Rudy Manning

Agencies play a critical role in ensuring that the next generation of creatives reflects the world we live in, and Rudy Manning takes that responsibility very seriously. As the co-founder and chief creative officer of Pastilla Inc., he is dedicated to not only providing services for a diverse range of clients, but also for making opportunities to get more people of color working in the design.

Rudy starts off talking more about Pastilla, and showing the ins and outs of what it takes to operate an agency. He also spoke about growing up in Panama and Germany before coming to the U.S., shared some stories of his early days designing DVD magazines, and how the combination of these experiences brought him to founding his own creative agency. Rudy also talked about teaching the next generation of designers at ArtCenter, being board president at Art Division, and gave some great advice for anyone looking to start their own agency one day. Rudy’s passion for all things design and his drive to help uplift others truly makes him a design leader worth following!

Interview Transcript

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

Rudy Manning:
My name is Rudy Manning and I am a creative director. My title is the Chief Creative Officer for an agency that I started about 18 years ago or 19 years ago now, called Pastilla based out of Pasadena or Los Angeles, California.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that’s pretty good. So you’re coming up on 20 years of that.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, yeah, I know. We’re getting excited. We put a big event together for everybody who’s been a part of this journey. So yeah, it’s a big milestone.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It feels like the milestones sneak up on you. You’re so busy sometimes in the work and doing it that you look up and you’re like, “Wait a minute, I’ve been doing this for 20 years?”

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, I’m telling you, it goes by… When you’re in it, sometimes it feels like it’s treading along, but then you look back and you’re like, wow, awesome. Yeah. Super grateful to still be in business and have it continue to thrive. So super excited.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2023 been going so far?

Rudy Manning:
Really, really good. There was a lot of things shifted in the agency about five years ago. I merged with another agency that was one of our partners. They were doing a lot of development for us and probably for most of the time at the agency, up to that point, they were the main development partner for anything we did that was digital base. We decided after a long relationship to just come together, it just made sense. And that really shifted the trajectory of the agency the past five years. We’ve matured, we’ve grown substantially in that time. Really, really just have a little bit more of a focus.

2023 is, I think, really excited because, although a lot of things in the economy are uncertain, I feel like we’ve done some pretty smart things that have kept us afloat and kept us strong. Definitely the kind of work that we do in those years of the pandemic really ended up helping out for us because we’re a creative branding agency, really branding led, but we do a lot of digital products. So obviously there was a lot of investment in things digital. So that really helped out and now we’re positioned for a very steady growth of 2023. So, so far so good.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, were there any big goals that you wanted to accomplish this year?

Rudy Manning:
Well, last year one of the big goals we had was growth. I’m going to go a little bit into agency talk. This might go a little bit deep, but I think if somebody’s out there listening and has an agency, I think this is really important. Every year is different. Sometimes it’s like revenue, sometimes it’s profit, sometimes it might be people. There’s the goal, growing. And last year it was a lot about refining the team, making sure that the people who we had were working well together. Not only just processes, but the personalities and the right roles and the right balance of folks that really can help continue to lead and build the company and service our clients.

So that was a really huge goal and we owe huge testament to a lot of people in our agency, but definitely our HR team and we really refined a team. At the end we started off the year now knowing that the staff that we have is solid, they’re working together, a really well oiled machine and I feel like we’ve achieved that last year and this year now it’s becoming about really working. I’m calling the title for this year, nurture the details, which is about going a little deeper into the relationships that we have with our clients and not just servicing them, but really understanding their needs from a full 360 to be able to deliver as much value as we can. Not necessarily growth from growing clients, but growing the clients that we have currently.

So that’s really what I’m focused on for this year, and so far so good. We’ve already in the first two months have been able to do that pretty well. So I’m looking to continue to foster that in the team. And from the creative, the same thing. Being able to push the creative further and further, be able to deliver the best at every single thing that the client sees and making sure that they continue to stay with us, continue to come back and continue to see us as a strong partner to be able to service them in other things that maybe they didn’t even think we can help them with.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s jump more into talking about Pastilla. You’re the co-founder and chief creative officer. You’ve already given a little bit of background about the team and the services and stuff. What really sets Pastilla apart from other agencies?

Rudy Manning:
It’s funny, when I was in school, in design school, I graduated and a lot of people during that time were like, “Oh, I’m going to jump into web. I’m going to work in motion. I’m going to work in print.” But really at that time, you had to know a little bit of everything, but I really liked having to cross-discipline position and I was working everything from packaging to environmental to doing film titles, commercials, apps, even back in 2003, 2004. I’ve always been in this cross sector of creative where it didn’t matter what discipline it was.

Now, that’s been really fun. A really, really exciting 20 years. I’ve learned a lot. It wasn’t easy because you do have to, to continue to sell, there is a certain pattern and you want agencies or you want clients to have that one thing that they think about you. And when you’re working and building the agency, it’s really tough to figure that out because you’re just taking things as it comes. And especially if I’m the kind of person that’s excited about a lot of different things, it’s been tough. It was really tough, I would say the first 12, 13 years. We were doing motion one year and the next year we’re doing the launch campaign for Microsoft Surface Tablet in 2012 or ’13. So very, very different projects, but exciting nonetheless. But made it difficult because when you tell the story of who your agency is, you really want to have the repeat factor. Even if it’s a different story and positioning, you do want to have this focus. So that was tough.

Around that time, 2013, I decided what we really do well and what I really like to do the most out of everything we did was branding and really looking at every client that came to us from a branding perspective, whether it was a brand new client where it’s a brand new company where you’re doing strategy, naming, identity system, and then executing that, which makes sense because we had that full service. That was something that finally, I would say at that time, we were able to start really honing down who we are as a branding agency. But at the same time, what made it interesting is we also had a deep understanding of how to put that company or that brand in action. So how it applies in digital, how it applies in motion, how it applies in print, and being able to do the full picture after we do the identity system.

It took a long time to do that and to get to that point, but I feel like that was one huge defining point at refining who we are, that made us stand out, at least let’s say in 2013 to 2016 or so. Then, I would say around that time, 2016, I started feeling like I wanted to do work that mattered a little bit more. Not that any of the work that we did didn’t matter, but something was in me that felt like I want to be able to be a part of the communication and deliver creative to projects and initiatives that had some kind of social impact through some different situations.

I ended up learning a little bit about the government work and how to approach it. It took a very long time, but I really got interested in being able to service the same kind of level of high end creative, the same kind of level of thinking and focus that we give to the private sector clients, but give it to more civic, public or nonprofit clients. And I would say it was specifically public sector. So we won one project, for the city of Pasadena we did a anti-tobacco campaign. That went really, really well and that’s when I got the bug of like, “Wow, I really like this idea of designing for the people directly, designing for communities.”

And now looking at eight years later or so, just last year rebranded… Well, this year, we actually just finished rebranding a city, the identity, the strategy and we’re going to continue to serve them. It was a really amazing experience to be able to put all that we’ve learned this first 18 years into branding a city. One of the reasons they picked us was because we weren’t a typical public sector type of agency. They said it right in the first town hall that they had. They chose us because we were not the typical public agency that spoke government and so forth. They felt like we were a little bit more on the ground and had a fresh perspective. We commend them for that as well because I know that often we lose because there’s other agencies that know how to speak that.

So I would say we have this well-rounded full service agency that’s branding focused, most of our clients come through us for that. And that we’re civic minded, civic social impact minded. We do things in sustainability and so forth. And sometimes some private sector clients come to us because of that. We also have that passion for doing work that matters and that directly affects people and communities.

Maurice Cherry:
I would have to imagine that city branding project was a lot of fun. When you think about the scope of what that entails, it’s not just, “Oh, we’re going to make a logo and a style guide.” There’s so much that has to go into that level of branding because a city is more than just a company, it’s more than just a brand. It’s not a society but I say that to say that the scope of something like that is immense.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, absolutely. We underestimated some parts of it. The discovery and the research that we had to do, especially because we’re not based in the city. It was the city of Corona and we’re maybe about an hour away from them. One of the comments in the beginning when they first introduced us to the city council was like, “Oh, why didn’t you guys go with a company that was in the city of Corona, or from the city?” We had to invest a lot of time into proving that an outsider, an agency that comes can have a fresh perspective, can do just as good if not a better job than somebody who’s really close to the city.

So the discovery and the strategy was a lot of work, a lot of workshops, a lot of meetings, a lot of popups that we had to do to get engagement and really validate the messaging and the final outcome of the identity.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s tough to get right, because so many people that are in a city, it’s not just business, it’s not just commerce, it’s everyday citizens. It’s so so hard to get right. I guess the reason I’m speaking about this so passionately is because I’m in Atlanta and we were known for a spectacularly bad city branding campaign back in the early to mid 2000s. I happened to be working in the city, working in tourism. So I got to see it unfold from the inside about how bad it was. But yeah, we were known for a spectacularly bad branding campaign called Brand Atlanta. I was working in the city in tourism at the time, and just seeing it unfold from the inside was horrible because you could tell that the people that were putting this together, and I think they got a local agency to do it, but what can happen, and I think you probably know this too, is that the client can get so held up in what their vision of it should be, that it’s hard for the agency to do the necessary research and work that needs to happen in order to really provide good work.

And so basically we just had all these suits that were in our tourism board. There were like, “Atlanta is this,” and as someone who… I’m not from Atlanta, but I’ve lived in Atlanta, I’m from the South. I was like, “Atlanta is so much more than these things that you think it is.” They thought Atlanta was the zoo and the baseball team and all the very family friendly, squeaky clean sort of stuff. But I’m like, “Atlanta is also hip hop and strip clubs, it’s all of that. And you’re trying to sanitize this vision of what the city is, because at the time they were trying to get more conferences to come to the city, which was the main point of them doing the rebrand is to make the city seem more appealing.

They did it. They rolled it out. We had, I think it happened at a Falcons game where they did the whole Brand Atlanta rollout. They had the symphony and they wrote this song. They had this song that was written with T.I. and Usher and it was all horrible. People hated it. It was so bad. It was so bad. There are very little, if any traces of it still around in the city because they quickly covered it up after it went out. So city branding is tough. It’s so tough to get right.

Rudy Manning:
That would be our worst nightmare. And actually, there’s one project that we had pitched a couple years ago. I can’t name the university, but we came in very close to winning it. We ended up losing it to another company who had a lot of experience in higher ed. One of the main things I pitched that got us very close is I said, “This is not a logo identity we’re doing. We’re really doing a political campaign in a sense. We have to approach everything we do to get people, the students, the instructors, to believe in the direction before we even go in that direction. So we have to really understand what it is that the students and the faculty need and what do they believe to then be able to communicate an identity system.”

But what happened is at some point it seemed like they jumped the gun. We didn’t get it. Three years later, they end up reaching back to us saying, “This was a horrible experience what happened to us, everybody hated the logo. There was political nightmare, PR nightmare, communication nightmare in the school.” And obviously it was too late at that point, but they’re like, “Definitely we should have gone by you.” There’s literally an email saying, “We regret going with this other agency. We should have gone by you because the direction that you were pitching was exactly what we needed.”

One of the ideas was the students at the school, the graphic design students, they need to be a part of this identity for the school. They need to have their hands in it in some kind of way. All of that just really gets people to feel that this came from within. It has to feel like that with anything like that. If not, it’s really, really hard. So I don’t know. It’s crazy.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rudy Manning:
[inaudible 00:18:34]

Maurice Cherry:
When new projects come in with you sitting at the head of the company, do you get to work hands-on with them?

Rudy Manning:
I do. We’re about 35 or so people with some contractors definitely goes up to maybe even close to 50. The design team, we’re pretty nimble. So I’m the creative director. We have an art director and we have a few graphic designers and UX designers and so forth. But I still am, as the acting creative director, at least maybe for the next couple years, I am potentially looking to bring in a creative director.

So that means that basically I don’t design, but I review. I give critiques. I give from either my art director or my lead designers, senior designers. They will go and do the work themselves and then come back, present to me. I give them feedback, I give my thoughts. They present to me, I give them feedback on how to present, what kinds of things to say. And every now and then I’ll have to present. But seldom, less and less. I think my team’s gotten to the point where they’re pretty good at understanding my vision and so forth.

Sometimes in the beginning I set some parameters, I would say, around the direction of where we should go based off the strategy or whatever it may be. But often they’ll come to me with some ideas and then I’ll take those ideas and give them some feedback on refining them, even if it’s just general higher level concepts.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re not, like you said, working hands on but you’re still pretty close to the project in that you get to see it unfold, kind of step by step.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I do a lot of other things. My partner now rents most of the operations, but I’m still really responsible for a lot of the business development, the relationship of our clients and overseeing all the accounts, not just from the creative, but managing the entire perspective of the direction of that client.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a regular day look like for you?

Rudy Manning:
Lot of calls. I think these days, we’ve had an office for probably the first 15 years of our company and just after we merged with Kremsa, is the name of the company that we merged with. Just after that, we decided, you know what? Let’s go remote for a little bit. We were trying to figure out how the two companies were going to come together. We did that for about a year, year and a half. We started looking for an office. Then the pandemic hit. So it was frustrating for me working remote, but I literally learned to adapt. We all have adapted pretty well for it. Sometimes we obviously meet, and I say that because one of the drawbacks now is on a lot of meetings because we have to force those kind of interactions between people. So that means my days are pretty booked up with calls.

I would probably say I spend about at least five to six hours a day on calls. I would say half of it is internal things, whether it be operational meetings or looking at something we’re doing internally to market ourselves or project stuff, account managers presenting to me where we’re at with the client, the margins, what new projects are coming along and so forth. So I do that and then probably 10, 20% of the day might be some creative meeting that I have with the team where they’re presenting some ideas or so forth. But most of it’s operational business meetings. Yeah, I would say that’s basically my whole entire day.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Business development’s important though, because you got to bring them in, you got to bring the client work in.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s always been something I’ve done forever, just naturally, it’s been something that I’ve always just somehow understood. So it’s the thing that probably, from a financial point of view, that’s the biggest value right now that I bring to the company is the business development. Most of the projects come through something of my relationship or some doing of our content or so forth. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Is it tough balancing the creative and the business sides of running an agency?

Rudy Manning:
It is, and it’s getting harder and harder because I talk about how we’re now remote and how many hours I’m on calls, because so much of it is that higher level strategic thinking of the business, the client, operations, who do we need to hire? What’s happening with this hire? Do we need to bring in another person for this? Hey, there’s an issue with this client, this is what we need to do, or here’s some cool things that we can do or new projects, pitches, proposals. All of that really takes up most of my time.

So staying creative is really, really important for me. I try to do that as much as I can. I sort of time box it. So one of the things, we just moved into a new house a year and a half ago, two years ago. So I’ve had a lot of fun just doing interior design and designing the space and just remodeling the house and not just hands on, but the actual design part of it. So I’ve had a lot of fun doing that and bringing my design into that. It’s been something I’ve been enjoying. At least right now, that’s definitely a way I’m getting my creative output. Also teaching is really great as well. Hearing students work and giving feedback at that level as well, that also feeds me tremendously.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want to talk more about your teaching later, but before we get to that, I want to learn more about you. I want to learn about how you got to where you are now, where you’re running an agency and you’ve got it staffed with all these designers and things like that. So tell me about where you grew up. Are you originally from California?

Rudy Manning:
No, actually I’m Panameno. I was born in Panama. Yeah, I came here. We immigrated with my parents here when I was seven or eight years old. We came here. My dad joined the Army. He thought this is probably the best way for us to make a living for him and provide for us. Immediately after that, I would say about a year after we moved here, he got shipped to Germany. So I was basically, that’s where I learned English was in Germany.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Rudy Manning:
I only spoke Spanish, so I was there for about almost four years, I think. Then we came back to United States when I was 11. We were basically in Los Angeles, and then we moved to Rialto. So basically from 11, 12 up, I’ve been in Southern California area. I went to high school in Redlands. After my mom and dad divorced, my mom moved towards that area and that’s where actually I ended up meeting somebody who gave me a little bit of a hint about me wanting to maybe study graphic design at the high school. So I went to Redlands High School and then from there I graduated, went to Cal Poly Pomona for a couple years, and then ended up transferring to ArtCenter, which is what brought me to Pasadena.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, back before you went to Cal Poly Pomona and everything, as you were traveling between these different countries as a kid and then eventually settling in California, did you always have an interest in design and creativity and stuff like that?

Rudy Manning:
I think it was mainly just drawing. I loved to draw since I was a little kid. My brother as well. We both used to just draw together, and he’s a graphic designer too. My dad studied architecture for a little bit in Panama, but he’s always drawn and painted his whole life. We have a pretty artistic family. So my dad, since we were little, always was drawing and we’d copy his drawings and he’d go one by one and then we’d follow what he was doing. We’d do that all the time, in front of the TV. We’d sit down and he’d be talking, he’d be showing us what to do. Did that for many years and my mom, a little bit after, my mom and dad divorced, my mom started a business. So then got to see that part of it. She’s been really successful at it.

So got to see the benefits of owning your own company and your own business and what kind of freedom that gives you, and the satisfaction and seeing her in it, that drove that part of it as well. So I think those two things combined is what got me the framework of thinking of building an agency.

I would say, I remember I stopped drawing at 11 or 12 years old. I don’t know why.I think I just ended up playing baseball. My focus was different and I was just playing baseball all the time. And then one day, I don’t know why, I just remember, I was 14 and I was just like, “You know what? Let me draw a baseball player.” That’s what I loved. And I remember I drew Orel Hershiser. I had it in my art class and I took it to school. I remember that feeling of everybody like, “Oh my gosh, you drew this? How did you…” That reaction, you kind of had a similar background as an artist, you’re like, man, there’s this feedback that you get that’s a little bit of this high. I’ll never forget that. So I just kept on drawing and then that went to painting, and then I was just taking art and painting classes. And eventually that took over my passion for baseball, and that’s all I wanted to do, was draw on paint sports figures.

I wanted to be like Leroy Neiman, who’s a very famous sports fine artist painter. And then until I was in one of my art classes, I think I was a junior or something, it was a student in there who was a really good artist who was going to graduate. And I asked him, “Hey, what are you going to do after school?” And he’s like, “Oh, I’m going to go to PCC, Pasadena City College, and then I’m going to transfer to ArtCenter and study graphic design.” I’m like, “Oh, what’s that?” And he’s like, “It’s like doing things for MTV.” And I remember going, “Dang.” That was the days of MTV, MTV, the real MTV. And I was like, “That is amazing. Graphics for MTV.” I didn’t even know the word graphics actually. I just thought art for TV that people could see. So I remember that, and that always stuck with me.

So when I graduated, I was just looking for a school that had graphic design, which wasn’t that many. And Cal Poly ended up being one of those schools. So that’s where I dove into graphic design for the first time there.

Maurice Cherry:
How was your time at Cal Poly Pomona?

Rudy Manning:
It was interesting because I think in high school I was pretty kept in. I didn’t do a lot of stuff. I feel like when I got to Cal Poly, I was in the dorms and I just got this freedom of like, “Oh my gosh, I’m on myself.” So I went down that, it was a lot of fun, but it was like I probably didn’t know what to do with all of that energy. So one thing is I would say my focus wasn’t there as it should be those first couple years. I want to say, despite that, I struggled a bit with graphic design there. For whatever reason, I didn’t make the connection.

There was a lettering class I remember. The lettering class that we had, it was all about craftsmanship. You had to draw, let’s say the letter E with Prisma color, and it was like a five-inch height type and you have to draw it so it literally looks like it’s printed. It was very difficult that class for me, not because I couldn’t do it, I could do it, but I didn’t have the patience. I wanted to design. I wanted to draw. I remember the instructor saying, “If you get a C or under in this class, I highly suggest you don’t continue in graphic design, ’cause graphic design is really tough.” And I remember as, not to say fine artist, tough as well, but in terms of, I think what he was saying is, “You really have to love this to really continue in this direction.” It was one of the first classes in graphic design you were suppose to take.

So towards the whole class, I was just like, I’m struggling. I think I’m going to get a C. The final project was you get to draw something and use letter form and typography and visuals together. So I got to do this book cover. I remember I did a Malcolm X book cover and you put it up to class, the final, and everybody was just looking at this project, looking at my project, and the teacher was like, “Who did this?” It was the first time out of the whole entire term that I felt any kind of positivity in that class. All the time, it was just like… I remember going, “What’s happening?” And so I walked out of class and the instructor, said, “Hey, I know I said you shouldn’t be in graphic design, or if you get a C or lower, I think you’re going to get a C.” I’m like, “Yeah, I know.” And he’s like, “Well, I think you should stay in graphic design though.” So I was like, “Oh, huh, okay.” I walked away, still struggled, still was a tough time in the other classes.

Somebody had told me, “Hey, you got to take a class at ArtCenter. You’d be really good at it.” I’m like, “I don’t know what you see, because I’m struggling in every graphic design.” I did great in the painting classes. Those are the ones I really loved. So I took a night class. She ended up just convincing me, and I was nervous because I thought, man, back then I thought ArtCenter’s this sort of mecca. I took a night class, like an extension class while I was still at Cal Poly.

The first day you go and you present your ideas for a logo. I was just drawing and sketching and concepting stuff, put it up. I knew the moment the teacher started talking, the first, not even to my project, another student, I thought this, I’m in love. I literally felt like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I just never took another class at Cal Poly. Again, Cal Poly, this was early on in Cal Poly for their graphic design. So they really were working things and some amazing designers came out of this. So that was just me at that time. But I just fell in love with graphic design at ArtCenter. I eventually finished my foundation at Cal Poly. Then I got a full scholarship actually after a couple classes I took at ArtCenter. I built my portfolio, some from Cal Poly, some from the ArtCenter, and I got a full scholarship, a James Irvine scholarship.

