Kojo Boateng

It’s Revision Path’s 350th episode, and for this special, historic occasion, I’m honored to talk with Kojo Boateng. You might remember our 2016 interview with Kojo (episode 125!), and we get into everything that’s changed in his world since then.

We started off talking about the transition period in his life that led him to move to the United States, and Kojo goes into his current work as a creative director for PBS News Hour. He also shared some of the community work he’s doing in the DC design scene, including creating safe spaces for Black designers to fellowship and network. Kojo also spoke about the effect hip hop has had on his design work, and talked about how he’s staying motivated and inspired during these current times.

Thanks to all of you for helping us get to this huge milestone!

Sponsor

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

Terry Biddle

Maintaining a creative career these days can be tough, but Terry Biddle makes it look easy. As product design director at DC-based edtech company EVERFI, he helps oversee a lot of UX work while also collaborating with his team to help create lasting social impact for millions of learners every day.

Terry talked about how his love of design came from film and animation, and recalled his time at Howard as an undergrad before continuing at Pratt Institute while holding down a full-time gig. He also spoke on his first design gig once he graduated, his side project The Knell, and how he created his own typeface under the teaching of the legendary Tony DiSpigna! Terry says he started his design career in a world with no undos, and that kind of determination is what has helped make him a success today!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Terry Biddle:
My name is Terry Biddle, I’m a product design director, and I live in Washington DC.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you work for a company called EVERFI, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, EVERFI is an education technology company, just to put it in a nutshell. We make education technology products, so anything that you can think of, as far as online courses, we make them. We make them from kindergarten through 12th grade, for adult learning, for technology companies, for schools, for banks, you name it. That’s what I do, in a nutshell. I make online courses for all types of learners.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How did you get started there?

Terry Biddle:
It’s kind of an interesting tale. So, before I worked at EVERFI, I had my own company, called The Knell, and I sort of got my feet involved in the tech community in Washington DC. And we may get into this a little bit later, but shortly before I was getting ready to start launching The Knell, my CTO left the company, and so, I was left with making a decision that a lot of tech companies have at the time, it’s , “All right, now what do I do while we’re right before launch? Do I keep this going, do I stay active, or do I find myself another job in the tech industry?” So, I found myself another job in the tech industry, basically, and one of my really good friends in the tech community ended up working at EVERFI, and he said, “Hey, they have some positions that are open for designers, maybe you should check it out.” And so, I did, and now I work at EVERFI, and it’s been a pretty good experience so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What kind of projects are you working on now? You mentioned these courses, but in general, what kind of stuff are you working on?

Terry Biddle:
Just to make it really easy for folks to understand, I basically make web applications. I design web applications. We make them for responsive design, of course, so it’s going to be [inaudible 00:05:41] on web, all in a web platform, like tablet, desktop, mobile phones. So, I lead a small team of designers, international designers. Actually, a lot of the designers that are part of the team that [inaudible 00:05:58] the courses that I help build are based in Argentina, mainly Buenos Ares, Argentina, and we have quite a few designers in the DC office as well. And we also do a lot of communication with our development team, also, just to make sure everything works the way we intend it to work. It’s really collaborative. UX is really involved, UI design is really involved in the process too. So, it’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of communication, also, with our content team. We work really closely with our content writers and our instructional designers and our learning experience designers, as well, to craft courses that are going to make sense to learners. So, it’s really a lot of, “Okay, does this make sense on this page? All right, now, does this make sense to navigate to that page?” It’s really, actually, a good deal of science that goes into it, it’s not just visual. So, that’s a lot of what my day to day is.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best thing about what you do?

Terry Biddle:
The best thing about what I do. I don’t know if I’ve thought about it in that way before. I really like collaboration. I would say the best thing about what I do is working with a team of people across all different parts of the product team, that are just… I work with a lot of really, really smart, super sharp people. I really enjoy, just, the comradery and the communication and just really coming together and solving a problem as a group. I really love that. So, for me, collaboration is a thing that I really take the most enjoyment out of, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I want to get more into your career, including The Knell, that you just mentioned recently, but first, let’s take it back a little bit. You grew up in Ohio, is that right?

Terry Biddle:
That’s correct. Cincinnati, Ohio, born and raised.

Maurice Cherry:
Cincinnati, Ohio, tell me about that.

Terry Biddle:
Well, it’s a city on the river. It’s right across the border from Kentucky on the Ohio river. I like to let folks know that Cincinnati, even though it’s considered a Northern state, it’s right on the border of the South, so it’s the last Southern state in the North, basically, is what I consider Cincinnati to be a lot like. So, you can go to Cincinnati and get good barbecue is what I’m trying to say.

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Terry Biddle:
That surprise you? And what was it to live in Cincinnati? So, growing up in Cincinnati, I lived in Cincinnati proper for the first part of my childhood, and then I ended up moving to the suburbs. My parents are both college educated. My mom was a teacher, so for her, education was super, super, super important. She wanted us to go to school in a district that had higher education standards, so we ended up moving to the suburbs, and now, went from living in an all black neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, to moving to a suburb called Evendale, Ohio. And it was a bit of a culture shock for me, living in an all black neighborhood and then moving to a majority white suburb. It was cool, as far as finding friends. I was a kid, I was eight or nine years old, so finding friends and playing was no big deal to me.

Terry Biddle:
This was about fourth grade, and in fourth grade, the first school that I went to, it was majority white. I think there were two black children in the entire school that I was going to. It felt a bit out of place. In retrospect, I remember a couple of instances of people saying things that we would definitely consider to be racist now, but it was something that was not considered that back then. And I remember, I had a best friend that I used to play with all the time, and then one day, we stopped playing, and then I found out, later, it was because his parents were racist and they forbid him to play with me anymore.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, damn.

Terry Biddle:
This was when I was eight years old, so that was probably my first experience with racism and sort of coming to grips with understanding what that was. So, it was a big shock to me, actually, just to experience that because before that, I wasn’t really aware of… I mean, you know people look different, but you’re not really aware that people… It was my first understanding that, “Oh, people can just hate me for any reason they want to.” So, that was my first… really coming to terms with it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I grew up in Selma, Alabama, so I know all too well, that feeling of people just not liking you, hating you, for whatever reason. I mean, they have a reason, it’s because they’re racist, but unfortunately, I know exactly what it is that you’re talking about.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, and it’s really weird. I didn’t even have the faculties to even understand what that was or how to navigate that at the time. Thankfully, it wasn’t a period that really persisted. I had that happened, and then there are things that happened over the course of it, but I will say that as I was growing up in Cincinnati, I always felt like something wasn’t… I didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt, a lot, I wasn’t able to be myself. I felt like being myself was seen as being rebellious. And it wasn’t until I got older and I went to college in Washington DC, and then, eventually, I went to grad school in New York City. It wasn’t until I was in those places, where I can be myself, anonymous, and nobody cared. It made me realize, “Oh my God, I can actually be myself and nobody is looking at me, nobody’s staring at me, nobody’s making me feel I’m an outsider.”

Terry Biddle:
I used to dye my hair and stuff when I was in Ohio, I think I dyed my hair red, I used to dye my hair red, and I’ve bleached it before. I used to have my ears pierced a while, I used to have my ears double-pierced. I had nose ring, I had a labret piercing. I used to do the stuff that a kid does, but me doing it, being a black guy doing it, it was like, “What is this guy? What is this guy? Is he a freak?” People would look at me funny, people would assume I was gay. Why would it matter if I was? I wanted to be someplace where I wasn’t made to feel like I was an other. So, being in DC and being in New York really made me realize like, “All right, I think I need to move someplace where I can be myself without feeling like I’m made to feel like another person.

Maurice Cherry:
And when you moved to DC, I mean, you went to Howard University for undergrad, which is, I think, probably a great place to find yourself.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, so there’s a bit of a story about that too. So, my freshman year of college, I actually went to Columbus College of Art and Design. I got a $20,000 scholarship to Columbus College of Art and Design because I originally wanted to be an animator for Disney, that’s what I wanted to do. When I graduated from high school. I was like, “I’m going to be an animator for Disney.” The Columbus College of Art and Design recruited students from Disney to become animators there, so that’s why I originally went to the Columbus College of Art and Design. When I went to that school, I found myself in a similar situation that I felt when I had moved from Cincinnati proper to Evendale when I was about eight years old, when I was in fourth grade. I was one of the few black kids there, and it was a really small school. I think it was smaller than my high school. And I felt, again, like I was an other, and it made me feel uncomfortable again, and I wanted to experience what it was like to not feel like an other, to not have no reason… not to have the most obvious reason for people to segregate themselves from me.

Terry Biddle:
So, that was why I went to Howard. I applied to Howard and CCAD and got into both. And after I went through my freshman year, I was like, “All right, let me go to Howard.” And also, the other part of it was, aside from Disney animation, I wanted to study film a little bit more broadly, so I went to Howard to study radio, TV, film in a more broad fashion, and not just focus on the animation part of it. So, that’s how I ended up in Washington DC.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So, what was your time like at Howard?

