Erwin Hines

I first learned about Erwin Hines last year when we profiled him for 28 Days of the Web. He serves as creative director at BASIC®, a branding and experience design agency that builds digital products and services that turn cultural values into company value. Creative direction is definitely a great fit for Erwin, as you’ll discover as you learn more about his story.

We talked about Erwin’s upbringing in Cleveland, and he shared the moment that he knew design was his calling. Erwin also spoke a lot about fellowship and empathy, including how the spaces we create — even digital ones! — can uplift a community. He even hipped me onto the San Diego creative scene, including his latest project — a monthly pop-up series called Crafted. Erwin is proud of where he comes from and who he is, and he represents that clearly through his work and by reinvesting in the community that supports him. It’s a great message for Black History Month that I hope will inspire you!

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Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Erwin Hines:
My name is Erwin Hines and I am a creative director or one of the two creative directors at BASIC Agency. Our headquarters are located in San Diego, but we have offices in Mountain View as well as St. Louis.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Talk to me about your work at BASIC. What’s an average day like for you there?

Erwin Hines:
Oh, man. My role as a creative director is different from some of the other creative directors at the agency’s role. We each kind of focus on our unique specialty. It’s pretty expansive. I focus a lot on client work of course. And so that just involves managing teams of two to maybe five people and guiding the process throughout the duration or the lifetime of a specific project with one of our clients and doing all of the initial strategy. And so at BASIC, we don’t necessarily have a traditional strategy department. We expect all of our creatives to actually dive deep into strategy. That’s understanding the different cultural nuances of the client’s audience and making sure that we are making those unique connections based on what the client’s goals are and what the audience actually values.

Erwin Hines:
At the base level, that’s one of my roles at BASIC, but since I’ve been there for seven years, was one of the original people at the company, I’ve also really taken it upon myself to help guide the brand as a whole. As an agency, we don’t necessarily just view ourselves just as a service company. We also view ourselves as a brand that we’re constantly trying to build. One of our products that we deliver is our service, right? We’re very inspired by brands like Nike of course. And so my other role is really heading up what our brand looks like, what our brand feels like, what our brand sounds like, and then all of our different community initiatives that we do.

Erwin Hines:
Our podcast, Brand Beats, that’s one of the things I kind of head up. Then we also have a community series called Crafted that was actually built to help bring together the different creatives within San Diego and help them to rub shoulders and break down the barriers between the different industries or creative verticals. And so I do a lot of community stuff as well as the client stuff. So again, it’s pretty expansive.

Maurice Cherry:
That is really expansive. One thing that you just touched on there, which I thought was interesting, is that you expect the creatives … I’m imagining these are individual contributors, right?

Erwin Hines:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
You expect them to get into the strategy. Often that strategy part tends to be reserved for maybe someone higher up the ranks, like maybe a creative director or art director. Why did you all decide to take that approach?

Erwin Hines:
I think it came out of necessity. When I joined, there was only five people, so all projects, we had to wear a lot of hats. I joined as a senior designer, but as a senior designer, I had to come in and build brands and all of that stuff and we didn’t have a strategy department. And what we realize is that having that designer or that creative from the very beginning thinking about the brand strategy, thinking about how the brands needs need to be met and/or what the consumer’s actual desire is and how the product that we’re trying to market or trying to build a digital experience for actually meets that consumer’s need, and having the designer onboard from the very beginning just creates a stronger, more seamless kind of project and process as well as just a stronger experience in the end. And so it’s just sort of stayed that way because we realize the value in it from the beginning.

Maurice Cherry:
And now with one of the products of BASIC kind of being the service that you deliver, is that something that came as sort of an organic evolution of the agency?

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, I would say so. And I think again, it’s mainly because we like to view ourselves as a brand, and all great brands, the things that they create add to their larger sort of why, their larger sort of essence and their larger perspective. And so we like to make sure we’re always considering what is our larger perspective, what is our why as a company and how are we bringing that forward through the work we do. And probably that also comes from the fact that we build a lot of brands for our clients and we always tell them to start with the why, understand why you exist, what your customer wants, and then make sure you’re delivering on that constantly. And then all of the things that you do are just really an ecosystem of consumer touch points that reflect your why. And so I think we just internalize that ourselves and try and make sure that we’re constantly focusing on refining and defining our why so that our work at the end of the day can become stronger.

Maurice Cherry:
How did you first get started at BASIC?

Erwin Hines:
Seven years ago, I was actually doing freelance. And so I was freelancing, working at home, not working with anybody, not working with other designers, just working with clients, and I was doing that for about six months. I started to get very, very restless because before that I hadn’t been at a couple other agencies so I was always able to toss ideas off of people, always able to feed off of the other creative energy, and I thought I would really, really love that freelance lifestyle where I get to do anything I wanted and hang out all day and take whatever days I wanted off and all of that stuff. But after six months, I, again, started to feel a little bit stir-crazy. I didn’t have people to toss ideas off of, and BASIC actually reached out to me because I was doing some freelance work through an ex-employee of BASIC. And so through that ex-employee, Matt Faulk, who owns BASIC, actually saw my work and decided to reach out to me.

Erwin Hines:
And at first, so a little bit of a funny story. There’s actually a pizza place in San Diego that’s really big called BASIC and it was located across the street from the agency I had previously worked at and we would go there every single day. So when BASIC reached out to me via email, at first I thought it was a pizza company asking for me to become a designer at the pizza company. And at that point my freelance work was Activision, Sony. I had big clients as a freelancer. And so I was like, “No, why would I ever want to meet with these people?” But because it came through the referral of one of my other freelance clients, I decided to go meet with them and was pleasantly surprised that it was an agency that was doing amazing work.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, talk to me about the team that you’re working with here, because I would imagine after seven years the agency has went through a lot of changes, you probably went through a lot of changes as a professional. What’s your make-up like now?

Erwin Hines:
I was going to say we do. So I think there’s two answers to that question. One is over the years, we didn’t focus on this and this wasn’t a thing we tried to do, but because the company is ran by a black man, so Matt Faulk is black and then a lot of the leadership is black as well as women, we’ve actually created a very, very diverse team with people from all over the world, all different cultures, all different perspective. And that was just because we truly valued different ideas and different perspectives coming together in one space and felt like that collision of differing perspectives and ideas actually fosters better work, right?

Erwin Hines:
So that was the perspective we had every time we would hire someone new. We were like, “Do you challenge us? Do you come with something different?” And if they did, that’s when we knew that this was the right person. Of course, taste level, great work, great portfolio, all of that stuff was like table stakes. Yes, have all of that stuff, but you have to challenge us. And so that’s why I was like, “Please ask that question again,” because I had to make sure I gave this a proper response.

Erwin Hines:
Again, that’s one side. And then as far as the make-up of the team, it’s pretty standard. We have about … I’m going to probably mess up the numbers … We probably have about 35 people in our San Diego office, 40 to 50 people in the Mountain View office, and then we have like eight people in our St. Louis office. And so the St. Louis office is really an extension of the San Diego office. It supports a lot of the work that we do in San Diego. And then the Mountain View office is really just focused on Google, and then some of our other sort of Bay Area clients, but their main focus is Google.

Erwin Hines:
And so that team make-up is a lot different than the team make-up in San Diego. The team make-up in San Diego is project-based for individual clients. So you’ll have teams of three or four. We like to try and keep them small so they can be a lot more agile and nimble as well as allow all of the designers to really have direct contact with the clients. That way, there’s no hidden people, right? We always want to kind of elevate and empower all of our creatives, like I was saying with strategy, to really be the face of the company and to be able to someday lead their own projects. That’s really our goal, right? We really want to make sure that each person grows. We have junior designers, senior designers, art directors, creative director, and then we have kind of the higher level leadership team that helps guide and really think through the vision and mission of the entire agency.

Erwin Hines:
All of those departments and all of those groups, we do our best to work seamlessly together. We strategically have set meetings so that whatever the leadership talks about can then be distilled down and shared to the rest of the team as well as we have methods for communication in the other way. So we can take things that maybe a new designer comes in and has some frustration points or some tension points with some points in the culture and all of this other stuff and maybe has some great ideas. We have tools and really it’s just talking, but we have tools, that allow that new designer’s frustrations or ideas to bubble up to the surface to the leadership team, and that’s how a lot of stuff at BASIC is really done. It’s more so done from the younger creatives or from the ground level as opposed to top down.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s an interesting kind of model and it’s something that I’ve noticed as I honestly am interviewing and hiring creatives and stuff is that there certainly is more, at least I’m finding that there’s more of a need to have designers that have sort of led projects in that way, maybe not necessarily from end to end, but they were more than just, say, a team member that did visual design. They actually had a project or part of a project that they really got to completely oversee. So it’s good that you’ve got the agency kind of structured in that way to work with clients.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, and I think also, it benefits us at the end of the day and of course, the designers, because then these creatives are well-versed if there has to be a shift in our agency. They’re not just trained in one skillset. We like to say they’re trained in brand building, which extends past websites, extends past UX, extends past whatever new medium or media type there will be. But now you understand the foundations of how to build a company that resonates with people. And then whatever that company needs in order to speak to that audience, we can create it.

Maurice Cherry:
And now speaking of clients and projects, one of the clients you’re working with are the Webby Awards, which people know from … I don’t know if I even mentioned this on the show, but I’m one of the judges this year. How did you all end up working with them?

Erwin Hines:
That was an honor because they honestly just reached out to us. They didn’t do any pitching process. They just reached out to us because we have won so many Webby Awards within the digital category over the past five years. And so I think because of that, they looked at us firstly but then they also saw the quality of our work and our focus on really elevating the brand and trying to define new UX patterns because we went a lot in best practices and we do that by trying to look at and understand and really pull forward what your brand’s actual unique value proposition is, what your brand’s mission is, very similar to when people are creating a retail experience for Ralph Lauren or when people are creating a retail experience for Off-White.

Erwin Hines:
Those stores look different because they’re trying to express what is inherently different about that brand, and far too long, digital experiences, we’re moving away from that because everybody was sort of moving to these templatized systems because they were deemed as easier to use. And so I think that we came in because we started … the agency started doing at the very foundation was mainly branding and I think that’s why we approach all of our projects with a very, very brand-heavy mindset. And so they saw that we really hone in on what that brand’s message is, what the nugget of truth is and pull that forward into the digital experience to create something that is still very, very easy, simple to use, but also has just a touch of difference, something that expresses that brand.

Maurice Cherry:
What are the best types of clients for you to work for?

Erwin Hines:
I honestly think for me all clients are the best type of clients. That might sound like a cop-out answer, but the-

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a little bit of a cop-out answer. I was going to push back on that.

Erwin Hines:
No. I was going to say, the reason I say that, because I mean, obviously I have ideal clients. The ideal client is somebody who wants to be super open and super collaborative, challenges us, very similar to what we look for when we look for new employees. It’s almost the same as when we look for our ideal client, right? We want to be challenged. We want to be pushed. We want this work to be the best work that we’ve ever done. Not saying that it needs to be the craziest design, but it expresses your brand, it tells your story and you want to push us because you know your industry better than we do, and we know digital maybe better than you do. That’s what we really look for when we’re looking for relationships.

Erwin Hines:
The reason I say all clients is only because I’ve been in situations where at first I was like, “I don’t want to work with this type of client,” or, “This type of client is really, really frustrating,” but just based on my time being in this industry or maybe it just comes from my me being a black man in America, just realizing that most situations are not easy and I’d rather look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow than ever a challenge that I need to run from. And so even those clients that are super challenging, I think I learn something new, I learn how to look at something new, I learn how to navigate a new area or a new industry or a new client and deliver something good at the end of the day.

Erwin Hines:
And as an agency in general, because our product that we deliver at the end of the day is this service of design, we look at our clients who’s reaching out to us really as our consumer or a customer and we try and understand their latent needs. We try and understand what’s frustrating them about their company, what hierarchy they have to go through, what pushback they’re getting. We don’t look at our project in a silo saying, “We have to get this through and all this stuff.” We really try and understand what the client is going through, what the individual, the person, is going through at that organization so we can help them at the end of the day.

