGA DC on their board of directors. We also discussed the South and design, how she acquired a love for illustration from a popular kid’s television show, and yes, we went into the mid-career designer topic I mentioned earlier. Chanel lives by the motto “make it pretty”, and no matter her role or profession, she definitely brings the skills and experience to the table that make her motto a fact!

Full Transcript

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

Chanel James: Hi. My name is Chanel James. I’m an In House Designer at a company called EAB, which is like a best practices research, education firm. We essentially help schools, provide schools with research, and best practices to better the experience for students in higher ed, and otherwise.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. How long have you been at EAB?

Chanel James: I’m also at my two year mark, I’ll be at two years in February. It’s been a really awesome two years, I’ve learned and grown a lot while I’ve been here, I’ve touched a lot of different projects. It’s in house, but it can sometimes feel like an agency, which is exciting in that way. We get the same projects, but they change almost each year, so that’s exciting for me.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. What attracted you to working for them?

Chanel James: To say that I kind of got to back up a little bit, after graduating I went to go work for a consulting firm, which was not my vibe, not anything I enjoyed doing. Prior to that I was working in house for a nonprofit, still in the education realm and I loved that, it felt like a family, almost felt like school in the sense where I was learning as I was doing projects. But, the other place was not anywhere in the realm of what I wanted to continue doing.

Chanel James: I came across EAB, I met someone at an AIGA event in 2017 who worked here, and I looked up their work and I was like, “Oh, this is something I think I can get with.” I love the culture, like how the culture looks and stuff. I applied, and thankfully I got it, and the rest was history from there. Yeah, I was really attracted to, I’m a big one on workplace culture and balance, work/life balance because work takes up 85% of our lives essentially. And if you don’t enjoy it while you’re there, like if you don’t enjoy it, that’s like most of your life you’re not enjoying.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: I try to focus on that.

Maurice Cherry: What is the culture like there?

Chanel James: Very supportive. People here understand that you have like, people know that you have families, and you have life outside of the walls of EAB. PTO is taken seriously, that’s really hard when it comes to being in anything with design, often times people like, “Oh, overnight. Oh, we need this tomorrow.” But here if you’re like, five o’clock comes they’re like, “Oh, we understand. I’ll get it from you sometime midday tomorrow,” type thing. It’s nice to have like, I mean there are times like right now it’s like busy season, so things are kind of like we’ve got to get it done, but there’s still boundaries. I love how there are boundaries with work/life, and home life. I think that’s my biggest thing, it’s like why I love this company so much.

Maurice Cherry: So far what’s kind of been the most challenging thing that you’ve encountered while working there? It can be whether it’s just the general work culture, or in the job specifically working with a client, anything like that.

Chanel James: When I first started here it was, it’s not the most diverse place just in terms of actual diversity. There are not many people of color. They’re working towards that, but I think that was my biggest struggle when I first started coming from my back … you know, I went to George Mason University, I graduated from there, which is all about diversity. You know, celebrating people’s differences, and so there were always different types of people. But when I started on my team, my manager is a black woman, but then that’s it. Everyone else is white, which is okay, but I found myself not feeling like I fit in quite well, or wanting to do things the way other people do things.

Chanel James: I’m a very, I consider myself a very colorful black woman. I like wearing scarves, I have natural hair, my hair is like a big piece of my identity. Coming into a space where I don’t see anybody else who looks like me, dresses like me, talks like me, it’s tough because you don’t feel validated. And so, you kind of have to break out of that. It’s a mind game almost, you’ve got to remember that you can celebrate who you are even though there aren’t other people who look like you in the room. But that still takes practice, and it’s tough. Often times people leave places because they’re like, “I don’t see anybody here who looks like me, I’m going to dip out.” But I’m really proud of myself that I saw it through while I’ve been here because it’s gotten a lot better for me, but it’s still tough. I think we all, all designer’s kind of feel the same thing.

Chanel James: You’re usually like the only designer in a space, but when you’re the only designer, and the only black person or person of color in general it’s tough, it’s hard.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I’ve been in situations like that certainly where you end up being the, I don’t want to say the token, that’s not really the best way to put it. But, you end up being the only one kind of by default, and so it takes really a strong sense of self to know that you’re supposed to be here, you’re here for a reason, because imposter syndrome can really set in fairly quickly.

