Hank Washington

Meet Hank Washington, the owner of Hank Design Studios. His studio’s mission is to help brands turn strangers into friends, and Hank does this through the design and illustration. I was glad to catch up with him recently, not too long after his move to Atlanta.

We spoke about weathering the pandemic, and Hank shared how the first few months of business has went for his studio. He also talked about growing up in a small Southern town and being exposed to design as a kid, moving to Alabama to consider pursuing his dream, and gave some great advice for any designers out there looking to hone their unique style.

Hank’s illustration style is a good indicator of what kind of designer he is — creative, playful, and willing to think outside the box. And now that he’s struck out on his own, there’s no telling where his skills will take him!

Sponsor

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.

Arthell Isom

This week’s episode will be a real treat for anime fans out there! I had the opportunity to talk with Arthell Isom, co-founder of Japanese animation studio D’ART Shtajio. You’ve probably seen his studio’s work on The Weeknd’s video “Snowchild”, or as part of the hip-hop inspired indie anime Tephlon Funk, but how did he come to be the first Black man to own an animation studio in Japan?

We talked about his current road to success, and Arthell shared how he runs the studio from day to day. He also gave his thoughts on representation in animation, what he loves about Japan, and he discussed why he started a studio there instead of the U.S. Arthell is making history and I love that he is blazing a trail for others to show that it can be done!

Sponsor

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.

It’s time for Revision Path’s annual audience survey! Give us your feedback on the podcast, and you could win a $250 Amazon.com gift card from us! Head over to revisionpath.com/survey today. The survey closes on May 31, 2020. Thank you!
Randall Parrish

If your emotions have been up and down for the past few months, trust me…you’re not alone. But I’ve got something to help lift your spirits — this week’s interview with “human glitter bomb” Randall Parrish! We talked at an interesting point in his life too; he’s fresh off of a cross-country move from DC to California and recently started a new job as an art director at Sonos, all during this crazy and unpredictable pandemic.

Randall started off with how he’s holding up while getting used to the triple whammy of a new job, a new city, and working from home. From there, he spoke on his work with Sonos’ design system, and also talked about his previous agency work at Publicis Sapient and WDG. Randall is also big on giving back to the community, and we talked about his volunteer work with AIGA, as well as his work with some past Revision Path guests — Dian Holton and Chanel James!

Randall’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and I hope his story helps get your week off on the right foot!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Randall Parrish:
Hello there, I’m Randall Parrish, I’m an Art Director at Sonos. I work on the interactive experience team, which basically controls the mobile design application for all Sonos speaker systems.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now for starters, I know you’re new there, you’ve been there what, a month, two months now?

Randall Parrish:
I’ve been here about five weeks.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, five weeks.

Randall Parrish:
I took a one way ticket on March 9th, moving 3,000 miles away from everything I’ve ever known. And I was in the office for about four days before the whole city shut down.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Well, first of all, congratulations on the new gig. I know this is probably a very unprecedented time to start a new job. So, how are you holding up?

Randall Parrish:
It’s been really interesting because when I thought about just moving to California, I remember visiting in January and Santa Barbara is just this amazing simulation of just perfection. It’s this beautiful beach town there’s flowers everywhere, there’s wineries and restaurants. And of course the second I get there, all I can do is just unpack really slowly and just take Zoom calls from my couch. So in one sense, it’s amazing because you still know there’s all this amazing potential out there. But the other end, you’re just like, “Oh, why me? Why now?” But still very optimistic [inaudible 00:04:04], I’m still connected with the coworkers, everyone’s been very friendly and everyone just understands that this is not what anyone imagined for themselves this month or this year at all.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Randall Parrish:
So [inaudible 00:04:17] just helped me throw myself into the unpacking and the work and just being acquainted and then I guess to make a bit of an itinerary for later. So now I feel a little less guilt about holding still on the weekends.

Maurice Cherry:
And you were only in the office for four days? Is that even a full work week?

Randall Parrish:
Not even a full week. Technically I was breaking in for another week, but I wasn’t supposed to because I didn’t have wifi at the time. Because all services are a little slower than they used to be, so there was a brief week where I had this just gigantic industrial thunder dome to myself where I was the only person in there, just playing with all the hardware really loudly. But the following week, everything was just straight up shut down. It was starting to become a bit of a risk between security, and delivery people, and regular employees. I was there for four real days before I was just completely shut out and just housebound.

Maurice Cherry:
So you mentioned that you work on the app experience of Sonos. So I know most people know Sonos as the actual physical speakers. You have the little Play:1s, you have the Play:3, which is a larger one, the Play:5 is the huge one. You’ve got, and I say this because I have them in my apartment, but you have the Playbase, and you have the sub, and you’ve got the soundbar, there’s a bunch of different hardware components that go on to it and they’re all tied together with this mobile app. So talk to me about what your day consists of, because it sounds like you would possibly have to interface with a lot of hardware, but unfortunately you can’t because you’re not at the office.

Randall Parrish:
So let me further numerate and what my title means in relation to the rest of the team. So as of right now, I believe we are about 61 designers or so, we’re quite a few. I’ve never worked in a place that was internal, first of all. And I’ve never quite seen just so many different people with different ownerships of different aspects of the product. So as Art Director, I’m in this role where my role is supposed to be about owning the design system symphony. So if you know design systems, that’s a little old hat, but it’s still like a thing that’s a bit new and a bit up and coming and still trying to be just regulated within the context of Santos.

Randall Parrish:
So the idea for my role is to be this very connective tissue between a lot of other teams. So we have a different team that handles setup, or a different team that handles different aspects or sub branches of the app. But people who are also handling some of those sub branches also work on purely hardware or other, maybe non software, angles of the app as well. So my job is to be this person who’s understanding what are the needs that, one, that the app needs to do, two, how are other teams using the core design system so we have consistency across that, three, I’m going to also ask, “What are you all missing? What do you all need me to ingest in the system and also maintain and spit back out? And how can we work together to also have a thing where we can cross between all these 60 designers?” As well as while we’re doing that, I’m also trying to be a connective tissue to marketing. So we’re asking broad questions, like, “How can we make the app feel a bit more like the .com? How can we make the .com feel more like the app? How can you basically find consistency inside a brand voice and tonality across these different sorts of channels?”

Randall Parrish:
Because this is sa new undertaking for Sonos. Right now we’re in this really amazing renaissance where we’ve just been on a great upward hiring tilt. And that’s mostly because I think we’re, a lot of organizations the last four to five years, I would say, really started to just really amp up just how seriously they’re taking design. I think design is starting to really get this seat at the table. People are starting to understand the value and the ROI on design. So we’re seeing all these different companies who you would have thought were very design centric, like Sonos, but hung it’s hat on being this almost like the Apple of speakers. But in terms of software, they were, I think I can easily say that maybe they weren’t kind of as competitive as they should have been at the time-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no. The Sonos app used to be trash, it was really bad.

Randall Parrish:
It was super bad, but the hardware was amazing. So you forgave it, right? You know what I mean?

Randall Parrish:
That’s good that you were like, “I don’t care how bad this app is, it sounds so good.”

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true, that’s true.

Randall Parrish:
I remember, it was funny, I remember when I interviewed, I outright said, I said, “I didn’t think the Play:1 was a good bite until AirPlay was added,” and they gave me a fun stat, turns out significantly less people use AirPlay than you might think. I was very blown away by the metric.

Maurice Cherry:
I can see that. I can see that.

Randall Parrish:
[crosstalk 00:08:26] lee than I thought.

Maurice Cherry:
Right now, I have in the living room, I’ve got to Play:1s and a Playbase and so I have them just connected as a surround sound thing, which is mostly how I use it for gaming. So I can get the really good sound when I’m playing PlayStation or whatever, which is great, I love it for that. And maybe this is just me, I rarely actually play music on my Sonos speakers, but I think it’s because I have them hooked up to the television. Now, before I did that and I connected with the Playbase, I think I had one in the living room, no one in the living room and one in the bedroom, and I would use the app to play music to it. I wish, this was before, well, I think Chromecast was out around this time, but the ability to cast to a speaker or something like that, which Google kind of lets you do, Google Play kind of lets you cast to Sono speakers. I don’t know how that all works out. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. But it didn’t use to be such a great harmonious experience. So that’s interesting to hear that.

Randall Parrish:
I was just thinking about just all these fun little things I know about just relations or [inaudible 00:09:36], all these different things. Sonos right now exists in this Switzerland kind of state, so you’re like the Google doesn’t work that well, oh boy, we got [inaudible 00:09:44].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Randall Parrish:
Yeah, because a lot of what we do is, a lot of what we pride ourselves on is being this amazing connective tissue between hundreds of services. Now some of those are the large partners like Amazon and Google and Apple, but we also have all those like small-time partners. So it’s always interesting when [inaudible 00:10:02] moments where a big time partner has maybe an integration or something that isn’t always working quite the way you would expect. And there are all sorts of just wild hijinks and reasons for why something is, or isn’t a certain way, but it’s not always up to us.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So, how did you first get started at Sonos?

Randall Parrish:
So first week or how’d I get discovered? I guess how I got discovered. So yeah, let me really wind it back a bit. So I want to say it was maybe August of last year I got a ping from a recruiter I had never actually had applied to them. So initially I got a call about a creative director of mobile apps job from them. And I remember when I got the email, they were just like, “Oh, how do you feel about relocation?” And I grew up in Northern Virginia, I’ve lived in the Arlington, DC, Metro area, my entire life. And I remember I was just like, “Well, you caught me out this very interesting apex moment in my life,” I was still very fresh off of a breakup.

Randall Parrish:
It was a very wild, just tumultuous time in my life because I thought I had this plan in my life for what I thought that my following years were going to be and I get this call and I’m just like, “Huh. You’re catching it every time in my life. This is suddenly something that suddenly seems on the table.” If I had gotten this call six months a year ago, I would’ve been like, “Oh, sorry, I can’t do it.” I would have let go straight to voicemail. But the timing was just impeccable for just making me really take it seriously. The other fun part was when I got in the call, I already had four Pla:1s in the house, so I didn’t necessarily need coaxing that the hardware was any good or was like actually worth selling or being engaged in.

Randall Parrish:
And the other part was I was also asking myself, “Okay, what do I really want to work on?” I come from an agency background, I’ve done that for about the last eight years straight. And an agency is, half of the fun was you get to reset your mind pretty often, you get to try a lot of different things, you get to reset pretty frequently. But I asked myself “If I,” you don’t always get to choose the topic and you’re not guaranteed to love whatever project you’re on next and, “What if I could actually choose the thing that I could actually fall in love with? And what if I could do this and this new shiny place just do, not quite a reset, but just like a natural continuation in this very, just amazing, brave, intricate way?”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Randall Parrish:
So yeah. So I got that call in August and just a little upward from there. I can tell you stuff like interview highlights and things like that, but yeah, that’s how the initial seed.

Maurice Cherry:
The fact that they sought you out is amazing, that’s great.

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Clearly you were doing something worth, that was worthy of them seeking you out in that way.