Erwin Hines:
At the end of the day, their goal is to create this product, get this website done, get this digital experience done, get this brand done so that they can help their company be successful, ultimately helping them be successful. And so we try and understand their pathway of growth and all of that stuff. I think that’s why I’m like, “Every client is great,” because every client is a person and at the end of the day, we’re here to help people, not just create websites.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. Great explanation there. I like that. Let’s just switch gears. And talk about your work at BASIC, and I do want to get more into some of the community work, but tell me about where you grew up.

Erwin Hines:
Actually, I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.

Maurice Cherry:
Ah.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah. Grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Love it still. Just can’t move back there mainly because there’s not the job opportunities, although it is having this really awesome resurgence. Every time I go back, which is only once a year and it’s during the winter, so it’s probably not the best time to come back from San Diego that’s always sunny, but every time I go back it’s like there’s something new. There’s new energy. There’s new creatives moving into that city. So every time I go back it is cool and it makes me miss it, but again, I can’t move back purely because of the industry and now my investment in San Diego.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that makes sense. For folks that have listened to the show for a while, they know I’ve got family in Cleveland. My dad’s side of the family is from Cleveland, Shaker Heights.

Erwin Hines:
What?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Erwin Hines:
Oh wow. Yes. Most of my family, my dad’s side all grew up in Shaker. I grew up in Beachwood. So if you have family that is from Shaker, I feel like there could be a connection. They might know them.

Maurice Cherry:
Probably so.

Erwin Hines:
My family is heavily involved in community stuff in Cleveland and they were a family of five or six in the Shaker school system, and so they had somebody in almost every grade. There probably is some overlap.

Maurice Cherry:
I think there probably is. Yeah. Growing up there, I mean, was creativity a big part of your childhood?

Erwin Hines:
Yes, I would definitely say so. I think I always had an inkling for creative. My family would push me into doing sports. I think that was just by default what my family did. Everybody played sports. Everybody was good at sports, and so on top of me wanting to be creative and my parents supporting that, so they put me in art classes, they encouraged me to try music, although I sucked. I tried to play trumpet, the worst experience. And at some point I actually thought I could sing and I thought I could play piano but it was just me playing on my parents’ piano and I’ll be in the living room singing and trying to play.

Erwin Hines:
I think about it now and that had to be so cringeworthy, and my parents wouldn’t yell at me. They would just let me do it. So I think I had very, very supportive parents when it came to exploring my creativity. But again, I was also pushed to do sports. But in high school, I actually dabbled in pattern-making. I really, really loved clothing and creating my own clothes. So that was my main form of creative expression throughout high school was making clothes or making shoes.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh really? Wow.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah. I viewed that as … I drew and stuff when I was younger, super young, but then as soon as I got into high school and I touched the sewing machine, I was like, “Oh, this is dope. I can create the things that I put on my body. I don’t have to wear other people’s stuff.” That was so cool to me and I viewed it as this living testament to who you are inside, so it was like this walking billboard of sorts. Billboards sound so markety, but the reality is this walking art piece. I always found that very powerful. I didn’t realize the power of it. I think I liked it on a very shallow level, but there was power in creating something that I was going to put in my body or that other people desire to put on their body.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you sort of know then … I mean, with not only this exposure that your parents supported, but even now you’re talking about fashion and apparel and stuff like that … when did you kind of know, “Oh, this is something I could do for a living”?

Erwin Hines:
I actually didn’t know that until my second half year in college. Well, because my parents supported it, but it wasn’t like … I didn’t have any patterns to look at when it came to a designer. I didn’t know any designers. I didn’t know anybody who made it in fashion design or I didn’t even realize fashion design was a thing. I was doing it, but I didn’t realize it was like a thing. I never fathomed that. My access to creative profession was actually architecture and so on top of doing fashion stuff in high school, I also did a lot of CAD and took architecture classes and that was mainly due to the …

Erwin Hines:
… classes. And that was mainly due to the fact that I had exposure because my parents owned a development company and so I saw it. And that was like, “Oh, I don’t really…” I saw construction as a place I can go in my … So my parents owned a development company and then my grandparents on my father’s side owned a successful exterminating company and landscaping company. I’m sorry, my grandparents on my father’s side owned the landscaping company, my grandparents on my mother’s side owned the successful exterminating company. So those were like the pathways that I was exposed to on top of doctors and all of that stuff, but those were the entrepreneurial pathways that I saw.

Erwin Hines:
And so out of all of those I was like, “Oh designing landscaping, like a landscape architect, that’s kind of cool.” Or designing a home where people can live and creating these spaces that impacts your emotions and, and all of that stuff, I found that deeply interesting. So I took some architecture classes in high school just to learn CAD and I also did like my senior project at my parents’ company with the architect.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s convenient.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah. That was super convenient. But again, it was basically what I was exposed to. It made my path way longer to get to realizing that design was a thing I could do. So then my first year in college I studied… Or my focus was construction management. And with that I wanted to really focus on this idea of architecture or city planning. And that was partially due to the fact that when I was seeing my parents build these homes, so they build homes in… They built affordable housing in the inner city and when I saw them doing that, and then we would actually go back and always meet with and talk to all of the people that we build homes for to help maintain them because we also had the landscaping business, and we also had the exterminating business. So we would actually help these people maintain their homes. And it was amazing just the connections and then the joy that we would see on these people’s face, right?

Erwin Hines:
And I think I was very, very impacted by that, the fact that again, space things that we create can uplift a community. That to me was like, “What the heck? This is incredible, this is incredible.” And so that’s what took me in this space of really trying to pursue architecture or city planning. And my whole thing of city planning was like how do you actually create spaces and cities that are equitable for both the privileged and the underprivileged and how do you bridge that gap between those two to actually begin to create some empathy so people understand the other side? To me empathy is the biggest thing in the world because once you have a sense of understanding, true understanding, not just like, “Oh yeah, I know what you’re saying but I don’t care.” Once you have true empathy from both sides, then we can begin to push forward and work together to create equitable solutions for everybody. That might be hella idealistic, but that was my mission, my goal, my vision. But-

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like nowadays what they called that, service design or something to that effect. So you were ahead of the curve there?

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, except the only challenge was I hated math. I hated it. So been like I’m there, I’m designing cool things, but none of them can be built so my teachers are like, “You know, you can’t make this at all.” And I’m like, “But it will be cool though, if you could, right? Right?” And so my first year in college, that was happening and then I also took art history classes. And I had never ever taken an art history class so I didn’t understand the history of art, I didn’t understand the story of art, I didn’t understand the depths of art really before I went to college. So that first year I also took an art history class.

Erwin Hines:
In that class they’re teaching us about like Basquiat, they’re teaching us about Picasso, so they’re teaching us about… It was a very in depth all history of art. And they’re talking about the impact that each one of these artists had had and how they were… And this is something that I took away, where it’s like every single artist was… every great artist was basically acting as a mirror reflecting society’s ills back to itself so that society could actually digest it and understand it. Because in our day to day life, we move so fast, we don’t actually take time to sit and think and see what’s happening in front of us. And the purpose of art has been to create and take a moment and take a chunk of time and give it to us in a digestible way so that we actually can understand what’s happening, right?

Erwin Hines:
So great writing, great podcasts, great anything, and I’m including all of these things on the umbrella of art, do that, right? They force us to have a conversation, they force us to talk, they forced us to live in a space for a moment and take us out of our day to day. And so I saw that and I was like, “Oh yeah, I don’t have to do architecture. I can just do some art to have the same level of impact.” So then I actually took time off of school and I began to just… I still didn’t know that I could do design, that still wasn’t clear to me. So I took some time off from school, about half a year and I went and hung out in my friends like dorms at UPenn and I would just go audit classes.

Erwin Hines:
And she was studying marketing and advertising and sitting there with her being able to… And sitting in those classes and hearing about branding, hearing about marketing, hearing about advertising. I was like, “Oh shoot, this is like they’re using this power to create these emotions and create these feelings and create these desires and they’re tapping into the things that make us human.” That to me became really, really interesting. Still, I didn’t know how to get into it because I definitely couldn’t get into UPenn after dropping out of college. So I went back to creating clothes. Again, that was my default. I kept making shoes and selling shoes and then one of my other friends actually saw the shoes that I was making and was like, “Hey, you should come check out the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.” And I was like, “Yeah, why not?” I was kind of down for whatever.

Erwin Hines:
And then I went down to Pittsburgh and met with some of the people at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I’m not saying the Art Institute is good, I would never promote the Art Institutes. That’s just where I had to go because I didn’t have a portfolio at all. And then I actually wanted to do game design at first, and it was because they were talking to me about their courses that they had, going through all of the details. They first mentioned game design. They talked about advertising, they talked about all these other things, but game design was interesting because it wasn’t far off of what I enjoyed about architecture, which is creating these immersive spaces that people essentially live in or inhabit for a period of time. And those spaces can be used to create connections. And since games are played over the internet and it creates connections for people across the world, I was like, “Oh yeah, I totally want to do that and try and figure out a way to create healthy games that create these connections and try and build empathy with people.” But you needed a portfolio.

Erwin Hines:
That’s like a constant theme where it’s like these are the things I wanted to do, but I didn’t have either the love of math, or I wasn’t good at math, and I didn’t have a portfolio. So then I was then forced into graphic design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and through my courses and through my classes actually ended up falling in love with it because once I took my branding class, again it kind of re-sparked some of the energy that I had when I was sitting in and auditing the classes at my friend’s school, where I was like, Oh, branding has immense impact. It’s not just about the beauty, it’s not just about the aesthetic, but you’re creating this entity, you’re creating this thing that if used properly will reflect and amplify the voices of the people that are supporting it. And so that’s when I knew that I was like, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to go hard at branding.”

Maurice Cherry:
That’s quite a journey.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, it was… It’s a little bit all over the place, but it has a through line.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious and I’m going to… We don’t have to dwell on it too much, but why would you never promote the Art Institute? I didn’t go to the Art Institute, I just want to be clear about that, but I’m just curious why.

Erwin Hines:
Oh, I mean their [for 00:32:43] proper university has been sued mad times. And the Art Institute of Pittsburgh has actually closed down, so I don’t want people to get confused with the Chicago Institute of Art. That’s an amazing institution and it nothing to do with the Art Institutes. The Art Institutes are all for-profit and they would… They lied and they would fudge the numbers for how many people they were actually placing, which was just sad because you would see people who… They would say they had really high placement rates and there were some people who got jobs, I was somebody who got a job, but I did so much work outside of school. Everybody who got a job did so much work outside of school, but they didn’t tell you that, right?

Erwin Hines:
And if you’re a student and you’re putting your trust in an organization to teach you the skill sets and the things you need to get that job, it’s almost like, okay, if that’s a part of it, why aren’t they including that in the onboarding? Why aren’t they saying like, “Yes, you’ll have your curriculum, you’ll learn your skill sets, you’ll learn the tools, but in order to guarantee a job, you need to make sure you’re doing freelance. You need to make sure you’re going around to all of these different networking events. You need to make sure you’re collaborating with kids from Carnegie Mellon.” You know what I’m saying? All of those opportunities were open but it’s like I had to figure it out and open them myself.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. No I was curious about that for two reasons. I mean one, I like when people push back against these sort of, I don’t want to say industry standard tropes of, “You have to go to this school in order to make it as a designer.” I do think, and you know this is sort of a problem with the industry, is that there is still this notion of that you have to go to these certain schools, like you have to go to design schools to be considered a designer, essentially. I know just to tell my story a little bit, I went to HBCU, I went to Morehouse here in Atlanta. It’s funny you mentioned you didn’t like math, I majored in math.

Maurice Cherry:
But my first semester I was like, “This is a lot.” And I really wanted to go into web design. I was a computer science major and I remember my professor at the time, I was telling him I wanted to do web design because I had been tinkering around with HTML, reverse engineering, so this is 1999, so this is… God, this is so long ago, this is a while ago where I was telling my advisor this and I remember him telling me how the internet is a fad, like, “This isn’t going to be around for too much longer and if this is something that you really want to put all your eggs in this basket, you should probably change your major or go to another school.” And I was like, “Well damn, okay.”