Terry Biddle:
Oh man, it was great. I don’t want to say it was the best years of my life. I don’t want to say that because every year brings something different. I loved going to Howard. I look fondly on the years that I spent there. I had a lot of good friends, a lot of them I still stay in contact with to this day. It was just a really good experience. It’s really fortunate, I think, that we live in a time that I think what it means to be black is very different than what it was then. I think a lot of us, we’re coming into our own with it. I started wearing dreadlocks when I was at Howard, I had dreads all through Howard. I’m trying to think how many years I had dreads. I had them for a long time. I had them for five or six years straight, then I grew them again for another seven years after that, I-

Maurice Cherry:
And what years were this?

Terry Biddle:
So, Howard was 97 to 2000.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, all right.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, I forgot I have to say the year because-

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, I’m thinking this is post-

Terry Biddle:
[crosstalk 00:15:47] listeners, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, no, I’m also thinking this is… when you talked about, sort of, the different ideas of blacks, I’m kind of also trying to quantify it within what else is going on in history and pop culture then, so this is post A Different World.

Terry Biddle:
Post A Different World.

Maurice Cherry:
L.A. Riots, that sort of thing, Million Man March, et cetera.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, in fact, I should probably talk a bit about that because… So, one of the big thoughts about going to Howard, then, was… this is when we didn’t really have any black directors that were mainstream successful at that time. And John Singleton, this was a few years after Boyz n the Hood came out. So, Boyz n the Hood came out and it just blew up the mainstream. Spike Lee was on the scene at the time as well. I should also say John Singleton and I actually had the exact same birthday on January sixth. His death really, really got to me because he was one of the people that I looked up to coming up, in addition to us sharing the same birthday. So, it was really shocking when he passed away.

Terry Biddle:
But yeah, I mean, this was what pop culture was like. And this is a pre-YouTube world, so when I came to this school… Google didn’t exist yet when I started college. Google didn’t exist, we had a couple of web search engines, I think, at the time. So, this is how far back. So, we had Lycos, WebCrawler, Yoohoo was the most popular at the time, Ask Jeeves. This is what was out at the time, this was a pre-Google world, and we couldn’t even write papers… You couldn’t even use the internet to write papers back then. To do research for papers, we had to go to the library, we had to use floppy disks. This is an area that a lot of folks don’t even know anything about. Dial up internet, having to download music with dial up internet. Man, I remember sitting in my dorm room, waiting 15 minutes to find tracks on Napster. It’s like, “All right, aw man, this track. It’s only going to be 15 minutes, cool, cool, cool.” And 15 minutes was an acceptable time to download one song.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terry Biddle:
It’s crazy. Just leave that stuff playing overnight to download an album. Oh my goodness, take me back, take me back now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Napster, Kazaa, I think there was one called Audioscrobbler.

Terry Biddle:
Limewire.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Limewire, all of those. Yeah, I remember that very, very fondly.

Terry Biddle:
Oh my gosh, man. That was the era.

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative). So, you’re studying at Howard, you graduated in what, 2000, you said?

Terry Biddle:
Graduated in 2000, yeah. I got my undergrad degree in 2000. That was in the School of Communication, shout out to School of C, radio, TV and film. So, my emphasis was mainly in TV and film. That was where the primary area of my study, so there was a lot of screenwriting and TV and film production. And this was back in the day, so we did video editing on Super VHS and Beta video.

Maurice Cherry:
So, what was your next step after…

Terry Biddle:
S and beta videos.

Maurice Cherry:
So what was your next step after Howard?

Terry Biddle:
Well, my next step after Howard I thought was going to be going into film industry and I couldn’t quite find a linear path into the film industry back then, the only way to get into the film industry. This was, again this was, everything was analog. I think when I came out of school there was only one mainstream motion picture that was shot on digital video and that was the Phantom Menace. George Lucas’ Star Wars movie was the first, I think, one of the first mainstream movies that were shot on digital video. So it wasn’t… Digital video wasn’t even mainstream at the time. Like now, most things are probably shot with Arri Alexas and Red cameras, that wasn’t even a thing then. So think back when, what you had to do to break into the mainstream to do filmmaking, you had to shoot on 16 millimeters.

Terry Biddle:
That was the only way to do it. So it was… And it was incredibly expensive, I want to say it was about $10,000 a reel to get 60 millimeter film. So it was incredibly expensive and you had to try to get funds like that. So if you were going to try to break into the film industry then, the only way to do it was to be a production assistant, and you really had to be a P.A in New York or LA to do it. I mean from Cincinnati, Ohio, not having any connections in New York city or in LA, I couldn’t really find a path to do that, I mean it was really difficult. Like they’d kind of walled you out so you would have crash on buddy’s couch basically and work for minimum wage or so to do it in New York.

Terry Biddle:
I didn’t see that path there. So what I ended up doing after that was, I was always a visual artist. That was the main reason why I went to school in the first place was to be a visual artist, to be an animator. So I was like, all right, so I know how to draw, I knew how to paint, so I should probably go back to school and do something creative as a profession. I need to find some way to use my creativity as profession. And I wasn’t actually familiar with graphic design at the time, so it was something that I sort of researched and I ultimately, decided to go into studying graphic design as a major for my graduate school. Some crazy stuff go out in between them. This was around 2001 too. Just to give, give your listeners a time frame and this was during, this was around 9/11 so there were quite a lot of stuff that was going on at the time.

Terry Biddle:
I had sort of made it, I made, I was making a decision. It was… What do you call it? Where you like… I was like flipping a coin basically to decide what was the right choice for me to do. So, I had applied for, I had asked for some recommendations from some professors at the time to apply to film school for my master’s program. But I also was thinking about doing graphic design as my master’s program.

Terry Biddle:
And this was right after 9/11 there was I don’t know if you, if you will remember this or listeners will remember this, but there was Anthrax, there was an Anthrax, a mail scare that happened right after that. And a lot of things were put in the mail and people weren’t getting their mail in. And I had some packages that were sent out that were supposed to go to schools that just completely got lost in the mail and I never got them. So I wasn’t able to complete my process. And the other side of the coin was graphic design. So I decided to go back to school to Pratt and studied graphic design there and their grad comd department that was based in Manhattan. So that’s kind of like a crazy, crazy way. And I ended up at graphic design.

Maurice Cherry:
You know, it’s interesting, there’s like a… And maybe it’s because I’ve had so many people on the show that I sort of followed a similar path but, there’s like this pipeline between Howard and Hampton to Pratt university or Pratt Institute, I should say, sorry, Pratt Institute. There’s like this pipeline where people will start out at one of those two schools for undergrad for design and then ended up going to Pratt. Did you find that there were a lot of Howard folks when you were there?

Terry Biddle:
There were a couple of Howard folks and there were some Hampton folks too. One of my best buddies at Howard as I was a, I’m sorry, one of my best buddies at Pratt was, it was a Hampton grad. I think they need to stop the Hampton pipeline. You don’t need any more people from Hampton going to Pratt. That’s a Hampton joke for folks that don’t know. And just to be clear on air, Howard university is a real H.U. I don’t care what anybody tells you. Howard university is the real H.U. just got to be clear about that.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I went to Morehouse, so I don’t know if I really have anything to say in this whole conversation, but I’ll let you have that one. Okay.

Terry Biddle:
You probably witnessed the turf Wars.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. So how was Pratt different from Howard, aside from it being, graduate to undergrad? How was it different?

Terry Biddle:
Oh man. I mean it’s, I don’t even know how to explain it. There were so completely different experiences. I mean, first I lived in the dorms at Howard, so it was a very, very different at Pratt, I lived in an apartment. I worked a lot while I was in school, so I didn’t really work full time when I was in undergrad, but I worked almost full time when I was in my Master’s program. So it was a very, very, very different experience like working in, I lived in Brooklyn when I was at Pratt and I would commute to Manhattan to go to class. So, it was a very, very different, very, very different experience as far as the classroom makeup was of course very different obviously. But there were a lot of international students that at Pratt too, which was really cool.

Terry Biddle:
It was nice to have different perspectives. We had a lot of students from South Korea that were in our classes, which was really cool to have some international perspective on things where we’re in class and I don’t know if I can really talk to the differences because my schooling was so different. I was really doing a lot of TV production and video editing when I was an undergrad. And then I, Pratt was very like, design focused design. I will say that Pratt’s program was really intense. It was really, really intense. And there were a lot of the big difference I would say that the grad comd department at Pratt, the professors were working full time, so a lot of them were there. They were doing it, they were in involved in the process, like they were actively working in the field. So I think the perspective that we were getting was a very, very different than what you can see sometimes at universities where you know folks are lifelong professors and that’s what they do full time.

Terry Biddle:
But having the perspective of being a designer that’s working is really, really helpful too, for students to understand what market, what the market is and not just, understand what the design principles are. because I mean I’m just going to be honest, a lot of what we learned in design school, it goes completely out the window when you are working at a big company. It just doesn’t compute and you’re going to make, you’re going to have to make choices that are completely like counter to what you think you learned in design school. And it’s good to have the perspective of folks that you know that are working to put food on the table that are working to employ other people because they have a different, they’re going to come at it with a little bit more reality I think sometimes then than what we can learn in a university system.

