TTK

We all know there are several ways to achieve success as a creative, but sometimes it takes inspiration from others to set you on the right path. That’s definitely the case with the multitalented TTK. His work as an art director, painter, designer and illustrator have taken him far, and now he can add another title to his roster — filmmaker!

Our conversation began with a quick year-end check-in, and then TTK talked about “Just Like Me”, a short documentary he created with Havas to educate and inspire the next generation of Black creatives. TTK also shared more details of his life story, including growing up in Florida, serving in the Navy for 10 years after going to art school, and more. Hopefully TTK’s story and documentary can help inspire you to rise to greater heights!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

TTK:
My name is TTK. What I do, I’m an artist, I’m a designer. Currently, I work in advertising. I’m a director, I’m a painter. I wear a few hats.

Maurice Cherry:
How has the year been going for you so far?

TTK:
The year’s been good for me so far, man, the year’s been very, very good. How I measure if the year is doing good, I measure if I’m doing something this year that I didn’t do the previous year or if I accomplished something this year that I didn’t in the previous year, that determines for me whether it’s good or not. We’re going into the fourth quarter right now, so the accomplishments and what I’ve accomplished so far in this year, I’m really proud of myself. I took a few punches, but that’s life right there. I hop back up and take it on the chin and take it as a lesson learned. But all in all, this year’s good for me. It’s been going great.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there anything in particular that you still want to try to do before the year ends?

TTK:
Paint more. A friend of mine jokes and it says once I learned how to do digital work, it made me lazy with painting. And I don’t want to admit it, but he is right because painting is a process. Well, everything is a process, but whenever you’re painting, you got to wait for the paint to dry, come back to it and work into it some more, then work into it some more. It takes much longer.

And you would think with me being traditionally trained before I even learn how to do anything in Photoshop or any software, I was doing this first years before I knew how to use any software. You would think I would be conditioned for it. But learning how to work in digital just made me just work faster and have less patience maybe because working in the industry, working the agency, working the companies, I’m on a timeline where I got to turn this stuff around fast. It can be very competitive, whereas with painting, this can take… Because I’m so meticulous with the details and everything when I’m painting, it can take anywhere from weeks to a month. Depends on how much time. Well, I try not to take breaks in between, but I wind up doing that. Anyway.

All that to say I just want to paint more, knock out more pieces. Because I got a solo show coming out in 2023, a solo art show. It’s the first solo show that I’ve done in, oh my god, probably 12 or 13 years with all original pieces, so I’m on the clock right now. It’s next year in the spring, but time catches up real quick so I got to start really cranking out pieces. Teah, all that to say I want to paint more.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I find when visual creators, particularly when they get further along in their career, they often want to go back to some sort of physical, tangible way of creating. Like you said, doing it digitally does make you faster, but there’s a craft in the visual art that gets lost I think sometimes when you’re relying too much on digital tools.

TTK:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. People will ask me, “Can I get this? Can I commission you for this piece?” And I’m like, “Truthfully, it’ll be probably easier for you on your budget to commission me to do something digitally.” Because paintings, it takes a while. Well, for me it takes a while because there’s a certain level of quality that I want to put out. And there’s no command Z to go back when I make a mistake or it doesn’t come out the way I want it to look. I got to wait for it to dry and then I got to go back and rework it, or I’m mixing these colors, and the tubes of paint ain’t cheap. You know what I’m saying? You can buy the cheap stuff, but you going to get cheap results. It really adds up. But all in all, this is always my first love right here. And I always go back to that.

I was just working on this piece that I’m currently working on. I’ve been working on it about two months now. I just think working in it, I forget about how I used to feel painting before I was doing anything digitally. How I would just put a album on, put a CD on, put a record on, just rock out for hours on. And I miss that feeling of seclusion and just painting.

I was watching something, one of those shows that come on Sunday, one of the Sunday weekly news shows or whatever, but they were talking about… This is a few months back. They were talking about George Bush, how he put out a book, maybe it was last year. It was a book about people across the nation or people in this community or something like that. But it was his paintings and these people. And it was like, we don’t really rock with George Bush. You know what I’m saying? We don’t rock with George Bush, but his paintings weren’t bad. You know what I’m saying? Man, this dude actually isn’t that bad. He was on his ranch just painting or whatever and everything. I was like, I never would’ve guessed that from this guy. But I’m like, man, I would love that life just to be in a loft somewhere just, I don’t know, in the middle of nowhere, just painting. I don’t know, man. One day, one day. I’m going to speak into existence.

Maurice Cherry:
I think you’ll get there. You’ll get there, absolutely. Let’s talk about your day job, what you do. You’re a senior art director at Havas, which is ad and PR company. Talk to me about that.

TTK:
Yeah, so I’ve been at Havas for about three years now. It’s been good, you know what I’m saying? A lot of opportunities have come from me being there. What I do, I work on clients. The main client that I’ve worked on since I’ve been there is Michelin and doing stuff for Michelin social. And I got a chance to kind of be… Not kind of be, I got a chance to be very creative with their brand. I worked on stuff for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, worked on a few other projects, but… My mind is blank right now, but Michelin is probably the main one that comes to mind because I’ve been on the brand pretty much 80% of the time I’ve been there.

One thing I can say about working on stuff for Michelin is that I’m blessed it. Everything I touch, I’ve been able to add my own personal touch or flare to it that they probably wouldn’t have done, whereas I push the limits where I can bring my personality and my style of creativity to a brand like that that has so much rich history and it’s been doing something a certain way for so long. But I’ve been able to bring my look and feel to it and explain to them why this works. And they’ve been open and they’ve been receptive to it. Sometimes we get pushback, of course, that’s just how it goes. But for the most part, I think with me working on the brand for so long, I know the do’s and don’ts and know where I can push it and where I can’t. But the areas where I can push it, I really try to flex and really do something where if someone’s scrolling, if they’re scrolling on their phone or whatever and they see this graphic like, “Oh, this is pretty dope right here,” it would make me as a consumer want to check out more about this product right here. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And now, you started there in October of 2019, which it feels like… With this pandemic, that feels like a lifetime ago. But how did the pandemic change up how you work?

TTK:
It’s funny you say that because I was doing… Right now I worked out of the Chicago office. And prior to me working out of the Chicago office, I was in New York, I was in Brooklyn. I was doing freelance work for them, and then they gave me a full-time… offered me a full-time role. And I was like, “Hey, I’m already doing freelance for you guys out here and I’m delivering what you’re asking me for. Can I just stay out here in New York?” It was like, “Yeah, we want to have you in the office.”

I move cross country, and then a couple months later everybody’s working from home. You know what I’m saying? My partner, Chevon, she was working remote as well at the time for a nonprofit, and she had been telling me, yo, everybody in her nonprofit is all over the country. You know what I’m saying? Working. You’re doing the same thing.

Working from home thing, it definitely… I always say as messed up as the pandemic has been and COVID and all of that, it was a big reset to show some of these jobs that we do the way we do them is outdated. And this is just my opinion. And going into office every day, five days a week, sometimes six, and sitting there for eight, 10 hours just to say that you’re here, we can do the work everywhere. You look at people on… What’s the site? Fiverr. You know what I’m saying? You don’t know where these people are at, but they’re still delivering stuff for you or whatever. And that’s what this pandemic showed. In my opinion, what it showed is thankfully the type of work that we do, the digital creative stuff, we can do it from anywhere. It definitely opened up my eyes and everything because I feel like I was… Like a lot of us, we were programmed to just come and to go into the office, just sit there and just look watching the clock waiting for 5:30, 6:30 to come, paying $15 for lunch every day, all of that right there.

I don’t mind working remotely at all, man. You know what I’m saying? I don’t mind it, truthfully. I know me personally, I can be extrovert, I can be reclusive as well. When I’m creating, sometimes I just like to be alone. We can collaborate, but I like to be alone. I’m able to execute the way I really want to execute and execute my best way sometimes when I’m alone. I don’t mind working remote. I actually love it.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s a typical day look like for you?

TTK:
I juggle a few things, man. It depends on the workload sometimes, man. A lot of times, like when I was working heavy on Michelin, when we had a lot of deliverables for the brand, it would be coming up with all these different creative pillars of ways to how the brand incorporates into travel or how they incorporate with food, how they incorporate it in their heritage, coming up with creative ways to display this stuff right here, like getting things ready for a client meeting.

Basically, the day starts, we get briefed on what’s due, what everyone’s working on. And that’s pretty much it, thankfully for me. I’m in a space where I can just do what I need to do and no one really bothers me, I guess because maybe they know that’s how I operate best. That’s pretty much my work day.

As far as doing side projects or painting… Well, the paintings more so of recent things. I take breaks in between that. But sometimes I might work on little side project here, do little brush strokes on the painting for maybe about, I don’t know, 15 minutes, come back to it a couple hours later. My day is basically just me being creative. I’m thankful to say that. I enjoy what I do, and I have fun doing what I do. And it’s how I envision my life. No stress. I’m not working in the cold. I’ve been there before. I’ve done a lot of things, man.

I’m thankful that right now every day when I wake up, no two days are the same, but every day when I wake up, man, I can honestly say I’m not stressed about what I’m doing. And I’m doing what I love to do. It may not be the exact project that I want to work on, but at least I can say that my day consists of me being creative. And I’m getting paid to be creative. You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, that’s a good thing. I think especially agencies tend to get the reputation… I don’t know if they get the best reputation, I’ll put it that way, sometimes because you’re often working from client to client so you don’t have a lot of time to spend with maybe a particular brand to do something before you’re put on another project or put on another campaign or something like that. But it sounds like with what you’re doing, especially because you mentioned earlier you’ve been on the Michelin brand for so long, you’ve had time to grow into it in a way.

TTK:
It’s cool because I’ve had access to all of their assets and their personal login site where it’s so many assets, so much history. And that’s a cool thing about working on a brand like this right here that’s been around for over 100 years; there’s so much that you can pull from. A.And not to sound cliche, but a lot of times with working on this brand, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Everything is there already, you just got to figure out how to repurpose it. I’ve worked on… What’s the faucet brand MOEN. I worked on MOEN briefly. I worked on Yellowstone National Park.

I don’t know if I said it before, but Mike’s Hard Lemonade. That was cool working on that. This was pre-pandemic. We had a cool, very, very dope idea and campaign for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, but didn’t see the light of day because the pandemic happened at the time. The pandemic happened and everything shut down so we had to redirect the direction of where we wanted to go. And it was a much, much, much more scaled down version of… It wasn’t even scaled down, it was a whole new direction. Everything that we created, the hours that we spent, no one really will ever see this out into the world. But that’s the nature of the game, you take it how it comes, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, you’ve worked before as a graphic designer, and we’ll talk about that a little later, and now you’re an art director at an agency. How would you describe the difference in those two?

TTK:
I don’t think there is any difference, man. Personally, I don’t. Maybe on paper where it says what the roles are, what the responsibilities are. On paper, it probably says certain things, but from my personal experience, I was doing the same thing coming up with ideas, coming up with ideas, coming up with ways to execute this thing, thinking of ways where we can… places where we can place these ideas so people can see it and engage with it.

It’s similar to what I’m doing now. I worked in music, working at Mass Appeal. I worked on the record label side of the house. And sometimes I would work on the agency side as well. But it is the same thing, just one’s more culturally hip hop based, the other one’s more very American and reaches a broader audience and selling products.

But selling music is like selling products as well, man, so it’s the same thing. The way I see it, I think the only thing probably change is the company that you’re getting to check from. I always joke and I say this to people, and not to sound like a Debbie Downer or nothing like that, but you pick your poison. What are you able to accept and what are you able to deal with and whatever role or company or agency that you’re with? But I don’t find it any different at all.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that the most challenging part about what you do? What you just mentioned?

TTK:
I think the most challenging part about this right here, that working in design and advertising, from my experience, it’s a revolving door. I don’t know too many people that’s been in one spot for over five years. I just don’t.

Early on, it was shocking. Not necessarily shocking to me, but it affected me emotionally. Damn, am I good enough? Or what could I have done differently? But then I understand it’s never personal, it’s business. And sometime business is up, sometime business is down. And when business is down, you might get cut. And that’s just the nature of the game.

And I think that’s where it just comes in. In trying to figure out too what do you love? You know, could work on one thing where the money is great, but you don’t really care about the work that you’re putting out. You’re not really in love with the brand or product or whatever that you’re working on. And then it could be something where you’re all about the mission that this one company or agency has, or you love what you’re working on but the pay isn’t the greatest. It’s all about trying, well, for me, trying to find that middle, that medium where, okay, I can get the best of both worlds.

But in all, back to what I was saying it’s a revolving door from, just from my experience, and a lot of my peers, not too many people I know stick around for a long time. And I don’t know whether it is because us being creative, you want to do your own thing eventually, or… I don’t know. I don’t want to make it a race thing or whatever, but it goes back to how do we see ourself? Well, for me personally, how do I see myself in a place where there aren’t many of people that look like me, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

TTK:
And cannot coexist and naturally be myself in these spaces, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Do you think it might just be burnout or something?

TTK:
Yeah. It’s a few things. I feel like with junior people, when they don’t have the support or support from senior leadership, you got somebody might be fresh out of college and they got all these dreams of, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this award-winning stuff.” Of course everybody’s got those thoughts in their heads or whatever. But I feel like you take someone junior and you put them in a position and you don’t give them the support that they need to grow, it can be discouraging. And people will, “Yo, this ain’t for me right here.” You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

TTK:
Or resourcing or whoever, they may not know a person’s… What’s their skillset? What’s that person’s strength? And the only thing they see is the person’s name and a title. And then, “Okay, well let’s put this person on this right here.” They might not even be the person that’s equipped for that. It’s like playing basketball; you can’t have the center playing the point guard position. You know what I’m saying? It don’t work out like that. You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

TTK:
Well, you could, but you’re not going to get the optimum results.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears here a little bit and talk more about you, talk about your personal life. Tell me about where you grew up.

TTK:
I’m originally from Jacksonville, Florida. That’s where I’m originally from. That’s where my early years were based out of. I moved away years ago, years ago. But I went to high school down there. And I was thankful to be in an art program going to an art school, Douglas Henderson School of the Arts, which at the time when I was going there, it was prestigious art school and everything.

But my father, when he went there, my father went there back in the ’50s or the ’60s or something like that. And at the time when he was going to that school, I think it was a school for Black students. You know what I’m saying? This is when segregation and all that stuff was going on. He went to that school decades before me. I just think it’s ironic that I ended up going there, but it’s a whole little different school at the time when I went.

But yeah, I got introduced to the arts there. Well, what’s the old TV show from back in the day? Fame?

Maurice Cherry:
Fame. Yeah.

TTK:
It was like that, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, so it was a school like that and everything, man. Shortly after I graduated high school, a couple years went by, I tried to dabble in fashion for a little bit, but I couldn’t so I realized there wasn’t for me. I could design the stuff, but I couldn’t sew. And then going to college for… I went to Artist Studio Ft. Lauderdale only for one semester. I’m like, “Yeah, I can’t sew then.” But it was cool though, it was cool though. I’m like, it’s more than just drawing, illustrations and everything.

Some years went by in between me having a child. After graduating high school, I just joined a Navy. I joined a navy cold turkey one day. I went to a recruiter and I was like, “Yo, I need a job.” You know what I’m saying? I need a job I can’t get fired from, maybe because the jobs I had at the time, life put me on a path where I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do creatively, creatively, I was just working jobs. I’m like, “Damn, this ain’t it right here, this really ain’t it.” I’m 21, 22 trying to figure life out. I went to a recruiter one day and I was like, “Yo, let me just hear what you got to say.” I didn’t even think I was going to sign up, but they hustled me like a car salesman, like a used car salesman.

Maurice Cherry:
Of course.

TTK:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And at the time, they told me, “Yeah, you can get a sign on bonus for $7,000.” At the time when they told me that, $7,000, I had never seen $7,000 before. When they said $7,000, I’m seeing a million dollars in my head. You know what I’m saying? I was like, “Yo, yeah, let’s do it.” I joined the Navy in September 2001.

Yo, it’s crazy. I went to a recruiter station on a Friday. September 11th happened that Tuesday. Two weeks later, I was in bootcamp. You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

TTK:
I was in bootcamp. Yeah. And I was in the Navy for 10 years. I’m a ex sub mariner. I was on submarines. There’s not many brothers on subs. At the time when I was on in the early 2000 and everything. And with me being in the Navy and being mostly in the north or whatever, the bulk of the time I was in the Navy, I started planting my roots in New York and in Brooklyn. A lot of people think I’m originally from Brooklyn, you know what I’m saying? That’s my second home. But I’m originally from Florida, from Jacksonville, man. I got roots down there as well. We’re all over the place right now. What else you want to know?

Maurice Cherry:
I’m just curious about this 10 years in the Navy. First of all, my dad’s a Navy man, so I understand what that’s about. But the whole time that you’re doing this, were you also still pursuing creative things during this time?

TTK:
Yes. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Or how did that happen?