Chanel James: And it set in really hard for me, and I think it was something I had to get over in college too because I came from, so I grew up in Richmond Virginia. Which, whoever is from Virginia in general knows that Richmond is a, it’s like a predominantly black city. I grew up in like an all black elementary school, all black middle school, all black high school. Because that’s the way counties are set up, and we know that gentrification, redlining, all of the histories behind that, why certain neighborhoods are more black than others.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: But, I got into my college which is in Northern Virginia, and that’s an entirely different space to be in. There are streetlights that are constantly on. I know that it’s a small detail, but it was something that … it was small, but it impacted me because I was like, “Wow, these people got streetlights, they got sidewalks, they’re encouraged to be outside, the houses look all nice and clean.” This is where I always pictured my … I’m not saying I grew up in the hood, but when you grow up in areas that are predominantly black, things are different.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: That’s just how it is, it’s just different.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: College for me was a little bit of a culture shock because it was beautiful, the campus was beautiful. Again, predominantly white, so I had to find my community while I was there. I was like, “Where do I belong?” Then I started meeting not just black, but African people so I was like, “Wow, then what am I?” Then my identity started like, I started having this identity crisis. I’m like, “Well, people are starting to say they’re from this country. Oh, I’m from Ghana, I’m from Nigeria, I’m from Germany,” people at Mason were very big about repping their countries. Then people would ask where I was from and I’m like, “America? Virginia?” I feel like I really had to find myself getting into college. That’s why I say my hair is my biggest part of my identity, because during that time, freshman year, I shaved my head. I cut all my hair off.

Maurice Cherry: Oh wow.

Chanel James: Went natural, and I decided, I was like, “This is going to be my thesis while I’m here. Let’s talk about the identity of black Americans,” and things like that. Now, did that end up being my actual thesis in senior year? No, but it was a big part of who I was. People knew me for my different hairstyles, my art was kind of centered around my hair, I always brought up some type … because again, I was the only black person in my classes, it was like one or two of us. That college was like the first time that I was the only person who looked like me in classrooms and things like that, and that took a lot of personality shifting on my part.

Chanel James: And I thought for some reason that when I graduated, things would change. I would go back into spaces where I’m like, “Oh, there’s the black boss, black CEO, or Spanish CEO,” you know? Different type of people, but I was wrong. I mean, so far everywhere I went, it’s been like … or everyplace I’ve worked at so far has been not too many people of color in general. I don’t really know why yet, I’m still trying to figure that out.

Maurice Cherry: When you look back at your past experiences, is that the main thing that stands out to you is the diversity of the teams that you’ve been on?

Chanel James: Yeah, I think so. Now, sometimes it can reflect the experience I have with working. When I first started at EAB I was not confident at all. I knew I was talented, people told me I’m talented, but I felt like I was doing everything wrong. We have a lot of processes here, and we’re very organized, we’re a very process driven team. When someone came to me and told me, “Oh, this is wrong.” Or, “This isn’t how we do things.” I would get discouraged because I’m like, “Ugh, I did it wrong again.” I would focus only on what I did wrong. On top of the fact that I was the only black person, so I was like-

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … “I’m being looked at differently because if I get it wrong, then that reflects not only on me, but everyone.” You know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and that’s such an unfair-

Chanel James: Burden’s a good word.

Maurice Cherry: … Yeah, it’s an unfair burden to even have on your mind. It’s like, “Oh, I’m not just messing up for me, I’m messing up for all black people.”

Chanel James: Right? [crosstalk 00:10:29].

Maurice Cherry: That’s, ugh, I hate that.

Chanel James: Yeah, and I started finding myself wanting to find spaces where there were other people who looked like me, or who thought like me.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: I was still pretty hesitant to be my full self around other than my boss whose black, I think it was just me and her going into like having our biweekly check ins. I kind of, like I was able to unfold a little bit. I’m like, “Girl, let me tell you about this week.” Or, [inaudible 00:11:01]. “Oh, did you see Black Panther? How did you like that?” Type thing.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: But when I’m in this, I had to … it was a huge challenge for me to call out things. I’m like, “Guys, we shouldn’t be doing …” It’s still a challenge, because you don’t want to be that person.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Like again, I’m black, but do I have to call out the things that might offend people of color?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: Or, do I seem like I’m whining a little bit? It goes back to the point of validation. Sometimes you don’t feel validated when you’re in spaces when you’re the only one who looks like you.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and I mean I think companies should realize that, that’s sort of like, or that should be seen as an advantage, or a cultural advantage in some way. You’re being able to see something that perhaps not everyone else is seeing because of the homogeneity of the team, you know?

Chanel James: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). One of the things that ended up happening for me to really feel like myself here was the fact that I found, we have employee resource groups, which I think most companies have. But, it’s groups that are for veterans, for parents, for just different groups of people to celebrate themselves, and things like that. We have the group called Mosaic, and I found, it was like two other black women on my team, some director level women, some entry level women, and men. And I was able to kind of find more of myself in them whenever I felt like I was running into an issue at work, or I wasn’t confident. I’d run up to one of their desks, I’m like, “Ugh, I can’t believe this,” type thing.

Chanel James: They would kind of help me feel a little bit better about whatever situation I was going through.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Now, I notice that all of the black people come to my desk during the day. They’ll come by, “Hey Chanel, hey girl.” It’s kind of become like we have a network, a system. I hate to say it, I think everyone has some type of Slack group, or group chat.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah.