That was it. Kind of changed my life. The only hiccup during that time is a girl that I had been dating ended up getting pregnant. So I ended up having a child pretty early on. So I was starting ArtCenter while learning to be a father at the same time. So that’s another story.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Rudy Manning:
Definitely all came all at once, but definitely matured me and I think eventually was all for the good, of course.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’ve heard from a lot of folks on this show that sometimes when they go into school having a lot of this artistic ability and love, sometimes the school can almost effectively snuff it out of them through the professors or the courses or anything like that. So it’s good that you still had that spark and decided to continue it by going somewhere else that was probably more focused in the direction that you needed to go, which of course now, based on where you’re at right now, that was a good direction to take.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s crazy. You never know. Those little moments. I remember thinking like, “Oh gosh, the classes are at night and this and that.” But yeah, I loved those classes. I wanted to spend all my time in the ArtCenter at night classes then. So, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve graduated, you’re out there as a working designer. What was your early career before you started Pastilla?

Rudy Manning:
As I mentioned during school, I definitely like to get my hands in everything that was design. I think it’s one of the reasons I mentioned earlier, I like even just interior design. I have a passion for anything that is where you’re taking these elements of your artistic being and putting into some physical space or visual space or designing a city. So I definitely can see how all those things combining works together. And I did the same thing at school. And so when I graduated, I wanted to work somewhere that didn’t want to push me into one direction. I didn’t want to work in an agency that only had me do print, only doing web, or only doing motion. So the best place was a company then called… I had a couple different companies, but I think towards the end it was called Quick Band Networks or DVD Mags, which was you basically are designing a DVD magazine is what they call it.

So every month you would get a subscription of a DVD. One of them was short films. You get one DVD of short films, another one was music. So you get to have these music videos and all this content on these DVDs. I got to design basically the editorial, but the interactive part. So I got to do the identity of each of the magazines. I got to do the interactive part of the DVD. I got to do the animation of the DVD. I got to do the ads. So that to me was perfect. I got to get my hands in all of that. That’s really where I started for the first couple of years. I started freelancing a little bit after that. And that took me to Nokia for about four years. I worked there really as a freelancer.

I had a feeling at that time that at some point I’m going to start my own company just because I really enjoyed working with my own clients. So in between that, I took freelance projects at night and weekends, and I really enjoyed having full control of like, I’m presenting to the client, I’m giving them my vision, and I’m able to directly connect with them to be able to persuade them of the concept that I think is right. Rather than, here’s a bunch of ideas, now you have somebody else pitching it for you. So I really love that. So I thought, I’m going to start my own studio. But I needed to build up enough momentum as a freelancer.

So I really freelanced for about six years. Then when I was at Nokia, I said it was a time of my life, I got divorced in my late 20s and I thought might be a good time for me to do this now for a lot of different reasons. So I told Nokia, “I’m going to start my own company. If you guys would like to hire more of me, I’d be happy to take the work and continue as my own company.” And so Nokia was my first client. So I’m super thankful for that. For the first couple years, a lot of the work we did was Nokia. And so that was the first momentum of Pastilla, which was then called Pastilla Studio.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. You must have made some really great relationships at Nokia in order for them to entrust you with that. Say, I’m going to go out on my own. And they’re like, “Okay, great. We’ll still toss some work your way.”

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, definitely. I worked really hard for them, was really great people, a lot of them, some of them I knew from ArtCenter. I got to meet people from all over the world there and really was a time where technology was in a bit of transition. Imagine that was like 2000, a couple years before that. The iPhone definitely hadn’t come out. But before that, Google had just come out a couple years before that. It’s really early on. So I think I came with that diverse background of motion, interactive and print, and being able to cross-discipline. I think that really, the design director, Gerardo, liked that so I was able to really use my diverse background and experiences to Nokia and help the team out for those four years. So yeah, we did some great work.

Maurice Cherry:
Honestly, coming with those skills at a time when as soon as you said DVD magazines, I was like, oh, I already know when this happened. This is turn of the century or turn the millennium, whatever, like ’99, 2000. I remember those DVD magazines vividly. But yeah, coming with all those skills at a time when technology and design and the web were growing at this rapid pace, the stuff that you were doing didn’t really even exist 10 years ago. The advent of the personal computer and the internet becoming something that was no longer bound to DVDs or CDs that you get in the mail. The fact that things were growing at this rapid pace and you’re coming in with all these skills, especially at a time when companies are trying to decide, “How do I become a part of this new thing? How do I have a website? How do I take orders online or do all this stuff?” And you show up to the scene well-equipped like, “Hey, I’ve got the skills if you got the work.” Sounds good.

Rudy Manning:
Yep, exactly. Exactly, exactly. It was a really fun time.

Maurice Cherry:
And now while you were building Pastilla, it sounds like there were other ventures that you were doing as well, right? You did some work with an app, you founded a film company, I guess. Tell me about those other ventures.

Rudy Manning:
Obviously from let’s say 2004, those first 10 years were extremely busy for me. Continues to be anytime you’re a business owner. But those first 10 years I was basically raising my kids. I have a boy and a girl from my first marriage. And so I was raising the kids while starting this company essentially. We have 50-50 custody. So they got to share that experience. So those first 10 years was extremely busy. I would say around 2014 maybe, 2013, a friend came to me about an idea that he had for a startup, and he wanted me to look at it and see if I was interested in being his partner. He presented to me, did this whole pitch. And basically what it was is, to be honest, it’s not that different than what Instagram Reels is, what TikTok is now. The only company that was doing something sort of similar was musically that ended up becoming TikTok back then.

But even then it was very different, the UX. So basically at the end, what it was is you select video clips from your phone and it strings a video edited to music together. The thing that it did a little different was it took the music patterns and did the edit based on the pattern of the music, the rhythm, the beats per minute. There were 5 second ones, 15, 20, 30 I think it was. And so we built the app, we started it, we got some funding.

I learned a lot. Number one, I was able to use all of the tools and experience that I have learned, not just from owning an agency, but also working with clients as well. So it was really great. But it was tough. It was tough because it was at a time where we saw Instagram really starting to, I hate to say it, but just copy what everybody else was doing, so see what’s happening. And so like, “Oh, I like discovery. I like how Snapchat’s doing. Okay. Yeah. All right, let’s do this.” And then they bought the music catalog of Universal then.

And that’s where, okay, this is going to be really tough to… Even though the technology was different and interesting, it was not going to be able to compete because it had to be a platform. So it was more like a tool and a feature. So after I would say couple years, we got some awards and things out of it and definitely some really good recognition. But we decided to close that. Around that time, I got married in 2014, so we’ve been married about nine years. And my wife is actually a filmmaker. She has always wanted to be a director. And during that time, she was building her career. So she started making brand films. She’s an amazing storyteller. It was perfect because obviously I had done motion, I had been part of doing BFX for films and so forth.

So we started… It’s her thing. This is what she runs to this day now. It’s been maybe five years, but we took some of the experience that I had in motion and put it into what now it’s actually called Fe Films, Fe Brand Films or Fe Films. So she does brand films, she does motion graphics work, but really the thrust is she’s looking to have it be a full-fledged feature film company. So she’s doing some short films and some narrative work on that. She’s got a couple scripts that have been optioned and she’s been working with. So that’s, when you saw Fe Brand Films, that’s what it is. All of the motion parts that were Pastilla or most of it got diverted into Fe Films now.

Maurice Cherry:
And now also you’re board president of Art Division. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Rudy Manning:
Yeah. About two, three years ago, let me back up a little bit from that because, say about 10 years ago I had this thought and I had mentioned to my wife, “Wow, our studios are empty on Saturdays and Sundays. Wouldn’t be amazing to go out and bus students from the different areas in Los Angeles and different groups and be able to teach kids graphic design?” I’ve always had a passion for kids. And at that point I had just started teaching as well. So I thought, yeah, this could be really interesting to do. And so I had it in the back of my head, but with everything else, this was really busy and I never really was able to put the gas on that.

And then about two, three years ago, somebody recommended me, introduced me to Art Division, which was a school in Rampart District of Los Angeles that was teaching fine arts, visual arts to kids specifically in that area, primarily of Latino immigrants. Me speaking Spanish, being Latino, I felt like, I wanted to get to know a little bit more about the school. So went in, heard a little bit about it. Definitely saw some potential for me from my background coming from teaching at ArtCenter. Also, some of the things I have been thinking about in the past and learning from what they’re doing, seeing if that could be something I can learn from and be a part of something that was really giving kids who have graduated high school, have amazing art talent, be able to give them the ability for another chance to develop a career in arts. And then me maybe be a part of introducing design to their curriculum.

So after six months of being on the board, I was selected as the board president. And for the past year and a half, that’s been my role. What I’ve been doing is slowly trying to find ways to include graphic design into the curriculum. And we hope, hopefully by this fall, we have at least a couple classes that we start to teach. We’re developing that right now. We’ve done some graphic design workshops where kids have come in to hear a little bit about who I am. I’m also looking to introduce some of the designers from Pastilla also potentially to even go there and do some teaching and so forth and be able to give back to these kids. Because some of them, they’re artists, they have a passion for art and design, but who knows? That art background could end up becoming a design passion and graphic design passion and can end up having a career. It’s really tough and really expensive to go to school these days, especially art school. So giving them some of these opportunities I think could be really interesting. So I’m looking forward to how this develops.

Maurice Cherry:
Now along with this community work, which by the way sounds amazing. I would love to have been a part of a program like that when I was a kid. But you’re also an instructor at ArtCenter College of Design where you went to college. You’ve taught there now for almost nine years. Tell me a bit about what you teach.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah. I started teaching in the product design department, which is industrial design, we call industrial design, product design at ArtCenter. I was brought in to teach graphic design to the product design students essentially. And then that turned into me teaching the students, there was a class that helped the product design students or industrial design students how to brand themselves as they get ready to graduate, how do they position who they are and so forth. Those first classes, I would say that first year, year and a half, which for me to just get my feet wet and see do I like teaching period, how can I fit into my schedule? Does it work for me? And what are we getting out of it myself personally? And also am I being able to deliver and be good at it?

I loved it. I really, really liked doing it. I got as much out of the students as they get as much out of me. It’s definitely a very symbiotic relationship and I think that really helps my perspective in how I teach. And so I taught in that department and immediately obviously, I wanted to teach in the graphic design department. I was a natural inkling. It’s kind of tough to jump into teaching, especially ArtCenter because you have some of the top designers in the world and artists in the world teaching there and everybody wants to teach there. So I ended up getting asked to teach a branding class. They knew the work and stuff that I did. So I started teaching what now, the bulk of those years, up until maybe last year, I was teaching what was called Transmedia, which is basically a branding class that looks at what I mentioned, the cross sector of how branding and identity systems get implemented into and go into action when it comes to digital, motion, space, environmental.

So that was my class and I absolutely loved teaching, it was called Communication Design Five, Branding for Trans Media, I think. I did that for about six, seven years. I took a pause on that class. I was teaching two classes a week while I was still running the agency, still with this transition of the two new companies. Well, last summer I took a pause for two terms because teaching remotely and being remote as an agency was taking a toll on me. The classes at ArtCenter are about five hours. So if I was teaching two classes, that’s two days that I’m on class for five hours on screen. And then as I mentioned, my work is screen time stuff. So I ended up feeling after six, seven years, I don’t know if I have enough bandwidth.

Things started opening up obviously in the fall, but I started now with Art Division and my focus on there, I’m started to rethink a little bit of my long-term strategy in teaching and am I going to continue teaching at ArtCenter? So currently, I’m still teaching now. I’m back to teaching in the masters program, a branding futures class, which is I’m teaching with another instructor about strategies of future casting, how brands could future cast either their audience, either the business models, any kind of future strategic thinking of a brand. So I’m teaching that class now and I’m going to be teaching one more during the summer. But I think that after that I’ll be taking a pause for a while to do some art work and thinking with Art Division and put my time into that.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, you got to fill up your own cup first. It sounds like with everything you’re doing with Pastilla of course, and then also with teaching, you can get depleted very quickly.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. It all kind of works together in a way. So it is definitely a lot to juggle, but it all works for the greater good, really, ultimately also of Pastilla because when I do things for Art Division, not only am I helping feed ourselves, but we also tell that story of how we’re involved in Art Division when we work with some of our other clients. So that’s really a important part, shows that our agency isn’t just working directly with clients that have social impact, but we are actually volunteering our time as well.

And then for ArtCenter, the same thing. I’ve learned so much from teaching, communicating your thoughts of visuals. I’m sure you know this, it’s very, very underestimated how difficult it is to be able to say, communicate in words what something should be visually. I don’t think we think too much about that, but it’s extremely hard and it’s definitely an art to that. I learned a lot of that through teaching and different personalities of creatives and designers and so forth that I think has also helped Pastilla. And also just teaching at ArtCenter as my brand, my personal brand has definitely just validates the agency, validates me and so forth. So it all works together in my head for a bigger vision.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, no, it makes sense. It all feeds into each other. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but the work you’re doing teaching, of course, that informs how you talk to clients or how you present the business to clients. But then you also say, “We’re not just an agency, we also give back to the community.” And so that is where Art Division comes in, where you’re saying, “I’m doing this to help out students that are interested in design or kids that are interested in design.” So it does all feed into each other, but I think what it does overall is it shows just how passionate you are about design, just outside of a client-vendor relationship. This is your lifeblood. You live and breathe this stuff.

Rudy Manning:
Exactly. Love that. That’s exactly it. Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
What do your students teach you?

Rudy Manning:
Patience. I think, number one, it absolutely keeps me on the cusp of the, I hate to say design trends, but how culture is affecting design. How each generation takes what we’ve done and reinvents it, takes what they see in their environment and mixes it up to have this new creative aesthetic and how that continues to evolve. Absolutely, I always want to make sure that I am not blinded by my past or my history of what I always thought the design aesthetic was. I always want to feel like I’m at the edge of what’s happening, if not what’s also how things are changing and looking even ahead of that. So the students definitely keep me on my toes when it comes to that.

Second is understanding different design, creative mindsets or personalities. Different students take feedback completely different. And how you have to be very agile and nimble in how you communicate things. It could be how direct you are. It could be how open you are about a direction. Some students are really great at giving, they need very prescriptive directions on something and they need to develop that. They need to know things aren’t going to be so prescriptive. You need to connect the dots yourself, but you still have to be somewhat prescriptive. And then other students, if you’re too prescriptive, they literally will get stuck and confused because they don’t really understand exactly what you’re saying. And there’s everything in between.

So being able to read, pick up on how a student is reading you quickly, that’s really important, and being able to adjust your communication style. And that’s the same for our design team in-house and also clients as well. Communicating to clients, like you mentioned, we’re all creative to some point and when we’re communicating visuals, I take those little tools that I’ve learned in communicating to the students and I borrow those things to communicate to clients as well when I need to.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you are at a really unique vantage point, I feel. One, you’re an agency owner with Pastilla, you’re also an instructor, so you’re teaching the next generation of designers. How has being a design instructor informed how you approach Pastilla?

Rudy Manning:
It’s funny because we ended up changing the name of Pastilla from Pastilla Studio and in 2012 to Pasta Institute. It was supposed to be this sort of cheeky way to institutionalize something that isn’t really institutional and formalize it when it really isn’t formal. It was a very small studio then still. But there was something that made it feel like it’s established, but then at the end you’re kind of like, no, they’re a very buttoned down agency. So the one thing is that it was funny because the kind of person that I was and the designers that I would get, was naturally sort of a mentor and people would say, it’s kind of like a school where I saw designers really grow when they came to work at Pastilla and go and do amazing things, even after Pastilla.

And so that teaching part, I think was a part of Pastilla from the beginning, just naturally, I guess, maybe it just came from me or maybe just because I had to. Because I needed help and I needed freelancing and I had different people from different points of view, and that’s just my communication style. So that institute, I remember that now, it’s just Pastilla, obviously. We simplified it, but that part is still there. And for I would say a good eight years, every quarter at least, we had a different intern. I wanted to make sure that the designers that we have respect the interns and part of the work is that they do have to mentor. I’m mentoring as a creative director, the student, and also our design team that’s also working with the mentors is also teaching.

Teaching, it’s absolutely critical to any leadership. You can’t have a leader, not be a good teacher. You have to have somebody that can have that empathy of understanding that how to communicate to do something is an important part of being a leader and that not everybody takes or understands the same words or receives the same kind of communication the same way. And I think that’s an important part of being a good leader. And I felt like that’s an important part of Pastilla. And the creative team, the account team, the management team, and I try to continue to infuse that. Sometimes probably, I would say maybe the designers are like, “Oh my gosh, there’s too much work. I’m teaching and designing.” But I think in the long run, they’re going to see that this is some important tools that they learned.

So in short, before I was teaching at ArtCenter, I think we had that part embedded into our culture, that teaching impact or that element. Then I started teaching, that just got elevated, and then I just literally created with Pastilla, I would just have internship programs. So the students would come from ArtCenter. They’d intern at Pastilla for three months, continue getting taught there.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned with the education work you’re doing with ArtCenter, that part of what you’re teaching is about future strategic thinking. From your perspective, what do you think agencies can do moving forward to ensure that the future of creatives reflect this world that we’re in right now? Of course we hear a lot about diversity and inclusion. There’s always going to be some new bleeding edge tech, which right now is what AI, Chat GPT, et cetera. How can agencies start to move forward, making sure that this next generation of designers, creators, et cetera, really reflect the world that we’re communicating and creating for?

Rudy Manning:
I think one of the things, along the line of teaching, I feel like at least that was a feeling when I was in school, was that if you don’t come with a absolutely impeccable portfolio, you cannot work at some of these big larger agencies. This was the case. Thankfully, I went to ArtCenter, I had that experience, I had that portfolio at that time. But not everybody gets those opportunities. Not everybody finds those paths. Maybe they might have the opportunity, but they somehow didn’t have that one person that said, “Hey, take a class here,” or whatever. There’s lots of amazing schools in the world, in the country. But I feel that a lot of it starts in looking, when you’re interviewing somebody, agencies and design companies need to look farther deep into who that person is that they’re interviewing, way past their physical, where they’re at, at that moment with their portfolio.

Because for us to start developing or having the agencies and creative agencies, digital agencies, every kind of agency, reflect the real world, the designers that we have, the copywriters, the creative directors, the animators, the programmers reflect the world that we actually live in. We have to know that not everybody is getting the opportunities that everybody who’s working currently in the agency’s got, period. And to do that, we have to take some risk and we have to take initiative. I think the number one thing is to open our eyes to giving opportunities to people who are not at that moment fully polished to be working at that company. And there’s portfolio schools, there’s lots of different ways that somebody can advance themselves, but most of it is about the work. But you can get that experience sometimes working at an agency. If you have just a little bit of the excitement, the passion, the energy, and that natural creative tendency, even without having a finished portfolio, if you’re given the opportunity at an agency, you can develop that portfolio quick.

I know it’s not easy. It is not easy, and it’s expensive because the design teams, everything we do is labor. So things will take longer, the people. But I think in the long run, we have to give people the opportunities to, especially underserved, people of color when they come knocking at our doors as an agency and you see their work, you see where they’re at, not turn them down or away just because their portfolio isn’t fully finished. There is space for them to grow. And those, sadly, a lot of the opportunities that come are because of that network. And I understand, you get portfolios come at you 24-7, but every now and then I’ll get one and I’m like, huh. Their portfolio is not fully fleshed out. And they don’t have the ArtCenter, art school, art design, design portfolio, but there’s something in their personality, something in their CV, something in their work, one project, it could be that can show some kind of interesting perspective that you could look at. And if we’re looking closer, we’re able to maybe find some talent that just hasn’t had the opportunity.

I’ve seen that with Pastilla. One of our top designers that we have, I would say one of the top designers we’ve ever had at Pastilla didn’t go to art school like that. He went to a two-year school, it wasn’t a really fully flushed out program, didn’t have that kind of portfolio at all. We gave him that opportunity and he’s an amazing designer. So I think agencies need to be open to giving more experiences like that. That’s what I hope to do with Art Division is take that with the designers that go there, is find those ones that have that passion, be able to connect them. If the student wants to be connected, connect them to some of these other agencies. Just a simple, “Hey, check out this person’s work. I thought this. I thought this was interesting.” And giving them an opportunity.

Maurice Cherry:
I highly agree with what you’re saying. I was just talking to a colleague of mine, Ricardo Roberts. He has a agency in New York called Bien, B-I-E-N. They do an apprenticeship type program where they bring in designers, maybe they’re junior designers or maybe they don’t have a fully polished portfolio, but they help to give them that experience that they need in order to then get out there and really work, whether that’s with agencies, whether that’s directly with brands in house, more of those types of opportunities need to be available.

I agree with you, as I’ve talked to folks here on the show that have worked in advertising and such, agencies can be pretty stuck in their ways about the type of people that they want and the type of experience that they have to have. They have to have followed almost a particular script in order to just get in the door. This is even at smaller boutique agencies. So it definitely sounds like that whole world needs a bit of a paradigm shift, I think.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, no, absolutely. I love that. I would love to hear more about his program. I think formalizing something like that is awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
I will connect the two of you after this interview. I will most certainly do that.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah. That’s awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you stay creative and inspired in your work? With everything that you’re doing, I feel like you have a lot of input coming at you.

Rudy Manning:
I’ve always been a pretty curious person and I hope that I continue to be until my last days because I feel like that is the thing that hopefully will keep me up to speed on everything that is design at that moment. I would say design’s going to be completely different the next 30, 40 years. And I hope to know what’s happening and not be like, I would always say when I was in school with some of the older instructors, everything that we were doing was like, “Ah, everything looks the same.” And it’s like now I see some designers say the same thing to people in their early 20s. We have to understand things evolve, things change, and I want to be able to have that understanding. So staying curious and questioning and being, like I mentioned earlier, teaching and having young designers is a really important part of understanding that, how things evolve.