TTK:
No. Mind you, at the time in my early 20s, man. I look back on it now, I was a kid doing adult shit, you know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

TTK:
I was trying to figure it out, man. And I was a parent as well, you know what I’m saying? I was a parent trying to take care of a kid. I’m like, I don’t really know myself just yet. You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

TTK:
But I just know I need to provide some kind of way. And so the first couple of years of just me being in, it was just me just trying to figure out this thing, figure out this system, figure out what I got to do to not get in trouble and still keep some funds in my bank account and still perform and learn all the things that I need to learn, man.

Like I said, I was on submarines, and that’s… Aw man, that’s a whole nother world within itself and so much stuff that we have to know, from physics to… It’s so many things that I had to remember, being around top secret stuff, having a security clearance, working around nuclear weapons and things like that, man. It was a lot.

I was always doing drawing or whatever the whole time during those early years, drawing little tattoos for people and stuff like that. But it wasn’t until probably around 2004, the end of 2004, the sub that I was on, we left Norfolk, Virginia and we went up to Kittery, Maine. Kittery, Maine is on the border of New Hampshire, so Maine/New Hampshire. It wasn’t until I got up there that I wasn’t going out to sea, I’m just going to work for a couple of hours every day then going back to my barracks room. That gave me time to really do my art the way I really wanted to do it because I hadn’t done any art for so many years outside of high school. And by this time, I’m out of school for maybe seven years now, so I wasn’t really doing anything besides maybe sketching in my sketchbook. Seven years of not producing any work, it was really eating away at me. You know what I’m saying? I’m like, I know it’s more to life than this right here, there’s more to life right here. People tell you like, “Oh man, you do your 20 years, you’re going to get your retirement or whatever, and you still get out. You be young, you still be able to pursue other things.” But I knew deep down inside that that wasn’t me, that wasn’t for me.

But going back to, like I was saying, in 2004, a good friend of mine, he was from the Bronx. And around this time in early 2000, he was like, “Yo.” He knew that I like sneakers a lot. This is the early days before everybody… The sneaker app and all this other stuff like that. I was always one of those guys that had mad sneakers, you know what I’m saying? Before everybody knew me for my clothes and my sneakers and stuff, and he knew I could draw as well. A good friend of mine at the time, he was like… I guess he had went home for the weekend. He was from the Bronx. He went home for the weekend one time or something. He comes back, he was like, “I see these dudes customizing sneakers and everything. Why don’t you start doing that?” And I was like, “Yeah.” I’ve always thought about it, but I never really tried to pursue it.

And I started searching on lunch, trying to figure out what paints and stuff I need to get. And once I figured out the right paints and everything, I think that’s when it really, really took off, where it really began for me as being an artist and putting my work out into the world through sneakers. This is the early days too. This is around ’05, ’06, going a little forward, the MySpace days, me just putting my stuff upon MySpace at the time and people checking for it. And it was like I was running a business out of my barracks room up in Maine. Nobody knew who I was, you know what I’m saying? No one knew who I was, they just knew the name TTK. That was my tag that I went by. My real name is Michael Harris. It’s a very generic name. There’s always another Michael Harris everywhere I go, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

TTK:
I was like, I got to do something that makes me stand down or whatever, so TTK. I was always into graffiti and stuff, man, so TTK was the initials that I like to tag. And I just like just it looks, the two T’s together and the K from a design point, I just like the way it looks.

Yeah, so everybody just knew, “Yo, this guy named TTK is customizing sneakers.” And this is the early days so there wasn’t a lot of people doing it how it is now almost 20 years later. That really opened my eyes. While I’m doing what I love to do and I’m getting paid to do what I want to do, this is what I want to do right here. I don’t know whether it’s going to be customizing sneakers or working for Nike or whoever one day, but I’m being creative and I’m getting paid to be creative. This Navy thing, this right here is going to be my way out.

Maurice Cherry:
I was just asking were you still doing design and stuff or interested in design this whole time while you were in the Navy? And it sounds like you turned it into a profitable side business almost.

TTK:
Yeah. That led to me doing a bunch of other things. I went to high school for visual arts, traditional means in the ’90s, man, like painting and things like that. I knew I wanted to paint, but I knew I couldn’t carry a big canvas with me everywhere. And I know not everybody has an appreciation for, I don’t know, fine art or the graphic design. Even though graphic design is isn’t everything that we see and interact with, most people don’t even realize that. But I was like, “Wow, how can I get my skillset, show what I want to bring out to the world and how people buy it?” Put them on sneakers. You know what I’m saying?

The first year of me customizing sneakers, I wind up being featured in a book, I can’t even think of the name of it right now, but it was a book about custom sneakers or sneaker art from the early 2000s. But I was featured in this book. I wind up winning some contest with Finish Line at the time. I wind up having my two solo art shows at the time, and I wind up doing some freelance work for Timberland, the brand. And this is within the first year of me doing this. And I was like, “Wow, you know what? I got something right here. I’m onto something.” You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

TTK:
And what I was doing then, it’s very… I don’t know, I call it maybe it’s… It wasn’t on the skill level that I’m at right now, but I saw, you know what? I got something right here. You know what I’m saying? I got something right here.

And then shortly after that, I wind up meeting a good friend of mine who’s like a brother to me, Justice Hall. He was a designer at Timberland at the time. Because Timberland’s headquarters is in New Hampshire. I forget the town that it’s in in New Hampshire. But Justice saw my work on display at this skateboard shop. He saw my custom sneakers. And when Justice saw my work, he reached out to me. And he didn’t know who I was, he just saw the name TTK and he saw the work that I was doing. And it was like, “Yo, this person’s dope. I need to find them.” And he found me and we connected.

And he calls me up. It’s funny, I tell this story all the time. But when Justice, he got my information from the guys at the skateboard shop in New Hampshire. And they didn’t tell him who I was or anything like that. He was like, “Yo, this is this guy, this is TTK. Call him up, man. He’s dope.” When Justice calls me up and I answer the phone, I said, “Hello,” the first thing he says is, “Oh shit, you’re Black.” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “What you thought I was?’ I was thinking the same thing too because when they said designer, I didn’t think it was going to be another brother, someone the same age as me. You know what I’m saying? That’s into the same things that I’m into. It was like we were shocked to meet each other. And it was crazy because up there in New Hampshire/Maine, there aren’t many brothers up there. You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

TTK:
At the time, whenever it was like you see another Black person up there, you were like, “Oh man, you’re from up here? Oh man, where you from?” Or whatever. “Man, we should hang out or whatever.” You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

TTK:
Because I really didn’t see many of us up there or whatever, man. But anyway, so whenever me and Justice connected, it was like he put me onto so much. And I talk about it all the time. He showed me that everything that I wanted to be, I could be it. This guy’s the same age as me, similar interest and everything, come from similar backgrounds, and this guy is doing all the things that I wanted to do in life at that point. He just encouraged me.And at the time, I didn’t own computer, I didn’t own anything. The only thing I knew how to do was to paint and just hustle and just do art. And he told me, he was like, “Bro, you’re a brand and you don’t even realize it. You created a brand in a barracks room and people are buying your work from all over the world.” He’s like, “You’re special, man.” He was like, “Yo, you really need to get out the Navy, man.” He’s like, “Yo, I can get you a job right now.” I’m like, “Well, I’m under contract.” He’s like, “You can’t break it?” I’m like, “Nah, I can’t break this contract. I get out in…: At the time, I think I had five more years left because I had just reenlisted.

Yeah man, I owe a lot to Justice, man. He credits me for giving him a breath of fresh air and inspiring him as well, but I thank him all the time, man, because if I never met him, I think I would’ve got to where I needed to go eventually, but it would’ve probably taken a little bit longer. Like I said, at the time when I met Just, this is 2006. He’s showing me his portfolio. I didn’t even have a portfolio at the time, I just had some photos of my work that I took. And I took him to the pharmacy at the time to get the photos developed [inaudible 00:37:03] or whatever, man. Like I said, I didn’t know, I was very, very green. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t know. I knew I got a good product and I just know how to hustle. That’s the only thing I knew.

He’s showing me all his credentials and everything, he’s telling me about, “Yo, I work with Kanye.” This is during the Touch the Sky era and all of that, man. He’s showing me this. He’s showing the brands he’s worked on. I’m like, “I did this cool sneaker for my man right here.” You know what I’m saying? He was like, “Don’t even worry about the credentials. It’s going to come, man. You trust me. You got it.” Once I met him and I saw what I wanted to be, it was no turning back after that. I was like, “Yo, I’m getting out. I’m getting out. I’m going to figure it out one way or another.”

Fast forward, I don’t know, I can’t do the math right now, 15 so years later I’m here talking to you, bro. There’s a lot of stuff in between that I’m jumping over, but, yeah, I’m here, I’m here. And I think I’ve done a lot of great stuff. My name is in places where I only dreamed about, or I’ve worked on things where when I was a teenager only dreamed about working on or thought it would be cool if I got to work on this or connect with this person and work on this project. And I did it. I’m still doing it. Sorry for the long rant, yo.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, it’s all good. Let’s hop forward to 2011. That’s when you got out of the Navy. You had been in the Navy for roughly about a decade. And then right afterwards, you enrolled in City Tech, which is a university in New York city. Talk to me about that time.

TTK:
It was interesting, man, because I was so hyped to get out and just be a civilian again because… In fact, most people didn’t even know that I was in the Navy because I was doing so much my artwork, putting my work out there. By this time, I’m not really even doing sneakers anymore, I’m painting, and people know me for my paintings. It was an interesting time. But I knew just from my first time going to college in the late ’90s, I’m like, “All right, things are getting… It’s digital now.” I just can’t see myself going to school to pay to be a fine artist. Nothing against people who do. You know what I’m saying? But for me, like I said, I had bills. You know what I’m saying? I still had some kids to support. I’m like, “All right, how can I be creative and get paid to be creative?”I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew the process of applying for art colleges just from the past, but I’m like, damn, I don’t really have any work that represents what people are looking for in this current state of the world, 2011. And I was like, “Man, I know I got the skills, but I don’t necessarily have the work to show it.”

A good friend of mine, he told me, he was like, “Yo, why don’t you go to City Tech?” I’m like, “What’s City Tech?” He was like, “You can get the same education there at a fraction of a price.” He was like, “A lot of the teachers that teach there, they teach you the big name schools as well.” And he’s like, “Yo, dude, you don’t even got to do a portfolio, you just go and you show up. Just apply.”

I went to City Tech, I applied, I got in. And within maybe, I don’t know, two weeks of me getting out the Navy, it’s my first day of class. And the first year or so I’m trying to figure out, all right, what do I want to do? I didn’t feel like I was being challenged. And then maybe almost around the first year of me being there, I was in a class with this professor named Douglas Davis. Whether he knows it or not, he’s the person that really inspired me to stay at City Tech because I met him in the first day of his class. I saw he was speaking in a language that I understood. And I just liked the way he just came across in the room. You know what I’m saying?I’ll never forget this. This is over 10 years ago, but the first day of class, he comes in, he looks… He’s not much older than me so he looks young, he looks like he could possibly be a student at the time. He comes in and he says, “My name is Douglas Davis.” He’s like, “What I do, I get money.” He said, “You listen to me, you’ll get money too.” And he says something, I think he says, “I’m surprised. I remember it was yesterday.” He said, “My wife, she don’t got to work. I bring home enough money to support my family doing what I love.” He’s like, “You listen to me, I’m going to give you everything that I got. But when I ask for it back, you better give me 100%. I’m going to run this class like it’s an agency. If this ain’t going to be for you, I’m not going to judge you. I’ll help you get to where you need to be. But if you here for the ride, let’s work.”

And I was like, oh, man. I never heard no professor in the classroom talk like that. And I was like, wow. His whole presence. He’s saying what I want to hear. Yeah, man, and that really put me on the path of going the route of learning about advertising and the stuff that I’ve been seeing for my whole entire life and just wondering why, wow, I like the way this ad looks, but I can’t explain why I like it. Being around him and other professors as well, but that really… I guess I feel like it cemented me in at City Tech where it’s like, all right, I’m not going anywhere because I like studying under this guy right here, I like studying under this other professor right here. They’re talking in the language that I want to, you know what I’m saying? That I want to hear. And they’re telling me the things that I need to know to apply to what I do already. Yeah man, that’s how I ended up at City Tech.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, shout out to Douglas Davidson who we’ve had on the show twice now. That’s the first time I’ve heard his classroom style, though. But as you described it, I was like, “Yeah, that’s 100% him.”

TTK:
Yo man, I tell you, he’s a great guy. No joke, man, when I was in his class, I felt like I was on… What’s the one show? Making the Band or something like that, you know what I’m saying? Because I didn’t want to mess up, you know what I’m saying? I didn’t want to mess up.

The nights leading up to the days when we had to present, he was like, “Yo, when the door is shut, the door is shut. If you not in, you not in.” I would make sure I’m on the train early, that way I’m not late to class that day and everything. I have everything set up, staying up all night just trying to get it right and just going up there. Because he didn’t hold any punches or whatever like that, he really ran it, his classroom… He didn’t run it like a classroom, he ran it like it was an agency, like it was a business. He’s a great guy, man. You can tell he really cared about what the people that… The students that he was working with. And he was there. He’s a real special person, man, he’s a real special person. And he’s someone that I’m very happy that I was blessed to meet in my journey along the way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Speaking of that journey, you documented a lot of this in a recent project that you released called Just Like Me. You directed it, you put the whole thing together. Douglas was in it as well. Talk to me about the documentary. First of all, why did you decide to do a documentary?

TTK:
With the documentary, that came about… Well, actually it’s a idea I’ve had in my head for many, many years but I just never really talked about it. I didn’t really talk about it to anyone; maybe one person. But it’s just something that I had in the back of my head. I was like, if the opportunity presents itself, it’d be cool to make this thing. It’s just something like a passion project.

And the opportunity came sooner than what I thought it was going to come in life. But around the time… In 2020, summer 2020, everybody’s in the house, the pandemic, COVID, all that stuff, and then the incident with George Floyd, all these agencies and companies having, I don’t know, a coming of age moment. We didn’t know. You know what I’m saying? What can we do to support Black people? Or whatever like that, man.

That was a moment in time where someone said to me… A real good friend of mine, a mentor as well, he said to me, “This is a moment in time where you need to use this opportunity to make what you want to make and do what you want to do, because I know you can do it.” And when he said it to me, I’m just thinking from a point of having anxiety and just fear of what’s the worst thing that could happen? This could happen, this could happen. And I just brushed it off.

And he came to me, he was like, “Yo, look man, make what you want to make.” I’m paraphrasing right now, but he said to me, “Your story is a very, very special story. How does someone go from working on nuclear submarines to knowing all the people that you know and working on the stuff that you worked on? You really have an interesting story.” And he said, “I’m not telling you what you should make or whatever, but you got something.” And I was like, all right. He was like, “I’ll help you get to a certain point with putting the pieces together, but after that, you running the show.” Because I’m like, “I’ve never directed a documentary. I’ve been around when documentaries are being made from my time working at Mass Appeal and I saw how much work goes into making a documentary. I know it’s a lot of work. He was like, “Don’t worry, you have what it takes.”

And I was like, “All right, I’ll put some days aside.” I wrote up three paragraphs, three, four paragraphs. I talk about basically the moment, this particular moment in time about how people were talking about the state of Black people in America with all the whole George Floyd’s things and the police incidents. It’s nothing new, it always happens, but the spotlight was on it in that moment in time.

Like I said, plus these companies are talking about, “Yo, we need to bring in more diversity,” and all this other things like that. I thought about why is it that there aren’t many Black people and there aren’t many brown people in these spaces of creativity?| And I’m like, “Why is that?” And I start thinking about my own personal experiences, about how we don’t really hear about them. And it’s like, I know a lot of Black creators, but the average person don’t know who these people are. But they’ve done a lot of great things and they’ve contributed to a lot of things that are historic now. And I’m sure you know, with you doing your podcast, you know we create a lot of great things that everyone knows and a lot of people benefit from, but a lot of times people don’t know who the wizard was behind the curtain that created this thing.

And I thought about too about why there aren’t many of us in these spaces. And I thought about a lot of us don’t know that this path exists until maybe much later in life when people got bills, they got families to support and they give up on being a creative. They give up on it because there’s always this narrative of being a starving artist. And that’s not true.

Going back to something Douglas David said to me once, and I always quote it, he says, “This thing called design is like the Matrix.” You know what I’m saying? “It affects all of us. We all work, operate in the Matrix and everything, but you’ll never know the Matrix exists until someone points it out to you.” And that’s like how design is. Everything is designed, everything, but most people don’t think about the whole process of that and how it interacts with us. And I thought about, wow, more of us, more Black people knew about this at an early age and were aware that you can make a living off of this, you’re not going to be a starving artist, I felt like you could see more of us in these spaces. And in order for me to try to educate more people on it, I wanted to show people who were influential to me. There are many people who are influential to me, but I wanted to show a few Black men and women who I’m blessed to cross paths with them in my journey and what they meant to me.

