David Perrin

How are you using your creative talents to create a more equitable world. For David Perrin, his focus is on the world of nonprofit design. By day, David is the design lead at The Ford Foundation, and he works with an in-house team of editors, copywriters, strategists, designers, and developers. Outside of work, he’s an instructor with Social Movement Technologies, a nonprofit organization that provides strategy, training and campaign support to build people power and win in the digital age.

David gave me a breakdown about The Ford Foundation and what it does, and also provided a sneak peek at the variety of work the Foundation handles. We also talked about what fueled his background and his career transition into social justice, along with the challenges and opportunities it presents. David’s story is one of determination, self-reflection, and the power of using design as a powerful tool for change. Get ready to be inspired!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

David Perrin:

So, my name is David Perrin. I’m an art director, graphic designer, and illustrator. I use photo collage as my current graphic style to help kind of portray complex issues pertaining to social justice politics. You know, in my off time…Black joy and Black culture.

Maurice Cherry:

How has your 2023 been going so far?

David Perrin:

It’s been going great! Busy. Done a lot of traveling. Soul searching. Got into grad school, started grad school right now, so currently in that…and yeah, just really gearing up for the fall. Just kind of heads down, I think, for the first half of the year. Took a lot of trips to go see friends and family and everything, and now I’m like kind of just hitting the ground running. So it’s been a busy year so far.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, congratulations on grad school!

David Perrin:

Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:

Where are you going?

David Perrin:

So I’m currently at Baruch [College] studying arts administration. So getting a master’s in that. I’m super excited. It’s really going to help me bolster my leadership skills in the nonprofit space, specifically around art. And kind of on the back end of this, I do want to get into teaching and being a professor. I really love the work that I do, and I think it’s just going to just give me a stronger foundation moving forward.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. So I saw that you recently illustrated a children’s book. Tell me about that.

David Perrin:

Yes. “Amadou Goes To School.” So a friend of mine is Senegalese. He pitched the story to me a couple of years ago. At the time, the only person he knew that he would want to illustrate this book. And so the book primarily is about his experience, really through this character Amadou, and what the first days of school might look like with just dealing with just different cultures and just finding common ground and where people can kind of — or children, right? — can kind of see eye-to-eye on things and really just come together through that unfamiliar process of getting to know one another and stuff. So we’ve gotten a lot of just very just positive energy around the book. We’re working on a second right now. We’re hoping to make it a series.

This has definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone. I think, the last couple of years, I’m kind of undoing a lot of years of slight impostor syndrome and wanting to get into new spaces and things. And so slowly peeling back those layers and stuff. So this is definitely a project of love. Yeah. I really appreciate my boy Jonima Diaby who’s the writer on it. We’re heads down, trying to figure out what the game plan is. We want to do more readings in schools and get this out, you know, as the school year is kind of, I think, jump starting right now, as a matter of fact. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

Was this your first children’s book?

David Perrin:

Yes, first children’s book. All original characters, content, all the things. Been drawing since I was in first grade, but to kind of do it in this platform…yeah, it was a little, like, nerve wracking. Finally, I think we released it last year, fall, and so, yeah, we’re gearing up, like I said, for the second book. So, yeah, just super excited to have it out there. And every now and then, I get a ping from a friend who just had a kid and they’re reading the book to their child, that type of thing. So I’m just happy it’s making the rounds. And like I said, I’m being able to touch my community in this way and…yeah, more to come.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice, looking forward to that. So you’re currently the design lead at The Ford Foundation. That’s pretty epic. Talk to me about that.

David Perrin:

Yeah, so I’m currently the design lead at The Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation is a global philanthropic institution centered around the mission of social justice at its core with the goal of expanding equitable experiences for all. The organization is global. We have eleven different offices. We cover a lot of ground and a lot of work. And so it’s really exciting, simply put, just because of all the different bodies of work that we contribute to. As a designer, I feel like I’m kind of a kid in a candy store, if you will. Being able to work on all these different topics, to be able to work on so many different types of bodies of work is really cool. And again, to add a bonus of us being global and working with the different regions as well and seeing how the work touches just different parts of the world is also pretty awesome.

Maurice Cherry:

I want to go a little deeper on what you do, like your day to day. I realized when I just asked that question before, I was like, that was real open ended. “You work for the Ford Foundation. Tell me about it.” I just realized as I said it, but what does a typical day look like? Are you in office? You’re working remotely? Do you have an in house team? What does that structure look like?

David Perrin:

Yeah, so we have an in-house team. So currently our team consists of so we have a creative team and we’re on a broader communications team, right? So the creative team consists of two editors, two writers, copywriters, if you will, and then two designers. And then our broader team consists of strategists and web development folks. So we’ve got a pretty robust team, I think around like 24 folks. So that’s our team as a whole.

The work? Yeah, it’s pretty vast. We have a lot of grantees, so we do grantee profiles where we reach out to our grantees, bolster up some of the work that they’re doing on their end, create these grantee profiles, which then kind of get condensed into maybe a blog format or social media. We’re here in New York, so sometimes our program officers will make regional visits to some of the regional offices and vice versa. So constantly creating content around those visits and kind of like information exchanged. We have a video series. We get into video a lot. Events. The Ford Foundation, as a building, as an entity, houses a lot of events throughout the year. We also have a gallery where we do gallery showings. I think we have one on AI that premiered a couple of weeks ago.

But yeah, we support everybody. Our small team, we have a group of fellows on constant rotation of fellowships that kind of happen throughout the organization. A small bite-sized list of things that we could be working on, you know, on a day to day [basis].

Maurice Cherry:

So it doesn’t sound like there is at any point in time, like a lack of work, because it feels like there’s always going to be something coming in, whether that’s, like you said, new grantee profiles or maybe that’s seasonal type campaigns or things that you’re doing. It sounds like it’s just a constant stream of work.

David Perrin:

Yeah, our grantees are moving and grooving. They’re constantly giving us things to put out into the space, and again, to bolster up. And yeah, the organization is constantly going through these different rotations. Folks coming in and out, fellows coming in and out. I mean, I will say the summers kind of are like a safe period where folks…we try to give ourselves some time off, right? So we’re trying to create some work/life balance there.

Like I was saying earlier, in the fall, yeah, it kind of heads down. Right. So right now we just have a lot of things going in constant rotation. But the summers, we try to keep it a little open ended for folks to take off.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s good to mention that because a couple of weeks ago I had Vasheena Brisbane on the show. She is…I’m going to butcher her title, but she’s like the director of communications for Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York.

David Perrin:

Got it.

Maurice Cherry:

Which is a pretty big church, pretty well-known church. And we sort of talked about kind of like how when you’re doing the type of design that maybe not is, I don’t know, product-based or software-based or things like that, sometimes it gets overlooked and sometimes it has like a stigma to it.

I’ve had designers on the show. I mean, I’m a designer myself, where there can sometimes be a stigma against church work or nonprofit work or things like that because it’s not as, I don’t know, glossy and sexy as like, advertising or software or anything like that. So I think it’s good to note that there’s just a variety of design work that you do with The Ford Foundation and that it’s all kind of pretty encompassing a lot of different types of media.

David Perrin:

Absolutely. For example, we have a 60th anniversary of our East Africa office happening pretty soon, and I’m making a stage design for them. Some of these are firsts for me; wayfinding stuff, banners that kind of take up full columns of buildings and things. Yes, to nonprofit work and some of this stuff feeling, tone wise, really, I guess to your point, maybe not as sexy as advertising or some branding studios and stuff like that, but still get the work done. And we should be held to the same standard as everybody else, I believe.

Maurice Cherry:

Right? I mean, you get the work in and it’s a variety of work. I mean, I think sometimes if you’re working with a company, particularly if you’re just a product designer, you’re kind of doing the same type of thing day in, day out, you don’t really have a chance to kind of stretch yourself creatively. And it sounds like even though you’re the lead and you have a team, there’s always going to be something new and different coming down the pike for you to work on.

David Perrin:

Absolutely. I mean, yeah, we try to keep it interesting too. We’re also trying to push ourselves with our grantee profiles. We want to do more original artwork, original photography…really meet our grantees where they’re at and bolster the work up to, like, a New York Times or The Atlantic. We are really striving for just a higher standard of design and design thinking and reimagining of what this work can look like. We just went through a brand redesign. Yeah, I think it embodies some of these newer ideas and trends in the design community. So I think great design is accessible. Just because it’s nonprofit doesn’t mean “doesn’t have to be stale, doesn’t have to be all these things.” It could really be as energizing and exciting as anything that we see out in the private sector.

Maurice Cherry:

What’s the most challenging part about your work?

David Perrin:

I guess even going back to my days at Dēmos, sometimes visualizing some of this work because it’s so nuanced, right? I’m thinking on when I was working at Dēmos, this racial justice think tank, right? Like coming up with visuals for ending the filibuster, right? Like, what does that look like? It’s not a very tangible thing. You can’t just throw that into Google and a bunch of images are going to pop up. And so, yeah, for some of these more nuanced, more sensitive topics, right? The Supreme Court ruling on abortion, what does that look like? That creates an approachable tone, right? It’s so sensitive. What does that look like? What’s the tone that we want to strike with that? We deal in some pretty heavy topics. And so I think that’s always a difficulty in trying to establish a tone of empowerment, but also making clear what’s at stake and what’s actually happening in the space without being, I guess, disruptive or disrespectful. We do want to respect all the imagery and our grantees and the people involved. These are real issues, and so there’s a lot of sensitivities around that and we want to just be mindful as much as possible creating a message, but also, again, just really thinking on the communities involved in the work. So, yeah, sometimes there’s not always a balance. And so it’s tricky sometimes coming up with how to really set that tone and make sure everybody is fully represented in the right way.

Maurice Cherry:

And I would imagine aside from that, because you’re dealing with different cultures, you’re dealing with different just…topics and mores and things like that. So you’re always having to sort of strike that balance between, of course, something that’s going to be visually and aesthetically pleasing, but then also is going to work for the context that it’s being used. Like, for example, you mentioned doing this conference in East Africa. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t style that, like, you would do maybe an event in Silicon Valley. Like, it would just be a different type of thing, I would imagine.

David Perrin:

Absolutely. And to that point, and I’ll probably touch on this a little bit later, but yeah, bringing folks in, getting the right feedback. We’re very much in touch with the folks in that regional office, and they sent us, like, a mood board, right, to kind of help guide us on some principles and some rules of the road, right? Some things that they wanted to stay away from, as far as stereotypes, and I’m very appreciative of that. I want everybody, people that we are speaking behalf of trying to grantees, who are trying to bolster communities, all that to really come to the table, right? And really help us, guide us as designers and visionaries, so that we’re not misrepresenting the work at any point. It’s a fine line, but always, always here to hear from folks, like, what they want to see in the visuals, and what’s empowering and what makes sense to the work.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, along with the work that you’re doing at the Ford Foundation, you also teach you’re an instructor with Social Movement Technologies. How did you find out about them?

David Perrin:

At my time at Dēmos, I was still trying to get a handle on what organizing work looked like and felt like. And so my director at the time, I guess Smt, had kind of fallen into her inbox. She encouraged me to take the they had a Certificate course right on basically design tools for graphic designers in the organizing space. Right. I took the course. I learned a lot, met up with a lot of great designers, and just kind of got to hear the stories and just kind of be alongside of other organizers and grassroots folks, researchers, people who aren’t designers, that just wanted to learn and to help their organizations out in any capacity, in the design capacity and everything. So, yeah, it was just a really good learning experience overall. And so after the program, the head of the program reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be an instructor, and I jumped at the opportunity. I haven’t turned back. And so, yeah, I feel fortunate to be in a space again, to be on the other side and to kind of help usher in just this next class of folks year after year. It’s been very rewarding, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:

What sort of topics are you teaching?

David Perrin:

We’re starting from the ground up, right? So just teaching like, basic typography, color palette, mood boarding, brand guides, visual tone with photography, sourcing animation, illustration, whatever. We can kind of really pack in during the time that we have. We really try to pack it in. And yeah, we’ve created a pretty decent formula as far as pace goes. But yeah, we really just try to give people the building blocks on what to really think about when thinking about brand and how to start. Right. So really, like I said, from the ground up. And putting this against folks are limited resources too, and giving them a lot of open source material that they could use to kind of just get started. Like Photoshop. Adobe sometimes can be a little inaccessible, can be a little daunting, right? So we really just try to meet people where they’re at and help bolster their skills so that they feel more confident talking about visual identity and what to really think about when it comes to strategy for the organizations.

Maurice Cherry:

How do you sort of balance this teaching work along with your 9-to-5 work? Because it sounds like The Ford Foundation work is already a lot to do.

David Perrin:

It is. Full transparency, right? Like a couple of years ago, I was on the more teaching end of this and now I’m more of supportive…more of like a supportive role, looking at students’ work and being able to kind of guide them on next steps and things. So more of like a small group kind of feedback session type of thing. And I try to do my best to really prepare folks as far as next steps and help them again, just try to meet them where they’re at, whatever the desired needs are at the time.

Maurice Cherry:

Now let’s kind of, you know, change it up here a little bit. We’ve talked a lot about your work, you know, your teaching as well. I do want to ask more about Dēmos, but before we get to that, let’s learn more about you. I know you’re currently in Brooklyn, New York, but you grew up in Miami, is that right?

David Perrin:

Yes. So North Miami Beach, to be specific. But I have a kind of a very roundabout story.

My parents are both from Jamaica. I wasn’t actually even born in Florida, but that’s where I spent most of my time. So born in Texas, moved to North Miami Beach, where I think I did maybe, I don’t know, preschool to maybe the top of first grade. From there, moved to Michigan, spent a couple of years in Michigan, moved to North Carolina for a couple of years after that; each stop, like, averaging about three to four years, landing back in Florida, moving to the panhandle, going to the high school in the panhandle, going to college down in Fort Lauderdale. I spent some time in New York and all that. That mixture. And then finally moving to Brooklyn, where I’m at now. So that’s just a little bit of that journey.

My background as far as a creative kind of started in first grade, drawing dinosaurs and things. I was really involved with Jurassic Park and stuff. Then kind of moved on to Dragon Ball Z, anime, all that stuff. In high school, when I made it back where I made it to the panhandle, I went to a collegiate high school where I was basically taking collegiate classes with college students. There I was able to kind of dig in on artwork in a very specific way, right? So I’m doing live paintings and live drawings with models and sculpting, taking guitar lessons and all these things, kind of almost making up for some of these moves, right? I moved around a lot, so I wasn’t able to really hone in on the artistic side of me until I had a couple of years at this collegiate high school where I was able to kind of lean in, more specifically.

Graphic design really doesn’t start to take, I guess, even a role until I moved to Fort Lauderdale for college, where I’m studying accounting, of all things. And I was kind of doing that in the background. I was a part of a fraternity. I’m making flyers, diving in photoshop a little bit, but not that much. And then eventually after college, I worked in nonprofit worked on the nonprofit side in accounting for a little bit. I told my parents straight up after college because they’re Jamaican. So they’re like, “hey, you got to be a doctor, lawyer, business…something.” Like, you got to make it make sense type of thing. You know what I mean?

Yeah, I told them after a couple of years of doing the accounting thing, I just said “the arts.” I was like, I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I’m going to be in the arts. And so I think around the time of maybe my second year of working in accounting, my sisters were getting ready to go to SCAD. They had made the jump, right? So they went to UCF down in Orlando, and then they wanted to go to SCAD. And they kind of propelled me. I’m like, well, they get to go to art school. I’m the bigger brother. I’m like, I want to go to art school too.

So I start doing some research. SVA is high on that list. I decide kind of then and there, I’m moving out of state. I’m going to New York. I create this portfolio, like, to this day, it amazes me because, like I said, I don’t have the most artistic background. Like, I’m drawing, I’m dabbling, doing little things here and there. But yeah, I cobbled together this portfolio for them of these sketches here and there, and some of these Photoshop files and things that I made along the years, and they accepted me.

And so, yeah, right after the acceptance, a buddy of mine was heading up to New York. His parents were moving up there. I moved up there with him, and I started taking night classes, continuing it at the School of Visual Arts. So by day, I found an accounting job on the nonprofit side. Again, by night I’m at SBA taking classes and things to try to make ends meet. But also with this battery in my back of “I need to make it,” they were very upfront with me when I got to SVA. They were like, “hey, you have a cap. You have a financial cap, and so you have a limit as to how much government support you’re going to get.” I think I had my back up against the wall kind of going in, and so I felt like really, really had to make it. But I also knew that from early on that I wanted to get into social justice work or work that’s community based. The commercial thing really wasn’t clicking for me, even in my early inceptions of learning about graphic design and typography and all the things a lot to think about.

But that was kind of like the early beginnings of design for me and school and everything. Fast forward and I eventually make my way to Dēmos, where I’m working on all these issues pertaining to racial justice, voting rights, I’m blanking on climate change, all these different buckets of work, and then eventually make my way to Ford. That’s the long…that’s the abridged version, but yeah, here we are.

Maurice Cherry:

So I saw, you know, and that you kind of — I guess, I don’t know, maybe skipped over this a little bit — but we can talk about it. I mean, you freelanced a bit in 2015 and 2016. And then after that you were working — this is before Dēmos — you were working at AMC Networks as their lead graphic designer. How was that experience? Because this is before you sort of went into the nonprofit space with Dēmos and now Ford. What was it like at AMC?

David Perrin:

Early beginnings was cool. I get to work for a big brand, right, and I finally get brand recognition. Brand recognition is such a big thing in the design community. It’s really like who you work for. If you don’t work for a big brand or something, it’s like your social capital is really low. You know what I mean? So I felt I got to kind of finally step into that a bit. And so, yeah, early stages of that job was really cool. But things started to kind of turn for me around, I think, like 2016, a little before 2016, just seeing how the politics kind of permeated through the workspace.

Early start’s great, met a lot of great folks, learned a lot. Working with a big organization of that size being able to kind of dabble in between different channels and meet people from different teams and things. It’s a full on learning experience. But like I said, toward the end, I had to make a change for my own moral benefit.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I figured when you said “it was cool”…that sounded a little bit loaded. I was like, okay. I think sometimes you have those experiences where you hope it’s going to be one way and then they’re kind of just throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you, especially if it’s at a place like you said, that has that name recognition.

I can say this now because I don’t work there anymore, but back when I worked at Fog Creek Software, which later became Glitch, Glitch was sort of known, I think in the 2018 to 2020 space, as being like this really progressive software company that’s sort of doing these things. But internally? Whoooo! I mean, I had several different titles. I even had personal slights with management. And then I became management and then they didn’t want to train me as a manager. There was like a lot of stuff that happened. I mean, I don’t want to go too much into it, but I mean, also, I’m not a big fan of really trashing places where I used to work. I mean, it’s in the past, like move past it, but I know what you mean because sometimes that name recognition does mean a lot. I mean, it’s something that I think now people are even finding out, especially if they’ve been laid off in the past year from a company that used to have better reputation. Yes, I’m talking about Twitter. They might be finding it a little difficult, I would say probably in the market to maybe get placed somewhere because that name now has I mean, despite the work that they might have done there, the platform is almost in the dirt at this point. So, I don’t know.

It’s a tricky thing, I think, for designers, especially with career mobility and trying to make sure that you’re doing work that is important, that means something to you, but then also unfortunately means something to other people once you get out in the job market again.

David Perrin:

Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:

It sucks. It absolutely sucks. I just want to put that on the record. It sucks.

So after your AMC experience, you start at Dēmos. How did you find out about them? I mean, I’m sure you probably knew about it just in terms of general consciousness, but that’s a big shift from something like AMC to nonprofit.

David Perrin:

I think at some point, like I said, 2016, it’s like I made a pledge to myself, right? I was just like trying to manifest it was before I even knew what social justice meant. Organizing. My view of that space was still tied to places like the NAACP. I did the NAACP Youth Council growing up. And so I’m thinking, “man, I can’t get a job in this. Like a design job.”

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

David Perrin:

My view is just so small, and so I’m applying around. I’m on these job boards. I applied to Dēmos twice, right? They took a while to get back to me. I think just because of internal processes and things like that manifest. I manifested it, it happened, and I ended up there. Everything else in between, I have no idea. So I really thank my lucky stars on that one. Trying to listen to a kid like me in my pitch to get into the space because, yeah, none of my work really reflected that. I’m coming off of entertainment, right? So how does this translate into that type of thing? So happy that they took a shot on me.

Maurice Cherry:

And, I mean, it sounds like it really paid off just for you in terms of solidifying yourself in this particular realm, because now you’re at The Ford Foundation. So clearly your experience at Dēmos must have been pretty transformative.

David Perrin:

Me being the lead, the only designer on the team, I got to experiment. Shout out to my director at the time. She really let me spread my wings on what was possible kind of under the organization. We just got a new president. We just redesigned the website. I kind of used that as, like, a proxy to pull new fonts and new colors into the new body of work. I used that kind of like the template to create what our reports would look like moving forward and what art might look like on the site. I kind of just hit the ground running. Folks just let me know they saw one collage. They were like, “oh, this really resonates. Let’s do this again.” And it was just kind of like rinse, wash, and repeat. And I felt like a lot of the stories that we were telling, the organizations that we were uplifting, the communities that we were talking about, really internally, for me, really embodied the work that I wanted to be doing. So I was really appreciative for just having so much floor to experiment, just really build up this tool of collaging and talking about the work in a way that I feel kind of brings people to the table.

Dēmos can be wonky at times in how they put out their reports, right? They crank out these lengthy 10-page, 15-page reports and things. But, yeah, you want to bring folks into the room and bring it to the table and everything. So I felt I was able to do that with what was them and just rich copy. I mean, we’re talking about really good research that’s done, so things based, in fact, organizations based in reality. And so, yeah, it just kind of gave me a firm leg to stand on. But I did at times miss kind of the allure of an AMC or a bigger brand, right? I feel like I’m working on all these things for an organization that maybe didn’t have the biggest digital footprint out in the space, in the nonprofit space, in the organizing space, think tank space, they are pillars. But outside of that, it’s kind of like (sighs). But love the work, though, nonetheless.

Maurice Cherry:

And a lot of your design work has this basis in social issues, which it sounds like is definitely something that’s really important to you. You mentioned 2016 being sort of this nexus point for you. Why do we need more designers in the social justice space?

David Perrin:

Well, because of the work. The work is we are talking about communities that are on the margins, right? We need folks that represent those communities in this space because I think the work presents itself very differently. You know what I mean? And so, yeah, when you’re not attached to these communities, I think you’re detached in a way. And yeah, I feel like these opportunities should be given to the folks that, again, are from these spaces, that are speaking to these spaces.

Sometimes that’s often not the case. Some of these jobs are low paying. I’m also going to advocate for more pay for nonprofit designers. I’m also going to ask for more of a leadership track or a track to leadership in the design space on the nonprofit side. Yeah, designers are kind of left out these conversations, right? And we’re such a big and pivotal part of the work and how it’s represented outside of the organization and into these spaces. Using Dēmos as an example, we’re making work to put in the hands of policymakers. So like, it’s transformative, right? You’ve got the right policy into the right policymakers hands. I mean, you know, government is slow, but you just don’t know what can happen putting these things in the right hands and stuff. So really important work across the board.

I do want to see more BIPOC designers like instance in the space and also being able to maintain a life in this space. I don’t think it’s temporary, right? Like, we love this work just as much as everybody else. We definitely should have more of a space to live a sustainable life, to create this work over time, you know what I mean? I should be able to retire, working on the nonprofit side, that type of thing. And everybody else should too. Making a huge push for that, for the grant makers, the foundations, policymakers, whatever, for them to really create that budget line item when you’re creating those grants, like, really try to build out more of a creative team. I’m advocating for designers, but more creatives that exist in the space. There’s a lot of people that want to do a lot of great work again, [they] deserve to make a living.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. And to your point, they deserve to retire too.