And so that definitely always keeps me fresh. I always have that curiosity of what is new, what is next, definitely keeps me fresh and excited. Right now obviously, everything happening with AI is really, really interesting to me. It’s something that we’ve always known is coming and we’ve seen it coming. And now tools are just more in front of us and the potential to be now in design where we’re going to see a total evolution of, and even fast forward of how we think and how we can be more hyper-focused in the creative and not so much of the doing. How we create is going to change as well. Even how to take simple things like a logo, what does that mean now in AI? Can a logo be so dynamic that it’s absolutely never static? Can a company have a logo where every customer has their own version because it’s that dynamic? Asking these questions I think are going to be super interesting. So always being on top of what’s happening, combining that with my experiences in the past, taking that in, I think that excites me.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give for aspiring creative professionals out there? They’re heard your story in this interview. They see everything that you’re doing in the community. What advice would you have for them?

Rudy Manning:
Wanting to be, let’s say, own a design agency or just jumping into graphic design?

Maurice Cherry:
We’ll say wanting to own an agency because I feel like a lot of folks that I speak with now are definitely leaning towards more entrepreneurial efforts. Even folks in-house are trying to strike out on their own. So yeah, approach it that way.

Rudy Manning:
I would say, number one, you need to be extremely patient. We hear that. We know like, “Oh yeah, you got to be patient. Things come to those who wait.” But it really does. In that patience, you’re going to have a lot of times where you feel like you can’t continue. I remember the first 10 years when I started Pastilla, there was about three moments that I thought… Okay, I remember the first time was in the financial crisis. I thought, “Okay, crap, this really sucks. I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like this uncertainty. I don’t like this weight that’s on me.” And I thought, “If I make it through this and something like this happens again, I can’t continue.” And then four or five years later, boom, another blip and you’re like, “Crap. Dang it. No, I’m going to continue, but you know what? This is it. After this one, that’s it.” Then you get one more, boom.

And what’s crazy is that over time, you learn that those blips, those bumps, you just learn how to deal with them. You’re smarter behind dealing with them. It’s not that the blips go away, you just aren’t scared of them at all. You’ve faced everything and every single time you’re a better entrepreneur, you’re a better planner, you’re more strategic. You know how to handle the downturns. That tends to scare away people. I know because I had those thoughts and I thought like, “That’s it.” But every single time you have to have that faith of, “You know what? I’ve got to believe in myself. I think I can do it. I love this.” You have to love this design industry. You got to love what you do. You got to love your clients and who you work with, and being creative, that definitely has to drive everything because if not, you could just be a banker or investment banker or something because there’s other ways to make money.

But this definitely is a combination of a lifestyle. And yeah, obviously there’s financial reward with it as well, but it definitely isn’t easy. Then I would say consistency. It’s not a sprint, it’s definitely a marathon. And there’s I would say in that marathon, there’s a bunch of small sprints. It’s one sprint and then you go into one phase and you got a marathon, marathon, marathon, another sprint. But it’s the consistency, the compounding effect of all of those moments of sprinting and marathoning and sitting and waiting and moving that all compile together for the good.

I would say in terms of, I think probably the biggest thing is people always ask, “How do you get clients?” And things like that. I think for me, one of the things that I learned early on, and I learned this as a freelancer, and this might seem super simple, but to this day, it’s probably the main thing that continues to feed our business, which is show people the work that you do. You finish a project, show it to people, tell the story. In the beginning, one on ones. I remember I was freelancing. I’d finish a project and then I’d have seven or people that I wanted to share that work with. And I’d say, “Hey John, how’s it going? I haven’t seen you for a while. We should have lunch, da da da. Are you still working at blah, blah, blah? I just finished this project. It’s down around where you live. It’s a new identity. It was a lot of fun, da da da.” That’s it. It was like a PDF or jpg in the email.

That was the first five, seven years of that I continued to freelance work that then got to start the company. And to this day, that’s exactly what I do. Now, it’s more formalized. And we do more of them. It’s not just projects, it’s articles, it’s stories. It’s the same thing everybody does. But I was doing it very early on where I didn’t really have anything to say other than sharing my work. And it was very intentional and very sincere as well. Because this business is about relationships. It’s a lot about relationships.

So you treat people good, you do really good work. You do everything you can to make sure the client’s happy and that will pay for itself. And from there, you share the work with those people, they’re going to tell other people about that, about you. And that continues to build more and more and more.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want that next chapter of your story to be?

Rudy Manning:
The past five years, we’ve grown exponentially. I feel that things are a lot more, I would say self-running, automated. The agency and the team is much more structured than it ever was. There’s some positive and negatives to that. The positive part is that it’s less weight on me. The positive part is that we can grow necessarily, not directly with me having to be on the ground every single second. There’s things that are built that can continue to feed the company on its own even without me. So those are the good things.

The downside is that there’s a lot of weight, or the downside I would say is that I do less creative than I did before, and I do more strategic thinking of the company. There’s been great things and I have to continue doing that. And I know in the next five years with that growth that’s happened, we have had some interest in people acquiring us, purchasing us. But I think we’ve contemplated a lot of those things in the past, especially last year and we continue to. But I think this kind of growth in the next, I would say five to seven years, is probably going to continue.

But what we’re going to do is, it’s a hard question because I think we’re in the middle of pivoting a little bit, but I would say potentially doubling or tripling in size to then have a bigger creative team, to serve more of the same kind of clients that we do, that we have right now. And where I feel, and that by note means we’re going to be a hundred million dollar agency or anything like that, but that’s going to be able to scale us to the point where I don’t have to do the kind of operationalizing, the strategic business work that I do on a day-to-day. I think that’s the goal. Where I then focus my time is on more of the relationship parts of the company, my relationships and how to continue to foster that and less being on the ground for the business right now.

To do that, we’re probably going to find maybe more partners to do that growth or maybe do some larger hires. We have to see. There’s some different strategies we have and options we have to do that. But I think double, triple in size than where we are now and me being less of those… Let’s say if we had another talk, Maurice, like in five, six years, I’m not telling you that I’m on a call six, seven hours a day, maybe three. And then the rest of the time I’m maybe meeting people or maybe more involved in Art Division or have some other nonprofit that’s maybe a part of not Pastilla or part of Art Division that is involved in the same kind of topics that we’re talking about, bringing art and design to youth to create more opportunities. Something like that.

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

Rudy Manning:
Our agency’s website is pastilla.co, so pastilla.co, P-A-S-T-I-L-L-A .co. You can also find our agency on Instagram. And our Instagram is, it’s Pastilla, P-A-S-T-I-L-L-A, Agency, A-G-E-N-C-Y. That’s her Instagram. And my Instagram also is Rudy, R-U-D-Y, M, V, so upside down A, V-N-N-I-N-G. So again, Rudy, R-U-D-Y, M-V-N-N-I-N-G. You can find me there as well. Yeah, those are my main channels. I’m also on LinkedIn. You probably just search me there. I don’t know what the exact profile name is there, but probably search Rudy Manning, you could find me on LinkedIn as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, we’ll find it. We’ll link it all down in the show notes. Rudy Manning, thank you so much for coming on the show. I think it’s definitely evident from your story, from the work you do out in the community, your education work, Pastilla, like I alluded to earlier in the interview, it’s clear you live and breathe design, but outside of that you have this sort of fiery passion to give back to the community and to also push the industry forward.

I think you’re doing it at a pace and a rate and a breadth that is inspiring for me to see. I hope it’s inspiring for our audience as well, for them to see what more can they do to try to really advance and push things forward. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Rudy Manning:
That’s awesome, Maurice. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate it. Awesome podcast. So thank you so much for having me again.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get started? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

George McCalman

Y’all are in for a real treat this week, because I got the chance to catch up with the extremely talented and accomplished George McCalman. He is well known for his work a studio owner and creative director, and he recently published his first book, Illustrated Black History: Honoring the Iconic and the Unseen.

George shared how the idea for the book came about, and he spoke about some of the surprising and interesting things that came up during his research on who to include. He also talked about getting his start in the magazine industry as an art director, shared what convinced him to eventually start his own business, and elaborated on how his style has evolved over the years. George is a master of his craft and a true inspiration to aspiring creatives everywhere!

☎️ Call ‪626-603-0310 and leave us a message with your comments on this episode!‬
Interview Transcript

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

George McCalman:
Well, number one, thank you for having me on, Maurice. My name is George McCalman. I am an artist and creative director based in San Francisco. I live part-time in the Caribbean, the country of Grenada. And I run a design studio, which affords me the privilege of doing a lot of creative things at the same time. And I’m also a fine and commercial artist, and I’m often the artist of projects that I am designing and am the creative director on. I do a lot of other things, but that’s it for right now.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a lot.

George McCalman:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, first off, happy New Year to you.

George McCalman:
Happy New Year.

Maurice Cherry:
We’re recording this right near the start of 2023. How have things been going so far?

George McCalman:
It’s been great. I’m in a very different realm than I was even a few weeks ago. I just had a couple weeks of a break from a book tour that I have been on and a press tour in support of my book Illustrated Black History: Honoring the Iconic and the Unseen. And so I’ve had a little bit of a reprieve, and so for the first time in many months, I have had the opportunity to really synthesize and make sense of the whirlwind that has come from the second half of this year of this book being out and me going out on a book tour and a national book tour. So I’ve just been really reflective for the last couple of weeks, and so this conversation is really timed well because I’ve been just thinking a lot about my experience of being a published author and people interacting with this book and having their responses and what I have learned from their response to this book. It’s been really incredible.

Maurice Cherry:
And I know you’re currently recording in Grenada. I would imagine having a Caribbean paradise at the finish line of a book tour is a pretty good motivation.

George McCalman:
Well, it’s actually just a reprieve. I start back on the book tour in February. So this is actually not even the midpoint. I’m going to be on tour for this book most likely another year just because I feel really passionately that this subject matter should be revered every day of the year and not just localized to a month or a period of time. So I am taking the message of that to the streets.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. When you look back at last year, is there anything that you want to try to change for 2023?

George McCalman:
Yeah. Expansive. I don’t know that I would use the word change for myself. It’s expand. I learned a lot and I was involved in all aspects of the making of this book, which is a really unique place to be. Most authors are not involved with all of the backend, the making and the design and the marketing. And so it’s been a really comprehensive experience too. And if I would say any adjustment, it would just be more, basically.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’ll make sure that we have a link to the book in the show notes. Yeah, let’s dive more into it. Tell me about the book. I think the name is self-explanatory, but tell me more about the book, what was your idea behind it, all of that.

George McCalman:
The book came from the word … The first sentence of the introduction of this book is I had a curiosity, and that is the very simple truth. I was just curious to know more about black pioneers. And I was just coming to a point where I started realizing that there was an artist inside of me, and so I decided to merge these twin curiosities of, I want to test out the parameters of me as an artist after basically not making art since I graduated from college 20 years before. So I’m a classically trained artist. I’m a painter and a drafts person and a sculptor and a photographer. But when I went out into the professional landscape of being a magazine art and creative director, I didn’t think there was any room for me to be a fine artist. And at the time, there just weren’t people who looked like me in this realm.

And so I knew that would be a hard road, and I decided to go with the convention of working in the corporate world just to establish myself financially and it was an adult decision. But I came to a point a few years ago where I started realizing that there was more that I was interested in. It felt like there was an ocean that I had not touched. And I decided in a flash of inspiration to make this project my first assignment as an artist. And so I researched and wrote and painted a different black history pioneer every day for a month of February, and it just started ballooning. I think that’s the right word. It started expanding from there.

Maurice Cherry:
How did you go about researching and selecting the people to feature in the book? Because as I’ve looked through the book, I have the book actually, you have a wide range of people that you feature.

George McCalman:
I really know that the person that I am personally and professionally has really been framed by my time working at magazines because it’s basically, I got both military and library training at the same time, if that makes sense. There’s a rigor to when you are working under deadline, you have to really be sharp, you have to have your focus, you have to know what the context is of what you’re doing. You have to be really communicative with the people around you. And you have to make sure that what you’re writing is all the time. And so it really trained me to know some of the shortcuts of researching and trusting my instincts around that. And for me, I was interested in people I didn’t know that much about. Even if I knew their name, even if I knew some of their story, there’s always more to learn.

And that’s the thing that I’ve learned in my 15 years as a magazine person before I opened my studio, that even when you think you know everything about a public figure, there is always more. And so it was a trust in the information I was learning, but it was also a trust in myself. And so I was always just looking at the periphery, looking at the fringes, asking myself questions. Who is Edna Lewis? What was Gordon Parks thinking as he was moving through the world? I found myself asking intimate questions to myself of the people I was researching. And so I found myself drawn to aspects of their story, and I was always looking for not just their accomplishments, but their personality. So many of our pioneers were always looking through a contemporary lens, but life was just so much harder then.

And so I can’t imagine what Gordon Parks’ everyday life was. He was always the representative, and there’s always a burden placed on black people in America that we have to represent our community. And I can’t imagine what that was like 50 years ago, what that was like 75 years ago, 150 years ago. How much harder it was to be seen as an individual when your community is always being judged against the majority white community. And so it’s always this push, it’s always this burden, it’s always this pressure. But then you look at these accomplishments and so many of these people, publicly anyway, were really graceful. And so you have to develop this superpower when you’re out in the world. And I found myself thinking, what did these people have to compromise? What did they have to give up? Who did they have to be to be the people that we know and sometimes take for granted?

I was always looking for the hidden messages of who these people actually were, and that just always sparked my interest. It just made me hungry and curious. And even as I was painting them, I found myself drawn to nuances of personality. Gordon Parks was really charming, and so the portrait that I did of him, there’s a twinkle in his eye. I was looking to bring out the anger and the jokingness and the sadness and the power and the force. I really wanted to capture human personality in these paintings and really individualize them.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from just how poetic that is, that is extremely profound of you as an artist to want to approach it in that way. Even as you mentioned that, I’m thinking of my personal experience, but I’d say maybe a couple of years ago, this was right around the summer of 2020, I was doing a lot of research looking at old issues of Ebony Magazine and Jet Magazine from the ’50s and the ’60s. And one thing that stuck out to me that I thought was really interesting, I saw an ad for … It was some kind of alcohol, maybe gin or something like that. But it was Langston Hughes.

George McCalman:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Langston Hughes was selling alcohol. And I don’t know why that broke my brain for a second because in a way you think of, oh, Langston Hughes, Harlem Renaissance, profound poet. Why is he selling alcohol in Ebony Magazine?

George McCalman:
Yes. We don’t often think of our pioneers as whole people. People who have made mistakes and people who have had different lives and weren’t always doing the things that we focus and categorize them in terms of their professional accomplishments. And you start seeing people are just flawed. Every human being is flawed. We have complicated relationships with our icons in that we have to place them on a pedestal to basically show ourselves and to show the larger community how great we are. And so we always have to work harder to show these things. And then when you see Langston Hughes out of context, it’s confusing.

Maurice Cherry:
It caused me to pause for a minute. Not so much the why behind it, but it made me think … I don’t know. I wouldn’t think of him as a spokesperson for an alcohol company. I’m thinking of him as the poet. And not even thinking of like, oh, well, what are the circumstances that brought him to do this? Because I’m not looking at him being in Ebony in that way as a negative, but it just surprised me to go through the pages and I’m like, “Oh, Langston Hughes is selling gin.” It was gin or something. I don’t know.

George McCalman:
Because Langston Hughes had to pay his bills too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

George McCalman:
Homie had to pay his bills, and so lots of people did lots of different things to survive.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What would you say is the most interesting or surprising thing you learned while doing this research? Aside from what you just mentioned, which I said is extremely profound.

George McCalman:
Oh gosh. I learned so many things it’s hard for me to pull out. If anything, it just broadened my fascination with basically how we think of our cultural figures. Back to your point of the kind of artist I was at the beginning of this process that I was looking to render a kind of wholeness of people. I was just always interested in the emotional language of portraiture and even how we as black people render each other is going through a current renaissance because we have not always … We haven’t been given the room and encouragement frankly, to render ourselves. And so I knew it was maverick of me to basically not flatten everyone and not render the same style. That would’ve been easy for me to do, but I knew that that was not the right thing for me to do for this project. I really wanted to make sure that I was showing the complexity of who these people were and I was also trying to show the humanity and make that as important as the historical details. That I was basically equating the emotional parts with the historical facts.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you hope people take away from the book? I mean, aside from buying a copy, what do you want people to take away from it?

George McCalman:
Well, I honestly think, Maurice, that we’re super casual about this subject. Not that we don’t know how important it is, but at the time that I started this project, I realized that there wasn’t a book like this and that I wanted people to have it because I thought that we all deserved to have something like this, that we deserve to have this resource. Even though we as black people, we carry our history in our bodies and we have a very particular way of an oral history of passing information down to each other that has survived the ravages of time and racism. This book in and of itself, I didn’t feel comfortable thinking about it until after the book came out and several people have told me that this book is in and of itself a pioneer. Because we just don’t have this information accessible in this way. That there wasn’t a book outside of historical, academic and children’s categorization, that there wasn’t an accessible book just to buy and share about American black history. And so that’s what I want people to know, that this is still a rarefied thing. This is not an everyday thing. This is a pretty amazing resource that we now have. And I made this book for myself as much as for anyone else. I wanted a book like this. And so that’s partially why I did it.

Maurice Cherry:
I also love that the typography that’s in the book for the titles as well as on the cover is from a black typographer.

George McCalman:
There are two black typographers in this book. And because I’m the designer of the book, I was clear that that aspect had to be represented. That I didn’t just want to talk about it, I wanted to show it. It was more important that people knew that that sensibility … There’s this reductive conversation that came up during 2020 again that was like, where are all the black designers? And I was like, “Screw you all. There are plenty of us around. You just need to stop being lazy and do your research to find them because we’re all here.” And I know tons of black designers, and so that’s not a thing. There should be more of us, certainly. But this idea that somehow everyone just woke up and started looking for us, I was genuine. I was like, “Fuck you.” I wanted to know. The two black typographers, one has been in the game for over 30 years, Joshua Darden, and he has a very successful … Which he sold a number of years ago.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Darden Studio.

George McCalman:
Darden Studio. And the other one is a more recent designer and typographer by the name of Trey Shields. A vocal type. And Trey’s hook, and it was a hook that he has just expanded beautifully, was to honor the civil rights protest signs and digitize them and make them accessible to everyday people. And so the book is filled with typefaces. There’re three or four typefaces in this book that both Trey and Josh designed.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Yeah, Trey’s the homie. I’ve had him on the show before.

George McCalman:
He’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

George McCalman:
He’s amazing. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears here a little bit and learn more about you. Learn more about your origin story. Are you originally from Grenada? Is that where you grew up?

George McCalman:
Yes. I was born and raised here. The first decade of my life I lived here, and then my mother and I moved to Brooklyn. I grew up in East Flatbush in a West Indian neighborhood. And all my formal education was in New York. I went to Marine Park in Brooklyn and then Midwood High School, which was a medical science high school. Webster attended Midwood High School. That’s my one celebrity, useless factoid. And then I went to St. John’s University and graduated and then started working in the publishing field.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you always have an interest in illustration and design growing up?

George McCalman:
Always. I was that kid who drew in the margins of every page of every notebook I’ve ever had in my entire life. And it was just raw. It just came out. I had no formal training until college, but I was just obsessively drawing. And I drew superheroes and I made up characters and it was all very detailed, and I would just create these worlds and I would be lost in them to the eternal frustration of my mother. And it just came from me. It came from me and it came for me. But I had no encouragement into this world, and I didn’t know enough of it to realize that I could make a career out of being an artist. I saw no road into it. And so it made sense to me to just walk away from it when I graduated from college.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s talk about college. You mentioned going to St. John’s University. We had another guest on recently, Sharon Burton, who also told me about her time there. Yeah. What was it like for you?

George McCalman:
My college education was a dysmorphic experience. I didn’t know what I had until it was in the rear view mirror, as is perfect parable of youth. We have no context to know what it is that we’re learning until life crashes into you when you have something to compare it to. And for me, I had an education that I was constantly frustrated with because it felt that it was out of step with the cool art schools that were in Manhattan. Number one, I was in Queens, which felt so far removed from the center of the art world, which was Manhattan at the time. And so I’d go into all these galleries in Manhattan, and I had friends who were at Parsons and SBA and Pratt, and it just felt like I was at this Catholic university that had a tiny fine art and graphic design department, and I just felt like my education sucked.

And it wasn’t until I graduated school and started working, I realized how amazing my education actually was and how unique it was in the landscape of how people are taught fine art and graphic design. And one of the main things that differentiated my education is that I learned philosophy and theology alongside art history, fine art and graphic design. It was one of the most comprehensive educations I could have received. And it took me a few years to realize that I was actually ahead of the curve and I’m actually really happy that I did not go to a more prototypical fine arts school. I got a fantastic education at St. John’s.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How’s that saying go? Hindsight is 2020?

George McCalman:
It sure is.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve heard that personally because I didn’t even study design. I went to a liberal arts private college. I went to Morehouse. And I initially went there because I wanted to … And this was late ’90s, early 2000s. Because I wanted to be a web designer. I had started learning HTML in high school. I taught myself HTML in high school and learned Photoshop. I designed my high school’s yearbook and the paper, and I really wanted to go into it but the scholarships that I got weren’t for art school. I actually never even applied to an art school. And then I got to Morehouse, majored in computer science. And in my mind I’m thinking, oh, well, it’s all the same, right? It’s all computers and design. It’s all the same. And I quickly realized after the first semester, it was not. I switched my major to math, which is what I got my degree in. But I know what you mean about looking back at the education and seeing how it served you versus the time that you’re there and you have this comparison on what your peers are doing, on what others are doing or what you think they’re doing that you feel like you should be getting at that formative stage.

George McCalman:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
So after you graduated, you talk about going and becoming an art director. Did you go right into that right after you graduated?