And not only just show who these people are, show their work because a lot of times I feel like when it comes to designers and things like that, or just anything… I’m losing my train of thought. But I feel like we will show a person and we’ll have the title, but a lot of times you don’t know the work that they’ve done.

I think about if I was 16 or 17 years old, I might not know what a creative director is. I might not even understand what a ad agency is, but I know this Nike shoe right here, I know this commercial right here, and now I can connect the dots like, oh man, this is the person to help put this thing together right here. You know what I’m saying? Show the work. That’s what I wanted to do with the project. I wanted to show some people who that were like me and the work that they’ve done and the work that have had impact on so many other people. And I pretty much wanted to make something that I would’ve loved to have seen when I was younger.

Sorry for the long spiel, but I wrote up a short paragraph explaining that, about how representation is very important, representation is very important. You need to see examples of a roadmap of people that have done things before you that can hopefully inspire you to want to go down that path.

And I also told a story in the pitch about when me and Justice met each other, when mt man Justice hall, when me and him met each other in the early 2000s, why were we surprised that we were both Black? We were surprised because we don’t see many of us so it’s a shock whenever we do find it, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

TTK:
At that time. And I pitched it and I got the green light, you know what I’m saying? I got the green light. And I reached out to everyone from St. Adams to Douglas Davis to Julian Alexander, Aleesha Smalls Worthington, Dana Gibbons, John Petty III, and Justice, Justice Hall. I reached out to them, and they were all on board.

I connected with my man… He’s a creative director, he’s a director as well, my man, Ben Hype. And me and him came up with the whole creative look and vision, and we put it together. I just knew working on this right here, I knew that I wanted to make something visually appealing, visually, visually dope. The message is dope, but I want the visuals to be engaging as well where when someone’s watching it, they’re not going to want to look away because it’s just a beautiful piece. And I thought about what’s the series on Netflix? Abstract.

Maurice Cherry:
Abstract. Yeah.

TTK:
You know what I’m saying? Out of what two seasons, they may feature one Black woman or person of color.

Maurice Cherry:
They had Ralph Gilles in the first season, and then in the second season they had… Oh God, they had Ian Spalter, who’s head of Instagram in Japan, and they had Ruth E. Carter, the costumer. They had her.

TTK:
Right, right. This is just my opinion. I feel like that just an afterthought, like, “Oh, we got to check a box,” or whatever. You know what I’m saying? And Abstract is a great series, but if you go off of that, you would think Black designers don’t exist. You know what I’m saying? Don’t get me wrong, we’re rare, but it’s not as rare as how that series made it seem. You know what I’m saying? There’s a lot of us. But that’s what I wanted to show. Yo, we’re walking in plain sight every day, and we put a lot of things out into the world that you seen but you probably didn’t know that, hey, I’m the person behind this right here because…

And not even to sound the cliche or stereotypical, but whenever you… A lot of times when they think of basketball courts or sports, you think of a Black man. You know what I’m saying? When you think of entertainment or whatever, you think of Black people. But what about all these other roles and titles out there that we’ve contributed a part of, been a part? And I wanted to show this right here. But not show it in a preachy way or like I’m giving a lecture, I wanted to do it in a way that’s conversational.

And I credit my man, Brandon Coleman. He’s a designer. He’s another one of the first Black designers I ever met when I met Justice at the time. But he gave me the inspiration to go that route because like I said, I never done this before, I never directed anything before. I know what I wanted to see and I know that I want it to look good, I want it to be visually appealing. But he asked me a question early on. He said, “How do you want tell your message? Do you want to have a lecture or do you want it to be conversational?” And I was like, “I don’t know, a lecture?” He was like, “No, you want to have a conversation. Put yourself back into the 16, 17 year old version of you, TTK. Did you like when people were preaching to you? Or did you like when when people were having a conversation back and forth?” He said, “I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but think about that whenever you’re trying to put this story together.

And that helped me with the whole creative direction. Whenever Ben Hype was filming it, I told him, I was like, “Yo, I want you to show the people, show their hands, show them moving around, show closeups of them.” I want you to feel like you’re in the room with these people. I want you to feel like you know them. And even though if you may not know them or whatever, but you konw their work. But I want the people, when they view this, I want them to feel like it’s an intimate moment, like you’re close with these people, like you’re talking to a cousin or someone who’s a part of your family or a friend that you’ve known for years. And I think I was able to accomplish that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, the documentary is really great. And we’ll put a link to it in the show notes so people can check it out. We’ve had Julian on the show too. Julian is episode 250, I believe.

TTK:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. But no, it’s a great documentary. I hope everybody will get a chance to check it out. When you had the idea and you put it all together, like what we talked about I think before we started recording about you never know how it’s going to be received. What has the reception been like since the documentary’s aired?

TTK:
It’s been good, it’s been very, very good. It’s slow, you know what I’m saying? It’s slow or whatever. But so far I haven’t had anyone say anything, “I wish you could have done it this way or whatever, this and that.” The response is always the same, “This is amazing. I never seen anything quite like this before. And it’s very real, and I feel inspired.” I did it. That’s what I wanted to do.
Like I said, when I initially pitched the idea, I said I wanted to make something that’s meant to educate and inspire. Whatever comes after that is just a extra benefit. I wanted to make something that lives beyond this particular moment in time where if you watch it a year from now, two years, five years, whatever, it’s the educational piece. And I want people to be inspired by… I want to hopefully inspire the next generation of Black creatives out there to show, hey, these are people that are alive right now and they’re doing it versus I’m hearing about somebody who did some great things back in 1970. I’m like, wow, I’m hearing about it from someone else’s perspective versus hearing it from the person when they’re alive right now.

I’m going off on a rant right now or whatever, but I think about how Cey adams that’s featured in a documentary, why isn’t he taught about in schools? You pay this money to go to school for design and everything, you learn about all these other designers, and they’re great people and they’ve done great things, man, I love the work, but Cey is on that level of, in my opinion, the Paula Schers and all those other people out there because he’s done so much stuff that people know. They know his work but unless you’re into this thing called design, you probably wouldn’t even know who Cey is. And I feel like he’s someone who should’ve probably been on the Abstract series. This man was around in the ’70s, New York, going from graffiti on trains to his work in the ’80s to the ’90s, to being in, what, the National African American Smithsonian Museum. Come on. You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

TTK:
And I’m skipping over 40 years worth of work right here because it is too much to talk about that he’s accomplished in his lifetime. Why isn’t he taught about in school? And it goes back to what I was saying, when you think of design, they don’t think of us. And I was like, “Yo, I’m not making this to ask for a seat at the table, I want to make this to just educate us and show us, tell these stories from a real perspective versus someone years later to tell the narrative a certain way.” I’m like, “I want you to hear from the people while they’re alive, people who are heroes to me, people who, whether they know it or not…” I took a little bit from all of them to get to this point right here. I want other people to be inspired as well to accomplish things that I didn’t accomplish or we didn’t accomplish, but a lot sooner.

Maurice Cherry:
I feel you 100%. I can liken it to what I do with Revision Path, with having folks on here. I’ve been able to have people on here at different parts of their career journey. There’s folks who I’ve had on maybe in 2014 that now I can bring back seven or eight years later and be like, “Let’s talk about how things have changed,” or something. You know?

TTK:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I totally get that. Actually, I have a funny story. Well, I don’t know if it’s funny, but I have a story about Abstract. This was in 2019 I think was when the second season was about to come out. And I had watched the first season. Well, I’m not going to lie, I watched Ralph Gilles’ episode on Abstract for the first season and that’s it because I was like, I don’t want to hear about everybody else. I was like, I’m going to watch his.

And the place I was working at the startup at the time, and we were looking for design firms for a project that we were going to do, this lifestyle vertical. And so one of the agencies we reached out to was Godfrey Dadich, which is in San Francisco. The Abstract series came from Godfrey being Scott Dadich, who was the former co-founder of Wired. And I didn’t talk to him directly, but I talked to someone at the agency because I was like,” Yeah, my name is Maurice Cherry,” blah blah, blah, yada, yada, yada. And they were like, “Oh, we know who you are.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” I wasn’t coming to them in a personal capacity, it was a professional capacity. And not even for the show, it was for my employer at the time.

They were talking to me about the second season of Abstract. They’re like, “Oh yeah, the second season of Abstract is coming out.” And they were like, “I bet you’re really going to be excited about this because we got two Black designers for this season.” And I’m like, “Why would I be excited about that?” Yay, you found two, but I’ve found hundreds. I mean, I don’t know if they were saying it to be solidarity or something. I don’t know, I just thought that was weird that they brought it up in that way. We ended up not going with them, not for that reason. But I was like, “Okay, I’ll check it out when it airs on Netflix.” They’re like, “Yeah, we managed to find two great Black designers. I’m like-

TTK:
We managed to find.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, we managed to find, which is funny that they said that, because I was like, one, I’ve known Ian. Actually, I did an event here in 2017 back when he was… Well, he still works for Meta and everything with Instagram. But I met him at a live event here in Atlanta for Revision Path. And then Ruth, I don’t know Ruth, but I’ve had Ruth’s goddaughter on the show, Courtney Pinter. She lives in Switzerland. I think at the time she was doing flavor design for this company called Givaudan. Now she works for Fifa. But I’ve also had Hannah Beachler to give the Black Panther connection. I had her on the show for episode 300.

Your overarching point around the importance of being able to have people give their own history in their own words is super important because when I started Revision Path, and this was almost 10 years ago, that’s not to say that these stories weren’t out there, but they were really hard to find. And one of the few places that I found them was at AIGA when I started volunteering there with the diversity and inclusion task force. Because they would do these design journeys things and they would talk about folks. But even the way that they… The imagery and everything almost memorialized them. And keep in mind, these people are not dead, but they memorialize them in this way like they’ve gone on to greater things. And I’m like, these folks are still alive. What are you talking about?

TTK:
And they’re active, too. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, and active. Michelle Washington’s one of the first people that I had met through that. Her and I are working on the book together. Maurice Woods, who’s been on the show before, Maurice Woods of the Interact Project. I think he’s episode 12 or 13. Emery Douglas from the famous former Minister of Culture from the Black Panther Party, AIGA medalist, he’s been on the show. That was episode 15. But I didn’t find out about those folks until I volunteered and did that. And the way that even they just put it out there made it seem like these are not living people still doing work, it was almost like in memoriam. Nah.

TTK:
Yeah, that’s like when we was putting the pieces together for Lust Like Me, Douglas Davis, he connected me with Cheryl D. Miller. I don’t know if you know her.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah.

TTK:
Yeah, oh man.

Maurice Cherry:
She’s episode 248.

TTK:
I felt like I was sitting with royalty talking to her. You know what I’m saying? Me and Davis had some questions to ask her. Man, once she started talking, man, the questions just went out the window. She was just dropping so many jewels and so much history and stuff, man. And it’s like, wow, how come I didn’t know this woman’s story? I’m happy that I spoke to her while she’s alive saying, you know what I’m saying? Hear it straight from… It’s from the source.

And she said something. Well, I don’t know if you remember, but at the very end of the documentary, Just Like Me, there’s a quote from her at the very, very end before the credits. When we were talking, she said something, “It’s sad that your generation has to experience the same thing I experienced 50 something years ago around the time when Dr. King died.” She was like, “Yo, all these companies had an awakening moment for about a year or two, maybe less than that.” And she was like, “And this is what’s happening right now because of George Floyd. These companies are having an awakening moment, but it’s going to fizzle out,” unfortunately, man.

When you say we can have all the different programs, DEI, all this, whatever, if you want to change it, change it. And she said something too. She was like, “Yo, if they try to tell you that we didn’t exist, that’s a lie.” She’s like, “I’m fortunate that I got all of this stuff because I was alive and I archived it.”

Like a magician, she pulls out a issue of Communication Arts from 1970. And I ordered it because of her. She was like, “This is one of the first…” This is what from 50 years ago, she just pulls this magazine out. She was like, “This right here on page whatever, 90 something or whatever, you see the Black designers right here? This is 1970 right here, so if they try to tell you that the only person that was out doing things is Milton Glazer and all those guys like that,” she was like, “nah, he was just the only person that was getting the work. That’s why you knew about him. But these other people were out here as well. And here, this is their work right here on.” And she said, “I got it in the archives right here, so nobody can ever try to pull the wool over my eye.”

And when I got that issue, I was able to back order it online, and I saw Ms. Dorothy Hayes, she was a Black designer as well. And I used to see she was a professor at City Tech. And I never knew that this woman was one of the first Black designers ever published. You know what I’m saying? I had no clue. I never had any of her classes, but I would just see her in passing. And I’m like, wow, there’s so much history that we have. And that’s why I feel like we got to tell our stories before… Tell them in real time and tell them authentic and speak to the people who needs to hear it because you already know how it goes, man, years later, the narrative, it gets switched up and it gets watered down. That’s not how it really was. Yeah, man, salute to you for what you do, man. I’m honored to be a part of this right here.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you. And yeah, Cheryl is 100% right about that. When I ran across Cheryl, this was in 20… Now you got me here telling stories. This was 2014, and I had just started doing volunteer stuff with Revision… Not Revision Path, with AIGA, started doing volunteer stuff. And that’s when I learned about her thesis that she did in 1985 when she was at Pratt about Black designers and their viability in the industry and how that became this 1987 print article, and then there was this AIGA symposium.

And I’m doing all this research trying to find… Well, one, doing the research on what happened from that thesis, but then secondly, I wanted to put it into this presentation that I was putting together that I was going to present called Where Are the Black Designers? And I was like, is Cheryl still alive? And I remember asking folks at AIG, and they were like, “Well, we don’t know what happened to her.” I was like, “Let me find her.”And I found her. How did I find Cheryl? Oh, I know, I found her on Amazon. Wow. She had written a book about her mother. It wasn’t even about design, it was about her mother and the relationship she had with her mother and everything growing up. I just found her book, eventually did some more searching, found a website, reached out on a whim and was like, “I’m Maurice Cherry. I’m doing this research. I’m putting this stuff together. I’d love to talk to you about this kind of stuff.”

When I first encountered Cheryl, like I said back in 2014, she had put design behind her. She had had her design work and stuff. She had, I wouldn’t say retired, but she raised a family, became a theologian. She was living a totally different life. And then since then, of course, doing the presentation and then more people finding out about her work, now she’s Dr. Cheryl Miller and has given lectures across the country and doing all amazing stuff and is still here doing this stuff.

TTK:
That’s beautiful.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful. And so with Provision Path, I’m certainly fortunate to be able to share that story and to bring more awareness to people in general about what Black folks are doing in design everywhere. I just had this year my first Black designer in South America, which is something I wanted to have for a long time. I was like, I’m going to hit every continent. Couldn’t hit Antarctica, but I done talked to a Black designer on every continent so far start with 2022 this year with someone in South America. Yeah, I just want to keep going and keep telling more stories and getting more folks on here to tell their stories so folks know that we did exist.

To that end about the whole black squares thing, in 2020, that summer, I was looking up a bunch of old Ebony and Jet magazines and stuff. I think Google has the full archive, the full digital archive of Ebony Magazine, and so I was looking at issues from when Dr. King was assassinated. And when I tell you it was the exact same thing about companies posting black squares, exact same thing people were doing back then when King died, sometimes even the same verbiage. I’m like, this is wild, this is wild.

TTK:
And that’s one thing Ms. Miller was saying, she was like, “Just change it. You want to make change? Do it.” These people that have positions to do it, they don’t want to do it. This right here is a moment in time. Like she said, I’ve seen it before. I’m not even thrilled by it. You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

TTK:
I’m not thrilled by it at all. Just from her telling me… Hearing stories that I’ve never heard before. One day, thankfully, you’re doing what you’re doing so people will have,… We’re able to control our own narrative more so now. It was great, but at the same time, it’s bittersweet as well, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right.

TTK:
Because wow, man, I’m experiencing the same thing my elders experienced. How come I don’t know about Cheryl Miller, the woman who created the original BET logo? You know what I’m saying? Something that’s a part of my childhood. Why more people don’t know about who this woman is right here?

I’m honored that I was able to speak with her and basically just sit and listen to her talk, you know what I’m saying? Just sit and listen to her talk. And to have a quote from her in the documentary, I was like, man, that was a great book end on it. It was a real book end to the project. Like I said, when you watch it, in the very beginning it says how it started, and at the end it says how it’s going. And you see her quote at the end, someone who’s been around that predates all of us. She predates even Cey, you know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

TTK:
Who has 40 something years of work. She predates him. To have someone like a OG basically, a vet, to have her to be a part of the project, man, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for everybody that was a part of helping me put this project together, Just Like Me. Man, I’m thankful for everybody, man. But yeah, Cheryl Miller’s amazing.

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

TTK:
I want to be known as a painter more. I want to be known as that. I want to do gallery shows, more of them. Because in the past where I was just doing art shows myself, and I was just happy if I was able to fill the room with friends and stuff like that and create a memory. I want to sell my work on a high level. I want to work with more brands, but I want to be working with brands because they want to work with me, not because I need a job. I want to bring my personal creativity and my expertise to the table. “Yo, we want to collab with you. We love your story.”