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), I do pride myself because back when I left DC, I was in the top 21 designers there, on the trending metrics I think I had more followers than the Capital One design team. I love you Capital One, I have your cards. So it was just funny because I think it was… Dribble is such a funny, interesting way to generate traffic and just be seen in a city that’s as, I don’t want to say small, but the size that DC is, out in LA, I feel like I would have never gotten half the opportunities because I think that the density is so much higher. But in DC, I think that’s just the right market for just a midsize targeting person, like me, to get picked up.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So you mentioned Symphony, the design system at Sonos. Outside of that, are there other projects that you’re working on or is that the main thing?

Randall Parrish:
Right now that’s the main thing, mostly because there’s still some other things that I might target. There’s a few things have been shifted around, priorities are still being readjusted all the time, but owning Symphony is expected to be a very large, major undertaking, mostly because it touches so many aspects of what other teams are doing. So for example, it’s like we have a team that operates on set or we have other teams that own other areas of the app, anytime that they have a new feature that they want to do, it has to still be ingested somewhere, still has to work within the system, and we still have to make sure that we aren’t creating so much bloat within the system that we just have a million just different unique one off pieces everywhere.

Randall Parrish:
So a lot of that is just about, little bit’s about managing, but it’s also about trying to meet in the middle a little bit. So I see it as this great opportunity to a little bit of a negotiator between people, and another reason why I think I was chosen for the job or why I kind of stuck out was they really like how I don’t ome looking at design system from a pure product design background. A lot of my background is usually about like when I went, when I was at Sapient, what I did was I worked on we’ll call the digital innovation pod. So basically what we do would do is we were often doing either pitch work or much more pie in the sky type, idea generation for these big billion dollar brands.

Randall Parrish:
And what that gave me the ability to do in addition with my time at Davey DG was getting really good at just trying to figure out where do I let go of the break, where to really push something in a kind of visual design type way, well also still being held to like the same rules as something that was still had gone through rigorous UX. So I would still be working on teams to make sure that, “Oh, a financial analyst… [inaudible 00:15:00] agree that this is all sensible. This makes sense. And also like my associate creative director on UX also agreed, okay, this makes sense. This is like a good use case or a good scenario that we would present it if we were trying to ship. But also while doing this instead of a tight bubble about just making it as unique and different as possible as well to be unlike the rest of the other big billion dollar players in the market. So a lot of what I’ve been trying to do is I’m trying to figure out how to basically take marketing design type sensibilities and add them to a very product focused company and kind of meet in the middle to figure out where we can kind find that happy center ground between the two.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), and before Sonos, you were an art director at Publicis Sapient. So you already had this experience of working with these big million, dollar multimillion dollar brands. But talk to me about what your agency experience was like.

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), I initially got started at this, a very small shop in old town Alexandria now Arlington WTG. So I was there for five years. It was my first real adult job out of college while I interned at it became designer, but it was like they just couldn’t.

Randall Parrish:
Out of college while I interned and became a designer it was like I… They just couldn’t shake me off. And I feel like I got there at this very fortuitous time. When I got there, it was just like they were very young, very kind of startup-y. There was less than 20 people. It was like a wear your pajamas to work type place. And I think I got in there at a time where they were still very young and still finding themselves. And year over year, we all found ourselves in this more mature way, year over year. So we were just doing very, very small scale marketing sites. And every single year we had a great way of just having new challenges approach.

Randall Parrish:
So, bigger fish would call. So people like Red Cross were calling or people like the Folger Shakespeare Library were calling or people like the American Enterprise Institute. Just bigger, just names that you might actually see or catch on TV, or are just very notable in the DC area were creeping up. These kind of like AAA for the region type projects came in. And as I started to go from just being in a sort of assistive role to being someone who could kind of take ownership and really run something from conception to deployment.

Randall Parrish:
That’s what I think was the best part about my time at WDG was, I don’t think that I could have done anything that I’m doing today if I hadn’t done my time there. But I think that’s because… I think if you go somewhere small… I was one of three designers, by the way. That’s what I mean when I say small, in terms of this sense, it was a very, very small, tight design team. It was just me, my career director, [Dario Tatish 00:17:22] and my counterpart, [Christina Lakeway 00:01:23].

Randall Parrish:
And it basically meant that just about anything that came through would eventually filter through me. So that meant I had to have a feeling or an answer to so many more just problems in my day to day than I think I would have had if I had gone to a very large established product company or a much bigger agency where I would have done a bit more, just like production type work. After five years or so I think that was kind of what made me decide to open up to the Sapient. They had called me first and that was the first time that I felt like I had gotten a call from a place that was so much more bigger and so much more established.

Randall Parrish:
I had gotten calls from other small agencies or people that were about our size, but it was my first time seeing a place where they had people like Audi and Marriott and like [inaudible 00:02:05], very large, incredibly established brands were just at the front face of their portfolio. And I also knew that if I stayed at WDG I would never be able to make all these other types of tactile deliverables I wanted to do. I really wanted to be able to ship an app. I really wanted to make much larger, more complex systems. I wanted it to be able to… I also just wanted to try just seeing what it was like to be on a bigger, different kind of team. I loved my team at WDG.

Randall Parrish:
I always credit a lot of my worldly success to just my old boss Dario’s ability just to help me just, one develop my taste, but also help me just figure out what questions to ask when I’m trying to solve for a solution. What I love most about him and just his mentorship was he really taught me how to think for myself. He was never prescriptive whenever he was trying to help you along the way to solve a solution. He would give you just enough of a riddle that you were like, “Okay, I’ll figure this out on my own.” And you could feel proud and feel like it wasn’t given to you, it was still something earned.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice.

Randall Parrish:
Yeah. I get the call for Sapient and they’re a big established brand and I’m just like, “Okay, I’ll make the plunge. I’ll take this risk.” And luckily for me, [inaudible 00:19:09] one Metro stop away. So didn’t have to change my commute much. As far as the transition over, I would say a lot of it was kind of exactly what I hoped I would be able to do. I did some work for Barclays, I did some work for just all these very kind of, incredibly different types of engagements that I just never would have been able to do at WDG. Mostly because like, part of the scale, but also because there’s just a big, large mega consultancy. Right. And I also got to work with just all these other people who are just very different kinds of experts.

Randall Parrish:
So I could meet people who were masters of just finance, but also I guess it might pertain to a mobile app and just all these different types of strategists who would specialize in certain kinds of areas and topics. One of my favorite parts about Sapient was just how it was able to be such a large company, but also just had so many smart people that could just jam into a room. I really love just any kind of moment where we were pitching something or we were on this more sort of discovery type angle for a project, and we were basically just… Essentially kind of this amazing sort of design SWAT team of all these different skillsets, just really coming together in a real tight timeframe.

Maurice Cherry:
Was it a big shift then, going from the agency world at Publicis to working for Sonos, which is like this private company?

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It’s still something that I’m very much adjusting to. I haven’t worked in house, in house since ARP, when I was an intern that was like 2012. That was a full eight years ago. It’s funny because I remember thinking there was a big dramatic shift between agency to agency based on scale because WDG was about 25 or so people when I left and Publicis was about 30,000 or so. They’re in 39 countries, about like 30 States they’re everywhere.

Randall Parrish:
Coming to Sonos was very different because as you might imagine, since we’re all in house, we all worked together because the hardware, the services that is the product. That is how we make money. So what’s interesting is just, there’s a lot more just dependencies between departments, between people and a lot of what I’ve been doing for a lot of my initial onboarding, it was just meeting people, just putting names to faces and understanding what their team does and also what their team’s impact is on other projects.

Randall Parrish:
So a lot of what I’m ramping up is just trying to understand this Game of Thrones type character chart between who is in charge, what do they own and how does what they own affect other parts of different kinds of hardware and software experiences. And that’s the part that’s been most fascinating because there is so much different kind of push and pull when you’re at not just a software company, but also a company that also ships hardware. So there’s so many more moving pieces that can affect one another.

Randall Parrish:
And I guess another fun part is just the total volume of designers, because I’m so used to being this almost sole practitioner type design person on any project I’m on. I’ve almost always been the only visual design hand on most projects I’ve ever done. There’s maybe been like two or three total where I’ve ever had any kind of additional assistance. That’s another thing it’s kind of interesting to see just how other people can keep the thing going. I think I got used to this almost lone wolf aspect and every point in my career, I told myself I was trying to kind of let go of that. And I think this is a place where I finally can actually commit to that.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So let’s switch gears here a little bit because we went through a lot. [inaudible 00:22:14] so far.

Randall Parrish:
I can’t answer things simply.

Maurice Cherry:
And what I want to do is kind of take it back. Because I want to see where this drive and this enthusiasm comes from. So you earlier mentioned growing up in Northern Virginia. Tell me what that was like. Were you exposed to a lot of art and design growing up?

Randall Parrish:
I’ve always thought about just the reason why I got into design, I’ve had all sorts of different answers for myself. I would say I was like an upper average student, I wouldn’t call myself an amazing smart bad-ass or whatever. I got like, decent honor roll when I was trying, but I remember I was always a music themed kid. I liked doing band and orchestra. I liked kind of these creative type things. And I remember I was terrible at math. I could not stand doing math or anything where an answer was very black and white. What I did love was English. I did advanced English basically from like, I don’t know, third grade until 12th. As long as I could I’d always do whatever it was like the absolute most insane version of English.

Randall Parrish:
What I love most about English was I think it was, I love the idea of just doing anything where just answers weren’t ever binary. It was always when you write a paper or an essay, you’re as good as your argument. And I think that was kind of one of the [inaudible 00:23:20] that kind of got me really interested in graphic design later. I saw myself as a kid, as an artist light, like I couldn’t draw at all, but I knew that I loved creativity. I knew I liked music. I knew I liked to engage with art, but I didn’t have the means to express in a way that was good enough to be like, “Oh yeah, I would share this or I think this is actually worth doing.”

Randall Parrish:
So I was very lucky because in high school we had graphic design courses and that kind of got my first taste for a design blood. Because after two years I got to design the course catalog for the school. I think every designer has a moment where they build something and they see it made real. And that’s kind of like this turning point, right? To see something that just came from nothing. It was just some [inaudible 00:23:58] from your brain and suddenly it’s here, it’s everywhere. It’s in everyone’s homes and you’re just, I made that happen.

Randall Parrish:
And that was just such a just amazing, just indescribable moment just to see something, just to know that it was everywhere. Even though other people wouldn’t think of it as this like, they’re like “Oh, it’s just a catalog, whatever it;s going to collect dust, go in the bin.” But to me it was my big gig at the time for 11th grade. Right. That was kind of like the big turning point.

Randall Parrish:
After that, I just went to school for graphic design and the rest is history. As far as other things about growing up. I always like to mention my aunt. She was a fashion designer. She was always a very big, just advocate for creativity. I wouldn’t say anyone in my family ever was not supportive of creativity or a creative pursuit or anything. I think there probably was maybe small moments of hesitation. But my mother has always been my greatest supporter. If I told her I had plans to go to the moon, she’d be the first to give me a helmet so I can always count on her support for everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now you’ve mentioned going to school for graphic design. You went to George Mason University. What was the experience like? Do you feel like it really prepared you once you went out there in the working world as a designer?

Randall Parrish:
The state of design school is fascinating. I think I also went to school at this sort of turning point in the whole planet. Because I remember when I was in school, a lot of programs focus a lot on print and very physical media type things. But, so I went to school from between 09 and 13. And I remember around the tail end there was all this talk about like, “Oh, well, if you want to make any money, you have to be a web designer, you have to learn to [inaudible 00:25:27], you have to learn how to code.”