George McCalman:
I did. It’s pretty common now, but it was a little more unconventional back then. This was the mid ’90s. St. John’s had a internship requirement that your final year of school was spent in the field the entire semester as if you worked. And so the entire semester, I ended up having three options. I remember being going to interview at these three distinctly different locations, and it was kind of a sliding doors. And even then I knew that I was basically deciding my path with these three. One was an ad agency, one was a magazine, and the other was a small boutique design firm. And I remember being confused about which direction I was going to go in. I really did not know. And I walked into the Office of Money magazine, which is where I ended up interning. There was just a vitality. The office was a newsroom and there were people walking around and talking and gossiping and stuff being put up, and I could see layouts, and it just felt alive. It felt like an organism. And in my early 20s, I was just kind of like, yes, I think this is the environment that I need to be in. And I didn’t know anything about magazine design at that point, but it just felt like I needed to be there. And so I said yes to it, and I think it was one of my first really adult decisions.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really interesting that senior year you got to have that choice. That’s something that I know that a lot of students now don’t get. They don’t get to see the working world-

George McCalman:
They really don’t.

Maurice Cherry:
Before they graduate like that.

George McCalman:
They don’t. Yeah. Because I teach also. I’m a professor of graphic design. And one of the big issues I have … And it’s not an easy problem to solve. I am critical of it while knowing that I don’t have the answers myself. One of the fallacies of school is that it doesn’t really prepare you for the real world. It’s like one of the last bastions of this purity of education. And it often is counter to how the process of the professional world runs. I quickly learned when I started Money Magazine that there was no graphic design class I had that prepared me for how the magazine world worked and how the design process actually worked. I realized how luxurious school is. It’s a place where you can sit and think and talk and show your work, and there’s no real disruption. There are no real crises. There’s nothing for you to solve outside of the assignment that has been given to you that you have months to ponder and to ruminate on.

And so the idea of instinct is just absent in the school diaspora. And so when I teach now, I teach differently than I learned, and I try to infuse as much of a real life sensibility. The other issue with schools is that a lot of people who teach don’t practice. And so you have a completely different and often very dissonant where the education is rigorous and it is really valid, but it is outside of basically the professional norms of how you would actually solve problems. But then the people who are in the field don’t have time to teach because they’re working. And even for me, teaching was a really difficult thing for me to do with the entrenched deadlines of my studio process. And so I understand that it is a very difficult thing to do. I recently took part in a review of students at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard a few weeks ago at the end of the semester in December.

And this was an active conversation that I was one of six jurors, and we were all in different strata of the professional world, and we were really debating and having this conversation about how what best serves the students. If you’re only learning from people who are not practicing, I’m sorry, the education is only so valuable. But then if you’re only learning from people in the field, you don’t learn what being spacious in your thinking and being intellectual and being academic, you don’t learn the value of that in the design process also. And so the answer seems to be a balance between the two, but that is not always the case depending on where the school is and at what stage the professors are and where the students are. So it’s a very complicated metric to figure out.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting you say that because I’ve certainly encountered that even with some … Honestly, some schools that have interacted with Provision Path in different ways. You name a top design school in this country, they’ve reached out to me in some capacity about the show. Which is great. They like what the show is about. It’s filling a gap in their curriculum in some way that they’re not. But then if it comes down to me lecturing or teaching or something, it always seems to boil down to the fact that I don’t have a design degree. That they’re like, “Yeah, but …” I’m like, “Well, stop wasting my time.”

George McCalman:
Stop wasting my time. And those kind of rules and terms don’t really serve anyone anymore. I mean, just the landscape has changed and design, because of technology, is just so accessible. And I know lots of brilliant designers who did not go to art school, and I don’t believe that you need to have a design degree to be brilliant at what you do. There are lots of people who have defied the convention of formal education and produced really entrancing, relevant, resonant work. And to me, that’s what it’s about. And so I don’t subscribe to this hierarchy of academia. I mean 30 years ago it was used to be exclusive and keep a lot of people out, and that was seen as a value, but I don’t think it serves anyone right now. Culture has changed and education has changed. And because of technology, everything is just more accessible. And so it’s really about what you are doing with the technology. It has nothing to do with did you go to school or not? That’s just such a reductive argument.

Maurice Cherry:
I agree. I agree. This actually is making me think of a question that I do want to explore more on the show this year. And since you’re one of the first guests on this year, I’ll ask you. I’m curious what you think about the future of the art and design industry and how it’s going to be impacted by technology. I think we’ve seen in at least the past year, maybe two years, talk about web three and NFTs and most recently AI generated art and things like that. How do you think these industries are going to be impacted by tech?

George McCalman:
I think it already has been. What we call entrepreneurship is actually just hustlers. That’s what technology has given us. It’s given smart hustlers who are pulling and stretching and tweaking and bending the rigidity of so many of our institutions and our disciplines. The word I use a lot is it has expanded the notion of what design is, who it’s for, who it’s not for. And technology has brought so many things to people who would not otherwise have them. It just brings an aspect of the world to your doorstep. Technology for me, because I grew up outside of it and I was an adult … People who were born into technology, that’s what they know. That’s the real world. To me, it’s not the real world. It’s an aspect of the real world. And so I think of social media as tools.

I don’t think of it as real life. I think it’s a facsimile of real life. And so the language of how I talk about it has given me clarity in that I’m not confused about its place in my life. I started learning graphic design before we got our computer labs. And so I had two years of playing with typography, playing with a lot of the conventions of what is now basically archivable materials because nobody does it that way anymore. But because I learned design with my hands, that is how I continue to interface with it. I still draw out everything I do first. And that dexterity, frankly, has made me a better designer. I don’t rely on technology as a starting point for anything that I design. I bring it in to help move the process forward.

Maurice Cherry:
Good answer. I like that. You started talking about tech and that question just popped into my mind to ask you about that. But to go back to your career as an art director, you have a very storied history as an art director for several magazines. You mentioned Money Magazine, but you’ve also been an art director at Entertainment Weekly, at Mother Jones, at ReadyMade, just to name a few. When you look back at that time being a director for all these magazines, what stands out to you the most?

George McCalman:
I can’t give just a simple answer. I can give a collective answer. Because I learned a lot. I learned a lot of things. And I don’t think in terms of best or worse because I think life is too complex for that. But what I did learn was agency. The word agency. Meaning that I am not stuck when I don’t know how to solve a problem. That there are ways and there are many paths to telling a story, and there’s no one way to do anything. And depending on the context of what you’re doing, I learned how to be a better communicator. Because when you’re working with a lot of people who are reliant on you, you learn that you are a cog in a wheel, but that your role, nobody else working with you has that. So everyone is really important to the process at different times.

And so you learn the economy of collaboration. That collaboration can be a really beautiful thing. And that there’s an excitement when you are working with people who are really good at what they do and that want to tell stories as well as possible. And that telling stories is one of the most unique aspects of being a human being. And that that is basically how we thrive and survive as people. We share information and we share stories with each other. And that’s where I learned that. I’m not sure I would answer this question in this way if I hadn’t worked at magazines. And I utilize magazines also to learn. And I did. I used them for two things within myself. To learn the process of what I was doing. And I moved around a lot.

I never worked at a magazine more than two years because I always wanted to learn what I was doing through a different landscape. There are lots of people that get a job and stay there for decades. I am someone who I learn what I need to learn and then I move on. I have always been that way. And so for me, it was what can I learn about the subject matter? I learned about the financial world, honestly, working in Money Magazine. I learned about the inner workings of celebrity culture, working at Entertainment Weekly. I learned about the wellness world at Health Magazine. I learned about technology working at Wired, working at ReadyMade, working at Afar. I really immerse myself in the subject matter to learn more about how these stories focused on this particular field. What was the combination, what was the metrics, what was the engineering of the subject matter? And so I was always kind of process nerd, if that makes sense. And that’s what I was always looking for. And with magazines, the process can become repetitive because you’re doing the same combination of things. And so the first year I was learning about the magazine and the second year I was learning about the subject matter. And then like clockwork, I’d come to the end of the two years and I’d move on.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, was this sense of agency the inspiration behind you starting your studio?

George McCalman:
Yes. I reached a point where I realized I wasn’t learning anything more. I wasn’t learning anything new. And I had all these skills that I wanted to apply in a different way. And it was working at ReadyMade that gave me the inspiration to open up my own studio, which was the second to last corporate magazine job that I had. And ReadyMade was a magazine about do-it-yourself design. It’s basically recycling. What we now call upcycling. It’s taking something that is at the end of its road as it’s being used and refashioning it for something else where it has an entirely new shelf life and you can use those things. And it was really just clever. It was just really clever design solutions. It’s taking cloths and making a kite out of it, or taking old jeans and turning it into place mats. Just stuff like that that is seen as quaint now, but was really at the vanguard of this recycling movement that is just more every day and more common.

It was recycling before recycling, even in California, was as ubiquitous as it is now. And I got to work with a lot of makers. People who just made things and who were just passionately, quietly … And not starting businesses, but just people who were making things for their own edification, for their homes. And I was honestly just really inspired. And I was just kind of like, oh, I know a lot of people who are working for themselves. And when I started thinking about it, I would talk to friends and contemporaries and professional acquaintances and everyone said, “Do it, do it. Do it. When you work for yourself, you will never go back to the corporate world.” And they were right.

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

George McCalman:
It has both changed and remained the same. My interest is in culture. The identity of culture. And so I have coined a phrase just internally in my professional world that I am interested in culture clients. And in the early days it was … I live in San Francisco, so there are lots of artisans. There are people who are making small batches of things. There are restaurant owners. I was always working with clients who were working for themselves and needed help with the language and the messaging around branding. And so I worked with restaurants and I designed products and chocolates and tea, but I was really kind of more comprehensive. It was less me coming in to just design a package and it was basically working on the whole branding from the logo to the identity to the strategy to the messaging to the website, just the whole thing. And I realized that I was drawing on my editorial background to tell the whole story.

And so it expanded to … I started working with the tech world and then quickly stopped. Because I realized that they … I remember having a meeting with Uber. This was like 10 years ago. I was working with TripAdvisor and Uber. And these are big names, big clients at the time. I can tell you, TripAdvisor, I consulted with them for almost two years. They didn’t know how to assign photography. And so I worked with them comprehensively working with a photo editor to basically get them a library of photographers, come up with a system of rate assignments. Just basically the basics that one of the largest companies in the travel world had no awareness of. With Uber, it was they had been focused on the service for so long and they were starting to atrophy some of their customers because there was no story. There was nothing.

And the people who started Uber did not think that that was important until suddenly it was. And I remember having a meeting with them where I was like, “Oh, they’re just taking my ideas. I’m just here speaking to them.” And I was like, I don’t trust this field. I don’t want to have my intellectual property just ripped off and I’m not on the inside, so they’re not going to value what I’m doing. They’re going to treat me like a vendor, and I’m not anyone’s vendor. And I was really clear about my value to myself. And so I stopped working with the tech world for a few years and really just focused more on the one-on-one. And I worked with larger companies, but it was still where I had direct access to the founders and the CEOs so that I could thread continuity between what I was doing. I didn’t want to work with any intermediary people, so I had to be conscious of the scale that I was working in just to make sure that the projects didn’t get away from me. And I was also clear with myself that I wanted to keep my studio small, because I wanted to keep it manageable and basically control and frame the quality of the work that I was doing. I didn’t want to be embarrassed by anything that I was doing if it got too corporate.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that idea of culture clients because yeah, working with tech companies, they will just relegate you to vendor status and-

George McCalman:
And they will just steal your shit.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, they’ll steal it.

George McCalman:
No compunction about it. And it’s the people who don’t know what they’re doing that want to steal your shit.

Maurice Cherry:
And I know in my instance, when I have worked with tech clients, it felt like … Or at least I entered into it thinking it would be more of a partnership. We would maybe bounce ideas off of each other or things like this. And in some instances, they just wanted to just cut the check, which I mean, look, I’ll take your money. I don’t have a problem with that. But I was really thinking that it would be more based on how the initial conversations went, why you sought me out, et cetera. And then it just ends up not being that. They just want to have it to be a bullet point on a DEI presentation.

George McCalman:
It is rarely that. And this is even before DEI so there was no representative of that. And that was the other reason. That I was often the only black person. And I was like, “No, I don’t want to do this.” I left publishing because I was tired of being the only black person. And for me, the tech industry has just become the new media publishing industry. I can see the corollaries and a lot of the people, a lot of my contemporaries have gone over and taken our playbook into the tech world. I mean, Apple very much has snapped up a lot of the most prominent magazine editorial art directors in the field in the United States. And so many of their campaigns, I’m looking and I can see the editorial strata of how these stories are shot and presented. It’s all going in that direction. And it should, because it’s the best form of storytelling. Advertising as a medium, as a typical form, I think is not very good at storytelling.

Maurice Cherry:
No, they are not. In addition to the work that you do through your studio, and you alluded to this earlier in the interview, you’re a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. How did that come about?

George McCalman:
Well, it came about the year that I started the original 29 day project of Illustrated Black History. I tell you, Maurice, it was just a year where I just lost my mind and just began drawing and painting obsessively, just everything. I was just manic for it. And it was like it had been bottled up and it all just came out. And so that year I took a sabbatical, which means that I stopped taking on work. And when I tell you that I had no money, I mean I had no money. I was just living off of my savings. It was a really reckless thing to do, and I’m a pretty cautious person. And I knew that it was the right thing because it just came so easily to me. I fired all my clients and just started everything from scratch. And so I gave myself the time to do that, and I was also trying to figure out how to make a living with it.

And so I ended up doing a series. A series of series. And that is also a playbook from my magazine days. You tell a story in multiple images, threading a narrative and a continuity from beginning, middle to end. And so I did several series on my family, on Illustrated Black History, and then I started documenting the visual identity of San Francisco. And I was really fascinated by the human ecosystem of the Bay Area. And I’d been working on another series about how the tech industry started in the Bay Area and how it could not really have started anywhere else and just all of these threads were coming together. And I had this epiphany one day where I knew that I wanted to do a culture column on the makeup, on the genetic makeup of San Francisco and the Bay Area.

And I had been inspired by a morbid thing. It was when Bill Cunningham, who used to be a columnist for the New York Times, and he was a style photographer and he documented black style in Brooklyn and Harlem, and he equated black style with high fashion, which is something the fashion industry did not do and still does not do, even though they think they do. I was just like, “Oh, I think this is what I should do.” And I remember writing a pitch and deciding whether I was going to send it to the New York Times or the San Francisco Chronicle. And because of my magazine background, I outlined everything to myself and I wrote a pro and con list about the San Francisco Chronicle versus the New York Times and how much creative freedom I was going to have. And the whole idea for the column was that I would be writing, illustrating and designing this column, documenting various events that gave you a larger sense of what the Bay Area was all about and what made it unique and special and also frustrating and just all of the things that just brought all the complexities in.

And I sent that to the woman who became my editor, and she wrote back immediately and she said, “This is brilliant. We’re going to do this.” And I remember thinking at the time, “Holy shit. I didn’t think she’d respond this quickly, and now I have to do this on a monthly basis.” And it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I would go out to cultural events several nights a week, and I just became this man about town for years. And I would show up as a reporter with my notebook and my pens, and sometimes I would live draw and sometimes I would draw later on and I just drew this column every month and designed it for the style section of the Chronicle, and I did that for years.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. When it comes to work between what you do in your studio and what you do for the newspaper, is your approach different for each one?

George McCalman:
I work in parallel lines, as I’m sure my answers are starting to illustrate. I’m always on the inside and outside of what I do, and I’m looking at both sides of it at the same time. And I think I developed that skill as a magazine person because there’s not just the story that you’re working on, it’s the process of how the story is being made that is as important as the story that you’re making. And as a designer, you are at the intersection of words and images, and so you’re never just looking at one aspect of anything. And it has just expanded my brain, I think, where now I can’t help but think of everything through this parallel thread of thinking. And so in terms of making this column for years, I knew that I was training myself to do basically all aspects of what I was doing.

I was always an art director, so I would have been the designer of the column, but I would’ve been working with a writer and working with an illustrator. But in combining all of those skills, I was sharpening my capabilities, but I was also training myself for this kind of repetitive monthly grind where it just became less of a grind. I remember the first year I was just stressed out all the time, and then suddenly it settled and it was not a stress anymore. And the column used to take me several days to do. And towards the end of that initial run, it would take me 24 hours to do the whole thing. And it just became a little more fine tuned. I really was able to pace myself. I knew what I needed to do. I knew what I needed to accomplish. And so you just anticipate what you need and then you do it.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say your artistic style has evolved over the years?

George McCalman:
To answer your previous question, I do … And I’m answering both at the same time. I think I have developed a way of backing into the style. I often don’t know what style I’m going to do when I start something, and this book is evidence of that. I really just feel my way into what I was doing. The original column had a lot of different styles, but I basically invented a newspaper style because I wanted it to be stylized. I had to do things quickly, it had to be out of a economy of time. So I developed a shortcut of illustrating that for the longest time my contemporaries thought was my style. And then when I started working on the book, even close friends were like, “Oh, this is totally different from what you have been doing with the Chronicle.”

And I was like, “Yeah, this book is actually what my work is actually.” But I’ve been doing this shorter version of it for a while and it has just become what I’ve been known for. But the truth is I tend to start from scratch every single time, and I do it in my design world and whether I’m designing something, whether I am illustrating it, fine art, it is a brand new thing every time I’m sitting to do it, even if I’ve done it before. And so I’m considering all of the layers. I was like, what is best going to serve this story? Is it something that’s in pencil? Is it something that is in paint? Is it typography? I just think freshly about everything that I’m doing, and I throw out what has come before. I honor what has come before, but I don’t get stuck in the nostalgia of what I’m doing. I will throw everything out and start it up again if I think that that is the right thing to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of the people that have really helped motivate and inspire you over the years?

George McCalman:
There are so many hidden figures in my life. The truth is, it’s not a lot of artists. The artists who inspire my work are not contemporary artists. They’re people that I grew up admiring. And where I find my inspiration is not really in other people, it’s in nature. The natural world really provides a lot of my motivation. But in terms of the people who have inspired they’re close family friends, they’re people I consider mentors in my life that have just always been many times the last few years where I’ve just admitted to my internal community, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just literally making this up. And there have been many times, there were many times that first year of launching out as an artist where there wasn’t a month that went by that I was like, “I don’t think this is going to work. I think I need to stop doing this. I don’t think I’m going to figure out how to make a living. I don’t think this is working.”

And no one person would let me do that. Everyone was just like, “Nope, nope, nope. Keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going.” And I’m grateful for that because that the first year I was absolutely flabbergasted how I was going to make this thing work. And I could see the talent and I could see that there was something there, but how all the pieces fit together in terms of continuity and financial stability, I didn’t see it. And then I got the column and the column I didn’t give the context for. I started six months after I started being an artist. And that was the first light bulb where I was like, oh, I think I know how to package this work.

And then I started getting more assignments and then it just picked up from there. And there were many stages of the process where something else would happen and I’d think, “Oh, okay, yes, that’s how this fits in.” And, “Oh, right. And then I can do that.” And then when I got my book deal, I realized that my column had been training me to do this book and that I had certainly designed lots of books, but this was the first time that I was all things and that I’d been doing a version of that for the last few years. And so I had been prepping myself for this larger project that I think it would’ve been much harder to do if I had not been doing it. So I just started seeing how all the pieces were fitting together.

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

George McCalman:
That I get to do what I love. I am happy. I am as happy as a pig in shit. I feel really fortunate that I am passionately in love with the creative world that I’ve given myself. I get to work with all of the things and the skills that I’ve been given. And there’s so much I’ve learned over the years that I get to relearn and apply in a different way. And I’ve learned that I get bored really easily and I’m not bored by anything that I do right now, which tells me that I’m doing the right thing. Learning is an absolute essential part of what I do, and I place myself on the ground floor of everything that I do because I see myself as a student also. And so I remain energized by what I do. I have a genuine love of what I get to do on a daily basis.

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

George McCalman:
I have to say I’m already doing what I see myself doing in another five years. I’m going to be making a lot of books. I’m designing a lot of books. I am making a lot of books. My next book is actually on the publishing industry. And I’m also starting to expand into three-dimensional spaces. I’m finishing up my first stint as an exhibition designer. I’m designing a museum show that is premiering in another few weeks in California and it’s a major show for a major artist by the name of Mike Henderson, as a black artist who is having a renaissance right now and he requested a black designer specifically. And the cultural aspects of design is something I’m really keyed to and always representing the black perspective so the people know that design is not neutral. I went to school and grew up hearing this fallacy that design is objective and neutral, and I know that it is not.

And so I teach in that way, I design in that way, I educate in that way, I work in that way. And so I just see more three-dimensional spaces. I see designing interiors, I see designing fully comprehensive experiences where you can see the two dimensionality of the design process in terms of type and art on the walls, but also the three dimensional aspect. The mood and the tone and the feeling of what you should be feeling, of what the average person can walk into a space and experience. That is what I’m going to be doing a lot of in coming days and weeks and years.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, your work, the book? Of course, we’ll put the book in the show notes, but where can people find out more information about you if they want to follow you?

George McCalman:
Well, the book itself, the book was published in late September of 2022, so it is everywhere. And the book, I’m really happy to share, has gone into its second printing.

Maurice Cherry:
Congratulations.