Maurice Cherry:
That actually is good to know. I mean, I didn’t go to art school at all, so I was always curious about sort of how much of that transference happens once you graduate and you get out there in the working world, do you feel like it’s equipped you with the basics or not? So that’s interesting to know. So right after Pratt, you got your master’s degree. What was your first design gig after that?

Terry Biddle:
My first full time design gig was at Reader’s Digest. I worked at Reader’s Digest for almost a year. It was, they send a Midtown Manhattan and DC and sorry, Midtown Manhattan in New York city on your Bryant park, which is, I think we’re good morning America puts on their little music show on the summertime there’s summer stage. So that was kind of fun walking past there sometimes in the summertime, seeing the shows. Yeah, that was my first gig working in publishing and in Reader’s Digest, which is really big company, but it was, I really learned a great deal from working there. I got a lot of good jobs. We’re talking about a lot of back in a day stuff. So let me just let your listeners know what the deal was then.

Terry Biddle:
So the first program I used Quark 4, to get started and Quark 4 for folks that don’t know had no undo’s, zero undo’s. This is, I started my design career in a world of no undo’s. So just so folks and understand that Adobe distiller, you had to make a postscript file and then you had to convert that to a PDF. So,that was like the workload back in the day. Adobe distiller, Quark 4 no undo’s. That’s how I started my design career.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember Quark 4 not fondly for that reason. I do remember it though because we used, we used Quark and I think we ended up switching to, maybe it was Adobe PageMaker or something. This one I was, I was probably still in high school at this point. No wait. You said… What year was this when you were doing this?

Terry Biddle:
This was 2005

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no. I was out of high school by then. We did use Quark in high school, but it was a previous version that also did not have undo’s. So I feel your pain there. Absolutely.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah. It was crazy. I mean, you learn, you learn really, really quickly how to, how to make it work.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, absolutely. You end up adapting to the situation for sure. Now let’s talk about The Knell, where did the idea come from to create that?

Terry Biddle:
It’s interesting, so like we have, it came from a lot of, we were just talking about, so I came out of school as an undergrad and a pre YouTube world. There wasn’t any way for the creators of color really to get their work out into the world at the time. When I came out of school and it wasn’t really easy. But now, I mean, I think when I thought of this idea, vine was still kicking around, YouTube exists or Vimeo exists, but there still wasn’t quite the pipeline to get creators of color. You know, a moment to shine.I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, but social media is completely broken in the United States. The way Twitter and Facebook have sort of, so I’m looking for amplified the loudest voices and it’s really difficult to be heard outside of the noise and outside and some of that negativity.

Terry Biddle:
I wanted to try to find a way to create a platform where, marginalized voices would feel like they had a place to showcase their work, but also a place where they could feel safe online without dealing with the idea of harassment. So I wanted to create sort of a video. I wanted to create a video platform that was for marginalized voices and that’s really what I, how I thought of the idea for The Knell. I wanted to create the platform that I wish existed when I was, coming out of school at Howard. That [inaudible 00:31:02] idea came about.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I checked out the website and looked at the video. I really liked that kind of bell animation kind of reminds me of almost like afterschool special when they have the little rotating texts or whatever. Like this is a specialist afterschool special announcement or something. I really liked the branding with that. How has it been going so far?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I’m going to be real. I’m probably going to wrap it up and in the near future it’s really, really difficult out here for black entrepreneurs to sort of get the key behind, stuff like this. It’s really hard to find, the funding and to find the people and the manpower to really get your thing off the ground. And I will say that I learned so much from it. I learned a great deal in the tech space from doing it, but it’s been really, really difficult to get off the ground. And I think it might be a time to put it on the back burner for a while until I can come back to it at another time. Now they’ve got a full time job and I just, I’m actually, I have a one year old daughter who just turned one a few days ago. As a matter of fact, being a dad, being a dad man, having a full time job, I’m going to have to let my other baby chill out for a little bit until I can come back to it in a better, in a better spot.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You have a whole new, a whole new life to take care of though.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, definitely. She definitely keeps me busy.

Maurice Cherry:
With everything that you’re doing, I mean with work and everything. One thing that really sort of stuck out to me as I was doing my research, and we talked about this a little bit before recording, is that you’ve created your own typeface. we’ve had a few typo…Well, I think we’ve only had two, two typographers on the site, on the podcast before, but tell me about your typeface and how you came about creating it.

Terry Biddle:
Oh man. Let’s see. How did I come about this? I’m like a type geek. Like I was obsessed with typography, when I went to grad school at Pratt. One of my professors was this a gentleman named Tony DiSpigna and I don’t know if folks know who Tony DiSpigna is, but I Shall let people know that he’s like one of the, he is a kind of a design legend. He worked for Herb Lubalin, a lot of the type faces that are really popular now, he helped design like ITC lubalin graph, avant garde, Serif Gothic. Those are, I think he’s credited with creating Serif Gothic. It’s for, folks, that was one of the type typefaces. I think that was used a lot in the 80’s I believe even the [inaudible 00:34:01] it and its titles as well.

Terry Biddle:
Hand lettering. So I learned a lot of typographic techniques from Tony DiSpigna and I for my grad school thesis. I did like a really like a type-based thing where I sort of, I did a re-design of the New York city subway system and where I designed a typeface but I studied, it was pre UX. It was like, I did all the legibility tests and all that, all that. So I was really, really into the geekery and the like the science behind legibility and understanding cognition and things like that. And after, having my hands and my getting into really, really nitty gritty type design, I kind of want to do something that was a little bit more fun, more free. I really loved hand lettering. Hand lettering was something I pretty much always did growing up.

Terry Biddle:
It wasn’t until I went to Pratt that I found an actual application for understanding how to make typography legible. So I was like, all right, let me just play around with some letters. And I just started drawing these letters, and inking them with an ink brush. And I was like, I really like looks I think my initial ones where I was making a new website for myself and I was just drawing a bunch of type and one of the treatments that I had done with Hamlet or type I really liked and I wanted to take it further. So I just drew it all by hand. I drew every single individual letter out by hand and then I started scanning it in and decided to make a typeface out of it. Now little did I know when I started doing that, how difficult it was going to be from start to finish because it took me several years to actually get it going.

Terry Biddle:
If I were to put it all together, I would say from start to finish, it probably took about 2 years total to do it. But I sort of stopped in between on the way and then came back to it later on. But it was fun. I mean it was a lot of fun. But then it gets really, really super, super technical after a while and because it’s a layered typeface. So folks who can’t see it, the typeface that we’re talking about is called Bizzle Chizzle. It’s actually like a series of 4 fonts, but you layer 3 of them on top of each other and they make a dimensional typeface. So it looks like it’s chiseled out of stone. And when you do that, you have to make sure that each layer lines up exactly perfectly. There was… After I had designed it and then could submit it to MyFonts for fonts creation and after you submit they give you pointers.

Terry Biddle:
I’m like, all right, your [inaudible 00:36:21] off and like, yeah, you need to work on this. And your tracking and all they, they give you all these details about how to get your font ready for commercial release. So did some more tweaking after that. And then low and behold they accepted. It was pretty cool. It was a pretty fun experience. So come back to it and then like I have some typefaces for sale on MyFonts, so that’s something I can say I did. Oh, that’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Would you ever make another typeface one day?

Terry Biddle:
Oh would make another typeface someday I’ve made other typefaces. I just haven’t released them yet. I keep like I have some type of basis that I just use for my own personal use. I made a handwriting typeface that I keep on my computer that I just use from time to time whenever I’m making a comic type treatment, things like that.

Terry Biddle:
I might someday expand this set and release it. But it’s a lot of work to do a typeface. There’s just so much work and it’s, it can be a really tedious process. It’s typical sometimes to find the time to do it, but yeah, I mean I think, I think one day when I’m like retired on my Island or, or at the beach or something, I might just like crack open, some font software and just like start making some typeface again, when I have some more free time, I can see myself too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. There’s a typographer we’ve had on the show. You may have heard of him. His name is Trey Seals. He’s out there in the D.M.V area. He’s made a number of different typefaces, mostly centered around, I think like protest signs and protest imagery from the 60’s and before, but he’s made a number of different typefaces. I remember when I had him on the show, he talked about how it’s, it’s really, it’s a very painstaking process that goes into it even.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a very painstaking process that goes into it, even for something that you would think, oh, there’s like 26 letters and you know, upper case, lower case, maybe throwing some numbers, some punctuation. There are these glyphs that we see all the time, but we’d never really think about construction of them because especially in a unified family sort of way, like a typeface.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, it is painstaking. It’s a lot of detail that goes into it. It’s not as easy. Like if you’re doing something hand handwritten, it’s not as easy as just like, “Oh you draw it and you scan it in.” Well, when you scan it in you’re going to bring in a lot of artifacts that you have to really clean up for the font software because you have to make it readable by the software that you’re going to use, so you have to simplify the line work a bit. So it’s quite a lot that goes into it. I mean some of that nitty gritty stuff though can be the fun part of it once you get into it. The next thing that I want to do is I want to take a crack at making a super family.