Maurice Cherry:
And at the time I wanted to go to the Art Institute because we had two art colleges here in Atlanta. We had the Art Institute of Atlanta and we had the Atlanta College of Art. The Atlanta College of Art is now closed down, now we have Savannah College of Art and Design Campus here. But for me I was like, “Yeah the Art Institutes…” Like that was it because I saw the commercials, they would have these commercials where you could see they’re doing all this stuff. And I was like, “Oh so this is where you go to learn design.” And then even later on in my career, because I’m self-taught, even later on in my career there would be these sorts of, I guess you could call them gatekeepers I suppose, I don’t know, who would say like, “Oh well you’re not a designer because you didn’t go to design school.” Like that’s the only way when clearly it’s not the only way, that’s one of the great things about this industry is that you don’t necessarily have to follow a specific path or go to these specific schools in order to be a success.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, I was going to say that’s trash. Very much so because again for me, even without the Art Institute, I think I just needed to be exposed and the Art Institute exposed me to the fact that this could be a profession, but I did all of the work on the side and on my own. You can go audit classes to learn some skills or you can learn a lot of the skills that you need on YouTube and stuff. To me, I think the main takeaways of university for me were some of the non-design classes or the classes that were more focused on theory and psychology. Those to me were the biggest helps because it expanded my mind as opposed to just expanding my skillset. And so if there is anybody who’s listening who is questioning whether they need to go to school or do I need to do this? I think as long as you’re doing things that are expanding your mind so that you understand cultural nuances and you understand again, how to look at the world differently, that to me is what, as a designer, university is really good for.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. So from Pittsburgh to San Diego, that’s a trek. Well really from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, to San Diego, that’s kind of a trek. When you look back at your career, because I did my research, I saw you’ve worked at a few agencies, at Nobis, Modifly, you did some work for Digitaria, etc. When you look back at your career, what did each of those places teach you? Did you walk away from those experiences with a nugget of information that you take with you now?

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, I would definitely say I did. I think whether it be good or bad, I definitely learned something from each of those experiences. So Modifly and some of the other ones were just freelance clients. I was the dedicated creative but they were mainly freelance so it wasn’t necessary major learning experiences, right? Other than continuing to hone my craft. Whereas Nobis Interactive, I was also the only creative and was brought in as a Creative Director and it was to help lead and build out this brand. And I think one of the things that I learned from that was the importance of good leadership and the importance of a strong founder. And [inaudible 00:38:42] Nobis actually didn’t have that and I think that’s why I learned it, because I saw what lacked in the experience and how it kind of destroyed the organization and the company. And so from that it’s just how to be a good leader by doing everything opposite of what that leader did. And how to be honest, right? And making sure that you’re inspiring your team.

Erwin Hines:
And then when I went to Digitaria, that was learning how to manage growth because when I went to Digitaria, it was still relatively small, it had just gotten purchased by JWT, and over the time that I was there it expanded rapidly and what ended up happening was you kind of lose some of that design-forward culture. And the the owners knew that, their focus was expansion, growth and almost taking over and becoming their own holding company. That was their goal and they’ve done that so now they’re called Mirum, and Mirum is bought out a bunch of other digital agencies and then Digitaria became Mirum, which is the holding company of all those other digital agencies. So they were super successful in that goal, but I saw the sacrifice of creative to be this bigger entity.

Erwin Hines:
And so I think it was… From there it was making sure that when I go to the next organization that we managed growth properly so that we don’t lose culture because when you lose culture, you have high attrition, attrition costs more than keeping people as well as a cost your work. If your work is your product and if you lose all of those people then your product suffers.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That is so true, I see that now in a lot of startups, a lot of tech startups usually where that’s the case. There’s been this sometimes over-indexing on culture fit, and oftentimes when bad things happen at a company like that and it’s to the detriment of the product, it’s to the detriment of the people that work there, it’s pervasive when stuff like that happens.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’re in San Diego, which, and we talked about this before recording, I was like, “I don’t think of…” When I think of San Diego, I don’t think of design or culture, but San Diego’s one of the 10 largest cities in the US, which I don’t know if a lot of people know that, but I’m curious to learn more about your community work there. You said through BASIC that you all are kind of… I guess you did this community series in San Diego. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Erwin Hines:
Yeah. All right, so I’ve been in San Diego for 10 years. When I first moved here, moving from Pittsburgh where you had gallery crawls once a month or spending time in New York a lot where you just have a lot of culture, just a lot of creative culture. And then even touching LA, it was like there’s just an energy and a vibe. When I moved here 10 years ago, I was looking for those things and then all I could find was like, “Okay, there’s breweries and there’s beaches, okay.” Which is super cool for a little bit, especially when you feel like you’re a city boy and yeah, I liked the beach, I’m going to sound ungrateful, the beach is nice, but at the same time as a creative, I need that creative energy.

Erwin Hines:
So when I first moved here there was nothing, and over the years, especially within the past three or four years, I began to realize how wrong I was and just how hidden the energy and the vibe was in San Diego. It was like you had to know. You had to know the people, you had to know what’s going on in order to find it. So it was a lot more about the underground scene in San Diego and it was just hard to find. And then within the past like two years, that underground scene has started to really bubble up.

Erwin Hines:
And so when we talk about what is the creative scene in San Diego, we have some of the best poets in the world, like our poetry society wins nationals all of the time. We have some of the best dancers in the world. There’s two dancers in San Diego who do choreography for Justin Bieber, they have a new Broadway show, they do stuff for Brittany Spears, but they live in San Diego. And then we also have some amazing other dancers, traditional urban as well as classical ballet. Then we have amazing chefs and an amazing culinary scene. And then we also have amazing creatives and amazing designers, like BASIC being one of those, but then you also have Grizzly and a few other agencies, and young creatives who are here in San Diego. And then you have amazing DJs and music.

Erwin Hines:
So you have all of these different amazing creative industries and creative spaces, but one thing that we were seeing is that they weren’t rubbing shoulders. So it kind of goes back to the thing I was saying that I had this goal since my very foundation of my creative spark, which is how do you build spaces where people can come together from different backgrounds and start to develop empathy and understanding and work together? And again, so you have all these different creatives and creative people in these different spaces and they’re all doing these amazing things, but they weren’t rubbing shoulders, there was no friction, there was no collision.

Erwin Hines:
And so we created this very simple series, or this very simple idea of just bringing 12 people together from different industries, different backgrounds, different cultures, different races together over dinner. And we used food as the medium of connection because it’s visceral, it’s easy to understand, and it caused us and sparks conversation. And so we strategically do a five course to seven course meal mainly because it creates more time. And then the food itself is never really the central focus of the time, it’s there, but really the central focus is about creating a space for conversation to happen. And these 12 people do not know each other at all, and they get free invites so no one has the pay because we want to make sure that it’s open and accessible to everybody.

Erwin Hines:
So we’ll always have a student, we’ll have somebody who works in architecture, we’ll have a scientist, we’ll have somebody who owns property within an undeveloped neighborhood, we’ll have fine artists, designers. So we’ll kind of mix and match these different groups. And then each one of the experiences, which happened monthly has a theme, and we utilize the food to connect and to make people comfortable and then the theme is utilized to create a unifying connection and conversation between everybody. And those themes are things like identity. And in that dinner, which was our dinner in December, in that dinner the theme was identity and it was about exploring the ever evolving nature of the self and what identity means to each one of us individually.

Erwin Hines:
And so we usually start off each dinner with introduce yourself and then kind of go into that line of conversation. And usually that first round of conversation is like really, really, really deep where people kind of get really personal, they expose things that they wouldn’t have otherwise exposed, and maybe it’s because it’s a group of strangers so you feel a little bit more comfortable and no one knows me here, but they’ve been really powerful mainly because it’s a small intimate group who ends up having a very deep conversation with one another. And we’ve seen a lot of people begin to work together from the different Crafted experiences, which is really the main goal. There’s no other ulterior motive other than bringing people together and then promoting and showing people that there’s other things going on in the city so you don’t have to leave.

Erwin Hines:
because we also had like high attrition of like creative talent in San Diego because a creative was like, “I do fashion but there’s no one else here doing creative stuff, I’ll just go up to LA because there’s more opportunity.” Which right now there still is more opportunity in LA obviously, there’s more people who appreciate that type of stuff. So you will have a larger consumer base as a creative in LA. But one of the things that we’re really focused on with this dinner, as well as all of the other groups who are doing really amazing things. So there’s also this group called the Traveler’s Club. There’s a group called Weird [Use 00:00:47:00], and I can go on and on with all of these different groups, but everybody is now focused on creating an opening up the doorway for opportunities for these young creatives so that they don’t have to leave.

Erwin Hines:
So that’s the dinner as well as the energy in San Diego right now is everybody is focused on building a community that can thrive and can be self sustaining. And it’s amazing because it’s really collaborative, so there’s not a lot of negative competition, if that makes sense. It’s a lot of collaborative, co-building of the community that we all want.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I might have to visit San Diego, it sounds like a lot of great energy there. Also, I mean, San Diego is right on the border to Mexico like you guys are right [crosstalk 00:47:46]

Erwin Hines:
Exactly. That’s another beautiful thing about it is we have all of this rich culture. One of the things that I find the most interesting, and we begin to talk about this a lot through our Crafted Instagram is this idea that culture is made by many and the beauty of San Diego is unlike some of-

Erwin Hines:
Whereas made by many and the beauty of San Diego is, unlike some of the places on the West coast, unlike SF or unlike LA, people come here with different perspectives and goals and backgrounds. Like a lot of people will go to SF with one perspective and one goal. So no matter what race you are, what cultural background you are, you have a specific perspective or goal. Whereas here, because you have the military, because we’re a border town because you have all the universities and the different levels of universities and then you just have random transplants who are just coming here because it’s something different or you have the people who are coming here for the beaches, you have the people who are coming here for the music.

Erwin Hines:
So you have all of these different people that it almost is akin to something like a New York where you have this really, really diverse makeup and that’s what makes the culture of New York. And to me it’s like that’s what makes the culture of San Diego is this diverse makeup and it’s just us realizing, over the past year, we’ve been realizing that that is our true power. We don’t have to just be a beach city and a brewery city. We can be a creative powerhouse.

Erwin Hines:
And this year we’re going to actually have our first design week as well. So it’s like there’s a lot of movement around San Diego and I’m happy to work at an agency that has been so invested and lets me take the reins on a lot of the community initiatives and making sure that we’re using our skill sets and our talents in authentic ways. Then we still do canned drives and all of those things, but I think we used to just do that and we started asking ourselves how do we as people who understand how to build brands start to build the brand of our own city and really give back to our community in a deeper, authentic way that lasts.

Erwin Hines:
So it’s the teach a man to fish versus just fish for them. So I think what we’re trying to do is build programs that teach people how to fish ultimately that will come back to other issues like homelessness or other issues like education because by connecting these different people you can essentially begin to affect all of those different things because you’re building empathy across these different groups. So connecting somebody who, like having somebody who maybe their family is being gentrified or they’re a part of like the gentrified class, you have them at the table with a property developer and maybe a city official and you actually allow them to have true conversation as opposed to just like yelling. That’s the main goal of of Crafted.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you satisfied creatively?

Erwin Hines:
Oh yeah, totally. I’m more than satisfied partially because whenever I’m unsatisfied, I can just create something like Crafted. I literally just think about like, “Okay, if I’m not having that feeling of expressing empathy or the feeling of me being able to tell my true authentic story and really explore who I am. If I’m not that, then I just create another avenue and another pathway for me to have it.” So I never really rely on other people for my creative satisfaction, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. The reason I was asking that because I was talking with a friend of mine actually, her name is Diane Holton, she’s been on the show before too and we were just talking, just catching up and she was mentioning, she’s like, “You’re like Beyonce, like you don’t take your foot off our necks.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” She’s like, “You’re doing this revision path and now you’ve got this anthology series coming out and stuff.” And for me, when I’m doing these things and essentially you mentioned, you sort of see the void and you figure out like, how can I fill the void with something that can help? So with me with the anthology, I was like, there’s not a lot of people of color and indigenous people doing enough writing about design.