George McCalman:
Thank you. Thank you so much. The response has just been … It has been a very emotional few months as people … Because you make a thing as you know as a designer, but then you don’t really know how people are going to respond to it. And so I have just been amazed and rendered mute many times by the messages that I’ve received and the responses of the people that I’ve met out on the tour. And so this book is everywhere. You can get it at any bookstore, anywhere, all over the country. Of course, I always tell people to support their independent bookstores, so if you are buying it, you don’t have to buy it from the devil, Amazon. There are lots of local bookstores that would love to have your support. And as far as just my social media feed, all of it is the same, whether on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. It is McCalman.co. M-C-C-A-L-M-A-N-C-O, McCalman.co.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, George McCalman, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show for-

George McCalman:
Thank you so much. Thank you, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. One, for just sharing your story of how you come into art and really studied it and then going on as an art director, but then also the process of the book. And I think to me, what is probably most important about this conversation is how you’ve taken that flame of creativity and found a way to really expand it out as far as you can into as many different places as possible. Like you’re teaching, you’re doing client work, you’ve got the book, you’re a columnist, and now I feel like this expansion into 3D space, even as you mentioned, definitely seems like the inevitable next step for where you’re going. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

George McCalman:
Your questions were incredibly thoughtful. I’m really grateful for your interest in talking to me, and thank you. That’s all I’m going to say. Thank you so much.

Donate to Selma Tornado Relief

United Way of Central Alabama, Inc.

We are raising money for Selma Tornado Relief through United Way of Central Alabama to help serve victims of the tornado that tore through Selma, Alabama on Thursday, January 12th. Donate now, or text SELMA to 62644. Send us proof of your donation, and we will match it 100% (up to the first $1,000 donated).

Thank you for helping fund Selma’s recovery!

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get started? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

Andrew Bass Jr.

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

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

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Step.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, yeah.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, here in Atlanta.

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Somewhere over there.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, he was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Jacinda Walker, yeah.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Barry.

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

Maurice Cherry:
So that went nowhere.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Bennie F. Johnson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, yeah.

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Uh oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No problem. Thank you.

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

Andrew Bass Jr.

We’re ending off the month talking to one of the unsung trailblazers for diversity in the design community — Andrew Bass Jr. Longtime fans of Revision Path will recognize Andrew as one of our early profiles back in 2013, and it was great to finally have him on the podcast to talk about his story and his work.

In the first part of this two-part interview, Andrew talks about his design consultancy Straight Design, and shared his story of growing up in Brooklyn and falling in love with graphic design. He also spoke about attending Pratt Institute, the battle scars he received working in print media and gave me a look at his career as a designer throughout the 90s.

Make sure you tune in next week for Part 2!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I’m Andrew Bass and I am essentially design strategist, educator, art director, graphic designer. Day job I work as a art and production manager at an association called RIMS, handling their member publication. And I, on the side, I also have my freelance consultancy, Straight Design LLC, where I take on various different clients, focusing a little bit more on the small business side and not for profit as well as I’m an adjunct lecturer at City Tech or the full name New York City College of Technology where I teach Design Thinking, Design Studio.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far? We’re kind of near the end of the year. When you look back, how would you say the year has been?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s actually been, in perspective has been pretty good. I’m employed so that’s good.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I’m getting transitioning more from my basic print background into more digital design, which is actually good, where I also trying to kind of squeak my way into doing a little bit more motion graphics. But it’s actually been going pretty well as I’m been focused more on my full-time job in teaching and a little pulled back away from Straight Design due to family thing, personal issues. So I went through a divorce, had to sell the house and all this during COVID.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. But 2022, has been compared to 2021 and definitely 2020, it’s been great. In the grand scheme of things, I really can’t complain about stuff, but it’s been going pretty well and I’m just trying to gear myself up to get, for 2023 to get a little bit back into focusing a little bit more on Straight Design and what that next evolution’s going to be for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I feel like the last few years for a lot of people have been this sort of, I don’t know, period of trying to just gets get acclimated to the way of the world now and especially now that it seems like capitalism is trying to push us out of COVID in a way that everyone’s really trying to think, oh well for next year I need to try to get back out there more. I need to try to do more, try to resume what life was like prior to all of this, you know?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I mean I will say for myself, and I’m still wrestling with quote, and I hate all these trend words that they keep coming out with, but quote “the new normal” because I now officially work from home and will be working from home for the next several years for my full-time job, saddle that with Straight Design, which is also still from home. The only time I actually go out for design is when I teach. Learning how to marry all that in one residence, basically my home without losing my mind and still maintaining that creative inspiration, is extremely hard and I’m still trying to formulate plans as to how to tackle it because I’m on what plan A.2 Now or something like that. Because I’ve gone through the 26 alphabet and gone through 1 through 10. So I’m on my third iteration of how to make this all go down seamlessly.

I think COVID just also put a pause on so many things that I think it is really hard to get, jumpstart ourselves back into, okay, this is how we did business, this is how we talk to each other, this is how we do stuff. And from the design aspect, I definitely have seen it become stagnated where I really feel that face to face has actually hurt a little bit of, at least my design process. In talking with both coworkers and clients that without that sort of personal face to face stuff, reading each other’s body language, playing off the vibes and stuff like that, that it has kind of stiffened a little bit of the creativity. I understand why everybody’s trying to say, “Okay, how do I get back into this normal life before COVID?”

Some of it I think is self-induced because for whole host of thing reasons 2020 was, I say from 2020, 2021 was a real big pot of let’s stir everybody, let’s scramble everybody’s brain with so much crazy misinformation about so many things. From the pandemic to politics to just how life is going to be to the state of the world and all that, that I think it really kind of, if I could say mind fucked us a bit that we still haven’t really kind of gotten out of it. But the thing is we need to, and the thing is, even during COVID, life doesn’t stop, you just have to adapt and figure a new way to do things.

And it’s slowly coming, it’s slowly coming. And I think as more and more folks get out that haze things will kind of lock back into place and pretty much kind of sync up as to how things were beforehand with just new processes, that’s all. It’s just going to be new processes. So it sort of forced the change for a lot of things. And we all know humans don’t like change very much. So it’s a shock to everyone’s system and I think it’s starting now to seep in and okay, this is what we’re going to do now.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. No, I mean you’re absolutely right. It’s been something I think a lot of us have just had to get comfortable with the constant pivots, whether it’s lockdowns or work from home or hybrid. And that’s we’re just talking about on a work kind of level. I mean personal level, there’s people that have lost loved ones, there’s people that have gotten COVID multiple times, they have long COVID, like there’s a lot that has really come out. And it’s continuing to happen, I would say even with the vaccines and such, there’s still just a lot that’s going on right now.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s something we just got to have to learn to live with and navigate that as anything else.

Maurice Cherry:
And we have to do it unfortunately on the individual level because I don’t think that structures have really been set up for us to do it on a societal level yet.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No, that it’s been misstep from day one and once it’s been misstepped, it’s very hard to start building that foundation and so that momentum is lost. So it is very much individually, which will be the success rate on that is going to be a wide range of stuff. Because some folks will do better, others will do worse. And the only thing is we just got to try and support one another when we can. I mean that’s lofty goals. Let’s hope that we all can do that and I think that’ll help things a little bit better. But yeah, it’s very much a matter of now it also kind of shows how fleeting life is and how, I mean a nanosecond, how things can shift and you have to either be ready to jump in and adapt or you just stay in that place and just cease to exist.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s lighten the conversation up because people probably tuned in didn’t expect us to be going all deep about COVID and stuff. Let’s lighten it up and talk about your design consultancy, Straight Design, which you’ve ran now for 15 years. Tell me about that. How did it start?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It wasn’t even planned, it just kind of happened because I will freely admit it started because of my arrogance. I was working in a time and a company and I was going to have the opportunity to start teaching as an adjunct and I just kind of took for granted that because we had such a relaxed work schedule there that oh I could teach classes during the day and come in four days a week and not just one day. This was before anyone ever did any sort of remote stuff. And I didn’t bother to tell my editor-in-chief that I had done this. And so basically I was tasked with, “Look, if you drop the teaching gig now or teach at night or you just got to leave the job,” it’s essentially you’re making, you accepted two jobs and this is your first job.

And I kind of refused. At that point, subconsciously I was kind of done with where I was working at. I had been there for a few years and there was a lot of changes. The company was going through a merger, I should say an acquisition. And things were changing in my department. My staff, they had had me actually cut my staff and so I was the only one working on the magazine at the time and through budget cuts. And I kind of just used that as an excuse subconsciously to of exit out. And so when I did that I realized, oh what am I going to do for money? So I was like, “Okay, we’re going to have to kind of freelance.” And I took some time to just kind of coast a little bit, get my head together and I was approached by a client to submit a proposal for developing a magazine prototype as well as what it would be to produce this magazine on a monthly basis.

And it was a magazine based in the Netherlands based on financial technology, which I had was completely unfamiliar with that subject. But I submitted my proposal and I was awarded the gig and that gave me the impetus to, okay, let me start Straight Design. Now at the time it was called AD Bass Designs until I changed the name later on. And that started the ball rolling for Straight Design and they were very good [inaudible 00:15:06] and it morphed from just doing the magazine and the production to doing event materials to promotional collateral and it spurred adding to my clientele roster.

And so I was running that in a physical studio in Manhattan for a good number of years, at least like five years in there. And then the recession of 2008 hit, as well as everybody else, I started losing some clients because they were cutting back on money, but I was still doing pretty well with that. But then once my big client sort of went away because the owner of that company didn’t realize what the financial investment was in starting up a magazine because a magazine doesn’t really break even for at least five to seven years. And the owner was like, “Whoa, this is taking too long.” And so they kind of pulled back on it, still kept all the event stuff and the event materials and stuff but just wasn’t doing the magazine.

I started losing clientele a bit because of the economic situation and at the time I was married and both my wife then and me were self-employed and with, we just had our daughter and I was like, “Okay, somebody’s going to have to go back inside because health insurance was as much as my mortgage.” And I was like this is killing my savings quick. And that’s when I had just made the transition to go back in-house. But I still kept Straight Design as my freelance consultancy so that I would basically do the projects that I still were very interested in on the side, but I didn’t have to worry about hunting down and bringing in clientele while maintaining my whole household. And I’ve kept that way from since 2012, I think. Yeah. From 2012 to now. Where I’m now thinking about eventually I might resurrect Straight Design in a more full-time capacity in the next several years. But that’s how I started it. It was really just a fluke.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s so interesting. Hearing you talk about how you started that reminds me of how I started my studio. It’s so funny that you said it was out of arrogance. Because I feel like I started in the same way. I was a senior designer working AT&T. I mean I was completely self-taught. I just felt like, oh I got this, I got this. And I mean I was working there in AT&T, for at least back then, I can’t speak to how it is now. This was 2008 when I quit. But it was very much a production house. It was all on the assembly line basically. You got packet with all your stuff that you needed to design and you did it in Photoshop and you sliced it up in Dreamweaver and coded. There was no love or soul into it because you had to crank it out and eight hours or less essentially.

And so you’re just doing this on a constant loop. And I was like I could do this better myself. And I just quit and started my own studio. I really felt like, yeah, I could do this, I got this. But yeah, it’s interesting because even when I started, I had a different name for my business. I started it out, it was called 318 Media because I wanted to, one, it was after my birthday and then two, I just wanted to have a cool kind of funky name. I ended up changing it later because there were other three blank blank media companies in Atlanta. There was a three, I know there was a 352 Media, there was a 360 Media and people were getting us confused and so we had to have a standoff, okay, somebody’s got to change.

And I was like, “I’ll change mine,” because I had a weird spelling for it too because I don’t know, I thought it was cool to have the number three, the word 18, but then I had to keep explaining it to people and then forms wouldn’t take a business thing that started with a number. It was a whole bunch of things.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I just changed it to Lunch in 2014, 2015 and completely rebranded the company. So it made more sense after I did all of that. And I even found business increased once that happened because one, people weren’t getting us confused with other companies. And then I had all these kind of gimmicks around lunch. My business card was one of those plastic key tag things where like CVS or whatever.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was like that was what the business card was. And every time I met with a client I’d mark off a little circle on the back.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh that’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’d be like, “Oh, if you get a certain number, you get a free whatever.” I could play all these little gimmicks into it and it was fun.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve thought about going back to freelancing now, especially since I am not working and the job market is trash, I’m thinking about it. So I get what you mean about always having it in your back pocket in a way is something that’s just your own thing, you know?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, I mean it was great experience, still is a great experience. It was a great experience having the actual physical space, dealing with clients coming into the office, going to presentations and stuff like that. Contracting freelancers to work on projects and something like that. But it was also a good experience in understanding that New York City does not small business. They don’t like freelancers. Unless you are a huge company, the state is just going to rob you blind.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And it’s really hard. It was harder than I really imagined to run a business in New York City and New York state because New York City is its own entity and then you have to deal with New York state as well and then you got the feds so you get triple hit.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It was very, very interesting. And I would probably not open up a business in New York City again. I would go to a different state. I’m starting to understand some of the reasons why some companies open up in particular states. Just from the business point of view, it makes a lot of sense. But it was a good experience I have to say. And it actually did very well, even to my surprise because I didn’t expect to do so well starting off. I thought I was going to have to kind of struggle a bit, but things just rolled in really nicely and I was like oh. And I knew that wasn’t going to last. I just didn’t know it was going to hit sooner than it did. But it was a great experience and it just helped strengthen how I do my consultancy now when I freelance and stuff, that I got a little bit better practice with clientele because I really don’t like that side of doing a business. I really just want to create.

And I was always trying to find, I said if I was going to do Straight Design as a company company again where there’s just more than me, I need to find somebody who’s this, who’s good on the business side that doesn’t mind doing all the numbers and the paperwork and stuff like that. Because now that stuff really does consume a lot of time and it really showed being a creative takes a lot. We all know being a creative takes a lot of our energy. But when that’s split with doing this sort of the other side of our brain, the more logical side sometimes how that can disrupt things now and it’s hard to get back into that creative flow after you’ve been dealing with invoices and setting out proposals and responding to RFPs and tracking down those clients that are a little late in their paying and then taxes. That, yeah. We don’t like taxes but that, that’s woo those quarterlies.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
[inaudible 00:22:50] on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
You are preaching to the choir on that one. I know exactly what you mean.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. So it was a great experience and I try to pass that information to students now and always have incorporated a little bit of business sense in my teachings with students so that they’re better prepared for that. Because I never got that when I was in school. There was business not considered part of the curriculum. It was about technique and creating and stuff. Not like, “Okay now you got to make a living, how are you going to survive?” But it was a great experience. I mean it still is a great experience but what it is now is that I can pick and choose what I really want to work on.

And I really tend to working on not for profits or trying to help businesses get their start and really understanding how important the strategy of design is. And not so much get sidetracked by all the nice shiny bells and whistles, but to really understand how this design strategy is going to help them propel their company’s message to ensure they are successful in interacting with their consumer, their customer base and stuff. And I kind of like that. And that working full time and doing the consultancy on the side, that enables me to do that a little bit more without having to worry about the slow times and stuff like that. So it has worked out pretty well for right now. Although like I said before, I’m thinking of the next evolution that’s probably going to happen within the next year.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean you mentioned nonprofits and sort of smaller businesses that you really like to work with. What does your creative process look like when you’re starting on a project?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Generally when I’m first starting on a project, this is assuming I’ve been awarded a project, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Okay. Because then there’s another process on trying to get that project. Once I’ve gotten a project, I really try to just hone in and identify what is the problem that they’re facing, what is it that they really need to happen? And in that, once I’ve kind of locked that solid, that kind of helps me figure out my focus on what I need to sort of really understand about them, their audience, what they’re actually trying to put out there. Whether it’s some sort of service, whether it’s about the face of their company. And I really try to learn as much as I can about them to sort of really put myself in their shoes and trying to put myself in the shoes of who they’re trying to reach so that way I can talk in the same tone, the same voice. And that usually that’s a lot of my discovery time.

I always tell my clients that I need a good, I give myself about four weeks of discovery time to go through stuff to understand, to talk to people, to be able to really understand the gist and the spirit of what this is and who they claim their audience is to see if it actually matches up before I ever begin thinking about creative solutions. And then once I’ve done that, that’s when I just go back to them and kind of confer my findings, where I sort of send back to them, for lack of, a creative brief, just letting them know, “Okay, this is of where I think this is at.” And just to get them the co-sign, “Yeah, this is what we see for ourselves, this is what we see our audience, this is where we definitely agree with this is what’s happening, this is the sentiment.” And then that’s when I start getting into my creative process where start trying to now understand the competitors, see what they’ve done, see what this company’s done and what works well.

Because sometimes companies don’t realize they have some good stuff, it’s just maybe not executed well or thought out correctly. And so I try to see what is good. Nobody wants to reinvent the wheel unless it’s necessary. And see, like I said, see what works, what doesn’t work and then start beginning to put those pieces together and start developing my own of creative point of view as to how I think the project should go and what’s going to be best for their purposes moving forward. Which again, that’s another big chunk of my time that depending on the scope of the project, definitely is at least a month for, I like telling folks weeks versus months because it seems shorter in weeks than months. Math. I tell them it’s usually about four to six weeks I’m going to start doing creative development if it’s a kind of small base project, small to medium side.

And that allows me to actually kind of run through a lot of my ideas because in all transparency, as a creative I also build in cushion time for myself with that. Because I’m not starting on that project right off the bat. I’m a procrastinator and I probably should not be putting this out on air, but I’m a procrastinator and sometimes it takes a while for me to jumpstart to get in things because deadlines really drive my juices. I don’t know why that is, but at least about a week or so I kind of just kind of float through the project in the development phase. Kind of looking at things inspiring myself before I realize, oh man, okay, I got to get my stuff going in into gear.

And then once I’m in gear though, I’m going through it. I’m flying through it to build up my mock so that way I can present to the clientele. And I walk them through the whole process and I explain, I kind of educate them about the aspect of design and why I have done exactly what I’ve done, the choices I’ve made from all the elements. So that they have a better understanding that this is not just about making things look nice and that colors, type, images just seems like random choices when no, there’s a calculated reason for the choices on this and what the desired result is expected from it because of these choices.

And then it’s a matter of, I don’t usually have not gotten from clients an extensive back and forth on things. It’s been a pretty quick, “Yeah, we like this choice, we’ve got these few little changes and then that’s it.” And then the end of the process is where I now start finalizing everything up. And that usually is the quickest part of the process because all the stuff I build up is to high fidelity in terms of the conceptuals. And so that way all I’m doing is just tweaking some things unless it completely requires a rethought and which we never want to do there. And luckily I’ve only had one or two of those and that’s an earlier part of my career because that’s embarrassing. Go back to the drawing board to because you completely did not catch what was going on. And then from there it’s just providing the materials to the clienteles and following up with them.

Now that’s one of the things that I think sometimes as designers, creators we don’t do is that we don’t follow up to say, “Okay, hey, how did things go six months out? How did everything happen? Are you satisfied? What’s going on?” To try and maintain and build those networks and those relationships so that it becomes a longstanding client base. But also I think it’s just good practiceship or businessmanship to follow up with your clients, make certain what you provided to them is doing what they needed to be done and that they’re satisfied and that it’s helping them. So, that actually tells you how well you’ve done yourself. But that’s [inaudible 00:30:48] my process. I hope I didn’t drone on that.

Maurice Cherry:
No, I mean I think that end part definitely is good because then it also means that you can possibly get repeat clients.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Repeat work from the same client. I mean that’s always good. I know back when I was doing my studio, I would have clients I do work for and then I would follow up and if they needed things on a more regular basis, eventually that graduated to becoming a retainer. And then that’s guaranteed monthly income, which we all love that. That’s great.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And referrals. Current clients can refer you to people, so you get new clients.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. Let’s kind of dive a little bit into your personal story. I think folks now can kind of hear the New York accent.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh my god.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about growing up there.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
You mean my Brooklyn accent? Yeah. Well I mean I’m born and raised in New York, specifically Brooklyn. Because people ask me, oh where I’m from, I say, “I’m from Brooklyn. I’m Brooklynese.” Because yes, people from Brooklyn, we have Brooklyn is a culture. Other folks realizing, or at least old Brooklyn now, because yes, I’m going to say Brooklyn is not quite the same as it used to be. So old school Brooklyn. Yeah, I grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, now during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Crack era and blackout from 1977. So Bed-Stuy was rough. It was not for the week of heart. And me growing up as the nerd, because I’ve always been a nerd, always been the tallest dude out of everybody, very quiet, reserved. So I was the art kid. And so naturally I was bullied growing up and for me to deal with that, I always used to just draw. Now I would just go into my notebooks and draw these fantasy worlds just to escape from all the crap that I was growing up with.

Because I also, my dad was an alcoholic. When I was younger it wasn’t as bad as it was when I got older, but when he did drink, it was not a pleasant environment. So coupled that with the knuckleheads in my neighborhood who were bugging me and my brother, I retreated to my drawing. Now I just went in there and I just started drawing worlds to just escape for a few hours and stuff. It was great therapy for me. Unfortunately, as I think back, a lot of the scenes that I would was drawing were conflicts. It was like war, space invasions, shooting. I was just blowing up shit. If you talk to a therapist, that means that’s a manifestation of what’s going on out there. And I’m like, but I had fun.

And with the drawing that actually got me interested in do people do this? And so I started looking deeper into cartoons cause I love cartoons and how they were drawn. I was like, oh people do this. When I found out as a kid, folks actually do. Because I don’t know what I was thinking as a kid, I just thought they magically appeared. I didn’t know you actually had to do that. And that fascinated me because I was like, “Ooh, maybe one day I can draw some cartoons.” And that shifted my invasion drawings into drawing characters and doing little mini cartoons. And to date myself, I used to do these little flip books where you draw them on the edge of the paper and you just flip them. And then-

Maurice Cherry:
I remember flip books. Yeah, yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
We all did that back then. It was just so cool. And people loved when I did it at my school and they’re like, “Ah, do one for me, do one for me.” And I started getting a little reputation for Andrew’s, “He’s the animator, he makes these cartoons that move,” and it was pretty cool. And I was like, oh, maybe one day I could do this for a living. But as I started growing up, I got into graffiti because the introverted kid started breaking out his shell a little bit. And I was fascinated with graffiti. Little did I know, that was my first introduction to design, specifically graphic design. Because what folks don’t seem to realize back then graffiti was just that was vandalism, got to get those kids. And I don’t advocate now at 55 to ever go paint up on people’s property. That is having been a property owner, I’m going to beat you up if you write on my property.