Chanel James: Like a black … I mean you don’t name it that, but you kind of treat it like a black Slack, just going, “Hey-”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … “Did y’all see this in the news, pop culture?” Things that you can talk about freely without feeling judged in a sense. Finding that community here was really important for me, but that took a while. Prior to that I started going to Meetups. AIGA’s been a really big part of my identity too, so I in 2018 applied to sit on the board of the DC, AIGA DC chapter, and I ended up getting it. I started off as a Program Coordinator, and now I’m Woman Lead. And that-

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Chanel James: … Yeah, thank you. That’s been a really big part of my identity as well, because I am able to create spaces, find other young designers, even like non designers who are just looking for a community, and help build that sense of community for them. Just to help them push through the end of the work week. We create programs that I think build people up, and I think that’s why-

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … I’m such a big fan.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s switch gears here a little bit because I’m curious to know, you mentioned growing up sort of in the DMV area earlier, was design, and art, and tech, were those a big part of your upbringing? Were you exposed to them early?

Chanel James: Yes, yes, and no, I’m just going to say yes.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Chanel James: Not design specifically because I think we get that … a lot of people growing up would be like, “Oh, design, computer.” I’m like, “I’m not a computer whiz.” But, let’s see. I had a speech impediment growing up, like when I was really young. I took speech classes in elementary school, it was so bad that my parents sometimes didn’t even understand what I was saying, it was like only my big … I have two older sisters.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: One of my sisters who I roomed with would have to translate for me. I watched Blue’s Clue’s a lot, and that taught me how to take basic shapes and build these complex forms, right? I would illustrate sometimes to communicate, and then I started becoming more inspired by, you know how you go into black homes, you go on family reunions and things like that, and you realize everyone has the same piece of art?

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: I think I was also pretty taken back about that, so my mom introduced me … not introduced me, but showed me some pieces by Jacob Lawrence who was, anything in the Harlem Renaissance I was a huge nerd for. I hate to bring him up, but Bill Cosby, Little Bill, that cartoon.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Those pieces of works really inspired me growing up. Then, I got into middle school, I was introduced to animating. But not using any Adobe programs, I think we just used like iMovie and the Paint app. I can’t tell you what exactly we used, but it was frame by frame. My art teacher Mr. [Epps 00:16:24], really saw something in me, and so he encouraged me to keep doing these digital illustrations. Which again, I didn’t connect that to design because no one was using that terminology around me back then. I was really inspired by doing that, art has always been a really big part of my life, to the point where I applied to the Center for the Arts High School in my area but I didn’t get in. Which crushed me, but I had a pep talk by my mom. She’s like, “No, you can do it, la, la, la. Just keep going to the regular high school, make things happen for yourself.”

Chanel James: I think my parents both encouraged me in art, but my mom told me I had to pair it with something. She’s like, “If you’re going to be an artist, you have to make it profitable, so go work for a company …” again, she’s describing graphic design, but she’s not using the terms graphic design. She’s just kind of like, “You can work for a company and make maybe advertising, and things like that.” I’m like, “Okay yeah, I can do that.”

Chanel James: I ended up senior year applying to VCU Arts, which again, I didn’t get into. My world was crushed again, my validation was crushed again and I was like, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” Found George Mason, applied there, and got in. That’s when, I think it was in one of my entry level design classes, someone … they started teaching us about design, and Bauhaus, and all the histories. That is when I started, like I was introduced to the programs, and I just kept practicing.

Chanel James: I think the biggest turning point for me was meeting my professor Reese Quinones, who walked in the room, and it was the first time I saw a black professor walk into a room up to that point. I think this was my sophomore year, and I was shook. I was just kind of like, “Oh my gosh, I have a black professor.” And she was so talented. She spoke with … Now, she’s Puerto Rican but just looking at her you’re like, “Oh, she’s black.” You know? It’s black, it’s Puerto Rican, we’re all the same thing.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: But, she spoke with such passion about what she did. She would build things, and it was almost like watching a movie. She’s like, “Here, we can just take this shape here, add some transparency here, align here, and boom.” I’m like, “How did you do that? I want to be just like you.” She inspired me so much that I would sit and practice on weekends, just copying things that were in the media and things like that, going to museums, and just trying to understand …

Chanel James: Going to museums and just trying to understand why I liked what I liked, and stuff like that. So I think, yeah, that was my biggest introduction to design. But growing up I’ve always been a little Chanel artist. That never changed to me.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. When did you sort of get the sense that this was something that you could do for a career? Because it sounds like George Mason was a time that really was formative in shaping the fact that you kind of could do this-

Chanel James: Full time.

Maurice Cherry: Just as a scale. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chanel James: Yeah. Let’s see. I was able to sign up as like different school groups that we… I was in fashion society and I’m not a fashionista but they wanted me to make some of their flyers and social media ads and things like that-

Maurice Cherry: You were just saying you, you have the colorful scarves and everything [crosstalk 00:19:55] not a fashionista.