Maurice Cherry:
You go to a bookstore and you look in the arts or design section, there are very few, if any, book in there from people of color, definitely not from black people. And it’s like where does that begin? It begins with just writing an essay and getting the feedback from people and then building on that and you know I think now certainly with technology it’s easier than ever to start up a blog and put your thoughts out there. One thing that I’m experimenting with this year is getting back to blogging. I used to blog a lot in the early 2000s and stuff and I’m thinking about getting back out there now because it’s so much easier to just get your thoughts out. Before, when I was blogging back in the day, you had to know how to have a MySQL database and install it to the database and then run the installation and then keep up with all this and you have to have hosting and a domain and all this.

Maurice Cherry:
And now I use this tool called Notion, which is sort of like this all in one work place. It’s like Evernote and Trello and all these things had a baby and it’s Notion. And you can blog from Notion, so write a page and you can set the page to public and then because it’s all in the cloud or whatever, but you can set that page to public and then just have people read your stuff. And it’s like I have all my projects, I have all revision path recognize all my stuff in Notion and then I’ve got a little separate thing that’s going to be the blog that I’m going to start and it’s like, “Oh, I can just write while I’m in here and publish and it’s so easy.” But I get what you mean about if there’s something that’s not fulfilling you, then you find a way to kind of get that [crosstalk 00:53:36].

Erwin Hines:
Get fulfilled. Yeah. Yeah, and I actually love what you’re just saying. I think that that’s one of the biggest things within our industry that we’ve started to see in almost every other creative industry. So you start to see it in fashion and it’s being led by these black designers and I know that they probably wouldn’t want you to call them black designers because no one wants to be pigeonholed and I hate being called a black designer because it feels like, “Oh, you’re just trying to say I’m good for that,” as opposed to just being like, I’m a good designer and I happen to have a very rich narrative that helps guide everything I do that you might not have. But what you’re saying about how we need more of that, we need more of that story within this industry, within the design world. Because for far too long, it hasn’t been there, but we’re here.

Erwin Hines:
But it almost feels like, within this industry, it almost feels like we’re a minority group who’s just pushed to the side and it’s not about us. You know what I’m saying? It’s strange because the level of importance that, specifically for me, like black people have had within the building of America and what America is and what America pop culture is. A lot of stuff is based on pop culture and the nuances of pop culture and all of that stuff and we kind of create that and our people create that. We create the vibe of coolness that drives commerce around the world, but people don’t want to recognize that and so I think it’s important. What you’re doing, hella important because it begins to shine light on the importance of these views and understanding these views and takes us out of just the, maybe a young black kid reads it and it helps to take them out of just the consumer mindset of just I’m going to consume, consume, consume. I can actually create.

Erwin Hines:
These platforms like Instagram and all of those things became popular off of the content that youth create. A lot of those youth are young black kids. They’re creating content for an organization that they don’t even know that they can work at or that they don’t even know that they can build themselves. And so I think it’s just showing that pathway. Going back to what I was saying at the very beginning where I didn’t even know things existed because I wasn’t exposed to it and so, by what you’re doing, you’re helping give that exposure, hoping that young kids are listening to this stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope so man. Hope they’re listening. Hope they’re reading. And not even that I would say just young kids because that exposure can really come at any age.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, true.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to know that the option is out there or that there can be something different, that can really come at it at any age. But yeah. What piece of advice has stuck with you the longest when you think back over your career, you think over your creative journey? What is that advice?

Erwin Hines:
Ooh, so I never had a specific mentor ever in my creative journey and I think it’s just because I was a knucklehead so I never looked for mentors. I would just always listen to interviews from Kanye West or whatever creative I’m super inspired by at that time, but the biggest nugget of truth that I ever received was from my family that just was about… My father one time said, “I don’t like who you’re becoming.” And it was when I was losing myself for a little bit and I wasn’t necessarily thinking about my heritage and my past and my upbringing. And to me that conversation is the conversation that has stuck with me and helped to guide me.

Erwin Hines:
Although my father probably wouldn’t remember this, but that one moment and then the conversation that followed about making sure that you’re checking with your heritage, making sure that you’re checking with the things of your past, the things that your grandfather did, the things that both sides of the family have done for me. It didn’t put a burden on my shoulder, it actually made me proud of who I am, where I come from. And it made me want to truly honor that.

Erwin Hines:
So that was probably be the biggest piece of advice. Again, I think I’m somebody who looks and desires to look for inspiration outside of my industry. I have never really looked at other design and other designers for my pathway. I really love to understand and look at culture because the things that we’re creating are all for culture. And so even with creatives, my biggest inspirations are people in the world of fashion or the world of music. So it’d be Kirby from Pierre Moss or Virgil. Those, to me, are some of my biggest inspirations because they stand for breaking down barriers and walls just by being fucking good. I don’t know if you can curse on this, so I’m sorry.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah. You can curse. That’s fine.

Erwin Hines:
All right. Just by being good at what they do and they move with theory and a message. And that to me is my biggest inspiration, is the idea of moving with theory, moving with a message that is consistent and it might evolve over time, but there’s always substance there. Yeah. And so for me it’s a combination of what my father said as well as growing up. I think I’ve always been really proud of being a black man, no matter where I was or how I grew up and I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. But I would walk around school, my predominantly white school, with my fist in the air because I was just super proud of who I am and where I came from. And I think it was because, on top of what the media would show you and all the negativity that the media would showing you about being a young black man and how you can just be a rapper or you can just be this and that’s all you would see or the criminalization of black people.

Erwin Hines:
My parents had these books, I forgot what they’re called, but we got these books every single month, yeah, these books every single month that would just dive into one impactful African American. And so seeing those stories of Booker T. Washington and getting to see this diversity or Harriet Tubman. Seeing those things at a very young age, I got to see the diversity of black people and that we exist on a spectrum, a very large spectrum and we’re not just a homogenous group. So I had an early realization that I didn’t have to try and be black, I just was black and that blackness can exist on a very large spectrum, but it’s still impactful and it still carries the same narrative story, but my experiences are going to add to that history and that legacy to create something unique.

Erwin Hines:
But I need to make sure that I carry all of that with me into every room I go to, into every time I’m sitting with a CEO or a C Suite person at Google. I need to bring with me the legacy and heritage of blackness and be proud of it and speak with the strength of that heritage.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing in 2025?

Erwin Hines:
So me and a couple of my friends actually started another project that’s actually building a restaurant group. We have two restaurants, one is actually opening, they’re actually building it currently. One is opening at the beginning of 2021. There’s another one that’s opening in October and then we have a retail space that’s opening next month. And so that to me is the next project and it stems from Crafted, which is again, like this space.

Erwin Hines:
And just to put a little bit more color around it, I actually explained Crafted as a living art experience that uses space and food and art to create empathy between disparate groups of people. And for me, going back to what I view art as, art, the true end goal of art, is not to create something beautiful, it’s actually to create opportunity for conversation. That conversation can create change, but in a conversationless society that silos us through algorithms, conversations between disparate groups of people stopped happening and therefore it limits the amount of change that we can have, impactful change. So Crafted was that opportunity for me to create a space for conversation between disparate groups of people to create change and so extending that, we’re looking at how we can actually go into some of these different neighborhoods.

Erwin Hines:
So the chef and the guy who actually is going to own these different properties, so I’m a partner in it, but the main owner, he’s from this neighborhood called National City. And for him, he grew up there, but he always had to leave there to go to restaurants or to go to coffee shops or to go anywhere, which removes that sense of pride in your neighborhood and when you have a sense of pride in your neighborhood, then people begin to invest more, invest more time and invest more energy into that neighborhood. It’s very similar to what we’re seeing now in San Diego. Now that they see all of these different things are going on, people are more proud to be in San Diego and then they’re more likely to invest, more likely to stay. And so what we’re trying to do in this neighborhood called National City, where all of our three concepts are actually opening on one street, is trying to create a sense of pride in that neighborhood, so people feel prideful, they want to stay and they want to reinvest into the community.

Erwin Hines:
And so it’s almost how do you move into a neighborhood, or not even move in because he’s from there, but how do you reinvest into your community without it ever having the need to be gentrified? So I think we’re trying to… For me that’s my thing is how do we figure out this fucking gentrification problem and it’s almost going back to my passion for city plan, or not passionate, but what my goal of city planning was. It’s going back to these things that I had from the very beginning, which is how do you create equitable living spaces and make sure that you’re fostering opportunities for conversation to create empathy. And so over the next couple of years we’re going to be launching those three projects and then from there who knows, we’ll see.

Erwin Hines:
It’s probably going to be more stuff like that. How do I just get deeper involved in helping to build true community? Yeah. And reinvest in the community. I’m big on community right now.

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

Erwin Hines:
So of course, you can go to basicagency.com to see the agencies work and if you want to learn more about Crafted, you can actually go on Instagram @experiencecrafted, again, that’s @experiencecrafted. And then if you want to follow me, it’s just @ErwinHines. Very simple.

Maurice Cherry:
And that’s on Twitter, Instagram?

Erwin Hines:
This is all on Instagram. I mainly use Instagram partially because I’m managing a lot of different social accounts and I can’t be going back and forth between Twitter, Instagram. I find Instagram my main space to create conversation.

Erwin Hines:
So yeah, definitely the main thing I would encourage people to follow is probably the Experience Crafted Instagram just because that’s where I put a lot of my time, a lot of my effort outside of BASIC®.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well Irwin Hines, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, I sort of had an idea when I started this conversation kind of where things would go, but you blew my mind. Finding out more about your background and seeing how, now you’ve been able to weave all of these disparate experiences and influences into your story and then use that to guide your work and go back out and give to the community, it is such an inspiring thing to hear. One of the themes that I’m trying to carry throughout the year is basically, how are we as black designers helping to build a more equitable future?

Erwin Hines:
Whoa. That’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
And I feel that certainly you are doing it. One, through your design and branding work, but then also through experience Crafted and then through these actual physical spaces, these restaurants and retail space. When they say people out here doing it for the culture, you’re out here doing it for the culture. So thank you so much-

Erwin Hines:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
-for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Erwin Hines:
Thank you man. And if I could leave with one last thing, it actually goes to exactly what you were just saying. I think and I feel, and I’ve had a conversation with other people of color in general, that from a very young age, since we grew up in America, we were actually forced to learn empathy and a sense of understanding of people outside of ourselves before we even were able to understand ourselves. And so I think that that is a very, very powerful tool set as a creative to have in our tool belt because we can approach every single thing with a broader understanding and bringing that and making sure you’re bringing that and making sure you’re not shying away from it, to me, would be like the one thing I hope that people would move forward with.



Submissions for Volume 2 of the design anthology RECOGNIZE open on March 1! For more information, visit recognize.design!



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Alex Pierce

It’s great to be able to look back at the early days of Revision Path and see just how far some designers have come. Take for instance Alex Pierce, one of our first interview guests from 2013. Fast-forward nearly seven years, and Alex has risen to the ranks of associate creative director at Publicis Hawkeye!

Alex talked about his day-to-day work at the Dallas-based outpost of Publicis, and spoke on how he approaches new projects and how his career has grown since starting at the agency over seven years ago. We also discussed the absence of Black people in the creative industry, Alex’s feature in NET Magazine, and what success looks like for him at this stage of his career. Thanks for the updates, Alex!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Alex Pierce: Hey, I’m Alex Pierce. I am an associate creative director at Publicis Hawkeye.

Maurice Cherry: Well, first off, congratulations on your recent awards. I was looking at Twitter and I saw you got site of the day from … how do you say? Is it a wards? Because it’s like awwwards. Do you just say awards?

Alex Pierce: I just say A Awards. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some fancy way to say it, like you know how people in France say publicists versus people in America say publicists. So yeah, something like that. So I say A awards.

Maurice Cherry: All right so you got site of the day from A award. You got also site of the day from CSS Design Awards for your recent homepage redesign. So congratulations on that.

Alex Pierce: Thank you very much.