Terry Biddle:
I really love like a type of super families. So I would love to take a crack at doing that at some point. But that’s, of course, a lot of pains staking work, but one of these days I would love to have a bit of time to really sit down and do it. I love sans serif faces with true italics, man. I want to make a super family. I want to make a sans serif super family with a true italics. So that’s like one of those things that I’m going to do on my wishlist.

Maurice Cherry:
Alright, and now also as I was doing my research, I saw that you have also been a design educator at an HBCU. You taught at University of District of Columbia. Tell me a little bit about that experience.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, I mean, I really like teaching, and one of the things that I told myself before I went to grad school, it was one of the big reasons I wanted to go to grad school is that I wanted to be able to teach other students. I think it’s important to me in particular to sort of give back in a way, to pass knowledge on, to give people insight, and to help them grow in a way that may not have been available to you at the time. I want to be able to do that for other people. So that to me, was one of the main reasons that I really wanted to be a professor. I really love talking about something in class and sort of seeing their eyes light up when you can tell that you’ve completely blown their mind.

Terry Biddle:
There’s just nothing like that, when you see them have this aha moment where you’re like, “Oh man!” Where you can tell that they really got something that you said. And it may not even be something big or something grand, but it’s something you say and you see them take it in. That’s really rewarding. It’s really rewarding to see a student learn. I just love being able to pass that on and really helping folks know their path in the future. So that’s one of the main drives for me to teach. I really wanted to do that, to give back some of that knowledge and to make a path easier for others.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think your students teach you?

Terry Biddle:
Everything. I mean, it’s funny you say that because one of the things that I always say to my students is, “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always learn something from somebody else,” and say, “As much as I would like you to learn from me, I’m learning from you as well.”

Terry Biddle:
I don’t think it matters what age you are. You can always learn something new. That was something that I learned from my grandma. My grandma was a voracious reader. She would read always, always, always until the day she died. She was reading, absorbing books and was always up-to-date on what’s happening in the political environment. I would remember calling my grandma. We talk about politics all the time. She used to watch C-SPAN. I mean my grandma watched C-SPAN 24/7. I think what I love learning from people that are younger than me is just a new way of thinking. There’s always a new way of thinking, a new way of doing things, and I like to be open to learning something new. You know I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point in my life where there’s not something I can learn from someone else.

Terry Biddle:
I mean, I learn from my daughter every day. Actually, one of the things I learned from my daughter is just what it’s like to find out what’s new in the world or just be exposed to what’s new in the world. That was the coolest thing about now having a really young child is you actually get to witness someone learning something for the first time. Everything to them is new. So it really sort of makes you… I learned how not to take things for granted in a way by seeing people learn something new every day. It just really keeps you open and makes you really grateful and thankful for what you have.

Terry Biddle:
When you see how amazing things can be, like when you see the kids’ eyes light up when they see something for the first time, you’re just like, “You know what? That is really neat, right? That’s really cool.” It is amazing that this sunset is amazing. Those colors are amazing. Like, look at that rainbow. You know, just stuff like that that we’re just like, “Alright, keep it moving. Yeah. I’ve seen that sunset 20,000 times.” But, you know, if you spend a little extra time looking at that sunset it’s amazing. There’s just so much beauty I think that we take for granted, and that’s something that I think of that I learned from everyone is just how they experienced something… can always learn something from another person’s experience with something.

Maurice Cherry:
What keeps you motivated and inspired these days to create?

Terry Biddle:
What keeps me motivated and inspired these days to create? I don’t know if I have one particular source. One thing that I usually do is.. What I usually get inspired is something that’s completely opposite of the thing that I’m doing. I find that it’s best to have your head outside of the realm that you’re in to find something new. Like I don’t read a lot of design blogs. Back in my younger early career, I used to read all the design blogs. I used to read all about design. I don’t do that as much anymore. I like to read about tech and science and math, sometimes everything, art, music. That’s what I do. I read a lot. I love reading. I mean there’s so many things that you can learn. The reason I like looking at something that’s completely opposite of what the creative thing is that I’m doing is that it frees your mind from the thing that you’re actively trying or problem that you’re trying to solve.

Terry Biddle:
And you may find an answer to the problem that you’re solving in something else. Cause we are all part of… I mean the world is more interconnected than we often like to think. You know, the golden, I’m about to throw a design term out, but you know, like the golden ratio. I think about that all the time actually. How many times is that shape replicated throughout the world? You know, in the things that we make, in patterns outside. Everything is connected in some way. So I think a lot of times finding a solution to something or finding inspiration in something comes from outside of the thing and outside of the realm that you’re in. I think that also keeps your mind open and it keeps your mind open. It doesn’t block you in to thinking that the answer to what you’re looking for exists only within your particular realm or only your particular avenue. So for me, it can be anything that’s not design is really where I look for inspiration. Anything that is not specifically in the design world, I look for inspiration.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you appreciate most about your life right now?

Terry Biddle:
This one’s easy for me. Being a new dad is the thing I most appreciate about life right now. There’s nothing like being a dad. I’m a first time parent, so I’m probably gushing more. I’m sure folks who have more kids who might be listening to this are like, “Mmhmm, wait till you get to the third one.” But you know, right now I’m still in that little baby bliss period. So it’s really cool to me… It’s just nothing like it. It’s really changed my perspective, being a dad. A lot of the things that I would do, before I had a child or not, the things that I would do now to me my main priority is getting home and seeing my daughter, getting home and having dinner with my daughter and seeing her off the bed or like giving her a bath and things like that. That’s hands down pretty easy for me right now is spending time with my daughter.

Maurice Cherry:
So one of the themes that we kind of have for the year here, you know it’s 2020, the whole future is now sort of thing, is like how are you using the skills that you have now to basically do good in the future. So I’ll ask you this question, how are you helping to build a more equitable future?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I spent a good amount of my life post 2016 with The Knell doing that. That was really my big driver for quite a while. Right now what I’m doing is I am participating in some groups, company I work for at EVERFI actually, we’re about to start a mentorship program. So right now I think I am going to be helping the next generation of kids coming up to help them get a foothold in the design and really in the professional world. So mentorship is my next step, I think. I did a little bit of that as professor, but now I’m going to be able to do a bit of that now where I work and I think that’s what I’m going to be doing for 2020 for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What did you think you were going to be doing five years ago? Like in 2015, what were you thinking you’d be doing now in 2020?

Terry Biddle:
Man, oh man, that’s a really interesting question because 2015 was sort of a pivotal year where I was sort of making decisions. What did I think I would be doing right now? I think that I thought that I’d be doing pretty close to what I’m doing now, or I’d be doing something in the entertainment realm. I had another little detour where I did some stand-up comedy, and actually 2015 was interesting because I helped do Washington DC’s first Comedy Hack Day where I sort of got into or sort of like made a connection to tech. But I’d also had some connection to the comedy world because I started doing stand-up comedy during that time, so it was sort of like an intersection between my entertainment background and tech. So I would say that I would probably be doing something pretty similar or The Knell in some way right about now. So I think I’m surprisingly pretty much where I thought I’d be in 2020.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now to look forward, where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I’m about to get woo-woo on you. As one of the big changes I had in my life was that I really started to embrace more living in the moment and living in time, so I try not to think too much about what’s going to happen in the future. But, since you asked the question, there’s two paths I could see for myself. I love entertainment. I love script writing. One of the reasons I got into comedy back in the day, it wasn’t back in the day, actually it wasn’t that long ago, but one of the reasons I got into stand-up was because I love writing and I would love to be as part of a comedy writer’s room or a TV writer’s room. So I could see myself back in entertainment doing that.

Terry Biddle:
Or I would love to either have my own company and/or work in the VC realm. I think what’s most needed in tech right now is a really diverse representation in the VC industry. I’m saying in order for the tech industry to change more broadly, we need to have more representation in the VC realm, and I would love to see a more even representation amongst women, minorities, LGBTQIA tech folks to really start driving broader change in the tech industry. So I would love to be part of that movement if that movement were to come in the VC realm.

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

Terry Biddle:
Well, you can find me on TerryBiddle.com and you can also find me on Twitter at TBiddy.com. Not TBiddy.com. TBiddy is my handle on Twitter. You can find me there. I do own TBiddy.com, which I used to use as a URL shortener for Twitter, but you can find me on TerryBiddle.com and on Twitter handle TBiddy.

Maurice Cherry:
Alright, sounds good. Well, Terry Biddle, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s funny when we talked about this before, you were saying like, “Oh there’s not really something in particular I sort of wanted to discuss,” but I think as we’ve heard your story and definitely as we’ve seen you kind of grow throughout the years just based on what you’ve told us, it’s clear that forging your own path to be a creative is not an easy task. And I think that’s something that a lot of people may forget because creativity from the outside looking in can often look like a very easy thing. Like, “Oh you just sit around and just come up with ideas all day or you draw all day.” The things that are attributed to creativity when you’re a child tend to be discarded as frivolity when you’re an adult, which I think is really odd.