Randall Parrish:
And I was like, “I will make any decisions in my life to not have to close the div.” And I have stood by that for the last nine years. If you’re like, “[inaudible 00:25:38] this path involves code.” I’ll be, “Next!” I will take door number two every single time. But what’s funny is around the tail end of my time, I think that was when the internet was really changing. I didn’t have to learn flash because around 2012, 2013, [inaudible 00:25:51] was really starting to really kind of kick into full gear. I think the iPhone had been like, it was starting to mature to the point where we weren’t getting mobile dot, whatever with reduced [inaudible 00:26:00] website.

Randall Parrish:
We were starting to get to this point where people are taking smartphones as a very serious platform for growth and money and all sorts of different kinds of business structures. My first internship was at ARP and this kind of coincides with that a little bit because I remember I had this kind of print background, but I knew I still wanted to do more digital. Because I remember print was cool and all, but going to the print shop, going [inaudible 00:10:21], having everything break or not being able to fix things. It was just very frustrating.

Randall Parrish:
And when I was at AARP, it was kind of around when they were really getting into digital magazines. So using things like digital publishing to basically make like an iPad edition of a magazine issue. So when I was an intern, I was kind of the initial explorer. So basically they would have a draft of the magazine and I would try to convert or try to figure out, “Okay, if we want to add some interactive pieces or do a little, some custom treatments for the iPad or make this a bit more specialized, how might we do that? What might that look like? How might that manifest? And also how can we also bring that knowledge to the rest of the team?”

Randall Parrish:
So that’s around 2011, 12 or so. And so this is kind of this turning point, because at this point in my college career, we’ve been very told that, “Okay, you have to make print stuff. You have to make all sorts of kinds of liberals. You have to learn how to make shirts, book covers and posters.” Just all sorts of stuff. Not necessarily unfocused, but just stuff that like, it was fine. But I remember I was in junior and just felt like I was just making something new all the time and not necessarily making a straight line that was going to build my skillset. Every single class just felt like, “Okay, you’re going to make something different, but it’s not going to build off of the prior skill you’ve learned.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Randall Parrish:
AARP kind of gave me just this first taste for building for screens and making a result that was only for a screen. What you saw was what you got in this really just amazing way. There was no more print shops. There was no more lines. There was no more, “Make sure it’s done by 9:00 AM so you can line up at USP to go to Kinko’s.” It was such a different just… I love the immediacy. I love the feeling in my hands of just scrolling through something. Very basic interaction just felt amazing because it was something that I had done. The iPad one and two were so amazing when they were new and to do something on that around that age just felt so different.

Randall Parrish:
I just love the feeling of it and just, I really want to just do more of that. I think part of that was what inspired me to go to my next internship. It was ISL. They were this very cool, full service, digital marketing agency type company in DC. They were known for doing all sorts of just really kind of, very off the wall, intricate work. They would make machines that responded to [inaudible 00:28:30] check-ins, all sorts of other things that were just cool integrations with machinery and hardware and software and apps. I loved the vibe there, but what’s funny is everyone always assumes that ARP would have been like a slower, more boring, whatever job. But I loved AARP. I think it was the best set up I could have had for framing my success for later.

Randall Parrish:
I say it mostly because I felt like.., I don’t mean this as a diss to ISL who no longer exists, but I think it was just… I think they had a better plan there for just what to do with an intern, how to nurture an intern and build their skill set and give them the tools to move to the next thing. Whereas I felt like I was maybe just not quite understood, not having my time being prioritized, or there was no growth path for me at my second internship. And I think that’s a tricky thing.

Randall Parrish:
That’s the thing I always try to remind students is just, sometimes all the super cool sexy companies that look great from the outside looking in are always like, it’s different once you’re in there, right? It still sounds cool, cool stuff is going on. But there’s not always a guarantee that it’s going to help you spread your wings or help you get any smarter or stronger. So don’t discount the things that you think you might not like. Because that might be where you have the greatest opportunity to grow.

Maurice Cherry:
And now also, while you were at AARP, you got to work with the one and only Dian Holton…

Randall Parrish:
I did.

Maurice Cherry:
…who’s a friend to the show here. She’s also been a guest on the show. Did you work really closely with her as an intern?

Randall Parrish:
I did. So there is basically… ARP has two magazines. They have the [inaudible 00:29:55]. I don’t know how it is nowadays, I don’t get a subscription I’m under 50. But at the time… I’m pretty sure they still have this. They had the magazine and the bulletin, they were two sub categories of magazine. The magazine’s the big one, the bulletin is this more I don’t know, almost reader’s digest situation.

Randall Parrish:
And so, but Diana was kind of great because, she would check in regularly, she was asking “Okay, what are you up to? Here’s what we should do this week.” And she would provide feedback week to week. And she’d also give me side products and just check in often. And that’s kind of what I mean, just going back to quality of internship is because I felt like I was actually being, one, cared for but also like I was… That she was trying to actually set me up to succeed for when I was not at ARP. That’s why I always look back at my time at ARP really fondly because I think she cared to see that growth in me over time. And now here we are eight years later and it’s just so funny just how things kind of turn out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So it seemed like you were pretty comfortable, well supported in the DMV area. I mean, you were at AARP, then after that WTG after that Publicis Sapient. I know you also did a little bit of work with AIGA, the DC chapter there as well. This Sonos experience must have really been something that made you stop and re-examine things it sounds like. Because that’s a big jump at the stage you’re at in your career to be comfortable, established in a place that you know, with people that you know. And then this other opportunity comes, it’s across the country and it’s almost like a pie in the sky kind of thing.

Randall Parrish:
Yeah. I will say there’s definitely a bit of idealism that kind of had a feel of the whole thing. There is this perfect brew of just weirdness. I think it was just, one they called me right when I was kind of at this low point mentally. I was still trying to refind myself, trying to figure out what do I care about? What matters to me now? What do I want to do as this person who is suddenly this solo creature here and this agency life was still cool, but I was asking myself, I was like, “What do I really want to work on?” I was on a particular project for about eight months around when I was leaving Sapient. And I’ll say that it was nothing that exactly made me want to get up and go to work every day or feel-

Randall Parrish:
It was not a thing that exactly made me want to get up and go to work every day or feel a great drive or a great energy in my voice. [inaudible 00:32:07] where I was just like, sure. Every client deserves good design, but it’s also hard to truly give that 120% for a thing that you are only doing because you’re in it for the money. And so the [inaudible 00:32:21] cause it was like, I suddenly had this chance on the table to do something that was just as much for me as it was for them. And I think that’s so incredibly hard to pull off in design, to have a topic or a product or just anything you’re working on where you feel just as much drive as whoever the founders might be.

Randall Parrish:
Music is a very near and dear topic to me. I grew up on music. I feel like there’s so many turning points in my life where just access to music or just discovery of different types of artists has just changed my world. It just made me a better, more worldly, more rounded, more interesting person. And I really would just want to just support that kind of mission. I have this feeling that just no matter what kind of amazing design I ever make, I’ll never be able to make something that’s as good as a great song. I’ll never be able to make a design system that makes you cry. But what I can do is help people bridge that gap so they can access things that can give them that feeling of emotion in their heart.

Randall Parrish:
So I feel like it’s my way of being the bassist in the band, just being support and just driving that mission. A lot of that call was just about what do I really want to do? What do I want people to feel? What do I want for me, how do I want to feel about the work that I’m doing? I came from this background where all I wanted to do is just make something that looked cool and just make another thing that looked cool and just keep it moving. But you get to a point now, if you look at my Dribbble, I’ve done over 60 different clients. I’ve worked on a lot of different things and it gets to a point now where it’s cool, it’s fun, but you start to wonder, what do I really care about?

Randall Parrish:
What’s actually emotionally resonant with me? What can I talk about where if no one sees the visual, they still know I care? And that kind of felt like I had this big opportunity for me, cause I was just like, God, I love the idea, just being in a place where a sound experience coming but what I want is just for everyone just to be just a happier person. And this just felt like a job where basically I feel like a lot of what I’m supposed to do is just almost create happiness, which sounds a little dorky. But when you think about just the ability for you to just access your sound, access your music, access your podcast. What I’m trying to do is just give people an objectively better day, whatever it is that they want to engage with. The mission just feels so pure, but also just, it’s so close to the heart, it’s hard to not love.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Designers and music tend to have a very special kind of relationship, anyway, whether it’s us listening to the music for inspiration or for productivity, or even just, I think, the opportunities that it allows us to have, whether that’s designing a flyer or a CD cover or an album cover or a poster or something like that, there’s a lot to be inspired by with music. I’ve always been interested in that connection between music and design, because I feel like it’s a really, really powerful one. I cut my teeth learning design and Photoshop by designing CD covers. This is back in the day. I don’t even know if kids still do this anymore, they probably don’t. But back in the day, there used to be two types of, I guess you can call them contests. One of them was called Layer Tennis.

Randall Parrish:
Oh, I know about Layer Tennis.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So you start with one thing and then one designer does, then they pass to the other one and they add onto it and it goes back and forth until it gets to a certain point. And so then that kind of tests your ability to think quickly to work with something that’s unknown to you in a way, but then also somewhat familiar because you did do some work on it. So how do you work around and add to a design without stripping things away? And then the second thing, they were called blends. They’re essentially just fan art, essentially. You would make blends of say, an actress and you wanted to make a computer wallpaper. So you would get three pictures of this actress from, I don’t know, Getty Images or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
And then you would cut the actress out or you would arrange them in a very artful way to make a wallpaper or something. And so then that teaches you about proportion and scale and opacity and color and a number of different things. And you’d enter these contests and you’d see who would get the best contest. Cause they’d see, okay, these are the source pictures and this is what you ended up turning it into. So it’s almost like a recipe, in a way. It’s like Chopped, but for design. You have these raw, basic ingredients that you have to come up with something that’s greater than the sum of the parts. Right?

Randall Parrish:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s funny. Chopped is actually how one of my old bosses, he described design. Cause we would get like a funny collide or just a weird thing, he would just be like, “All right, our job here is to take squid and marshmallow and make this into a nice dish. Good luck.” [crosstalk 00:36:48] It feels like you’re just taking these amazing disparate parts. You’re trying to take a thing that sounds so unglamorous, you’re just like, I’m going to find the jazz. And that was what was so fun about just working at a marketing type place.

Maurice Cherry:
So now you’re in Santa Barbara. I know you haven’t been out much because no one has been out right now. Have you, in any kind of way been able to link up with a design community there or other designers outside of work?

Randall Parrish:
Not just yet. What I want to do is I know that UCSB is nearby and I feel like they probably have an art program or I know we do sometimes send our people to talk there. I’ve always been a really huge proponent of student causes and talking to students and just letting them visit either my office or me coming to them. So that’s something that I really want to be able to, I feel like once I have enough that I feel like I can really go all in on. I would love to be able to start doing that. I care a lot about student causes, cause what I remember, all the misinformation about when I was younger and just having to filter through that and find it on my own.