Maurice Cherry: It’s been almost seven years since you’ve been on Revision Path. For people that are listening who are long time fans, listeners of the show, Alex was the last text interview I did before I did my first recorded interview, which was episode one of Revision Path. It sounds like a lot has transpired for you since then. Now you’re … well, you’re still at Publicis, but you’re now an interactive associate creative director. What are some of the responsibilities that you have in your current role?

Alex Pierce: Yeah, so I’m an associate creative director on the digital team. So some of my responsibilities, I’d say, and I remember one of my colleagues and friends, Dan, he’s a creative director, he told me this. He’s at a different point in his life now with his career and he’s given me advice, as an ACD, you’re in kind of a weird limbo, right? So you’re 60% … I would say 50, 60% still kind of hands-on, but then 40% of my time is managing other creatives and their work and their goals and stuff like that. So my current lead or kind of role on my team is I am a design lead. While I work at the agency, our team is kind of device, or not device, but I say device agnostic on a lot of client presentations, so I just automatically say that. No, our team is pretty client agnostic in terms of, we work across all of the agencies, brands, and portfolios, but we do have our own digital clients as well. So, I currently manage the creative for Disney that we have, the piece of Disney work that we have at the agency as well as US figure skating, actually.

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Alex Pierce: I don’t skate. I don’t skate, but I learned a lot about skating, apparently. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Now, I think when we first talked, you were just a art director, I think.

Alex Pierce: Yes sir.

Maurice Cherry: At Publicis.

Alex Pierce: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So what’s been sort of the big change between art director and associate creative director? I’m not super familiar with the latter hierarchy as it relates to agencies, but it sounds like you … of course in seven years you’ve leveled up, but what are the differences between those two?

Alex Pierce: Well, yeah, it’s funny, even though I started at Publicis and I’m currently at Publicis, there was a whole period … so I went to Publicis as a mid level art director and I was at Publicis. I left Publicis to go to Hawkeye, I would say in 2012, and I stayed there for a while. Then, not too long after that, we got acquired by Publicis group and then they merged the Publicis Dallas office with the Hawkeye office, which is now Publicis Hawkeye. So, I saw all of my old friends and coworkers again.

Maurice Cherry: Oh wow.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. So it was a little bit of a boomerang kind of situation. They were like, “Oh man, we couldn’t lose you, so we just acquired the whole agency.” They like to make that joke. It’s obviously not true, but yeah. No, I think the difference was really just in terms of responsibility from art director, it’s basically just a mid level position. Senior art director, I think I had leads explained this to me. I would say senior director is more responsibility in terms of being able to be client facing, be able to manage presentations without a creative director in the room if needed, that kind of stuff, being able to be lead design leads on projects. Then, really the big shift from senior art director to associate creative director is really … I’m still figuring out myself. I’ve been in the role for a year and some change now, but I’d say it’s really just basically what I’m doing except now I am in a role of more mentorship and more creative direction, managing the vision and process for projects and accounts, doing scoping, doing hours estimates, that kind of stuff. Some of the more administrative tasks that I didn’t have to worry about as a senior art director, I have to definitely consider more of and then working with the account leads and strategy and being very client facing, that kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry: Now, are you also coming up with strategy or is that left to a more senior creative director?

Alex Pierce: That’s really more, I would say, for that big picture stuff, that’s really more related to, I’d say the group creative director, but even more so we really rely upon our strategy team to kind of help guide that. We actually take that strategy, help enhance it, give our feedback, and then we help interpret it into the creative work, but yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Yeah, I figured there were certain discrete levels at agencies where you have that kind of division. I’m working ostensibly for a startup and even, I think, if you’re someone who is at the, let’s say like VP level, you find yourself doing not only strategy, but also management and execution, which is probably more on like the individual contributor level. So it’s kind of like the shifting of roles, no matter what your particular title is, so that’s interesting to to see. How do you approach new projects at work?

Alex Pierce: Well, I think how I approach is really, and this is what I like about working on our digital team. It’s definitely a collaborative process. So, it isn’t like everything’s put on the creative team. Everyone has their role to play, so I definitely rely upon account service and project management and strategy to kind of help come to the table with a fully fleshed out, approved brief from the client. Sometimes, depending on the situation, that’s not always the case, just depending on the type of client and the type of timeline and process, but usually we work out with a brief. So, usually start there, give our feedback there, ask any questions, and then really think about timeline roles and responsibilities. Is what they’re saying … Are the deliverables in alignment with the strategy and what the client is asking for, ultimately from a goals and KPI kind of standpoint? That kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry: Now that you have worked at the same company and moved up the ranks as you have, that feels like a real rarity in today’s current creative industry. Even now from what you said earlier, you were at Publicis, you left and went to another company, that company got acquired, and now you’re right back at the same company. I’m curious to know, what has being at Publicis taught you and what makes you continue to stay there?

Alex Pierce: I think, it’s kind of a cliche, but it comes down to the people. An agency isn’t really anything without its people, right? We’re the ones producing the work and the product. I mean that in a more general sense because I don’t mean just in terms of creative, but I also mean in terms of strategy, account service, managing client relationships, all that kind of stuff. I think, as you go across agency, and I had this piece of advice from my creative director, from … and it’s funny because he, actually, this guy, Gary Hawthorne, he’s actually a group creative director at Publicis Hawkeye right now, but he was actually my first boss ever in the industry and he hired me straight out of school as a junior art director at Shaffer Advertising in Fort Worth. He told me this a long time ago, “Don’t ever just leave one agency for another just because they maybe offer you moderately, a little bit more money because I think it’s really just all kind of the same thing.”

Alex Pierce: He didn’t mean that in a cynical way, but it’s just kind of like, be sure you’re leaving for the right reasons. Be sure that you’re leaving to do something different or to really pursue a specific goal because you kind of get that money trap with those golden handcuffs and then you’re just kind of beholden to that and you might be getting more money, but you’re not happy doing what you want to do.

Alex Pierce: Also, I love the people at my agency. I love my team. They’re super talented. I love working with everybody. We’re just kind of like a family. It’s like a home away from home for me, so that really means a lot to me. I think some people … everyone has their off days, and even on my off days, I still … I think about like, “Well, if I’m having a bad day, I’d rather have a bad day with people I like than a bad day with people I don’t like.” That’s kind of why I stayed at Publicis.

Alex Pierce: Then, in terms of Publicis as a agency and kind of things I’ve learned is, frankly, just interpretations of interactive and digital in the context of what I do. It’s interesting, Publicis, I think as a larger agency, their interpretations of digital and interactive versus where I came from. It’s funny, I actually … when I left Publicis to go to work at Hawkeye and I interviewed with the managing director of digital at the time, he still is today, Wes, he interviewed me. I was showing him my stuff and I was showing my web work. I started showing him some banner ads and he was like, “Oh no, no, no, no, no. We don’t do that here. We don’t do banner ads. Can you move that on?” I’m like, “Oh, sorry. Okay.”

Alex Pierce: I think there’s just like this interesting dichotomy, and what I’ve learned is just really thinking bigger picture. Right? So, I really love just UI, UX design, just visual design, interactive design for obvious reasons based off of my portfolio site just redesigned. Working with Publicis, it definitely opens me up to learning more about brand centric kind of work and more strategic, larger, big picture things. So, thinking about the website as a tactic and a larger strategy about talking about this customer journey, right? So, how are we communicating to these people through a variety of different channels? And really kind of opening my mind up to all those different avenues, whether it be display advertising, email marketing, web, that kind of stuff.

Maurice Cherry: How is that different from, say, user centric design?

Alex Pierce: Yeah, user centric design, I’d say, and this is the kind of funny thing because I actually gave a talk about this I think a year ago, at the American Advertising Federation conference for kind of the Midwest or Texas area, Texas and Oklahoma. I forgot, it’s like district 11 or something like that. I think user centric versus brand centric sometimes there is a clash. I think the mistake that people make is that these goals are mutually exclusive. I think if you’re always designing for the user, you’re ultimately designing for those business goals as well. When you think brand centric in a more traditional sense, it’s really more traditional media, that kind of stuff and you kind of think about that one way communication. It’s really all about trying to deliver on the client’s or the brand’s goals and approaching that advertising creative or that digital creative in that context.

Alex Pierce: I think the mistake that we make is, just because … I guess the mistake that we make is, when we look at it from that lens, I think it’s easy to make mistakes or get so myopic and looking inside that bubble. Our job as creatives is to help them look outside of that bubble and really think about their customer and their consumer and the users that use their product or service or brand or whatever. When you’re doing research and learning about those people, you need to open yourself up to learning that, this and product design, I would say. Sometimes just through user testing and interviews and feedback, you learn that people use your product in unexpected and in amazing ways.

Alex Pierce: I actually saw an interview, I think the … Was it the Glitch cofounder? He was talking about why he loved Glitch and just all the cool, crazy shit that people make on the platform in just unexpected kind of ways. That’s kind of where my mind is, strategically, when I think about user centric versus brand centric. Just thinking about the user doesn’t mean being boring. It’s really thinking about the context of, like … and I always think about this and it sounds cynical, so stay with me here. I think about this in the context of, what value does this serve the user with? What value does this give the person whose product you want, the person that you want to use your product or brand or service? If you’re making like this cool crazy idea, ultimately, how does this serve them? Because for people, when we’re alone, by ourselves, using this in the comfort of our home, no one’s watching us, we’re selfish. I want this to benefit me in some way and I don’t want this to be some sort of masturbatory kind of thought experiment from a brand to try and win some awards because awards are cool, but at the end of the day it’s not creative if it doesn’t sell.

Maurice Cherry: It’s an interesting thing about awards. There was a while back on here, I’d say maybe … Oh God, I’m dating myself by saying about a hundred episodes ago, but it literally was about a hundred episodes ago when I was talking about awards and black designers winning awards and what awards actually mean. It’s so interesting now because the conversation around awards in the creative industry … this episode will come out kind of during the … I want to say the end of the awards season, I think, for creatives. When I say creatives, I’m lumping in music, television, films, kind of all into that. So many times we see work that is clearly chasing an award. We’ve all seen a trailer and we’re like, “Oh, they’re trying to win an Oscar.” We’ve all seen the thing that’s like, you can tell they’re trying to chase the clout that this particular award can get. I wonder often, one, what that is in service of. Yes, it’s in service of the award, but just because you get the award doesn’t necessarily mean that opens up a new level of understanding or what have you from that, but I’m just always interested in that because it’s something that we want those awards to validate to other people that the work that we do is worthy. Yet, everyone can’t win an award. So.

Alex Pierce: Yeah, I think for me … I’m going to go on a sidetrack in a little bit, but for … just to speak on that, I think talking internally, it’s like that vicious cycle, right? You hear about specifically an advertising industry where that kind of desire to win awards kind of goes wrong and you hear about campaign fraud, that kind of stuff, with companies and agencies or brands just putting out work and they’re buying a billboard for like one hour in the middle of the night to say that it’s published and to try and win awards and it’s a whole big controversy and you see cons trying to crack down on, in other words, that kind of thing.

Alex Pierce: You ask yourself like, “Well, why is it that people are trying to do this?” I think ultimately it comes down to money, right? I think it comes down to … and I don’t necessarily … I think it’s shady, don’t get me wrong, and it’s not great, but you think about why people enter award shows and I think ultimately it comes down to new business, at least from your thinking about a larger agency picture, why agencies wouldn’t enter into award shows. It’s about demonstrating to clients that we do work that gets noticed and we do work that is validated in the industry and work with us. I think that sounded like a very simplistic kind of surface level of the reason why, and then when you get down to the individual level, right? I think it also just comes down to, I want my work validated. I want people to know that I’m competent at my job. That being said-

Maurice Cherry: It all boils down to validation.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. Yeah. I think when you’re talking about Oscar season and stuff like that … and I have to talk about this, man, but did you see the Irishman?