Chanel James: [crosstalk 00:19:56] to be colorful and do your own thing. But I don’t think I’m an influencer, [crosstalk 00:20:05] more stylish than I am but I would do things for them. And eventually some people from there would be like, “oh actually,” some girls would be like, “hey, I need a logo for this. Do you think you can do it?” I’m like, “yeah I can.” In my head I’m like, no I can’t. I don’t know how to do anything. And I would just kind of go for it. Open up Illustrator, which was at that time was like my best friend and put some texts and things together. Now, looking back on it, some of those things I did was, I mean I was just starting out so it wasn’t the best stuff, but that’s when I started doing things for profit and then if one person heard from another person that, oh yeah Chanel’s the graphic designer. In Black Mason, people would know me as the graphic designer.

Chanel James: So because our community was so small, you had maybe three designers who you’d be like, or three artists in a sense who would kind of do things for the black programming and things like that. And I also ended up getting a job on campus working with our housing department as a graphic designer, which was I think a pretty, that helped me figure out how to work on a team. It was kind of set up in house where we would be doing things for just housing and things like that. We’d create illustrative posters for our campus residence fairs and things for, what’s it called, freshmen move in was a really big campaign that we would have to create marketing materials, signage, flyers and all of these sorts of collateral pieces was when I started building that skillset of time management, sending things to print and things like that.

Chanel James: So that molded me a lot. By the time I finished that role there, I think I was able to intern with my mentor who was Risa [Kanyonez 00:22:15], the professor who I was drooling over [inaudible 00:22:21] I interned at her company and then ended up contracting for a little while and I’m going down the line of my timeline, but that’s essentially how I started, realized how to make a profit. People just kept referring me by word of mouth.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Now you graduated in 2017. You’ve been working here in the industry for a few years and we spoke about this a little bit before we started recording about the notion of kind of being a mid level slash mid career designer, I suppose. Where do you see yourself, like right now we’re recording this 2019, where do you see yourself in the design industry at this level?

Chanel James: I see myself, I don’t know, I’m in the middle of it. I don’t see myself as a expert by any means. Right. And I said this before, but I also don’t see myself as… I see myself as a [inaudible 00:23:18] I don’t, it’s so hard because I’m still trying to figure that out essentially. And I think a lot of us mid level designers are just still trying to figure that out. I am a part of a lot of things, mainly because of my job, AIGA, I do freelance and I use all of these different avenues and tools and people and volunteering and things like that so that I can say, yeah, like I’ve worked on, I know how to put a team together. I know how to run a program, I know how to ask for donations and things like that. But I haven’t been doing it as long as other people, so I get nervous to say, yes refer me for this or see me as an expert. You don’t have to use the word expert, if you’re not using the word expert, what else do you use?

Maurice Cherry: Right. It’s something where it feels like the, it’s the mid part that is kind of I think a little bit trippy because certainly when you see entry level positions, I see entry level positions that require as much as five years experience. That is not entry level if you’ve got five years of experience under your belt. But in the same vein, what is the middle of a designer’s career at this stage in the game because the tech is changing. The roles are changing. I mean 10 years ago there weren’t product designers. Everyone was a web designer or a graphic designer, so the roles are changing, the structures are changing within companies. What if you are a really strong individual contributor but you don’t want to go into managing a team or managing people? Where do you go from there? It’s a lot of sort of nebulous nebulousness in the middle of the design kind of career because I think even the ones that are the experts, I feel like they, I don’t know, it’s tough to say.

Chanel James: It’s a-

Maurice Cherry: I certainly. No sorry go ahead.

Chanel James: I was going to say you’re really just looking at the time of how long I’ve been doing this or if I’ve been doing this too long, have I refreshed up my skills? How long has it been since I’ve learned the latest, newest thing about this topic. And I also think with being mid level, you’re trying to move away from the negative notion that comes with being new or being labeled as new, labeled as entry because a lot of people who I’ve… Even this summer I was able to mentor two amazing individuals for our marketing department, but they both expressed to me how weird they felt, how much negativity came with the word intern, came with the word new, came with the word college grad or college student. Because people kind of brush you off into thinking that you’re not, oh, she’s not skilled or she doesn’t have, but because I mean they both were Black women. I think that sometimes young White people can get away with being new, but also being something that people gravitate towards as experts or go to’s in that sense. I mean look at-

Maurice Cherry: They’re a fresh new voice-

Chanel James: A fresh new voice. Look at, what’s his name? Facebook dude. What’s his name, the CEO.

Maurice Cherry: Mark Zuckerberg.

Chanel James: Mark, yeah. He was this college level, new, wet behind the ears guy and then like, hey, I want this app. Him and his other dudes are like… I’m sorry I’m using such basic terminology, but [inaudible 00:27:08] But when new people come up with an idea, sometimes it’s like, oh, they’re so ski… Yeah, let’s give them a chance. But I feel like as a person of color, if you’re coming in as new, young and of color, it can be really hard for people to take you seriously. It can be so hard for people to take, you unless you have a bunch of awards behind your name. You, oh, I interned at Google, I interned at Facebook. I got into the center for the arts at my high school. I went to VCUarts and because I didn’t have those names, I didn’t start having many titles behind my name until a year or two ago, it made me feel like I didn’t have much of a space in the industry to give advice or to really just kind of be seen as a person in the industry. I was still like a student of the industry, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry: That makes sense. I’ll tell you a secret, even, and this is just not only from people who I’ve had on the show, but also speaking from personal experience, even when you get to that level of having the awards and the accolades and all that stuff, guess what? People still don’t take you seriously. It doesn’t really get, I don’t want to say it doesn’t get that much better. You sort of have a little bit of an advantage depending on the communities that you’re speaking to. But I run into some of the same issues of credibility at this stage in my career as I did 10 years.

