Fred Noland

This week on Revision Path, I’m sharing my conversation with visual storyteller Fred Noland. You might have seen his recent illustration work in The New Yorker, but he’s been featured in newspapers, magazines and museums throughout his extensive career.

We talked about navigating work and creativity during this pandemic, and he spoke on an ongoing project of his — a graphic novel about professional cyclist Major Taylor. We also discussed representation in comics, his artistic influences, and his podcast Serious Moonlighting. Fred’s voice and his work are an important addition to the world of visual storytelling, and I hope we’ll see and hear more from him in the future!

Sponsor

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

William Hill

The great thing about talking with so many people for Revision Path is discovering just how many things we share in common with our fellow brothers and sisters. That’s why I’m so glad for folks like William Hill who are out here embodying what it means to work with purpose.

We started off talking about how we’re both coping at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, and William went in depth about his new role at New Relic, as well as his former role as a software engineer and team lead at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. William also shared his story of growing up in a small southern town, and talked about how he defines success at this stage of his life and career. Give this week’s episode a listen for a healthy dose of inspiration!

Sponsor

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, five weeks.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

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

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
I can’t answer things simply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
Oh, I know about Layer Tennis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
Big dry spell?

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

Randall Parrish:
Everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so you have a Switch?

Randall Parrish:
I have a Switch, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
PS4?

Randall Parrish:
Yep. PC.

Maurice Cherry:
Got a Xbox One? PC?

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Agreed. I agree.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
That’s correct.

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

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

Sponsors

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Roland A. Wiley

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

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

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

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
RAW International. Gotcha.

Roland A. Wiley:
Right.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
In our community.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Tell us about it.

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

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

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

Roland A. Wiley:
Right, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland A. Wiley:
Hot and Cool.

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

Roland A. Wiley:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
That’s fair.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
No MBE kind of thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland A. Wiley:
Not yet.

Maurice Cherry:
Not yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds about right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
What do you mean by that?

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

Maurice Cherry:
No.

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

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

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

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

Roland A. Wiley:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
They are some nice shoes.

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

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

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

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

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

Alison:
Alison.

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

Speaker 4:
Okay.

Roland A. Wiley:
Here’s Shaw.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Amen to that. Absolutely.

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

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

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

Speaker 5:
There it is.

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

Speaker 5:
It’s money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, go ahead.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you everybody for coming out.


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

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

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

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

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I heard that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Shout out to Mike.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Howse: Right, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Howse: Always a pleasure, Maurice.

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

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

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

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