Maurice Cherry: I have not seen the Irishman. I’ve heard a lot of talk about it, particularly just it’s runtime, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Alex Pierce: Oh my goodness. Oh my God, man. If there’s ever a movie, I felt like, that was chasing something, it was that. You see the memes about it, man. Just people just, “Yeah, it’s five days in and I still haven’t finished that movie.” I’m that guy. To be frank, it’s my fault. Frankly, I’ve … the last two times, I ate a Popeye’s chicken sandwich right before I started watching that movie and then I just kind of passed out and I woke up kind of sweating in the middle, so that’s kind of problematic. Then also I just felt like it was a meandering plot and then that face-aging technology that’s supposed to be all amazing. Robert De Niro did not look like he was in his twenties. I’m sorry. It just looked like they just smoothed Robert De Niro’s face. It look better when he was in his middle age. They were kind of showing the middle age, but anyway, that’s this whole rant. I could talk about that for a while, but we’re not here to talk about Robert De Niro and his smooth face and Irishman, but I just think about, it seems disingenuous.

Alex Pierce: I guess, when you see the ads and you see those ads come out and you see those ads that are clearly awards bait, it just feels disingenuous and it doesn’t feel like they made that creative for the actual end audience. They made it to speak to the judges, right? They make stuff for the judges and not for the people. I say that, like, I’m not some … I’m not the guy. I’m not some guy who’s supposed to be … who has all the answers. So, for anyone who’s listening to this and they’re thinking like, “Who’s this guy? I promise you, I don’t have all the answers.”

Maurice Cherry: Well, I have to butt in here now. We’re both members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. We are also both current Webby Awards judges.

Alex Pierce: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: We kind of operate, I guess, a little bit on that level, but go ahead. Keep going. Keep going.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. No, you got me. You got me. No. Yeah. I think … and actually, I will … I don’t want to call out a brand but I … because I don’t know what agency did this, but I did something and I was just talking about it. So we had our holiday party last night and I made sure not to drink too much because I knew I had to do this today, but we were just talking about the Webbies and I think I need to actually get my judging entries done today at some point, but I was looking … Last year, I was looking at this one entry and it was for a popular bacon brand. I won’t say who, but it was crazy to me, man, because I looked at this and amazing technology. It was some sort of VR 3D website experience that you’re kind of exploring. It was very black and white and noir and very abstract.

Alex Pierce: Yes, man. I had no idea what was happening in this thing. All I saw was at the beginning because it was like a black label, bacon brand, whatever and I was looking at this. People are probably going to infer what that is, but whatever. I was looking at this and it was like … I’ll say this, the execution was amazing. It was cool, but I just couldn’t give it great marks because, well, one, from a navigation standpoint, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I was just like out exploring this world. I had no idea. I even wrote in the notes, “I have no idea what this has to do with bacon, but I guess this is kind of cool.” I was just thinking in my head like, “What? How did this creative director sell this?” Because I want to talk to him and learn his secrets because this website looked like it cost a million dollars to make and it had nothing to do with the brand whatsoever.

Alex Pierce: So that’s kind of what I was thinking. I’m like, “Who are you making this for? Are you making this for the user? Are you making this for the brand? Are you making this for yourself? What’s the motivation behind that?” That’s kind of where I was getting at. I think, because I think to a certain extent even judges have their limits, right? You’re just like, “Okay, what is this?”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I need to start looking into what I’m going to, I guess submit as my picks, because I’ve been keeping track of a couple of campaigns and seeing what’s new and what’s interesting and what I feel like are interesting ways that people are using the social media tools that are out here. I see how different people use Instagram and Facebook and Twitter for different implementations, because I think it’s one thing, of course, to use it as intended, but sort of like how you said earlier, people will use these tools in all kinds of different ways. So, who’s using Instagram not just to post pictures, but like to post mini magazines?

Alex Pierce: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Things like that.

Alex Pierce: Did you see the adult swim, the Rick and Morty thing? That was amazing.

Maurice Cherry: No, I didn’t see that. What was it?

Alex Pierce: No, they, for their promo … I think this is last year, but they made their own Rick and Morty adventure experience. So you’re traveling. So, they made a bunch of different Instagram accounts that are all linked to each other and like they’re tagged to each other, so you’re basically traveling the different planets and universes through these Instagram accounts. It was so meticulously well done and I’m like, “How much time did they take to do this?” Because you’re looking at those Instagram grids for each of the profiles and you see the galaxy and you can zoom in to the planet and you can zoom out and go to-

Alex Pierce: You can zoom in to the planet and you can zoom out and go to different and… I’m like, “Man, this took a lot of time.” I don’t know, it’s just like people taking mediums and using them in unconventional ways always just fascinates me.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I’ve been saying that a lot on YouTube also. This kind of, almost choose your own adventures style of, I don’t want to call it videography. I don’t know if that’s really the best way to categorize it, but I’m thinking particularly about this show that I saw, it’s called A Heist With Markiplier. It like starts out with the intro video, Markiplier is trying to break into a bank, and for those who don’t know, Markiplier is a YouTube influencer guy. But he’s trying to break into a bank and then the video is short, maybe like 20, 30 seconds. Then you know how you can have annotations that will pop up on the screen so that you can choose, okay.

Maurice Cherry: Very similar to how Netflix did the Bandersnatch episode in Black Mirror, but it’s all done through YouTube videos. So you select what the right path is and there’s different endings, and I’m like, “That is really an ingenious way to look at how to even do something like this.” Because at least with YouTube you can sort of unlist all the videos so then you can’t really track what the right path is. It’s really interesting way to use the platform, but I think it also speaks to honestly, the disposability of these types of mediums. The fact that you can spin something up that quickly and easily for just that purpose and it can also be gone just that quickly.

Maurice Cherry: Actually, another interesting thing, and this actually might be one of my webipics, so I might be spoiling this, but the same guy Markiplier, him and this other guy Ethan, who’s a YouTuber, are doing this project called [Latin 00:01:45]. I think it’s Latin for one year. They’re going to release a video on YouTube every day for a year, and then once the year is up, they’ll delete everything. They’ve gotten already over a million subscribers, they’re selling March, doing all that sort of stuff. I’m interested to see what they are trying to get out of it. What the end goal is, because they’re both already YouTubers. They already make videos. So making more videos isn’t the point. I don’t know if it’s just a creative exercise.

Maurice Cherry: They’ve sort of implied that it speaks to the ephemerality of life and things like that. I’m interested to see where they go with this because you can tell as you, so I’ve watched all the videos cause I’m a dork. But you can tell that there’s an underlying slightly sinister theme that connects all the videos and I’m wondering if that will play out as the year plays out. I’m just interested to see where it goes from here and it’s those sorts of things that I really like seeing, brands and people take the tools that are given to you and use them in a way that no one would have expected.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. You’ve touched on something interesting, to be clear, I mean I think there’s, when you think about user centric, I also about using the medium as an art form, right? I think like as a creative exercise, so sometimes it’s what separates visual communication in graphic design from more fine art, right? It’s open the fine art aspect being a little bit more open to interpretation and it’s really meant to provoke a dialogue and discussion. It’s really all about the artist’s intentions and thinking and the message they’re trying to communicate. Visual communication touches on some of those subjects. But ultimately the idea is to communicate a clear message that a large group of people can understand. I don’t know, you touched on that, because sometimes entertainment is just entertainment and we don’t need to overthink it that much, but then there’s times when you actually need to service a specific goal.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. I want to go more into your design career, but first let’s take it back to the beginning. Where did you grow up? Was design a big part of your childhood and everything growing up?

Alex Pierce: Absolutely not. No. I think, it was just growing up it was me, my mom and my brother. My uncles played a big influence on my life. Two of my uncles were Army dudes, one Army, one Air Force. I even think when high school they were trying to get me to sign up when I was trying to figure out how am I going to pay for college? They’re like, “Air Force is the way, Army is the way.” I was like, “I do not have the discipline for either, so I’m going to get a student loan.” I think, what actually started me down, this whole path of creative exercise and graphic design is kindergarten. I think about this to this day. I love Garfield. Garfield basically got me to where I am today.

Alex Pierce: If you want to sum it up. Garfield, I love the cartoon Garfield. I was obsessed with it. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mom would give me for my birthday, every year I think until maybe I was like a pre-teen or whatever. She would give me a Garfield book every birthday and I just was obsessed with it, I always try and draw Garfield cartoons and stuff like that. Then I got really into drawing and then for the longest time I swear to you I wanted to be a comic book artist. I wanted to be like Jim Lee. I wanted to be like, was it George Perez, I think that’s his last name. Jim Lee’s the one that comes to top of mind always because I loved his style or [Linelle Hue 00:00:27:38].

Alex Pierce: But I think I really obsessed with comic books. I still love comic books, it’s kind of a bad habit. I go through spurts of just buying a whole crap ton of comics, stacks of them. I just spent too much money and my girlfriend makes fun of me for it. But it’s fine, whatever. But I think for me I just love that medium, I love the storytelling, I love the art, the visuals and just the message and just the art form of it. Going through high school, I was in Houston, I grew up in Houston and Westfield High School and then I transferred. I had a, I would say it was a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air moment kind of situation.

Alex Pierce: I didn’t get into a fight at a basketball game and I got transferred. But my family we got help from a family member and we moved out to the Woodlands, which is a more affluent area and it was definitely a different world, right? Not a lot of black people up there in more the suburban area of Houston outside of Houston. But good schools and that kind of thing. I was on all the art classes and I actually got introduced to design from this teacher. God, forgive me, I forgot her name, but in high school she showed, it was like this digital design class or electronic media class or something like that.

Alex Pierce: We go in there and we use MS-DOS to make animations. I remember the first thing I ever did, we had an assignment to use Photoshop and this was old Photoshop, right? We had to use this, what was it like? I had to Photoshop myself into a picture and of course for some reason I chose to Photoshop myself into a Run-DMC album cover. I was obsessed with that after that and I was like, “Well drawing’s cool but I like this too.” I just went down the rabbit hole on that and just designing things. Then a person from SCAD came to the school to talk about all the different programs and of course, the thing I learned and the reason I didn’t get into comic book art man is, drawing comics is freaking hard.

Alex Pierce: If you don’t know this, I have a lot of respect for those guys because basically the program was called sequential art, which is basically just fancy for comics, right? But being able to do character study and drawing the same person from different angles and consistently, that’s very difficult apparently. But they had another program called the Visual Communication and Graphic Design Program. I was like, “What is that?” I learned a little bit more about it, I’m like, “This is really interesting.” Because I love computers, I love the technology of it, I love making things that people see and interact with and I just had really awesome time with it.

Alex Pierce: I decided to pursue that and actually looked at a few schools in the DFW area. I think University of North Texas is like, I don’t know if you knew this, but University of North Texas is one of the top design schools and at least the Southeast or whatever you want to call Texas Central area. At least in Texas it’s the design school to go to. [inaudible 00:30:57] has an amazing design program and it’s a public university. I went there and I just found the program to be not really what… It didn’t really seem like a right fit to me. So I went to actually, UTA and to this day he’s still my mentor, but Robbie McEwen, he was a professor in the design department at the time and I remember he had a Hummer, this huge hammer.

Alex Pierce: He took me and my mom around the campus and to this day I’m trying to think, “Why did he do that?” He took his time, drove us around the campus, he showed us the senior student work and I’m like, “I’m sold.” He’s cool dude, he looks like Santa Claus if you ever meet him in person. He’ll even joke about that himself, he’s an awesome guy, he’s the coolest guy ever. I learned so much from him over the years at that university and I owe a lot of what I am today to that guy because he really took me under his wing and he really taught me about design, about communication, about art versus design, that kind of stuff.

Alex Pierce: I would say, went a little tangent, but that’s my journey from kindergarten, drawing Garfield and reading Garfield comics to going to college, University of Texas at Arlington and getting a official design BFA degree there. Then getting my first job, which how I got my first job was actually very lucky because I graduated in the middle of the recession.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, it sounds like, I mean that’s when you knew that you could do this for a living, I guess at that point, right? When you saw the campus and saw the student projects and everything?

Alex Pierce: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. My mom and bless her, I think… This touches on a larger question and I would love to hear your thoughts on this, but in terms of why we don’t have more black people in the creative design industry. I have my own guesses, but I think it just comes down to opportunity and thinking that, “If I’m going to go to college, I need to go to college to learn a skill that will really make me money.” As a kid I loved animals and my mom was thinking I was going to be on some Dr. Dolittle stuff, right? I’ll be a veterinarian.