David Perrin:

Absolutely. 1000%. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

I had Cheryl Miller back on the show for episode 500. And I remember…I think we might have said it in the interview, but we definitely talked about it afterwards about how there’s no retirement plan for designers. And I was like, well, I kind of get what she was saying, but I think in the grand scheme of, like, if you’re a designer today, unless you work for, I don’t know, maybe like a big tech company or something like that, you kind of end up going from job to job. Like, the life and career of a designer is not as structured as, say, a doctor or a lawyer or something like that, or even something more blue collar, like an accountant or something like that, where you could be somewhere for X number of years. I mean, I think just in our lifetime job security, to be somewhere for four or five years is admirable. Whereas my mom was at the same job from like ’74 to 2016. It was an easy thing. And she worked in STEM, she worked in biology. But we were talking about how there’s no retirement plan for designers, which really got me to thinking, what would it look like to retire? Would I just have to keep working and doing gigs until I’m dead? Or what does that look like? Which is morbid, but a reality. Especially like…I’m in my 40s, so it’s a reality.

David Perrin:

Yeah. These are the things that I’m also thinking about, right? Longevity in design, resilience in design. And yeah, I want to figure out what the answer to that is sooner than later. It’s not a magical thing. It’s a process that should also be, again, rewarded with stability at the end of the day, just like everybody else.

Maurice Cherry:

Absolutely. What keeps you motivated and inspired with your work?

David Perrin:

I mentioned the Master’s program earlier. I really want to teach. I really want to teach BIPOC students what this world looks like, the possibilities of a designer. Try to, again, just build a bigger, broader community of future thinkers. And so, yeah, I’m really just, primarily, I want to do this for this next generation coming about. I feel like my design journey? Happenstance, right? I mean, a lot of work, right? A lot of grinding, all these things. But, man, I would have loved to have even this book — “The Black Experience in Design” — I would have loved to have this at 16 or like an earlier age. Who knows what life would have looked like for me if I had just a couple more years? Just being able to get a better grasp of what design is, the possibilities. That’s what keeps me up at night and wanting to really get to that space and just social justice in general.

2020, 2016, like the pandemic, like these inflection points, it really shook up democracy in a way to where you could, you know, scratching your head. Like, what does democracy even mean? What does liberation even mean in this country, specifically and abroad? Yeah. And what does that look like from a design standpoint? What are we going to do to kind of help maintain the steady rhythm of just organizing and getting people together. These are the things that I think about is what does the future look like for this space? How do we contribute to it? How do we keep it fresh? How do we keep feeding it and keeping it energizing and inclusive and bringing more people to the table and bringing them in? That’s why I’m calling for more nonprofit designers to come into this space and share their expertise from all different points of life, because we need it. There’s a lot of noise out there, politically and everything. And yeah, we definitely need the support.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you have, like, a dream project that you’d love to do one day? It could either be through The Ford Foundation, it could be a personal project…anything like that.

David Perrin:

Yeah. So through this medium of collage, I want to do murals. I see a lot of vector art murals, painted graffiti, all these things. I think of…I think his name is, like, JR. Artist. When I first came to New York, he had a lot of just big murals, right. With his collage work and everything. And so, yeah, we have a piece at The Ford Foundation. So that’s been a dream of mine, is like yeah, to be able to do a big collage piece on, you know, one of these walls in the area. So I’m constantly driving around and being like, “man, like, a mural would look really good here.” That type of thing. Also just more editorial work in general. I’d love to see my work in [The New York] Times or The Atlantic, that type of thing. So I’m kind of moving and grooving about. Yeah, I want to be able to kind of be on everybody’s radar and be able to tell those stories for those publications and murals and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Do you think it’ll be doing that kind of work?

David Perrin:

Absolutely. Yeah. I want to have a couple more of these Amadou books under my belt. We do want to make this a series. Yeah. Some murals and eventually, like, teaching. Like I said, I want to be at a school, ushering in that new generation of thinkers, communicators, and mentorship. I really want to give this stuff back to my community in a way that feels impactful and meaningful, and I want folks to come back around and ask me questions. I want to be the design elder. I’m putting that on myself, that type of thing. Anything I can do to just build my community up in the ways that I think are going to be positive moving forward in the realms of design, artwork, that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to sort of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work and everything? Where can they find that online?

David Perrin:

So I am on Instagram under my artist’s name, @dpicting, right? So my name is David Perrin. So DP, right? So D-P-I-C-T-I-N-G. So using my first initials. And then I-C-T-I-N-G. So that’s @dpicting on Instagram. I’m online at dpictingstudio.com. Also dpicting.com on the website. Yeah, I’m working on want to get an exhibition out there of my artwork. I’m working on After Effects as well, trying to create more moving collages and things like that. So that’s a slow and steady process. So that’s going to be coming. So show coming soon. Yeah, you can find all the updates and things on Instagram, on LinkedIn as well. I’m on LinkedIn. David Perrin. That’s where I’m at. Right.

Maurice Cherry:

Sounds good. David Perrin, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. First of all, I just love the work that you’re doing at The Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation already does so much great in the world, so much philanthropic work. And when I was doing my research and I was like, “wait a minute there’s a brother that’s leading all this.” That’s when I was like, I had to get you on the show to sort of talk about that. I mean, I think it was one thing, of course, it was great for you to talk about your history with working and doing design with social justice issues, but also kind of, I think, giving folks the opportunity to see that you can switch career paths and stay true to yourself. Certainly you sort of started out, like you said, doing this accounting work, and then you kind of wanted to work at a design place that had a big name. And then 2016 happened, which I think was a nexus point for a lot of people, not just designers, but a point to have them think, “well, how can my work make more of an impact?” And now you’ve done this work for Dēmos, you’re doing this work for The Ford Foundation. I hope that others will hear your story and realize that this is something that they can do. Nonprofit is a space that they can go into and that they can often find success. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

David Perrin:

Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, super overjoyed. Thank you.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Ethan Baldwin

It’s no surprise that designers like working on projects that allow them to fully display their creativity and talent. For Ethan Baldwin, those projects just happen to revolve around what might not be considered that exciting by others — banking and finance. That outlook is one of the foundations behind Slash and Structure, his new brand strategy and visual identity design firm.

Ethan spoke about his passion for “making boring stuff less boring”, and how it’s been important for him to balance his artistic skills with other aspects of a career in design. We also talked about working in-house vs. being an external vendor, and Ethan shared how his education at Oberlin and his work in the agency and financial world in NYC helped shape his perspective as a designer and an entrepreneur. For Ethan, being involved in the creative process is about more than just making something look good — it’s about providing value, trusting the process, and staying connected to your craft!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

Ethan Baldwin:

I’m Ethan Baldwin. I am a creative director based in Brooklyn, New York. And this year, I have started a new brand strategy and visual identity design firm called Slash and Structure. So, say hi to me. I am a founder, entrepreneur, creative director, lover of all things beautiful and design forward and eye catching. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

How has the year been going for you so far since starting the business?

Ethan Baldwin:

It’s been pretty good. I always tell people that the only downside has been kind of like the demons inside of my own head and trying not to get into my way. But within all the situations where I’m able to push forward and really focus on what I’m trying to accomplish, it’s all been pretty successful. It’s been such a joy to work on crafting something that I’m building from the ground up. And I’ve been working with some amazing clients so far. I’ve got to work on some very cool projects and it’s nice just being able to, what I say, raise this baby from birth. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

Is there anything that you want to try to accomplish before the year ends? I mean, this could be business-wise or not.

Ethan Baldwin:

I would say from a very business specific standpoint, I want to basically up my monthly run rate. We don’t need to necessarily talk about specifics of numbers, but I do think having that kind of like, business financial goal in mind is incredibly important. And really I want to have an established four to six clients by the end of the year that I can see that longevity with. Like really kind of like…I will say the partnership feels like a family. It’s all still very new. We’ve got some great relationships. So it’s all about building those connections outside of the work itself.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, you know, since you talked about your studio Slash and Structure, let’s dive more into that. What was behind the idea of you starting the studio?

Ethan Baldwin:

Yeah. So I worked as a visual designer for many years now. I got my start in advertising and then after freelancing for quite some time, I mainly started working on the client side of things, working either for design teams or designing for marketing teams. Also a little bit of product work, but after my last job, that job fell through. Got let go. Kind of like that post-pandemic…I’ll say, like, that post-pandemic bubble kind of burst. I realized I didn’t want to be in an office anymore unless it was the group of people that I really felt that I could build a team or family with. There was a product that I was super passionate about, but really I just wanted to create something that really tapped into my design methodology, like the way I run projects and the way I see the world.

And given all the places that I’ve worked in the past, I knew there was something that I can tap into based on the way I do think that could be of service to people, and I could be of better service doing it from my own firm versus trying to do it and change things from inside another corporation. So that really was the impetus to start the company. And the name Slash and Structure. Slash has always been in kind of like my artistic forward usernames for many years now. And it always kind of stemmed from…I do this, I do design programming, I do print, digital. And there is always that push that I got from people, like, “you really need to niche down. You really need to focus on serving one particular audience.”

And it was a lot of figuring out how I can do that. Again, you want a good business to serve a specific audience. But just being me and having this brain that wants to pick up on so many things, my experience got me to where I am by being able to pick up a whole bunch of different skill sets and talents and interests. So having that slash in there, being able to see a whole bunch of different either types of mediums or types of industries to really get people to focus on what their goals are and what their content is and how I can then put visuals on top of it, I guess that kind of became the throughline for all of my work. It’s really about helping people figure out what it is that they want to do or build or sell, and I can apply a number of different mediums or modalities to help them achieve that.

Maurice Cherry:

So you’re bringing basically to their project…slash structure?

Ethan Baldwin:

Yeah. (laughs) In my business, the slashing is going through whatever they have so far. So usually when I’m working with the client, it usually starts like, “I want a website,” or “I want a motion graphics piece,” or “I want this set of collateral.” I’m like, “okay, that’s all well and good, but we need to figure out who you are, what you’re about, what you’re trying to say.” And so that’s another play on the slash part. We take all of the stuff that you’ve kind of set up for yourself. We slash it all apart. We look at what all the individual pieces are and we figure out how to put them back together in a way that makes sense for you and for your audience or for your desired customers.

And then the structure comes after. The structure is building those systems in place, giving you the platform that you need and then giving you a way forward that’s scalable. Because at the end of the day, while I want to keep all of these partnerships, my biggest thing is I want to build solutions — design based solutions — that clients will use on their own if they need to update their content on the website. I make sure that the sites that I build have a robust CMS so that they can update their own content, they can change their own pictures. Because it’s always those little things that clients tend to get so wrapped up about. And I’m like, that’s the least important part of all of this process. That’s the least important part of your growth.

I want to make those things as easy as possible. Clients can focus on building their business and talking about themselves and really figuring out who they are and getting that out there.

Maurice Cherry:

How’s business been going so far?

Ethan Baldwin:

Pretty good. A bit of a, I would say…there’s like that standard slowdown in the summer. And to be perfectly honest, a lot of that was mainly coming from me. I needed to take a break physically and emotionally. As I was talking about, I had a nice little vacation this summer, went away for three weeks, and now I’m kind of getting back into the swing of things. And it’s weird because as much as I needed that break, I have missed that energy of bringing in new clients and working on multiple design projects simultaneously. It’s an ebb and flow with the business. So this fall is going to be picking back up pretty…I would say pretty steadily pretty soon.

Maurice Cherry:

Are there specific types of clients that you prefer to work with in a particular area, like healthcare or business or something like that?

Ethan Baldwin:

I would say I like to focus on, in terms of client size, I like to focus on solo entrepreneurs or like very small teams that are just building, or larger companies that have a bunch of systems in place that they’re looking to improve upon. And I mainly focus on SaaS platforms, technology, anything that usually tends to have a whole bunch of data points, whether that be tons of customers or tons of product segments. But anything that tends to have a lot of data points that need to get organized and that usually falls inside of the tech and digital product space.

Maurice Cherry:

And I’d imagine that probably draws on your background too. I mean, prior to you starting Slash and Sructure, you were at Clear, which you mentioned earlier. So it’s kind of feeding into that in a way.

Ethan Baldwin:

Yeah. The majority of my experience really has been kind of working with a product or a platform that at face value can seem like very boring or everyday and figuring out ways to make it appear more luxury or make it more accessible to a wider audience, or just provide some clarity for people to understand it better. And in all of those places that I’ve worked with my clients now, it really goes to what I always call “what is your flag in the sand.” What is the one thing that you’re trying to say? What is the one person that you’re trying to reach? And finding that flag in the sand is hard because we naturally want to get as many audience — people in our audience as possible — reach as many people as possible, make everybody happy. These [are] things that I struggle with as well. The more that we find the specific person that we’re trying to reach and improve and serve, the better reach we end up getting, because the connections that we create in our business end up making more sense. We find the people that fit what we do.

Maurice Cherry:

What are some dream projects that you’d love to do through the studio?

Ethan Baldwin:

I would love to do a platform rebrand for some boring banking product or something in, like, I’m thinking of…these aren’t boring breaking products, but these new products that are coming out in the financial space like Chime or Rocket Money — these things that are finding, I would say, contemporary ways to do very boring tasks like bookkeeping. What is a way that those products can be packaged and presented in a way that gets people more excited about doing their monthly bookkeeping keeping or doing their taxes and not having this weird aversion to having to do all the boring stuff? I’m always trying to find ways to make boring stuff less boring because that’s how I have to function as a designer. If there’s a tedium, it is always hard for me to get started. So always looking for those types of projects — there’s that end. It sounds real weird, but I love doing annual reports; again, anything where I get to play with large amounts of data, making charts and making graphs and making those things move and ways that we can provide more understanding through visuals. Those are things that I really get behind.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, you know, I’d also say the other thing about even if you’re in the market for doing not necessarily annual reports, but things like that, you can really find a way to become a part of a company’s design budget or marketing budget. Back when I had my studio and I was really doing a lot of design work with clients, my main goal was I wanted to be a line item on the budget, because then that way every year, you know, you’re getting some kind of work as a retainer or something like that. But annual reports, email newsletters, like any sort of thing that you can do continually and build that relationship with them, it ends up being really lucrative for the business. But also it provides you as a creative a lot of stability in what can be a very unstable…I mean, striking out on your own is never easy. You got to find clients, you got to do all the admin work and stuff like that. But having that level of steadiness allows you to then explore other things either through your studio or outside your studio. But you always have that rock to come back to.

Ethan Baldwin:

Exactly. And it’s interesting that you mentioned the retainer model because that’s something newer that I picked up for my business and I’ve discovered in the past year that it really works for me. Part of it is exactly what you mentioned. Kind of like having that stable repeatable income coming in makes it easier to focus on growing the business or growing different projects in or out of the business. But from a client perspective, I like the retainer model because it allows me to grow with a client and really help them see and understand the creative process and specifically the identity creative process. Like getting into brand style guides, going like “this is why this purple shows up in all of these places”…having that ongoing design relationship with someone, you get those aha moments where they are starting to realize that “oh, that’s why you did that” as a creative. And so that’s how I kind of divide up my business.

I have kind of like the brand strategy, brand building side of things which is project-based and those are usually focused with smaller business or solo entrepreneurs that are looking to grow something from scratch. And then I have the retainer model, and those usually go with larger companies that are kind of like “we need someone to do X number of banners” or “do this video.” And what I’ve seen is that through that retainer process, it usually helps clients see we don’t need a lot of the dumb stuff that we ask for. It teaches them how to use more templates. Yes, you have me on a retainer and I will do whatever that you want me to do, but you probably don’t need me to do PowerPoint graphs all of the time. Once they see everything that’s capable and how things can be templatized and automated, they then start to focus on more of the big ticket projects that are going to give them more ROI. And that works for me because then I get to work on more interesting things.

Maurice Cherry:

I don’t want to say it’s a magic trick, but it’s kind of a magic trick in a way because sometimes companies don’t really know what they need creatively until they have a creative on staff. And then, as you’re able — that’s even in a freelance capacity — but then once you’re doing that work for them, they’re like “oh wait a minute, you can do this” and “we could do this” and “maybe we don’t need to do this.” They’re going to trust you also because you’ve built that relationship over time and it’s less of kind of this one off sort of thing that you have to try to win them over about.

Ethan Baldwin:

Exactly. And piggybacking off of that. One thing that I’ve noticed on going off on my own and working as a vendor for clients versus working in house. There’s this weird, I don’t know, mindset that when you’re working as an outside expert, there’s a heightened level of understanding or at the very least, respect for what it is that you do. Because for a lot of the things that I’m doing now, they’re the exact same things that I did at places working in house. But because to a certain extent, people are now coming to me to solve very specific problems versus just me being there to just, quote, unquote, “do things,” I’m able to get people to shift their briefs a bit better so they’re improved, or they’re like, “maybe you don’t need to do this. Let’s do this.” There’s more opportunity for rapport, and it’s weirdly because I’m not on their payroll, or I’m a line item, but I’m not on their payroll. It’s weird.

It’s like a mental shift where they feel like they can get more out of having this vendor relationship, like, more value from it. I haven’t been able to figure out what that is, but it’s one of the biggest things I’ve noticed after making this shift.

Maurice Cherry:

Value is good. I mean, never discount that at all.

Now there’s more about your career I want to get into. Of course, you’ve had a very prolific career, and we’ll get into that a bit later. But before we do that, let’s kind of learn more about Ethan. Let’s learn more about you as a person.

You’re based out of Brooklyn currently. Is that where you’re from originally?

Ethan Baldwin:

No, So I’m originally from Washington, DC.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay.

Ethan Baldwin:

And my whole family is from deep “dirty south” Aiken, South Carolina. But I’ve been in New York since I left college in 2006. So I feel like I can officially say that I am a New Yorker now.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. Now, did you sort of always have this interest in design and everything growing up? Like, was it something that your family cultivated or anything like that?

Ethan Baldwin:

So, strangely enough, my mom is also a visual artist, so she was a photographer for the Smithsonian basically her entire career. She just retired about a year ago, and she’s also a fine art painter, ceramicist, and she does a lot of tapestry work, so she kind of like the idea of having all of these artistic hobbies, I would say, came from her being a multihyphenate, so to speak.

But in terms of a line of study, I actually started as a theater kid. Ever since I was little, I did theater. I did dance. I went to school. I joined the theater program and did that up until halfway through my junior year. And there was just a shift of, like, I’ve always wanted to create things, but I’ve realized I wanted to be more behind the scenes, and I wanted to create either physical things or things that just had a bit more, I would say, staying power that weren’t as ephemeral as a stage performance.

And I always had an interest growing up dance. I always had an interest in dancing, choreography, and my main goal I always wanted to do music videos.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay!

Ethan Baldwin:

That was kind of like the biggest thing that got me into the visual arts and why I jumped into advertising. I’m going to be that person who makes the next Gap commercial. And so that’s when I made that shift in college. And we didn’t have a marketing program at Oberlin, but I wanted to focus on making beautiful images. So my studio art focus was photography, and my senior thesis was a coffee table book called Ego Boost, and it was really just editorial photography for my friends. And the point was, I truly feel that everyone should deserve to feel like a celebrity for at least an hour. So I made this coffee table book, and then we made all these posters with all of my friends who modeled, and we put the posters around the school, and then we made these little collector cards that people could pick up. And then instead of having the thesis show in the museum, which was kind of standard, I had it in the student union and ended up making this huge white party, like Puff Daddy style white party.

And then I built these translucent, lit up walls to house all of my photography. And my friend from the dance group I was in, he had the DJ, and we had a bar. And it was the art world, but in a way that was fun and fit, like the community that I’m from. It had that performance piece to it, but it still focused on photography. It was very hip-hop focused, very focused around dance, but at its core, it was fun. The whole point is that all of this stuff is supposed to be fun.

Being a designer, being a creative, we have these jobs that make no sense. Think about it. But we’re able to tap into something that’s really kind of magical, especially in our clients, because we’re able to make those connections with things that people can’t necessarily verbalize or we can see something out in the world or can hear a piece of music or see watch a movie and have that be the foundation to build a whole bunch of new ideas. And we somehow made that into a job. It’s wild, but that’s what’s fun about it.

Maurice Cherry:

So while you were there, you majored in visual arts, and certainly this sounds like it was a visual art production in some capacity. How was your time there overall?

Ethan Baldwin:

It took me a while to appreciate Oberlin for the school that it was. I mean, it’s a great school, very hippie dippy school, but it’s also a school that has such a rich history, especially when it comes to what they’ve done for marginalized communities, what they’ve done for specifically Black people in America. And it’s also a school known for having this amazing conservatory. So even if you’re not a musically inclined person, you’re always surrounded by music and opera, great dance, theater. It was a great place to be specifically for the arts, considering that it’s not an art school. So, yeah, I fully appreciate being at Oberlin until I made that switch from doing theater and going into visual arts, because that’s where I really found that my creativity aligned with who I was.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay.

Ethan Baldwin:

I tell everyone “everybody should go to Oberlin.” It was a great school.

Maurice Cherry:

So Oberlin kind of pushed you in this other direction then, sounds like.

Ethan Baldwin:

Yeah, I would say Oberlin gave me the space to find that other direction because I didn’t know that I wanted to go into advertising. I can’t even really say that I wanted to go into advertising. I knew I wanted to dance, and I wanted to make videos. Like, when I was a kid in middle school, I would make behind the scenes music videos of the musical cast. So almost like Behind The Music before the High School Musical. I just wanted to do some sort of upbeat music media that, I don’t know, got people moving, got people dancing, and Oberlin gave me the space to figure that out. There wasn’t a marketing program. There’s a studio art program, but it wasn’t like a fine art program that you’d get at an art school or a design school. It really taught us how to find what our voices are, find what it is that we want to do, and then do that successfully.

I got a good amount of fine art training for photography while I was at Oberlin. Shout out to Professor Pipo [Nguyen-Duy]. He was the absolute best. But the biggest thing that it taught me was how to prepare a show, how to work on an outline, how to sell an idea, like how to fund all of the stuff that you’re trying to build. It strangely taught me a lot about the business of being a creative.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I think that’s a great thing to get in college, especially because from other people that I’ve talked with on the show that have went into design or they discovered design in college, business wasn’t really an aspect of that. I think there might have been one or two folks that I’ve had on where there was some sort of business component along with their design, but they ended up having to sort of pick up those skills later in the real world. Not in a very sort of, I would say safe — I mean, I think college is a safe environment to learn and to grow, in that aspect — but it sounds like Oberlin really provided that for you, though.

Ethan Baldwin:

Yeah, I would say as part of the senior thesis program, I think they pick it’s like 10 or 15 students. And one of the biggest projects is we do a big trip to New York, and you get kind of, like, fully immersed into the art scene, but really, like, the business of the art scene. So we visited all of these galleries throughout Hell’s Kitchen in Chelsea and met with all of these kind of curators and gallery owners. And it was really to teach us how to learn how to pitch. Like, how do you take whatever your artistic, creative idea is and make it so other people will want to fund it, someone will want to put it up, how to get your own ideas out of your head so that someone else can comprehend them. So we each had to — it was basically like a pitch challenge — we each had to learn how to pitch inside of the environment of an actual New York museum. It was scary as hell, but that was more important in the long run than any kind of fine art training, I would say. And I’m eternally grateful to the arts program at Oberlin for that, because anyone can pick up an artistic skill, a fine arts skill; but if it’s something that you want to make into a career, I always tell people 80% of my job now has nothing to do with me designing.

Maurice Cherry:

So once you graduated, you started working for an agency, working for DDB as a junior art director. Knowing that you had this sort of business skill that you had acquired from Oberlin, how was your time there? Like, what do you remember from that time?