Randall Parrish:
But too, I think it just helps to have someone come by and just cut through all the noise and tell you straight up as a person who is doing the thing right now, here’s actually what got me here. Every time I tell students that I don’t know how to code, I’ve made websites for years, or I don’t know how to do XYZ, or I did this instead and that helped me get to XYZ, they’re always just like what? They get their minds just routinely blown. So I love to just let them know, the way that you might think that it is or the way your teachers might have told you, there is another way. And I like to just disparage the myths or pull back the curtain anytime that I can.

Maurice Cherry:
Now I have a question here. This is from Chanel James, who has also been on the show. She was episode 325 back in December. She asked this question, you’ve adjusted to big changes a couple of times over the last few years, which it definitely sounds like you have. When taking on new roles and challenges, how do you prepare for the next step? What advice do you have to someone who is looking for the next new thing?

Randall Parrish:
That’s an interesting layer to wind, but my first thought is first I’m going to be a little dorky with you. So you ever seen Spider-Verse?

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative). Into the Spider-Verse? Yeah.

Randall Parrish:
Yep. So for those who don’t know, there’s a great quote in there where he asks, “How will I know I’m ready?” And he says, “You never really know. It’s a leap of faith. That’s all it is.” There is so much truth to that statement because anytime you get an offer for an amazing new job far away or even anything that’s even in your own city, you never feel like you’re going to be adequately prepared for it. I remember thinking, oh, you mean me? You’re talking to me? This email’s for me? [inaudible 00:39:28] turn off the imposter syndrome or assume that, am I even good enough for this kind of thing? So part of it’s also just, first you’ve got to acknowledge, you got the call, you got the response, they’re interested.

Randall Parrish:
First, you have to believe in your heart that you are actually worth the trouble and worth pursuing and worth investing in. And that’s a hard thing to sometimes believe. Cause every time you do anything wrong, all you do is assume everyone else sees it. So one, you got to see yourself in the thing. As far as preparing for it and just mentally getting through it, it’s interesting cause I try and remember, cause every time I’ve transitioned to any of these major new jobs, it’s never a one to ones. I don’t just do what I did two weeks before, just somewhere else. There’s always going to be this amazing learning curve. I think it’s just about just be willing to ask questions, be willing to be wrong, be willing to leave your ego somewhere else for a while or a very long time preferably and just be willing to work with people and just ask questions and just be vulnerable to needing to ask for help or being able to say, oh, I’m not super sure, but I want to be better.

Randall Parrish:
I want to be useful. I want to be in service of something, but I don’t always know the best way to do it. I think my greatest philosophy on my whole career, honestly, is that I think I had a paralyzing fear of asking for help sometimes, probably when I needed it most. I think that I had this worry that if I asked for help, that I would be seen as this person who wasn’t an expert didn’t understand what was going on, maybe shouldn’t have been the person tasked for the thing. But what I found, especially at [inaudible 00:08:53], we had this amazing culture of just being willing to ask for help, being willing to admit that you’re wrong and presuming good intent from people who are asking questions or doing anything. Back when I was at agencies, I often felt that if I asked for help or asked a question that I was going to basically poke a hole in whatever kind of sense of rank or stature that I was trying to prop up for myself.

Randall Parrish:
And I feel like I’m trying to chip away at that, just every single year, every single interaction I’m trying just to be more willing to be wrong, be more willing to let people know that if I am wrong, I want you to let me know and I want us to be able to work on it together so that you don’t think I’m trying to be wrong and loud. I would rather be wrong than right together. So a lot of it’s about just all communication because if you get the call, you are already a good enough designer, but you also have to be a good enough person. That’s usually the thing that we don’t always focus in on.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Randall Parrish:
Oh boy. So many things. I love just all sorts of kinds of me. I’m a big movie nerd, I’m a big music nerd, I love curating my music, I love sneakers, I love games. I love so many just different types of just entertainment, art and media, and just loving to just see all these wild, different, weird aesthetics. One of the hardest parts about moving here is there’s no AMC out here. So it’s really hard to be a movie nerd out here. So hard. So what I love about all these different mediums, if you go outside, if you go to museums, you go to malls, you just look at a lot of stuff, you see so many different kinds of just styles and tastes and just ways that things get done and all these really strange ways that tends to leak its way back into your design sensibilities.

Randall Parrish:
I think that one of the things that’s made me versatile as a designer is just not minding looking at stuff or going places that I feel like I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to. So if someone’s like, oh, let’s go to the mall, let’s just window shop. You’ll see so many different typographic treatments at the mall. If you play games, there are so many ways to deconstruct a UI and think of it for a different application. If you like shoes, there are so many wild color schemes that should not be possible that totally work. Looking at you Yeezy Wave Runners. So a lot of what I’m thinking about is just, how can I just infuse just what I’m seeing daily or what I just like to do for myself and how can I repurpose that in the frame of, okay, if I were trying to work this back into a design, how might this change my approach for something, no matter how small or big this thing is?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What do you like to do in your non work time?

Randall Parrish:
I actually minored in computer game design so originally, I should have mentioned that. It’s always a little thing that just kind of tucks in, cause I never did much with it. So I minored in game design. So every time you ask a recommendation, it has to be a 90 minute conversation. I’m one of those. So I love gaming. I tried to start streaming. I would like to start a podcast mostly because, as you can probably tell, I’m a big talker, I could just go forever. So I tried to figure out how to merge that love of just chitter chatter into something. I got a friend or two who’s like, oh, maybe we’ll start some form of podcast, we’ll just do a little round table kind of thing.

Randall Parrish:
I try to be much more of an outdoorsy person out here, out east, in D.C., it’s not that fun to own a bike cause the only place you’re going to go to Target or is to get hit by a car. But here, it’s very different, cause out here it’s so amazingly picturesque and beautiful out here, you can get to the ocean in like five minutes, there’s flowers and lavender everywhere. Everything smells beautiful so it’s just amazing to hike and bike and just be present and outside. And I’m really looking forward to just being this different, more suntanned version of myself once things settle down.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to talk some more about this gaming because right now I feel like as we’re recording this it’s April 6th. We’re kind of in the middle of a-

Randall Parrish:
Big dry spell?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, no, actually I was going to say we’re kind of in the middle of a good bit of games right now. Well, I guess it depends on what systems you’re playing. What systems do you have?

Randall Parrish:
Everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so you have a Switch?

Randall Parrish:
I have a Switch, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
PS4?

Randall Parrish:
Yep. PC.

Maurice Cherry:
Got a Xbox One? PC?

Randall Parrish:
You don’t even need the Xbox if you’ve got a PC.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Randall Parrish:
Real talk. It is what it is, Windows 10, you know, but I feel like we go with these like amazing, weird ebbs and flows with games. I can get real dorky about this, but…

Maurice Cherry:
But we’re kind of in a good time for games. I hate to say because of the pandemic, but people are at home and they want entertainment. Movies aren’t out because movie theaters are closed and production is shut down. There’s no new television shows unless you use Quibi, which I don’t know if by the time this episode comes out, people will still be using Quibi, but there’s not a lot of new stuff. And so a lot of people, I think right around the time Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out, everyone was like, yes, a distraction from the world.

Randall Parrish:
See, what’s funny is one of my favorite types of games are rhythm games. Once again, just infusing that love of music. I’m the type that generally plays games to be challenged and to almost just have a hard time. I love that feeling of achievement from overcoming. I like relaxing things also. But I think the ones that I look back with my most vivid memories of are usually things that were hard. I think a lot of that also tends to temper your brain too, to being like, if something doesn’t go right your way and you’re used to getting your ass kicked like 80 times in a row, you’re like, oh whatever. I got to make a hot take here, just say that I think Dark Souls has made me a nicer software designer.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Randall Parrish:
You heard it here first, folks. So for all the nerds on the podcast, give it a whirl.

Maurice Cherry:
I saw from looking at your Instagram that you beat Persona 5.

Randall Parrish:
Oh my God, it’s so long. It’s 106 hours. Honestly, real talk, I think Persona 5 has some of the most amazing graphic design ever put into a video game.

Maurice Cherry:
Agreed. I agree.

Randall Parrish:
It’s galaxy brain. Blew my mind. I cannot believe the things that they were able to pull off, the transitions they were able to do. Just the things that they would typography and scale and shape and color. It’s so hard to describe. I’m getting all lit up about this cause it’s just-

Maurice Cherry:
No they really stepped it up from Persona 4. Personas 3 and 4 kept a very similar sort of style, I would say. I think 4 was very, very much more colorful because it was just themed yellow and stuff. But they really stepped it up for 5. 5 is just so kinetic, there’s so much energy in the design.

Randall Parrish:
That’s also part of the reason why I feel like video games are a very underrated place to get UI and design inspiration.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh absolutely.

Randall Parrish:
A lot of people think of games as just Call of Duty or very mainstream ones that are commercial, right? But games, oftentimes have to solve very, really interesting kind of UI problems. And they also have to do it without a mouse. So they have to do all these different things to teach a player things, sometimes really extreme or advanced or multilayered concepts, but also that’s sometimes all these kinds of different items, like how’s the UI for a team look? How are you communicating things to the player? How are you showing data and information on something that’s also very busy on the rest of the screen? There are so many different kinds of UX and UI challenges that are happening in games that I feel like just get totally thrown under the radar. Cause people see it as this hobby, whatever, blah, blah, blah. They don’t understand the level of intricacy that goes with some of these things.

Randall Parrish:
… don’t understand how the level of intricacy that goes with some of these things, but a lot of times, if you were like, man, we need a team page. My first thing to look for inspiration, it wouldn’t just be look at other team pages on Dribbble. It would just be like, okay, how have games solve this? How have they handled different accounts for a certain amount of units that they need to show on screen? If you have a dashboard, like RTSs are strategy games, how are they showing just large chunks of information that needs to be readily viewable? How are… all these very different, just very real challenges that actually impact experience are being handled in games and have been handled for a long time. And as well, some of them are also done in a really, really visually amazing way ala Persona 5. So, I think it’s another part of just finding inspiration in the things that you love and just figuring out how to basically how to pick and choose where to pull them back into the things that you are doing as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you plan on playing Persona 5 Royal?

Randall Parrish:
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s 106 hours and whatever. I mean we’re in the time of Corona. Of course I’m going to. But first I got to be God, I need to beat Doom Eternal first that’s going to be a nice short one. Like what else is in my backlog Astral Chain. Typically I love narrative and very story during games, a lot of things I would like to learn from story during games, this is going to sound like a funny kind of like Agency tangent, but one of the most important things I learned from Agency World was how to tell a compelling story, and if you could play a lot of games with compelling stories that can actually get you to tear up or feel a certain way really quickly that’s what a good pitch deck is all about.

Randall Parrish:
Well, it sounds like a tangent, but roll with me here for a second. So it’s like, when you’re doing a big pitch, someone has got to have, let’s say $40 million to spend, how are you going to convince them, how are you going to make them feel in their hearts that they should feel a certain way and that you were the right choice?

Randall Parrish:
And usually you’re going to tell a very well crafted, but also a convincing story, right? It’s not about just laying out a bunch of facts. You can’t just shovel out a bunch of stats. You got to present them in a way, in an order, and a line where they believe it, but they also feel emotionally resonant with it, and I feel like when you think of kind of the story beats of certain games that are big deals for stories. So you Last of Us, your Shadow of the Colossus, your God of War 2018s, your really big, just ones with narratively strong, what are they doing right? What order are they doing that? And, how might you kind of think about the way those beats are handled, both majorly or softly until like also, how are you to change how you tell a compelling story?