Alex Pierce: Because I told her I wanted to be a comic artist at first and she was like, “What?” She’s like, “Well, but you love our dog Hershey, right?” Our dog’s name is Hershey, our childhood dogs names. She’s like, “You love her, you love animals.” I’m like, “Yeah, I love animals but I don’t want to necessarily work with animals.” Then I think she saw, and when I was talking to her about majoring in graphic design, I didn’t go to college not knowing what I wanted to do. I knew what I wanted to do and I was telling her Graphic Design Program and she’s looking at it and she was looking at how a graphic designer could make money. It isn’t necessarily a full on art degree, although I have respect for those people too, for sure. But she saw that and she said, “Oh okay, I’m okay with this. I’m okay with this.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Once she could see it, it’s like, “Okay, now I can get it.” To answer, I guess the question, I think that’s part of the answer is that the lack of visibility is why we don’t see more of us in the industry because it’s really a mix of things, right? First of all, it’s complete economics. In order to be really working in the creative industry, you need to know these industry standard tools, these tools are expensive. Folks don’t make a ton of money, so it’s like how are you going to get the money to get access to the tool? Then the time to learn the tool to get good at it, to then get jobs and then get in the industry. So it ends up being this pipeline situation.

Maurice Cherry: It’s lack of resources, lack of professional training. I would say even sometimes accurate information about the industry, getting into it. But also I think it’s a matter of visibility. As you stated before, your parents didn’t really see like, “Oh, this isn’t something that I want you to do because I can’t see you being successful or making money. You’re making a living from it.” Art ends up being treated as a hobby and not a profession and so oftentimes that lack of visibility into seeing the ways that you can get paid from this, is a reason that we’re not in the industry, I think.

Alex Pierce: I want to be very clear, my mother, Marsha, she does support me very much. Because he’s going to listen to this episode and I don’t want her giving me grief. My grandma gave me grief about this, she’s very supportive of me. She actually talks about me a lot to our co-workers. She features me on her timeline, which in my opinion is the biggest award of them all. So thank you mom. I love you. I obviously owe everything to her because I’m existing because of her, so just want to throw that out there. Thank you.

Maurice Cherry: But yeah. That’s probably a big reason into it. I mean, that’s something I’ve discovered honestly from doing the show is that for a lot of folks, they just weren’t exposed to it. They didn’t know that they could do this until much later on in life. After college, after working a few jobs and they’re like, “Wait a minute, I really like design and art and I can focus on this.” Or, “I really like coding and I can focus on that.” That being a part of the creative industry, it’s like the exposure and the visibility to this ends up happening at a time where for us, I think it ends up being just much later in life, than with other places where the viability of that as a profession is a much earlier and easier opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, as kids we’re all exposed to cartoons, drawing and art and painting at the same time. At least here in America, that’s part of the American primary school system. So how is it that there’s this huge bifurcation of people of one particular race or culture that are over index in the creative industry and then so many others that aren’t? What happens, where does that split happen? So, yeah.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. It’s tough because yeah, to your point, man, I didn’t think it was a thing that people… Intellectually, you know someone made that stuff but you don’t really think about it. Then you get a little bit older and then you just realize, yeah. I actually have Michael Beirut’s book on my desk right now and I’m going through and it’s just like, “Man, I can’t imagine doing anything else but this.” I realize I’m in a position of privilege that maybe people of of the same race as me are not in the same, really or they don’t see that opportunity because of socioeconomic factors or the fact that there hasn’t been exposure or in terms of just education in the arts program, that kind of stuff. Or the fact that, thinking about how to get into that, it might be too late. I don’t know, I don’t have all the answers on that. That’s a larger topic that I’m assured that you are definitely tackling at the AIG level.

Maurice Cherry: Well, I mean it’s one of those answers that just has many layers to it. There’s no simple answer to the question. There’s so many layers as to how that happens, so yeah. Now you said you graduated in the middle of a recession, but you got your first working design gig, working for your school. You were working for University of Texas in Arlington. What was that like?

Alex Pierce: Working for UTA, it was exactly what you think you would be. Now, I mean it was a great job. I think in high school and one of the things that I did in high school as I worked for Kroger, I was a sacker all through high school. As soon as I was old enough to get a job, my mom was like, “You going to Kroger.” Because Kroger was one of the few companies that hired 14 year olds. You have to wear a special name badge to indicate that your managers can’t abuse you. But, I mean you can’t work extra hours and stuff like that. But I worked there and then I just remember thinking, I learned how to deal with people and I guess that I still think about that.

Alex Pierce: I wasn’t a waiter or a server, I didn’t work in the food service industry, but I worked in a different thing that I dealt with people. A lot of different types of people every day and working in that environment, one thing I did learn is, I definitely did not want to work at Kroger during college. I wanted to try and do something that can help hone my skills and learn more about the profession I wanted to get into. Actually before that, I think a little bit of overlap, I actually worked at The Shorthorn, which is the college newspaper and it’s actually a pretty big newspaper, pretty award winning.

Alex Pierce: I was a page designer, a layout artist and then I also did illustration, cartoon editorial illustrations and stuff like that. Obviously it is a school job, so I think I got paid like 90 bucks every two and a half weeks. That was not sustainable for me. So that’s why I looked at getting into the design program. I applied to different departments but they are the ones who finally hired me and really I just managed just vendor relationships and stuff like that and making assets, helping student events, making all the graphics and displays for that.

Alex Pierce: I think my proudest moment was, I got to make a label for a water bottle that they were handing at events. I don’t know if that’s kosher to say today, necessarily making labels for water bottles and the plastic is choking our ocean or something like that. But I think at the time I was like, “Oh, I got to make a little label for a water bottle. That’s cool.” But I think I just got experience with a lot of different types of mediums. I got to work on web work, I got to do email stuff, I got to do website stuff. I got to do packaging and print stuff. It was all just kind of like a generalist initial exposure.

Alex Pierce: That being said, I mean, I was a designer and I didn’t really have any design mentors in that program. I just was really working and getting mentorship and guidance from my actual design teachers and professors in that. When I mentioned Robbie McEwen, which he’s awesome dude. So I was learning that along the way, but I was working in a corporate little office environment. I was in a cubicle way in the back, it was almost like a closet. I shared and office with [inaudible 00:41:52] smell like pancakes, it was really weird. That was definitely in my first [inaudible 00:41:56] into professional design and learning about how my design decisions affect other people.

Maurice Cherry: I’m going to show you a photo, and I want you to first describe this photo to the audience and then I want you to tell me the story behind it and the feedback. So I’m going to show you the photo now if you want to take a look at it.

Alex Pierce: Okay. Oh boy. Yeah. This photo, I’m wearing my Bob’s Burger t-shirt. I am clean shaven for the most part, I didn’t have my beard yet. But it’s like a me of my feature and net magazine. This is like back in 2017, I believe. Yeah. I’m holding just the cover art for the article, the featured article, diversity in design. It’s an article I wrote talking about how to be more inclusive in your design and UX and visual design overall experience for people, audiences, users, that kind of stuff. I’m in my agency’s office and I actually had my co-worker Ale, short for Alejandra.

Alex Pierce: She actually took a photo of me, she’s one of the art directors on my team. She took a photo of me and she actually forced me to do this whole photo shoot. This was one of like 50 photos at different angles. You could actually, in one of the other photos there’s actually a scene of one of our junior art directors at the time, she’s way in the background and she’s rolling her eyes and she’s just very fuzzy and we still make fun of that to this day. But yeah, I was like a really proud moment of me. I bought like 10 issues. I sent a couple to my mom because she had requested them. But yeah, that was a really proud moment for me.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. What was I guess the feedback behind it? As I’m looking at the image and I’ll make sure to include this in the show notes so people can take a look at it too. But it says diversify your design. Five steps to diversify your UX design.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. Do you-

Maurice Cherry: … steps to diversify your UX design?

Alex Pierce: Yeah. Do you mean feedback in terms of what people were saying about it or what I was [crosstalk 00:44:07]?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, about the article and everything. Yeah.

Alex Pierce: Overall, I had a lot of positive feedback. I think the thing was just people… You hear a lot of people getting on their soapbox talking about diversity is important, diversity is important. For me, I’ve always been a very practical person in terms of how I approach things, in terms of how I approach things in my professional and personal life. If you know me in real life, you know if someone were to ask me, “Hey, we’re going to go out to this lunch spot. You want to go?” And my first question, and they know this, is, “What’s the parking situation? Because if the parking situation ain’t good, I’ll see you all later.” I have to think about that.

Alex Pierce: But in this context, for diversifying your design, for me, I wanted to do something that was very practical like, “okay, yeah, I need to be more diverse in how I’m thinking about approaching my work, my creative work, but how do I actually do that? What’s some simple initial steps that I could do?” And like I said, I don’t promise to be the guy who has all the answers, but I just thought this is actually kind of a therapeutic piece for me to do. Because actually, it was funny because how I got into doing that article was I had reached out to NetMag and I was saying, “Hey, I did my Black in History Tumblr site.”

Alex Pierce: And for people who don’t know the Black History thing, I did a Black in History Tumblr, which it’s still up, it’s still live, blackinhistory.tumblr.com. And it was basically about just game changers, figures that have affected everyone’s lives, not just black people’s lives, and they’ve fallen through the cracks. So I just think about an entry that uniquely talks about this person and I put that to them and they’re like, “Man, this is great. We’re going to feature this as a side project of the month.” I’m like, “Oh that’s great.” And they’re like, “Also, hey, our issue’s on diversity. So maybe if you can write a feature about that, you have two weeks.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I’m like, “I’m definitely not turning it down.”

Alex Pierce: But I got advice from my fellow copywriter colleagues and just friends and I interviewed coworkers and colleagues, my bosses to get a really holistic view, because I definitely wanted not only to talk about diversity, but have a little bit of diversity in the thought and opinions about how to approach that from.

Alex Pierce: So I have five different steps. So it’s the first one, just understanding that it’s the right thing to do. I think a lot of people call it PC Culture, and I don’t think it’s PC Culture to think holistically about your audience. I think it’s opening your mind up to the fact that not everyone who uses your product or uses that brand looks exactly like you or lives exactly like you.

Alex Pierce: And then I think it’s just stop being lazy. I think as designers, especially when you’re in the grind, the daily grind of things and stuff like that, it’s easy to get caught up and just go to your go-to sources, that kind of stuff. So just learning to actually force yourself to take a step back and think about, “What am I doing? Am I representing this product the right way? Is this the actual thing I need to show or the say or to write?” et cetera. And then just the other ways to do it through visuals, so advice around photo shoots, video, that kind of stuff. Doing it through copywriting, so using inclusive language and strategy around that.

Alex Pierce: And then UX, obviously there’s a lot of talk lately around accessibility and then just overall thinking around inclusion in your user experience design, and I think that’s been a big conversation these last few years around that. Then just the last thing, selling it to clients, which is sometimes actually surprisingly, well, actually maybe not surprisingly difficult to do, especially if they think it’s a counterintuitive to maybe what they think their audience is or their own envisioning of their goals for the brand.

Maurice Cherry: What do you think is the most important skill that a designer needs to possess these days?

Alex Pierce: God. Man. I think it’s a combination of two things. I would say first and foremost, it’s cliche answer, but empathy. But to get specifically around this, because I had actually a designer reach out to me and ask me, “What’s an important skill set?” And I actually told them this, this guy. I said, “The most important thing you could have this self-awareness actually.”

Alex Pierce: I think self-awareness is always the first step in making some good decisions. I think being self-aware of your position of who you are as a person and how people perceive you, how you present things, how you talk about things, your creative design decisions. I think you take a step back and you objectively look at yourself and you learn about maybe you have some unconscious biases, and I think that’s where the empathy and the self-awareness combine to each other.

Alex Pierce: But I think it’s really more of a soft skill, I would say, but it also lends itself into actual creative skill in my opinion, too.

Maurice Cherry: Now, you mentioned the Black in History on Tumblr. That’s actually when we first talked seven years ago. I think you had just started that project or it had been out for a little while. I don’t recall, but I know that that was a project that you ended up getting a good bit of acclaim from. I think even got a Webby, not an award, but you got a Webby mention.