Ethan Baldwin:

DDB was one of the best jobs I ever had, mainly because of the network that I built. The people that I met on that job, I’m still friends with a lot of them to this day. One thing I do want to shout out about that job is I got that job through the MAIP program or the Multicultural Advertising Internship Program. And MAIP is part of the 4A’s Foundation, and they just do amazing work with bringing awareness of the marketing advertising industry to students of color throughout the nation. So I owe a lot to that organization for helping me land that job. I got the internship through that program, and DDB hired me after the internship. And at DDB, I learned a lot about who I was as a creative. It was a very kind of standard house.

I worked on some very cool clients. I got do some storyboards for Diet Pepsi. My favorite project from that time was making a bunch of billboards for Subaru and then getting to see them get put up over the PCH. That was, like, one of the coolest things because something that I created was now 50 feet in the air. But I learned that there is a big difference — and it seems to be more apparent now — there’s a big difference between the design side of things and the art direction side of things. And I don’t necessarily think that there should be.

But I knew after that job, I think I was there…I was there for almost two years after that. I knew I wanted to focus more about how to find my design voice, and that’s why I jumped into this long phase of freelancing. After that, I got a job at the Apple Store working late nights and then would just take different freelance jobs throughout the day. I recommend every creative go through a phase of just picking up freelance projects. If I was to say one thing that everyone should do, it is that the best way to figure out what your design voice or what you love doing is to really just try out a whole bunch of different things.

Maurice Cherry:

I want to go back to what you said about sort of the difference between art direction and visual design that you just mentioned. Can you unpack that a little bit?

Ethan Baldwin:

Yeah. It’s funny. One of the things I discovered after doing a bunch of freelancing and then kind of wanting to settle into a full time job, that having been out of the advertising game, so to speak, it was harder to get back into it. Because in most advertising firms, your design function, like your design talent, usually ends up being part of a production team. And your art directors and your copywriters, they’re the ones who are coming up with the ideas for campaigns, print campaigns, motion graphics, commercials. A lot of it kind of started with the ideas of making the commercial or the print ad, but the art director would kind of come up with the visual ideas, but they weren’t necessarily illustrating or drawing or building the site for a multimedia campaign. They were kind of like coming up with the ideas with the copywriter partner and then eventually that would go to production. And there was something about that that I missed.

I want to push the pixels and do some of the illustration, and I don’t really do that now. There are people who are much better illustrators than I am, so I’m obviously going to farm that work out. But there was such a divide between the design and the art director. That’s where the slash originally came from. I have a very close friend of mine that I met at DDB and she said to me, “at this point, you need to decide, do you want to be an art director? Go down like, the art director to creative director to chief creative officer path down an advertising journey, or do you want to be a designer going to being a senior designer, working for a design firm, working for a production house?” And I couldn’t agree with either of those options. There has to be something that has both, because I always knew I wanted to work on the big ideas, but I also wanted to have a hand in how it was crafted. That craft is, again, like the fun part.

And I’ve seen with a lot of kind of people at the director level that it’s very easy to get jaded and you lose sight of the thing that made you want to do all of this. Like pulling out crayons, pulling out markers, getting on a whiteboard or a sketchbook and drawing out ideas or figures or little stick people or landscapes. That connection to the craft is still incredibly important to me, and especially like when working with my clients, I would say that’s one of the things that I offer. I am going to help you work through your ideas, your high level ideas, to build your campaign or build your website or build your next video piece or whatever the project is. But I also want you to trust that I’m going to make something for you with you that is also going to be pretty. It’s going to be beautiful. The content is always more important, but creating something that is beautifully designed and constructed and illustrated is just such a great feeling.

And so I wanted to make sure that that divide of being a creative director and being a designer didn’t really exist for me. I don’t really see the need for that divide. If you have a larger company and you can section out those functions, then great, good on you, but that’s not what I want. For me, I wouldn’t want to be either or. I think having both allows me to serve people better.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, it sounds like you didn’t want to have that, I guess you could call it…a restriction in a way. You wanted to be able to do it all.

Ethan Baldwin:

Yeah, and that was kind of the moment where I realized I probably wouldn’t work for an ad agency again. And not necessarily because I didn’t want to, but because it’s like talking with hiring managers. They want to see that you’ve worked on X number of commercials or X number of campaigns. And I was like, “well, I’ve worked on plenty of campaigns and I’ve worked on tons of video pieces, but not necessarily in the context of an ad agency.” In all of the places that I’ve worked, I’ve been able to work on long form video and full website builds and beautiful out of home print work and big event installations. I really just started to love working in house because the idea of that divide was less apparent.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you’ve done a lot of, you know, freelance work. You’ve also worked full time at some pretty prestigious places. You were at Dow Jones for a number of years. You were at PulsePoint. You were at qbeats. Earlier you mentioned being at Clear. We don’t have to go into those particular ones individually unless you want to, but I’d love to know, when you look back at those experiences as a collective, what sort of stands out to you the most? And it can be multiple things too.

Ethan Baldwin:

Yeah, I would say for all of those jobs, my biggest thing is I wanted to do something that would somehow leave a mark. And it doesn’t have to necessarily be my mark, but something that’s going to change the way, whatever place that was thought about how they did business, or they did design or they went into a website build or thought about branding. And if anything, I would say I’ve been able to achieve that throughline in all of those places, Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal…that was a particularly weird but fun and exciting experience because it was one of those places — and this goes back to the idea of in house spots being a bit less restrictive on what your experience is and where you’ve worked. I got hired there. My title was multimedia communications manager. Who knows what that means? And it was within the HR department.

And I remember my interview…one thing that stood out to them was the fact that I told one of my interviewers that I tap dance. And I remember there was at some point where someone asked me to do a shuffle step in an interview and I was like, “I will do this once.”

Maurice Cherry:

Oh no! Noooo….

It was pretty far along.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay….

Ethan Baldwin:

I was like, this is…we’re treading.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, there’s tap dancing metaphorically for an interview and then there’s that…

Ethan Baldwin:

…literal tactic. (laughs)

Yeah. But that job taught me so much again, about crafting what it is I want to be doing and what the things I love doing can be of service for who I’m doing it for, because there was no precedent for my job in that function and inside of the learning and development team, but what I got to work on was building a whole bunch of internal campaigns, and it really actually brought out my love for learning and development in particular and building training programs and building curriculums for other employees.

One of the biggest things there was being able to help start the DJ program or Digital Journalism at Dow Jones. And it was all about bridging the gap between kind of print journalism and digital journalism. And so we did multiple versions of this week long training program in New York, Princeton, London and Hong Kong where we talked about the business as a whole. But we also got to do very specific trainings. Like this is how you can use your iPhone to shoot footage on the fly for a smaller piece. Or here are the rules around photo licensing so you don’t get sued. It got into very specific trainings and that was just so fun for me because we immediately got to see the results from our efforts. And I knew from that that part of what I want to do as a designer, as a creative is help teach people how to do things better or how to make a process easier.

This goes to working for Clear, and one of the big things there was revamping the website and eventually moving to the Webflow platform. I will talk about Webflow all day long. I absolutely love that. But one thing that was really important to me was getting everybody, like all of the stakeholders, on some sort of system that they could start focusing on their own content and inserting their own content where it needed to go versus always being dependent on a developer or on me and the design team within marketing to do something like make a new blog entry or insert a new airport location.

You don’t need a team of designers to do something like that. So my goal was to build a system in place and then teach people to kind of do those content updates for themselves. And it makes the working relationship so much easier. And there’s always that aha moment where I’m like, “oh, no, you updated that web page. You updated a web page. You just built a new web page.” Of course, me and my team, we do all the stuff on the back end to make those templates and whatnot. But you now see that it wasn’t about how beautifully is it designed, or “am I going to break something if I enter in this bit of tech?” No.

As designers, one of our biggest goals is to create solutions that help people do things better. If you’re designing a chair, you want that chair to be beautiful, but it also needs to sit someone’s butt. Design without function is just art — which has its place — but function in, again, serving someone and making their life easier is always at the forefront of what I do now.

Maurice Cherry:

Is there anything different about how you do business now as opposed to when you first started freelancing? Because you mentioned you were kind of working at the Apple store, you were also freelancing, so I would imagine even just kind of trying to juggle work and freelance work was a bit hard. But outside of that, what do you do different now that you did when you first started?

Ethan Baldwin:

Well, when I first started freelancing, it was a little bit different because I mainly worked through placement agencies, so it was like people would often find work for me, and I would work on those projects on whatever basis that they have. And now I pretty much do all of finding clients through word of mouth or through my own lead generation. So that’s one kind of logistical difference. And at some point, I may jump back to using a placement agency. I have absolutely nothing against them. It’s just not something that I’m doing right now. But in terms of knowing more about myself and how I operate as a creative, I would say the biggest change is I will not work on a project if I know I just absolutely don’t want to do it. It’s one of the biggest things I tell younger designers.

I had one job — we don’t need to go into who it is — but it was a job that I was incredibly excited about. It was a big name and great for a resume. But working there? No one’s happy and none of the products are particularly interesting. And at its core, it was just a job and the pay wasn’t that great. It really just was a bad stepping stone, I would say. But all of that is to say that when you’re starting out, there’s always this pain in your chest about making sure you have enough money, making sure your rent gets paid, and making sure you have enough coming in so you don’t have to just keep focusing on work. But I’ve learned now that if the work itself is not either fulfilling and enough to make it worthwhile to work on, or they’re just paying, you absolutely extravagantly, finding a job just to find a job as a creative usually is not worth it.

As a creative, you’re not going to perform your best if you don’t want to be there. Your clients are not going to be served in the way they should be served because you don’t want to be there. And it’s just going to be miserable for everyone involved. And at all of this, at the end of it, you probably won’t even get a good portfolio of it because you’re not exactly proud of anything you’ve done. So I would say it’s better for me to sit and work on some back-end stuff than just jumping into a job just because the job has presented itself.

Maurice Cherry:

Outside of that, how would you say you’ve just grown creatively? Like, how have you grown as a creative over the years?

Ethan Baldwin:

I’ve definitely become more efficient. I would say I just developed a lot of processes to help get to an end product faster. And I would say I’ve also learned to give myself a lot more grace and knowledge that not everything is always going to be perfect. I can definitely say that I am a very good designer, but I am not the best. And I’m not going to be the right choice for every single client that comes my way. And being able to say, “oh, I’m not the right fit for you, let me recommend somebody else,” or “I’m just not the right fit for this project” because secretly I just don’t want to do that. It’s not going to give me anything outside of the paycheck. And being okay with that, that took a lot of growth.

It’s okay to say no. And I’ve learned that we as creatives, we can have more stock in ourselves. We think about other service industries, think about mechanics, you think about electricians, and they have this very specific skill set. They’re able to do this thing amazingly well. And for whatever reason, I’ve noticed that as creatives, we tend to not think about ourselves in that same way, because the thing that we do isn’t necessarily as tangible, but the results that we provide to people are. And so we focus on, like, “I built this website, but that website increased conversions by X” or “this social media campaign increased this company’s Instagram followers by Y.” There are tangible results, tangible business results to the beautiful, weird idea connections that we make as creatives. And I think we need to start giving ourselves more stock in ourselves because of that.

That’s another thing that I’ve learned.

Maurice Cherry:

Who are some of the people that have really kind of helped you out in terms of mentorship or anything like that over the years throughout your career?

Ethan Baldwin:

I would say one of the biggest people I follow, and this is everyone kind of [inaudible 49:01] follows this person, but Chris Do of The Futur has always been like one of those people that…if there’s a conference, I may or may not go, but if he’s there, I likely will go, because he has a very no nonsense, matter of fact approach to not just being a creative, but really how to be a creative business, how to run a business and how to get through the day of running a business in a way that isn’t confusing. It kind of just is what it is. And he keeps it kind of, like, “follow what I say or don’t.” There’s a level of confidence there that I find so admirable because that is also, again, that’s eventually the level of confidence that I want to be at. That’s the level of confidence that I want to give to all of my clients. Everyone should feel that good about what they do and what they provide to the people that they do services for.

And then I would say a more personal mentor is actually one of my old — technically technically, she’s still a current client — but one of my old bosses at PulsePoint, Maria Simeone, we’ve had such a weird working relationship, and I think it’s just a matter of fact, we work really well together. But she’s very much a marketing brain from the strategy and the business side of things.

And I learned so much about marketing from that standpoint, from her, because that’s not how I approach problem solving at all, but just watching her work while we’re at PulsePoint and then watching her grow within the company and even grow further. Even after I left, she always kind of looked back to see what I was doing, would always give me really good advice. She’s always been open to critique me on our work. And she also has a very similar no nonsense way of, I would say, gathering me together, which I appreciate. I’m very much a tough love type of person because it shows me that you care and that you’re invested, but you’re also not going to let me fall completely on my face.

Maurice Cherry:

So what does success look like for you now? I mean, you’ve got your studio. You’re out on your own. What does success look like at this stage in your career?

Ethan Baldwin:

For me, success is being able to do what I want, when I want. And that’s really to say if there’s a day that I’m not feeling well or I just need a break and I just need to go walk in a forest — I really love camping — but to be able to just go do that and make sure I have rapport built with my clients to say that I’m not going to be working or to have enough of the work done and a system in place that I’m not needed 100% of the time or being able to travel as I see fit and work as I travel…I try to keep a very, I would say, like, lean tech profile so I can really do what I do from anywhere. Like, I have just like one small MacBook Air and then I have one larger Pro for video work, but I mainly just work on laptops because some days I want to go work in the middle of Central Park and so I can do that. That’s what success looks like for me. Because for some people, success might be a number amount, like a number of clients or revenue goal, and I have those goals from a business perspective. But success really looks like being able to take a vacation and not have to sit there and tally up the number of vacation days I have left or not feel guilty about taking a sick day.

It’s always wild to me. I would always tell my team this back when I worked in an office: “if you’re sick, go be sick and get better.” I don’t need you trying to…you’re not showing that you’re any more of, like, a badass because you’re working while you’re dripping snot all over your face. Get out of the office, go home, go rest. But there’s this weird…we’re in this working society where every one of those things are tallied and counted for and often used against you. And that’s something I just cannot stand for personally. And I’m sure that will get me in a lot of trouble with a lot of places, but I’d much rather see people do what they need to do to take care of themselves so that when they do work, they are working at 100% of their capacity and 100% of their joy. Again, if you don’t want to be here, don’t be here. That’s how I run my business.

If it’s something I don’t want to do, I’m not going to do it. It’s not going to make me happy, it’s not going to make a client happy. No one’s going to be happy in this. So, yeah, success is being able to do what I want, when I want.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. To that end, where do you see yourself in the next five years? What sort of work do you want to be doing?

Ethan Baldwin:

I would say in five years I want to have some big national tech brands under my belt. I want to work on some internal rebrands. I’m thinking of something like…I recently got to meet someone who worked on Chase Sapphire and working on this luxury sub brand inside of this big financial institution. And that would be a dream project for me, taking all of these kind of boring things like credit cards and points and really building this almost lifestylish brand around that very boring thing. So more of those within the next five years. But really it’s just scaling what I do now to just hit maybe a couple more clients each month. But I actually really enjoy how lean things are and being able to work with freelancers as needed. But as of right now, I don’t really see growing employees, too many employees inside of the business. I like the flexibility of building a network, so to speak, versus building another office.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you, about your work, about the studio? Where can they find that online?

Ethan Baldwin:

You can find my personal previous work at ethanbaldwin.com. You can find and sign up for an engagement with the business at slashandstructure.com. That’s no spaces, no underscores, just slashandstructure.com. And there you’ll learn a bit more about how the business functions and some of the clients that I’ve been working with. And you can also find me on Instagram at instagram.com/slashandstructure. Really, if that double slash doesn’t work as well when you’re saying it out loud. (laughs) But yeah, instagram.com/slashandstructure.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Ethan Baldwin, I definitely want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I like that you are someone right now that’s sort of striking out on their own, especially at this time when there’s so much happening in tech and design. I think also there’s just kind of this instability with working at companies at the moment. It feels like a really good time for a lot of people to kind of strike out and you certainly not only have the professional experience with the places you’ve worked, but you’ve freelanced before as well. So I’m really interested to see kind of where Slash instructor goes in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Ethan Baldwin:

Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a blast.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

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Akeem Roberts

It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice to make it on your own as an artist, and Akeem Roberts knows this well. This illustrator and animator juggles being an associate director at Holler Studios with freelancing for The New Yorker. Even though Akeem’s been in the game for nearly a decade, I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing his work for many years to come.

We talked about Akeem’s new gig at Holler, and from there he went into sharing his unique approach to storytelling. Akeem also spoke about attending the University of South Carolina, went into some of his influences for his artistic style, and gave some great advice for handling operational tasks as a freelancer. Akeem knows that success doesn’t happen overnight, and he’s put in the time and effort to come out on top!

Interview Transcript

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

Akeem Roberts:
My name is Akeem S. Roberts. I’m a cartoonist for The New Yorker. illustrator for J.D. the Kid Barber series, and a book designer by day.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2023 been going so far?

Akeem Roberts:
2023 has been pretty crazy so far. I started off the year unemployed, just doing freelance stuff, and as of like three weeks ago, I just got a brand new job and sort of getting the reins on that and everything’s been going pretty good.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. Congratulations on the new job.

Akeem Roberts:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have any plans for the summer? Anything you want to do?

Akeem Roberts:
For the summer, right now I don’t have anything planned. I’m sure I’ll just try to go to a beach or a lake or something and just relax for a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious, from last year to this year, aside from the employment change that you mentioned about, have there been any other kind of changes for you? Anything else going on?

Akeem Roberts:
I’d say from last year to this year, I’ve more committed to being in publishing versus animation, which was kind of the main thing that I did at the start of my career was mostly animation. After I started doing stuff at The New Yorker and stuff with Kokila, I slowly started making the transition into publishing.

Maurice Cherry:
What brought that transition on aside from just more work? Was it a feeling or anything?

Akeem Roberts:
I felt like for animation mostly it was things move a little bit slower and it feels like the artists… I guess I was a cog in the machine animation-wise, while publishing, even though I am still just in the machine, I have a little more of a voice and a little more of a say, and I guess it just feels more freeing.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like there’s just more, I guess, agency, I guess, in publishing.

Akeem Roberts:
Yes, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Let’s talk about some of your work that you’re doing as a freelance illustrator. I’m curious, what does a regular day look like for you these days?

Akeem Roberts:
If I’m doing dailies for The New Yorker, I’ll try to get up around like 7:00 and then hit Twitter or some kind of news source and just go through trending and try to see what’s going on, what happened in the past 24 hours. Then, I’m seeing if I can find a joke and connect that into a bit for The New Yorker for their daily cartoons.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re creating new pieces every day, so you have to check the news, be like, “Oh, this is funny,” draw something, and-

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… then it’s just done? That’s it?

Akeem Roberts:
It depends on the process. Sometimes, for instance, I got one in for a daily after the trailer of the Barbie movie dropped. For that, I had an idea of doing something of scientists trying to get to the Barbie because there was all of those memes about people saying three, how many or whatever for Barbie movie tickets. I wanted to like have that idea of getting to the Barbie movie first and having it happen immediately, so I was first thinking like scientists creating a time machine to get there on the day that it’s released. Then, for The New Yorker, I thought of that idea, but I put a little bit of ’80s nostalgia in it, so then I changed it to kind of like Back to the Future where they’re trying to go to the future to see the Barbie movie.

Maurice Cherry:
Like Marty and Doc Brown and the DeLorean?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah, so they’re all sitting in the JCPenney parking lot trying to get to the Barbie movie.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s funny. It’s interesting, though, that you have to, I guess, get them in by a certain time, but it’s every day, so that makes sense, I guess.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah. For the dailies, it’s you have to get the sketches to them before 9:00, and then they’ll let you know if they like it or not by 10:00, and then you have that done by noon. The one that I did for the Barbie was like a bonus for the daily, so I didn’t have to get that done till 2:00.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. No, that’s just interesting that it’s so fast. I don’t know why I thought maybe you would have done it the day before or something like that.

Akeem Roberts:
I think some people do. I’m reckless.

Maurice Cherry:
I see you do a little bit of everything, book illustrations, you do comics, you do animation, you do editorial work. Is there a particular one of these that you prefer to do?

Akeem Roberts:
I think I prefer to do comics and publishing chapter book stuff. I feel like that gives me the most control, but also the most freedom. I feel like when you’re usually doing a comic book, you got to do like 30-something pages and the deadline’s pretty tight, but when it comes to chapter books or whatever, it’s a little bit… It’s still tight, but it’s not as, I don’t know, it’s not as hard just because you’re just doing one panel kind of basically, versus doing nine panels, trying to semi-tell a story, designing multiple backgrounds. It’s a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. I can see how doing it in that sort of controlled format also, it’s just easier on you probably just on your workload, you know?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about how you approach a new project. What does your process look like?? Does it vary per type?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, it definitely varies per type, per project. For anything that’s like New Yorker, that’s just I’m just on the subway jotting down ideas. I send my notes app and I’ll just like think of jokes, try to connect them, and then from there I’ll draw a little small thumbnail and then sketch a bigger illustration for that and then send that to the New Yorker. Then, my process for when I’m doing my web comics also starts on my phone. I just write a joke, describe what’s happening in the panels. Then, from there I do a thumbnail and then I finalize it and then add all the texts and stuff.

Then, for animation, usually with this, there’s only a couple of those that I started from scratch where I had a original character and original plot. Those started off more… I was in Word and Google Docs instead because it was longer format and I had to share it with other people to read, look over, see if they had any notes on the script. For those, it’s like script first, and then you start the thumbnails and animating each thing.

Maurice Cherry:
What if you’re doing, say, editorial work or something for the book? Is that process kind of the same?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, editorial is like you’ll… Most of the stuff that I did editorial for was like for Men’s Health. They have this section called Cool Dads-

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Akeem Roberts:
… so for that, I would like… They would give me the article that a celeb wrote, and then I would read it. Then, from there, I would like think about an illustration that kind of hit the vibe of what the celeb wrote. The latest one I did was for like LeVar Burton. His whole thing was talking about reading books to his daughter and giving her the freedom to read and how he wants to be there for her. Then, he also makes a reference basically to Harry Potter.

For that, I just drew him in like the garbs with a wand fighting off the Dementors because in the article he talks about how his daughter stopped reading because she didn’t like the Dementors. He was like, “Maybe I should have not introduced her to Harry Potter.” I just took that vibe and added it to the illustration. I would send like three sketches and then the art director over there would pick which one they think is the best. Then, from there I would finish and color it and everything.

Maurice Cherry:
You kin of have to read a little bit of what it is that you’re going, then, to make sure that the illustration kind of matches that in some way.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah. With every editorial or even like the children’s book, you have to read the manuscript and everything first before you can fully get the gist of it to kind of sum it up in whatever illustration, whether it’s for a chapter or for an article.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Last year, I was Editor-in-Chief of a print magazine. This was part of the job that I was doing at the time, and our in-house creative director had decided for our first issue that he wanted to also do all the editorial illustrations. I was like, “Okay, that’s-

Akeem Roberts:
Uh-huh.