Randall Parrish:
Because half of why I think I got the job at Sonos was I feel like when I interviewed, I told a very compelling story when I interviewed because a little bit about that, I’ll go back to this, but everyone I was interviewing I didn’t even show work for the first 25 minutes. Yeah, I know. Right. So that sounds weird, right? First third whatever of the interview, first I wanted to kind of introduce, I felt it was weird to be basically jump in and just be like, hello, thanks for meeting me. Here’s the work that you probably already saw online now. No, that seemed weird.

Randall Parrish:
So instead what I tried to do was, I was like, how am I going to kind of build this narrative upward? So it’s a little bit about me. Like what motivates me? What do I like? What am I to the company? What is the company’s mission to me? And how can I prove this in a way that makes you also know that I’m not just making it up. So I had a really great slide where in 2017, I bought my mother to Play Ones, and I showed the video of her pulling them open. And that was a muddy moment. That was a narrative moment where they were like, Oh, this guy. Like that was them thinking this guy isn’t just some dude who bought the speaker, just whatever, he’s actually a fan. He believes in the mission.

Randall Parrish:
Things that just kind of unite you to whatever is going on in that moment. Right? And, I could have just jumped in and been like, well, my work looks pretty good. I think don’t you think so? I know I could have just been impersonal about it or just basically just pasted in what I would’ve done for the next agency, but you know, if you tailor it right, storytelling is actually going to be your most powerful argument when you’re doing an interview.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Randall Parrish:
So play video games. Don’t worry about storytelling.

Maurice Cherry:
One question that I’m asking everyone this year, it’s kind of the theme of the year is about the future. You know, we’re in 2020, this is by all intents and purposes when you think about pop culture, when people talk about the future, it tends to be 2020 and above. I don’t know if that’s because of ABC’s news show or whatever, but people tend to think of 2020 as the future. How are you helping to use your design skills to build a more equitable future?

Randall Parrish:
Oh, that’s a great question. I guess that you caught me at a really timely time, because if you had asked me that a year ago, I would’ve been probably not at all, but now I think part of the Sonos mission is our mission is to empower listeners everywhere. And it’s very broad, and that’s kind of on purpose because a lot of what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to basically give people an amazing listening experience no matter where they might be, whether you’re in your bedroom and your living room, whether you’re on your patio or you on the go, we were trying to find a way to basically kind of be with you so that you can enjoy the content that you like, however you like, whenever you like, how you like, with whomever services that you like.

Randall Parrish:
So a lot of what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to empower users. We’re trying to give them choice. We’re trying to give them more freedom, but we’re also trying to provide access to things for them. So a lot about what I see as what the best parts about the job is just Sonos is in this rare position where we can actually really help kind of surface a lot of things to users that they might not have known that they wanted. I mean this in a very non advertising kind of way. Why I say this, because a lot of what, what a Sonos does is we are kind of this amazing hub for a lot of services, right?

Randall Parrish:
So you can use Amazon, Apple Music, and Spotify, and Deezer, and Pandora, and you can use so many different services on our platform. But what’s great about that is that lets you also surface things that maybe are adjacent to things that you didn’t know you had, for example, like if you love Fleetwood Mac, there is a potential future where if you search a podcast, maybe you’ll see the Song Exploder Episode about a Fleetwood Mac song. Maybe you’ll see a book about the artist, maybe you’ll be able to catch more content related.

Randall Parrish:
What I love is this idea of just being able to kind of enrich people’s experiences with the artists that they love, and with the content that they like, what I love is just this idea of how can we just kind of give people greater access to art, and entertainment, and just media, in these ways that are just going to make them want to do what it did for me to make them just more enriched, more well rounded, more engaged people with all sorts of different types of media.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025. What kind of work do you want to be doing? What sort of projects do you want to be working on, that sort of stuff?

Randall Parrish:
You know, my five year plan for right now is, well, if I compare what I would have said a year ago, I’m just amazed at just how much these can change. So right now my plan is I really want to be in California for a good while. Mostly because moving cross country very much sucks, do not do it. Oh my God actually it’s worth it, do it. So, moving is a pain in the ass. I think I’m trying to stay in California for as long as I can, for as long as it’s reasonable. [crosstalk 00:55:00] retention is amazing in the company. I have met people who have been here for 11, 8, 16 years. Those are numbers that are unfathomable at an agency. Like can not be. It was a constant going away party there.

Randall Parrish:
And I’m very excited about just the path ahead at Sonos just in terms of just the roadmap features, products, everything that we want to do and kind of that core mission, but five years now, just career wise, I would love to figure out, just, what’s kind of that path towards creative director, or trying to be towards a bit more of this person who essentially empowers the team because right now, I come from this background where what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to be this kind of individual power user. I’m trying to be this amazing individual contributor. But what I love about my new boss, he is just so, what’s the word, he’s just so empathetic and so caring, and I just love that about him. He just has this amazing concern and care for people.

Randall Parrish:
I really want to be able to get some of that into myself as well, and just be able to just take that kind of energy and concern and care for people. And to use that to expand a team, and also while taking what I’ve learned from design over all the years to make them better designers, but also just make them just better, more impassioned people as well. So I’d love to figure out how to just get work my way up to that stage. Now, if at this house or somewhere else who knows.

Randall Parrish:
My rule to myself was if I was going to make any kind of large shifts, it had to be for something that I really, really, really gave a damn about. And I’m really glad that I landed at this one.

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

Randall Parrish:
Sure. You can catch me on Dribbble at Dribbble.com/rparrish. You can see just about everything reasonable I’ve ever done. Half of why I keep so much stuff up there is so you can just track my development and just see that, you’ve got to… It’s an uphill battle. If you are new and you don’t like what you did. You can see the stuff that I wasn’t great at too. It’s a process. So, go from bottom to top. It’s a little journey. I don’t do any writing, but I do tweet about design sometimes @randallallday, but it’s mostly goofy, goofy, gobbledy garbage so you’ve been warned. You’re welcome to follow me on Apple music. I listen to a lot of what Pitchfork likes, but except I weed out all the nonsense so, you can check what I’m listening to. So that’s probably the core of it. I should get into some writing, but maybe we’ll have a podcast soon, but that’s all for now.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Randall Parrish, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. You know, I mentioned this before we started recording that I had spoken with Diana. She gave me this really long description about the work that you’ve done. I think it actually was a post or something that you wrote. I want to say it was a post that you wrote about how you were just getting things together to go to Sonos. You were about to start out there, and one thing that I saw as I was doing all of my research was that you refer to yourself as a human glitter bomb.

Randall Parrish:
That’s correct.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say that, just based off of this conversation, it’s very clear like you have this enthusiasm inside and out, not just for the work that you do, but also being able to make a difference in people’s lives, so I can see how that would stick. Once this whole COVID-19, coronavirus, quarantine, self isolation lifts, I am really excited to see you get back to work and see what you can do with Sonos because I think this is just the beginning for you, and I’m really going to be excited to see what you do from here. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Randall Parrish:
Thank you so much for having me. I’ve had a total blast with you. Believe me, stay in touch and you know, Sonos discounts for everyone. Send me an email.

Sponsors

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

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

Ashley Bozeman

Black history isn’t just confined to February, as this week’s guest Ashley Bozeman clearly indicates. As the first Black woman art director at The Martin Agency, Ashley brings years of professional experience to the table to help some of the most well-known brands in the world get their message across to their customers.

We talked shop about the day to day grind of working in advertising, and Ashley shared how her time at Hampton University and at The Creative Circus helped prepare her for the work she does today. She also gave some great advice for those looking to become art directors, and even spoke on how she finds time for joy in these current unprecedented times. Whether she’s putting together briefs or working on comps, Ashley is poised to become a top talent in the advertising industry. Keep your eyes on her!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Ashley Bozeman:
Hi. So my name is Ashley Bozeman. I am an art director here at the Martin Agency, which is located in Richmond, Virginia. So as far as the title of my actual role, so basically I work in the creative department at a creative ad agency. I’m usually paired with a copywriter and together we are the ones who are briefed and tasked to basically come up with ideas for campaigns, commercials, social posts, really anything you can think of. It’s our job to basically come up with that creative idea. And then specifically as an art director, it’s my job to bring that to life visually. So how does that look? Who is being represented? What are the color choices? What are the style choices? Cinematography, … working with directors and things like that, but we basically just, we’re the ones who control how everything looks. Whereas our partners are copywriters, they are the ones who control the tone of voice and what that sounds like and the scripts and things like that. So together we’re the ones, kind of the big brains behind a lot of the things you’ll see on TV as far as commercials and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like your work is a lot of, I guess meetings and sort of heads down work sessions. Is that true?

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah. Yes, definitely a lot of meetings, but it’s also a lot of concepting. So it’s a lot of just, I was briefed earlier today, we’ll get a brief and then we’ll look at our calendars, “Hey when you have some time.” We’ll put two or three hours on our schedules and then we’ll just find a room in the office and literally just sit and come up with ideas. Ideas that are large and kind of lofty that we’re not sure if the clients would ever even buy or do. And then ideas that also fit the brief exactly. So we basically, we’ll just kind of get together and just kind of brainstorm of different ways we can kind of find the best solution for that problem in the brief to be solved or for something to be showcased in the best way possible.

Maurice Cherry:
And now this brief document that you get, this is coming? I’m assuming this is coming from the client or is this someone else is kind of putting this information together for you?

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah, so internally we have our strategists, so our strategists are the ones who had to work with a client and then they come and work on their own research and insights. So, basically develop a kind of, just kind of a brief, so it just, it’ll give us insights. It’ll have the actual problem they’re trying to solve. It’ll have a target demographic about when we’re trying to do said thing, have a timeline, maybe important events that are happening around that time too. That then they kind of all compile it together to kind of create this kind of, it’s usually about five or six page long document that we can also then use to kind of go back to, to kind of make sure that whatever ideas we do come up that they fit the brief and they fit that target … clients. And they fit the platform that they asked us to create on. Yeah, it’s kind of a mix. A lot of it does come internally, but they definitely have to use findings and have these conversations with the clients to make sure that it’s good to go.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, from what I heard, you were the first black woman hired there as a creative in the history of the agency. Is that true?

Ashley Bozeman:
Yes. So that’s actually pretty crazy. It’s pretty crazy considering I started in 2018, in the beginning of 2018. And I think I didn’t find that out probably at least a year and a half? A Year and a half maybe into my career here. But so it was kind of a shock. But I think also too, it was something that was also still really exciting. And I think that my friends and my parents, especially my mom, was trying to hype me up about, where initially I felt kind of scared. You know? You kind of feel worried like, “Oh okay, I don’t know if I really asked to be the first.” But something my mom always says is, “Well somebody has to be the first, so why can’t it be you?” So I think that things like that are also just so important when it comes to just kind of remembering your place. And then again, not take it as a negative, but just to know that like, “Hey, this is pretty exciting. We’re starting new things and somebody has to do it.” And all of us are more than capable in being that person.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of the brands or clients that you’ve been able to work with?