Alex Pierce: Honoree, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Honoree. That’s the word I’m looking for, Webby Honoree for that. Is there another dream project that you would love to do?

Alex Pierce: I think about this a lot. I think for that it was just something that came up. My family liked to joke about that every time during the holiday seasons or during some sort of special season event. You see all the brands put out some R&B music and show black people doing stuff with their products. And it just got me thinking like, “Man …” Or in Black History Month, right, just where it just becomes so myopically focused on just a few key characters. And it turned into that.

Alex Pierce: For me, I don’t know. I’m still exploring that to be honest. There’s a lot of things I’d like to approach in a dream project for me. And maybe if people see my Instagram, you’ll know this about me. I love food. I love everything about the … I love making food more accessible to people. I think for me that’s a dream project for me to work on.

Alex Pierce: Another thing, and I’ve been getting more and more into this, I’ve been exploring it, but I love games. I love video games, which sounds like a typical nerdy black guy thing to say. But I love video games and I would love the idea of working on interactive experience, gaming interactive experience, maybe using pixel or I don’t know. I’ve been getting into pixel art lately, as you might know. And actually, what got me thinking about that is I saw something, I think it was on A Awards or I can’t remember, but it was this guy who did this interactive side scroller or pixel art game about is Japan cool, and he gave this history of Japan and I think talking about Nintendo and that kind of stuff. And it’s this interesting interactive side scrolling experience I can’t remember the name of. It’s killing me.

Alex Pierce: But I don’t know. It just got me thinking, “What a cool, educational way to talk about something and make it engaging too.” And I don’t know. I like the idea of making an interactive game and getting deeper into that. I’m not a developer myself, at least not first and foremost. I know enough development to be very dangerous. That’d be something for me to explore, getting deeper into the interactive space.

Maurice Cherry: What is it that inspires you these days? How do you keep that creative spark going?

Alex Pierce: For me, it’s just I learned a long time ago not to get invested in my work so much that my identity is wrapped up in my job, because I think once you start doing that, it’s easy to get burnt out or get depressed about certain things or … Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t get any fulfillment out of your job, but I think it’s really important for you to try and discover personal interests outside of that.

Alex Pierce: And for me, what inspires me, and it sounds, once again, simple, but I just like going on the internet and just looking at cool shit. I like looking at Sidebar, I like all the inspiration blogs, but then I just also think about what are ways for me to explore something and take it back into my work at the office. I like to explore different technologies. I like to do things.

Alex Pierce: But in my personal life, what actually inspires me is I love to read actually. I love reading science fiction. I love reading novels. I am actually in a book club. I’m in a book club and people are going to be like, “Okay, that’s all right. Wow, that’s fancy. That’s hoity-toity.” No. We meet at a bar and we talk about our book. We’re half in the bag before we actually start talking about the book. But I think for me it’s just helped me expose myself.

Alex Pierce: And you know the designer, what’s his name, Tobias van Schneider, I think? The guy behind Semplice and he’s the guy at Spotify. I remember him saying how he gets his inspiration from people outside of the industry and how little he talks to people in the design industry. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I think it is useful to live outside your bubble and just sometimes taking a step away from the screen. And I’m very technology focused, so I’m not saying, Put down your phones. Rah, rah, rah.” I’m saying just find things that you enjoy and have fun with, and I think you can learn how to connect those things together.

Alex Pierce: For instance, I did a thing a few years ago. It’s one of my actually things on my case studies, but I did this thing called, “We Lunchin’, Bro,” which is just an in-office term of just, Where we going for lunch, man? What are we doing?” And my old creative director, he made this word document of just lunches or lunch spots or restaurants in the area, that kind of thing. And I thought, “Okay, this is interesting. So how can I take that and make something a little bit more accessible and interactive for people to help make better decisions during lunch?” And I did that on my own time for the office and I made it a thing. I made it a little mobile website and it was fun to do that. But it’s just one of those things where I’m taking something from another part of my life and seeing how can I apply my own personal skillsets to enhance the experience for me.

Alex Pierce: So that’s where I come from, how do I find inspiration? I have my passions and interests and hobbies and I think about how can I inject that into my own creative mind a little bit.

Maurice Cherry: So what does success look like for you at this point in your career?

Alex Pierce: Success? I think success looks like I’m working on stuff I want to work on. I think success for me is I think having good synergy with your team. For me, I think it’s about … Man, that’s a tough question.

Alex Pierce: Success, I’m still trying to figure that out myself. But I would say I love where I’m at right now in terms of my team. I think success is me continuing to learn, and I think this is one of the things I tell people on my team all the time, which is, especially in our industry, in our field, interactive work, you always have to be learning. You always have to stay on top of things. And I just have that passion around just making sure that I am moving ahead. And success to me looks like I always have something on the horizon, I always am looking forward to the future, I have something that is fulfilling my creative passions and desires. And people might recognize that. Maybe they don’t. I would guess success would be that people do recognize it, I guess, maybe formally or informally or whatever.

Alex Pierce: But for me, and I think this is a long time ago I said this, for me success is me making something that people get a use or enjoy out of, whether that be functionally, whether that’s an app or product or tool, making products that outlive me would be great. But obviously, as we talked about, sometimes especially interactive design can be ephemeral and doesn’t last forever. But I think making things that serve a purpose or function and I want to make experiences that people enjoy. And yeah, that’s where I would leave it at. I think just getting some sort of satisfaction out of people utilizing whatever I make to serve their goals or needs.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Well, it’s 2020. It’s like the future now, which is … it’s so wild to think about. But where do you see yourself in the next five years? In 2025, what will Alex Pierce be working on or what do you want to be working on?

Alex Pierce: Maybe I’m designing a website for the first hoverboard. I don’t know. Right now, I’m currently an associate creative director and I love where I’m at right now. I love the mentorship and guidance as well as still being hands on. I think five years now, I think I’m still doing both those things, maybe at a higher scale, hopefully at a higher scale or larger level. I think my goals are just continuing to just do cool work. Just remember that, for me, we’re so lucky to do the work that we do.

Alex Pierce: A lot of people, for them, you want to make sure that, I want to be clear about this. A lot of people, their job is not their career or their first passion. Sometimes, a job is just a job and everything outside of that, that’s what they … they go to work to earn money to live their life. And that’s perfectly fine and that’s great. And for me, we’re lucky because we get to take our passions and our creative thinking and we go to work and we get to express that. And I used to joke not a lot of people can go to work and their job is to just dick around on the internet.

Alex Pierce: My brother, he’s like a super genius. My brother, he has like three degrees and he’s a VP over at … he’s actually in Atlanta actually. He’s a VP over at Citi, and he’s a math genius, a math nerd, a math whiz. He was a mathlete in high school. Oh, hey, congrats. For him, he tried to explain to me his job once and it just flew over my head. I got a lot of good grades in college, but math was not one of those classes I got great grades in, unlike you, which you’re apparently a creative genius and a math genius.

Maurice Cherry: Well, let’s not go that go that far. But no, go ahead.

Alex Pierce: I’m just grateful for working on stuff that a lot of people … and I want to make sure that people don’t take that for granted, especially if there’s a takeaway from this, is that don’t take what you’re doing so seriously. Some people are like, “Oh, we’re doing work that’s going to change the world.” Yeah, there’s certain … design does have a very important impact on people’s lives. And I think that’s one of my goals, to have my design work impact people’s lives in a positive and in an meaningful, impactful way.

Alex Pierce: But I think at the same time, sometimes you just want to make people smile. Sometimes you want to just entertain people. Sometimes you’re just wanting to have fun. And that’s what I did with my portfolio site. That was the goal. It’s not for everybody, but I made something that … And I remember one comment from a designer on Twitter. He was just like, “Thank you for making personal sites fun again.” And granted, there’s certain flaws with the site, I think from an overall maybe architecture standpoint, but I think the goal for me was just to experiment and have fun and just do cool stuff. And I want to keep being able to do that. And I think that’s something I want people to remember, just we’re really lucky. Just have fun and don’t take yourself so seriously and …

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

Alex Pierce: They can go to my personal site, TheGeekDesigner.com. I’m on Instagram quite a bit. It’s at AlexJamalPierce, all together, lower case obviously. And then I am also on Pinterest, strangely enough. So if you want to see some random recipes that I like, go on Pinterest. I think it’s Alex Jamal Pierce, Pinterest, something like that. If you see a black guy’s face, and I have glasses and a beard, it’s probably me. So, yeah.

Alex Pierce: Then I also still have my Black in History Tumblr up and going. It’s been a little lapsed since I put any entries in, so I need to get back into the flow of things for that. But if you want to check that out, there’s that too. But otherwise, I’ll be at home trying to finish The Irishman. Pray for me on that. I probably won’t. I’m probably going to watch that Six Underground movie that just dropped by Michael Bay. So-

Maurice Cherry: Isn’t that wild how we can binge watch a whole series of a show, but then a three and a half hour movie is too long?

Alex Pierce: Yeah man. I was [inaudible 01:01:55] in that Avengers End Game movie, so I can sit through a long movie, but you got to give me something, man. You got to give me something.

Maurice Cherry: All right. Well, Alex Pierce, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Well, first, I think thank you for, I guess I would say coming back on Revision Path. Like I said before, you’ve been on here before seven years ago, which is wild to think I’ve been doing this now for seven years. My God.

Alex Pierce: I’m impressed. That’s [crosstalk 01:02:24]. I’m glad to be an OG.

Maurice Cherry: OG. Yeah. Well, I think it’s been good to see not only your growth as a designer and really your growth in your career, but also to see how you uniquely approach projects, as you were talking about brand-centric design and user-centric design. I think it’s that level of intelligence about the field and about the work that more people need to see, I think just from us in general.

Alex Pierce: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And hopefully, that will inspire more people to want to get involved, even in some small way. Like you said before, you want people to not take themselves so seriously. But I think it’s important to show that there are folks that are in this industry that can bring that level of play to their work, but also be very serious and smart about it too. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Alex Pierce: Thank you. I’m glad to be back.

Sponsors

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Anthony Harrison

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

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

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Anthony Harrison: I hope that answers the question.

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

Anthony Harrison: But you never turn off.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: No layers?

Anthony Harrison: Yeah, no layers and one undo.

Maurice Cherry: Woo.

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

Maurice Cherry: Oh, man.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

Anthony Harrison: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Congratulations.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: What? From a clothing ad?

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

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

Anthony Harrison: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: What inspires you these days?

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: In what way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsors

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

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

Adrian Franks is a one-of-a-kind renaissance man. His work as a UX creative director at IBM focuses on experience design (iX) for their global business services brand, but trust me — his skills don’t stop there.

Our conversation began with Adrian walking us through his typical days of meetings and projects, but things really came alive when we talked about his days growing up and learning design in Atlanta. Adrian also talked about how he connected with the venerable film maker Spike Lee for a series of art projects, and shared some great advice on the types of skills designers need to have in order to achieve their best work. I’m so glad we have designers like Adrian out there who can show us what the true possibilities of creativity can be!


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

This episode is brought to you by Abstract: design workflow management for modern design teams.

Spend less time searching for design files and tracking down feedback, and spend more time focusing on innovation and collaboration.

Like Glitch, but for designers, Abstract is your team’s version-controlled source of truth for design work. With Abstract, you can version design files, present work, request reviews, collect feedback, and give developers direct access to all specs—all from one place.

Sign your team up for a free, 30-day trial today by heading over to www.abstract.com.


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


Winemaker. Sommelier. Author. Creative Director. Designer. These are just a few words that describe the force that is André Mack. Whether he’s at his vineyards in Oregon or opening up a new business in New York City, André is proof that you can do anything you want to do in life if you have the drive, passion, and creativity to make it happen.

Our conversation begins with a look into André’s current life, and from there he shared how he switched careers from finance to wine. He also talked about his design agency Get Fraîche Cru, and even gave us a little information about his latest project — a new book titled 99 Bottles: A Black Sheep’s Guide to Life-Changing Wines. André might not be a fan of titles, but after this episode, I can think of a really great one for him — changemaker! Enjoy!


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