Maurice Cherry:
… “a lot, but if you want to do it.” He also did the cover and everything. I was like, “Look, more power to you.” It was so funny because the way he approached it was like, “Well, I have an idea of a theme for the whole magazine,” and so he just did illustrations based on whatever, and none of them matched the article in any sort of real way. I’m telling him like, “You should probably try to make sure that the images match what the article is about. You drew a polar bear. This article has nothing to do with polar bears. What’s the connection for the reader to look at this?” He’s like, “Oh, well, the connection is winter because we’re publishing the magazine in the winter.” I’m like, “Huh. No, no.” That doesn’t make any-

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, that’s sounds like a little bit of a stretch, but you know, I feel it, I feel it, I feel it.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, that’s one of us that feels it. I mean, eventually we ended up sort of just going with the concept because we didn’t have enough time, but for the second issue, the pieces fit the article more and I told him like, “Look, read the article and then get started with designing.” He would just start designing and be like, “Oh, I have to read the article?” I’m like, “Yes, it would help. It would be helpful so at least what you’re designing matches that in some capacity.” So…

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah yeah. You got to read the article.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Akeem Roberts:
You got to.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, how do you approach storytelling through your art? I’m pretty sure it’s more than just like in, say, the book illustration example, it’s more than just reading. How do you really approach telling a story through your art?

Akeem Roberts:
I would read it and then I would like try to imagine it in my head and say, for instance, for the J.D.the Kid Barber series that I did, for that it was reading it, and then the art director would kind of tell me what they imagined in it. They were like, “Oh, this character is in their room,” but it’s up to me to add anything else that I wanted to add into it, so I would just try and look up Google images basically to find what I imagined this school look like because references, it’s always great to have. I know sometimes it’s like, especially when you’re starting out, you want to not use any references. You’re like, “I can do this from my head.” You can’t. I mean, you can, but you’ll miss the small details that you want to have caught if you weren’t looking at a reference. I would look at reference, kind of imagine the area, and then just try to imagine the characters just living and breathing.

For some of them I would add even like small jokes. One of the illustrations, the art director was, “Oh, he’s losing this battle, but everyone has numbers up saying 10 for this guy who’s winning.” Then, for one of those, I drew his friend in there giving him a thumbs up with like a two, so everyone has a good rating except he has a bad rating for the guy, and he’s got a thumbs up giving it to the guy being like, “Don’t worry, I got your back.” I try to put in little jokes like that inside the book so kids will see it and notice it. I’m trying to always make an illustration for, I guess, like the younger me if I was reading it as a kid.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. Do you try to add a little something that’s just unique to you in each image that you do?

Akeem Roberts:
If I do try to add anything, I try to add humor. I feel like that’s my go-to form of communicating is trying to add a joke if I can.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, we’ve had a few New Yorker illustrators on the show before, most recently, Liz Montague. I’m curious, how did you get started with doing illustrations for The New Yorker?

Akeem Roberts:
I feel like my story is very unique. I have yet to hear anyone else who’s had this experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Akeem Roberts:
Basically I was like tabling at this convention in New York called Mocha Fest, which is like an art festival, and I had a bunch of comics that I had done online and this little short story that I did that was in black and white. After that weekend, I got a message from Emma who’s like the Editor at New Yorker. She was, “Oh, do you want to do a daily shouts?” Basically like, “I like your work, and I was wondering if you want to try to submit some jokes or a daily shout or anything like that.”

I was like, “All right,” and then I sent my first batch, and then after that Friday after I sent it they were like, “Oh yeah, this one is in.” I sold one the very first time I tried, which was crazy good. I don’t know anyone else who’s done that. Maybe other people have, but I had sold it first immediately. Then, the next week, I also submitted some batches and I also sold another one, so I was feeling really good. I was like, “All right, I can do this,” and then after that, it was 40 weeks of like not selling anything.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that usually like the… You said that was sort of unique to you. I’m just curious, what would a cartoonist normally do if they’re trying to get into like The New Yorker? Is there a more-

Akeem Roberts:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
… typical process?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, there’s like submissions that you can do on the website, and you can send them batches that way. Then, they’ll say, “You’ve made it,” and then you’ll get Emma’s email, so you can start sending batches to her directly. Sort of like a filtering process before you get her email, but I just got it immediately and then got one in immediately, which felt good. Then after that, it slowed down a bit, obviously.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you’re still doing it now, so, I mean, it obviously worked out in your favor.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there a particular style that you think, I guess… I guess it probably varies per publication, but for The New Yorker, and not to harp on them specifically, but is there a particular style that you think they’re looking for?

Akeem Roberts:
For The New Yorker, I think they’re looking kind of for something that is sketchy and has detail, but not too much. Nothing that will distract from the joke.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Akeem Roberts:
Basically just like if you had to jot down a joke with stick figures in five minutes, that’s kind of the ideal I think like they want in terms of detail is just not enough stuff that will distract from it. Then, they definitely don’t want it too cartoony, which is like I always put my stuff, and maybe sometimes it’s too cartoony, but there’s a line where you’re trying to hit where it’s not cartoony in the sense that it feels like on a Saturday morning cartoon, but also not cartoony in the way that it feels like it’s Family Guy. You got to hit a perfect, unique just like sketch style that takes a lot of work, but looks simple.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm. I get what you’re saying. I get what you’re saying. Certainly, nothing that’s like, I don’t know, Marvel style, like not a comic kind of thing, but you also-

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… want it to have some level of expression and polish, as you would say, that doesn’t detract from the joke.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’ve worked with some other big clients as well, Boom! Studios. You mentioned Men’s Health earlier, Conde Nast, which is over a bunch of different magazines and such. Is it easier working with bigger clients like those than, say, smaller clients?

Akeem Roberts:
For sure. I feel like bigger clients, they kind of have an idea and they kind of let you be free, especially if they know your work. They’ll be like, “All right, I saw your work. I kind of imagine what you can do. If you’ll do that, we’ll be great.” I feel like when it comes to mom and pop type of clients, it’s a little less freeing for the artists in a sense because I guess the dollar value that they’re spending is… it’s precious, their $500 or whatever.

This thing that you’re doing for them, especially if it’s like a logo or anything that they’re going to use over again for t-shirts, it’s very important. Because of that and because of how important it is to them, they’re sometimes a little overbearing. They’ll overwork in illustration because of having multiple revisions that kind of the artist loses… The more revisions that’s happening, the artist kind of loses the spirit sometimes. If it’s 20 revisions to get this logo done, the artist each time is less and less into it-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Akeem Roberts:
… and that doesn’t mean that there will be a point where they don’t care. The artist is always going to care because it’s for their portfolio and their job. They want it to be good. It’s kind of like a way of the artist helping… not helping themselves, but guarding themselves from being like… If you’re too personally attached, you’ll get upset about the notes-

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Akeem Roberts:
… so you have to be removed. The more and more you get notes, the more and more you’re like, “All right, this is getting away from my vision and I’m trying to see if I can get exactly what they’re seeing in their head,” which is not normally something an artist can reproduce is what another person is envisioning.

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like if I had to do 20 revisions on a design, I would want to fire the client. To me, that feels like the client really doesn’t know what they want, and they feel like you’re just going to keep iterating on it until it magically appears to them. I mean, I know that’s how we’re sort of just pulling that number out of anywhere, but I get what you’re saying about the dollar value, which I think is something that’s really important. A lot of these bigger companies just have the budget to be able to do bigger type projects, more audacious ideas, et cetera, but then smaller clients, that money has to really go far. That’s not to say that larger clients aren’t as invested in the end project, but it just takes on… There’s an added gravity to it when it’s from a smaller client or for a smaller client, I should say.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Can you discuss any upcoming projects or collabs that you’re excited about?

Akeem Roberts:
Right now, I don’t really have anything coming up. I guess the only thing I have is I’m working on a graphic novel and I’m trying to pitch to HarperCollins or Kokila to just get the story that I have in my head off the ground.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I’ve always wanted to do a graphic novel. I cannot draw, but I have had ideas for characters in my head since I was a teenager to put into a graphic novel. I’ve talked about it here on the show before. People probably already know this, but one day I’m going to have the time and the funds to make it happen, so I hope it works out for you.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah. I’m hoping it works out, too.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I want to get more into your work and your career, but let’s learn more about Akeem. Let’s learn more about you. Are you originally from New York?

Akeem Roberts:
No, I am kind of like from everywhere is what I tell everyone. I was born in North Dakota and my Mom was in the military, so I moved around a lot from North Dakota to Alabama, to Germany, to South Carolina, to Texas, to Maryland, to New York. A lot of places, but most of my time was in the South, so I guess I could just say I’m from the South.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Did you do a lot of drawing growing up?

Akeem Roberts:
Yes. I would just say that I started drawing… There’s two big reasons I started drawing, so first I was just doodling, and then in third grade, I won an award for the state in South Carolina, third place for this painting I did-

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Akeem Roberts:
… and that was a good boost. I was like, “Oh, wow, this is cool. I can draw.” I didn’t really think of anything of it. I was just like, “All right, I can doodle.” Then, in fifth grade, there was this girl that could draw way better than me. I was crushing, so then I would try to get better to impress her, and I think that’s kind of my origin story is trying to get better to impress a girl. Then, I just kept drawing on my own.

Maurice Cherry:
Did it work?

Akeem Roberts:
It did not work, you know? So-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Akeem Roberts:
… ultimately it was for me, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
I had someone on the show a couple episodes ago, Kendell Burton, and he was telling me how he first… He’s an art director now, but he was like, “Oh yeah, I first got into design in the web because I was making a blog on Zynga to try to meet girls.” I’m like, “Does that work?”

Akeem Roberts:
Never does.

Maurice Cherry:
You were doing a lot of drawing and stuff growing up, and I see you went to the University of South Carolina and majored in Media Arts. Tell me about that time. What was that like?

Akeem Roberts:
Media Arts, basically, I ended up there because I was very late at applying for colleges, and my family had just moved back to South Carolina, so then I just applied there. This guy that I met with was like, “Oh, tell me what you want to do.: I was telling him that I probably would want to do some animation, like comics and stuff, and so he was… The Media Arts Program, which is basically teaching you how to use the Adobe Suite while learning about film, photography, script writing, and so it was like mostly on the film and photography side. Then, I minored in Illustration, so I did like one figure drawing class on my senior year and one illustration class on my senior year.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel like they really kind of prepared you as an artist?

Akeem Roberts:
I feel like not in a sense of what I ideally wanted to do, which was basically do animation and stuff like that. I didn’t have a student film. I didn’t even take the animation course because I never signed up in time, but I guess overall, it kind of helped me be a jack-of-all-trade because certain things with film and photography and script writing can transfer into illustration. Having that does help me visualize ideas, but not necessarily in the sense of, “Okay, you do this something. You’ll have a job immediately after.” You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think school is interesting in that way. I mean, I majored in Math, so I didn’t think-

Akeem Roberts:
Oh no.

Maurice Cherry:
… when I was graduating I was going to have… Actually, no. I mean, I did major in Math, that’s true, but I had like a scholarship thing lined up with the program that I was in that I was going to work for the government after I graduated. Then, that fell through like junior year because of 9/11. It fell through. I was like, “Oh, I have no plans for what I’m going to do when I graduate.” I was working part time at the Symphony here in Atlanta selling tickets, and I did that, I think… I did that up till I graduated, and I remember when I graduated they took the calculator away from my kiosk because they were like, “Well, you have a math degree now. You don’t need this.” I’m like, “Is that supposed to be funny?”

I mean, I didn’t need it, but I didn’t have any sort of career plans lined up after graduation because I thought I was set. I really didn’t even pursue other companies. I snuck my resume into other departments’ resume books so I could get interviews at places. I was wholly unprepared going into senior year for any kind of actual career goals. I was in college just because I was a nerd that liked math.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah. That actually sounds very familiar to my story. That’s basically kind of like how I ended up in New York was my friend got me an internship in New York, and then I did that internship for the summer, but it kind of fell through near the end. Then, I was working at Starbucks in South Carolina. I was making $9 an hour, but the rent was just so much. Most of my money was going towards the rent-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Akeem Roberts:
… and then it was like… I think the rent was… I want to say almost like 600, almost 800, which is a lot. Then, they were like, “Oh, you could transfer to the Starbucks in New York,” which I transferred and I was making like 13. Then, the apartment I had up here was 584 with everything included, so I was way better off staying in New York, and that’s just like how I got here was not planning on staying. I came up for an internship and I was like, “All right, I’m just going to go back,” but then it just seemed to work out better for me to just live here than be in South Carolina barely making it-

Maurice Cherry:
I mean-

Akeem Roberts:
… you know?

Maurice Cherry:
… that makes sense, and I would say also probably as an artist, I mean, you kind of want to be in the cultural capital of the country when it comes to experiences and stuff. I would imagine you probably wouldn’t have access to the same level of experiences in South Carolina that you would in New York City, you know?

Akeem Roberts:
I mean, I feel like… Okay, so when I was going to college, there was this rumor that actually a bunch of comic artists actually lives in South Carolina, which might be true, but I just never met anyone.

Maurice Cherry:
If I recall, and this was years ago when I interviewed him, Sanford Greene, who’s like, I know he’s done stuff for Marvel, for DC, pretty prolific visual artist, lives in South Carolina. He lives in South Carolina.

Akeem Roberts:
Oh really?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, he went to Benedict’s.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yep.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, so like yeah, I guess… Look, I guess South Carolina is the home for the comic artist, but I just could not find that community at all, but comic artists tend to be homebodies, so you would never really see them.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I’d imagine, yeah, it’s probably not… There’s no collective or something like that. I would say it’s probably just easier in New York because of availability and just the cultural atmosphere of the city. I came from a small town in Alabama, and if I would’ve stayed there after I graduated high school, I’d know I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now because there was no kind of technology or design or anything. You either got married, got into the church, or maybe worked a factory job. Not a lot of options.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, that’s not endemic of the South, but just in particular, like-

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah [inaudible 00:30:14].

Maurice Cherry:
… your environment can help out, you know?

Akeem Roberts:
No, no, I hear you. I have a bunch of family from Alabama.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. One of your early career gigs, you were at this place called ideaMACHINE Studio where you worked as an animator. Talk to me about that.

Akeem Roberts:
All right, so crazy with that was one of my friends came up and he was doing photography. I was still working at Starbucks at this time, and he was like, “Oh, there’s an animation studio just like here. Do you want to apply?” I was like, “All right, cool.” We possibly could work in the same building, whatever, so I applied. Then, I got the job, and then that same day my friend got fired from whatever company he was working at in the building, so it’s like we didn’t get to work together, but he did help me get this job by seeing it. Then, at that same time, I was still working at Starbucks, which I worked that job while also doing Starbucks for like a year and a half just doing both of them.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, and at Starbucks, I had just became a shift manager. I would only work two or three days a week, but it was weird because I’d be in charge then, so it’s like…

Maurice Cherry:
You were able to kind of juggle it sounds like.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah. I was able to juggle it, but it was surreal once I think about it, just like how many hours I was working. It was a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
How was ideaMACHINE Studio? Was that kind of your first studio experience?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, that was my first studio experience. That one, it was a little more… I guess in a sense it kind of trained me, kind of gave me the animation class kind of a sense because I went in there knowing some stuff, but not really knowing the 12 principles of animation or anything like that, just what I saw online. Most of the stuff that I did for them was kind of like whiteboard explainer videos.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Akeem Roberts:
It was like for pharmaceutical companies that had this idea, but wanted it to be explained in a simply way. That’s what we did for them. There was tiny stuff that you can animate, and then I would push it every once in a while to try and get better at my animation chops and my graphic design skills. I guess in a sense that job kind of trained me, but it was very reluctantly because the guy who runs the company was… I was trying to get better at art, and he was like, “You don’t need to get better at drawing.” I was like, “Yes, I do.” Then, I just kept pushing and doing my web comic on the side was also something I did. Just work on my skills and progress my abilities to draw and stuff like that. Was just doing that weekly in order to force myself to put something out consistently and have a foundation.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, so you were doing this kind of freelance work or doing your own work at least as well as doing this nine-to-five. How did you balance that?

Akeem Roberts:
I did not sleep a lot is how I balanced that. Basically, I would work during the day. If I had a Starbucks shift, maybe it was two or three hours, so I’d work nine to five, and then I would walk over to the Starbucks. I just happened to be super close to this company and then work four hours there and then come back home, which the commute was good. It was like 30 minutes, not that bad, especially for New York, and then work on my freelance stuff. Then that started again in the morning. It was a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s amazing the stuff that we pull off when we’re younger just to try to get that… I don’t know, I guess you just have all that youthful energy. You can get it done. Nowadays, absolutely not. I’m in bed-

Akeem Roberts:
I-

Maurice Cherry:
… at a certain hour. I not staying up pulling all-nighters anymore. No, I get what you’re saying. It takes a lot to try to make sure you’re doing all of these things because, of course, you’re doing what you have to do to pay your bills and whatever, but you’re also establishing yourself during this time doing your own thing, which I think is super important. It’s something I tell a lot of designers that come on the show, especially ones that just start off, like have something on the side that’s just your own thing, you know?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You can still do what you have to do to get involved with your career at your workplace, but have something that’s just yours.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, after you worked at ideaMACHINE, you ended up at another studio called Holler where you were their Associate Animation Director. Was that a big shift from your work at ideaMACHINE?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, that was a big shift. One of the main things that like… The reason I left ideaMACHINE was first I wanted to grow as an artist, and then the second thing was that they were in Brooklyn, and then they were moving the company to New Jersey. I was… I don’t want to step foot in New Jersey, no offense to New Jersey, but I was just like, “I live in Brooklyn. The commute is crazy. Getting on the path just to get there, I absolutely can’t do it.” This is around the same time that The New Yorker reached out to me, and then this company reached out to me and they were like, “Hey, do you want to do a test for us?” I did a test for them. I had my Cintiq and everything all set up, and then my Cintiq broke that weekend-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Akeem Roberts:
… and I had to use the Bamboo, which is kind of like is still a drawing tablet, but just doesn’t have a screen. I had to use my Bamboo tablet and finish that animation for them, which is a quick reaction GIF that was like three seconds long. I did that over the weekend and they liked it.

Then, I started working there and the culture was very different. ideaMACHINE’s culture was kind of like you were doing like a student project. You would have art director… They would like help you, but not with any direction. The art direction was purely up to the animator. The way that it looked was purely up to the animator. The client would give notes, but it wasn’t like I had to follow a guide. I was the guide. It was like everything I did at ideaMACHINE from like the music to audio, sound effects and all of that compositing, there we did… It was a one-shop stop for one artist on each video. It wasn’t like working as a team really. It was kind of one guy is doing this, and if they need help with the animation, they’ll ask you, but it wasn’t anything that was ever felt like a cohesive team effort where everyone is trying to draw in the same style or anything like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm, so it seems like it was definitely just a ramp-up in terms of responsibility, though, right?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah, so for Holler, when I first started, I was just doing little three-second GIFs and there’ll be client stuff, and then we’ll work on those. Then, later on, I started directing some shorts that they did right before I left. There was one called Akemi-chan: Is It Magical?, which is an idea that I had which was like a play on Magical School Girls trying to do a bunch of anime inside jokes kind of stuff like that. I was writing the script for that and then guiding the people that was working with me of how I wanted it to look and fleshing out storyboards and having more of a commanding role, which felt good, which kind of led to my newest role is sort of still doing that. It was kind of a stepping stone of becoming in charge, taking a step back and letting people do their things, but also helping them grow.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. I would imagine even with that, it’s sort of helping you out in your freelance because you were still freelancing also during this time with Holler?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. With Holler, I was still freelancing. Like the beginning of 2020, like in January 2020, I got a call from Kokila being like, “Hey, do you want to work on this book?” I was like, “This name looks familiar.” I was looking at the art director’s name, and then I looked it up and it was the same art director for Hair Love, which I loved Hair Love. It was great. They’d just had that short come out. It was beautiful with Matthew A. Cherry. I was, “Wow, I would love to work with them.” I reached out to them and I was getting started. I was like, “Man, I don’t know how I’m going to do this with the commute, but I’m going to try and make it happen.” Then, of course, the pandemic happened, so it made it a little easier for me to finish my day job and then jump straight to my freelance. From there, every day I was doing illustrations from like 9:30 at night to like 2:00 in the morning-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Akeem Roberts:
… just to get those things done, and it was a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, but I mean, I would imagine it changed the way you work freelance, right?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Freelance before I felt was more if I felt like I had the energy to do it, I’d do it-

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Akeem Roberts:
… but with the book, it was like, “All right, you got to get these pages done. You got to get these multiple books done. You kind of have to treat this now like a full-time job where you clock in.” I was like, “All right, my clock-in time is 9:30 at night to 2:00 in the morning.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah, that’s good. You get into doing it, you kind of time box your schedule, it sort of helps out, especially if you’re doing it on a regular basis.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, something that I’ve seen at least over the past decade that I’ve done this show, but I’d say probably prior to that as well, you started to see a really big increase of Black artistic talent, visual artistic talent specifically. Cartoons, animations, fine art, like you mentioned Hair Love from Matthew A. Cherry. No relation, I think, I think. Any genealogists out there want to dive into that, I’m more than welcome.

When I see all of this, I also end up seeing this question about representation, like that always seems to come up, which I think is kind unfair that if you are a Black artist that you have to represent your community through your work. I think it’s up to the individual artist what they choose to do. Is that something that you feel like you have to do through your work? Have you gotten that kind of, I don’t know, sense of… I don’t even want to say responsibility, but have you gotten that, say, from other people, from clients, et cetera?

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, I would say there’s a little bit of that, and there’s like, for instance, when I first started at Holler, I was one of the only two black people there that was the artist and black people in general. One of the things I did when I started there was like I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as the guy who you only come to for Black stuff, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Akeem Roberts:
That I immediately just did not draw. I drew like animal characters that I knew were Black or like Mother Earth was a character that had an Afro, but I knew she was Black, but it was like I didn’t do anything that was explicitly Black because I didn’t want to get pigeonholed. With my comic stuff, it’s slice of life, but there are times that I do stuff that is political, but those are very few and far between. Then, my main stance on that is just I want my web comic to… There’s a bunch of web comics out there where it’s just nothing really happens. It’s just like couples chilling and that’s it.

I was like, “This web comic, I’m doing it to show that Black people are normal. This is my every day. This is slice of life. There’s like nothing big going on. No overarching villain. This is just a Black guy chilling. Here’s a look into this. It’s not what you normally expect.” I feel like there’s that, and then sometimes if there’s bigger issues, I’ll just bleed over. Then, I’m just like, “I have to address this.” I will-

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Akeem Roberts:
… but most of it I’m just the way that I’m thinking of representation is just like, “Hey, I’m just a normal guy on the internet. This is what a normal Black dude is doing-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Akeem Roberts:
… you know? Chilling.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I like that, and I’m glad you sort of framed it in that way. You know, it’s interesting, even after doing this show for as long as I’ve done it, people will only think Black designers come in one specific type. I mean, that can be whatever that type is what that type is, but I say that to say that there’s a lot of variety in what people might think might just be a monolithic set. One thing I’ve tried to do with the show is like, yeah, I have designers, but I’ve got cartoons and illustrators. I’ve had footwear designers on the show. I’ve had software developers on the show. I try to make it pretty diverse in general just to give a sense of what we’re doing out here in terms of creativity in this kind of digital age. I’m glad that you framed it in that way. I think that’s a really good way to look at it.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, that was also one of the things when I did the J.D. the Kid Barber books was the reason I worked so many hours on it was because I really wanted the illustrations to have like an angelic feel or like magical feeling, and to have there be depth in the Black character’s skin, so it wasn’t just a gray tone because it was on black and white, but it wasn’t just a gray tone for the skin and no light. I made sure that there was an airbrush. I showed the details of Black skin so when a Black kid opens it up, they’re like, “Oh, my skin is beautiful.” I made sure the skin popped, and that’s what I was like… That was another way of what I was thinking of representation, but not in the sense of, “Oh, this stands for something,” but just in a subtle way of like a kid opening a book and seeing that Black is beautiful.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Who are some artists or illustrators that have influenced your work?