And I want another opportunity to make a project, another project like Just Like Me but bigger. I know when you watch the documentary, it looks like it was… Yeah, it’s put together very, very well, but oh man, we were building the car while we were driving it, making this thing right here. We were really making something out of nothing, but it looks like it’s on a high level so I would really like to have a chance to make something maybe… I don’t know if it’s the same type of topic or something completely different. I wouldn’t mind directing another project.

All in all, I just want to continue to be creative, continue to make a living, and live comfortable using my imagination, man. I don’t know where it’s going to go in the next five years, but I’m speaking into existence right now what I want. And truthfully, I feel like I can’t even fathom what’s going to be for me because it’s going to be something that I’m not even expecting. You know what I’m saying? Just this documentary, just like…

We didn’t mention it, but working on a project for Nas, you know what I’m saying? Well, I worked on a few project for Nas but having my name and the credits next to Nas and Kanye, you know what I’m saying? Wow, you can’t erase my name from this project. You know what I’m saying? I’ve worked on this right here. You know what I’m saying? If you would’ve told me at the time 15 years ago that, “Hey, you’re going to work on this project. You’re going to be the person who designs and put this thing together,” I’m like, “How is that going to happen?” I couldn’t… I’d imagine it, but I was like, wow, it seemed like a fairytale. But the have, I did it, and it’s a thing of the past now, I’m onto something new, wow, that’s great.

And if you would’ve told me three years ago that I would direct a documentary, I’m like, “How would I do that?” And that’s going back to what I was initially saying, five years from now, I just want to be doing something great and making a living and just putting the best stuff out into the world, man.

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

TTK:
Multiple ways. You can check out my site artbyttk.com. That’s A-R-T-B-Y-T-T-K.com. You can check my IG as well. It’s instagram.com/gottkgo. You can pretty much find me anywhere online with that, Go TTK Go.

And if you want to watch the documentary, Just Like Me, it’s on my site as well, man, but it’s also you can go to the actual micro site. The site is justlikeme-havas, that’s H-A-V-A-S, .com. jsutlikeme-havas.com. And you can read a little bit about the project, a short description of it and the creation of it. And you can watch the documentary. The documentary’s only… It’s just in the 30 minutes, but it’s strong. It’s a very powerful piece that I’m really proud of. I always say that project is my magnum opus project at the moment. Yeah, that’s where you can find me at.

Maurice Cherry:
TTK, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show, one, for sharing your story, which again, I hope people will check out the documentary so they can get a chance to see it for themselves, but also just your whole story about perseverance and pursuing your creative passion. I think that’s something that hopefully a lot of people can get inspired by. And I’m excited to see what you do next. If this documentary is any indication, I’m pretty sure what’s coming up next is going to be great. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

TTK:
No, brother, thank you for having me on here. Thank you. Also want to thank my partner, Chevon, because she was very vigilant about trying to get me on your show. Thank you to Chevon as well, man. And she’s @chevonmedia on IG and on Twitter. Yeah, thank you to Chevon. I’m honored to be a part of this. And maybe, I don’t know, five years from now, maybe you’ll reach out to me to revisit what’s going on in my life for whatever project I got going on, man.

Maurice Cherry:
There you go. All right.

TTK:
Yeah.

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Reggie Tidwell

It takes a lot of drive and determination to chart your own course, and no one embodies those qualities better than this week’s guest. As the creative director (and founder) of Curve Theory, Reggie Tidwell has provided beautiful and effective design, branding, photography, and videography work to clients for over 20 years.

We talked about the secret to Reggie’s longevity as a creative entrepreneur, and he shared his story about growing up in St. Louis, studying graphic design, and his early post-grad career as a Flash designer in the beginning days of the World Wide Web. Reggie also spoke about what brought him to North Carolina, and about his work in bringing an AIGA chapter to Asheville. Reggie is a prime example of what being a steward of design and giving back to your community looks like!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Reggie Tidwell:
Hey, I’m Reggie Tidwell and I am a graphic designer and a professional photographer as well as a videographer, which I do on occasion as well. I tell stories.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going for you so far?

Reggie Tidwell:
Wow, it has been a great year. Bought a house.

Maurice Cherry:
Congratulations.

Reggie Tidwell:
Thank you. I also have had my best financial career last year. Everything has culminated to that, and this year seems to be on track to even beat that, so that’s super exciting.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, that’s real good. That’s real good. I mean, even with all of that, is there anything in particular that you want to try to accomplish before the year ends?

Reggie Tidwell:
Yeah, I mean, once you own a house, there’s always house stuff that you want to accomplish, but professionally, man, things have just been falling into place and sort of a beautiful way that I feel just very excited. I’m going to be doing all of the photography for… So I’m a huge fan of the outdoors and nature landscape photography. I do a lot of that for Explore Asheville, which is our big tourism division here in Asheville, and the Gray Smoking Mountain Association has reached out and they’re going to have me do all the photography for their new book on Cade’s Cove, which is a really beautiful spot in the Smokies. So if you’ve ever been to Great Smokey Mountain National Park, it’s our biggest and most visited national park in the country and it’s absolutely gorgeous. But I’m super excited. I’m going to be doing all the photos for the book, so I’ll get a book cred.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. Congratulations on that.

Reggie Tidwell:
Thank you, sir.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about your company Curve Theory. Now, Curve Theory has been around for over 20 years, which I definitely have to tip my hat to you. I ran a studio for nine years and I know how much goes into that. So 20, over 20 years, I think. What, 21 now, right?

Reggie Tidwell:
21 years. 21. I’m in my 21st year. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What’s been the key to your longevity?

Reggie Tidwell:
Quite honestly, it’s building relationships. I’ve never advertised. It really is a combination of building relationships and being passionate about the work that I do. I love designing photography, I love being a creative, I love people. And so it just makes sense that I would be able to maintain this business because it’s all the things that I love and things that I would be doing anyway. I’m always building relationships. I always tell people, and I always think it’s a funny little bit of a factoid about me. I don’t typically just add people on Facebook that I don’t know, and I’ve got 3000 plus connections on Facebook and every single one of them is someone that I know. I had either a meaningful conversation with and align somewhere, or they’re friends in real life or I served on the board with them, or whatever the case may be. They’re all real connections and when you think about that, that’s a lot of… Exponentially the more people, the sort of more you can grow your network. This business for me is really about being present and available.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really good for Facebook. I think Facebook and probably a lot of social media networks now have really enabled this way to just collect friends, almost like you’re, I don’t know, collecting trading cards or something like that without really having any intentionality behind it. The way that you’re about connections on Facebook. That’s how I am on LinkedIn. I’m really, unless I’ve worked with you or I know you personally or something like that, we met at a conference or something, we’ve had a conversation. That’s usually the only way that I’ll add people. Although now, lately I have gotten a little lax and well, partly because I let them stack up. So I’ll go months without adding anyone on LinkedIn and all of a sudden I’ve got a hundred connections. I’m like, “Oh, I should probably go through these and see who I know.” And I tell people, write a note to let me know how we know each other. And I mean some of them are just sales calls and what have you, but…

Reggie Tidwell:
So many of those.

Maurice Cherry:
But in terms of the power of the network, I got laid off recently and I posted I think two posts on LinkedIn about it and I was flabbergasted by how my network showed up and spread the word and put me in connection with other people. And I’ve had some great conversations and such, so…

Reggie Tidwell:
That’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, there’s this author Porter Gale who says your network is your net worth. I totally believe that. Absolutely.

Reggie Tidwell:
Totally. Yeah. I get so much business from those connections on Facebook. I mean, quite honestly, it’s just doing stuff, especially from the photography side of my business. I’ll post a photo and I’m constantly posting photos and I do also on LinkedIn. Ultimately what ends up happening is because you’re constantly putting content out when someone thinks a photography and someone says, “Hey, do you know a great photographer?” You should be in someone’s very short list of their mental Rolodex. And that’s what happened. I get calls all the time. Hey, so and so… I mentioned on Facebook that I was looking for a drone photographer or a lifestyle photographer, a commercial photographer, whatever, and they mention you.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What’s a typical day look like for you?

Reggie Tidwell:
So for me, it’s nice being a designer and a photographer because on any given day, I never know it could bring me being out in a field on a photo shoot, it could bring me in a brand strategy session with a client, or a discovery session with a new branding client, whatever it is. It’s nice because my days aren’t always the same. I get to travel, I get to, for instance tomorrow I’m going to be in another area of North Carolina for a commercial shoot for pretty much much of the day, starting at Golden Color. And it’s nice. And then Friday I’m in the studio all day, probably editing photos from that shoot and rounding out a logo for another client.

Maurice Cherry:
So you include your photography as part of your design service, so I guess company services, I should say?

Reggie Tidwell:
Kind of. Occasionally the two will intertwine, usually the two intertwine when I’m doing web designing. So if I’m designing a website for a client, a lot of times because I know exactly what kind of images the client needs, I can add it as part of my service to do a lifestyle shoot of their company or their clientele, and then that can get baked into their website. And I’m working with my own images. I can control a lot more effort that way. But yeah, it happens. It doesn’t happen as much because I don’t do as much web design as I used to. I’m probably doing about two or three sites a year where I used to do quite a bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Back when I had my studio, I wound things down from the design end, I’d say roughly around in the mid 2010s because there was certainly a market for bespoke web design. They want, people wanted a particular website theme or something like that. But now with all these website builders out here, people are taking the design element, or at least the modular parts or the design process into their own hands. And it’s like, yeah, I don’t really need bespoke anymore. And so I ended up doing more consulting because you were able to shift like that. So it’s interesting now because I’m looking for work at the moment and people are like, “Oh, okay, you redesign a website?” I’m like, Ah. I mean I haven’t done it in a long time maybe.

Reggie Tidwell:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I’m probably not your first choice for that, but I get what you mean. People, they hear design and of course if you have an online presence and a website, that’s the first thing they think about is, “Oh, can you design a website or can you redesign a website?”

Reggie Tidwell:
I think depending on the client, I do still see value in bespoke. I feel like ultimately I’ll end up doing a completely custom website where I’ll get to work with a developer and I’ll design the front end and we can work beautifully and make something really amazing. But that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. But I do find the builders have actually worked for me because especially if you know them, there’s Divi and Elementor, there’s a handful of other ones I’ve been using Divi for a while, and though it can be a little bit verbose in it’s code, I find that the flexibility of me being able to do something completely custom using mostly you doing custom CSS to some of their built in modules.
So I can build the content and lay out the content really quickly, then go in with CSS and really start to fine tune and make it exactly what I want it to be. That’s a nice, because I do work with very large clients and also small clients, that’s a really nice option for clients that don’t have six to 10 grand in their pocket to do a website. It’s just nice to have that as an option and for them to still get something that’s custom.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of which, what are the best types of clients for you to work with?

Reggie Tidwell:
Quite honestly, I’ve got a soft spot for the mom and pop shops, either they’re startups or they’ve been around for a while and it’s time to change things up. I love that transition of being able to help them renew their own passion in their business through that process. I’m working on the branding right now for an auction house that’s been around for decades. They’ve been on Antique Roadshow, so they’ve got a presence, but their brand look is a bit dated and they’ve started resting on their laurels a little bit because everything is just so tried and true. It is what it is. It’s been what it’s been. And they realize this time to shake things up a little bit. They want to expand their market a little bit, they want to… And so going through that process with them, it’s so rewarding because they’ve been living with the same logo for 20 years, or longer.
And to be able to see them embrace something that’s different, and it’s a fun process too with this particular client because they were like, “Yeah, we want some completely modern and avant garde.” And I went there, they were like, “Oh no. We love it, but we’re not ready yet.” And so, okay, that’s good. At least I know what your comfort level is. And so now I can dial it back and land exactly where we need to be. And then feeling them working through the resistance but then initially, not only acceptance, but oh my God, this is amazing. This is going to be really great for our company. We’re excited. That’s a great feeling.

Maurice Cherry:
So when a project, let’s say, comes in your inbox or something like that, what does your process look like when it comes to starting on new work?

Reggie Tidwell:
So I usually have a quick little meeting with the client just qualify whether or not we’re going to work well together and whether I’m the guy for the job. But then once that decision is made, I set up a discovery session where we really actually start to dig deep into the typical discovery questionnaire where you learn a little bit more about their business, their aspirations, what’s working, what’s not working, so I can better provide exactly what they’re looking for. I feel like, for me anyway, I feel like the key to being a good designer that makes happy clients and solves the right problems or solves problems in the right way is asking the right questions at the very beginning. So I’m all about being inquisitive. I want to know everything. And if you feel like it’s too much, it’s not.
Because at the end of the day when I’m digging into sketching out logo concepts or I’m coming up with a tagline or whatever that information that I’m going to be so thankful that I have it because I can go through and dig in for inspiration to recheck the direction that I’m going to make sure I’m headed in the right way. But yeah, it’s all about the Q and A, at the beginning.

Maurice Cherry:
So I see here on your website that you do a lot of volunteer work. You worked also with Leaf Community Arts. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?

Reggie Tidwell:
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. So, Leaf Community Arts for me was a big part of, I did service work before that, but it probably to date was probably one of the biggest chapters in my life in terms of giving back. Leaf Community Arts is a nonprofit here in the Asheville area that they have teaching artists that go into the public school system and the neighborhood centers and basically recreation centers and they work with youth, teaching them poetry, dance, how to play the Djembe, how to do different types of art, visual art. It’s pretty amazing. And it gives kids this sense of ownership of something which I think is quite necessary, especially for the age range of students that they work with. But then they also have this other part that I was actually more aligned with was they do cultural preservation in First Nations, third world countries like [inaudible 00:16:38], and Uganda, and Rwanda, and Cuba, all these different places where there are cultures that have been around for ages and First Nations tribes that as the youth are becoming more westernized and the elders are dying off, these cultures are just vanishing.
There’s no evidence of their songs, or instrument making, or costumes, or any of it. And so what Leaf Community Arts did what they were partnering with an agency on the ground that was trying to do that cultural preservation and help raise money to do things like build recording studios, or hire artisans that know the native language to native songs, the instrument making, the dances. And they actually make it really cool for the youth where they’re putting their phones down, and totally engaging, and dancing, and singing. And I found that particularly interesting. I love the beauty of cultures, and how different cultures are, and how you can learn something completely and different from a culture that you never had experienced before.

Maurice Cherry:
And now are you still doing work with them? I know that now you’re also the new president of AIGA Asheville, the founding president, but have you waned your work with Leaf Community Arts?

Reggie Tidwell:
I have still a supporter of it. I worked all the way up to my presidency in 2017 and then my term ended. So I’m now board president emeritus. I’m still, the Leaf Community Arts people are family, they actually put on a huge music festival three times a year. I’ve met Arrested Development, Speech. Now we know each other by name. I’ve met, gosh, we’ve had Angelique Kidjo, and Mavis Staples, and Indigo Girls, and all these amazing bands that have come played. The Family Stone. But they put on this music festival in the spring and in the fall and this really beautiful place out in Black Mountain called, Black Mountain, North Carolina, called Lake Eden. And then they do one in downtown Asheville in the summer. And that basically raises money for all of the work that I mentioned before that they do with cultures and with the youth.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. Nice. And we’ll talk more about your AIGA Asheville work a little bit later on in the interview. With everything that you do through Curve Theory, what gets you truly excited about your work?

Reggie Tidwell:
Man, I love to solve problems. Quite honestly. I love working with clients and trying to find out exactly what’s not working with them and helping come up with solutions that one, inspire and excite them. But then also they continue to propel me forward in my love of the work that I’m doing.

Maurice Cherry:
Now let’s dive a little bit into your personal story. You talk about this I think a bit on your website, but you grew up in St. Louis. Is that right?

Reggie Tidwell:
Born and raised?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Tell me about that.