Maurice Cherry:
But certainly I think what I can draw, and hopefully what others draw from your story, is that carving out a career like this is something that takes time. It’s not necessarily an easy thing, but I think as long as you have this sort of underlying goal of what it is that you want to put out there in the world that you can really sort of make a name for yourself. And I think certainly you’re on your way. I mean, even with the typeface, I am blown away by the typeface because I want to make a typeface. I don’t know how to make typefaces. I too am a type nerd. So you got props from me just for the typeface.

Maurice Cherry:
But overall I think with your startup work with The Knell, your education work, and even the work you’re doing now through EVERFI, you’re on your way man. I mean we profiled you for 28 days of the web, so clearly you’re out here making an impact. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I really do appreciate it.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.


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

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

Tickets are free with regular admission to MODA and include access to our exhibition. Space is limited, so grab your ticket today!

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I knew about Aricka Lewis through our mutual volunteer work through AIGA, so I’m really glad we had a chance to talk so I could learn more about her!

Aricka is a senior UX designer at Ad Hoc, as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas, so our conversation began talking about the ins and outs of her work, as well as what it feels like teaching at her alma mater. We also spoke a bit about design communities in non-urban metropolitan areas and other designers who influence her, plus I learned about Aricka’s vocal stylings with the band The Honey Collective. According to Aricka, designers shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there, and I think this interview really drives that point home!

Full Transcript

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

Aricka Lewis: I am Aricka Lewis. I’m a senior UX designer at a company called Ad Hoc, it’s a government agency. And then I also am an adjunct professor for the School of Art at the University of Arkansas.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Talk to me a little bit about the work you do as a UX designer at Ad Hoc.

Aricka Lewis: Sure. So this is a new role for me. I’ve been there just a little over maybe a month and a half at this point, but my focus right now is on making sure veterans have access to all of the benefits that they can receive from the federal government. Right now, a lot of that information is spread across the internet and there are a lot of predatory companies that will charge veterans to learn about that access.

Aricka Lewis: And so it’s part of my job to understand what those avenues are, and consolidating them in one place, so that they are easy access, especially for those who might not have the ability, physically or mentally or emotionally, to take up the space to go out and look for it. So it’s really rewarding work. Definitely difficult at times. But I kind of like that it’s difficult, because it creates an empathy and awareness within me that I wasn’t fully aware of before I started.

Maurice Cherry: That’s not even something I consider when I think about UX roles as it relates to veterans. That’s an interesting thing. What’s kind of a regular day like for you?

Aricka Lewis: Oh, a regular day. It depends. So, let me think about that. I would say that it normally starts out with me researching and understanding veteran behaviors on the internet, because what we’re doing on va.gov is a lot of consolidation of a lot of other sites. It’s a lot of research on my part to go out and figure out what all is there.

Aricka Lewis: And it’s a lot of actually talking to veterans, which is a really, really cool thing for me, having come from an enterprise background previously, to actually be able to talk directly to the folks that are using the products. So a lot of researching, a lot of talking with them to understand how to put that stuff together. And then luckily, VA has a really extensive design system and it’s public. All of the VA repos on GitHub are public as well.

Aricka Lewis: So, just really cool stuff to learn about in that aspect of research, and then just putting it all together and testing. We work obviously, maybe not obviously, but we work in two week sprint cycles. So each sprint is a little bit different. But for the most part, there’s that research and validation with veterans or some format like that, each sprint.

Maurice Cherry: What does veteran behavior look like online? I’m curious, as much of that as you can sort of dive into. I’m curious about…

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, it’s actually interesting and I don’t know if it’s because of the military training, but veterans are really, really efficient. They want to get in and out. So they will oftentimes find a lot of really strange workarounds or shortcuts on websites.

Aricka Lewis: And so a lot of my work is me understanding like, okay, this isn’t the flow that I would have assumed, but would be the way that you would do this thing. But they’re just very, very efficient in the way that they use the internet, no matter really what age they are, they will find what they’re looking for no matter how. So, that’s been really interesting, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: What would you say has kind of been the biggest challenge so far with this role? Because you’re fairly new there, right?

Aricka Lewis: Yes. So the biggest challenge for me, especially being new, is just understanding how to talk to people who have seen a lot more than I will probably have ever seen in my life. And it’s really tough sometimes, but really worthwhile.

Aricka Lewis: And so I wouldn’t say design specifically is challenging, but more so personally in line with the empathetic thinking that comes with design. It can be challenging, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: I remember this was a while ago, I met someone who, he had a podcast where he would interview basically, elderly people. He will interview people I think maybe 60 and up or 70 and up. It was called The Greatest Generation, I believe. And I remember he mentioned sort of a similar thing with talking with them, it’s like how do you ask questions to someone who has experienced so much in life, so you don’t come off sounding stupid or ill-informed or anything like that? Do you find that the veterans are pretty amicable though?

Aricka Lewis: Oh, absolutely. I think especially because I’m working on something that will honestly make their lives a lot easier, they’re more than willing to talk and be open and honest about it. So oftentimes, they’re thanking me for even talking with them about this thing that they didn’t really consider a human being behind.

Aricka Lewis: So that’s nice, and personally pretty rewarding.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Now, earlier this year you were at RevUnit, which I think that’s where I first heard about you. What was that experience like?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so I was at RevUnit for maybe three and a half years or so. I think that’s right. And they focus primarily on enterprise applications and products. And so a lot of what I was doing was for large companies like Walmart, Zappos, H-E-B if you’re Texan, and some others. And so it was a lot of working with data, data visualization, and large numbers of people using really targeted and focused products.

Aricka Lewis: For example, I worked on a note taking app for employees of Walmart, so they can basically do their work a little bit quicker and easier and it’s digitized versus having to write them in notepads, like they were doing before. And it impacted hundreds of thousands of people. So the scale of work was definitely quite large at RevUnit.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. Now, you’re in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We talked about that a little bit before we, started recording. Is that where you grew up too?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so I moved to Fayetteville when I was eight, I want to say seven or eight. My family is from lower Southeastern Arkansas, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. And my mom actually moved here to go to law school. So I’ve been here for almost 20 years.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. Was design and tech a big part of your world growing up? Were you exposed to it pretty early?

Aricka Lewis: No, not at all. So a lot of my family members are teachers. As I mentioned, my mom is an attorney, so a lot of academia, which I think I’m fortunate in that aspect. And because of that, I think my family members were really exploratory in the way that we were able to learn. So although we didn’t talk about design or maybe art as a career focus, there was a lot of creativity and problem solving in the way that we, I’m saying we, like me and my cousins, grew up when we were younger.

Maurice Cherry: I would imagine probably a lot of analysis too.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: How did you first kind of get into UX? Like how did you know this was something that you could turn into a career?

Aricka Lewis: It’s kind of a roundabout way, which I’m sure everybody says, since it’s such a new kind of industry. But I had a traditional, if you will, design job out of college for a couple months. And then I moved into e-commerce and when I was working in e-commerce I realized that I was, I didn’t know the term at the time, but iterating my designs based on the behavior. So click through rates and how much revenue was generated depending on which ad was being shown, and what banners were shown and things like that.

Aricka Lewis: And so pretty early on, I gained an interest in how people were reacting to the way in which I was designing. So I started working on the daily UI challenge. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of that or something very similar. And from there, I just decided, this is a field of design that I didn’t learn about in school. I want to take some more time and learn about it.

Aricka Lewis: So I took a junior UI job at RevUnit, the technology agency here in, it’s in Bentonville, Arkansas, but not too far from me. And it just went on from there. I was doing UI for a while and then realized, oh, user behavior is actually like a thing that I can focus on. So I moved into UX and user experience and understanding how people could navigate through the designs that I was creating.

Maurice Cherry: And you went to the University of Arkansas, is that right?

Aricka Lewis: Yup.

Maurice Cherry: What was their design program like?

Aricka Lewis: So the design program, when I was there, it was less than fantastic. I don’t want to put anybody on blast seeing as how I worked there. It’s changed a lot since I graduated. But when I was there, they didn’t have a graphic design program. It was like a, what is it? A bachelor of art in visual emphasis and visual design or something along those lines.

Aricka Lewis: And so really, it was a lot of art history classes and painting classes. And then I think I actually took four actual graphic design classes to graduate. I didn’t learn a whole lot by way of what I could do with design. But I did learn the principles of design, which I think have just still been foundational in my career.

Maurice Cherry: And now as you were there and you were going through the program, do you feel like they were really preparing you for the world out there as a designer in the job market?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, I do. I’m fortunate, because the instructors that I had, a lot of them had been working, I don’t want to say in the real world, but in the real world outside of academia before teaching. And so it was nice to have them give us real world experience. And then they did have a professional development class too, where we would go to different agencies in the area and talk with people and understand like, okay, I went to design school, but I’m actually like a marketing agent now. Or, I’m actually, I’m the creative director at a tech company now or whatever it might be.