Akeem Roberts:
I got the classic Calvin and Hobbes. Loved the Garfield. Loved Boondocks. Maybe it wasn’t age-appropriate for me to be watching it when I was, but I did love The Boondocks. Strong anime influence. Just a bunch of stuff. Even speaking of The Boondocks, when I was in college, I think this guy is named Carl Jones. He worked on The Boondocks.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah. He was in Columbia, South Carolina, for something. I don’t know what he was there for, and he saw my sketchbook. He was like, “Oh, let me look at this.” Then, he looked at it and he was like, “You got some good ideas here, but you really need to work on your fundamentals.” From there, I just started working on my fundamentals like crazy, which I reached out to him and I told him that and he was like, “Wow.” Then, that was it, That was the last we talked, but he was like, “Wow, thanks.” Then, he started following me on Instagram and I as like, “All right, cool.”

Maurice Cherry:
No, that’s so interesting. Early… I wouldn’t even say… This wasn’t even in my career, and I keep sort of making these parallels because you’re saying some things that line up directly with some experiences that I’ve had. This was the year, God, I sound so old. This was like 2000 I want to say, ’99, 2000 maybe, but I was palling around on the internet. This was back when Yahoo used to be a big destination on the web for a lot of people.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It had chat, it had games. I mean, ask any elder Millennial about Yahoo Spades, and they will spin you a tale, okay. Yahoo had a lot of these user groups that you could just join or whatever. Very similar to like, I guess, a forum or something like that. They had one around Black comic books that was just called like Black Comics. When I tell you the crème de la crème of Black artists at the time were in there, I’m talking Denys Cowan, I’m talking Dwayne McDuffie. Dwayne McDuffie-

Akeem Roberts:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
… actually gave me a critique on a comic book idea that I had. I was like, “Yeah, I want to make this comic book about these like… They’re ninjas, but they’re Black, and I’m going to call it Black Ninjas.” I mean, I can laugh about it now. This is terrible. He’s like, “This is just-

Akeem Roberts:
Oh no.

Maurice Cherry:
… “you’ve just taken Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which I love, “you’ve just taken Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and mapped their direct characteristics onto Black people.” He’s like, “If you want to make something that’s your own, you really have to make it your own. You can’t just copy from what someone else has done.”

That has stuck with me. I mean, I’ve certainly taken that advice with other projects and things that I’ve done, but this was way back in the day. It’s amazing how even just like those kind of little comments that you get from someone that has been where you’re trying to go can help just set you in the right direction, that kind of indirect mentorship in a way.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give to any aspiring artists out there that are just starting out in the industry? What would you tell them?

Akeem Roberts:
Work on your fundamentals, but also when you’re doing contracts, there’s a couple of things you need to make sure you have, which is a kill fee. If you finish an illustration, no matter how much percentage of it, they’ll still pay you what they said they’ll pay you. That way, even if they’re like, “Oh, you finished this illustration,” and then they’re like, “Actually, we don’t want to do the project anymore,” if you have a kill fee, that would be like, “Hey, I finished a hundred percent of this project. Pay me a hundred percent of the project.” No matter what, they still have to pay, which is important.

Then, make sure you have a limited number of revisions. I like to do three revisions, and then if a client goes over that, they pay for that, so like you get these three revisions, then anything else they pay for it. That allows the client to think about it because I feel like if it’s unlimited revisions, the client is just going to keep being like, “Oh, what if this was pink? What if this was blue? What is this was orange?” If you’re just like, “Hey, you have three revisions,” that kind of nit-picky stuff with the client they’re not going to do because they’re like, “Okay, these are important. Let me actually think about it.” Like, “Oh, can I just imagine that color in blue or whatever versus asking the illustrator or artist to do it for them.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Akeem Roberts:
Then, after that, I would say also save 30% of whatever you get for freelance for taxes because you do not want to get caught with your pants down.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you speaking from personal experience there?

Akeem Roberts:
No, I was able to catch it. I didn’t let that happen to me, but I’m always worried. I’m always trying to save just in case. I don’t want to end up having to pay too much in taxes and don’t have any money in my account.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good idea. That’s a good idea. How do you stay inspired and motivated in what you do? I’m curious. How do you handle burnout or any sort of periods of low motivation? How do you get through that?

Akeem Roberts:
That, I feel like whenever I’m in a funk, especially when I’m drawing stuff, I kind of just doodle a comfort character, which for me is like I love Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic 1 was like one of the first games I ever played. I always draw Sonic, and it helps me get out of the funk because I feel like the funk you’re usually in is just because you’re progressing in your mind, but you haven’t kind of caught up to your hand yet. You’re like, “Oh, this is looking bad,” because I know my taste is a lot better in my head and I can visualize it, but I’m like my mind, my body hasn’t quite gotten there yet. I feel like if you have a comfort character that kind of helps you put things in perspective, I guess.

For me, it’s Sonic, which whenever I’m feeling out of it, I’ll just doodle a little Sonic and I’ll be like, “Hey, this was better than what I did before. That keeps me motivated, and I always try to measure myself only to myself. Yeah, there’s going to be artists and stuff that you look up to, but make sure you just look at how you are progressing so that way you don’t lose motivation and drawing. If you’re drawing and then you see another person who just draws something straight out of the air and it’s perfect and beautiful and you’re like, “Man, I can’t do that,” you just got to like slowly keep working. Just look at yourself and be like, “Hey, I’m slightly better than what I was the other day,” and just keep going.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Akeem Roberts:
I’d love to have this graphic novel come out and then continue doing stuff in publishing, because right now my job is designing book covers-

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Akeem Roberts:
… so I don’t do the illustration or anything in that. I just do the layout, the fonts and everything-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Akeem Roberts:
… and I feel like that has been a little freeing in order to look at the process, but also pick other artists that will be good for a work or a job or something like that. I guess I give them the opportunity to show themselves.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I think designing book cover certainly is a…that seems pretty cool. I’ve seen awards go to just book covers in terms of design and everything, so that’s a pretty cool gig to have.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah, yeah. I’m liking it so far. Only three weeks in, though, but it’s good right now.

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

Akeem Roberts:
You can find out more about at akeemteam.com and everything pretty much at Akeem Team, which ironically, that is just like an AIM username I made back up in middle school and I just kept it,

Maurice Cherry:
Now, it’s yours. It’s yours forever.

Akeem Roberts:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good, man. Akeem Roberts, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you for, I think, demystifying a little bit about what it’s like to be a working freelance artist. I think what’s probably the most important thing that I gathered just from this conversation and from your story is that this wasn’t an overnight success. You always sort of had this gift for drawing, and then you cultivated that through college and then through your additional work experiences. Then, you were also freelancing and now you’re doing cartoons in The New Yorker and you’re designing book covers and stuff like that.

It’s all a process, like you’ve managed to continue to build your skills up at every step of the way, and I think that’s something that for most people, particularly for most people I think that are listening, it’s just an important thing to know that success doesn’t come overnight. You’ve really kind of worked hard to make a name for yourself. I’m excited to see what else comes out from you in the future, so thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Akeem Roberts:
Hey, thank you so much for having me, man.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Shakeil Greeley

We’re wrapping up 2022 by sitting down with the immensely talented Shakeil Greeley. I love that his portfolio consists of all kinds of creative projects, including fine art and writing. Who says design has to be all about visuals?

Shakeil and I started off talking about his work as an art director at Splice, as well as his new role at Spring Health. He also talked about growing up between Portland and Philly, studying at the University of Pennsylvania’s Visual Studies program, and then landing at GQ doing digital art direction and editorial strategy. Shakeil also spoke about the Imaginary School and the Àròko Cooperative (formerly Design to Divest), and shared how both projects are important to him in terms of community building.

There are so many opportunities to use design to make the world a better place, and I’m glad that there are designers like Shakeil Greeley who are using their skills to make that happen.

From all of us here at Revision Path, thank you for all your support this year. Next year marks our 10th anniversary, so stick around for what’s coming up in 2023!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Shakeil Greeley:
Hey there. My name is Shakeil Greeley. I am a creative director and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. And I use design, strategy, and art to create more equitable, open, and imaginative worlds.

So in my day job, I’m an art director at a music company called Splice. Although I’m soon to be moving on to a new role as creative director of a mental healthcare company. In addition to that, I’m on the leadership teams of two organizations in particular. Àròko Cooperative, which is a Black owned design cooperative. And The Imaginary School, which is an online learning community and platform.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that’s a lot.

Shakeil Greeley:
It is. I stay very busy, and that’s not including any of the freelance work.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, how was 2022 for you?

Shakeil Greeley:
2022 was frankly not the best year. I think it was a lot of time to just kind of process a lot of things that had gone on. Obviously, 2020 was very hectic for many reasons, as was 2021. And I think 2022, I definitely felt a lot of the emotional burnout from just the large existential events that were happening in the pandemic, and racial uprisings, and geopolitical developments, and such.

But also from just working a lot over the last 10 years basically. I’m one of those people who always has multiple side projects running and I think I’ve probably had three or four large side projects running at all times since I was a junior in college. And I think that really caught up to me after a while coming into this year. So it’s been a year of just rest, and reflection, and de-stressing, and unplugging that has definitely been productive. But I’m really looking forward to the things that are going to come in the next year.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of that, is there anything from this year that you want to carry over into the next year?

Shakeil Greeley:
I think one of the biggest things is my work with Àròko, because that has been an ongoing project for a number of years now, and we’re really getting to a spot where I think going into next year we’re going to be able to have folks working on that project for the first time. So all of the work we’ve been doing to kind of reposition because we were formally known as Design to Divest. So coming up with a mew name, new brand direction, and new strategy, all of that work has been really fruitful. And I’m really excited for that stuff to carry on into the new year, in particular in my kind of design practice and work practice.

But on a more personal note, I think just continuing to be reflective and really take time for myself. Those are two things that I’m really prioritizing the next year to not overwhelm myself with work, and just maintain a nice steady output while giving myself plenty of time to just relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
I heard that from a lot of people this year that I’ve had on the show that this year has kind of been a bit of almost a rebuilding year in some ways. And I think it’s because 2020 for a lot of us was just very hectic, aside from the racial reckoning, and the protest, and things that happened during the year. But just the pandemic on top of that with also not being able to travel and congregate and stuff. 2020 was really stressful for a lot of people. 2021, I think we were trying to emerge from it. And now this year, especially with boosters and with mandates becoming lax and things of that nature, we’re just trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Which I think for a lot of people this year that’s what it’s been. It’s been about trying to find ways to move forward when take the lessons that we’ve learned from the past couple of years on how to live in a more equitable kind of holistic sort of way.

Shakeil Greeley:
Definitely. Yeah, I definitely feel that. So much has happened, and even heard in a couple of your recent interviews folks talking about the influx of things like clients, and new projects, and all of that after 2020. I know even on our end, we’re really having time to take stock and be like, “Okay, what are the kind of clients we actually really want to be taking on, and what are the kind of principles we want to be adhering to when we accept new projects?” And even for my own personal work I’m thinking, “Okay, I have limited time. I have limited energy, and I have a very specific set of goals I’m looking to accomplish in the world. What are the actual side projects I should be working on and doing at any given time?” And the conclusion has been maybe only one instead of the suite that I had been operating with previously.

Maurice Cherry:
Now I know you mentioned that you are about to leave Splice. But you’ve served there as art director roughly for about what the past four years or so now. Talk to me about your work there.

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. So Splice has been a really interesting journey. I joined in February of 2019 and worked primarily on all their editorial and content marketing channels. So that includes the Splice blog, that includes Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Reels. I also assist on things like video thumbnails and video ideas, and also focus onto things like content planning and content strategy. In addition to that, obviously there’s a whole art direction side. So that includes doing art direction for brand photo shoots where we are going to go cast 10 musicians from around New York City and shoot them in their own spaces and places, to shooting more kind of advertising focused shoots with sets, and set designers, and things that are a little more formalized.

So my work has really spanned a lot of different stuff in my time at Splice. I even was interviewing artists at one point for the blog, and I’ve worked with the product team on implementing stuff on the marketplace. So it’s a wide range of projects. And I think the core thing that’s interesting that ties it all together is Splice for those who don’t know is a music technology company. And Splice’s core offering is a marketplace of samples. So we’re really a creator-forward and creator-first company, which makes it fun as a creator myself to make work for people who have a creative eye, and have things like taste and know what they think is cool, and what they’re interested in. And might be working on their own album covers, or music videos, or social media strategies for themselves. So yeah, it’s been a really interesting journey and I’m excited to talk more about some of the individual specific pieces.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean it sounds like you were doing a lot outside of Art direction. I mean it sounds like it’s art direction, it’s creative strategy, it’s content strategy. It’s kind of a lot wrapped up under one title.

Shakeil Greeley:
Definitely. And I think that’s part of the startup lifestyle. There’s always more to be done. And I think that also is tied into our team structure across both the creative organization, but also the content marketing team I’ve been working with. Where everyone’s very collaborative and very open to new ideas, which kind of led all of us to flex onto different stuff. So I worked with content strategists who were also making beats and were writers. And I’ve worked with writers who come up with their own content ideas and whole video franchises and things of that nature. So a lot of things going on, and a small amount of people working on them across the organization. But a really creative team, which is fun always.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me more about the team. What did that look like? You mentioned content strategist doing a lot also.

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. So the way our team is set up is my creative director, Meg Vázquez is at the head of the brand organization. And then there’s kind of a flat structure that sits underneath her. So I am art direction. So that includes all content marketing basically, as well as these larger special projects. We have three designers on the team who all have their own areas of expertise, one of whom focuses on motion graphics and kind of brand design. One of them is a really strong brand owner and ensures that the Splice brand across services from employee merchandise to landing pages all feel consistent. And then there’s a designer who focuses primarily on growth marketing, and in addition to that we also have a copywriter.

So that’s kind of a core creative team. In addition to that, there are two folks who work primarily on video. And then our sister team is the content marketing team in a lot of ways, where we work really closely with folks who do social media strategy for things like Twitter and TikTok. We have some folks who are really specific into one person runs the blog and is the editor energy for the blog. Someone is really specialized in music education and looking at how we can create different curriculums for people to learn music. I think it’s about eight or so people on each of those teams. And we support initiatives from across the rest of the organization as many content marketing and creative groups do. So we’ll take in work from things that we obviously generate on our own in our own editorial initiatives. But we also work with other teams around the company to tell the public and tell Splice users about new features, new pack releases, and just new projects that we’re working on.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the most challenging part about working at Splice?

Shakeil Greeley:
This is an interesting question. Because I think there’s two things that are challenging. One of them is a palindrome almost if you will, of a challenge. But I think the first one is just that it is a startup still, and Splice is still figuring out just where it’s going to go and what it’s going to be in the future. And that’s always something that can be difficult for any organization, especially in the creative side. Because you’re having to deal with new projects coming up, or things getting deprioritized, or new initiatives getting spun up, and potential for wider company directions to change. So just being really adaptable. That’s been a challenge that I think I’ve personally grown from, and I know several people that have also really grown from that as well. But it’s never easy to have to change what you’re working on and change your focus with that level of frequency.

And I think the other thing that’s challenging about Splice but is also I think my favorite part about working at Splice is it’s a music company first and foremost, and people tend to be very passionate about music. And so naturally, we have a lot of people on staff who are super passionate about music making. Whether they are avid listeners or concept goers, or musicians themselves. And that means you have a lot of buy-in from folks and a lot of personal attachment to the work. And that’s great, but it can also cause friction at times when people are so personally invested in the work that they’re doing. So it’s a challenge, but I think it’s one that when we can unlock, it and when we can solve it, and when we can really work together in cool ways, it’s a huge benefit and makes working there really pleasurable. But it’s kind of a push and pull always there.

Maurice Cherry:
I have to say, even as you’re describing it being the startup and then also being something that is really for music lovers and people who love music because it’s a music company, I would love something like that. I would love to work at a place that’s passionate about music, but then it’s also tech oriented, and design oriented. How big is Splice actually? Rough count.

Shakeil Greeley:
I think somewhere between 200 and 250 if I’m not mistaken right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, that’s not too bad. I’ve mostly worked at startups that have been in that 50 to 60 person range, and that’s when stuff really starts getting really thorny. Because the old stalwarts that have been there like yourself that have been there for multiple years, and then you’ve got newer hires that expect a culture that’s another way. And you’re trying to do all this together in this kind of fast-paced environment. So for me, it sounds like something I’d be interested in, but that’s because I really like music. I was a musician myself for a lot of years. But especially during the past few years we’ve had, I could see how that could take its toll.

Shakeil Greeley:
And I think like I said, it’s a great problem to have where you have people who are really passionate about the work. But again, I think that that super deep level of passion and emotional investment when tied together with the trappings of a startup and things shifting. And priorities being not in flux all the time, but they do change naturally. I think it can just be a little difficult to make sure that everyone’s on the same page about where we’re all going.

So it’s something that’s a challenge. But I think if you’re kind of ready to accept that ambiguity and really be open to flexing and taking on all these different things that you can really learn from and grow from, it’s an environment that I know I’ve learned and gained a lot from.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of working there?

Shakeil Greeley:
I’m a real fan of my creative director, Meg Vázquez. We worked together at GQ as well. And being able to work under her and really see what a good creative director looks like in action has been such a pleasure and an honor. And I think all the lessons I’ve learned from her and just how to manage a team, and empower people, and solve problems, and ensure creative integrity and all these things are a lot of lessons I know I’m going to be taking with me for the rest of my career. That’s been a real pleasure to work with her. And then also it just extends into the rest of the people that I’ve been able to work with. I think the people at Splice have just been such a pleasure, and we’ve been able to do some really cool stuff.

One of my close colleagues who’s a content strategist, his name’s Ken Herman, he’s Japanese American. Important context because we were both basically the leads on all social media at the time in 2020. Him being the strategist, me being the designer. And obviously, Splice is a music company. But we are also an American music company, which means that if you’re reading between the lines, we are a Black music company, whether the staffing reflects that or not. We are a music company that primarily prophets in Black created genres.

So Ken and I were like, “I think we need to make this a little clearer for everyone here and particular for all of our audience.” And not that our audience was pushing back on that idea a lot, but we really wanted to make it clear where Splice stood on these issues, and make it clear that we understood the responsibility we had.

So we got to come together and work on a series called As Told By that actually went and became Webby nominated. It was just a small social franchise where we took a specific social issue, whether it was something like the Iran-Contra scandal, or Rockefeller Laws, and went through and found a bunch of textual evidence of all kinds of hip hop artists kind of talking about these issues in their music. And really making an effort to not just… I think there’s a misconception for a lot of probably non-Black folks, but Black folks as well around what ‘conscious’ rap can be. And folks like Jim Jones talk about the Rockefeller laws. It’s not just bound by those kind of genre constraints.

So having someone in my team that was super down to work on a project like that, and just do it together, and collaborate on the story, and the design. That kind of working environment I think is a great example of why I love working at Splice and love the people at Splice so much. Just really passionate, really intelligent, and really just down to collaborate and get into the weeds and work really closely together on stuff that they may not know front to back, but are really down to learn and figure it out.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds really dope. Actually taking a look at the series now. You covered stuff like the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the crack epidemic, the Rockefeller drug laws, United States of America versus Billie Holiday, assassination of Fred Hampton, the Iran-Contra affair, the war on drugs. And it’s all through the lyrics of musicians. Yeah, this is really cool. I have to check this out. This is really cool.

So I want to learn more about your background. I mean, of course we’re hearing about the creative work, and we’ll get into what you’re doing with Àròko Cooperative and The Imaginary School. But let’s start with your origin story.

On your website you mentioned that you’re born in Seattle, but you said you grew up between Portland and Philly, which feels like two wide ends of a spectrum in terms of culture. Portland, Oregon, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Talk to me about that.

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah, so I think a lot of my upbringing is a key theme being between different cultures. Because I’m biracial. My dad, he’s a white guy from the Pacific Northwest. And my mom grew up in Jamaica until she was about 18.

So they met in the Pacific Northwest and moved to Seattle. So I was born there, lived there for a couple of years. And then we moved to Portland, Oregon and lived a couple of years there. They split up, and then my mom moved to Philadelphia where my grandfather was living with his second wife and a lot of her family. So even over there, that’s Black Jamaicans, but also Black American side. And then I would spend basically my school time in Philadelphia. And then any vacation time, I would go spend with my dad in Portland. And it’s two really different places to be sure. Philadelphia, one of the Blackest big cities in America. And Portland, one of the whitest big cities in America.

I just learned a lot. I’m one of those kids who’s been drawing my whole life. I’ve always been interested in art. I think when I first realized that jobs were a thing you had to have, I either wanted to make comic books, or test video games. And I think making comic books or graphic design, not really that different. But those have always been interested of mine.

So I learned a lot from A, being around both really family at the end of the day because my grandmother on my mom’s side, she’s a prolific quilter. I’ve learned a lot about just color and pattern from her. My grandma on my dad’s side, she is just a broad crafts woman. She loves to do collage, and watercolors, and all this stuff. But neither of them ever did any of this professionally, just purely as hobbies.

And my mom, she’s a doctor. She’s an anesthesiologist. And she never really did any of this stuff but has always been really interested in clothing, and home décor, and design. And then my dad is kind of an IT worker. He does all kinds of different IT stuff, but he is also a very passionate DJ. And I think my first kind of real introduction to design was meeting one of my dad’s friends who was making his mixtape cover art. And he was like, “Yeah, this is the designer who’s making my mixtape cover art.”

So I got introduced to the field really young, but didn’t really think it was something I would do full-time until much, much later. I spent a lot of time just as any kid does in my age group watching things like Toonami. Part of my upbringing in Portland actually was going to a Japanese magnet school, which is another really key piece of my story. So half the day was taught in English, and half the day was taught in Japanese. And this was right around the big Japan and anime boom of the ’90s. So it was like kids in my second grade class were coming to school with Pokemon cards, and no one had ever seen them before. And the next year, Pokemon, the cartoon went up on WB. And obviously the rest is history.

So Japanese culture and video games, anime, things like that entered into my lexicon really early, and have been a really big source of inspiration since then. So my whole upbringing has just been a real hodgepodge mix of getting introduced to Japanese culture really early, being super interested in mixtape culture, dance hall culture, hip hop culture from a really young age, especially for my dad. And just holding records, and meeting his friends who made flyers, and helping him burn CDs, and things of that nature.

And then I think especially as I went to high school, I really got more into English, and drama, and history, and just writing more so. And I think that whole side of me that’s more analytical, and research focused, and all about communication merged with my early interests in Japanese culture, and dance hall culture, and all of these things to lead me into at least my adult design career.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that’s a lot.

Shakeil Greeley:
A lot of pieces.

Maurice Cherry:
The Japanese magnet school in particular really interests me. I mean one, because you’re learning about just a different culture. Both language and the Japanese culture. But then to get it at such a young age, especially at the time when in America, Japanese animation was really starting to pop off. Wow, that must have been a wild time as a kid to be a part of that.

Shakeil Greeley:
It was really interesting. And the older I get and the more I look back on it, I’m like, “Wow.” It was a public school too. And that’s a common thing in Portland. There’s a lot of magnet schools. Looking back on it, I’m like, “Geez, what an insanely foundational and formative experience that was.”

Because I had lots of friends who had older brothers who were into hacking, and modding their PCs, and importing game consoles, and all of these things that I think are super mainstream now. But I didn’t really understand at the time just how lucky I was to kind of get a front row seat to a lot of this stuff, right as it was coming out because people were going to Japan with their families for the holidays, and bringing stuff back. It was fascinating. It was a very fascinating experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So it sounds like overall growing up you really were exposed to a lot of creative things. And then eventually you went to the University of Pennsylvania, and you studied there as part of their visual studies program. Tell me about that time. What was your time like there?