Reggie Tidwell:
So I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. I was raised mostly by my grandmother, an amazing dad too, that was also in the picture. But most of my time was spent with my grandmother, who was an educator. She taught for 36 years and she was a huge supporter of education. And so in the summers where all my friends were out playing and running around, I had to do homework before I could go out and join them.
And of course I hated it then, but on some level I understood the importance of it and it would come into play in many periods throughout my life, just being someone that is studious. I ended up testing the highest in the seventh grade in language and math in the entire school that I was in seventh.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Reggie Tidwell:
In seventh grade. Which that said a lot about my grandmother’s dedication and how she worked it with me, but it wasn’t with a heavy hand. She just understood that she wanted me… I grew up in a very, I would say mean, just put it bluntly. It was a poor neighborhood, lot of gang violence, a lot of break-ins and theft. And I saw some pretty horrific things in my own neighborhood, just in my own alley. It wasn’t a place that I wanted to definitely grow up and grow old.
And so education for me was the key of being able to get to a more ideal situation. So I wouldn’t say I was a first generation college student. My mother had a degree music, actually two. She had wanted music and art, possibly three maybe in education. But my grandmother, of course was educated. And so it set me on my path to discover who I really wanted to be in the world. I think you had mentioned very briefly what was it that made me choose this path of design? But all that didn’t come quite easily.
I ended up pretty much blowing away my first couple years in St. Louis at a junior college called Florissant Valley. I think I had a 1.9 GPA because I wasn’t inspired. I picked business administration because I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. But you’re asking a 18 year old, 17 year old, 18 year old kid to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life. And yeah, of course I want to run a business. Oh yeah, business administration, that’s what you should do. But that’s such a broad topic. I wasn’t inspired.
I actually went from that student, at one point I was the student in the back of the class nodding off, not very inspired. The teacher would call on me and not only did I not know the answer to the question, I wouldn’t even know what the question was because I was probably asleep. So I ended up taking a break after four semesters of that, I said I got to do better. This isn’t going the way I wanted to go. So I ended up taking a semester off and really doing some deep diving and soul searching. I talked to my counselor at the school. I really thought long and heavy about what I liked and the things that I knew I liked were being creative. I was always drawing from the time I could hold a pencil, I was sketching and doodling. And so I always loved art. My mom was an artist, is an artist. And so that was an inspiration.
And so I went back to school. I decided at the time that I wanted to be an interior designer or a architect. And the path to both of those were mechanical drawing and a lot of drafting. And so that was all I needed to be inspired. I went from that student that I mentioned before to the student making the top score on every test in every class until I graduated. I went from a 1.9 GPA to a 3.2 GPA, graduated with honors and got my general transfer studies to go on to a four year college.

Maurice Cherry:
I know there’s that saying that goes, sometimes you have to do things that you don’t necessarily want to do to try to get to do the things that you do want to do. But I think also to that end, just from what you’re mentioning, that whole period of high school going into college, there’s so much pressure to try to decide exactly what it is you’re going to do. And I mean we also, I think have to put this in the context of just where the world was at this time. Because I’m guessing this is around early nineties. Early nineties.
And there was just this push, and I was mean I was in elementary school then, but I mean still there was this push to know exactly what it is that you’re going to do with your life at fairly early age. Look at the state of the world with what’s going on, what is it that you want to do? And for a lot of people it’s tough. I mean, even when I started out in college, I ended up switching majors because I thought I wanted to do one thing just based on societal norms and such. And then I was like, eh, I don’t really like it.

Reggie Tidwell:
I know. That’s a big part of it. I mean, thinking about it nowadays students take what they call a gap year. I am a firm supporter of that because I do feel like somebody that young needs to go out into the world a little bit and understand who they are. I mean, up to that point, they’ve just been a student studying all the basic electives. There’s nothing in that that would potentially produce career inspirations. Maybe you like math and maybe you like biology, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be a mathematician, or a scientist, or a biologist.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Reggie Tidwell:
So yeah, I feel like that would’ve served me well. But thankfully I was able to make that comeback and find that inspiration.

Maurice Cherry:
You ended up going to Maryville, University of St. Louis and there you studied graphic design. Talk to me about that time.

Reggie Tidwell:
So yeah, actually Maurice, I started, remember I said I was interested in just interior design or architecture. That’s what got me to Maryville because they actually had a nice interior design program. And I got there in those first two years I thrived. I was still inspired and I was still being a great student and loving the experience. But at one point I got, so the way Maryville’s program was set up at the time was you did all your art electives and got all those out of the way, and your art electives as well. You got those out of the way the first two years and then you dove into your concentration.
Right as I was about to make that transition, I talked to my counselor, Nancy Rice, at the time and I was like, I don’t know if I want to do interior design. I like the sketching part, I like the conceptualizing, but then it’s all floor plans and elevations and it gets super technical and that’s the part that’s where I get lost. And this particular teacher who, it is funny because I’ll tell you this in a second. She basically told me, Reggie, you’re great at computers. You love computers. I’ve been working on computers since I was 15. My grandmother bought me a Commodore 64 and I was programming in basic, I was playing games. I became very comfortable in that computer world. The nerd, the invention of the nerd. I took that as a compliment. She’s like, yeah, you’re big in the computers. And then she said, and you also love art, so you should consider graphic design.
And for me that was a new term. I hadn’t thought about it. And once I did the exploration and thought about it and understood what graphic design was and understood that I’d already seen it all around me all the time already and thought about how I could be someone contributing to that. Yeah, I was like, you’re exactly right. This is exactly what I want to do. And that’s where it started. I feel, I feel really fortunate that I’m someone who got a degree in something that I’m actually still doing.
I guess it was a few years ago, I reached out to her because we’re friends on Facebook. I thanked her. I didn’t remember if I’d ever thanked her, but my whole career came from that decisive moment where she told me about something I didn’t know about. And then I ran with it.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’m trying to think, I’m trying to place this in time because we talked earlier about early nineties. So this is mid nineties or so.

Reggie Tidwell:
So this is mid nineties. Yep. Mid nineties. Actually…

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. When you said…

Reggie Tidwell:
…ended up graduating with my BFA in graphic design and December of ’97.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Tell me what it was studying design back then, because you also have the big advent of the personal computer. You’ve got the coming of the internet as we know it. What was it studying design during that time?

Reggie Tidwell:
Man, it was wild. I mean, first and foremost, we’re working on Apple Performs 4500s I think was the model number.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Reggie Tidwell:
And I mean these things were tanks and dinosaurs. You could have Photoshop open, only, or Illustrator, but not both. And if, we’re talking 32 megabytes of RAM and I mean lots of crashes, so you had to frequently save your work. We definitely did some cut and paste stuff because that was just not too far out of the rear view mirror that people were still making the migration to computer. So there was still a lot of manual cut and copy and paste, cut and paste design, lot of assemblage, a lot of that stuff was still going on. So of course it was part of our curriculum.
And I’ll tap into my photography side as well. I always find it a little bit of a, for me, I paid my dues. It was a rite of passage that I actually got to do photography. I got to take photos using film and understand the value of the frame and not just take in 450 shots and hoping there’s a good one in there. And then actually developing my film in the dark room, all that stuff was happening around the same time, which all feels of course very archaic now. But that was the start. That was what it was like back then.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean it sounds like it was just really hands on because the computer couldn’t do everything. I mean, it could do some things, but you still, like you said, have to do copy and paste, or cut and paste, or you still have to take photos and develop them yourself. It’s so wild now when I think about digital cameras, because I remember in high school having Fun Saver cameras. You go to the party, you have your Fun Saver camera, you take all kind of shots, you don’t know what you’re going to get back until you get it back from Eckerd or wherever that you got them developed at. But yeah, and I took a photography course back then too, so I know about developing in the dark room and stuff, which now seems… It’s funny. I’ll watch a movie or something and they always paint it as this, I don’t know, old school way of doing things. Developing. And it’s not that far away from now.

Reggie Tidwell:
No. No. And honestly it’s become of a niche for some people. I know a lot of people that actually I say a lot, but a handful of people that are still shooting film and still developing in that handful of dark rooms that are left. And it’s something, I think maybe they embrace it, not because they’re too stubborn to switch to digital, but it’s a craft for them. Some of them are people that have embraced digital, but they also still really love film. I admire that. I think it’s great. I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the smelling the smell of fixer and then and not knowing what you’re going to get until you are dropping it into the developer and hoping that you nailed it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I could imagine even doing design back then because computers were changing and software was changing and everything. Were there trends back then? I’m just curious because I feel like a lot of stuff still carried over from print, but were there specific graphic design trends that you remember from back then?

Reggie Tidwell:
Yeah, I mean I think there was a time where decorative fonts were really starting to become prevalent. And you started, I mean this was quite honestly, I think this was when fonts like Hobo were actually still being used.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Reggie Tidwell:
Oh yeah, yeah. Papyrus. Yeah, I feel like there was a exploration… Fonts just exploded. And with the advent of the computer, fonts started off trickling in and then they exploded. And I think designers had to be really disciplined to not, I feel like most designers were going really far out and using all these crazy decorative fonts and still having their design disciplines about them. So they may only use one decorative font and a nice San Serif that balanced it. But those fonts were not elegant, at all. And it of course, depending on what you were trying to do with it. And I think what has happened, we’ve seen from a time where people were trying to get away from using the tried and true fonts, the Adobe Garamond, the Futura. People were feeling like those were overused or they were too basic and so they had to expand their typeface horizons. And then I find these days, man, some of the best brands go back to basics and are going back to some of those tried and true fonts and looking for things that are a little more elegant.

Maurice Cherry:
I didn’t even think about the proliferation of typefaces as something that was part of design back then, but it was. I mean really because you had, of course, greater displays that were coming out and you could just do more than what you could do with print in terms of the types of typefaces. You just had different things.

Reggie Tidwell:
I think that was it. I think it was so many people were used to doing manual print design and then all of a sudden you’ve got access to 3000 fonts. Hold me back.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reggie Tidwell:
That’s exactly what it was.

Maurice Cherry:
So you graduate from Maryville. You’re out there in the real world as a designer. What was that early postgrad career like? Talk to me about that.

Reggie Tidwell:
So the first thing I did, so going back to that whole wanting to be an entrepreneur thing, that still was in me. I still definitely wanted to have my own business and I started actually working with clients before I graduated. I worked at Office Depot, so I met a lot of people and there were people coming in that needed business cards, but they were really awful designs that they had or they didn’t have one at all. And I said, “Well this is what I do.” So I started developing a clientele before I even graduated and then spent the first year postgrad being an entrepreneur, working in the basement of the apartment that I lived at in at the time, it was actually a townhome, doing branding work. And it was mostly just branding and identity systems that I was doing early on. But about a year into that, being someone that’s super social, I started to get that cabin fever and wasn’t around people as much as I’d like to be.
And so I had a side job working at Circuit City. On one particular day I was venting about, man, I really think I want to work in an agency or a company. And there was a guy by the name of Mike whose dad headed up a division of Lid Industries, which Lid is a Fortune 500 company and they had a division in St. Louis called PRC. The acronym got dissolved, so I don’t know what it ever originally meant, but it was in PRC. Anyway, they were hiring a resident graphic designer and at the time, you’ll appreciate this, in terms of historical relevance in the design and web design world. They had a Macromedia authorized training facility and I got the interview, got the job. They wanted me to teach Flash and Fireworks.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Reggie Tidwell:
So I ended up being the only guy in St. Louis teaching Flash through a Macromedia authorized program. And so that really just kicked off all kinds of just awesome awesomeness in my career.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, I know you were in high demand back then. Cause Flash was everywhere. Everywhere.

Reggie Tidwell:
Everywhere and everything. And that was right at the onset of its popularity. So I stayed with that company for about a year, ended up, gosh, being in a big metropolitan area, teaching Flash was awesome. So I ended up getting hired away by a information graphics company called Xplain. And I ended up being their interactive team leader. That was pretty exciting. Did that, ended up teaching at Washington University while I was there because the Art and Design faculty at Washington University wanted to learn Flash. I did a summer workshop for the Art and Design faculty. They loved it so much they invited me to create a multimedia class as part of their visual communications curriculum based on Flash and other video and other multimedia applications. And that was amazing. And I ended up partnering with a lot of design agencies in the St. Louis area, fairly large agencies because they didn’t have a web team or division.
So that was cool. I ultimately got laid off from Xplain. They went through four rounds of layoffs. I went in the last round and because they still needed the work that I did, they became my first client. So that’s how I started Curve Theory in 2000, and or in 2001. It was just one of those things. I was still popular, the work was still necessary, the company was needing to make some pivots. And that was a blessing on my end because I always wanted to have my own business business. And that’s how it happened. I started, I launched Curve Theory with them as my first client 21 years ago.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I mean, I can’t think of a better way to roll into entrepreneurship like that. You were already super highly sought out for your design work in another medium. The company you’re working with goes out of business. You start your own business. That’s perfect. That’s a perfect handoff.

Reggie Tidwell:
Yeah, it was. And they didn’t go out of business, thankfully. They did go back to their original, I think they grew to like 45 employees at one point, but they went back to the original 13 and they’re still around a day and they’re still thriving. But yeah, it’s getting kicked out of the nest but then given a nice little mattress to land on.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reggie Tidwell:
It was great. And I really love St. Louis, but I definitely knew that at some point I was going to want to leave St. Louis.

Maurice Cherry:
So what brought you to North Carolina?

Reggie Tidwell:
So at the time, the woman that I was dating was also in that same head space that she was ready to leave St. Louis. I was still teaching in Washington University and then actually had just been encouraged by the design chair, the Art and Design faculty chair to apply for this tenure track position that was opening up in the Art and Design department. And so I was at this crossroads where in my heart I knew I really didn’t want to stay in St. Louis that much longer. Things… I had envisioned leaving St. Louis almost as soon as I graduated but things kept falling into place career wise, which was great because those things were setting me up. But at one point my partner and I, ex-partner and I, were having these frequent conversations about where we would ever relocate to and at one point I mentioned that a good buddy of mine had in passing talked about moving to North Carolina.
And so I asked her, “What do you know about North Carolina?” And she said, “Oh my god, Asheville. Asheville is absolutely amazing. You would love it. Check it out.” And of course, since we had the web then, I looked it up and I mean, I think within 20 minutes I knew it’s where I wanted to be. It wasn’t landlocked. There’s a four hour drive to the ocean. Mountains, waterfalls, streams everywhere. Hiking trails, mountain bike trails, you name it. That’s the kind of guy that I was. I mean, thankfully had a father who raised me. In the time I spent with him, we would go camping and hiking. And so early on I garnered a love or appreciation of the outdoors.

Maurice Cherry:
And so you had the job that allowed you to do this work from anywhere. So why not go to a place you really want to go?

Reggie Tidwell:
Absolutely. I actually, I had to finish that first semester at Washington University and then I had the whole spring semester. So this was in 2023. Loved that semester, loved my students. Finished that semester, turned in my grades in May and the following weekend was Memorial Day weekend. I’d literally moved a week after I turned in my grades and never looked back.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. And you’ve been there ever since.

Reggie Tidwell:
And been here ever since.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You’ve been a part of the Asheville design community now for such a long time. You mentioned your community work earlier and you’re the founding president of AIGA Asheville, a new chapter. What was behind bringing an AIGA chapter to Asheville?

Reggie Tidwell:
That’s a great question, Maurice. So for me, one of the things I did mention that I was on the board for the St. Louis chapter in the mix there. I think I joined the chapter while I was, might have been while I was still at Lid in PRC, but I know I did two or three years on the board as their web chair for the St. Louis chapter. And I really love that community of design, the comradery, the people that you surround yourself with understand your day to day trials and tribulations, they get it. So that was, I really appreciated that as it pertained to the design community in St. Louis. And I got to Asheville and we didn’t have that. As a matter of fact, I was trying to find designers just to connect with, just to network with and they just weren’t around.
I think I had maybe three or four design friends at the time, but we knew there were more designers in and around the area, there just wasn’t anything in place to help bring them out. Out of the woodwork. And so we had a lot of early conversations about, I would reach out to these other designers that I knew in the area and tell them how much I wanted to have a chapter in Asheville, because the closest chapters were in Knoxville and Charlotte. It’s a couple hour drive each way in either direction. And so for me, just selfishly, I’m like, God, I want that here. I don’t want to drive two hours to have community. It took a while. Originally you had to have 40 sustaining members just to even be considered to have a chapter. And I think given the fact that we were having a hard time finding 20 designers in Asheville at the time, that was a tall order.
So we ended up creating this thing called Design Salon, which ended up being a hang for designers in the area. And the more people gathered, the more the work got spread out, and the more designers you realized were here. The more you understood that there were some really talented people that were in Asheville. And because Asheville is such a draw for people all over the world, somebody that’s here now probably wasn’t here two weeks ago. That’s how’s how it works. There was a woman named Jamie Farris who’s also a really good friend of mine that took Design Salon and started adding programming to it, and that made it even better. And so the more program she added, the better. The more it had an actual format instead of just being a creative hangout, the more I saw that we were there, it was time.
And so 2019 was when I had a feasibility meeting. I just called a bunch of people that I knew and they invited other people and I said, “Hey, I think it’s time to finally start a chapter.” I didn’t actually know the requirements had changed in my mind. I was still thinking 40 sustaining members. So half the way through, we learned that it was only 20 sustaining members, but we actually turned in our petition to become a chapter with 43 sustaining members, I think.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

Reggie Tidwell:
Just because we are a little bit of a smaller city and I wanted to show how bad we really wanted to be a chapter.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reggie Tidwell:
And from that first meeting I was able to build our first board of really awesome and engaged founding board members. So yeah, we started literally the year before the pandemic and have thrived through the pandemic and we’re still kicking it.

Maurice Cherry:
That is amazing. That’s amazing to hear that. And now when you say sustaining members, is that members at a particular membership tier? Because I feel like they had that at one… I feel like sustaining was one of the, if not the top, but one of the top tiers you have to have.