But it was beautiful work to see the letters, the formation of these characters and then the letters of the characters, and then actually the figurines you put into the pieces in the murals. Which all based off of the smurfs, Vaughn Bodē’s work, I forgot the character name with the mushroom head. Or at that time it was the, because that was the beginning of the hiphop culture. And I say hiphop purposely now because hip hop culture was the trifecta of MCing. Notice I say MCing and not rapping. MCing, breakdancing, and graffiti. Graffiti was the visual expression of all this, where breakdancing was the physical manifestation of the movement, and MCing was the verbalization of it. And there’s a distinct difference between MCing and rapping. Now, again, dating myself because we rappers today are not MCs.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no, no. I would venture to say rappers today are barely rappers.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Bingo. But that’s got me into graffiti. And I just fell in love with how you create your own letters and create these characters into these stylized formations. And then the color, when I had my black book with the markers, it was Pantone markers. Little did I know Pantone would actually be so much a part of my life. But those Pantone markers with the smell, I love those smell of those markers. It was pure alcohol now. Yeah, pure alcohol. And they soaked through everything, but they left beautiful pieces. And that was actually my very first foray into being an artist and drawing and in design. And from that point on, I knew I wanted to do something creatively for the rest of my life. Now I just didn’t know what now.

And I went through different phases as I went from high school where I went to Brooklyn Tech, which was, and still is a very specialized high school that focuses on math and science. But they had an industrial design program in there and a little bit of arts. And so I took that because I suck at math, I love science, but I’m not a scientist. And so I did industrial design, which was very much equated to let’s say package design, product design and architecture, which did interest me. And for a time I was like, maybe I’ll do be an architect. But I really liked more the spontaneous creativity in design oriented projects.

So when I left Brooklyn Tech, I applied, was thinking about college and I applied to Pratt, I applied to City Tech. At the time, City Tech back then was called New York City Technical College. That’s what it was called back then. And those are the only two schools I applied to because I didn’t know of any other schools. And also because my mother told me I was either going to go to Pratt or City Tech because they’re in Brooklyn. And so that way I’m close to home. So my mother was very much the SuperMax warden growing up. So I looked at both. I applied to both. I got into both.

I went through, I first focused on going to Pratt, but I couldn’t afford that bill. I was like, “Ooh, that’s too much money.” And I didn’t really have a true portfolio back then. I just had my black book and some work from high school. Because like I said, Brooklyn Tech was not based, was not an art school. So I didn’t know anything about building a portfolio, what’s needed or anything like that. So I just had little trinkets. So I went to City Tech or New York City Technical College at that time.

And that’s where I really started learning what it is to be in the creative industry. And I knew right then and there, yeah, this is the choice I want to do. I definitely want to be in the creative industry. Now I got to decide, is it advertising, is it this thing called graphic design? Is it this thing being an illustrator? Because a couple of my professors were pushing me to be an illustrator now. And they were like, “You just have this natural tone. You should be an illustrator.” I just didn’t like sitting in those classes for six hours drawing stuff. I was like, are you kidding me? That’s like, this is boring me. It did. It wasn’t as fun to me. And I did a year at City Tech and then I transferred, especially at the encouragement of one of my professors because I was all A’s, I got 4.0 for that first year.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
All my projects just didn’t feel like it was a challenge to me. Even though at the professor who I’m revering right now, her name is Dorothy Hayes, she’s passed on.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, I’ve heard of her. She’s been mentioned on the shows by a lot of people. Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Dorothy Hayes at the time when I was a student of hers, I could not stand her. She was too hard. I was like, she was always on my. Always, always Bass. Because she always called me Bass. Never call me Andrew. “Bass, Bass, you could do better. You could do better. Where’s your work, I want to see your work.” But looking back, I mean that really forged who I am and I’m forever thankful to her, and a few other professors I met. By the way, which they were all Black. I was lucky. I had quite a few Black professors in my design education.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Which was unheard of. That’s why I was saying that was destined to be and stuff. And so I transferred to Pratt and that’s where shit got real ,when I went to Pratt.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about it. How was it?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It was challenging. I wanted the challenge. I got challenged. It was like I almost dropped out at my, what was it, sophomore year? Well actually not, it was my transfer year. Yeah. Because when I transferred over, some of my credits transferred over, some did. Because Pratt had a foundation year that they required everybody to take. So I had a mix of classes that were from the foundation class and then classes that were able to be transferred over. It was a completely different environment. And we’re talking about 1986. Pratt was intense. The workload was nothing I had experienced at any school. It was weekly. It was a lot to manage. I mean many projects very much about understanding and defending the basis of your projects, which I hadn’t understand before that. I thought it was just about, oh, how do you make this stuff pretty. And then that’s where I first learned, no, it’s about why are you doing this and for who is it for? Basically what is your thinking behind this?

And that tripped me up because I was like, “Oh that seemed like a lot.” As well as at that same time, there was a lot of things going into my, not childhood, but at my home with my focuses at that point now. My dad definitely was heavy into his alcoholism. And so going to Pratt was a good and a bad experience. Good in the fact is that the work was intense. It forced me to double down and really get involved in understanding the nature of the work that I’m building. Because the very coming from four A’s to where I just thought I automatically get that coming in the Pratt. And then the end of that first transfer year, I realized, now granted also too, I was doing a little more partying that transfer year. Because I was like, “Ah, I got this. This is easy.” That’s when my GPA went from 4.0, dropped down to 2.0.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a dip.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh it’s a major dip. And couple of my teachers came to me, professors came to me and said, “Look, hey. You can do the work. What is going on? You’re not applying yourself.” And that’s when I woke up and said, “Okay Andrew, you forget this partying, you can party after you graduate. Let’s get on the ball.” And I worked my house off to try and get my grades back up. And it was never back to 4.0. I graduated what? 3.0. I worked it back up. But that one year did that much damage to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. And so the other good things with that was the, I’d have to say, with the intensity of the work, it was also the way the professors tried to instill some of the actual business dynamics into how you build a creative, but also how to be a creative. It wasn’t extensive, it was snippets. It was, what was her, it was my copywriting professor, Lorraine McNeil, who also happened to be Black. She was a Black woman. She would occasionally mention about the business aspect and what would be expected out of there. It wasn’t a full fledged business kind of introduction, that didn’t exist when I was going to school. But she did try to put some nuggets out there because I found out about business and stuff on my own.

Now that was the other good thing about Pratt is that they had an extensive library. And that’s where I really got a lot of my supplemental education was in that library. I was in the library too much. They had so many books I couldn’t keep my hands off those books. The bad aspects of Pratt was that I felt very isolated as a Black student. Pratt was predominantly white and there were students who basically came from more affluent families. There was a contingent of students of color on there. A lot of them stayed on the dorms because they were not basically from New York, they were from other states.

So I didn’t have that kind of connection because the folks who were in the dorms, they had their own clique. They focused more, a little too much more on partying than education. I always called the edutainment and I’m like, “I already saw the effect of partying on my grades. I was like, nah man, I got to get serious because we want to get a job. We got this is going to be our career.” The isolation was very detrimental to me in that aspect because I didn’t have a vacuum. I had, I didn’t really have folks I can confer with about how their education was going, how classes were, how projects were, to bounce off ideas with somebody else is to, what do you think about this? And something like that.

The other thing is too, I thought the teachers, the white teachers, I thought they were very sort of offhand with the students of color. They seemed very apt to help the white students but not so eager to help the Black and Latino students. It was kind of like, “You can figure this out on your own. I’ll just give you this little nugget and let’s see what’s going on.” But then you see them confer very regularly with the white students after class, off premises. They would extend numbers to them. I’m like, “Huh, how come we don’t get that?” The only professors actually did do that were the professors who happened to be of color. I had three of them. I had Richard Perry who was an English teacher, Dwight Johnson, who was one of my design teachers who also actually gave me my first freelance gig. Lorraine McNeil, who was my copywriter teacher.

Those were the three professors that I had through my years at Pratt that did offer me help, is particularly Dwight Johnson. Now he’s the one that really, in the beginning years, I modeled myself after him. Now he gave me first freelance job. I just personally and professionally, I styled myself after him because I just thought he was on point. I was like, “I want to be like him.” So Pratt overall, if I had to choose today, I would not necessarily go to Pratt. There’s so many other schools out here that are actually pretty good and cheaper that I probably would’ve went to. But that’s how Pratt was. There’s really not much to say about City Tech because at that time City Tech had a reputation of being a super high school. It was just a continuation. And then, I mean having worked at City Tech now and working at City Tech now I will say they definitely have changed that, which is for the better.

But back then it was really classified as just an extension of high school and folks acted the same way. So it was good to get that sort of foundation in City Tech. And actually meeting a few professors there, Dorothy Hayes, Joel Mason, Robert Holden, they were actually good teachers that kind of helped me build a real portfolio, so that when I, they applied to Pratt again to transfer over, my portfolio was much more readily accepted now that I had a portfolio. But yeah, that’s how my experiences, I don’t look too fondly on my college years. It was kind of rough on instances that I wish I had more camaraderie among some of my fellow classmates and a little bit more, actually not a little bit, a lot more help from my professors. It just wasn’t really there. May have changed now, I don’t know how Pratt is at this moment now, other than I know it’s highly expensive. But yeah, that’s how my experience was there.

Maurice Cherry:
So you graduate from Pratt. Tell me what your early career is like, because I want to also just kind of put this in a timeframe here. I mean you’re studying design at a time when personal computers were not really part of design.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No. No.

Maurice Cherry:
So I’d love to kind of hear what was your early career like once you graduated?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I have to say, I think my early part of my career probably was the most fun part of my career. Where I think I chalk it up to youth where, I mean there was no holds barred. I thought I could do anything. I was like I was ready for every stuff and it was pre-computer. So I was pretty good with my hands in doing that. Because in the beginning, in my beginning career, we did everything by hand. So we did boards, type was done through a, we’d send it to our type setting department or you would send it out to type setting companies and they would run off, what was that called? A linograph, I think it was called linograph. Basically it was just a sheet of paper that had the type set on there and you would cut that up, paste it on the board, with rubber cement. It was very hands on. That was where you would get your-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Letraset is that what you mean? Letraset?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No, Letraset was for the, if you’re doing display type.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But the actual body copy, the that text, if you tried putting that on Letraset, you would kill yourself. It would be tedious and oh so time consuming. So that was set by a machine that just ran off, sort of like photo paper you can kind of say it and you would just cut it down to size as you need.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, that’s linotype.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Yeah, linotype. That’s it. Not linograph, linotype. The Letraset really is for display type. If you want to do custom things and stuff like that. Especially like logos. If you were going to do logo stuff. Oh yeah, that’s what I was going to say back then, that’s where you would actually get your battle scars because by cutting all that stuff with the X-Acto blade or an actual razor blade, it was no way you were not going to cut your hand. And getting cut with X-Acto blade is better than getting cut by a razor blade. Because hoo, those razors are deep. But that was just par for the course. Your hands, your fingers would be all scarred up. You don’t see them so much now in my hands, but there’s one or two spots that you still see where I have some heavy cuts.

But that’s how we actually did stuff by putting them on board, gluing down the type. The images we would actually have to send out to a stat house and they would take basically what was a full scale image or a film. It’d be like they would send you a negative and you would send that negative to the printer. You would put down sort of a for all intents and purposes, like a Xerox copy of what it is, just to get them in position, placing everything down with tracing paper to cover everything up, do some inking when you needed to do some things. And that was a lot of pen and ink work, which I think is solely missed from today’s work. Folks are so reliant on digital that they don’t know how to create stuff by hand anymore. And there is a beautiful nuance between hand created stuff and digital stuff.

Digital can be too clean. Even the stuff that try to simulate manmade stuff, it still has a cleanness about it that doesn’t exist in handmade stuff. And all that would take us some serious time. So if you wasted time, if say, “Okay, I’m not going to work on this today.” You lost 24 hours that can really impact your deadline. Now, unlike today where everything is like, “Okay, well I’m not going to work on this right now, I’ll do it tomorrow.” You don’t lose that kind of time because digital is so quick, it’s so instantaneous. But working there, my very first thought was I had gotten an internship at a small ad agency out of the result of, at that time I was the president of the Black Student Union at Pratt and I was all about business.

So I was looking at the Black Student Union as a way to start linking us up with job opportunities to various different agencies and studios in New York City so that we can get a head start on the other students, ie our white students who easily have these connections and get into stuff. But folks were not looking for us. So I was determined to try and get us a jump start. And one of the agencies who participated in that program, I was awarded the internship, which was a whole story because essentially folks didn’t participate. There was only a few folks that actually came out and participated, which really disappointed me on that. And I got it because my portfolio was the best out of it and folks had issues with that. But I’m like, “If you don’t apply, you can’t complain.”

And so I worked there for the summer of 1989. So once I graduated they offered me a full-time job. So I worked there for the summer and I was doing, it was an ad agency, but I was doing a lot more design work and I was the defacto art director because I was the art department because the agency was, it was a Black owned agency, it was just the principal and two other people in there. Excuse me. And it was a good experience because I was able to do my first photo shoots, meet these photographers, do [inaudible 00:55:03], set up model stuff. I had to battle folks because folks were like, “You sure you’re the art director? You seem a little young.” And I was like, “Well yeah, I am young but I am it.”

The only thing that kind of saved my grace a bit where people gave people a little pause at time was that, yeah, I towered everybody. I was six, was I 6’6 then when I graduated? I was either between 6’4 or 6’6, because I don’t think I reached my peak until around 23, 24. And so I towered over everybody. So my height kind of gave me some more credence and credibility and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But I always had a baby face. I still sort of do have a baby face. I mean it’s getting a little older. And so folks questioned that. But once I started doing the work, they were like, “Okay, no, you seem to know what you’re doing.” Because I kind of learned it as I went because if I didn’t know something, I was determined to go find out how to do it. And that’s where, I mean, because that was pre-internet. So again, I hit up libraries now. I mean there was so much information out there that people just don’t realize if you just get up and look for it, there’s a world at your fingertips. And I would just find out information on the rare occasions that I’d actually just ask people in the industry, I’m like, “You don’t don’t know me, but can I just ask you a question?” And folks were surprisingly helpful. So I did that and I was pretty much given leeway to do stuff, which is not usually the case.

I don’t know why that actually occurred. I consider myself lucky in a lot of the places I was employed at, I was given a lot of leeway. I was given the autonomy to like, you are the leader, create your stuff. Now I don’t know if it was the aspect of how I carried myself, how I did my work, because I always felt I was nervous. I was a nervous wreck. I’m like, “Do I really know what I’m doing? I don’t know.” I was always doubting myself in my head, but I would not let that show, I would not let that be known to anybody. And so for those three months, everything was still done by hand. No, the only computers in there were for the administrative views. And I will freely admit I use that computer to play my video games. Because I’ve been on video games since Atari 2600. Even though Atari was crap, I had CalecoVision, but that’s a side note.

So we were still doing stuff by hand and I was doing some long hours. There was no, okay, it’s 5:00, everybody go home. No, I would stay until about 11:00 at night, 12:00 at night. And the owner would just give me the key to the place and say, “Just lock up when you need to.” Which I thought was, wow. Again, I seemed to endear confidence to people that they gave me this responsibility and I never broke that trust on that responsibility. So from there, after about three months, like I said, again, being a young creative, I was a little too cocky and I was like, “You know what? I’m tired of this. I can get me another job like that.” And so I quit. I was like, I wanted to do something else.

And that’s when I realized, no Andrew, that’s not how it works. It’s like I got a hard dose of reality. It was like that I need to get my ego in check. And I was out of work for a good number of months. Back then you found your jobs through the classified ads in the paper, which I know today everybody would be like, “What’s a newspaper? What’s a classified ad?” But it’s equivalent to a job listing online. And I found a listing for an associate art director at this publishing company. And I said, “Oh, okay, that’s a different genre. Let’s kind of see how that is.” Submitted my resume, they called me in for an interview and I got a surprise because when I came in for the interview, that’s when I learned that the magazine was for an adult. It was an adult magazine, it was an adult publishing.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And I was like, okay, this is interesting. But then when they actually specified what market in the adult publishing, it was a gay lifestyle magazine, I was like, “Oh, this is 1989.” And that was in the height of the AIDS epidemic, the Black kid from Bed-Stuy, there was a lot of stigma to the gay community and stuff like that. My concern was like, “Well okay, this X-rated stuff, can I get a job after this if I take this?”

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That was my main concern. And so did very well in the interview. It was interesting when they said this, I’ll share with everybody, in 1989, the starting salary at that position was $22,000. I thought that was a lot of money back then and it was a lot of money because it supported me very well. Went back home, had a conversation with my mom, like, “Hey I went to this job, it looked pretty good. What do you think?” And she was like, “Are you there to do what you earned your degree in?” I said, “Yes.” “What are they paying you?” I told her the salary. It’s like, “So what is the problem?” I said, “There’s no problem. It’s just if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be do not supposed to be doing, but if you’re doing what you’ve been, you’ve got your degree on and this is your career. What’s the issue? It’s your starting point. Now it doesn’t mean that’s your end point.” And with talking to my mom, I was like, “You know what, that makes sense.”

And so after that conversation, it again, coincidentally I got a call from the art director that I met. She offered me the job now and I was like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll take it, I’ll see you.” And I started working, I stayed there five years. And so I rose from associate art director to an art director for monthly magazines. And yes, they were all towards the gay market. I learned quite a lot. I learned that if you are a good designer, you can design for any market. It’s about understanding your market and understanding what you’re doing for, what are you doing in that project to address your market. And the benefit of doing that magazine was that it wasn’t a straight just pictorial kind of magazine. It had lifestyle. So they had editorial in there and it was, unless you know what the magazine was, it could have just been in any mainstream magazine.

At the time The Advocate and Out were two magazines in the gay market that just kind of came out and they were getting a lot of shine. They were the number ones and they were beautifully done magazines. They were beautifully designed. And I kind of used that as my inspiration to model, to sort do my lifestyle stuff as, which was very successful. And it helped me transition from there to my next gig, which was at Essence Communications. But in those five years, that’s when I started. We transitioned about a year. Yeah, I think it was about a year after I started transitioning into computers. The Mac.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
In 1991, I believe. Because that was the other premise I stayed with. Well I wanted to take the opportunity too is that they had said they were going to make that transition from doing stuff production wise with the mechanical boards to move into doing the work electronically. Now that they were going to use Mac. I’m sorry, that wasn’t in 1991. That was 1990.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, it was 1990 because I started in ’89 and then I think in the spring of 1990, that’s when they started introducing the Mac, gave us courses. We went out there and myself and my other coworker who was the other associate art director on the magazine I was working on, we just blew it out. We were at class and then we would come back to the office and take what we had in class to apply it and continue it. Learning and doing stuff and seeing how things work when we were back in the office. And our art director at the time was like, “That’s great because you’re going to help me learn this because I don’t get what’s going on.” And he was older than us and stuff like that. But it was fun. And it made things go so much faster. And now we are doing our own type setting.

We now scanning images so we now can place them into our documents. We actually have the live files where we actually start learning how to photo retouch, photo calibrate how to type, how to create special print techniques like masking, fit colors, all this stuff that. The bad side of that was it actually, with the advent of the Mac, it eliminated whole industries. We lost type houses. Those faded out because now people could do it themselves. We lost a lot of production folks who actually, if you didn’t actually do the boards yourself, you could hire people to do it. No, just create and then give the directions to them, to losing some of the business with the photostat houses, those closed out. And those closed out [inaudible 01:04:52] within one year after the Apple came onto the market. Changed the whole face of downtown Manhattan, which used to be all type setting printers and photostat houses. By 1991 it was virtually a ghost town from those businesses. They had gone.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
They had transitioned to something else. So some of the photostat houses turned into scanning places. So they could scan some original art now because illustration, especially big pieces. Because at that time a lot of the illustrators still did the work by hand. They didn’t do digital work and some of these pieces were pretty big. They couldn’t fit your normal day tabletop scan because all this stuff back then was pricey as heck. Tabletop scanner poly was like next to a $1,000. That was a lot of money. So it was cheaper just to send it out and get a $50 scan now and you just get that scan to you and you can put it on. But that changed the where you no longer now had your battle scars so your fingers were saved, you didn’t have to cut up your fingers anymore. And it also kept from getting blood on the boards. Because that was always interesting when we got blood on the boards. Because you had to wipe that out. Otherwise that’s in the actual, when they shoot it. Now it’s just clean.

And now at this point though, our role shifted as creatives because so much stuff relied on us. We actually had to know how to operate this Mac inside and out. Especially when if there was a problem with the Mac. Yeah, we had IT, quote “IT department”, but thankfully the Mac was and still is very sort of self-sufficient. So when things go down it’s kind of easy to figure out what’s going on to get it back up. But that usually relied to us. In the beginning we had a service that would come in and fix that stuff, but eventually the owner was like, “Look, you guys are working on this. Do you know how to do this because we’re cutting this.” But it actually opened up more doors on the creative side.

I mean, yes, we lost a lot of industry and a lot of people had to adapt, some folks didn’t because of the manual nature of design at that point. A lot of them were older generations. So they did not want to learn how to use the computers and learned these programs, very much today. It’s a generational thing. The older generation just was like, “I can’t change. I learned all this. How am I going to, I don’t want to sit down and learn this whole new program and this contraption to do this.” And that’s where a lot of folks didn’t make that transition. They either had to leave the industry and do something else or just completely retire.

And like I said, that changed the shape of downtown Manhattan because it also changed the printers. And a lot of those started consolidating and shrinking down to what we see today. But it also sped up our creative process. So if we had an idea, we could actually instantaneously see how it works. Where at that time it was QuarkXpress, that was the defacto thing. There was no creative cloud. Adobe was this brand new company battling with Macromedia, battling with, what was the other one? Oh, Publisher. Yes. QuarkXpress had to battle Microsoft Publisher back in the day.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember Microsoft Publisher.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, we had not Illustrator, but it was freehand and Photoshop was Photoshop. That never disappeared. And so you had to buy all these individually. So back then being a designer was expensive.