Chanel James: Why do you think that is? What issues of credibility come up? Like who would-

Maurice Cherry: I mean, how real can we get? I mean…

Chanel James: For me, I started listening to this podcast when I started this job, actually before I started this. Every day when I was at the job that wasn’t for me, to be very frank, I was very unhappy. I would listen to this podcast Revision Path every day, I would go back and I would listen to all… Though, this is maybe like summer of 2017 because I felt so inspired by all of the individuals who looked like me who came from places like me, who, they almost seemed like, I was like, okay, they have these accolades and they have these medals, these badges, they are taken seriously in these spaces. Even when people spoke about their struggles of getting to where they were, they still got to where they were.

Chanel James: So that pushed me and knowing that you’re the voice behind it, and knowing all… Of course we can list a bunch of things about Maurice Cherry and all the things that he’s done for the community in the task, I know you were on the task force many years ago, things like that [crosstalk 00:30:00] I met Jacinda. Jacinda was a really big part of pushing me back in like 2017 or 2016 so that community, right? I’m like, oh you guys made it, you are it. But to hear you say like, “ah no, we’re still trying.” It’s interesting.

Maurice Cherry: I might be telling some secrets here, but I feel like some of us, and I’m not speaking for everyone, some of us try to do a good job of obscuring that. I think from those that are coming up because we don’t want you to have that baggage. We don’t want you to come into it knowing like, oh, you can even still get this far and still run into issues because the hope is that the work that we’re doing clears the path, makes it easier for the next generation. I wouldn’t even say next generation. I mean it’s not like we’re that far apart, but I mean it makes the road easier by walking it. So that’s the hope, is to just not talk about all the negative stuff that happens and just try to focus on the more positive things to be that inspiration because it can be, there are still a lot of isms out there and I’m not just talking about the isms that have cropped up, I’d say even more vibrantly because of our current political system. But I mean racism is still very much a thing. Sexism is still very much a thing. Other isms-

Chanel James: Ageism yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Homophobia, et cetera. Ageism, yes. Even location. I mean, I’m in Atlanta and I get so many sort of small microaggressions about being from the South. Or being in the South and doing tech and design-

Chanel James: I understand.

Maurice Cherry: Like if I’m not in New York or if I’m not in an LA, these capitals?

Chanel James: Where are you? What are you doing?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah. It’s like, oh, Atlanta. Okay.

Chanel James: But at least in Atlanta, I mean, sorry to change the subject a little bit, but Tyler Perry, the studio, I feel like, I don’t know, Atlanta is on the come up with a lot of things.

Maurice Cherry: It is on the come up of a lot of things. I think particularly as it relates to entertainment. I would even say as it relates to tech, but it certainly doesn’t get the same level of, I think-

Chanel James: Respect.

Maurice Cherry: Oh absolutely not. It doesn’t get the same level of respect at all as like what’s happening in California or what’s happening in New York, Georgia still, because you know what ends up happening, I mean Atlanta is still very much a blue dot in a red state if we’re talking politically. So there are political issues which crop up that will overshadow a lot of other good things that are happening here. Like for example, the abortion heartbeat bill from earlier this year, that came up and then people from Hollywood wanted to boycott Georgia, boycott Atlanta really. And Atlanta is, because we’re that like blue dot in the red state, we get the brunt of that. It’s very much a different world once you leave Atlanta in terms of being in Georgia. So to that effect there are a lot of things that happen here that oftentimes will just get overlooked because it doesn’t come in the, I guess in the right package. I don’t know. It’s an odd thing-

Chanel James: I mean and that sucks too because I’m still pretty young. I mean, it doesn’t even matter about age, but essentially I have time to go anywhere. I have time to explore everything. But when I think about, I’m like, okay, so where can I go? What’s next after this? DC is hot and happening. There’s always jobs, there’s always things going on. But do I want to live in DC forever? Probably not. Absolutely not. And I’m like, do I want to move back home to Richmond? Probably not. There’s no jobs. I don’t consider jobs there.