Aricka Lewis: So they did expose us to different types of jobs within the creative industry.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. And just a few years after you graduated, you also teach there. You mentioned before that you’re an educator. What is that feeling like? I can only imagine like you were just there as a student and now you have students.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, it’s really bizarre, because I guess I can call him my colleague now, but he teaches the same class that I teach, but he was my instructor when I was there. So it’s definitely interesting to say the least. It also kind of keeps me on my toes because it forces me to be sharp in the things that have kind of become second nature. I think in order to teach, you really have to know what you’re talking about.

Aricka Lewis: I think sometimes it can be muscle memory to just execute work, but to teach people and to have them understand it, I think is a whole other beast that I’ve gained a great appreciation for educators, than I’ve ever had before.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And I would even say also, the other challenge that comes with that is that the stuff that you’re teaching is also sort of constantly changing and shifting. Can you talk about like some of the courses that you’re teaching?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. So I teach the UX course and it’s interesting, because like you mentioned, it does change quite often, just the field in general. And so moving into it, students are used to having this very well laid out design brief or syllabus of the products that they’re going to do from their professor.

Aricka Lewis: But in this instance, in this class, I had been talking with a developer in the area who had an idea for an app. I was like, well, I’ve got this class and we can kind of see what we come up with throughout the course of the semester, using the design product lifecycle as a guide for how we’re going to move.

Aricka Lewis: Students are definitely not used to that, and I think it’s put them in an uncomfortable position, but one of growth and not necessarily something that’s undesirable. So that’s been interesting to seem, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: What’s it been like being a young faculty member? Do you find that students take you seriously or is it the opposite?

Aricka Lewis: They’re really respectful and I don’t know if it’s just the generation of people, but they’re just really, really nice. I couldn’t ask for a better group of students to have. It’s weird, because I don’t consider myself that much older than them. I think my students were born in maybe 1999 or 2000. I was born 1993, but I feel like the generational gap is a little bit different between them.

Aricka Lewis: So sometimes I still feel old, but I know that I’m not old. I saw one of my students wearing Air Force 1s and I tried to make a reference about how I still had mine from like 2006, and she was just like, that’s weird. But for the most part, they’re really respectful and I really enjoy having them.

Maurice Cherry: Are there any challenges that you face from them? I mean, aside from I guess just the fact that you are in the same generation sort of, but what are you… I’m just curious to know about like what current design students are going through, because there’s so many different choices for them now, and there’s so much information out there for them to get, whether it’s in the classroom, out the classroom, et cetera.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, these students, so they have classes like human centered design now, which was something that, it was starting up when I was there, but it wasn’t as fleshed out as it is now. Obviously, they’re still really into illustration and type and things like that too. But it’s been really cool to see students have such an interest in research as a design practice and human behavior.

Aricka Lewis: And outside of that, they’re just really, really talented. They are coming for my wig. I’m surprised. There’s sophomores and juniors who are doing incredible, incredible work. I think they also have this just awareness of social responsibility and they take that into account into their work.

Aricka Lewis: For example, we were doing user surveys, and I think someone put gender as an option on the survey and they were questioning if it was relevant to the survey data, and was it going to be relevant in our research? It’s just those questions that I wouldn’t have even thought to ask when I was 19 or 20 or whatever age in college. But it’s really, really cool to see how they’re thinking about environmental and social impact of their work.

Maurice Cherry: Interesting. I just came back from the Black in Design Conference not too long ago, and that was one of the things that they were talking about as they spoke on spaces, about carving out sort of these spaces where you can use your design work in a way that can have a social impact in that way.

Maurice Cherry: Other than what you’ve mentioned, are there other things that your students teach you?

Aricka Lewis: They have definitely taught me patience and they’ve taught me how to be clear and direct. I think-

Aricka Lewis: … how to be clear and direct. I think, oftentimes, a lot of us, but I focus, or I suffer from imposter syndrome quite a bit, and so they’ve really taught me how to be confident in the work that I know that I know how to do and how to communicate directly and clearly so that someone who doesn’t understand those things can clearly understand them.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Nice. Now you’re still pretty early in your career from what I’m picking up here. Have there been any resources or mentors or anyone that has really helped you out along the way, any organizations maybe that have helped you out along the way?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so these are two separate things, but organization-wise, I joined AIGA when I was in college to go to one of their portfolio reviews, and this is before we had a chapter here in Northwest Arkansas, but I joined it, the Kansas City chapter because it’s close, about three hours away from me, to do a student portfolio review, and I just met a lot of just connections and people that had so many different backgrounds in design or in tech that gave me really valuable feedback or even just advice, and I still have a lot of those connections to this day. I think through AIGA, I’ve learned, or I’ve met a lot of different people over the years who’ve also become mentors.

Aricka Lewis: One person specifically, she’s not a member of AIGA, but her name is Lisa Baskett. She started at RevUnit a little bit after I did, but she’s like the most amazing designer/researcher I’ve ever met ever. She quickly became a mentor of mine when I was at RevUnit pretty early on in my career there. She helped mold where I wanted to grow and develop. I’ve kind of, for a while, I was mirroring how she was working, what she was doing so that I could kind of become as good as her. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I really looked up to her, and I still do, still talk to her all the time, but I think if she didn’t start there, I wouldn’t have known as much as I did early on about user research and user experience.

Maurice Cherry: What’s the design scene like in Fayetteville? I didn’t even know that Fayetteville would have had an active AIGA chapter or even AIGA group of people

Aricka Lewis: It’s interesting because there’s always been quite a few really good designers in the Northwest Arkansas area. There just was never a community to bring them all together. A group of I guess colleagues or friends of mine started the AIGA chapter here in Northwest Arkansas in the end of 2016, early 2017. I think that kind of encourage folks to start coming out and engaging as a group as a whole. There are a lot of little underground DIY scenes in the area, and so having kind of one meeting space for everyone to come together was a really, really great first step.

Aricka Lewis: Additionally, there’s a lot of companies here like Walmart and Tyson and J. B. Hunt that employ a lot of UX designers as they move into that ecommerce or whatever-you-want-to-call-it field, and they’re starting to kind of become tech companies internally within the organizations, and so a lot of their designers started coming to our events as well. The design community has really grown here, and our membership base grew wildly thanks to a lot of the companies here that provide jobs for them.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. I’ve always just been curious about that with small towns because we hear so much from Silicon Valley, San Francisco, LA, and New York about all the great design things there, but there’s tons of cities and communities between those extremes that you really just don’t hear about what’s going on in smaller towns. I relayed this story before we started recording about going to Raleigh-Durham a few years ago and noticing what a vibrant scene they had there, which I honestly would not have known unless I had went there. I didn’t know that the need and the drive was so strong in Fayetteville to start your own chapter and really start putting things together.

Aricka Lewis: There’s surprisingly… maybe not surprising. Not surprisingly to me, but maybe to others. There are a lot of small design agencies here as well. Some do work for the larger companies and some don’t, but there’s a really, really big design scene here, and I say big obviously per square mile maybe, I don’t know, but for it to be a small area, it really is growing, and more and more agencies are popping up, which is really, really great to see.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Nice. Now what… Tell me some more about the work you’re doing with the AIGA. You mentioned this chapter, but you’re also doing something else with the task force, D&I task force.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so my role has kind of evolved over time. I started out as a programming director and am now a VP of inclusion and initiatives for the chapter. Recently, within the last couple of years, we had the AIGI D&I, the national D&I task force had a meeting here in Arkansas where we invited all of the members of the task force plus all of the D&I representatives from each of the chapters nationally to come to Northwest Arkansas where we just talked about the initiative as a whole and how chapters locally can impact their community and how we can diversify AIGA’s membership because it’s well-known that aid is not very diverse, and so how can we help facilitate the work to make space for those who are not represented in our membership.

Aricka Lewis: It was really, really cool to see. I was happy to have everyone come see Arkansas and make their own opinion instead of just reading what you learn in the news or whatever it might be. It was great to have them come and actually witness Arkansas for themselves.

Maurice Cherry: What do you think is the single most important skill that a designer needs these days? It can be a technical skill. It can be a soft skill. What do you think in your experience?

Aricka Lewis: The single most important skill that a designer should have. I think… Hmm. That’s a good question. I’m trying to figure out how to word it. I might stumble for a second. The ability to analyze problems, and I know that seems super vague and buzzwordy, but I say that because I think oftentimes designers like to jump to a solution or something they think they like or something that they’ve used before, and they want to apply it to the same situation, but I think the ability to really dive into a problem, understand who’s being impacted by it, what the impact is, and why it matters, why it’s important is highly valuable and I think even more important than just designing a solution because if you just go out and throw something out there, it could just… it couldn’t be the right thing or it could, but I think being able to understand either if it’s a user or if it’s just a blanket problem that might affect a lot of different people, those are important things to know.