Ashley Bozeman:
When I first started out I primarily was working on Land O’Lakes Butter. So I know a lot of unnecessary facts about butter. Which is so funny with creatives and that’s why I love creatives, especially in the ad industry. Because everybody knows wild things about wild things, random things. It’s just so interesting. So I know a lot of things about butter, I worked on butter for almost a year. And then last year I did a lot of work for Discover Card, I’m a little knowledgeable actually in credit cards. So that’s kind of exciting. This year and at the end of last year too, I’ve been on more Oreo work, which has been fun and exciting. And then a lot of different other things. As we were pitching for Old Navy, I helped out with that some and that was really fun. And so many that they literally just have us go back and forth. I’m working on Penske now. I’ve done UPS. I’ve done Ritz Crackers, I’ve worked on that for a while.

Ashley Bozeman:
So, there’s definitely a lot of brands that I’ve had the opportunity to touch here, which has been fantastic. But then also too, we also just have a lot of cool brands too that I’m excited to hopefully touch this year, DoorDash and CarMax and things like that. So yeah, it just kind of changes and it’s nice because I’m never just on one thing. I’m usually on a few different things, so that, and I think especially when you have a mind that’s literally all over the place, it’s nice to be able to divert your energy into other paths rather than just one.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there a specific type of client that you enjoy working with? Because I would imagine in an ad agency you’re working with, like you just mentioned all these different clients, they’re in all these different industries. There’s a lot of variety there.

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah, there are. Yeah, there is. It’s interesting too because I think I find that, that almost changes sometimes. I think there’s been parts of every client that I’ve worked on so far that I really, really have enjoyed and I really, really liked. I think Oreo is really fun because they are kind of design heavy and I do love design and they also really love big ideas. So that’s kind of a really fun place to kind of come up with these larger ideas. But I think also too, I really love projects that use their platform to kind of spread a larger message. And I think that that’s something that’s really nice because it’s kind of few and far between. A lot of times people just want to make sure that their brand or their product is put, placed first, which I totally understand. But I think at the same time, I also love, love, love when a client can tap into an issue that is relatable for them and appropriate for them and they want to do something about it. And I think that that’s really fun and I think that’s what gets me most excited when I get, on [inaudible 00:08:52] like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I have to ask this question because you’ve spent a lot of time talking about really sort of kind of the great things about your job and what it is that you do, but what’s the worst thing about being an art director in an agency?

Ashley Bozeman:
I would say the worst thing would probably, honestly and I think you can ask any art director this, I’m pretty sure they’ll say the same thing. I think the death of every art director is making comps and making comps is literally just the art of basically intense hours of photoshopping and searching for images. And let’s say you’ve come up with this grand idea, you said, “Okay, we want to make a truck that has a slide on the back of it.” And of course every client is just like, “Okay, I don’t know what that means. Can we see what that looks like?” So again, that’s our job so now we have to find a truck, I’m going on Getty and search all these things and find the perfect truck then photoshop that truck to make it Oreo branded, let’s say. And then put a giant, and then find another image of a slide that still fits and then still have it look somewhat realistic.

Ashley Bozeman:
So, I think that part can just be just such a time consuming thing because you can search for pictures for hours and you can get stuck in this hole for hours. And so I think that that might be the most difficult part, because how can you move fast but then also make something look as nice. So I think that that’s something I’ve really been working on this year too, is just my speed but then also to my craft and making sure that those two things go together. So, that can just be a little time consuming. But like I said, I think a lot of art directors can feel my pain when it comes to making comps.

Maurice Cherry:
So when you’re working together with the copywriter, are there, it sounds like you’re also kind of the designer too. There’s not designers that are in house that are helping out or you’re kind of?

Ashley Bozeman:
Yes. We definitely, we have a whole super, super talented design team and we also have a very super, super talented studio art team. The studio art, so that’s a group of people that will more so be the ones to kind of help us with those comps and kind of help us get things together and make sure the images are perfect and the files are perfect before they send them off to be shipped to whomever. And then our designers are more so, they’ll kind of sit in concept with us sometimes. So sometimes they’ll even be in the brief if it’s big enough, they’ll be in the brief with us and so then they know that they’re kind of concepting and thinking about it design-wise. Whereas we’re kind of focused on still the imagery, but also too the core of the idea. That’s still a big part of our job description as well. So we still have people who can help us out, but nine times out of 10 they have to kind of, they still have plenty of things they have to do on their own. So it’s just, I think as an art director you kind of have to be multifaceted. But I think a great art director is also a great designer and vice versa. So, it’s an interesting role because it kind of dips into a bunch of different things.

Maurice Cherry:
Was design kind of a big part of your childhood? Growing up, you grew up in Milwaukee from what you told me before we started recording. Was design kind of a big part of you growing up?

Ashley Bozeman:
So, you know what? Not necessarily design but more so just art. It’s interesting because, so I’m the oldest of five and both of my parents are super smart. My dad is an engineer. My mom has always been great at math and science and so I feel I came out and I was just this little, “Hey, let’s draw.” I just always felt, “Wait, what happened? How did I not get that gene?” But it’s fine. I think what’s interesting too is, now that I actually sitting here and talking about it, I think because of my dad’s job, we moved around quite a bit. And by moving around, we’ve probably moved around almost every three years. So, I was constantly going to new schools in new states and trying to, I was always the new kid, but I think I found comfort in art. I think that was something that wasn’t reliant upon somebody else. So if I were to move that summer or something, I could still draw, it was something that still keep me occupied. It was something that I really enjoyed, seeing a picture and then trying to, then bring it.

Ashley Bozeman:
Seeing a picture and then trying to then bring it to paper. So that was something I think kind of like that all kids do. But then I noticed that that was one thing that I really kept with. So I kept with it throughout middle school, I kept with it throughout high school, I even kept with it through, actually, through college, which I had then realized like, “Oh, maybe I should have majored in art. Maybe this should’ve been a thing.” But I still took, like I literally took an art class every single semester and there’s only one semester I did it and I literally could feel the difference. I just didn’t feel the same. So that’s when I realized, “Okay, like this is probably going to be a part of me forever.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ashley Bozeman:
So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Were your parents kind of really supportive of you going into art, like that?

Ashley Bozeman:
They were. They were and I thank them all the time and I’m just so appreciative. They’ve always been super understanding. They’ve always been very supportive in that, and so I always say it. Before I left or right after I had graduated from Hampton, I had gotten a degree in Public Relations, which I still really liked. But you know, I just, I don’t know, there was something about it where I was just like, “Okay,” I basically made a deal with myself. I said, “Okay, so I’m job hunting. You know, I’m looking for a PR job but I’m going to take art classes on the side because I think that that’s something really important to me.” So I was looking for jobs in different cities and I lived in Atlanta and so, of course, I was probably looking up the art schools before I was looking up the jobs, but … so that tells you a lot right there but …

Ashley Bozeman:
I found through a Google search, I was like looking through like art school and then up popped up two different things. It was the Portfolio Center and then the Creative Circus. And I remember reading through, because as I was doing like the job search or like as I was looking at like descriptions for the PR jobs, it was interesting because art director would never be that far because it’s still all in communications. And so I would always see that job position, that job role and I was just like, “Wow, that sounds so cool. It literally sounds right up my alley, but I don’t know how would I become an art director? That doesn’t make any sense.” And like, “That’s really cool. I don’t know how people get into it, but whatever.” Once I found the Circus I was looking through and it was basically, I was just like, “Oh, so this is a two year program where I could learn how to be an art director.”

Ashley Bozeman:
I said, “That sounds lit. That’s exactly what I want to do,” and so I remember I had like, I found it, I thought about it, like I prayed on it and I sent my parents this really long text one morning. I was just like, “Hey, I found this school. I know I wasn’t planning to go right back to school, but I found this school. I’m in Atlanta and I can study as an art director there. And I think that like, I think it’s legit. Like I think this is something I really want to do. It’s something I’m really interested in. What do you guys think basically?” And they were just like, I mean, “Okay, crazy girl.” They’re just like, that’s fine.” They’re like, “Okay.”

Ashley Bozeman:
So like I was like, I was the one who was like really stressed, like, “I don’t know, like hopefully they’ll be okay with it. X, Y, and Z.” They were like, “Yeah, that’s fine. Like, sure why not?” And so for that, I’m very thankful because I just know it’s hard. I think it’s hard really for anyone to kind of tell like their parents and stuff, especially after we just spent all this money at a four year university that, “Hey, I want to go to a portfolio school where, you know, also mind you, you don’t get a degree in.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ashley Bozeman:
“You, more so, just get a certificate,” and it’s kind of crazy. It’s like, “Okay, so we’re about to put some more money back into schooling that you technically don’t get another degree in.” But I was trying to explain the importance. I was just like, “Well, look, like still like there’s like a 99% placement, 95, 99% placement rate after graduation. I think it’ll be great.” So yeah, they helped ride that wave with me ever since then and even before and still now. So for that, I’m very grateful. I know that that’s very much so a privileged that I don’t take lightly.

Maurice Cherry:
So I want to go back to the Creative Circus, but even before then you kind of glossed a little bit over the fact that you went to such a prestigious HBCU for undergrad. You went to Hampton University.

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah. Those were some of the best years of my life so far. I think that’s where Ashley came to be Ashley. I think I had grown up in predominantly white institutions and places and schools. My mom was the one who actually really pushed for that. She was very adamant and “Hey, I know that, like, obviously, like we couldn’t help like by school district with so much like while you were in high school and stuff,” but she was like, “If you decide to go to HBCU, just know that this is probably one of the only times in your life you’ll be surrounded by so many beautifully educated brown and black people who look just like you and you just won’t necessarily get that opportunity anywhere else.” And the more I thought about it, it was interesting. I was a little nervous because I was actually going into the Hampton, I was worried that maybe I wasn’t “black enough.”

Ashley Bozeman:
You know, I didn’t necessarily have a lot of black friends growing up and I technically wasn’t in all those spaces and necessarily didn’t know all the music and things like that. Of course, I was still like with my family and stuff, but you know, it’s still not the same if you don’t have like a core group of friends and stuff in high school and things like that. So it just wasn’t the same. And so I was a little worried about that, but honestly it turned out that there were a lot of Ashleys at Hampton and it was fantastic. And I think I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, but that fear was just a projected fear that I had. It was never anything that actually happened. There was still a place for me as there was a place to someone who grew up in all black schools their entire life.

Ashley Bozeman:
I feel like that kind of flowing into Hampton was more, way more seamless than I thought it would be. But yeah, Hampton was an incredible experience. I have lifelong friends from there. I have bridesmaids, I have probably maid of honors, like I just have some of my best friends I’ll have for the rest of my life. I just love also, too, I think also, too, I came into terms of also celebrating just who I am and also being black and like how much, like how much power there is in that. And so Hampton taught me a lot of that as well. And so that’s really exciting and it’s interesting, too, it even transcended into some of my art, too. I notice growing up I actually drew more white women, more people who probably weren’t of a black ethnicity. It was interesting to kind of see how my sketchbooks have changed, too, by just being introduced into that.