Maurice Cherry:
Expensive. Mm-hmm.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Because the Macs themselves were these god awful paper weights. Because the face of the Apple, I mean at the time it looks sleek, but looking at it now, it’s like, oh man, that’s [inaudible 01:09:16].

Maurice Cherry:
It was a big rectangle kind of thing, right?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was like the screen and the CPU were all in one.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yes, that version. Yes, they had that. The screen was probably no more than maybe 13 inches, which seemed big at the time. And then they transitioned to having the monitor separate from the tower because everything was a tower back then. And that’s where the screen started getting bigger and stuff. But it’s still, it cost a lot of money and everything was on a disc. Nothing was cloud-based. Because the internet didn’t come into play until 1985. Is that correct?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, the cloud wasn’t a thing back then. Everything was-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, the cloud didn’t exist.

Maurice Cherry:
Everything was floppy discs. And then the floppy discs gave way to those smaller hard discs.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Floppy to the ZIP to actually floppy to the Quest, to the ZIP to the dat. Thank God we didn’t have to do the dat much. And then there was something in between. It was a hybrid of a ZIP and the Quest, is that right? I forgot the technology in it. But it went through some iterations in the span of five years. Now each year was something new, which was expensive. It was crap. I mean it didn’t come out of my pocket, but it was expensive. But you had to adapt to each of those technologies and stuff.

Basically if you kind of damaged your CDs, there was no way to get a backup. If your machines got corrupted, the disc got corrupted and corrupted meaning by, just scratched the back of that disc because somebody did not put it up properly. It’s done. That would mean you have to spend another $1,000 to go buy some brand new disc of one program. Same with type, you have to do same with type, all that stuff. But it did enable to have more creative tools at hand. So if you had an idea, you could still do it by hand, but now you could translate it, do your sketch and translate it onto the computer where you can actually do different variations in the same day where it may have taken us a few days to do iterations of one idea.

And that sped up a lot of stuff and it was kind of cool. It expanded our imaginations. It put more responsibility on us, which I liked because I liked being in control and knowing what’s going on with the Mac and the program so that way I could troubleshoot myself. Because at that time I was thinking, okay, this is going to be helpful for one day when I want to start freelancing and get my own materials or when one day I have my own studio. Because back then I thought about my end goals. I had this studio, get this whole staff and become a small to midsize kind of well known studio. And that’s pretty much the early days. It was very much unexplored. So anything and everything was open and it was just, if you were into adventure, it was an adventure. You were so curious to see what the next thing was going to be.

Whereas today I’m like, “Look, slow down. Yeah, there’s too much stuff coming out. I just learned this, now you got something new. No, no, no, no, that’s not happening. That’s too fast.” As well as I think today, technology’s great, but I think it also makes people stupider, people put more faith on the tech versus their thinking and they’re not sort of, they’re relying too much on the machine and not relying on themselves. Because the machine is just a tool. And in the early days we did see that. It was just a tool. That’s all we looked at. It was like, unless we had our thoughts together before we went to the machine, we’d be wasting our time. Because you’re just fiddling around just getting lost in this virtual world. Today it seems to be the reverse. People don’t mind fiddling on there and they spend so many hours that basically are futile, they just waste stuff.

But that’s how the early days were. It was a really a fun exploratory, I don’t want to say Wild, Wild West, but it kind of was a Wild, Wild West. And then when the net came on board, because I remember fully using the internet in ’95, but we actually did have the internet. The company was called a Mavety Media. I think that came, we had that online around 1993 because I left Mavety Media in 1995. So yeah, I think it had just started. And at that time I think it was all, everything was AOL or Netscape. And the net just was, oh, we just went bonkers with that. It was just like, oh, I can get this right now. Even though that was on dial up. So that was taking a long time. Dial up, I don’t miss at all. You could not do any high files with that or anything like that. It just was too slow. But that’s what the early days were like. It was kind of cool.

Maurice Cherry:
When I give presentations sometimes I’ll tell people how in the early days of the web you had a fast lane and a slow lane. The fast lane was like if you had 56K and the slow lane was 28.8. I love that you’re talking about all of this because I feel like this is something which is definitely not talked about in this current age of design. Everything is done in the cloud, on the web, on a PC or a Mac so quickly. Sometimes even just on mobile devices. I see what people do designing on just mobile devices. And I’m like, “This blows my mind.” Because I was in high school in the ’90s when a lot of this technology was coming out. And to your point, as you were mentioning, these things were changing rapidly, as the technology was changing, there were no sort of monopolies like an Adobe, like we’re talking about now. But there was Adobe, there was Macromedia, there were other sorts of products. There was Quark. You had to try to figure out which one you wanted to do.

It was all extremely expensive and there really was no, I want to say there was no learning curve, but you learned by having to actually get in there and work it or go through those huge big, thick instruction manuals. Because there’s no-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s no YouTube video, there’s no class you can go to that’s going to teach you how to do this. You got to read that 1,000 page manual and figure out how to type set these columns and how to do all this stuff. I mean, to your point about the Wild, Wild West, it really was a time when I think innovation was happening at a speed where people were really just trying to catch up.

You had these different options. Like you said, you could do Quark, you could do Adobe, you could do Macromedia. And a lot of jobs sometimes even when you applied to them wanted you to know one more than the other. It wasn’t so much about whether or not I think you had the skill, but more so whether you knew the program. And I think that’s something which technology has definitely changed a lot. It’s less about the skills and more about, “Do you know how to use Figma? Do you know how to use Sketch?” And it’s like, “But I’m a designer.” And they’re like, “Well we really well we use Figma. So do you know how to use that?” It’s so different now.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I mean back then when I was looking at stuff, when I was doing job searches, when I was moving from space to space, the thing that did start happening was that they wanted you to know this insane amount of programs. I think they just listed these programs because that’s what was out. And they were like, we want you to know everything. And it’s like, “Okay, that’s impossible. You can’t know all this stuff.” And it was very much, I don’t think they really wanted skill set, but just to say, “Okay, well we have somebody who knows this,” regardless of whether or not they actually know how to use it. I could have just went into the program one time just to look at it, oh, I know this program now.

That kind of impeded some people as they looked for jobs back then because it was like, “Look, I don’t know this stuff. I’m not going to put this down and then get busted when they give me this.” And like, “Hey, we need this full fledged project done in this, by this time,” and you don’t even know what you’re doing with it. I mean, granted, there were some people who did do that and coasted by until they got found out later on. But by then they could kind of sweet talk it through and then others shamelessly got blasted. I remember that back then. But yeah, it’s where it went from it was like more, “Okay, what is your true skill set and experience that you’ve actually shown a pattern of this,” versus, “Here’s our laundry list. Just let us know you’ve done this.”

I still kind of see that today though. And whenever there’s some new tech out, I do see some of these listings out here. It’s like, “Hey, do you know this?” I’m like, “Okay, that just came out last week. How are people going to know this?” But I mean I think that’s going to stick forever that’s going to be there. Because any new tech that comes out, I think people in the who post these jobs, I don’t think they’re really the ones that, and we all know it’s HR departments, and so the HR departments don’t really know what people do in their day to day stuff. So I think they just put all the trendy stuff in there just to cover their bases.

But I do miss some of that from back in the day. And it was kind of cool. And I mean, there is some new stuff like that today, particularly in terms of web and video that I see some parallels that I’m like, “Ooh, that’s intriguing.” But now with a seasoned book, I’m like, “Wow, that’s kind overwhelming.” I kind of feel overwhelmed at times. Like, oh, I don’t know if I’m going to learn all that. Yeah. But it would be cool. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right. Yeah.

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

Chris Rudd

We’re wrapping up our interviews in The Windy City this month with Chris Rudd, founder of social and civic impact design firm ChiByDesign. Chris’ work is grounded in anti-racism, and that’s reflected not just in the clients ChiByDesign serves, but also by him building a collaborative and dynamic space for designers of color to thrive and do work that improves communities.

Chris and I talked shop for a while about entrepreneurship, and then he told me the story of how he started his firm in 2018. Chris also spoke about growing up in Chicago, studying at Stanford and becoming a Civic Innovation Fellow, and shared the one thing he still wants to accomplish in his career. I hope that Chris’ story gives you the confidence to be yourselves and push for the world you want!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Chris Rudd:
Chris Rudd, founder and CEO of ChiByDesign, and my role is to give leadership to the organization as we practice our anti-racist design and systems and social service work around the country.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s 2022 been going so far?

Chris Rudd:
It’s been good. It’s been busy. I think because our work is again, centered on anti-racism and designing anti-racist outcomes. After the racial awakening of 2020, lots of organizations and institutions are trying to figure out, A, how are they perpetuating systemic racism, and then B, figuring out pathways to stop and from our perspective, hopefully to heal the communities and folks that they’ve harmed over the past. So yeah, it’s been a lot. Great work, but also heavy work.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I can imagine. So I would guess you probably got an influx of work during that summer of 2020. I think there’s a lot of people I spoke to on the show where during that summer or right after that summer, they just kept getting hit up with requests to speak or to consult or to work or anything like that. Did you kind of have that same swell of interest during that time?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, a lot of speaking. I think during that time particularly, people were really trying to wrap their heads around what it was, and so there was a lot of, can we just talk to you? We want to hear what you’re thinking about this. Then the work started to pick up, but we actually developed a rubric for our firm on what we would do and what we wouldn’t do. So we really started to vet the organizations that wanted to work with us to see if they were actually about the change that they say they were, or if it was just we want to put a black face to the work to somehow validate the efforts, even if they knew it was going to fall short. And even if they didn’t know, we would work with them to say, “Hey, here’s where we see your shortcomings.” And da da da. And if they were willing to understand and accept that, then we could move forward. If they weren’t, then we were happy to walk away.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good. I mean, because I can imagine people probably came all out of the woodwork that found your firm and was like, wait a minute, that’s a black guy. Let’s talk to him. Let’s see if we can help him.

Chris Rudd:
I know. And then really they thought they knew that was a lot of all we got to do is just it will come out in this way. All we have to do is just make this one simple change and boom, racism’s gone, or we will function differently. And the hard part for us is helping them understand that changing an organization, changing a system, an institution is a huge shift or requires large scale shifts from top to bottom, not just in terms of personnel, but also in terms of philosophy, practices, policies, all these organizational structure. And so that was a hard thing for folks to deal with. Cause you’ve been doing this thing for so long and from your perspective, you’ve been doing a great job. Profit margins may be through the roof or you’ve put out a couple surveys of rate us, and for the most part, you send them to people that like you and you’re like, yep, those are great. And then the negative ones that come back, you’re like, ah, they don’t really get it. So yeah, it’s been an interesting journey.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s kind of dive in more and talk about your firm ChiByDesign. Which you describe as a collaborative and cultivating space for designers of color that already just, that hit me a ton of bricks there. Tell me more about ChiByDesign.

Chris Rudd:
Sure. That piece is huge for us. When I started the firm in 2018, I started out of anger, to be honest, honest, I was back home in Chicago and the philanthropic social sector was really starting to embrace design thinking at that time. And at that time I was like, “Ooh, design thinking is the bees knees. Here we go. We can use this methodology to change the world.” And so I would see these projects popping up around issues and health and safety and they’re always in Chicago is very, very segregated. People don’t know. It is probably, we battle Milwaukee for the top spot of most segregated cities in America every year. And it’s really hard for people who are not from here to understand what that physically looks like. And so for example, you can cross a street and the color of the people will immediately change.

So you’ll be on one intersection and on one side it will be almost strictly black folks. And then on the other side it will be strictly brown folks. The contrast is so stark here in many, many communities, and because of that, issues are very contained and acute in particular areas. So health disparities that affect black folks more heart disease, hypertension, blah blah, blah. Those are very concentrated in Chicago. And so there was these design projects, how might we improve heart health for black males? And it was like, oh, that’s great. I’m glad you all are thinking about that. And then I would look at the design firms that were the lead on the projects and it would be six white dudes and one Asian woman. And I just knew, I was like, there’s no way they’re going to get this right. And so at that time there was also this, where are the designers of color, we can’t find black people, da da, da.

We’re trying and they’re just not there. And so I just said, “All right, cool. I’ll start something and we’ll do that. We’ll bring them here.” And to do that means you can’t create the cultures that many design firms have because they are monochromatic. And so I wanted ChiByDesign to really be a place for black and brown designers to come be excellent, be great as we are, and not try to fit into some mold that is not natural to us and still be excellent. The notion that if we’re going to be us, that somehow it’s less than the notion of excellence that’s been perpetuated in our society. And so ChiByDesign is all about having a home for designers of color specifically, but for everyone generally. So one of the founding principles was that 75% of the people I work with at all times would be folks of color and 50% would be women based on the notion that you can’t design the future if you don’t have all those inputs.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m looking at the website and everything right now. I like that you have anti-racist design as of a core principle of everything that you’re doing because I know just from doing revision path, what will happen is sometimes people will look at what you’re doing and instead of seeing the positive way you’ve designed it, they look at or they sort of perceive it as exclusion. I could see someone looking at ChiByDesign and thinking, well, isn’t that discriminatory that you’re only going to have black and brown people and talk to WT as opposed to you doing that by design in very much the same way that maybe some other firms may have only white people by design.

Chris Rudd:
There’s not a thing where we’re saying there won’t be white designer. So we hired a white designer last year, and so we’re totally open and willing to do that. I don’t believe that white people don’t have a place in the anti-racist fight. They absolutely do. And to your point, yeah, it’s not about exclusion. It’s saying that we have to center the most harmed in the process, whether that’s the design team and/or the folks that we’re designing with. So we also practice co-design only. We are not a human centered design, traditional human centered design firm. We do not design for anyone. Every project we do, the folks most impacted by that system, by that organization have to be a part of the process. That’s based on understanding. They know their challenges, their strengths better than any of us. This idea that designers can develop empathy through one hour conversations and therefore create the optimal experience or system or service for someone, in my opinion is a bit ludicrous.

Maurice Cherry:
What does your creative process look like when it comes to starting on a new project?

Chris Rudd:
Sure. So lots of prep work with the clients of what is the issue, who’s most affected by that? Who do they, really trying to figure out who they have relationships with on the ground in the community. And that can be a for-profit client or a social service client. We need to understand what is your relationship to those most affected by the thing you do. And then we set out to hire co-designers to join our team. So once we know and understand who are the people most affected, we do intense outreach to hire those folks to join our team for the duration of the project. And that’s a huge thing for us because, again, this notion of how do we create a space for black and brown designers, it’s also creating a space for this pipeline. I come to design very late in life. I was in my thirties when I really first understood what it was.

And so I think folks of color are some of the most creative people on the planet based on our conditions. We have to be. And again, I don’t say that as thinking that we’re a monolith, but proportionately to our socioeconomic status, we have learned and have had to be very, very creative for survival. Yet we have been excluded from the professional practice of creativity in terms of design. And so we use every project as an opportunity to introduce more and more black and brown folks to the field, to the practice and have them lead us in our design process. We have a methodology, but they have the expertise. And so the more we can give what we have to them, the better equipped they will be to lead us.

Maurice Cherry:
Why do you think more firms don’t do that?

Chris Rudd:
I would assume, honestly, this was a journey for me when I first started projects and I was kind of independent consulting before I built up the team. It was scary to ask a client to pay for that. So I would hire people and pay them out of the money that I had designated for myself because I didn’t have the confidence to say, “Hey, this is so important that it should be important to you as well.”
I actually participated in a class, a friend was teaching at ID Institute of Design, her name is Mo, and she teaches, I don’t know, it’s adaptive leadership. And I went through the process with her students and we talked about this and finally one of them said, “Just put it in the budget.” And I just said, “Okay, I’m going to make this commitment to you all that I’ll do it.” And I tried it and the client didn’t go crazy. And so from that point on, I said, this will be a standard for every project we do. This is one of our criteria for acceptance. If they’re not willing to do that, we won’t work with them. It shows a lot about their mentality if they can’t value people in the same way we feel like we’re trying to value people.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Back when I had my studio and I was taking clients, I think I came to the pretty early realization that sometimes clients really just need to be told what to do. There’s the whole thing about, oh, the customer’s always right, yada, yada, yada. I get that. But if you’re coming to an expert for something that you may not have the skills in or you need the help in, I would think there has to be some level of deferment. And for you to be the experts, you have to be able to let the client know like, “Hey, this is what it is, this is what our process is. We’re not bending from that, we’re not changing that, or anything like that.” So it’s good that you’re sort of vetting clients, I think, and the way that you mentioned earlier, but then also just letting them know, this is how we work, and you can either get with it or not.

Chris Rudd:
And exactly to your point, they are looking for that guidance. So we’re not trying to position as a, you just don’t get it and you’re stupid. We’ve done this a lot of times, we’ve been recognized for it. It works. And if you really want to achieve what you’re saying you want to achieve, trust us that this will get you there. 100% of the time. They’re super happy that they did it. Their relationship with those folks amplifies and expands in ways that they never thought. We get information and direction that we couldn’t conceive of because, again, we haven’t been in that position. So there’s so much nuance that we will always miss if they are not there. And so yeah, I think more studios should definitely try, especially if you’re in social sector work. If you’re developing products for P&G, HCD will probably help you do that a hundred percent of the time and it’ll be fine. But if you were trying to redesign social services, if you’re trying to redesign society, we cannot do that in our studios away from the real world.

Maurice Cherry:
Are there any projects in particular you’ve done through the firm that you’re like especially proud of?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, we’re currently wrapping up a project with the state of Ohio to redesign the foster care system to be anti-racist. So this was a huge, huge lift, but very excited with where we’re at. We’re in talks with counties to actually prototype. The challenge with doing anti-racist work is, especially for social systems institutions and governments, is that they are very averse to prototyping, especially when it’s about anti-racism because it’s just the political climate in our society is many of us are like, “Things are racist.” And then there’s a growing set of the population that is just like, Nope, that’s not a thing. Don’t talk about it. Don’t, da, da da. And so these government employees are navigating that, which typically we have not won that side of the argument. It’s exciting that we might be able to prototype some of these ideas with them. And I think the hypothesis is that they would drastically change and reduce disproportionality in children’s services for black, brown and mixed race folks in Ohio, which could then be a standard for children’s services around the country.

That’s been a big one that I’m very, very proud of. And then we did a project last year here in Chicago to co-design an equitable food system with urban growers, with educators, with nonprofits, business folks. And it was one of those projects that just taught me so much. So learning about the land, learning about growing practices, indigenous practices, going back to our roots in a lot of ways, and how food is just so vital to humanity. I mean, we all know that, right? We eat every day. We’re like, we love food. I do. But just the breadth of how food is vital to culture, society, not just from the consumption of it, but the production aspect. And so that was a really cool and exciting project as well.

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

Chris Rudd:
Man, all of it. I’m getting excited as we’re having this conversation. My team, they’re just amazing, brilliant, awesome people to be with every day. The fact that we’re doing work that we all believe in, that’s just huge. I’ve talked to so many designers who are just like, “Ah, I’m so tired of creating new features on websites to help people pay faster for things they probably don’t need.” Or I don’t want to design another Pepsi bottle. They want their creativity, their brilliance, their skill sets to truly improve life outcomes. And so I just feel very privileged and very grateful to be able to do that. All of our intellectual capacity, all of our creative capabilities are really honed in on improving the lives of folks of color, which to your point earlier, would absolutely improve the lives of white folks too. If you lift our standards, my belief is that if you can eliminate racism, every racial group on the planet will have better outcomes.

Maurice Cherry:
True. Let’s kind of dive a little bit into your personal story. ‘Cause I’m curious to know where this strong foundation of civic duty in this way comes from. So tell me more about where you grew up. You’re from Indiana, I think you told me originally, right? But you grew up in Chicago.

Chris Rudd:
So originally from Gary, Indiana, and then we moved to Chicago when I was like four. So I come from the Midwest’s union strong. And so my father was a steelworker. A lot of the men on my dad’s side of the family worked in the steel mills. He eventually got a job at the post office and has been there ever since. My mom was on the railroads and then really entrenched herself in community organizing in Chicago, but is also an artist. So that’s where my creative side comes from. So she was an art teacher for a while and then went back to labor organizing.

And so I very much grew up on picket lines and at protests my whole life. So I always remember when you came back to school in September, the teacher was, “What’d you all do this summer?” And friends of mine were like, “Oh, we went on vacation to blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Yep. I was at a picket line for three weeks in Decatur, Illinois.” And those moments really shaped my perspective and my outlook and very much are with me in my design practice and in my life now.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned earlier that you didn’t really get into design until you were in your 30s. When you were a kid, did you sort of have a sense of what it is that you wanted to do outside of that?

Chris Rudd:
No clue. Zero clue. I think I was so many other people every year. It changed. Before the internet, for me at least on the south side, wasn’t a lot of options around you. Nobody in my neighborhood that I can think of even now had a professional career. We grew up in a very working class community, so people worked blue collar jobs. So that was kind of like my plan, if you call it a plan, it was finish high school, get a regular job. My parents had a couple friends that were professors, but I had no interest in going to college and especially for that long to become a professor. So my kind of goals growing up was to be a family man and get a job that’ll allow me to take my kids on vacation once in a while.

Maurice Cherry:
So when you started out in college, you went to City College in Chicago, Harold Washington College. Tell me about that time. What were you were studying at that time?