Maurice Cherry: And I would say there’s so many UX designers out there now, which is really why I ask this question, whether it’s through a formal program like what you’re teaching or through something like general assembly or even self-taught courses, I feel like the number of UX designers over the years has steadily just been increasing. I think the part that you mentioned there about really being able to analyze problems, that’s something that is super important for any designer to know, whether it’s putting it together your portfolio, it’s not just enough to have a bunch of pretty images. You should have something which explains the choices behind why you designed it this way. That is, I think, will help set you apart from a lot of other people.

Aricka Lewis: I think being able to talk about your work is also valuable, so not only being able to show that you do good work, but talk about how you got there and your process. That’s something that I’m trying to get my students to do right now.

Maurice Cherry: When did you realize that you kind of had to put yourself out there in this way in order to kind of start making things happen?

Aricka Lewis: This is kind of sad, but I had a really, really tough client meeting when I was first starting out doing some UI work, and I couldn’t articulate why I had made the decisions that I had made. I started crying, and it was so embarrassing because I just couldn’t, I don’t know, I couldn’t talk about my work. I think it was because I was paralyzing myself and I was afraid of failure and I was afraid to put myself out there and just say, “This is why I did this, and I think it’s the right thing,” so instead I just didn’t say anything.

Aricka Lewis: I didn’t want to put myself in that position again, and so I learned from that. The next time I had a client meeting where I had to present my work, I was more confident in talking about my process and the method in which I got there and why I did what I did. It may not have been the right solution, but I was applauded for, I keep saying it, putting myself out there, but I was applauded for just being open to hearing feedback and for including people in that process. It really does impact more people than just yourself if you are the face of that confidence and that opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: Absolutely. What do you wish you really would have known about, I guess, the design world when you first started?

Aricka Lewis: If I’m being honest, I wish I would’ve known how not diverse it is. That was a really hard thing to go through when I first started. I’m in a sorority, and I was just used to seeing a sea of different faces in college, and so when I went into the workforce, it was jarring, and I was not expecting that. I definitely wish that I was… I don’t know how you become more prepared for that, but it would’ve just been nice to know. I was kind of blinded by it, and I want to say it’s because I didn’t have any professors of color when it came to my art career.

Maurice Cherry: Interesting. Now here you are as a professor of color, I mean, not teaching art, but teaching UX, so at least your students kind of have that to look up to as a possibility model.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of the reason that I agreed to do it because I was a little like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe they’re me. I feel like I don’t have enough experience under my belt,” but in reality, this experience that I have I think is just as valuable as someone who’s been in the field for 20 years who might not experience the same type of workforce that I do. I was willing to put myself out there so that that visibility is there for students who were like me and wanted to get into design but maybe didn’t see someone else who looked like them.

Maurice Cherry: Who are some of your influences? What drives you to continue with this work?

Aricka Lewis: I would say… so someone else asked me this question recently, and funny enough, I said you.

Maurice Cherry: Me? Oh.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. I think that… so surprised, this is The Maurice Show now. No, I’m just kidding. I said you were one of my influences because you have put yourself out there in so many different avenues and have started a lot of different projects that, big or small, impacted a lot of people, and I think that’s important work, so definitely you, and then my professor who sparked something in me as far as social impact and social, I guess, justice go, Marty Maxwell Lane. She’s a big influence of mine. She does a lot of community work in the area, and now she is on the National Board of Directors for AIGA.

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Aricka Lewis: Again, just people who are not afraid to just get out there and do stuff, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

Maurice Cherry: It’s interesting… I mean, first of all, I’m very flattered for you to say that. I’m a little taken back by that, but it’s interesting because, I mean, the one good thing that I will say about technology that has really helped with making projects like these is that it’s helped to democratize ideas, so anyone can have an idea, that’s great, but it’s just about what you’re able to do with it. Oh, my god, who did I speak to recently? I believe I was speaking to Ari Melenciano recently, and she said something that really clicked with me about how at first when she was trying to learn how to code, it was very difficult for her, but then once she got past the learning curve, she realized that you were just like putting pieces together.

Maurice Cherry: I think for me, when it’s come to making projects, I’ll know what it is I want to make, and it helps me to break it down into those components to know like, “Oh, these are the pieces that I need in order to do the thing.” For example, the recent anthology that I just published with the InVision, RECOGNIZE, that was something where, well, one, we received the grant from InVision, which was great, and I was like, “Okay, this is cool,” but then it came down to, “Well, how do I put all this together? Like yes, I want a submission process, so I got to put a website together.”

Maurice Cherry: I used a service called Persona, which is from the folks at Cargo Collective. It’s really great, really great for making little really small but artfully-designed websites so I don’t have to do a lot of code. It’s almost like Squarespace in a way, but it’s a little bit cooler, I think. But I knew I had to put together this website so I put it together, and then I knew I had to have these are the rules and things like that. I would say everything for RECOGNIZE came together in about three or four hours. That was really just a sense of like putting the pieces together because I knew that one part of the project I wouldn’t be able to do until I was able to get the website up because once I have the website up, then I can mark it, “Okay, we’re going to start taking submissions,” set up a really quick Google form, boom, submissions done. Submissions come in, then I know, “Okay, I have to work with an editor.” I work with the editor with InVision. We’re going back and forth on choosing the pieces. It’s done.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, even the people of InVision will tell you this. I had everything regimented out in like two-week blocks from March 1st to September 30th where I was like, “This is how it’s going to go. We’re going to publish by this date. It’s ample time. We can do this,” and it got done. It was great. Now, when I think next year, like, “Oh, I want to do this again,” it’s even easier to start from because I’ve already kind of put those little blocks together, and the learning curve is much simpler. Now it’s just, “Okay, when do I start and what is the theme going to be?” and then I can just put it out there in that way.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve set that foundation. It’s easier to keep going from there.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Aricka Lewis: Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: We have a question here. This is from a mutual friend of ours, Regine, who has also been a guest on the show. She brings up the fact that you’re a musician.

Aricka Lewis: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: She wants me to ask you if the music that you make or create has an impact on your designs.

Aricka Lewis: That’s funny, so shameless plug: I’m in a band called The Honey Collective. It’s a jazz, kind of indie jazz band. It’s really good.

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Aricka Lewis: I would say that… So growing up, jazz has always had an influence on me just because I grew up singing jazz and musical theater, and I think show posters were always something that I was exposed to, and so my default, and even when I started doing UI, my default was just to make it look like a show poster or like a gig poster in some way.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, interesting.

Aricka Lewis: Even in school, if I think back on my work, I’m like, “Oh, that does look a lot like… ” like I think of Paula Scher’s work that she did for… My mind, I’m blanking. What’s the theater? Anyway-

Maurice Cherry: Lincoln Theatre?

Aricka Lewis: I think… In New York.

Maurice Cherry: The Jazz Theater.

Aricka Lewis: Anyhoo.

Maurice Cherry: The Kennedy Center.

Aricka Lewis: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Aricka Lewis: They’re just like jazz poster/music influence work, so that’s interesting. I don’t know if the music that I make inspires my work now, but freelance-wise, if I’m doing something just for fun or if there’s like a local exhibition or something, I think it definitely has an influence on my print work.

Maurice Cherry: That’s so interesting that it’s like gig posters and stuff. I think I saw this at an interview or I read this somewhere something about how older designers… Well, I won’t say older. We’ll say designers that have gotten their start maybe in the 2000s, like early to mid 2000s, a lot of the things that they were pulling from for inspiration were things like CD covers and album covers and gig posters and things like that because they were trying to replicate something on the web that they saw in Prince, whereas now, “Oh, you know what? I heard this on a podcast now that I’m thinking about it. Duh.” “I heard it on the Wireframe Podcast from Gimlet and Adobe,” but modern designers… we’ll say product designers from the 2010s to now, for-

Maurice Cherry: … designers, we’ll say like product designers from the 2010s to now for example, they are inspired by other websites. And so what ends up happening is that a lot of websites look the same in terms of structure because the inspiration is another website that pulled from that structure. So like, you know how you’ll go to a lot of websites and you see what hero image, a big headline, three column, then a big parallax slider or something like that. It all tends to end up looking the same. You can just sort of slot the content in and out and there’s nothing that’s really super, super unique about it. That really got me to thinking, because when I started designing, certainly, and this was back in ye olden days of table based web design, a lot of that was built off print design.

Maurice Cherry: We would design something in Dream… No, we would design something in Photoshop and then we would slice, we would make slices, because Photoshop could export an image that you’ve sliced, it can export it with the HTML. Photoshop in a way could make websites by itself. This is, I mean Dreamweaver was around, but I think this was like a, I don’t know, way to do conceptual sort of stuff. You had a lot of people that would make these really splashy looking print design things, but then it’s all chopped up into tables and cells and stuff like that. So when you go to the page, it all loads in a weird way.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And then you’ve got one little section in the middle that maybe has text in there, but when I think about what the design looked like of things during that time, it was a lot more innovative and out there because the web was like this open canvas that you could really do what you wanted to do with it. I mean, now it’s the same way, but I find a lot of sites tend to end up looking very much the same.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, and that’s interesting because I feel like people before, there were these standard looking websites, the way that people used websites was a lot different too. I think that because design started looking similar, the behavior and reaction to that is similar as well. So we talk about standard user behavior, but I wonder if that would be different if we drew inspiration from other things than just websites that looked the same. You know?