Chanel James: And so then I’m like, oh, I don’t want to move to New York. I don’t want to be that girl. I don’t want to be that person right now. Who knows what’s going to happen in like two or three years. But when I think about Midwest and things like that, South, what’s happening in the South, you’re right. I mean other than Atlanta, because I think about different companies and things like that’s there. I don’t see myself in many other places and then it just puts me back on like, well, let me see what’s happening here in DC, which is unfortunate because I feel like there’s so many amazing things that each city can bring in terms of design life and culture.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. You have to really kind of work hard to make and carve out whatever that space looks like. I remember when I was 29, 30, I was really trying to move out of Atlanta hardcore. I was like, this is not working. My career has hit a plateau. Well, at that point, let’s say I was 29, 30, I had started my studio. I had just finished up this political campaign that I was working on and so things were kind of on an uptick, but I still felt like I was hitting a wall and I was like, I am not going to get better in my career until I leave and go to New York.

Maurice Cherry: So I had a friend of mine in New York who was sending me all these apartment listings and everything and I mean, long story short, I didn’t move to New York, but I ended up finding a way to make it work here, which is not to say that I gave up, but certainly I just couldn’t, I personally couldn’t see myself in New York. I mean I’m a Southern boy through and through. I know that about me and I mean I’ve visited New York a ton of times. New York is just, I wouldn’t vibe with the city. Like that’s just not how my whole, my energy would not vibe with New York. So I was like, I can’t do New York. I can visit, but I can’t live there.

Chanel James: Same. And I’m from New Jersey originally. All my family’s in New Jersey. And before that, Alabama. So, I mean, I never lived in Alabama, but my family has. And so I also am the same way about like the North. I’m like, no, thank you. But I think that that’s also another thing with being a mid level designer. You mentioned how you saw yourself somewhere and you tried to go for… So when you’re in the middle of it, I’m going to call it in the middle of it, you’re essentially looking at multiple roads in front of you and you’re like, my actions right now can affect where I am by the time I’m 30 or by the time I’m 35 and things like that. I just turned 24 so I’m always cautious and thinking of what’s going to happen if I do jump job, do find another… Should I try to work abroad for a few years like some of the other people you’ve interviewed?

Chanel James: I listened to some people who are moving to China and going to Germany, I’m like, maybe I should try, is that something I should try to do before I’m X amount of years old? Or maybe I should, I don’t have a family. I have no ties to anything. So I’m like, I should do this, or maybe I should do this. I’m looking at all of these different paths that I can take and it can sometimes be really overwhelming. And I think that’s the other part about being in the middle of your career because you’re not quite sure what can happen and what can change. And that’s with life in general, obviously, but it’s a bigger thing when you’re looking at like all of your idols and the people you look up to. You’re like, okay, I see that they made this decision, but what’s going to be right for me type thing so.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And I think, I mean that involves a lot of introspection. It involves really sitting down with yourself and saying, or answering the question, what does success look like for me? What is the space? And this is.

Maurice Cherry: What is the space, and this is something that we actually explored at Black in Design this past weekend, but there was one of the things about how do we carve out a space for wellness and for joy. Because I mean certainly in America, I mean we black folks in America, we know what the deal is in terms of how we’re perceived by society, treated by society and law enforcement, incarceration, a number of different things that are set up to go against us as just basic human beings. Does that change if we move overseas? Maybe. I think certainly from the folks I’ve talked to on the show, it’s a trade off.

Chanel James: Right.

Maurice Cherry: You certainly gain some things, but you lose other things. I remember I was talking to Douglas Turner, I think he was episode 107 or something like that. He lived in Iceland for a number of years and he was talking about how the Icelandic society is very tribal in that, everyone kind of knows each other and he’s the only black man in Iceland.[laughter]

Maurice Cherry: And saying how for him it didn’t feel like racism really existed there.

Chanel James: Right.

Maurice Cherry: Which I thought was interesting considering he’d be one of the few people of color there. And then coming back to the States and seeing how it was different. Another interview with Qa’id Jacobs, who’s a UX designer in Amsterdam. Originally from, I think he’s from Jersey, New York. He’s originally from the Northeast U.S. But him and his family are in Amsterdam and we actually had a two part episode. The first part was, Hey, you know, you’re out there in Amsterdam, what’s it like working out there, et cetera. And then we recorded the second episode right after Trump was elected and it was a pretty heavy episode. I think it’s episode 179, but I remember cause it came right at the end of 2016. We had this conversation like, well do you think you would come back?

Maurice Cherry: Now given the state of how things are, what would that look like? And I know, now I’ve been talking to several people who are really seriously considering moving abroad; moving to another country; going to Ghana or going to.

Maurice Cherry: Isaac Hayes, who I interviewed a couple of months ago, is in China right now with his family. A friend of mine right now is currently going through Thailand.

Chanel James: Wow.

Maurice Cherry: Just coworking. He says it’s like a black coworking space in Thailand in Chiang Mai.

Chanel James: What? Where? How?

Maurice Cherry: I have a passport. [laughter] We can go. We need to make this happen. If we need to start doing Black Design ex-pac trips, we can make that happen. I think about that a lot as just the industry is changing, the wages that the world is changing and what does that mean for like our safety and our sanctity. Not just as practitioners of this craft in this industry, but just as people in this world. It’s heavy stuff. It’s a lot of heavy stuff cause especially when I think about what is it that is stopping black designers from becoming leaders of design? Clearly we’re out there and we’ve had a couple of them on the show, but it’s very few and far in between. Even even.