Ashley Bozeman:
And then also like again, it’s important to know like … Well, it’s important as a child, even just growing up as a teenager, what you see and what your perception is on things and how much that affects you. But it was crazy how that was affecting my art and how I never really drew girls that necessarily looked like me, but now like if you asked me today like that’s all I do.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Ashley Bozeman:
So it’s very, very, very interesting to see how just that influence that I think that I had [inaudible 00:06:55]. I think that that was probably the best decision I could’ve made. And that’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Like flat out, in my 26 years or so.

Maurice Cherry:
You make an interesting point there about HBCUs. I mean, so I went to an HBCU also. I went to Morehouse and HBCUs in general are … I mean maybe this is just us speaking as black people, like they’re very warm, comforting open spaces for everyone.

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if people that maybe don’t know the HBCU experience or just aren’t familiar with HBCUs in general really see that. But like it’s such a unique sort of family thing. I think one just among students and alums at a particular school, but also between HBCU graduate students and alums of other schools. Like we see like a certain kinship in other people that have went to HBCU. I don’t know if that, if that kind of makes sense or not, but, no. Essentially because you said your mom kind of really wanted you to go there to sort of soak up that culture. I’m curious to know like because Hampton has such a well known design program, I mean we’ve had several people on the show who have graduated from Hampton that went on to graduate school. Actually, you mentioned the Creative Circus, nikita Pope, she’s a Hampton grad. What was the program like there for you? Like did you feel like it really prepared you once you got out there as a working art director? As a working designer?

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah, so I think what’s interesting is I think as most … Well, I was 17, 18 year old going into college, I think I knew that I wanted to be kind of creative. I knew I liked things that were more like thinking based than creation based, but I don’t think I ever really knew how to fully get into it. And so with that being said, I think some of that, it was also, too, of my own misunderstanding and kind of almost like canceling it out completely. Whereas I think maybe I probably in those four years, I look back now and I’m just like, “Man, I wish I would’ve learned Photoshop and Illustrator and Adobe Suite during Hampton rather than trying to learn it at the Circus.” And so I think that was almost kind of my misstep in like not maybe taking full advantage of all the programs that were there currently in Hampton as I was kind of more so just focused on like just fine art and just drawing and painting and things like that.

Ashley Bozeman:
So looking back I’m just kind of like, “Man, if I would have only really known that like I could have done this and then went here and then that would’ve made sense then I think I absolutely would’ve set it up that way.” But I think, I know it’s not just me. I know it’s a lot of people. I think it’s just like you realize and you’re just like, “Oh, shoot, this was an option and this was a path.” And like looking back I definitely would have done some things differently as far as like my track and kind of like my major, definitely my minor. I think that they have a great solid program and I do have friends and I do know people who have successfully gone through the program, but they’re doing great now still, too. I just think I just wasn’t like for sure, for sure just yet, while I was at Hampton. It just wasn’t able to fully tap into all the resources.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think that’s probably like, I don’t want to say a regret, but I feel like that’s a regret for … Sometimes I think for people that are at schools, they don’t feel like they’ve gotten a chance to really utilize all the resources. It’s sort of one of those, you know, hindsight, this 20-20 kind of things. You look back and realize how good you had it in a way. But I mean what you learned at Hampton though at least kind of propelled you forward to then go to the Creative Circus.

Ashley Bozeman:
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think also through Hampton, I think that also, one of big … Well, a really big takeaway that I got from Hampton is learning how to just work with people and learning to really come into your own. I think I feel like that that was almost like, I think college in general, it just, it comes at the right time and then always feels like it ends too early. But I’m sure that it ends right on time, but it definitely prepared me to work with people and professionalism and kind of again, like you were mentioning earlier about that sense of community that now I carry into when it comes to, here amongst all the employees here, Martin, but also especially our black employee network.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ashley Bozeman:
And that’s something that I really lean into hard because I think it reminds me so much of Hampton. So it’s something that I really kind of latch onto and really try to kind of just, I don’t know, just really attach myself to, because it really feels like home.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So when you ended up going to the Circus and you were here in Atlanta, I’m curious like what was that time like for you? Because Creative Circus, I’m thinking, I’m sort of trying to line it up. So this is like between 2015 to 2017 what was that time like in Atlanta for you?

Ashley Bozeman:
Atlanta was a great time. So it was interesting because Atlanta necessarily wasn’t in one of my cities to live necessarily. But I realized that I had really made a home out of Atlanta by the time I … like those two years were up and I miss it almost every day. But I think my time there was just such a whirlwind, was probably the best way to explain it? It was like anything I’ve never, like I’ve ever experienced before. It was just, I just call it, it was just like this crazy two-year bootcamp, I felt like.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ashley Bozeman:
Because the Circus is also set up by quarters, so it’s pretty much year round, and so that was something new. I think also too, that’s the biggest city that I lived in and I lived in my own. Also, too, kind of just going off a whim and doing something that I personally did never knew of anybody doing before and kind of leaping out to take that chance was also really scary. And so I think, what I was like 22, I think I’d just turned 23 the day before my first day of class. And it was just a crazy time. But again, like that was just another time where I learned so much and I got to be just so creative and that’s something else, too, that I miss. There were like, there were barely any restrict

Ashley Bozeman:
… that’s something also too that I missed. There were barely any restrictions. There were barely any like, “Oh we can’t do that or you can’t use those colors. You can do that.” Like everything was open for grabs. There was time to actually do things and even as rushed and as stressed and as busy as we were because we were all those things all the time for those whole two years. At the same time, I think that I still made incredible, incredible friendships and experiences that like, again, kind of like the Hampton, I think that that play in my life will stay with me forever too. I think that that was such a big, important time as far as my career development and also my development as a creative.

Ashley Bozeman:
I really think that that was also the time that I really fell in love with design and digital design and graphic design and digital art and how to transfer my traditional skills and kind of put it more into like this modern day age. So it was like this big squirrel, but it was fantastic. And again, I think that that was also a great choice that I’m very happy I did.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now when you look back over your career, look back over your education et cetera. Who are some of the people that have really helped motivate and inspire you throughout the years?

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah. So I think a lot of times when I think about those people, a lot of times they are just people who have just been just kind. And a lot of times it’s friends, it’s family, everybody in between. So I would say that first off, of course my family is always super supportive, always have been day one, very thankful. Then I feel like I had my Hampton core group friends, they were always so supportive. I would call them in tears or super stressed out about a project and they would always pick up the phone, always be encouraging like, “Hey, we don’t really understand 100% but we know that you’re doing the right thing. So just keep going.”

Ashley Bozeman:
And then as I got to the circumstance stuff, I’ve met amazing creatives who are just all like just fantastic. And so I’m learning from them every day. And it’s really nice to also go through this journey at the same time with them and hearing similar stories. And I think that that’s something that’s more empowering that I think people may not realize, but having a group of people who are doing similar or pretty much the same thing as you but different places, it’s really cool to see us all grow all over the country. I have some really fantastic, fantastic coworkers who have now turned to friends who have now turned to family. And a lot of those people here at Martin, they are like brothers and sisters. They are like big brothers and sisters. They’re mentors. And I just am so thankful for all of them and I think that they are really single-handedly helping me navigate my career, which is priceless.

Ashley Bozeman:
I just learned so much from each and every one of them and I’m so thankful for their presence. But I think it takes a village and it’s been taken a village. So there’s a ton of people that I feel like I’ve been blessed with that can help me out with that.

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

Ashley Bozeman:
Yes, I feel like I’m not 100% sure what that is, but as far as like a name, I think my dream project would be visually stunning, very well designed. And then also too it would be for a bigger cause. It would either be for like a nonprofit, it would be either some kind of announcement. I’ve also always dreamed in maybe doing design or art direction for an art museum. Even like I’ve also been watching a lot of music videos lately. Low key I would love to art direct a music video. And then two, I think also my dream is to work on a movie one day.

Ashley Bozeman:
It kind of like it spans, it can be anything from like a book, like a very beautifully like well art directed well laid out books all the way to helping out to say that I was able to help out with even like a Pixar film if I could. Like be in the room to help out with like art direction or color or things like that. Things like that just really get me excited and those kind of projects too I think would help also to remind me of why I love my job in the first place and it all comes back to being able to make something and I think that that’s what I love the most is just physically making something and that’s why I love being an art director. I love coming up with ideas but also really, really love making things. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I have to ask since you mentioned a music video, which artist would you work with?

Ashley Bozeman:
I mean obviously I love Beyoncé. I would do anything she would ever ask me to do. In drop of a dime if she called me right now, I would run to LA or wherever she’s at, but there are some really, really, really cool artists out here that I really love. So I recently watched … I believe her name is Victoria Monét. She just had a music video drop for her new song Moment and visually it’s beautiful. She did such an amazing job. Her art direction is fantastic. Like things like that I would absolutely work with her in a heartbeat.

Ashley Bozeman:
And also too, I’ve been watching a lot of Brent Faiyaz. He also has some really cool artsy and kind of grungy art direction, which I would also be very into. And obviously Solange also does a great job. There’s just a few different ones. And then even too, people I would also say don’t sleep on even some of the rappers like Playboi Carti, he also does a great job as far as like his editing team, kind of like I love the effort that’s being put behind a lot of these music videos. They’re just so visually engaging.

Ashley Bozeman:
And it’s just interesting because we don’t necessarily have that like 106 apart or MTV playing music videos all the time. You kind of have to go out of your way to kind of watch them. But I love that we’re still putting the effort behind them even if we’re not being watched all the time. You think that that would kind of die off, and in some aspects it has. And I think people that’s why maybe we don’t even have as many music videos on a consistent basis than we think we should. But I think I love music so much. And so to be able to tell a story within a song, I think that that would just be such a fun challenge and you can take that story so many different ways as people do and find meaning and find purpose for everything. But I think that that would be something really, really fun to do.

Maurice Cherry:
I am seeing how the music videos now for certain artists are certainly, it’s bringing me back to like the Heyday of the 90s when we had like Hype Williams video that you had like really dope videos by Missy and everything and it’s like you get so in throbbing. Of course you love the song, but then visuals along with the song, it makes each video like an event of sorts.

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like we have to really give it up to Michael Jackson for making videos releases and events like a prime time of it that people used to tune into. I remember as a kid tuning into watch Black or White or tuning into watch Remember The Time, but like yeah, now you really kind of don’t see that. It feels like the big thing now is the surprise drop. I mean like Beyoncé did it of course. And now everyone else is trying to find some way to get your attention really quickly. So it’s not only, yes, we want you to look at the video and consume the music. But it’s really about gathering your attention for a period of time.

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah. And similar to how you felt like that. That’s how I felt in Atlanta when she dropped Lemonade. I vividly remember that night and I went over to my friend’s house saw that at HBO, we’d all brought stuff to eat and watch and I just remember just texting my mom like, “Oh my God, do you see this?” I think that that was fantastic. I think that also just goes to show the true craft and then like again that wanting to make something. Again, this is nothing she ever like necessarily had to do, but I think a lot of it for her and just like Michael, I think it’s that wanting to tell that story and go that extra step.

Ashley Bozeman:
Like yes, I made the song and yes I made the lyrics and I have to sing and perform it, but now it’s just like I want to bring it to life visually. And I think that that’s really, really exciting. And I think you don’t see that necessarily all the time. But all that to say too is like Lemonade, like that was an event and I just don’t remember the last music video since then. That has really felt like an event. I don’t know. Like I feel like my memory might be a little jog right now.