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. So I got to thank my mom for even finding that program in the first place, because I was really kind of torn between how do I do creative stuff and make money. I think the eternal question of any kid whose parents don’t know what the design industry is. And I didn’t either at the time. So I was really debating do I do marketing and just do a business program, or do I go to an ad school or advertising school? Or do I go to just a full-on art school and do that? And my mom found this program, which is an amazing program that is basically a hybrid between several different disciplines. Those disciplines being biology, and psychology of sight, and seeing. So how do your rods and cones work? How do images get processed in the brain? These really foundational, biological things are practice.

Our practice, so obviously taking practical art classes like draft design, or painting, or sculpture, things of that nature. And then psychology and philosophy. So really looking at the thinking behind perception, and vision, and the real kind of heady stuff.

And you kind of choose one to focus in. So you take a majority of your classes in a specific area. I focused in fine art practice, specifically design. And then you just get this really interesting and well-rounded experience I think for an academic experience in particular, where you’re getting to learn a lot of different things that are all tightly related to each other, but are very different formally. I think each person, if you were to just focus on one of those things, that’s a whole field in and of itself. But we were having a really interesting time learning about the anatomy of your eye, and then having to go into a fine arts class and actually figure out a way to translate that into something visual. Or taking a historical image, and creating a sculpture that reflects the character of the image, as well as communicates the initial meaning.

So it was a really interesting education. And especially as someone who didn’t take any formal art classes in high school or anything like that, it was pretty wild to be dropped into the real deep end of design, and design theory, and all of these things right as I started school. But it provided me, especially someone with a lot of different interests and someone who is pretty flexible I think, a ton of freedom to just do what I wanted to do and learn about things that I wanted to do.

And I was basically able to do two thesis projects at the end of my time there, just from the fact that I was able to come to the program early. I finished my requirements early. I got a good sense of the things I was interested in, and got to take some graduate classes in my final semester. So it was a really, really great time. Academically. So yeah, very interesting program that I recommend to anyone who’s really interested in the whole ecosystem of visual image making as a whole entity.

Maurice Cherry:
And now, does Penn still have that program?

Shakeil Greeley:
It does, yeah. I believe the head of the program, his name is Ian Verstegen. He was my senior thesis advisor. So shout out to you, Ian.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean that sounds like a really great program. Especially like you said, you have all these different interests. And visual studies may sort of help you find a way to channel that into something.

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. And I think the key thing it really taught me was to never make something without thinking about it first. Especially when it comes to design in particular. And always kind of have a thought of what you want something to do or what it needs to accomplish, or the response you wanted to elicit in someone, before you go into actually making the thing. That was a big thing I learned from that program.

Maurice Cherry:
So you graduated from there in 2015. And one of your first jobs out of college, you were working for GQ Magazine. Tell me about that.

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. So just sung the praises of this program. But it sounds complicated. And two prospective people who wanted to hire, they also I think thought it was complicated, because I could not find a job for a pretty long time. But I was really lucky enough to find this opportunity at GQ Magazine.

So if this was about seven months after I graduated, and I found this opportunity. And it was a web producer job. So it’s not a design title, not a designer, not a creative anything. It was just kind of a go between for all things within the website. At that time I was still living at home. I was doing some light freelance work, but I was like, “No, I want to move to New York. I want to get my career started. I’m going to go and take this job, and I’m going to go meet the art director first day, and tell them that I want to be a designer, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

So I was at GQ for three years, three years total. And in that three years, I had four different titles. So I started as web producer, then became a visual designer. Then I was a visual editor. Then I was an art director and manager. And I worked on a bunch of different stuff while I was there. So in my first year, I was hand transcribing stories from old magazines so they could be published on the website. And helping my boss, who was the editor of the website, do her expenses, and keep track of contracts for writers that were doing regular columns and things like that. And I just kind of kept my head down and just kept working on these things, and kept bothering people to give me more stuff to do. So eventually, I started making some small illustrations for e-commerce stories, and then able to do some more big illustrations.

And I think a big moment for me when I was in that first year is I got to make a piece of art for the editor and the chief… The editor’s letter? Yeah, the editor’s letter. And it was about, I think this was in 2016. So it was in the throes of the election and all this stuff.

And it was a piece about Barack Obama, and I just cut together a found image of his bust that I think had maybe been 3D printed by the Smithsonian or something, and Abe Lincoln’s statue. And that piece went super viral. Definitely the copy was great, but I do think the image had a lot to do with it. And that was kind of a turning point where people really started like, “This kid knows what he is doing. He knows how to make a brief. He knows how to think through the stuff. We could use him on the design side.”

So after that, I kind of really started pushing into more of the design world. Eventually they were able to make some space for me over there. And then I spent the latter half of my time at GQ working on Snapchat Discover, which for again, those who don’t know is, I mean I think it still is active. But it was a bit huge initiative that Snapchat was doing to kind of partner with a lot of legacy publications, and just making moving animated magazines for a younger audience. So I did that for two years, partly as an editor as part of a team. And then I took over the team in my third year.

And in addition to doing a lot of design, illustration, content planning, content strategy, I also got to do a lot of writing at GQ, which is I think pretty unique for a lot of designers. So I had the first interview with Daniel Kaluuya after Out came out with any major publication. And that was a big moment, that was really one I’m really proud of. And I got to interview a number of musicians like Christian Scott, and [inaudible 00:34:40] and Lil Tracy, and all these people. So it was a really wild ride to be at such a large legacy publication at a time when the money was visibly drying up day by day. So I think it worked for me in the fact that there was not enough staff around, where I was able to just grab stuff and people would just be happy to have someone do it, no matter what their title was. So it really worked out for me in that way. But it was a really interesting time just crashing into that world and having no background in fashion or New York media, and just getting the whole wave washing over me.

But I learned a ton there, met a lot of really interesting people. And really, I think especially going back to my kind of academic background, I taught myself a lot of design stuff even while I was in school. And GQ was the time when I really learned what type design and type setting really meant, and how to really apply that stuff. So I kind of cut my teeth both in the world of multitasking and doing a lot of different stuff at once, but also really getting those hard design skills that I had been lacking in my academic education and self-taught practice.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you get a chance to work on any video while you were there?

Shakeil Greeley:
I did, yeah. I did a number of video projects. I did some design for an Issa Rae video when she was on the Man of the Year issue. And some other stuff with Travis Scott, Kylie Jenner. And I got to do both creating graphics for videos, as well as producing and interviewing people for video too. So I got a whole spectrum of experience in that area.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if there’s some Conde Nast video Style Bible, but all of the videos that I watched out of GQ, Vanity Fair, etc., are so well done. It’s some of the really good video content. I’d say even now in this kind of, I don’t know, short video age when people look at Reels, and TikTok, and stuff like that. GQ is doing some of the best long form, and when I say long form, I’m thinking, I don’t know what. 10 minutes or more I guess. But they’re doing some of the best long form video content out there. It’s really good stuff.

Shakeil Greeley:
And I think actually two of the dudes who I worked with when I was there years ago I think are still there pushing a lot of that stuff forward. So they do some really awesome stuff. And it was a real pleasure to both be able to collaborate with that team, and also just watch them and see how they work. And I think that was something I really just did a lot of at GQ was just watching people, and just seeing how all these people move through the world, and did their work, and how people would just stroll into places they owned it, and were always going to think that they could get access to a certain person or anything. And that was really inspiring to me. I was like, “Oh wow, I guess I can just go do stuff. If I have GQ in my email, people will just answer my emails back. So I should just try to take advantage of that.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I imagine that helps a lot.

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. I still get emails to this day of people asking me to feature their X artist in GQ. But yeah, those days are behind me now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now along with what you just talked about with Splice, with GQ, and everything. You’re on the leadership teams of two organizations, Àròko Cooperative and The Imaginary School. Let’s talk about the Àròko Cooperative first. Because we’ve talked about it on the show before. As you mentioned earlier, it used to be known as Design to Divest. And we’ve had some folks on the show from Design to Divest. We had Michael Collette, we had Azeez, we had Zariah. What was behind the decision to change its name?

Shakeil Greeley:
So I’m actually super excited to talk about this because Design to Divest was this really impromptu gathering when we really came together initially. [inaudible 00:38:46] who was kind of the seed planter who put up the first Instagram post, even when we all came together for the first time, they were like, “We could change the name and maybe the logo could look different.” I don’t know. I just wanted to get people together. And I think that name and that group made sense for a while. And I think we retained a lot of the folks who kind of joined really early. And that felt good to kind of keep the momentum going.

But especially going into this year as we’re coming I guess… Yeah, we’re over two years old now. We had really started to gel a smaller, specific, dedicated team of folks that was just this core group of eight who had been consistently coming to stuff. The steering committee had had as many as 30 members at certain points.

So after a while and really working together week over week, we kind of gelled down this specific group. And once we kind of landed on that core group, we really started to ask ourselves, what do we actually want to do together? And what do we want to do here? And that led us to thinking about questions of what is the right name? Is Design to Divest, a project within our kind of wider umbrella of things that we like to do? We determined that it was.

So basically where we landed was Design to Divest is the first large scale project completed by Àròko Cooperative. And Àròko Cooperative is going to be kind of an umbrella organization for a variety of different initiatives that we’re going to be doing moving forward. So Design to Divest being one of them. And that sits within our core offerings of things like zines, or merchandise, and publishing. We are also going to be doing some consulting work. So we actually just completed our first client project very recently. So there’ll be case studies about that probably up on our website by the time this interview is up.

And then we’re going to be doubling down on a lot of community initiatives. So we’re going to be doing quarterly events that are for Black designers specifically, that are free. We’ll probably be doing some more open events for the wider design community that’ll be paid for. And then we have a Discord server, which is kind of just a little bit more impromptu place for Black designers to congregate.

So we really just took stock of all that stuff and determined let’s put Design to Divest in its own box that allows all of the work that’s been done by people who are not active in the group anymore to be really properly archived, and separated, and celebrated. And then gives this new kind of smaller group full license to create what we want this thing to be for ourselves, and really just not be bound by any historical things, or previous projects, or any of that.

And just really go from the ground up, working together to come up with a new name, and new brand, and new direction, and all of that together. So it was really just a chance to celebrate some old work and give ourselves a fresh start looking into the years to come for the rest of the cooperative.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Sounds like it was a massive change than just the name. It really sort of changed a lot with just even the purpose. I mean, not so much the purpose behind why you came together. But how do you keep the group moving forward? What are the new goals and things of that nature? Are there other things that have changed over the years now that you’ve been doing this?

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. I think the biggest honor of my design career so far to build this group with these folks. And we’ve gone through all kinds of changes, whether it’s going from using Zoom for our meetings and Slack, to moving to Discord, and using that as a primary surface for all meetings, and events, and planning, and all that stuff. To getting a better sense of what our actual deliverables and our offerings. The offerings we want to actually put out for our clients, and determining that maybe we want to do X thing and this thing, but maybe not this thing even, if we have the capacity and capability to do it.

And I think the biggest change too is we’ve all gotten paid this year for the first time. That’s a big change. We’ve been doing it for free for two years, and we were able to get some clients, and get some funds raised. Everyone was able to get a check this year I think. I’m excited to see my own tax return from the work that we completed this year.

And I think another big change too has just been getting a lot closer to each other as a group, to where we feel really good about just moving forward on new projects without having to have everyone touching everything at the same time. I think that’s been a big learning development for us is that we have a really wide set of skills in our core group of now nine. And we can divide and thrive. We don’t need to have eight people on a certain project. We can just have two people on a project, and they’re going to run it great. And that means three people over here can go and do something else.

So that process of just figuring out our working norms, and how do we operate as a non-hierarchical design entity, and just really figuring out how we can make this thing sustainable for the long term in a way that feels really good has been a series of ongoing changes for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Now let’s talk about The Imaginary School. The Imaginary School on the website is described as, “An eye on our present, past, and future.” Where did the idea to start that come from?

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. So The Imaginary School I think, at least for me in my own practice. Àròko is kind of the group activity that I really spent a lot of my time with. And it’s something that we’re going to be doing consulting and making new projects and all this stuff. And Imaginary School is kind of my personal just personal passion project, which is really about education.

So the actual idea of The Imaginary School started back in college with a couple of my friends who were all a bunch of creative folks as well, and we just kind of came up with the name as an umbrella for any collaborations we were going to do amongst ourselves. And we put out one project, and didn’t really put out any other formal projects after that. We all continued to stay friends, and we’ve all worked on different projects and stuff together. But nothing really formalized.

And I really wanted to take that, and revive it, and bring some life back to it in the form of more open collaboration with people all over the world, and different interests, and people that we didn’t have personal connections to.

So in 2019 actually, I spent a lot of time thinking about what the new iteration of this thing could be. And that was spurned by some conversations I had with another friend who was in grad school and who was continuously being like, “Hey Shak, you got to read this PDF of Saidiya Hartman,” who I’d never heard of at the time. I was like, “Oh yeah, that’d be great.” And then, Hey Shak, you got to check out this great PDF by Fred Moten, and you got to check out this from da, da, da, da.” And after a while I was like, “You know Isaac, is there a way we can just share this knowledge more widely? Because there’s so many of these things that are becoming really foundational to my thinking and design process, and I never would’ve learned about them had you not shared that PDF with me.” And we were like, “Yeah, I think we could figure something out.”

So we really took the idea of The Imaginary School of that open collaboration, and wanted to figure out a way to just open source it basically and make it accessible to everyone. And also something that other people could replicate.

So right now, it is a two-part kind of operation. We have an arena page, which just houses all kinds of resources from across the internet in fields as disparate as video games, to the environment, to Palestine, to parenting and sexuality and relationships. We just have a ton of different information that’s just kind of crowdsourced and crowd collected. And then there’s a Discord server which is attached to it where someone can go and find someone to chat about with if they have questions about a particular topic or they found something really interesting and just are looking for someone to chat to.

So it’s this two-pronged approach. And it’s pretty chill, for lack of a better word. I don’t spend a ton of time trying to curate stuff and push for engagement on it. I just really want it to be something that’s easy for people to get into and use as they please. But that’s an ongoing project for me. And I’m always looking for new ways to grow it and activate it. So I’ll be doing probably more of that into the new year as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I see on the website you have some of these discussions that you mentioned. Does doing The Imaginary School and Àròko Cooperative, do they share similar goals? Do you see there being some overlap between those two?

Shakeil Greeley:
Definitely. I think any project that I work on ideally shares some goals. And I think in those two projects, just that idea of having a more open and equitable kind of design world is a big one for me. I mean, the most popular channel of our Imaginary School channels is one that is specifically decentering whiteness in design.

So I think there’s a lot of overlap in the goals of those two projects. I think Àròko is a bit doing it a bit more active way, whereas Imaginary School is more passive and just trying to get people information so they can reach conclusions and do their projects on their own. But definitely a lot of overlap in the long-term goals of both of those.

Maurice Cherry:
In recent years, what would you say the biggest lesson is that you’ve learned about yourself?

Shakeil Greeley:
I think the biggest lesson I have learned about myself in recent years is that I do not have the energy that I thought I had, is the biggest one. I think even when I was younger and would work all day, and commute, and then come home and work for five or six hours at night into the wee hours of the morning on freelance projects or side stuff, I think I was kidding myself that I could keep that going for as long as I did.

So that’s really the biggest thing is that for me to do my best work and especially do my best work with other people, I need time to unplug, and de-stress, and just not think about design or any of the large issues that are constantly weighing on my head. I need time to just decompress and really give myself time to recover in between really digging into these projects.

Maurice Cherry:
I think the older we get, our energy levels in some ways kind of naturally wane. But I definitely get what you mean about that, it’s more about what you put your energy towards, I think also.

Shakeil Greeley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
I think when you’re younger, there’s a lot of stuff that you try to do all the things because you have the time, and the capacity, and the space to do all of that. And then as you get older, you just become just more intentional about what it is that you actually want to put your energy towards, what you want to put your name on. That sort of thing, what you want to be affiliated with. It’s less about doing all the things, and more about trying to do the right things for you.

Shakeil Greeley:
Yep. I completely agree. And as someone who had a traditional education in a lot of ways but didn’t have a traditional design education, I spent a lot of my twenties… I turn 30 next year. I spent a lot of my twenties just saying yes to anything I could get my hands on, because I felt like I needed to prove my skills. And also I wanted to develop my skills. And that got very old after a while, especially when you’re still dealing with commitments that are maybe multiple years old or something like this from when you were younger and a different person.

So yeah, definitely something as I move on is going to be just probably saying no to almost everything. And really allowing myself to just focus on the things that I think are going to make the most impact for myself and for the world. So Àròko and Imaginary School are two big ones.

I also would love to have a little time to just do stuff for fun. Again, I think I spent a lot of my last 10 years of my design career doing projects for people and with people and always serving as that creative liaison, or designer, or creative director or whatever. But it’s been a long time since I’ve done something that was just for me. And I’d love to get back to the ideas I had when I was a kid of making a comic book. So hopefully that’s the next actual personal project I do I complete in some indeterminable amount of time, maybe in the next five years.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about the comic book. Because that’s an idea that I’ve had for a very long time. I’ve always wanted to do some type of a comic book, or a graphic novel, or something. I’ve sort of done print design at different times throughout my career. But I’d say roughly within the past year and a half or so, I actually started working with printers. Because I was working at a company, and we made a print magazine. So I got to really see behind the scenes with paper types and all that stuff.

And it’s a lot less expensive than I thought it was. I think at the time that I was doing it also, there was just this massive paper shortage. Because I would think with masks and with just all the other stuff happening with the pandemic and things like that, everything was in a shortage. There were supply chain issues and stuff. But it’s actually a lot cheaper to print say 100 copies of a comic book if you just want to test it out. Lot cheaper than you think, or a lot cheaper than I thought at least. I was like, “That’s not a lot of money at all. I could do that.” I just now need to write it, maybe find somebody to draw it color, and get all that sort of stuff

Shakeil Greeley:
I mentioned earlier I’m hugely influenced by video games, manga, anime, all that stuff. So this also ties into my last thing about taking more time and rest and all that. I’ve just been trying to a lot more time just playing video games and reading comic books over the last couple years. Because basically in the end of 2019, I was just so burned out and just had totally ran myself dry. And I realized, “When was the last time I just played a video game for two hours?” And it had been basically since my senior year of college. So I was like, “All right, let me take some more time to do these fun things.” And so I’ve been reading a lot more comic books and all that.

And the idea I have, and I’m happy to share this with you right now, is basically make it a traditional kind of battle anime style, where everyone has a superpower, and they fight a big villain, and there’s big fight scenes and all that stuff. But have it all be based around a community organization that helps their local community by day, and fights the US government’s secret agents by night. And all of that happens in their dreams. So it’s all kind of about astral projection. I think it allows for a lot of fun ideas to roam free. With the core idea of this is a group that’s been fighting the government for years, and this government agency has been suppressing social unrest in people’s dreams for hundreds of years or something like that. So that’s the loose idea that I’m working with, and I really do want to put it to paper sometime soon, because I think it’s certainly something I would be really happy to read at the very least.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that. I like that a lot. That’s a really good idea. Who are some of the mentors, or colleagues, or people that have helped you get to this point in your career?

Shakeil Greeley:
I think there’s one person in particular who is absolutely the most influential. And I mentioned her already, but Meg Vázquez. She’s just been so huge for me, I think, and really getting that serious design education. So she’s my boss at GQ. So we worked together at GQ for two years. We’ve worked together at Splice for almost four years. And Meg was a part of the Hillary for America design team. So she cut her teeth on all that stuff. And she’s just been a huge figure for me in just in terms of just getting to know design better, and knowing how to operate, and how to just do design in a professional setting. So really, really could not have done it without her.

And then in addition to her, Charles Hall is another one who’s really important for me in terms of my creative growth and expression. And he was a TA of mine at Penn in the graduate seminar I mentioned early in our interview. And he’s an amazing designer, creative director in his own write. He wrote Michael Jordan’s retirement letter, and just has an amazing way with words and communication. And we’ve worked on a couple projects together. And he’s taught me a ton about the industry, and really pushed me as a designer to I think embrace my experiences a lot, and really lean on the things that I know better than other people. So those folks are super crucial.

But I also have to give a really big shout out to just my whole Àròko Cooperative team. I’ve learned so much from working with those people. And it’s hard to put into words I think the amount of knowledge we’ve been able to build just amongst ourselves in the last couple years. And I think I’ve learned as much from that group in two and a half years than I have in my four years of Ivy League education. So those folks are all really foundational for me, and I could not have gotten to where I am or done any of this stuff where I’m at now without the help of the Meg, Charles, and my Àròko squad.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want to change in 2023?

Shakeil Greeley:
In 2023, I want to just be really deliberate and intentional with how I’m spending my time. I want to be spending my time when I have to be working and making money, doing something that is directly making people’s lives better. So I’m excited about joining this mental health company to do that.

And then also in my time out of the office, I want to make sure that anytime I’m spending doing additional work, it’s stuff that’s really important to me and really is serving me in the world. And then just having plenty of time to just relax. So really just making sure that I’m not spreading myself too thin. In fact, doing the opposite and giving myself a lot of time to just learn, and read, and mess with this comic book, and just chill out a little bit. I think I’ve earned it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to still be doing? What kind of new work do you want to do? Anything like that?

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. I think in the next five years, I would ideally be working full-time for myself or in collaboration with some of the folks I’ve mentioned before. I’m really excited about this new gig, and I have no idea where that’s going to take me. But I really have the long term goal of being able to run my my own studio, either by myself or in collaboration with other folks. So that’s what I’m really hoping for is getting the chance to just do that, and have a lot more freedom to go and just build the things that I think the world needs to have out in the world.

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

Shakeil Greeley:
Yeah. So the best place to find me is just at my website. It’s shakeil.com. S-H-A-K-E-I-L.com. You’re going to find everything there. I’m really active on Arena, so if you’re looking for a little bit more of a social atmosphere, you can find me at Arena/shakeilgreeley. And then for Àròko, you can find us at aroko.coop. So A-R-O-K-O.coop. And that’s a great place to go and get a full sense of what we’re working on. We have a really large project, which is our design manifesto that’ll be coming out probably by the time this interview airs. So definitely go check that out. You’re going to get some really interesting stuff, I’ll tell you that much.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well Shakeil Greeley, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I feel like this interview was a great way to kind of close out the year. One, I think just to hear about the great things that you’re doing around something that we’ve mentioned on the show over the past two years, which is Design to Divest, that’s now the Àròko Cooperative. But seeing how you are working with something like that and then taking that to move forward into a bigger, grander future, I think that’s something that we all of course want to see, but something that we all need as well. And I’m just glad you were able to come on the show, and share your story. And I’m really excited to see what you do next. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Shakeil Greeley:
Thank you so much for having me, Maurice. It’s been such a pleasure and a real honor to be on the show. It’s an amazing way for me to close my ear up.

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Andrew Bass Jr.

By now, you’ve gotten acquainted with design educator and design strategist Andrew Bass Jr. In the second part of our interview, we explore Andrew’s calling as a design mentor, as well as his early advocacy work for diversity in the design industry. (If you missed the first part, check it out here.)

We start off talking about Black design leadership back in the day, and Andrew tells the story of how he learned about the Organization of Black Designers and how that led to his work leading AIGA’s first Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. From there, we discuss the current state of DEI with AIGA and the design industry, and he shares what gets him excited about design now at this stage of his career. It’s really an honor and a privilege to talk with Andrew about his longevity in design and about leaving a legacy for generations to come!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned when you were at Prats that you saw you had Black design professors and stuff like that. Once you got out there as a working designer, did you see a lot of Black folks in design leadership back then?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No. That was the unicorn. I was in the libraries. That was one of the things all through my years as a student to my beginning years as a practicing professional, I would hit all the design annuals, books to see who’s leading in the industry to kind of know names. And I kept coming across the same thing. It was always white men. It was always white men. Eventually it started opening up a little bit where you see the spattering of white women, but it was all predominantly white men. And I barely, barely ever saw anyone Black, Latino. Occasionally there may be a spot, a spot of an Asian. And again, usually it would be a guy, but it was very much pure white and that’s all I ever saw. And I was actively searching to find, okay, there’s got to be more folks out there.