Maurice Cherry: I think so. I really think so. Yeah, wow. So grew up with Jazz and everything, I grew up with Jazz too. I played in a Jazz band in high school. I played in my, well, it was the local community college had a Jazz band and I had started out… God, this was in another interview. Was this in the… This might’ve been in the same interview I mentioned before with Adi, where I had mentioned that I learned how to play music from video games.

Aricka Lewis: Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I was really inspired by, we had gotten a Super Nintendo and I was inspired by the game Final Fantasy II.

Aricka Lewis: Oh, the music is beautiful from that game.

Maurice Cherry: Final Fantasy II. Yeah, oh my God. [inaudible 00:39:08] but yeah, Final Fantasy II in the US, Final Fantasy IV in Japan, but I mean, I loved the characters and got into the story, but the music was just so good and I was like, what is this music and why is it making me feel things? I had a little like, I don’t know, I got this little tape recorder thing I got from Family Dollar or something, and I would hold it up to the TV while it’s recording and then take the song and go to my little Casio 32 key keyboard and try to write out the music for it, and that’s how I learned how to play music.

Aricka Lewis: That’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry: My mom saw that and was like, “Oh, you should… You know, have you learn an instrument or something.” She wanted me to play, I think she wanted me to learn how to play piano, but I just never got the coordination for it. The instrument I ended up settling on, well not settling, but the instrument I ended up learning was the trombone and I played that all through middle school, all through high school, all through college. Played it out of college in a couple of pick up bands and stuff around the city.

Maurice Cherry: I haven’t picked up a trombone in years. I know it’s like riding a bike, it’s sort of like you don’t forget it, but it’s amazing how much music has been an impact on my design, because one thing that I would do a lot when I was just trying to learn how to do Photoshop is try to recreate album covers and CD covers, and try to make this weird effect or anything like that. I don’t know, music, I empathize a lot with any musician that is also a designer. So props to that.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

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

Aricka Lewis: Oh, a dream project. Yes. So, for a while I was really into researching welfare and the actual demographic for welfare and who receives federal funding and why. I’ve always been interested in getting some kind of grant to do a big exhibition, like a bunch of posters on it’s not who you think it is. That’s all I have right now, but I’ve just had this idea of festering in my head, so maybe I’ll report back in a couple of years and something will come of it. But that’s definitely a dream of mine, is to inform the general public on actual government regulation and behavior versus what we think we know. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: What are you most excited about at the moment? Anything in particular?

Aricka Lewis: I am most excited about, like work-related or just anything?

Maurice Cherry: Just anything.

Aricka Lewis: Anything in general?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Aricka Lewis: Okay. Well, this is not related to design, but we just started a new D&D campaign with my group of friends.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Aricka Lewis: And it’s really good, so I’m excited to keep playing it. I’m also, I’m actually really excited about the work that I’m doing with Ad Hoc. I am super new, so I’m just excited to settle in and kind of figure out my niche, my niche, and where I as a person will fit into the whole picture. I’m still finding my way. So that’s something to look forward to.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Now, we’re coming up on not just the end of the year, but also the end of the decade. I mean, we’ll be in 2020 very, very soon. When you look at the next five years, what’s in store for you? What do you want to be doing?

Aricka Lewis: In the next five years, I hope that I’ll still be doing some sort of impactful work and creative problem solving. Maybe it’s not UX, maybe it is, but I want to make sure that I can use my design process and design thinking mindset in a way that will have real impact on real people. I know that’s vague, but maybe it’s in policy creation or policy change, or whatever it might be, but I’m definitely interested in maintaining my work with just helping people for the sake of helping them.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I don’t think that’s a vague thing. I mentioned earlier before about coming back from the Black in Design Conference. That’s a lot of what that whole conference is about, like I know when I first went to it in 2015 I was trying to get people to go and they were like, “Oh, but they’re not going to be talking about Photoshop, or they’re not going to be talking about Sketch.” And I’m like, “It’s Black in Design. When is this ever going to happen again? Let’s just go and just see what it’s like.” Over the three times that I’ve went, because they have it every other year, I am consistently inspired and blown away by just how people are taking their design knowledge and applying it in so many different ways.

Maurice Cherry: Now granted, the Harvard Graduate School mostly deals with architecture, landscape design, stuff like that. More concrete, I would say, applications of design than UX or something like that. But when you see how people are just extrapolating, some of the very same skills that you’re using, interviewing, researching, making decisions and stuff like that for much larger scale projects, it is, it’s fascinating. There’s this woman, she gave the closing keynote, Deanna Van Buren, and she’s talking about how she used her design knowledge or how she uses her design knowledge to help out basically to stop the cycle of recidivism for incarceration.

Aricka Lewis: Wow.

Maurice Cherry: So I mean, it manifests itself in a number of different ways, like making modular housing for people that are inside of the prisons or for halfway houses or things like that. Even seeing how they can repurpose structures in the community that once had, like an old jail or something like that, and repurposing it into a welding school or a peacemaking center. So then something which in the community was maybe this blight is now a source of restorative justice in a way. It is so… And the good thing about it is they, well one, they stream all the things, but you can also go online and watch past sessions. So I’m able to go back and re-watch stuff and follow the work.

Maurice Cherry: If you ever get a chance to go, the next one’s going to be in 2021, which already sounds super far away, but it is such an inspiring conference just to see how people are using their work, using their design skills in many varied ways. And then just the networking, because there is all kinds of people that are there. There’s students, there’s educators, there’s just a whole bunch of people there. It’s a really great time. I recommend to everyone who I have on the show to go, because it’s just, to me, I feel like it’s one of the few events that I feel affirmed as both a designer and a black person, and they make sure that your blackness is centered first. It’s called Black in Design, it’s not like the Design Black Conference or whatever.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And there’s been other events that have popped up that are similar to that. Afrotectopia is one of them. Data for Black Lives, which also takes place in Cambridge where Black in Design does. There’s Blacks in AI, there’s Bitcon, which I think takes place in Minneapolis. Of course there’s Afro Tech, which a lot of people know about. So it’s amazing that there’s all these kind of events and spaces now that are not just about I think the practical applications, which is good, but also it’s for inspiration and for fellowship. I like that those spaces are now being carved out for us to fellowship.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

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

Aricka Lewis: Well, I have Instagram and Twitter. My handle is the same everywhere. It’s ArickaCL, A-R-I-C-K-A, C-L. I also have a Instagram where I practice the ukulele if you care to watch me practice music pretty poorly. It’s called Practice Today. And I have a website which is ArickaCL.com.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Aricka Lewis, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Aricka Lewis: Thank you for having me.

Maurice Cherry: Well, yeah, and I just, I mean I try to have people that come on at all different levels of their career.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: I’ve certainly had people before who I’ve asked on and they’re like, “No, I’m not…” Oh, this is so funny. I was at Black in Design and there was this guy I’ve been trying to get on the show for years and he’s like, “I’m not ready.” I’m like, “You are teaching work at MIT Media Lab.” He was like, “Yeah, but you know, we in trouble right now.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I get it.” But I try to have people at all levels just to, one, show that there’s people out there that are doing this just like you, but also I think it’s really good to be able to go back, you know, like when you’re in the future, go back and listen to who was that person back then and what was I working on, and do I still have those same hopes and dreams and wishes for what I want to do?

Maurice Cherry: So hopefully I think people will really connect with this. I mean, you know, by all means please share it with your students, but yeah, I think this was a really great episode and it was really great getting a chance to talk with you. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

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. 

While the internet has helped loads of people get into design, it’s design educators like Jennifer White-Johnson who really help teach the next generation of our industry. As a multidisciplinary artist, designer, photographer, activist, and advocate, Jennifer brings all this to her work as an assistant professor of visual communications and digital media arts at Bowie State University.

Our conversation began with talking about HBCUs and the responsibility they bear, and we discussed Jennifer’s background in art and photography and how a small stint at MICA prepared her for her current teaching career. We also talked about KnoxRoks, an advocacy photo zine dedicated to her son which helps give visibility to children of color in the autism community. As we move into 2020, I’m glad for this conversation and I hope it helps you think about how you can use your design talent in the world!


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. 


If you’re a part of Chicago’s design scene, then you’ve no doubt heard of the multitalented Jonathan Sangster. They are currently an assistant professor of design at Chicago State University, and they also collaborate on projects involving visual art, design, printed matter, typography and visual experimentation.

We spoke about Jonathan’s recent exhibition at this year’s Typeforce, and from there they shared a peek into their creative process which challenges binary thoughts by layering experiences and pursuing different points of view through visual outputs. Jonathan also talked about what he learns from his students, the Chicago design community, and a lot more. Thank you Jonathan for your work and for talking with us about what you do!


Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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