Reggie Tidwell:
Yeah, I think Design Leader was the one after that. I think the sustaining member was at the $250 giving level and then it went to Design Leader, which doubled to 500.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reggie Tidwell:
And so that is, especially for a professional association, that was a lot to ask, but I was just elated that many people wanted it to and believed in us having a chapter that much that they signed up. We still have a tremendous amount of sustaining members. We probably have more sustaining members than we have in any other giving level. And they have changed the price structure and the names of the giving levels a bit. And so it’s, I think easier now than ever to join the AIGA and I feel like that was part of the reason behind just sort making it a little simpler, especially after the pandemic. But yeah, it’s quite wonderful to be in a city that now has a chapter. We have great programming. We’re putting on our first design weekend, which is a mini design week that’s coming up at the end of the month.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh. Very nice.

Reggie Tidwell:
Yeah, first weekend of October, so it’s September 30th through October 2nd. Super excited about that. We got David Carson coming to speak at our annual meeting in November. That’s going to be pretty cool, Mr. Masterclass himself. So yeah, we’re happy to have a chapter and we’re happy to be able to have such a positive impact on our design community and that means everything for me.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your career and all your experiences, is this how you imagine yourself when you were a kid in St. Louis?

Reggie Tidwell:
No, not at all. And it’s funny because I think being a kid in St. Louis and growing up where I grew up, I feel like my grandmother knew and saw my potential, but I didn’t see it because it’s hard. I’m surrounded by the things that I was surrounded by. And I think it’s hard to see the forest through the trees when you’re in that scenario. And for me, I don’t think, honestly, I still get surprised. I think at some point in your life, Maurice, when you’ve accomplished a lot, when you’ve done a lot, when you’ve had this longevity of experiences and learning, at some point you start to realize that people see that in you and they see all the experience and all the leadership and the guidance and they start to seek it out.
I get called to be on boards, I turned down probably seven board positions last year. I’m publicly a leader. And so I think it still surprises me sometimes where, and I think it also surprises me that sometimes somebody asks me a question and I think I’m still that 25 year old in school and still on his path figuring things out, and learning, and discovering. But then I start to answer, I hear the question and then my head just gets filled with all of this relevant information that you don’t even really think about. You’re not just sitting around thinking about all the stuff, but when someone calls and asks for mentoring or it’s a colleague you’re just shooting a breeze with. You start to realize how much of that stuff is in there and it’s quite amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
What gives you purpose to keep doing the work that you do now?

Reggie Tidwell:
I think for me it’s those relationships and experiences. I’ve always said that if I won the lottery and had all the money that I would ever need, I would still be a designer. I would still do design, I would just do mostly nonprofit work, and do it pro bono, and just take a select number of projects a year. I love the work, I’m passionate about the work, and I’m passionate about the people that I get to work with. I’m very particular about the clients. If a client doesn’t seem like they’re the right fit or I’m not going to have a mutually enjoyable experience, then I’ll pass on a project. And I’m pretty thankful to be in a place in my career where I can do that.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give for someone who, they’re listening to this interview, they’re hearing how you’ve come up throughout your career. What advice would you give somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps?

Reggie Tidwell:
I would say, and I talk to young people all the time, I actually mentor. And the thing that I feel like is the most important is to really keep exploring who you are and what you like, and don’t follow the money. I feel like it’s very easy to, I’ll talk back to a time in my life when I worked at Office Depot when I was Florissant Valley in Junior College, I was asked to get into the managerial track at Office Depot where at the time I might have made, once becoming a manager, I may have made $35,000 or $30,000, which at the time seemed like a lot of money. And that’s a very easy distraction. That’s a very easy temptation. And I had a friend at the time who also was a really, really talented artist. He also was wanting to go to design school.
He ended up getting in that track and hated it. It just completely dominated his life. He wasn’t fulfilled. The money at some point wasn’t even relevant because he never had time to spend any of it because he worked so much. I turned it down because I knew, I think at this point I was already at Maryville University, so I was already in the graphic design program. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. So in order to get to that point, you have to do some self exploration. You have to understand who you are, what it is that you really value and set your sites on being able to do that for a living. And don’t waiver.

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

Reggie Tidwell:
Man, I would love to retire in five years. I’m 51. So that’s definitely a tall order, but in a perfect world, I might completely crush it for the next five, six years or so and retire early, or at least partially retire. But I do see myself in leadership. I do see myself still trying to bring positive change to communities in whatever way I can. Through social justice, through design leadership, through, I’ve hinted at the thought of being, it’s been mentioned and it’s been a internal conversation and conversation I’ve had with colleagues about the AIGA trajectory, and perhaps maybe serving on a national board at some point. I have friends on the national board. I love the organization and I love what the organization provides to the design community. And I always see its potential is limitless and to be able to serve in that world at a higher level, definitely. But yeah, that’s probably something that I would look to within my five year trajectory. And more than anything, I always want to make sure that the work that I’m doing continues to be meaningful.

Maurice Cherry:
I think you should definitely consider it. I mean, I’ve done work at the volunteer level, at the national level, and it’s great. It’s been great. I highly think you should do it. And I’m sure other people have probably mentioned this to you as well, but there’s a book in your story. There’s a hundred percent a book in your story.

Reggie Tidwell:
Yeah, I don’t know if anyone’s outright said that, but I definitely know there’s stuff in there that I always find it intriguing to look back in my past and see where I’ve been, and where I am, and how I’ve been inspired, and how I’m now able to inspire. That all is important to me. But yeah, thanks for saying that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, no, there’s a hundred percent a book in your story. I mean, one, I think just because of how you have managed yourself through how design and technology have changed, but then also I think your personal story added in as a layer on top of that. And with the work that you’re doing now through volunteering and giving back, that’s the best seller. You might want to think about it. You might want to think about it. I’m just saying I’m putting it out there.

Reggie Tidwell:
Thanks. You’ll get their first copy for sure.

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

Reggie Tidwell:
Absolutely. So curvetheory.com. C-U-R-V-E-T-H-E-O-R-Y dot com is my commercial website. There is a link to my print work on there, which yeah, prints are great, but if you want to see the bulk of my commercial photography, landscape stuff, nature, and cityscapes, that’s a good place to go. I also am on Instagram Curve Theory on Instagram. And there I don’t really put a whole lot of design work on. I do have a separate account that I’m hoping to start building up my, putting all my design work on, but really photography… Years ago I had a mix of photography and design and it always just felt all over the place for me. And one of the things I always noticed when I go to other Instagram accounts and I see these really nicely curated feeds that everything just, there’s something nice about the continuity and you’re like beautiful landscapes, and then there’s a logo. It just feels odd placed. And so I took all my design stuff off of there and it’s just my photography on my Instagram account. But those are the best places to find me. And I’m also on LinkedIn. Reggie Tidwell on LinkedIn.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, Sounds good. Well, Reggie Tidwell, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, of course, like I just mentioned about there’s a book in you, your story and the passion and the service that you’ve given back to the design community is something that I think is really inspiring for a lot of people. Certainly your local community. But I hope that people that listen to this interview also pick up on that as well, because you mentioned being raised by your grandmother and her being a teacher, those values that she instilled in you, you’re continuing to give those back out to the community, which are really the basis of your success. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Reggie Tidwell:
Hundred percent agree about my grandmother, and thank you so much for having me on, Maurice. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

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Jordan Taylor

If I had to give an award for “Most Chill Revision Path Guest”, Jordan Taylor would win the prize with no competition. But don’t let the relaxed vibes fool you, because his skills as a designer and creator are anything but laid-back. And even better, he has roots here in Atlanta. Keep listening to learn more about this hometown hero!

We started off talking about his recent move to NYC, and he gave a peek behind the curtain of being a designer at the world-famous design firm Pentagram. From there, Jordan talked about growing up and attending college in Atlanta (taught by past Revision Path guest Nakita M. Pope!) We also touched on a few other topics, including Atlanta’s design scene, and what Jordan wants to see more of from the larger design community. Jordan is a uniquely talented, and I think we’re going to see a lot more of his work in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Jordan Taylor:
I’m Jordan Taylor. I’m a graphic designer at Pentagram. I work on a lot of different projects, mostly branding, but a fair share of editorial and motion design, a few websites here and there.

Maurice Cherry:
How has the year been going so far?

Jordan Taylor:
My year has been pretty great. I recently moved to a new place for the first time. I’m now living out in Brooklyn, New York. I moved up here for work and it’s been a chance to go on new adventures, see different things, meet new people. It’s been pretty interesting. A lot of changes.

Maurice Cherry:
When you sort of look at the year in general where we’re at now, we’re recording this right now in mid August. Is there anything that you want to accomplish before the year ends?

Jordan Taylor:
Oh, I’d say that right now I’m in a place where I’m trying to figure out what my next thing is. One of the things I really want to accomplish for the years over is starting to make those steps toward whatever that looks like, whether it’s an expression of self or new business endeavors. Just starting to really get back into more self-activated things. You know how they say you are always going to need to fall a couple times when you’re on your journey somewhere. I’m ready to start taking those baby’s first steps toward whatever new horizon I’m heading toward. I feel like I’m in that kind of place.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now, you’re at Pentagram, which is a extremely, extremely well known design consultancy. Talk to me about that.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. Pentagram is so many things. I’m there now. I’ve been working there coming up on two years in September. When I started, it was as a remote position. I started as an intern, but I was working from home still down in Atlanta. The journey there was just so unexpected. I just didn’t think that it was a place I was going to get to. When I started really diving into design, you get introduced to different ways of doing things and what brand design looks like and who the kind of designers to know are. You find out about different names and you end up finding out about Pentagram.
It just is a crazy experience to walk in there and actually see these people in person and not from even a crowd for some sort of forum that they’re putting on. It’s been really interesting just even beyond the partners, you have all the people working there on the different teams and you find out how a team works and how they approach projects and different ways that people think. It’s like a big incubator. It is really been… The way I got there was so much so of just putting my head down because it was the middle of the pandemic and just trying to get to the best place I could after leaving school.
So in a way, I don’t always fully take it in, but in those moments that I do, it just really hits me and it’s like, “Oh, I’m actually in here every day,” if that makes sense. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of just like air of ridiculousness to me. It’s actually worked out to this level.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like it’s hard to put into words. I mean, I’m listening to you stabber to talk about it. But I mean, I can imagine you’ve got such design heavyweights like Michael Beirut and Paula Scher and Eddie Opara whom we’ve had on the show episode 234 if people want to check that out. But I can imagine having that much, I guess, the weight of it all is probably a lot to think about from your perspective.

Jordan Taylor:
And then at the same time I still have work to do every day. I still have four or five projects to work on. So it’s a balancing act. You try to make yourself known and get to know people. But at the same time, you’re still trying to keep the main thing, the main thing, and I guess do the work that got you there.

Maurice Cherry:
And you’ve done that. I mean, you’ve done the work that got you there. It’s not like you just walked in off the street into Pentagram. Like you said, you had your head down working and we’ll get more into your background or your story, but you deserve to be there.

Jordan Taylor:
Absolutely. Yeah. I say all these things about how it feels to be there, but I don’t think I ever really felt I didn’t belong, maybe just that I didn’t expect for anybody to actually figure that out, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a typical day look like for you at Pentagram?

Jordan Taylor:
A typical day for me when I first started there as an intern, one of the big things that I was really aware of was that I was probably not going to understand how anything worked. So I would reach out to my mentors, one of which was Louis Mikolay. He used to work at Collins. Now he’s at Apple. I reached out to John Ferguson and McCoy Smith. I just asked them, “You all are professionals. You all are in this design world. How do you actually keep track of all the things that you’re supposed to do in the day? How do you know how much time to allocate to a project? If you got multiple projects going on, how do you know when to start the day or when to end the day?” Because it was working from home and starting out. Everything was a little too soft for me.
Long story short, I got into making to-do list to start the day or sometimes I make one to fill out the whole week. If I knew what the week had, coming ahead of me. After that, it really depends on the day to day what point I’m at in the week. But I’ll usually try and get the smaller projects out of the way or the little things, or just check my emails and make sure that nobody is kind of hitting me with a curve ball before I really get my day started.
And from there, I collaborate with my team to make sure that I know what their expectations are for the day. And then it’s working things out. If I am on a magazine project like Netflix Queue, it may be a lot of concept. And so it’ll be like, “We’re building a deck to introduce to the client. And then from there you might break away from that side of it and go to the print side and you’re coming up with different concepts and directions.”
So you’re doing a lot of art directing, but then right after that, I might have to create animation assets for a branding project where we’re trying to activate the brand for a presentation. So it’s a lot of flipping switches is what I call it. It’s a lot of flip this on, flip that off, go over here, do this. And then you just end up at 6:00.

Maurice Cherry:
And that’s the day.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You, I guess, touched on some of the projects you’re working on. You mentioned this magazine, Netflix Queue. What kind of other projects and stuff are you working on?

Jordan Taylor:
The projects I’m working on right now, I can’t really speak about. Some other projects I have worked on before, we did a wonderful rebrand for a college out in Pennsylvania who that was transitioning into university status called Moravian university. I worked on tech brand who was building out a whole kind of workspace system along the blockchain. So you really had ownership of your information called Skiff. I also work on the ACLU magazine that comes out twice a year. So it’s a wide range. And then there’s things that I help out with in spots here or there.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re doing print projects, digital projects, kind of a little bit of everything, it sounds like.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. A lot of flipping those switches and within those, the Netflix magazine has a digital arm and a print arm. So I’m on both of those.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Sometimes we might have to create a cover animation for the website and then you also have to create print stories. I mean, build out those assets. So your vision for the brand in all these different formats and it’s all happening at the same time. Whereas with the ACLU magazine is strictly print, but it involves a lot of art directions.
So I’m commissioning illustrators. I’m commissioning photographers. I mean, we’re like staying on the pulse of what’s going on with the Supreme Court to find out what their rulings are going to be before the next issue. And then with something like Moravian, you just got old fashioned branding. So you’re building out color systems and typography and things like that.
I mean, it sounds exciting to be able to use your skills to bounce from project to project in that way. One of the last big creative projects I worked on actually was also a print and digital magazine for my former employer, because I just got laid off. But for my former employer, I was putting together a print and digital magazine. The first issue is out. Actually the second issue was ready the day they laid our whole team off. So I don’t know if the second issue will even see the light of day, even though it’s literally at the printer on the shelf. Don’t know if anyone’s ever going to see it.

Jordan Taylor:
Sounds like Limited edition.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And the third issue we were in the middle of working on, which was actually going to be on Web3 stuff. We commissioned illustrators. We had all the same things you were mentioning, writers, all that kind of stuff. Don’t know if that one is ever going to happen. I love the magazine thing because it was my first time ever working on something like that. I would love to do more things like that.
It just seems like two things with Pentagram. One, you get to work on so many different types of projects. And two, I guess, because Pentagram just has this like… To me, maybe not to other people, but to me it has this untouchable… I don’t want to say cult status because its name happens to be Pentagram, but it’s one of those things like, “No, don’t apply to us. We will choose you to work for us.” Like that sort of thing. I don’t know if that’s just part of the mystique of Pentagram, but I like that.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. I mean, I conflict on that. So a bit of how I actually ended up finding the position, I had joined Where are the Black Designers slack channel. [inaudible 00:14:28]

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Mitzi.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. One of the project managers at Pentagram posted the opening and I was like, “Oh, this is crazy. I don’t even know they did this.” And the week went along and I was like, “Oh, should I do it, should I not?” I applied through there, but that’s not usually how it happens and it’s something that Pentagram is trying to get better about is like casting a wider net and bringing in more perspectives.
I don’t know. The idea of that exclusivity, it creates the mystique you know, but I feel like in a world where we’re starting to just keep reconsidering these ideas of diversity and inclusion, when you’re at the top and you think you know what’s best, you don’t really allow anyone else to come in from the outside and influence and keep you there, you’re just moving off of… I don’t know. I feel like it makes it easier for you to lose sight of what’s actually going on around you if you’re not actually interacting with the people, so to speak.

Maurice Cherry:
I get what you’re saying. I totally get that because I think a lot of agencies probably have that same sort of problem. Yes, they want to have a level of exclusivity with the work, but I guess they don’t want to appear like they’re for everybody I suppose.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. It’s a tough balance, which I get. Look, just as a person who felt like they were on the outside, looking in and very much based on what I have come to find out just being in the workplace is not a common way of finding out about openings there. I just would hate to for the other person who’s in that same position and just wasn’t on the slack channel that day or that week.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. They just missed out.

Jordan Taylor:
And they’re just as good as I am. I just think about stuff like that and I’m like, “Oh, it conflicts me a lot.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s switch gears here a little bit. I want you to remain conflicted in the interview, but because this is about you and about your skill. Like I said, you deserve to be there certainly. Let’s switch gears here. Let’s talk about you. Tell me where you grew up.