And then eventually I did find some folks out there, not through any of the exposure through manuals. At that time there were not a lot of big design conferences. I had not heard of AIGA at that point yet. Definitely there was no HOW. There was no HOW design. And there was Communication Arts because there was a lot of design magazines out back then. Print, design, communication, arts. What was the other one?

Maurice Cherry:
Step.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Step was there. Yep. Step. This is a Canadian one, Applied Arts, I think it’s called. Some other stuff. And so it was not until somewhere in around ’93 in print when I saw Cheryl Miller’s article on, no, about Cheryl Miller, I should say. It wasn’t her article. Or was it her article? But it was in print about where are the Black designers.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And I read that article I don’t know how many times. Right now, these names. I’m like, who’s this person? Who’s that person? Oh wow. Because I had not seen that in any the quote general mainstream stuff. And that’s when I started learning that there were folks out there, and I started digging a little bit more into history. And that’s when I learned that there were a lot more that actually existed. And back in the day, just never given any exposure due to societal, the US view on race. So growing up I never saw any of the studios that I admired ever have any person of color in their leadership. And generally ones that I did find in leadership, they usually owned their own businesses. They had their own practices. I really am hard pressed to think of any leaders at any of these Fortune 500 companies throughout the nineties to even I’d say early 2000s. Nothing pops off in the top of my head. There’s always people doing their own thing.

And so a few years later, I think that was around ’95, ’96, that’s when I discovered HOW, HOW Magazine, which I sorely still miss today. That was a fantastic design magazine. Of all the other design magazines I had saw, they actually seemed to have tried to make an effort of showcasing designers of color and somewhat kind of touching the subject of diversity in the industry, because diversity didn’t exist back then in the nineties, that wasn’t a word. Some market chair came up with diversity. “Hey, I think this is going to be a good trend.” I was basically looking at it as like, fair is fair. It’s just not white folks out here. So I didn’t really started to see leadership until around then, around ’95, ’96 when I started seeing that and I started seeking them out. And then I learned Cheryl Miller was here in New York City, did actually meet her face to face. I think I did a freelance project with her.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Woo. She was tough too.

Maurice Cherry:
I believe it. I believe it. A hundred percent. A hundred percent I believe that. Without a doubt.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
She knew her stuff and I understand why she was very sort of stern, because the industry, it was a very different mentality. She had to fend for herself and stuff and she was doing some major work. I also met Cynthia Mackenzie, I believe. She has a studio in New York too. CM something, something. Oh man, I met her and I was like, oh wow, okay. And then I started meeting some others, especially like I said, my professor Dwight Johnson, he’s the one who really started giving me some opportunities where he was connected to NBC. He got me to meet some people at NBC. No, I didn’t meet any Black people at NBC, but he started putting me onto folks that are out there. And then I started learning about Archie Boston, started learning about Tony Gable, rest in peace, started learning about Richard Baker. I started learning about, oh, oh, Eli [inaudible 00:10:29].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Maurice Woods. And that was a little later in the nineties. Oh, how could I forget about the south? It was where I’ve met her, Cynthia Worley.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, here in Atlanta.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. And then also Turner. Turner. Illustrators where I first saw them in HOW, oh, I think the name is Turner, last name is Turner. I cannot remember their first name. They’re based in Atlanta. I think they’re still around. And I started learning about more folksm and I was like, whoa, how come they don’t get shined in these magazines? I just went into overdrive to try and find as much history as I could. That’s how I started finding it about Georg Olden. I’m still stuck on his story and the total disrespect I feel that the design industry has given him completely. And still, I wonder if I hadn’t brought up Georg Olden to Ric Grefé back then before there was Design Journeys and all that. Because I had mentioned an idea on that, and they named the Design Journeys that they honored Georg Olden, what, two years after when I was on the task force, it just dissolved and then, oh, now you decide to award Georg Olden the Medal?

I’m like, you… Okay. But at least he got it. I just feel like there needed to be more of an acknowledgement to it. Honestly, I’m sorry, an apology. Because I read that he also had won an art director’s medal, art director’s club medal. But I could not find any records of that. I did not see any of that leadership until I kind of found it on my own. And I like the fact that they were leaders on their own. They didn’t wait for other people because they couldn’t get certain opportunities they made their own. John Morning, that’s the other name, John Morning. And they did it for themselves. It wasn’t until honestly 21st century, early 2000s that I started seeing Black leadership. I still say it wasn’t like top tier Black leadership, I still think some of it was just, okay, not semantics, but perceptions, start putting some folks here. So I think they’re more middle leadership, not top leadership. So even today at 2022, I mean, yeah, you have a few that truly you can say top leadership, but it’s nearly not enough. So it was very, very barren in those early years that you had to find it and dig to see it.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember, and I want to talk about AIGA because that’s an important part of your story, but I remember when I first started doing Revision Path, I did a lot of research leading up to wanting to start this. And I came across those older magazines you mentioned like Step and Communication Arts is still around, but HOW, and I wonder actually for HOW, because HOW was based out of Cleveland I believe, or somewhere in Ohio, the Midwest.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Somewhere over there.

Maurice Cherry:
I wonder if that informed the perspective they had because so many of these other design publications were out of New York. And so maybe for them it was through a more New York lens. I don’t know if that’s the case, but I remember doing a lot of that research and I would see where people would write a letter to an editor at Step or something and be like, “Well where are more Black designers?” And the magazine would be like, “Oh well we don’t know where they are and we can’t find them,” and all this sort of stuff. And I’m like-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I was one of those that wrote a letter.

Maurice Cherry:
I was like, they’re out there. But then granted, this is also a time before the… Well, I don’t want to say necessarily before the internet, but really more before the worldwide web when where people could create these destinations for people to go to. I discovered the internet, or the worldwide web I should say in high school in the mid nineties. I was in a lot of places I probably shouldn’t have been just in terms of the fact that the Web was just such a big place. So there were things like AOL Black Voices and Africana.net and NetNoir and all those places. So there were obviously places where people were trying to create these destinations for Black people. But I don’t think those social connections really became prevalent until of course the 2000s with the advent of social media and stuff.

So I was doing my research to try to start Revision Path and I would see that a lot of people were asking these questions, and the editorial boards would just shrug their shoulders. “I don’t know where they’re at. I don’t know where they are.” And I remember through that research also discovering, or finding out, I should say, about the organization of Black designers and how they kind of started out in the Midwest. I think it was either in Chicago or somewhere in Ohio, but starting out there and then building things out. Did you know about them back then?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh that’s a whole nother story.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, I did. I found out about them early nineties. Actually because I found out about them and that’s how I found out about Fo Wilson and Michele Washington. Yeah, see now these names are coming back. Michele, she’s a teacher at City Tech right now. Yeah, I know about OBD and I actually went to one of their conferences. I can talk about that after AIGA because that’s a whole nother thing. So I lose track of where we going with AIGA.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, let’s talk about that. So you mentioned Ric Grefé who was I think a longtime executive director.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, he was.

Maurice Cherry:
For AIGA, and you kind of worked with them back in the mid 2000s to-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
2016, 2017. [inaudible 00:16:38]. Yeah, actually, yeah, you’re right. Earlier.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I’ve been a lot earlier. Yeah, because Ric, I think Ric retired or left or something.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Sorry, it was 2006, 2007, 2008.

Maurice Cherry:
So, okay. Yeah, right around that time. Because I think Ric left I want to say in 2013, 2014, something like that. But you had worked with AIGA to not only create the diversity and inclusion task force but also serve as chair. Tell me what that was like, because if diversity was not even in the conversation with regards to the design community, how much of a uphill battle was that?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Shoot, I don’t even think we even got the first step. Honestly looking back, it was all for show. It was all for show. How that all came about was Step in Design had an article based on women in design, very good article, very interesting. I was kind of starstruck that, not starstruck, I was kind of awestruck that out of all these listing of women designers, how come there weren’t any people of color in them? I think there was one, and I think it was Lucille, and I never really know how to pronounce her name, but Tenazas, Lucille Tenazas, she’s a name in the industry, [inaudible 00:18:01]. So I believe she might be either Filipino or-

Maurice Cherry:
She’s Filipino. I know who you’re talking about, Lucille Tenazas or something like that.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yes, yes. And I was like, you got one person on here. There’s a whole lot of other people out here. So I wrote a letter to Step in Design at that time just saying, “Hey, great article, cool and that, but hey, you’re kind of lacking X, Y, and Z.” And I rolled off some names that I knew of, such as Cheryl Miller, Of Wilson, Michele Washington. And just questioning, if you’re going to do a compilation like that, you really need to be a more thoughtful and full approach in doing these kind of compilations. And at the time the editor in chief there, Emily Potts, actually replied back to me via my email. I was like, ooh, I didn’t know I was going to get an actual response. And she actually struck up this conversation, I should say we struck up this conversation and she had told me she was having conversations with Bill Grant at the time who was AIGA president, right? Yeah, yeah. Board of director president.

And that was one of his issues. He wanted to expand AIGA’s reach, and so that it becomes more inclusive to people and stuff like that. And she told me, would I be interested in talking with him and that she’ll put me together with him. And I said, “Sure, I don’t mind talking. Talking’s free, not going to hurt nobody.” So within the span of I guess a day she got me in touch with him and he called me at home, because I think it was some sort of holiday because I know I was there with the kids because they were upstairs. I had to go in the basement because they were so loud. And we were just talking and he was telling me about his idea that he wanted to start up this task force about diversity for AIGA and would I be interested in helping out with it if I had any thoughts on it. And so I kind of told them some of my thoughts and what it is and stuff like that. That’s when the conversation started shifting to hard left that I did not anticipate, was that, “How about you serve as chair?” I’m like, “Wait, this ain’t even a real task force yet. You want me to be chair?”

“Yeah, because you have your ideas and what you’re thinking with something like that. How about you lead the task force?” I was like, “Okay.” Because I was kind of hesitant because I was not an official member of AIGA at this point. I’d always worked with AIGA, like some sort of ghost warrior on the end on the outside. But I never actually paid for a membership. But somehow I kept finding myself at AIGA events. And so I was like, all right, let’s talk. And he said there was a few people who are of like minds with this. And so we met, we talked, and I sincerely felt he actually wanted to do this. That he had a desire to see this happen and that to affect some sort of philosophical change within AIGA in the industry. And I was like, okay, that’s cool.

And that’s when I first met Ric. I went to a couple of their leadership meetings out in San Francisco to talk about the task force. I mean, I should have kind of seen it then when I gave that speech, I forgot who, it was with somebody else that we were talking. I can’t remember who it was. It was a last minute addition to the leadership summit. I kind of took that some kind of way. This was like, okay, it was last minute, but you’re president. Because he was in his last year. Now, I don’t know how much pushback he might have gotten, and having the experience I’ve had now I kind of understand maybe why he was trying to push it through his last year. Because I think he really did meet a lot of resistance. And so I think he just found a way to pigeonhole it in there and stuff.

Our presentation was sort of last. I really can’t remember who the other person was. But the response from the leaders there, these were chapter leaders about, well, in terms of this diversity task force and chapters looking at it, what if we don’t have any people of color here? Basically let’s put it straight. What if we don’t have any Black people? And I was like, “Okay, diversity does not mean just Black people.” I explained to them diversity means a group collection of different voices. And I said, “Just because there may not be any Black folks there, Latino folks, Asian folks there, you as white folks can still talk about diversity. There is different white folks too. There’s also the gay community, this disabled community. You can talk about diversity and how you can address practitioners of design who have been left out.”

You can be a participant and not some sort of like, well if you need help I’ll be over here but I’m not going to do anything until you ask me. The kind of snide blow back getting from that at that time kind of told me what we were headed for. But I was like, all right, fine. This is about education. Let’s school folks. Yes, I knew some chapters, they don’t have any Black people around. They probably not even been in the same room with a Black person, let alone anybody else. So back in New York, formulating these plans with the… Well actually, no, we were doing that in San Francisco. We started burgeoning a task force. It was, oh man, I’m so bad with names. I think Jose Nito out from Boston, Tracy Woods from St. Louis. There’s a brother down south, can’t think of his name. I see his site in my head. A white lady from DC, I can’t remember her name, and somebody else.

We were sort of like the initial pool. And so we started trying to put up strategies, what we’re going to do, what’s going to be the tenant of the task force, what are some of the things we’re going to try and achieve? How do we talk to chapters about this? And I was assured that the New York chapter, not New York chapter, because it’s always tricky because New York chapter is the headquarters. So it’s like, we were assured that headquarters would be a hundred percent behind this. Ric said, “Yeah, we’re going to do this.” I think Emily Woods is a name. I don’t know if she was on the board or if she was from DC, but there was some board members there or staff members from headquarters that were going to help coordinate this, set up some workshops, help supplement our plans. In meetings that I had with Ric, I talked about some of my ideas and some of the research that I had, which I still have a copy of that letter, where essentially I outlined the plan of what needs to be done with diversity task force in the infancy stage.

Because I knew, okay, I’m not going to hit you up with everything, because we got to convince you guys just to do a little bit first, and let’s test the waters to see how serious you are about this before wasting all of our time doing this. And I basically was telling him first and foremost, you can acknowledge now the invisible designers out here, the invisible pioneers both past and present. And that’s when I mentioned the idea that became Design Journeys. My plan was for that to be a roving exhibition going from chapter to chapter to chapter like they do with other stuff. Gave them a whole list of current, at that time current because this was a 2006, current and past design professionals that they could focus on and recognize for not only just AIGA and [inaudible 00:26:05] but just to make up for the, what’s the word I’m looking for? The blind eye that they existed and then set paths for people.

And again I was assured, yeah, we’re going to do this, we’re going to help put this through. And so as I tried to set up, oh that was Cooper, from Cooper Design in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, I forgot her name, her first name. As we were beginning to do and set up these programs with the assurances that Ric, the headquarters was going to be behind us, started having as we tried to put these planning meetings together more and more of this initial task force, the participation wasn’t existing. Folks, some of them checked out. There was only about three of us who were actively meeting, confirming, talking and trying to set stuff up. As they sort of slid off to the back burner, like oh we’re engaging in the conversations or attending the meetings, as we try to put plans to Ric and the headquarters team as, okay, can we set this up? They’re like, “We’re going to pass it to the board and talk about stuff and see if we can get allocations and resources.” Nothing ever happened. It was always a talk, “We’ll get back to it.” Let’s talk about this. What can we do?

And that went on for about a year of just, okay, we’ll get back and talk about it. And I was really getting very frustrated and pissed off about it because I’m like, okay, it’s like this has been set up to fail from get go. Headquarters is not doing anything. And then I got half this task force team that is MIA. The three of us can’t do all this stuff. And I’m not going to say the three people that were there. I’ll keep that out.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man. No, I’m kidding.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But they were very active. And the funny thing is they were active because we all shared the same thing. We were all people of color. Those who were active members on this. With the exception of the lady from DC, the white lady from DC, I have to say she was actually very active too. So it was from a biased perspective so to speak. We had a vested interest in this happening. Did not get that same vested interest from headquarters and from some of the task force members. And so as those task force members started whittling away, tried to shift the focus on, all right, let’s just stick with the task force members that are here and try and get at least something jumped off from headquarters.

They tied the diversity task force into their mentoring program because it was high school art and design. Well, predominantly most of the students are Black, Latino and Asian. But I was like, but that’s already in place. I mean yeah we can kind of put that, but if you’re trying to set this as a standalone, we got to do something that puts us out first. How about we first move with, at the time I had The Invisible Designer, but it became Design Journeys. I said, “How about this exhibition? Now let’s start introducing folks to these names.” Then there was this whole thing about money, how would it be, would it be a roving thing? Who can we put together? And that’s what I learned about the bureaucracy. AIGA is ridiculous. Which I think is on purpose because they definitely can move stuff when they want to.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m holding my tongue so much. But yeah, go.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I mean the biggest, I’d say two of the biggest programs that they definitely move fast was women in leadership, women in design, I forgot that. And then the voting. Oh, they’re moving heaven and earth to do that. And granted, yes, the women in leadership, great. You still didn’t focus on anybody of color in there. Still a whole lot of white people. But you can move heaven and earth for that. You can’t do it for there, where there could be potential sponsorship opportunities here, where you can get Adobe into this. You can get vendors that this is a necessary need because this broadens the industry. And quite honestly, if you just want to go business wise, increases your sponsor’s customer base. Because we all use the products that they do. We have to, this is our industry. So through all that, my time spent there was, like I said, we barely got a foot because it was all meetings and back and forth and conversations, like okay, we’re going to set this up.

All these emails that would have back and forth, I’m like, can we do something? And because of that inaction, basically most of the members left because they were like, “Okay, nothing’s going to happen.” And then eventually I was told, you know what, this chairpersonship should be every year, which I agree it should be every year. But I’m like, look, we haven’t even done anything yet. Because the next chairperson after that was Jose Nito, who was part of the original task force. And they still didn’t do anything. They still didn’t do anything. But then it was, what was it, in 20… When was the first design studios thing? When they got their promos and everything, they held it at AIGA headquarters. That was in 20 something? Twenty…

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know when that might have been.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
2015, 2016. Maybe it was earlier than that. Maybe it was 20-

Maurice Cherry:
I think it might have been earlier than that.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Because the only thing I saw came out of it was that in 2008, a year after I just basically left and the new chairperson came on board for the D&I task force, they awarded Georg Olden the medal. And I was like, all right, so you took something out of the list. And then the subsequent years I noticed they started pulling more of the names off that list, giving them AIGA medals. So I’m like, all right, cool. Now in the beginning a lot of it was the older ones, some passed, some were old. I don’t have the polite word to say, but I’m like all right. So at least you’re recognizing them, you’re still not giving a context to it. So it’s like a half assed kind of thing. It’s like, oh, let’s just do this. Because it definitely was done just to say, “Yeah, this is what we’re doing. We are recognizing diversity, we are recognizing our past invisible pioneers in the industry, and that’s all you need to know.”

They gave no context to it, anything like that. And then a few years later they started recognizing some living folks, which I’m like, all right, you can do a mix of living and past. It doesn’t have to be one year’s all dead, now you start going to living. But I noticed that they used quite a few of the names that was on the list that I provided. And I was like, all right, fine. At least something happened. I was like, I still think it’s for show. And then I got the bomb dropped in my mail when I got the promo card for the exhibition of Design Journeys. To say I almost felt like going down the AIGA headquarters and lightening it up. I was pissed because they created, I really thought it was just a empty shell of what it could have been. It definitely felt like a lip service. Definitely. I mean, I wasn’t doing it for any acknowledgement or anything like that, but the way they did it where it just was born out of them pissed me off to no end.

Still pisses me off to no end. Because every conversation I have with them is like, oh, we didn’t know you brought this to them. And I’m like, you mofos, it’s right there in black and white. Emails, letters. It’s like, yeah, yeah, okay, whatever. When I went to the thing, because they gave me it like, “Oh come down, Design Journeys, blah blah blah, this little promo.” And I’m like, you didn’t even spend the money for the kind of promos you do for everything else. It’s this matte cardboard thing that looks like it came out my own printer. I was just ashamed to see that.

And I went down there, it was just basically a wall of some names, and I’m like, this is really not a true testament to folks’ legacies and their work. I mean, you’re not even showing the full showcasing of their space, not their space, but of their actual work and what they went into. I was not a fan of it. I thought the exhibition design, I didn’t particularly like. And then they turned it into this exercise of, “What is diversity to you?” And it turned out was AIGAs membership at that time, it was still predominantly white folks coming in. I’m reading some of this stuff and I just got offended by some of the stuff that I was reading there. “Diversity is having some Black people, some white people. It’s about listening to a different perspective you don’t necessarily have.” I’m like, okay, you’re not really getting to the root of what it’s supposed to be.

Whiteboard exercise they had. I’m like, that means absolutely nothing. Because people are going to go in there, they’re drinking their little wine. “Oh, let’s do this because I’m down for the cause,” and then next day what cause, what are you talking about? So that incensed me. And I was just kind of done with AIGA at that point because all the conversations I had with Ric, in the beginning it started pleasant and nice but towards the end he definitely could tell my frustration. And I did start getting a bit raw, which I don’t think anyone’s ever talked to him raw before, he’s high in academia and stuff. But I was like, at that time “I’m done with this bullshit. This is crap.” I was like, “You’re not doing anything.” And then he retires, and they give him a big send off and I’m like, all right. Yeah, you did great for AIGA, but you left a huge part of your membership underwhelmed.

And that’s how that came to be, this leadership. I never really felt like I got a chance to do anything with the task force because it was such a step. The thing is, while going through all this, I came to City Tech because I was now teaching there and I would talk to Dorothy Hayes and that’s when I bumped into her and I was like, “Hey, by the way, let me tell you about we’re doing this diversity task force for AIGA.” She was like, “Oh God.” I was like, “What do you mean oh God?” “You do know that’s not the first time they’d done that?”

Was like, “We tried to do that in the seventies. Me,” meaning her, Dorothy Hayes and a few others, “And we got nowhere.” She told me, “Don’t trust AIGA. They’re going to give you the runaround. They’re going to make you think they’re doing all this stuff. You’re going to do all this work and it’s going to leave you empty.” They will find an excuse why they can’t do stuff. Because she said they’re not interested, they’re really not interested. They don’t see the value in it.

And that I have to say came to fruition. To this day I still don’t think AIGA values what really D, E and I really means about, because at this point I’m even saying that diversity, get rid of that word. That’s becoming a trend word. It is very much about inclusion. It is more about being included in the conversation.

Diversity means, okay, I got a representative here, there, there, we’re good. Those representatives don’t mean nothing. It’s like you come here, you can’t say nothing, don’t be seen. Just look good. At this point it is about inclusion and equity. Giving me that same access to that power pie that you have and not the crumbs. I don’t want the crumbs, I want the pie. I don’t think they value that. I don’t think they understand the value of it or intentionally underplaying it. I don’t know.

So those early years to the subsequent later time that I came back onto the task force with AIGA under a different leadership, Julie, Julie Anixter, who I actually liked, I thought she was on point because it all comes down to leadership. Because at the time it was Bill Grant who was pushing this, but his term ended. The next president came in. He had a completely different agenda and it was not about D&I. No. I forgot what he was working on. And then subsequently every board president after that has not picked up the ball with diversity. Let me stop saying diversity. With inclusion and equity.

And then they brought in Julie. At that time, the task force leader then was Jacinda Walker.

Maurice Cherry:
Jacinda Walker, yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And Jacinda I had met years ago from an OBD conference, and she was pegging me all these questions about a AIGA and I was telling her, because at the time I didn’t really know why. I was like, “All right, cool. You want to know about AIGA? Let me tell you the good, bad, ugly so you making an informed decision.” And she becomes the chairperson, which Jacinda has got energy for days. Which is great. I’m not that kind of person.

I loved how she reinvigorated, and actually that version of the task force got more stuff done than I ever seen. And I think a lot of it had to do with Julie. They were in sync. That got more traction and things going on, which reinvigorated me, honestly. I got reinspired. I didn’t want to do anything with leadership or anything like that. I was like, look, I’ll just be in the back. I’ll be a worker. Just put me in the back. I’ll work with you. I will say that was probably the best time working with AIGA was that iteration of the task force. From, I think I rejoined 2017 till 2018, until after Julie left. That was great. There was things happening and I really felt people were committed. That actually members were committed and that Julie was committed to it.