Chris Rudd:
So I studied youth development, so that’s actually one of the only two programs I’ve ever focused on. So I studied youth development. ‘Cause at a certain point, I think I was around 24, I figured, okay, I’ll be a teacher. A lot of the women in my family were teachers and I was like, “All right, I could do that. I like young people, I want to help.” So I went to Harold Washington to try to get my gen ed out the way so I can go into a teaching program. But what that actually led me to was working in the non-profit sector. So I took these youth development classes and it totally changed my outlook. I no longer wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to be a youth worker because I felt like being a youth worker was more around building relationships. You could not demand respect from young people as opposed to being a teacher.

You go into a classroom, I would be Mr. Rudd, but as a youth worker, I was Chris. And so they were able to refer to me as my first name, the same way I was going to refer to them by their first names. So it was more around reciprocity rather than hierarchy. At least that’s how I felt. And so I went to the nonprofit sector, working with young people in Chicago and just really trying to help them figure out what’s their path. It was tough during that time. We had a lot of violence. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean Chicago definitely has that, I mean reputation, as you know, hear in the media and stuff for having a lot of violence. I think a lot of big cities have similar reputations. I mean, I’m in Atlanta in the West end, and I mean it’s southwest Atlanta. It gets its kind of bad reputation too for that sort of stuff. But I think that’s just a byproduct of living in an urban city, that will happen. For you though, I’m curious, you wanted to go into youth development. Was there something in particular that really drew you to that?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, again, it was really around the relationship building. My early years were focused on organizing. I was an organizer in high school and I just knew that we’re going to make things better. We have to get to know each other, we have to appreciate each other, and then we have to struggle with each other to be our best selves. And that only happens as you are forming or developing relationships with one another. So this approach to working with young people, that centered relationship building really spoke to me. And so that’s where I focused my efforts. I didn’t go to school to become a teacher ’cause that I felt like this path was the right way for me. And it’s funny having this conversation. So much of that is very much a part of my design approach and process.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like it definitely stems from a place of community. So you graduated from City College. What does your early post-grad career look like? What kind of work were you doing? Is this where you started with these youth groups?

Chris Rudd:
Sure. Yeah. So I was working on the west side of Chicago. There was a young man had gotten murdered at that time, Darion Albert. And so it was national news and all of a sudden there was just all these resources poured into Chicago to curb youth violence. And so I was working at a non-profit on the west side, which I’m from the south side and in Chicago, south side folks don’t go west side, west side folks don’t like, we don’t go to South side. It’s strange. So I got kind of thrown into this whole new world, which I love and I love the west side now. And working with these young folks who at the time there was a rubric created to identify the 1,000 young people most likely to kill or be killed. I don’t know what was involved in the rubric, but there was basically an army of youth workers deployed to make sure that they didn’t die and they didn’t kill anyone.

And so every day I was on the west side working with a group of 10 young men, trying to get them to understand that game banging and doing whatever else they were doing was not the right way for them and for society and supporting them to get their lives in the place that they wanted to be. A lot of them didn’t really even want to be doing the things they were doing, but there wasn’t an alternative. Unemployment rates for young men, black men in Chicago, I think is like 80%. And that’s been-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, it’s unbelievable. And that’s been true for almost a decade now. It’s not a new statistic that happened post pandemic. This has been true in Chicago for many years. And so there’s a lot of judgment thrown at these young people. Oh, why don’t they just get a job? And now that there’s job openings everywhere, this may be partially true, but at that time it was not possible for them to get traditional work. And for many of them now, it’s not possible due to past convictions or honestly the way they look.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Chris Rudd:
We hear it all the time that soon as they walk into a place looking for a job, but they have dreads, absolutely not. The employer won’t even think about it. So a lot of this is not on them. Also, they’re children. These are teenagers, so we cannot put these expectations on them that we have on adults. And so yeah, that’s where I started. And then I moved to another organization that was less focused on violence prevention, like the one I was doing and more focused on youth empowerment, which was what I was practicing, because I don’t think youth or violence prevention is really around keeping kids busy and getting them into sports, which is all great, but my perspective is that you really have to change their outlook on life and help them figure out their own purpose, which to me is around that’s empowerment. And so I started working at another nonprofit that really focused on youth empowerment, helping young people find their voice or not find it, but use their voice. And that is what led me to the design world.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s talk about that. In 2015, you had become a civic innovation fellow through Stanford University. And so this was a fellowship program. Tell me about that experience. How did that sort of change things for you?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, I loved it. One, Stanford is like Disneyland. Never imagine anything like that. There’s always a joke that one, you’re in Silicon Valley, so there’s that bubble and then there’s a bubble on top of it, which is the Stanford bubble. And then there’s probably another bubble over that that you just can’t see because it’s too many bubbles. So it was coming from Chicago in this really deep youth work to taking a moment to just figure out what is it that I want to do? How can I really advance helping society? And then learning this new process of design that seemed very familiar. There was a lot of overlap to things that I had been doing before, but then there was also something new to it. It was this really diving into creativity as problem solving. It just really spoke to me, relying on people to help figure out the solutions, bringing diverse people together.

We talked about, it was always radical collaboration, and that was folks on the multidisciplinary. But for me it was always thinking about multiracial perspectives. If we’re going to solve societal challenges, it shouldn’t be on the shoulders of black folks and brown folks to figure out racism beyond the shoulders of women to figure out sexism. This is something we have to do together. And so I took multidisciplinary in that way. So Stanford was great. It’s got all challenges as Stanford, but for me to stay sane and not get consumed in the bubbles, I joined the organizing community out there and we were fighting against police murder. I think while I was out there, the police had murdered four people.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Chris Rudd:
All folks of color. And so there was a hunger strike. The Frisco five did a hunger strike. So I would spend my nights on the street of San Francisco, pulling guard duty for them. I ended up getting arrested when we had a protest in city hall against police murder. Those are all things that may seem divorced from design, but one thing I would always tell my students is that designers didn’t break the world and we’re not going to fix it. You as a designer is also you outside of your nine to five. So what are you doing besides your professional work to impact and change the world? So yeah, I really appreciated my time out at the D School. Still very close with all the folks in my cohort and my instructors become, I felt like I really became part of another family, a west coast family.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. You had designed a program during that fellowship called Youth Tech Design. Tell me about that.

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, the Civic Innovation Fellowship is a project fellowship. So you had to have an idea of what you wanted to do. And so when I was in Chicago, how they found me was I was working with young people here and we created a web app called Expunge Gio to help other young people expunge their juvenile criminal records. And so that’s what got the attention on the D school and had me go out there. So because that thing worked, I said, “Okay, how do we scale this?” And so how do we allow more young people to create technology that solves issues that they care about? And so youth tech design was created for that purpose. And then the second part was how do we utilize technology to allow young people, young people of color specifically to get into college. Lots of times we don’t have the opportunities to go on trips to Haiti to build houses that look good on your college application.

We have too many other responsibilities. And so when you have technology, you can scale impacts pretty rapidly, which for a young person from the south side of Chicago to say, “I built an app that helped expunge 1,000 records in the first year, which then led to a policy change in Illinois for automatic expungement.” That’s huge. And the young people that I worked with here can say that they were all able to say that without, it was true. It wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t an exaggeration that they were part of such a massive shift in society.

And so hopefully that would give them a leg up to get into institutions like Stanford or where we’re traditionally excluded. And so Youth Tech Design was set up to do that. And then when I left the Bay and came back here, I didn’t maintain it as an organization, but I still continue to do those types of workshops for young people on the south side. And currently right now at ChiByDesign, that’s one of our passion projects is to stand up a youth program in the same vein, but now no longer focus on just teaching human-centered design, but teaching co-design as the way for social change and with anti-racist practices and principles.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve been someone that’s been part of the Chicago community and now part of the Chicago design community for a long time. How would you describe it to someone outside the city?

Chris Rudd:
I feel like it’s pretty welcoming. Most of us from Chicago have a lot of roots in the south. So Chicago’s the big city with a southern hospitality vibe to it. I think it’s still pretty segregated as well, but I know that there’s efforts to change that. So I’m also on the ops board for the Chicago Design Museum. And I know in every meeting we have, we’re trying to figure out what engagements, what services, what possibilities we can create to bridge that gap. And there’s a lot of organizations working on that too to be honest. I feel like a lot of designers are trying to figure out how to use their talents for the city and for underrepresented communities. So I feel like it’s a good time. It’s very collaborative. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of tension, which is great. Sometimes people jockeying for space and all that, but I feel like everyone’s so open to working together and moving a pretty strong social agenda forward that it’s really nice.

Maurice Cherry:
And now after you started ChiByDesign, you also began teaching design as well. So this is another way that you’re kind of helping to give back to the community. You’ve taught at Stanford D School, you taught at UT Austin at IIT Institute of Design. What does teaching design, how does that help you?

Chris Rudd:
Oh, I love it. So all of a sudden I got back to my dream of teaching, what maybe 10, 15 years after I initially had it. So this other thing, letting your purpose kind of drive you will always lead you back to where you should be. And that’s just something I really strongly believe in my heart. And so I love teaching. Honestly, my time at ID is what gave me the confidence to try to really break the mold of design. So again, going to the D School learning design Thinking Human, when I was there, it was like, oh, this is the Bible. This is how it has to be done. This is the only way it could be done. And when I started practicing, when I got back, it just didn’t feel right. I saw some validity in some of the things, but I was like, man, this is just not going to get us to the world that we need.

But I had no clue and I didn’t have the confidence that it could be something different. And so when I got to ID, I would start to express this to my colleagues and they were just like, “Well, change it.” And I was just like, “What? No, this is how it is.” And they’re like, “No, this is how it’s been. We made it up. All this stuff is made up. You make something different.” So that just set me, I was like, oh wow, okay, cool. And so teaching really allows you to learn, and especially when we’re talking about social issues, I feel like young people, and I’m not that old, but people younger than me just get this stuff in a much more nuanced, complex way and they just help push me. I felt like I was bringing things to them and they were absolutely bringing things to me that we were kind of challenging each other to be better and to think differently.

And then because you’re in an academic institution, you can experiment a lot more freely than if you’re doing client work. So when I was at id, I would get to try out these different methods that I was creating to see if they would actually help us understand racism in the system differently. Or if we tried these activities, could we create anti-racist outcomes? So one of the assignments that I created was making an inanimate object that pushed me so far to help understand the mechanisms of racism and then therefore, what are the principles that we need to embody in our work to create anti-racist outcomes. And so it was, as I was tinkering and teaching at the institutions, we were applying and refining at ChiByDesign. So they really worked well and in relationship with one another because what I was learning from ChiByDesign would help me teach more advanced concepts and methods in my classes. So I felt like that was a really exciting time. And students, I love them. They’re great.

Maurice Cherry:
So it’s, it all kind of feeds into each other, it sounds like.

Chris Rudd:
Absolutely. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your career and all your experiences, is this how you imagined yourself when you were a kid?

Chris Rudd:
Oh, not at all. Again, had no idea what design was big into art and making, but not in the practice that I would say we do now. A lot of elements transfer over. But no, I never saw myself doing this. I never saw myself owning a business. I tell my team all the time, I’m like, “Man, I’m ready to quit.” Just ’cause … But it’s great to have a team that’s supportive and they push me every day. And so I guess the one thing that I would say that is true now as what I hoped it would be as a child, is to be surrounded by people who care enough about me to push me to be better.

And so I always saw that a part of my work, whether it was I worked at Pepsi stocking shelves, and I always surrounded myself in those environments just as I am now with people who I could talk ideas with and could push me and I could push them. So I think that part is true, but professionally, you know what I was going to do eight hours a day, 10 hours a day, so different. But I love it. This is what I love about design. You’re paying me to draw and sketch and think about things. Who could ask for a better job?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, and I would say also with what you do is you’re designing, I want to say designing futures in a way, to be honest. I mean, it’s one thing, like you said, to be a designer that’s making graphics or something like that. But you’re really taking design and using it to design the world in a way design, help youth in how youth outcomes will be shaped. And even the work you’re doing with the foster system in Ohio, you’re designing on a much grander scale that impacts real lives in a real way.

Chris Rudd:
Yeah. And I would say that I think product design is similar. The folks who designed the iPhone changed the world and changed social interactions in a way that I’m sure they didn’t plan for the object. So that was the purpose around designing the anti-racist object is that the object can shape societal interactions in very large ways. As product designers, we have to be thinking about those things. It can’t just be about the form of the object, right? Socio=technical systems, how does that object now impact the human beings around it? What organization needs to exist? So now, because of the advent of social media, there are social media departments and organizations that are attached to communications teams.

Now that we’re focusing on sustainability, we’re thinking about life cycles of products differently. All of this stuff has so many larger impacts that I think a lot of us are trained, I know I was, not necessarily to think about. It was like you got a really great insight that it will improve customer experience and or user experience, which I hate that term too. And go for it. And so I think where we’re at now is, and it’s not me, it’s a lot of folks, we’ve got to slow down. We got to think deeper about the systemic social impacts of what we make because they absolutely have those outcomes.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there something that you want to accomplish that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?

Chris Rudd:
Actually, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I think I might go back to school to learn industrial design. I just want to get better at making tangible things beyond, I love thinking about the systems in the larger, complex problems and solutions, but I do want to get better at making things.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s a good natural extension though, of what you’re doing is to extend into things. I’m curious, have you heard of the Black InDesign Conference?

Chris Rudd:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been?

Chris Rudd:
I have not.

Maurice Cherry:
I think, well, let’s see. They have it every other year, so I know they’re having it next year, because they started it in 2015. And so they do it, it takes place at Harvard, their graduate school of design. And I feel like the work that you are doing would be such a perfect fit for what that conference is about. So that conference kind of tends to deal with design in terms of the lived space. Usually, it’s been architecture, landscape planning, stuff like that. But they’ve started over the years to extend it into areas of black futurism. I think they had one year they were talking about biomimicry and stuff like that. But I think what it is is showing the application of design in people’s lives to change outcomes and stuff, I feel like the work that you’re doing would be a really natural fit for that. They had the 2021 conference virtual, I feel like they’re going to have the 2023 conference in person again, but it’s at Harvard. It’s a good conference. I think you should check it out.

Chris Rudd:
Oh, definitely. Yeah, definitely. I’ve seen it. And I think I didn’t go in ’21 because it was virtual. I think I was just virtualed out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Chris Rudd:
But [inaudible 00:47:32] like the move. And it’s interesting that we’ve been doing a lot of work recently with organizations to help them figure out the future of their built environment. So there’s a lot of desire for new community spaces and activating, especially in Chicago, we’ve got a lot of vacant lots and stuff like that. And so we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries from organizations around that. So, which I think is great because architecture is just so focused on the build environment, they don’t necessarily have that perspective on what the lived environment is looking like. And so we just finished a project for a nonprofit here in Chicago that they’re trying to do, they’re trying to build a WeWork for education focused nonprofits so that they can really bring the ecosystem together physically so that they would, by extension work better and collaborate more on their programming.

And so we work with them to figure out what the principles of the space should look like. And so we did these co-design workshops with their staff leadership, the students that they serve, and helped them think through what is the ultimate vision for this place and what are the principles you need to design around as architects that we’re not going to build it. Don’t, I’m not going to tell you which materials and lighting and all that, that’s their expertise. But if they have this roadmap, how might that change their architectural desire? Because I’m sure for most architects, they’re dealing with the client.

So if you’re just dealing with the leadership of the organization, they can only tell you their vision. But that has nothing to do with, or not nothing that has little to do with the folks that they are serving. And so was really, it’s been interesting to do this alongside architects and hearing them say how valuable it’s been for them to be a part of those workshops and see those perspectives and see how they should create differently. So yeah. Are you going to be in Black InDesign next year?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m definitely going to be there. I remember the first year I went in 2015 and I was trying to get other black designers to go. And I couldn’t. A lot of people were like, I don’t know if I want to go. I mean, are they talking about Photoshop? Are they talking about Sketch? ‘Cause these were product designers, UX designers, et cetera. And I’m like, first of all, it’s 2015. There were no black design events going on back then. I’m like, this is the first time something this is happening. It’s cheap. I think the tickets were less than $100. I was like, let’s just go and just see what it’s like. And a lot of people I know didn’t go that first year, but they have it every other year. So if you don’t go the first year, you can check it out the next year.

They record all the sessions, they live stream it. So if you happen to not be there, you can go back and watch previous year sessions to kind of get a sense of what it’s like. But it’s such, when I last went, it was in 2019 before the pandemic and I did do the virtual conference, of course it just wasn’t the same. But it’s such a collegial, black family reunion esque type experience. I mean, I would say as much as you could get on Harvard’s campus, I’ll put it that way. They’re not bringing out the grill or anything like that. But I mean, it’s as much of a collegial space for black design as you’re going to find. And it’s students, it’s longtime designers, it’s educators. And every year or every other year when they have it just brings something different to the space itself. They have it at Harvard Graduate School and Harvard’s campus and it’s great.

It’s great. The thing about it is though, that because they do it every other year, they have a different staff every other year. So it’s always a little bit different. I hate to say inconsistent, but it’s a little bit different every time they have the event. So I’m curious to see what they pull out for 2023. For 2021, for example, the theme was around Black Matter. And so they were talking about designing for joy and black urban mobility. They had a bunch of workshops on spatial thought and things of that nature. So it was pretty good. I mean, I feel like they take design and really stretch it in a way that I don’t see from other black design conferences. And it’s even funny to say other black design conferences, because so many of them have popped up over the past couple of years now. But it’s a good event to go to. I think especially with the work that you’re doing, it’s probably good if not just for networking, but just to go and see and get inspired by what other folks are doing.

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, definitely. The other thing I’m thinking about is we started a fellowship program this summer for ChiByDesign. Again, thinking about how are we reaching back and making sure that we’re creating opportunities for young up and coming black and brown designers. And I don’t want to sound like those companies that I talked about in 2018, but yo, it was kind of hard. We were getting flooded with lots of applications from non folks of color. And I was like, “All right.” And we reached out to the HBCUs, they were kind of pushing us away.

Maurice Cherry:
The HBCUs were,

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, and I assume it was cause they didn’t know us, even though two of our team members are HBCU alums. So we were just like, all right, we got to do better and be more aggressive on getting our folks, I mean, we hit our goal, but yeah, we were shocked to be honest at what happened when we sent that application out. So yeah, it’d definitely be dope to be there. Network even more, not networking on the superficial, what can you do for me? But like you said, coming to the reunion.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely. What advice would you give to somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps? They’ve hearing your story now, they want to do a similar type of thing. What would you tell them?

Chris Rudd:
Yeah, whew. Figure out who you are. Figure out who you are. Stand on that. Be confident on who you are, what you stand for. Don’t waiver. Things will get very hard. There have been many times where I’ve had to decide whether or not I was going to stay true to who I am and risk my job or just do what they wanted me to do and be secure. And I would like to say the vast majority of the time I put my career on the line, I can think of many instances, but I’m sure, I don’t want to be arrogant and say I did it every time. I’m sure there were times where I folded too. So that will happen. So then be patient with yourself. There will be mistakes along the road, but letting that purpose, that who you are, guide your work, the opportunities will come.

They may not be as fast or as you want, but they will happen. None of us knew 2020 was going to happen. And so I had started doing this anti-racist design work before that, and that’s when everybody was talking about equity center design. And so I stayed away from that because I didn’t believe it was possible under the system we have, under capitalism. So I was focused on anti-racism, and then 2020 happened and anti-racism became a thing and people started to embrace it. Kennedy’s book was a best seller.

And so again, it may not come at the time that you want, but as long as you’re staying true, it will happen. And even if it doesn’t, you’re standing your own truth. So I think for, again, it’s figuring out who you are, what you believe in, what you’re trying to accomplish, and then utilizing every skill set that you have to help get there. Right? Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm. Just ’cause it is doesn’t mean it should be and doesn’t mean it’s right. So keep pushing. I feel like so many young people are already doing that. But yeah, just keep doing it. We as a society will be better for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want of the next chapter of your story to be?

Chris Rudd:
Oh. So I feel like I will still be at ChiByDesign. With what role? I’m not sure, but I think we’ve built a thing that is exactly what I hoped for. And so part of that was also turning over power. So an example, we have at ChiByDesign, we have Ghana Independence Day off as a company holiday, and we have Diwali off as a company holiday because we have team members who are from Ghana and India. When I was developing the company, one of the craziest things that I found out about capitalism when our HR person was like, “What company holidays are you going to have off?” And I’m like, the regular ones. And she’s like, no, that’s not how it works. You have pick which ones you want and which ones you don’t. And I was like, that’s nuts. I thought it was the standard demand.

There was a policy that you had to have these things off. And I was like, “That’s wild.” But again, because we’re in the United States, they’re all American things. And so I didn’t want them to feel left out. We wanted to co-create this organization and we’re constantly co-creating the organization. And so I made a decision that we would celebrate as a company something that was important to them as well, so that they wouldn’t have to use their personal time or sick time to try to celebrate something that was meaningful to them. While the rest of us would always just get the things that we’re supposed to get off. And so I think we’ll keep co-creating and based on the people we have, it’ll always be the place that I want to be. I believe that. I hope that’s true. So yeah, I’ll be here, but again, I don’t know which role. I don’t think I will stay at the top in terms of title in five years, but I don’t know what it’s going to be. So I’m always excited about the unknown.

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

Chris Rudd:
Sure. So our website is www.chibydesign.com and Chi is CHI also, for folks to know it is ChiByDesign. We always get ChiByDesign, or She By Design? No, it’s Chi. It’s for Chicago. Instagram, Twitter, same thing, @ChiByDesign. And yeah, we’re always looking to collaborate with folks and make the world more anti-racist.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good to me. Well, Chris Rudd, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. One, I think just what you’re doing around anti-racism via design is so monumental and important that like your background of wanting to help out kids and help out youth, and now you’re being able to use this along with human centered design methodology and stuff to really impact and make change on such a grand scale. I’m really excited to know that there’s somebody like you that, one, is a designer, but is also someone that is really passionate about community and passionate about social justice and about using design to really make this a better world. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Chris Rudd:
Thank you. I appreciate that.

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.