Jordan Taylor:
I grew up 30 miles east straight down Act 20 from Atlanta, Georgia in Lithonia. It’s a Black suburb. It’s a pretty decent place to live. It was a lot quieter until Atlanta’s always constantly growing and expanding. So people started moving out there a lot more. But I was out there since I was two years old, like ’96 and then I moved out of the Atlanta area last October.
I spent a long time out there, just deep in that culture, moving around town, making friends. I was a part of the Atlanta public schools system throughout with a little bit of DeKalb County Schools in elementary. I feel like a country bumpkin sometimes being in New York now. But I feel like my experience in my kind of neck of the woods was just so interesting. I just got to see so many different things and so many different ways to live out my Blackness, I guess. My whole family is from the Atlanta area. So it just was a really warm, just loving experience the whole time. I miss it a lot. I think about it every day.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you grew up in Atlanta during a time. I mean that to me feels like peak Atlanta like the Olympics Freaknik ’96, that whole time. I came to Atlanta in ’99. So right after that. But I’m from Alabama, I’m from Selma, so I’m not that far from Atlanta. I’m roughly about three hours. We would always come to Atlanta, honestly, every summer or every time, I don’t know, our class did well on the SATs or something. It was always like, “We’re going to Six Flags. We’re going to Six Flags.”
So I’ve always been in and around Atlanta and then finally moved here when I was 18. But I know exactly that feeling that you’re talking about. And it’s something that I’m sort of exploring a little bit, because I’m working on a book proposal. And as I’m working through it, there’s such a positive thread of Blackness throughout Atlanta that I don’t think a lot of people really get.
I think people see Atlanta, they see the entertainments, they see the music. They see, “Oh, it’s a really Black city.” But it’s a warmth, I think that a lot of people don’t really understand unless you’re either from there or you’ve really lived there for a long time. I mean, I feel like I got it a little bit just from visiting so much, but certainly my formative years and my teens… Not even my teens, but really my late teens and my 20s in Atlanta is just irreplaceable. It’s hard to put that feeling into words about the… It’s not even so much of a positive Blackness, but as much as every example of excellence that you see around you is Black.

Jordan Taylor:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I think sometimes that can be hard even for other Black people to see depending on where they grew up. But Atlanta really sort fosters that and it’s not in any sort of weird supernatural extraordinary way. It’s like excellence is just all around you.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. A very casual Blackness.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s such a good way to put it, a very casual Blackness. That’s such a good way to put it.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. For me, people are constantly on this notion of Blackness is not a monolith. That’s what I mean, what we’re both talking about with that casual Blackness. I wouldn’t put myself in a certain frame. I always talk to my friends like we all played sports, but we all like anime. We all ended up doing different jobs. I have friends who were in the arts, but I also have friends who are paramedics, and I also have friends who are party promoters.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s no division.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, there’s no division.

Maurice Cherry:
I a hundred percent know exactly what you mean. I mean, I went to Morehouse, so I absolutely know of what that division can definitely look like. But yeah, man, I mean, you grew up here in a great, great [inaudible 00:20:49]. I can tell why you miss it. I can definitely tell why. Was art and design kind of a big part of you growing up here?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say it was, but it was more from a sense of… It was something that I was just always interested in. You get older and you look back on your life and you realize you were doing things the whole time that were preparing you for something you didn’t even know you were preparing yourself for. So it wasn’t more so that design or the arts was constantly around me.
Nobody in my family is like a designer. My mom is a school counselor. My dad works at the EPA. It was just constantly something that I was interested in. I watched a lot of TV, a lot of Cartoon Network, a lot of Nickelodeon, a lot of Disney, a lot of anime, a lot of Toonami. Those kind of things are what introduced me into the arts and made me appreciate art a lot more.
So I think the first thing I ever tried to draw was Goku on one of my school notepads. And from there, I kept drawing and drawing and doodling. But it wasn’t something that I really embraced as something that would ever be a part of my future. It was more so just something that I enjoyed and it was an outlet for me. It helped me express something that I really cared about. And then I got opportunities later on in high school to express those things in different ways. I knew I had that drawing talent and my mom would put me into these art programs over the summer to learn more about the technical side.
I did one in old Fort Worth at this summer camp where we had to choose a discipline. So I went with the drawing one, because it was the one that I was the best at. I got those things, but it was never something that I thought that I was actually ever going to be doing with my life. When I was about to graduate high school, I planned on doing engineering. Focusing on that is part of my college curriculum. Because like I said, I was preparing myself for things that I didn’t actually know were available to me. I was like, “Okay, well I’m good at math and science, but I also want to create things.”
I didn’t know how to express that completely. So my dad was working at the EPA. I was like, “Oh, he’s an engineer. Maybe I’ll be an engineer and maybe I’ll get to tinker on things or build something one day. But it wasn’t something that I was fully embracing. I definitely went to the high museum way more during my college days than I ever did during grade school.

Maurice Cherry:
But it sounds like your parents though, at least supported you in that, I guess you could say at that point was a hobby, was you really liking art and drawing. They didn’t try to dissuade you from it.

Jordan Taylor:
No, they never dissuade me from anything. I think I get a lot of my laid back kind of attitude from them because they’re very much… They were very much always, as long as I handled what I was supposed to be doing at school or whatever, then they would let me do whatever I wanted to in the peripheries. They never really tried to shut me down from anything and I always appreciate them for that.

Maurice Cherry:
So you ended up going to Georgia State University. And Atlanta’s got some well known design schools here. I mean, let’s see. If you were… I’m trying to think was it… No, Atlanta College of Art wasn’t around during that time. But I mean, we had Art Institute of Atlanta. I think SCAD was just maybe starting to have their campus here. I don’t recall. But there’s also things like the Portfolio Center, et cetera. I don’t know if Georgia State really is ever in that conversation of great design schools or curriculums in the city. How was your time there?

Jordan Taylor:
I really enjoyed my time there. So my introduction to Georgia State came a bit later in college. I transferred there. I first off went to Fort Valley State University. It’s a HBCU like an hour south of Macon, I think, near Warner Robins.

Maurice Cherry:
Yep, I’m familiar.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. Oh, you know about Fort valley?

Maurice Cherry:
I know about Fort Valley.

Jordan Taylor:
That was where I went because I thought I was going to be engineers. My mom was like, “Okay, go to this agricultural school. They have an engineering program. You can do that.” And while I was there, I found out more about graphic design. I would hear about it here and there on the internet, but I didn’t know how it worked. I found out what Adobe was. I was like, “Okay. Well, my laptop is not good enough to do any of that kind of stuff.”
But I ended up taking an elective my second year there and it was for graphic design. I think our first project was that we had to create a fake brand and then we had to make envelopes for the brand. Our teacher taught us how to use the blend tool. We could use the blend tool if we wanted to, but otherwise we had to just come up with something else. Long story short, I got an A in the class and I was like, “Wait a minute. I just made something and it felt like art.” I got an A and I don’t really want to be an electrical engineer. That’s fourth floor.
I called my mom right before I was about to go back home because the semester ended and I was like, “Hey, I looked it up. Georgia State has graphic design program.” Because I think I looked into all those other schools, but like I said, my mom never stifled me from anything, but she always made me very aware of what she could and couldn’t do. So I knew she wasn’t about to pay for me to go to SCAD.
I called her, I was like, “Hey, I got an A in this graphic design class. I want to transfer up to Georgia State.” I’m going to major in it. They have a program up there. She was like, “Wait a second. It is the first semester. Could you at least finish the next semester and make sure you want to do this?” I was like, “No, I got to go.”
But she made me finish that next semester. I spent that whole semester in my free time learning how to use illustrator. When I finally started, I was so eager. I started taking classes at Georgia State over the summer because I wanted to get in there because I couldn’t use my laptop. I was using the school stuff at Fort Valley to design. I was like, “Okay, I don’t want to spend a whole summer not working on this because I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know how good any of these people in these classes are about to be when I start.”
So I spent that whole summer in the Georgia State computer lab, just working on Illustrator. Photoshop, I was kind of like, “Ah, there’s kind of too many different ways to do things on there. I’m just going to keep doing Illustrator.” I mean, I had a great time in Georgia State’s graphic design program. I would say to anyone that’s thinking about it based on our conversation right now that it really helped cement a lot of the basics and a lot of the fundamentals of what design is, how do you approach it? What does it mean to create a creative identity?
I took a lot of the introductory classes because it’s broken up into two different sections. So you take the intro classes and then you have to go through a portfolio review to get to the final stage and actually graduate with a design degree.
I didn’t make it to that second part because I was missing a project. I learned so much from the experience that I knew I could design. They even said it. They were like, “Some people might not make it. That doesn’t mean you’re not good.” There’s plenty of people that don’t make it. Because there’s so particular and they have such a hard cutoff in terms of the numbers because of the size of the program right now.
They really encouraged you to keep going and that’s what I did. I was like, “I know what I’m doing. I know how to build a brand. I know how to use Illustrator and Photoshop. I made all these projects. I didn’t do all this for no reason.” So I just stuck to it after that and stayed in contact with all my teachers from all my introductory classes because they continued to keep their doors open for me. I would definitely recommend it.
Anybody thinking about going to SCAD or those other art schools, I would say to look into Georgia State because their program is really great and they really supported me the entire time.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to say, it sounds like they really kind of helped prepare you to get out there and be a designer. Even though, as you said, you didn’t go through and do the project portion of it, but you still came out with enough know-how to know how to be a designer.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you enrolled at The Creative Circus a couple of years after you graduated from Georgia State. What made you do that?

Jordan Taylor:
I enrolled there because after I didn’t make it to the second portion of the design program, I continued to work. I started trying to find different outlets for what I could do. So I was like, “Okay. I’m not in the program.” So I would do things for people here and there. I got a intern position at the APEX Museum, which was right down the street from the Georgia State campus. It’s a Black history museum. They really gave me a great chance to try and do my things in actual application and step with their own identity.
There was just something in the back of my head, as I kept learning about design and learning about Eddie Opara, and Michael Beirut, and Paula Scher and those kind of people. There was something beyond that, that I didn’t really know how to do yet. So along with those other things that I was doing in terms of working, I was also trying to meet more people that were also designing.
So I joined the AIGA student chapter in Atlanta and I ended up meeting one of the teachers at The Creative Circus because the meeting I went to was at The Creative Circus. So I got to see little bits and pieces before I walked into our meeting space. I was like, “Hey, is this an art school?” Because I didn’t even know what it was. It was like off a Cheshire Bridge off of a back street.
She was like, “Yeah, this is an art school.” I was like, “Do you all have a design program?” And she was like, “Yeah, we have a design program.” It was a Nakita Pope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Nakita. Love Nakita. She’s been on the show before.

Jordan Taylor:
She’s like, “Yeah, we have a design program. I’m actually one of the instructors for it. If you ever want to come back, I’ll give you a tour. You can sit in on one of my classes.” She let me walk around for a bit before I had to leave. And they have all the work on the walls from previous students’ projects. I saw that stuff and I was like, “I don’t know how to do any of this.” I was like, “I thought I was good at it and I don’t know how to do any of this. But if they know how to do this, I think I can figure it out.”
Long story short, I talked to my mom. I was like, “Hey, thinking about going back to school. It’s going to cost yada, yada, yada.” She’s like, “Wait a minute. [inaudible 00:32:11] stick with me.” That took some discussing because my parents had already paid for four years of school. So I went there. It did what I expected it to… It took me to a whole nother level in terms of understanding. What it really helped me with was concepting, being able to build an idea and then flush it out graphically in a multitude of ways.
So what I learned from Georgia State in my introductory classes was that what makes a good logo, how to pick out typography, things like that like the building blocks. And then when I got to The Creative Circus, they really pushed those different levels of self expression and leaving no stone unturned when you’re trying to tell the story of something. So it all came together to put together the picture.

Maurice Cherry:
And for folks that don’t know or haven’t heard of The Creative Circus, it’s this private for-profit college recently closed its doors, which is such a big loss to the Atlanta design community. I hope they come back one day, but The Creative Circus and Nakita Pope who you mentioned as an instructor there. I think I’ve been there a couple of times. I know, I remember seeing, I think it was Douglas Davis had given a talk there when he was doing his book tour for his book about creative strategy and the business of design.
Nakita and Douglas knew each other because they both went to Hampton. Although, I don’t know if they went at the same time or not, but yeah, The Creative Circus, great, great resource to the city. Sad that it’s closed. But no, it sounds like you got what you needed from there. And you also have interned at a few places in Atlanta. You mentioned Apex over on Auburn Avenue. You interned at the Mammal Gallery, which is downtown Atlanta. You interned at MetroFresh Uptown. These are three somewhat different types of design experiences, it seems like. What did each of those places really teach you?

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, they were so interesting looking back on them. It was very much, I was still in that phase of trying to scrounge together different experiences any way I could. I was out of college and I just had to dive into things that I was interested in. I was like, “I love my people. Let’s go to the Apex.” I was like the Mammal Gallery back then. I’m not even sure if the Mammal Gallery is still open, but they used to put on concerts where they would bring in these underground performers or these emerging artists. I was really into that because that was the mix tape era and SoundCloud era.
So I was like, “Hey, I love this place. Let me ask if they need a graphic designer.” Because everybody needs a graphic designer. And then with MetroFresh Uptown, that was taking something that I needed and trying to bring something that I wanted into it.
So I got the job because I needed a job because I was working. At The Creative Circus, I made it past the first quarter and it was time for me to try and figure out how to keep paying to be there. I’d done a lot of food service jobs. I picked that one up because I had heard about… I don’t even remember how I heard about the opening, but I’m not going to dwell on that. And because I was working at a new location for them, I was like, “Hey, do you all need signage? Do you need somebody to draw murals? Do you need somebody to make pamphlets for you to pass out in this office building? I could do all that stuff.” And it worked out from there.
But it prepared me for what I would do like the next internship that I was in for a really long time because it gave me a chance to be a part of something and know what the identity was and how to bring that out in that graphic language.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And that other place that you’re talking about, that’s Atlanta Contemporary. You were there for pretty much, almost five years. That’s a really long time. Talk to me about what that experience was like.

Jordan Taylor:
I love the Atlantic contemporary. I talk about the place all the time. For anybody who’s listening and is in the Atlanta area, it’s free every day. I think they’re only closed on Sundays. They might be closed on Mondays now, but they’re definitely closed on Sundays. It’s a contemporary art space, but it’s also an art center. So they do a lot of events where they bring in the community and they have children’s events. They do weddings, all that kind of stuff.
But it was that kind of last step in finding things that I was interested in. I was like, okay. So I worked at a Black history museum. I’ve done things for music space. I’ve done things for restaurants. What else am I interested in? If I could ever get a job at a museum, that would be really cool. I was like if I could ever actually make graphics for something based in the arts, that would be incredible.
So I went around to all the spots that you can think of. I went to the High Museum, I went to MOCA, I went to the Atlanta History Center. I was just Googling these places and then I would spend the day and go to them. And eventually, I went to the Atlanta contemporary. I was like, “Oh, do you all have any openings?” They were like, “No, we already have a graphic design.” I was like, “Oh well, okay. Do you do internships?” They were like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Do the interns do any graphic design?” They said, “No.” I was like, “Well, if I intern, could I do some graphic design?” And they were like-

Maurice Cherry:
You were trying. You were trying to get in there.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. And they were like, “I mean, maybe. Sure.” So I just took those opportunities wherever I could get them. It was a chance for me to interact with the community because people would come in for different exhibit exhibition openings and people would have the artist talks there and things. They had a whole pavilion in the back where they housed certain artists within their studios. So I got to interact with there. That was cool.
But then here and there, if they had an event, they were like, “Hey, Jordan. Could you make some signage? Hey, Jordan, could you make a flyer? Hey Jordan, could you do the vinyl descriptions for the artwork this month?” It would trickle in slowly. I built up a rapport with everybody that I was capable of doing these things. And then it turned into a full time position after that. When I got that chance to do that because the previous graphic designer had actually moved to New York because I had been there so long, I recommended different ways of going about how they express themselves with their social assets and things like that.
I was like, “Hey, I feel like this could speak a lot more clearly to what you all actually have going on here.” It’s so interesting and fun here. I think that this could be expressed a different way. So it was a chance for me to build a proposal. And then from there, it really bled into a lot of things. I was creating their monthly social posts. I was creating special animated assets whenever they had a special event going on.
I was doing their event graphics. I was doing the way finding within the museum, or within the art space, excuse me. And then I was also still doing the vinyl descriptors for the exhibitions also. And then I even got to help with one of the art pieces one time. They had this mantra that they wanted to put on the wall, but the guy walked in with just… It typed out from a typewriter on a piece of paper and he was like, “I wanted to look exactly like this, but on the wall.”
I was like, “Well, aren’t you the artist? You don’t know how to do that? But that was a chance to really collaborate with the artist and get their vision across, but then also I had to collaborate with the more practical people, the vinyl makers and figure out how I could create his vision and make it sense to them as the go between. So it was a lot.
I mean, I met a lot of incredible people. Just an invaluable experience. It pops back up every time I’m trying to do something. Earlier when I talked about flipping those switches, that was the first place where I really had to flip switches. I might animate, but I might be doing social stuff, but I might be making a visitor’s brochure.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like you really spread your wings there creatively. You got to do a lot of different things.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, because of the nature of the space as a contemporary art space, it was very open to new ways of doing things or new approaches. They had their shareholders or their investors that you had to run things by in the final round. But all in all, it was very, like you said, a great experience to spread my wings and figure things out on the fly.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’re currently in New York. Of course, that’s for work for Pentagram. But I’m curious when you think of your time here as a designer in Atlanta, what was the design community and scene for you? How would you describe it maybe to someone outside of Atlanta?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say the design scene here… Or in Atlanta. I’m not there anymore. It’s a lot broader than you think it is. There’s a lot of incredible people just kind of like… You got to get in there, but once you get in there, there’s a lot of amazing people out there doing their thing, making their way. What makes it different from what I’ve encountered so far up here in New York, New York is very much a design city. It’s like, “Oh, the subway system and this and that.”
But in Atlanta, what I really liked about the community out there is everyone was very much so making a way for themselves and finding their pocket or their niche and figuring things out. And the community comes together for different things like AIGA events and stuff. I would say the a G is a good way to find out what people are doing and find your group or what you’re most interested in. But everyone out there was being really resourceful or everyone out there had found their groove. They knew how to work it through all the ups and downs. One of my mentors, his name was Joe Price.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, I know Joe.