Chanel James: Oh no, I’m sorry, go ahead. No, go, keep going.

Maurice Cherry: I was going to say even some of the projects that I’ve done, most recently, the literary anthology I did, Recognize, is about trying to set up what does the next generation look like because yeah, we have the big names now. And I’m not singling them out, but we have Debbie Millman, we have Stefan Seigmaster, Polisher. We have these big names, but they’re not going to live forever.

Chanel James: No that’s.

Maurice Cherry: What does the next generation of design criticism, design thought, design leadership look like for this industry? Cause a lot of people from around the world do take their cues from what’s happening in design in America. So if we’re putting forth this monolithic, monocultural view of what design is based on the people that are practicing it, then where does that leave us?

Chanel James: Right. And I think on that note, with who the next leaders are for me, my focus used to be so much on who’s already there. Right. I’m looking at, for me, some of my idols, Diane Holton, who I used to fangirl over all the time and now I work alongside her. We’re both on the same programming team for AIGA. When I was looking at these large names in my eyes, I’m like, well they’re already there. That’s when I switched my thought process a little bit to who’s alongside me. Who’s with me right now? Who’s doing amazing work? Who’s doing amazing things, who’s probably going to be the next big thing in terms of our industry. I don’t know if like you listen to this quote that Issa Ray, who I also stan. She said instead of networking up, network across.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Chanel James: We just had our DC design week a few weeks ago and I was able to create a program; an event around my friend Bria Taylor. She does these amazing, she started out as a designer.

Chanel James: She’s still a designer, but she designs these kick ass looking cakes. It’s called Killer Cakes and she is so talented to the point where I’m like you need to have your own show on TLC or something or wherever they’re doing the baking things nowadays. [laughter] I was using my leadership role at AIG. On our chapter board, I was able to create a program that sold out, oversold out actually around her speaking about her process, her story, what she does, and then selling had her make a little bit extra money by doing a pop up shop with brownies and cakes and things like that. And I was like, that’s what I feel like we mid level designers should be trying to do. Instead of step on each other.

Chanel James: Use each other to build each other up. Refer each other for projects that we can’t take instead of just letting the project fall through. Telling each other about, Hey Bria is having an event happening on Saturday, or Simone’s having an event tomorrow. Building a network within ourselves and then that eventually the eyes are going to start turning on us and it’s like, Oh these, this is what this person is doing in the industry. And then that’s when the shift happens. Some people still can have a competitive mindset of, Oh, I’m not going to tell you about this opportunity. Oh, I’m not going to tell you about this stuff. And then it can be even harder than what it already is. I had a friend recently tell me about the Add Color Conference.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. They’re like a conference and an award show.

Chanel James: Right. But there’s also an opportunity some type of fellowship opportunity. I don’t know, I’m going to say fellowship, but it’s a really cool opportunity for young people who are creatives to, or in the marketing. Some people worked at Facebook and things like that, who get mentored for a week gets to take these classes, gets to take back these it’s like workshopping and things like that. And then they get sponsored to go to the award show and meet some of the leaders in that industry and things like that. My friend could’ve kept it a secret and be like, Oh, I’m going to apply when that time comes. But she instead shared that information with me and was like, yeah, you should also do. I see you also in this space able to do that. And I think that type of mindset is important for where we are in our careers right now because it’s the only way that we’ll be seen.

Maurice Cherry: No, I agree. I think so there’s two examples when you talk about that networking across. One is this sort of, and sorry, I don’t know if anyone has written about this. This may be a free idea if there are any journalists that are listening, but over the past five years there’s been this emergence of are you familiar with the Brack Pack? Does that name sound familiar?

Chanel James: No, not at all.

Maurice Cherry: So the Brack Pack was a group of actors in the eighties and nineties that all ended up starring in the same similar types of movies as Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Patrick Dempsey, Rob Lowe, some folks like this. They all were friends, but then they also were in all these movies together and stuff like that. The name sort of comes from the Rat Pack, which were a group of musicians in the 50s and 60s. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior, Dean Martin, couple of other folks.

Maurice Cherry: But now I feel like there was this emergence of a black path in a way. Where it’s like Issa Ray, who you mentioned earlier. Melina Mitsui SKUs, Quinta Brunson. I’m thinking of people that have started on the web and have moved up into larger areas of media and they all work.

Chanel James: Together.

Maurice Cherry: With and across each other together in a really interesting way because you see them in each other’s projects and you’re like, okay, they’re working together. That sort of thing. I also see that honestly in the podcasting world too. Are you familiar with The Read?