Now the board is another thing. Which at this point I feel the board has more power than the actual executive director of AIGA. I did not feel the same energy from the board. So with that, as we kept going through stuff and doing things and even the offshoots emerge, which was very interesting, and actually enjoyed working with that too. It was all about emerging designers, and that definitely was a more inclusive kind of recognizing designers and stuff like that. But Julie left, AIGA has gone through a major, major transformation. Seemed like they no longer support any of these programs. I haven’t seen anything about emerge. I no longer am a member of AIGA and won’t go back as a member of AIGA because during that last part, once Julie was gone, they had the interim CEO or interim executive director.

Maurice Cherry:
Barry.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, Barry. Somehow they got wind, I forgot, it was the engagement director or membership director who reached out to me. Because I had posted a Medium story about my frustration with AIGA, and they reached out to me probably just to cover their ass and for prep. “Oh we didn’t know this was going on. Explain this to us.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll talk to you. I don’t know why I’m talking to you. You a membership person. What are you going to do?” Come to find out after I explain all this stuff, she left three days later, she had a new job.

Maurice Cherry:
So that went nowhere.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That went nowhere. And I was like, okay, you guys are really wasting my damn time and you’re going to see Brooklyn come out with that if you keep going. So at that point I was like, I’m officially done. I’m officially done. Julie’s gone. I didn’t like how that went down. Definitely could see the support being pulled from the task force, left folks questioning what’s going on. So folks started peeling back and I was like, look, I’m not going through this road again. I’m like, I’m officially done. I ended my membership the end of 2018. I let it lapse, I said, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’ll join somebody else. I’ll go to SPD.” From that point on, I’ve just seen AIGA sort of disintegrate when they appointed the new executive director Bennie Johnson. Yeah, Bennie Johnson.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Bennie F. Johnson.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I was like, oh wow. They actually appointed a Black man. And I’m like, now is that for show or are they actually really serious? But I hadn’t seen anything with AIGA after that. I slowly started seeing all the initiatives being peeled away. And then to now, D, E and I task force is just a picture on the webpage. That’s it. They don’t do anything.

Maurice Cherry:
And now Benny’s no longer the executive director, which will be news by the time people listen to this. But yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I mean, what, three years, again, that’s crazy. So essentially that signals one or two things to me. That AIGA definitely may be in its death knell, or two it really is lost in what it’s trying to be. It definitely does not serve its membership anymore. Definitely doesn’t serve a segment of its membership. Even though I still keep an eye on what AIGA is doing and some of the things, the conferences, don’t get me started on AIGA in New York because they do nothing. I don’t see anything there. I will say I do see more faces of color on the speaker panels, which instinctually I’ll say when I read the bios and stuff, I’m like okay, you got folks of color here but they’re still not creative leads. They’re from other industries. If this is a design conference, show me the Black design leadership. Show me the Latino design leadership. Asian American, not Pacific Asian, basically darker skin Asians. They’re not represented. But you still have what I say, the Eastern Asian representation. That’s still there. But you don’t really have in terms of when it comes to a whole lot of brown folks up there, that it is more from some ancillary industry.

I’m like and that’s great, you may have some inspirational stuff, but I want to know about people in my own industry, how they’re leading, how they’re faring, how their experiences to get where they’re going. I can’t relate to somebody that’s speaking from, I don’t know, they just got a motivational speaking company, I could care less about them. Give me somebody who’s leading a top design company. I want to know the trials and tribulations with that. So to me, I still see AIGA’s doing this sort of face paint. They’re really not digging into it. I don’t even see them really digging into some of the major things that they always used to do. It’s dialed very back.

So I just wonder how long is AIGA going to be around, and who’s going to pick up that vacuum? Because to me it feels like there is a emptiness there of addressing this issue. Leading into OBD, which I thought would be a good variant to AIGA, they don’t do much either. Because I got aware of them both around the same time as AIGA and OBD. Because I learned about OBD back in the early nineties and I just stumbled on it. I forget how I found out about that. I think it might have been in HOW design, where they were talking about the conference that they put on OBD did in Philadelphia back in I think ’93, no, I think it was maybe ’96.

It was full blown. I mean, I saw so many design professionals that looked like me in these companies I never heard about doing this amazing work that I really thought that was going to do something, and it did nothing. It went nowhere after that. But that’s a whole of other reasons of internal fighting and the genders and what are they really after. Seemed like it was somebody’s method of supporting themselves. It was just a lot of, again, empty promises that kind of went nowhere. That didn’t really help the community at large and stuff. But it did, at least that conference showed me that I wasn’t alone, and that was just the one thing I wanted to do with AIGA so that beginning students or students coming in to design know that they’re not alone. That there’s other people out here that look like them that may have similar stories so that they can look up to and aspire to.

I still try to do that to this day to let people know that you’re not alone. That there are folks out here. They may not get the shine but it’s up to us to give the shine to them and stuff. But that was the experience with AIGA.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. So much of what you described just now is point by point what my experience was like being on the D&I task force with AIGA, it almost felt like your hands were tied at some point. You couldn’t say anything, you couldn’t do anything. We had a large amount of members, most of them never said a word. They just weren’t out there. And it was clear that for the people that were people of color that were out there, we were sort of being elevated more as the main group to the point almost where the group was more so associated with us personally than it was with AIGA.

And so when people started leaving, because when I came on, which was in 2014, Antoinette Carroll was a co-chair with this woman Aidan O’Connor who worked at AIGA. Antoinette was positioning to have a full-time diversity and inclusion employee at AIGA headquarters because she was making the case that this affects everything. This affects membership, this affects other organizations, having it as the side thing along with women in design and voting and stuff, it sort of takes it off of the main plate. It doesn’t give it as much prominence as it should. I know she was lobbying for that to happen. It didn’t happen. AIGA eventually hired this diversity and inclusion fellow I think who worked with the task force for a while. This guy named Obed Figueroa, he left and then people just started dropping off the task force left and right.

I left in 2017, not too long after Julie left the organization. And it’s funny you mentioned Jacinda. I brought Jacinda in.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh okay.

Maurice Cherry:
So I had met Jacinda prior to AIGA through, I had heard about the work she was doing with the Organization of Black Designers and with this studio out in Cleveland called GoMedia. They were putting together this event called Weapons of Mass Creation Fest every year. And Jacinda was on their ass about how come you all do this every year in Black ass Cleveland and ain’t no Black people there, how is that? What is that? She was getting on them about it. That’s when I first learned about her, and then she knew about the stuff I was doing with AIGA, and I was like, “Well, you should join. I feel like you can take what you’re doing on this local level and really amplify it.” This is before I knew how much they would tie our hands to do anything. Everything had to go through a particular AIGA conduit. This woman that worked there…I’ll say it, she was racist. She was racist, hands down. I’m not going to say allegedly. She was racist.

We would mention stuff to her. And the thing was us, the people of color on the task force, put this together. We put two and two together and I was like, wait a minute, why is she telling you one thing and telling me another thing? And she’d send us these random emails that looked like a ransom note because she would copy and paste from all these different places, and it just pissed a lot of people off because it was like we can do more individually than being part of this task force with this organization, because you won’t let us say anything through AIGA. We can’t do anything. We couldn’t even get an Instagram profile. The Design Journeys and all that stuff, we would recommend people, they would never push that stuff through. A lot of us left after that.

I know Jacinda was chair for a while. I know she left. And I think the only person that might still be around, because after I left, I know Douglas Davis has been on the show before, he also teaches at City Tech. He was doing stuff with them. This woman out of DC, Phim Her was doing stuff. George Garrastegui who’s in New York was doing things, and Carlos Estrada who’s out of AIGA Detroit.

I want to say Carlos might be the last surviving member of the task force. Because I don’t think George is doing anything with them. I don’t think Pam is doing anything. I know Jacinda’s does not. I want to say Carlos is the last person standing. But the way that AIGA internally eroded that task force from within, I mean it was like an ulcer just eating away at everyone’s motivation. We were trying to do surveys and we were trying to do all sorts of things and everything would just get, nope, shot down, don’t want to do it, can’t do this, this, this, that and third.

And I was lucky to have Revision Path and still fall on that. And they did one or two features about Revision Path, but then people would say, “Well how come you have Maurice doing Revision Path and doing 28 Days of the Web and AIGA isn’t doing something like that?” And I was like, you got to talk to them about that. I don’t know nothing about how to get things on the website. It was a pain to get anything on the website because it had to go through another channel and it was a mess. It was an absolute mess. And what I left, and I rescinded my membership I want to say in 2017, 2018, I still sort of kept tabs with the organization, or rather I should say the organization kept tabs with me. Because they would would keep hitting me up about stuff and different chapters would hit me up and I’m like, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to mess with you.”

It got to the point, especially with my local chapter, with AIGA Atlanta, I literally had to go to them and say, “Keep my name out your mouth. I know you are using me, you’re dropping my name to get other people in here. You’re dropping my name about stuff. It’s coming back to me. Keep my name out your fucking mouth.” And to this day they don’t. I mean, it’s whatever. But I say all that to say Benny came on 2019, 2020 ish. And I had him on the show. We talked about the importance of him coming on as the first Black person in the organization’s hundred year history. I know there was a lot that he tried to do. The pandemic I think also just threw a wrench in a lot of things. And I’m not using that as an excuse, but I don’t know what AIGA is going to do now. Because like I said, by the time this airs, news would’ve went out that Benny is no longer the executive director. I don’t know who else they’re bringing in.

And as you’ve said, and as I know, D&I through AIGA is only as strong as whomever the executive director is that’s championing for it. Without them being the person at the top to say, “We’re doing X, Y, Z,” nothing really happens. And I’ve been on the nominating committee for the board. So I see how the board operates, I know how that operates. And they do hold a lot of power. They can oust an ED. They’ve done it before. So I don’t know. AIGA is, look, if you are a designer and you hear the sound of my voice and you are actively paying dues to AIGA, and I’m not saying don’t do this, but I’m saying really take a hard look at what the organization provides for you as a modern designer.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
And I say modern because for a long time AIGA did not acknowledge UX. They didn’t acknowledge product design. And the reality is a lot of working designers now that work for tech companies or other places are UX designers. They are product designers. They’re experience designers. There are other designers that’s not just visual or web. I feel like the organization has started to acknowledge that a bit through some events. But what is the value of an AIGA membership to the modern designer? If you didn’t go to design school and picked up everything you know from YouTube or courses or a bootcamp or something and you’re working as a mid-level product designer at a tech company, what importance is AIGA going to be you? How is it really helping you as a career professional outside of just saying you’re a member?

I mean, I could be a member of the Subway Sub Club, but that don’t mean anything to the random, you know what I’m saying?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’m comparing this to RGD in Canada. If you’re an RGD member and you’re an RGD registered designer, that means something to companies because they found a way to really get themselves a part of the business community. I don’t think being an AIGA designer, now saying you’re a member of AIGA really means anything when you try to get a job or you’re talking to clients as a freelancer, I don’t think that means anything. It probably means something on a more local level depending on the visibility of the chapter.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
But as a whole, what does it mean? So I’m not telling people to give up their memberships. I am asking them to take a hard look at the money that they’re paying and see, is it really worth it?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. I mean, Canada, I’ve been contemplating moving to Canada mainly because of how the design community is looked at up there. I actually like the idea of registering as a graphic designer. I like that classification that Canada does because it seems like it has a more of a value added perk to you as a working professional and signifies that, hey, you know what you’re doing and you’re the real deal and that we’re going to help you with that.

I mean, for a whole host of reasons it’ll be like pulling teeth through I don’t know what in the US to do something like that. I don’t look upon AIGA in the same light as I did 20 years ago. I don’t look at it as like, oh, they’re going to help me. Because honestly, in my career, has AIGA ever got me a job? No. Has AIGA ever really connected me to any of the superstars within AIGA? No. I’ve met some in passing through meetings and workshops, but no one’s ever really vested any interest in trying to talk to me more than just, “Hey, how you doing?”

I’ve actually been kind of shunned by some folks in AIGA. A lot of the events that I used to go to, every time I would kind of step in, I’d always get this look like, what are you doing here? Even when I went into the headquarters, last time I went to the headquarters for something, I forgot what it was. I mean, the staff there was looking at me, and they were younger than me, I mean, looking at me like who’s this Black man in here? What you doing?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I’m just like, ooh. So tell students that, I tell them AIGA is a good resource to find information. That’s what I look at AIGA as of right now. Just an information tool. I still think AIGA is very good in terms of the business information they have on there. It’s great. I don’t need to get in, I don’t need to talk to anybody about that. I can just pull off the information, look at the resources and stuff like that. Cool. You’re a great library for that. But for the true socialization and the true advancement for designers, as I’m seeing now as I guess I fall into the seasoned category now, I don’t see them doing anything about seasoned professionals. It’s more like you don’t exist. We’re only focused on designers up to 30.

I try to tell students it’s a good resource for that information. But as a member, really think about the value that you may get out of it. You go to some initial events to see how you think about it and see if you see any concrete pros and cons is going to help you personally from that experience. And being the fact that the national headquarters is the New York City chapter is a double edged sword, because the New York City chapter honestly to me is dead as a doornail. They don’t do much. They didn’t do much before Covid, they don’t do much now. And it’s like, so if you join that, what is it really helping? And I hate saying that to folks, but I don’t want them to go through the experience I’ve went through, especially when there’s other organizations that I see. Yeah, they’re more of a specific design orientation like Society of Publication Designers.

They seem a lot more active and a lot more forward thinking on what they’re trying to do and who they showcase and how they extend stuff. I’m really thinking about joining them. I’m kind of gun shy because I’m like, do I really want to join another organization at almost $300 a year? I don’t know. I don’t know. And then walk away feeling unsatisfied. I mean, because I could do something else with that money. It is tempting, at least what I see in the presence of what they do, they’re [inaudible 01:01:18] above more stuff than what AIGA does. AIGA’s big focus is their conference. And I think that’s just a money driver. I think it’s fair for folks to start questioning the value of it. And if it’s not of value, then it’s time to either create something brand new or maybe just dissolve it completely and rethink this whole process from scratch.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean it’s interesting because, yeah, you’re right. You’re right. I don’t have anything to add. No notes. 10 out of 10, right?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s different nowadays. I’m approaching I guess 30 some odd years, 32 years working. Because I started working as a sophomore in college. What gets me excited now about what I do is not so much, I’m not driven by the money anymore, which is kind of backwards to say. But I actually just like trying to educate people about what design really is in terms of a strategic path. I think too many people see design as just make me something pretty. And I’m like, no, it’s a lot more deeper than that. It’s about a strategic path on how you can make your company’s voice sing. And I like doing that. I get more excited about doing work for not-for-profits because they’re doing some really good work, a lot of them. But when you come across them you’re like, oh my god, what is this?

There’s no thought, no rhyme and reason. They look mismanaged when the organizations really aren’t. They have a plan, they know what they’re doing. It’s just the only thing is their front facing is not as organized as their internal specter. And that stuff is what gets me excited today is doing a lot of not-for-profit, dare I say pro bono work where taking away, I mean, yeah, I do non-profit work at a discounted rate, but pro bono stuff, you take away the money thing and you just focus on just creating to help them just for the altruistic nature. I don’t know, I just get a very different feeling. It just really inspires me because it’s like I’m helping you become better, to help you take yourself to another level that you deserve to be at.

And that I find in this aspect of my career is what truly motivates me today. If folks are willing, I like telling them about design and how it helps and what it can do, which is why I like teaching. And I think design education is paramount both for clients and students. Because I think as a designer, I think it’s our responsibility to also educate our clients about the power of design and what it truly is. But teaching, I feel like with all the experience and everything that I’ve gained over these 30 years, I feel I’ve been very fortunate and blessed. My career’s gone through so many different curves. It’s nowhere where I initially started seeing myself, where I envisioned there’s going to be some high powered VP of design at some mega billionaire company where I’m jetting from country to country and stuff like that. That doesn’t appeal to me and stuff. What appeals to me is just passing forward this design legacy to beginnings designers and so that they have a better experience than what I have had in my beginning journeys and stuff. And so that’s what excites me today.

Maurice Cherry:
What does success look like now? I mean, you’re at this point in your career where you have really seen design through all these different changes. Of course you mentioned being a design educator. What does success look like?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I would say immediately, right off the top of the head, some of the successes I like is when some of my former students have landed jobs that they really wanted and they come back and say they actually really value what I’ve done and help push them to be better than what they were when they were studying. They say, “Well yeah, you’re a little bit of a hard ass, but I get why you did that. It’s got me where I am today.” And we still keep in touch. They’ll contact me about industry advice, to just basically to have an air. That’s a success to me. But overall, I just find success in that, if I can actually just help someone, an organization, just put their message out a little more clearer. That they feel better about themselves, that I feel is a success to me. That’s how I’m counting that. Is how well does my knowledge or how does my help make them feel better about what they’re doing and stuff like that.

To me, I feel that’s more of a success I count today. I’m not discarding money. I still [inaudible 01:06:44] money, but I’m not driven by that, and that’s a fleeting success. Because I’ve been there when it’s been coming in like buckets and then when it’s dust, [inaudible 01:06:55] desert, it is more of the untangible successes that I think is great because that’s what’s lasting. So if I can help somebody else, they will remember that, and that just helps propel them. So while the name may not be there, the root of that help grows forever. I mean who doesn’t want that? That’s eternal. That’s great. And I find that success. Yeah, that’s how I’d answer that. If that’s clear. I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
I think so. Yeah. Now this might be a harder question to answer, but I’ll ask it.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Uh oh.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I’m actually asking myself that now. I’ve been toying with the idea of in about five years, which I’ll be 60, which I still can’t get my head wrapped around. God, I got to take a breath on that one. In five years I still want to be a practicing designer, but I want to see myself pull back. I want to see where I’m doing design more at a leisurely pace. I see myself still teaching part-time but in a different scenario where I’m really seriously contemplating on starting my master’s next year to be able to teach at any institution. Because you need a master’s to move around outside of where I’m teaching at community college. And I’m 75% sure, I think I may actually move from being an in-house designer and going back to a full-time studio. I’m thinking in five years I may want to resurrect a physical entity of Straight Design, which it probably will not be called Straight Design because I’m thinking about rebranding myself completely.

But that’s sort of where I see, I don’t see myself ever retiring. Because people say, “Well okay, five years you’d be 60, then there’s 65. What about retirement?” I can’t do retirement. I have some friends who are retired early, they look bored as crap, and I can’t do that. And the thing is, I still feel design. I still get very much invigorated when I see great design. I still keep my nose to what’s happening in the industry as fast as it’s changing. And I’m also very interested in that, I’m hoping within the next five years that I can actually transition into a field that kind of peaks my curiosity, and that’s motion graphics. Whether or not to get a full-time gig for that, but to be able to offer that as a service. And to be honest, just to be selfish, I just think it looks cool.

I’ve done a little bit of motion graphics now and it’s intriguing, it’s fascinating and it’s fun. It’s fun doing that to take this static idea and bringing it into a motion life,, is something that I’d like to do more of, especially since I see that as the way design will start changing as we move from the platform of the basic augmented and virtual reality platforms we have now, which is clearly in its cell phase. I can’t even call it embryo, it’s still in the cell. That doing something, and I can’t say I’m a big fan of social media, it has its place, but I like the premise of how you, not necessarily the still aspect of social media, how Instagram originally started that it was all photos. Now it’s all videos. So you might as well just say TikTok.

That aspect of promoting stuff from a brand ad perspective is fascinating to me, because that’s where you can apply the motion graphics to that. It’s high hopes, but I kind of see myself doing more of that in five years. So like I said, I’m dabbling a little bit right now with it, that I’m trying to incorporate a little bit more into my full-time job. To feel comfortable enough to be able to offer that to clientele. That’s about as far as I can see what I think myself for five years, because in just the last five years I’ve gone through such a major transition professionally and personally that I’ve learned I’m not trying to forecast anymore, because tomorrow could be very different right then and there. So five years could be a very, very long way aways, and many different things go. But that’s kind of where I see my vision board for five years might be.

And that could change next week too. Because I have become very sort of transitory, I’ve been very flexible about, oh, where we’re going to go. I don’t know. Let’s see where the journey takes us kind of thing. Because at this point I don’t feel I need to prove anything to anybody. I don’t need to prove anything to myself. I actually just want to enjoy myself and I just want to contribute with, especially more so in terms of, wow, as I’m listening to myself in my head as I’m thinking about this, that Lord help me, do I want to actually become more of a social activist? I don’t know. I’d like to actually as these issues are popping up more and more in society, as a global society because you can’t really say we’re stuck in our own little neighborhoods anymore. But I want to do my part and help on that kind of scale.

In some part that also too is in that projection for the next five years. Maybe it’s a lofty idea, but it’s something that’s kind of sparking some initial interest now that I want to see how that, once I plant these seeds where it may grow within five years. But that’s where I see still doing the stuff and just hopefully still looking as young as I do now for five years. And just hoping my kids are, because they seem to, my son’s on this creative journey that I hope he’s successful in what he’s doing, and helping guide him as much as I can. As well as my daughter who is still trying to find herself. But she has a really strong creative base, even though she keeps trying to deny it. To make certain that they, like I said, my son makes certain that his career path is as solid as it can be, and to really try and guide my daughter because by that time she’ll be going to college. Kind of push her to be a creative too. So yeah, that’s what I see.

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
They can find me on my website str8tdesignllc.com. But the domain is not spelled as you would say straight, it’s S-T-R, the number eight, the letter T, designllc.com, had to play off of that because somebody took the domain Str8t Design. They could find me there. They could also find me on Instagram as Str8t Design spelled as you just say it on Instagram. That’s generally my main two points where you can find me, because my social media presence really is contained to just Instagram. I no longer use Twitter and I don’t really use anything else. I just use Instagram and my basic website.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Andrew Bass, wow. I mean, I knew that this was going to be a great conversation, but this was a conversation and a history lesson and a therapy session. This was so much wrapped into one. I mean, first of all, I just want to thank you for just the work that you’ve done. I mean a lot of what you’ve done in terms of just educating and then also even the work with AIGA has really kind of set the platform for me to even do what I do here with Revision Path. Like you were one of the first people that I interviewed back before this was all a podcast and everything. And to see that you’re still continuing to do this work throughout the years, that you can really speak truth to history about how things have went and how technology has changed design and everything. I hope folks get a chance to really listen to both parts of this episode, of these episodes, I should say, to really get the full breadth of what it is that you bring to the design community. And I hope to see you honored one day. I mean, through AIGA, maybe we’ll see, I don’t know, but I think what you’ve brought to the design industry is indispensable. And I just want to thank you so much for sharing that perspective here with our audience. So thank you for coming on. I appreciate it.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I thank you for that and I thank you for interviewing me. It was a really cool talk, great to listen and listen to hearing myself talk. And actually it was very therapeutic to actually share some of the agony going through some of this and just trying to lay groundwork for future folks, trying to lessen the burdens that they’re going to have to face. And the fact that in 2022, coming into 2023, that this is still going to have to go on is sort of mind numbing to me. But it’s still very much the fight to happen. I may not have as much fire in this fight as I used to because I’ve taken a reprieve and taken a step back because it does kind of wear you down a bit. But I’m kind of been refreshing myself to like, you know what? Let’s throw my hat back in this one last time.

It won’t be with AIGA, it’ll be actually doing through some other things, because forget them. It’s time to go to other means out there, and actually just basically ourselves. Because I still have floating in my head, even though we’ve had OBD, no, yeah, OBD, which has had mixed results, I still feel very much that if this is going to change, that we have to do it for ourselves. Completely independent and self sustained.

Maurice Cherry:
A hundred percent, a hundred percent. I believe that. Again, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No problem. Thank you.

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