Maurice Cherry:
No, I think you might be right. Videos come out all the time, but it’s like they get shared on Twitter or something and you watch a vivo link, and you’re like, okay, then you go about your day. Like it’s not really something that you really are tuned in for or anticipated seeing. Because for the artists they want to surprise you with it. It’s like, “Oh, surprise. I put out a new music video.” And you’re like, “Oh, okay.” And you watch it and then that’s it.

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah, I know. I know. And that’s why I think her idea of like a visual album was fantastic. And then to also see all the songs coming to life from one bigger story, which I think also too, a lot of that just goes back to storytelling and the art of doing that, which is really fun. Whether you’re telling your own story or you’re entrusted to share someone else’s story. I think there’s a lot of power and there’s a lot of connectiveness that comes in being able to kind of bring those words and those experiences to life.

Maurice Cherry:
And I think we’re also fortunate to be at a time where the technology is also accessible enough where you don’t necessarily have to have the huge studio and the crew and everything. I mean people are shooting great music videos on iPhones with gimbals, like the tech and the hardware, I should say, has gotten a lot more accessible for more people to really kind of get into it.

Ashley Bozeman:
Right. Yeah, exactly. It is really cool to see how quickly things move every day. And I know people talk about that all the time, but really things move so fast and so it’s just like you’re just trying to ride away. I would say 15 seconds, but I feel like it’s less than that.

Maurice Cherry:
It is now. I mean you’re starting to see artists that are like … Actually I read this article and I’m sort of plugging work here for a minute, but I read this article on Glimmer, which is my employer’s glitch, but we have a lifestyle publication called Glimmer and one of the recent articles is about how artists manipulates their songs and their DJ system makes sure that they’re getting like the maximum out of streams and everything like that. So it almost feels like the music is not in as much about expression as much as it is about just charting or getting numbers, reaching some like arbitrary success metric.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s good that you have the artists that are sort of outside of that, that are more interested in creating experiences. Like you mentioned Solange, you mentioned Beyoncé, I think Janelle Monáe is like another artist that tries to do that. Like just tries to elevate what she’s doing past just a track or an EP. She wants to make it like an experience.

Ashley Bozeman:
Exactly. It’s artists like that I really latch onto and I really respect them and their path because I think that that’s just like the definition of a true artist. Like you just legitimately want to make something for the sake of making it and expressing yourself. And I think that that’s so exciting. And also too, especially when you do a despite, maybe low views, may or may not help streams or whatever. I feel like in this day and age, if you’re really taking the time for music videos, a lot of times you’re just doing it out of artistry, which I respect. Especially really, really nicely well. Not just also like we’re just blowing this giant budget we have, getting this quarter of a million, million dollar budget. But outside of that we’re actually using it to actually sit down and craft a story. Those are the artists I respect the most.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you wish you would’ve been told about the advertising industry when you first started?

Ashley Bozeman:
I wish I would’ve known how quickly things move. And how things, things as far as like projects almost do like making me here today and gone tomorrow. It’s such an interesting thing and it’s such an interesting career choice because you are investing yourself. So like creatively and kind of like emotionally a little bit and mentally can be very straining and physically you can be very tired. So you’re just putting in all this energy-

Ashley Bozeman:
Basically you can be very tired, so you’re just putting in all this energy, and then into a thing that’s not even necessarily always for certain. So projects can still fall through. [inaudible 00:39:12] can be like, “Oh, we’re not going to do this.” Or they can be like, “Oh, we’re going to hold this for later. Oh, well, we don’t have the resources to do that right now, so we’re going to go ahead and table it.” There’s just so many factors that go into everything and way more factors than I think that people realize.

Ashley Bozeman:
Every time you see a really good commercial on TV now, I actually applaud it and I respect it because there are just so many factors that played into having great work get out there. So it’s just kind of hard. But that’s something I really respect.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you make time for joy?

Ashley Bozeman:
I make time for joy by, I think keeping to the things that I still want to do, regardless. I’ve learned that this job can be very stressful and there can be a lot of projected stress. It can be very rush, rush, rush, this, this, this. But I think what gives me joy at the end of the day, and when I go home and I go to sleep, is just my relationships with people and my friendships with people, and knowing how much those matter to me.

Ashley Bozeman:
So what brings me joy, I think, is doing whatever I can to maintain those, and to commit myself or be committed to still honoring the things that I still love to do on the side and actively making time for those things. So it can be kind of tough when you feel like you’re super swamped, and you have a lot of things going on, and a lot of projects, but I think it’s possible just with a little planning. A lot of things are possible with just like, “Okay, well let me move these things around so I can have some space.”

Ashley Bozeman:
And I also too, I think what I’ve been realizing lately, is just sometimes it’s solitude and sometimes it’s also just taking a step back and just finding joy and peace in also replenishing yourself. I think a lot of times too, we weigh outcomes, we define ourselves by the outcomes of our project. A lot of times, a lot, a lot, a lot of times, it’s because something fell through. A lot of times it’s not our fault, it’s just external factors. So I think it’s important for me to also find your way into other things, that I feel like maybe I do find more control in and putting more of my, some of that same, maybe not more, but at least some of that same energy that I put into for work things, that I will still put in for things like my side project, or if I want to just have a, I call them paint parties. My paint parties, it’s just me painting on my floor by myself.

Ashley Bozeman:
So overall though, I really do think that there’s joy all around us. I think it’s just our … Sometimes it can kind of feel scheduled or kind of like a responsibility. But in living in a world where things are so crazy, and things do move around so fast, and things get rescheduled, and this, that, [inaudible 00:02:58], you’re trying to keep up with things, I just feel like, “Well, hey, if I have to schedule time for me to [inaudible 00:42:03].” And if I put on my calendar, ‘Go have fun’ then that’s what I’ll do. But I find joy in my friends, and also, I find a lot of joy going to concerts too.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Ashley Bozeman:
I love seeing live music, so that’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of, so I’m always at somebody’s concert. That’s something I plan to keep up.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give to somebody that wants to break into the ad industry today?

Ashley Bozeman:
I would say, “Okay, cool. I’m glad that … I’m so happy that you’ve seen and considered this as an option.” I think that there are resources, and I think also too, it’s interesting now because I feel like the game is really changing as far as the way that recruiting is going. I think agencies, even Martin, is researching and finding new ways to recruit and find talent. It’s interesting, a lot of times it almost always felt like this secret almost. It’s just like, “How do you get into that? How do you do it?” But I think agencies are now trying harder to be more present, be more present at places like HBCUs, to go to more to a whole plethora of high schools and middle schools, to career fairs, which I’ve been to both and I’m helping with those efforts. Something that I’m also very passionate about.

Ashley Bozeman:
But I think that it’s definitely possible. I think if able, I think portfolio schools are a great, great, great in, a great in to the ad agency life. They really are a great pipeline to get in the door. But outside of that, just really tapping into those creative strengths, working on your craft and your skill, and then just feeling confident in concepting and coming up with ideas.

Ashley Bozeman:
But what’s lovely about ad agencies too, is what we tell everybody, is that there is usually a place for every type of person here, even if it’s not in creative. There’s usually some kind of space that everyone fits into. And so with that being said, I think it’s just so viable and it’s just, again, even if you’re not in [inaudible 00:44:10] department, I think there’s something to be said to be around so much creative energy and be in such a flexible environment. I really truly think, and I know a lot of people out there to feel the same way.

Ashley Bozeman:
But I feel like this is legitimately what I need. I feel like … I always tell people too, “In your heart of hearts, if you feel like you’re meant to do something, you might as well just start now because you’re going to end up doing it anyways because it’s not going to go away.” So, it’s just like, “All right, well if I’m able to start now, let’s just start now.” So yeah, but there’s a place literally for everyone and I think that’s what I love most about my job. Nobody, no two people, come from the same background or the same [inaudible 00:44:51]. It’s just different. But there’s all these different people but they all have a space, and so I think that that’s something to be said.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Like it’s 2025, what kind of work are you doing or working on?

Ashley Bozeman:
2025, at that point I feel like there’s probably a good chance I’ll probably be either in New York or LA. I would be working on some really, really cool, potentially lifestyle-esque brands. Whether that be like a Target, or do an interesting media company, like a Refinery29, or potentially even maybe even trying out what it’s like to be an art director at a magazine company like Elle or Ebony or any of those. And am I able to still empower people there too?

Ashley Bozeman:
I’m excited because I think by then my creativity will have branched out to something that’s still art direction, but I think might be a little different. And so that’s what I’m trying to figure out now, is what is it? I know I love creating, I know I love making things, but what are other ways I can also explore that too? And I also too, maybe I’ll have a side project by then that’ll just blow up, and then I can just be an entrepreneur for the rest of my life. You just never know and it’s just really exciting. But there’s so many opportunities to be creative but in different ways. So I’m excited to really explore those out in the next five years.

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

Ashley Bozeman:
My portfolio, which I’m working on updating currently, my portfolio is ashleybozeman.com. So A-S-H-L-E-Y B-O-Z-E-M-A-N.com. And then my Instagram is @AshleyCierraa. So A-S-H-L-E-Y C-I-E-R-R-A-A. So those are the two places that I am the most, especially Instagram, but I’m usually always around.

Ashley Bozeman:
I’m always down, I always answer almost every DM. Or if anybody who ever wants to chat or has any questions too about just getting started, that’s something I love to do. And I love to get people excited and just talk about it as a career. But I love to help out in any way that I can. I think that it’s so important to still reach back. And I know that I’ve only been doing this for two years, but if there’s some way I can help, I definitely will.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. All right, well Ashley Bozeman, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you really for sharing your story about what it’s like being a young black woman working in the advertising industry, and then also sharing the things that inspire you. We have people, I think really of all ages, that are listening to this show. We’ve got students, we’ve got captains of industry, et cetera, and we try to hit just a lot of different points of creativity and design and everything. So it’s always good to hear from the perspective of someone that’s, I wouldn’t say just starting out in it, but you’ve been in it for a while now.

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah. But basically, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, but I mean to get the perspective of what is it like for you now at this stage? I mean, 2020 for all intents and purposes, is the future, in a lot of ways.

Ashley Bozeman:
Yeah, I know. It’s scary.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, and I mean it’s good to know that you’re at a position where you’re able to craft the images that a lot of people see when it comes to representation for a number of different brands and companies, et cetera. That’s a really big mantle to hold. So it sounds like definitely you have the creativity and the skills to make it happen, and I’m going to be really interested to see what you work on in the future. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Ashley Bozeman:
Oh, my God. Thank you so much for having me. This has been fantastic. It was lovely to talk to you and yeah, just thank you so much for having me on this platform, and hopefully that this’ll help or inspire someone else.


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

Sponsors

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

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

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!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Anthony Harrison: I hope that answers the question.

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

Anthony Harrison: But you never turn off.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: No layers?

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, no layers and one undo.

Maurice Cherry: Woo.

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

Maurice Cherry: Oh, man.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

Anthony Harrison: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Congratulations.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: What? From a clothing ad?

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

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

Anthony Harrison: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: What inspires you these days?

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: In what way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsors

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

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