Chanel James: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So The Read, there’s a number of shows that are in the same orbit of The Read, but they’re all friends. There’s The Friend Zone with Hey Fran, Hey and Dustin and Asante. There’s Getting Grown with Jane and Kia. There’s Jade and XD, and they all are friends, but they all have their own separate shows and platforms. But they all cross pollinate [chuckle] with each other. And I’m like, that is so dope. I would love to see what a black sort of design collective of some sort will look like if we were doing that. [inaudible 00:48:34] What could we accomplish and put out in the world with that sort of thing?

Chanel James: Right. I talk about that all the time with some of my friends. I have a friend in New York, Tavis Northam, who is a designer, director, photographer, and we are always collaborating on projects and then he came out with this indie short called Bakari about this runaway slave. And I created the poster for it. He’s always referring me all the time. I’m referring him. Same with, Oh man, it’s so funny. I can’t believe I’m printing your name, but some of my friends who actually went to Black and Design, I’m the same way with them and I think, that that emergence is already kind of happening. When you look on certain channels on Instagram, certain things popping up. People are creating a lot. There’s a lot of things like Well Read Black Girl. I don’t know if that

Maurice Cherry: Oh yeah, yeah, I’m familiar with that.

Chanel James: Things like that; platforms like that that are black creatives also on Instagram. Things that you can hashtag and tag. It’s a feed that you can kind of scroll through that is getting larger and larger by the month where you’re seeing people support each other. I gained a lot of my followers I think by my different hat. I always hashtag in on my art on Instagram and then I get people messaging me, deeming me, and all of a sudden I have a whole network of new friends who are enjoying the same things like type arts and things like that as I am. So yeah, I think that’s cool and it’s really important.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I would really like to see more of that; working together, collaborating on projects and things like that. I mean I even try to help out where I can. Certainly, for people who I’ve had on the show. If there is something they’re interested in, I try to make those connections. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t.

Chanel James: To be honest I’m not afraid. For a long time I would write notes from the PI. The different episodes that really inspired me and I would message, I would go on in LinkedIn or wherever they said at the end of the show to talk to them. I would message and be like, Hey, my name is Chanel. You really inspired me with this thing that you said. Just wanted to let you know that effected me. One girl who you interviewed, I think she was from Boston. Her name started with a D and I’m blanking on exactly what it was, but maybe last year I reached out to her on Instagram and we actually ended up becoming like, I’m not going to say friend friends, but like IgE friends and I would comment on her work and stuff like that. But she was, I think she was also my age. So I was super excited to hear her story and hear her process and hear how what she was able to do after school.

Maurice Cherry: In Boston? I’m trying to think who that is.

Chanel James: Okay. Boston. Maybe Connecticut? She [inaudible] but I don’t think she went to [inaudible].

Maurice Cherry: Oh! Daniqua Rambert her name.

Chanel James: Deniqua. Yes.

Maurice Cherry: She goes by Willow now, but yeah.

Chanel James: Oh Okay. She definitely was a big inspiration to me and I think I caught her off guard when I messaged her. [laughter] I was like, hey girl. [laughter] I’m a fan! She was probably like, who is this girl? I mean, she seemed cool with it. I was cool with it. I know. [laughter].

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Well when you look at, I mean we’re coming up at not just the end of a year, but the end of a decade right now. What do you see yourself doing in the next five years? Like it’s 2025 what is Chanel James working on?

Chanel James: Wow. Okay. So I definitely wrote out my five year plan.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. [laughter].

Chanel James: This was actually on my five year plan. So Pat on the back for me for making a revision path. [laughter] I’d say I don’t ever say where I am because I don’t like jinxing it. I say how I feel and what I’m doing for other people. So I’m financially able to support myself and my family. Me and my parents. [chuckle] And I am continuing to create spaces for specifically black and brown youth to enter specifically the design realm; a creative space to encourage them to be creative and educating them on what design is and looks like. I think that’s my biggest hope for myself on these next couple of years. Especially entering the new decade is to introduce design as a possibility to more people; young people of color and older people of color. Because you can always switch careers and just create spaces where they able to be there, their fullest self.

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

Chanel James: So I am on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn and not Facebook. LinkedIn. You can find me on Instagram at Chanel Niari, C H A N E L N Y R E and on Twitter at Chanel_Niari and there’s also my website, chaneljames.com.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well Chanel James, I want to thank you for coming on the show and not just sharing your story, but also really for first of all, really illuminating conversation. I love being able to really talk and go into these sorts of issues around identity, and the industry, and motivation, and all that sort of stuff and I hope that others that listen to it will get inspired too. I feel like there’s a lot of folks that are in the middle, but the thing is the middle is very vast as we sort of discussed. It can be a few years in to a decade or more. There’s a big gap there where a lot of us are in the middle of it, as you put it earlier and I’m just really glad to be able to talk about these things with you. Glad you’re able to mark this off your five year plan. But this was really, really great. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Chanel James: Yeah, no, thanks for having me. And I encourage anyone to, if you felt inspired by this, to reach out. I’m always excited to chat and network with people. Let’s make this, what did you call it? Black Pack. [laughter] Let’s make it happen. Let’s make it real. So thanks so much for Maurice, for having me on the show.

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. 

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.

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