Jordan Taylor:
You know Joe?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Taylor:
Great. He was freelance, but he had been freelancing for so long when I met him. He just was constantly like… He’s so good at rolling with the punches. Even during the pandemic, he just knew how to figure things out. But at the same time, because it’s such a more kind of non-mainstream thing to be a designer, I guess, he’s so quirky. I don’t think he thinks he is. Joe has pet squirrels in his workspace. It’s a little nook in his backyard. Just full of different design ephemera just all over the place. Just stacks of books on books, on books. It’s really incredible. I think it’s pretty great, but you got to get in there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Taylor:
You’re not just going to get swept up in it, you got to get into it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Joe gave me the coolest piece of, I guess, design swag or ephemera that I’ve ever gotten from anyone. But I mean, I’ve been to conferences and I’ve talked to people all around the world. This was years and years ago. No one else has ever given me anything this cool. You’re going to laugh at this. It’s a beverage koozie like you put on cans.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. But it’s a paper bag. You see folks on the corner get a 40 or whatever and they’re drinking it right out the paper bag, it’s a paper bag koozie. And it’s actually a bag like you put the can like a regular 12-ounce can. You put it in the bag, and it’s got his logo on it. It is the coolest thing I have ever gotten from any designer anywhere. And I’ve gotten posters, books, figurines.
And the thing is, I can’t find it anywhere. I don’t know where Joe got those from. I don’t know where he got those printed, the website of the bottom of it no longer exists, but I still have it. It’s in my silverware drawer, in my kitchen. It is the one coolest piece of design thing I ever got. It’s just a paper bag koozie. It’s paper bag on the outside, but it’s insulated on the inside. You just put a drink in it and then you feel like you’re drinking out of a paper bag. It’s the coolest thing.
No, that sounds amazing. I never heard that. I’m going to have to ask him about it because that sounds incredible. It’s all crinkled and you put a paper bag and it’s like… All that.

Maurice Cherry:
And from a distance, someone will think you’re just drinking out a small paper bag or something, but no, it’s a beverage koozie. It’s so cool. It’s so cool. Did you feel like there were any sort of particular challenges that you had to face here as a designer that you might not be facing in New York?

Jordan Taylor:
I think the main one is just that… Like I said, it’s not a super… It’s just not as popular of a career path, I guess in Atlanta. So when it came time for me to find a career path or find a job or a gig, it was a little difficult. I found myself ending up at the same spots whenever I would try and find different avenues. The amount of times that I applied to Turner Broadcasting, it would shock and appall you. I applied to play so many times throughout college.
After college, I was constantly Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, TNT, blah, blah, blah. It was so many times. And then as I got more into the design community, I found out more about different places that were available or even design shops like Matchstick and so forth. But I just think that there just aren’t as many options as there might be up in New York.
But like I said, when you meet more people in the community, everyone has figured out their way and found their kind of niche and how to move and the space. But for me starting out, it was a little… There wasn’t as much of a depth of options as I thought they were going to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you ever get an interview with Turner?

Jordan Taylor:
No. I never got past the video interview part. I did the submitted questionnaire and then one time I got to do a video interview, but never actually got to go there in person and sit down with anybody.

Maurice Cherry:
You’ve got a line in your bio that says your approach to design is similar to one of your patented long walks around town. What does that mean?

Jordan Taylor:
Okay. It’s not like long walks on the beach type of thing. It’s actually a connection.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Yeah, unpack that for me.

Jordan Taylor:
Like I said, when I moved back to Atlanta after Fort Valley and I decided to become a designer, I would have to go into the city. So for five years I was going into the city every day from my house in Lithonia. So I was taking public transit. I was taking MARTA every day. I would get on the bus. This might be too granular for your wide audience, but I would go to Indian Creek and then I would take the train into the city. And then I would either have to walk or take another bus wherever else I was going.
So doing that constantly is what I mean by those patented long walks. And what I mean when I say that my design is similar to those is that if you spend enough time on the ground, just walking everywhere, you’re going to see some interesting things. You’re going to appreciate more of what’s going on around you because you’re transitioning from a more forest area because there’s so many trees in the Atlanta area to like you go through the urban areas and you’re passing by restaurants, you’re passing by clubs, you’re passing by all these different things.
You see a lot of weird stuff. You see a lot of interesting things. You might see some not so great things. But it all leaves an impact. I think that’s what I mean when I say it’s my patented long walks on the beach. So things might get a little weird. I might try and take some interesting left turns here or there, but it’s all for the sake of giving that impact.
I want you to feel like you’re actually a part of the journey. I want you to feel like a story is being told to you. I want you to feel like there’s a lot of meaning and purpose behind what’s going on here. Because I wouldn’t be here right now if I didn’t have that sense of purpose to get up, leave my house and go do all these different things every day.
When I was going to find my different internships, I walked there. When I was going to school at The Creative Circus, I walked there. And by walking, I mean it included public transit, but my feet were on the ground. I was like-

Maurice Cherry:
I hear you.

Jordan Taylor:
… back and forth. It’s weird. It’s fun. It’s got a lot of purpose behind it. I feel like that’s how I design.

Maurice Cherry:
As you started saying that, for some reason that just reminded me of the first verse of Elevators from Outkast where you’re talking about taking MARTA through the hood, trying to find the hookup caught the 86 Lithonia headed to Decatur.

Jordan Taylor:
I rode to 86. That was my bus.

Maurice Cherry:
My bus was the 13 because I went to Morehouse and I was living in the west… Oh, well, I wasn’t living in the west end when I was at Morehouse, unless it was on campus. But I used to live in Buckhead in the Darlington before the Darlington got run down and now it’s like multimillion dollar condos or whatever. It used to be the 23, now it’s the 110. But I take the 23 to Art Center. I take Art Center to Five Points. I take the 13 from there. And it puts you off at the strip of Fair Street and Brawley, James P Brawley, which is the Clark Atlanta strip. That was class every day. I remember it finally. I have not ridden the 13 in years, but I remember that very fondly.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. I feel same way. Whenever I go back home and I see that bus when I go visit my mom or whatever, it’s a very funny feeling. Just like, oh, that used to be my life. I spent plenty of days running that thing down.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, me too. Running down to 13. People that are not in Atlanta don’t know this, but the buses are terrible. There’s only a few that are fairly reliable. The 13 is pretty reliable. The 23, which is now the 110. The six to Emory is pretty reliable. I would imagine the 86 is probably pretty reliable too, but a lot of in-town buses, good luck. If you miss it, you’re waiting 30, 40 minutes for the next bus. It’s ridiculous.

Jordan Taylor:
No, absolutely. I mean, the 86, it came, but I wouldn’t say it’s super reliable because I would have to show up 10 minutes early or I’m going to be an hour late because like you said, it might show up on time. It might show up 10 minutes early. It might show up 10 minutes late. But either way, if you miss it, you’re waiting another 40 minutes until the next one. No, definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember taking the 23 and sometimes what happened is… I don’t know if this happened on the 86, but the driver would get out and go into McDonald’s and get something to eat. Just leave the bus, people on the bus waiting to get where they got to go, but they got to get a McGriddle. They got to get their food and come… You better not be mad about it either because they’ll put you out.

Jordan Taylor:
No, thanks. But my bus driver would always… Well, it didn’t happen all the time, but he stopped. I had a few bus drivers stop and get out and walk and go get some chicken wings and they come back. They would walk to the gas station.

Maurice Cherry:
Yep. Oh, man. That’s a very particular just Atlanta transit thing that, that’s funny. I think about that and I just get a warm feeling like nostalgia.

Jordan Taylor:
But like I said, it’s ridiculous. It just is Atlanta. It just is that journey.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about design?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say for where I’m at right now, the best advice I was given was not too long ago. I was talking to Eddie Opara, just trying to take advantage of the situation I’m in. I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to meet this man.” I was like, “Okay.” We just had a conversation. I told him where I was at like where I was talking about earlier, how I feel like I’m just in this space where I’m trying to figure out what’s next. What do I want to keep doing? Or how do I keep moving forward? What he told me was that what you got to do as a designer is kind of figure out what your voice.
You spend all this time learning the building blocks, learning the technical things like, “Oh, how do I use After Effects? How do I use InDesign?” And all this kind of stuff. But sometimes you can get lost in that and not realize that you have a way of expressing yourself. You have a voice. I feel like I do those things, but I don’t have my own world that I built out a vision for how people just immediately are like, “Oh, Jordan made this. This speaks to his sensibilities.” I’m very much more so in the production stage of where I’m at right now.
So I think that was something that, “Oh, was really helpful to me.” He was talking about how you have to pick what means the most to you. Is it about paying it forward in which case maybe you do a lot more kind of teaching or instructing? Or is it about expressing the essence of what we do. In that case, you might do a lot more forums and TED talk type things.
But it was really helpful just figuring out what means the most to you and how do you make that known to people? What is your identity as a designer?

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really good advice.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Next time you talk to Eddie, tell him I said what’s up.

Jordan Taylor:
Okay. Yeah. I should see him soon, so I’ll tell him.

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

Jordan Taylor:
I think what keeps me the most motivated is just… I know there’s so much more coming. There are a myriad of things that have gotten me to this point like the music I love, the artwork I love. I’m constantly making mood boards on Are.na or Pinterest of things that I think other people are doing and that are cool and they push me forward. But I think the things that keeps me the most hopeful for what’s coming in the future is that I know I have a place and I know that I’m in control of it ultimately. I just have to keep going forward and seeing what’s next, looking for those new opportunities.

Maurice Cherry:
What more do you want to see from the design community? I feel like you are at this very unique place as not only just a young designer, but also a young designer at a place that has such a storied reputation, I would say. What do you want to see more of from the design community?

Jordan Taylor:
I want to see more of Black people. I want to see more of me, more of us. I just want to see more of it. I think that we’re such a creative people. Our influence is so ridiculous. I think that when you think about that in the grand scope, the statistics around how many people of color are like, or how many Black people are designing is so disproportionately low when I’m thinking about the kind of impact we have on the sway of things in the American culture.
I think that also something that I want to see more of is just based on my background and I guess a little bit of just being around my mom all the time. I want to see more people designing at earlier ages. I want that kind of stuff introduced to kids earlier and earlier. I think with the onset of the internet and TikTok and all those kind of things, I think it’s becoming a little more standardized at earlier ages and younger and younger kids are getting into it.
But I did a talk for my mom’s elementary school a few months ago, just introducing them to what design is and the amount of feedback I got from not only the kids, but the teachers that didn’t know that it was an option and were just so blown away about the possibility of what design is and what it can do. I think that just needs to continue happening.

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

Jordan Taylor:
In the next five years, I want to be doing more work that speaks to who I am. I wanted to speak to my interests. I wanted to impact the people that I care about the most. I wanted to continue to be as proud of my work as I am right now. I feel like I’m really proud of what I do, but it also isn’t a hundred percent mine. So I think that’s where I see myself in five years. Just really taking more ownership of my designs and applying them to what means most to me.

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

Jordan Taylor:
You can find me on Instagram, @jiggyjordan. It’s J-I-G-G-Y-J-O-R-D. I have a website. It’s a keywordjord. K-E-Y-W-O-R-D-J-O-R-D. Other than that… I mean, I have an Are.na page. I enjoy that a lot. I’ve been really getting into that. Do you use Are.na at all?

Maurice Cherry:
This was back in 2019, 2020, I worked with a designer, this really cool student named Perjohn. We used to work at Glitch together. He kind of turned me on to Are.na at first, because he was using it kind of as a sketchbook of sorts. I’ve never used it outside of that though. What is it like?

Jordan Taylor:
So to me it’s a cooler Pinterest. I find a lot of design inspiration on there visually, but I see all kind of people doing different things on here. I’ve seen entire mood boards that are just full of random ideas. I’ve seen tons of people making video references, motion references, entire mood boards that are just free type faces. I mean, I enjoy it a lot. It’s a little grungy and underground, but that speaks to the stuff I like.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ll have to check it out. What’s your name on Are.na?

Jordan Taylor:
It’s just Jordan Taylor. I think that’s the best way to find me on here. That’s the other thing. It’s a little hard to discover people on this thing, but I’ll message you. And if anybody else has any trouble finding me, they can let me know, I guess, on Instagram or something.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Jordan Taylor, I want to thank you so so much for coming on the show. I really wanted to have a young Atlanta designer on the show. I know you’re not in Atlanta anymore, but I think just your story of quiet perseverance and drive from growing up to going to school and even pursuing these internships, I think that’s something that a lot of people out here need to see, because I think we see enough of the alternative, which is I went to this fancy art school and now I went to this fancy agency or whatever.
I think people see enough of the alternative and don’t see the folks out here that they’re quietly grinding. And I get the sense that you’ve really been quietly grinding, building your portfolio, improving your skills. And that’s gotten to where you are now at Pentagram of all places.
I can’t wait to see what you do in five years, man. I’m really going to be keeping an eye out for you. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jordan Taylor:
Oh yeah. Thank you so much. I mean, this has been incredible. I appreciate it.

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Ayrïd Chandler

We’re off to the Caribbean this week to talk with the incredibly talented Ayrïd Chandler. Ayrïd is the head of her own studio, Ayrïd by Design, where she offers graphic design services with a focus on brand and identity design. She also teaches at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, where she’s helping to educate and inspire Trinidad and Tobago’s next generation of designers.

Ayrïd starts off talking about her goals for the year, and from there we get into the differences between being a designer in Trinidad vs. being a designer in America. She also spoke about what draws her to brand and identity design, and talked about entering Savannah College of Art and Design, moving back home, and how she’s making a name for herself there. Ayrïd’s path really shows us that as Black designers, we share a similar sense of community no matter where we are, so you’re never alone. Huge thanks to Rebecca Brooker of Queer Design Club for the introduction!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Ayrïd Chandler:
My name is Ayrïd Chandler. I am technically an officially a graphic designer. I run my own business firm studio, one-woman show called Ayrïd by Design here in Trinidad and Tobago. I primarily work on branding identity projects. Apart from that, I am a part-time lecturer for design at the University of West Indies St. Augustine, which is here in Trinidad. There might be other things I’m [inaudible 00:03:15] that I do, but we can get to that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. How has the year been treating you so far?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Whew, it’s been interesting. I feel like 2022 has started kind of with a bang in a different way. I mean, things are changing with the pandemic, but then World War III question mark. I feel like a lot of stuff is just happening globally. I don’t know about you, but as a creative, all of those things kind of impacts me a little bit. I feel like because of the weight or the toll that can take on mentally consuming all of the information all the time. It kind of puts it own on things.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But apart from those obvious things, the year started actually with me doing a lot more than I planned on doing. I ended up being a creative director at the local agency here, working on ruling out some digital products. And then that got pause due to pause and investments. There was a lot of shifting happening, where I went from working on external products to focusing more on Ayrïd by Design, instead of juggling the two. Feel like that was a mouthful of your very simple question, but that’s all the year has been going for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting about as you kind of alluded to about World War III and I promise for folks listening, this is not a political podcast, but I’ve been kind of keeping my eye, just I watch the news every now and then just to kind of get a sense of what’s happening. I mean, as we’re recording, this conflict has been going on now for roughly about six or seven weeks.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It doesn’t show any sign of abatements. It’s tough to kind of see, of course, all the devastation that’s happening and the general pleas from the President Zelensky. Yet, I know people that are actively traveling to that part of the world without a care in the world, and I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I’m like, look, I know you’re a few countries away and maybe that distance means something, but like, I don’t know if my American self wants to be in a war torn part of the world right now, but that’s just me.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, no, I mean, I have friends and family in Europe and London and Germany and life is normal. Life is like every day, no big deal. Then I have a friend who is actually Russian, but she lives on this part of the world and she’s just like painting a picture for me of what that means and life, I mean, the war is really from what I understand only happening in, I mean, certain parts, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s not even affecting the country as a whole. It’s like say, and there’s a war in the US, but it’s really just happening in Washington. The rest of the US won’t really be in war. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I think it’s a very similar kind of situation where we just think, well, the whole of this thing is being affected when it’s really just a portion. But I think it’s just the fact that we are getting all of the imagery, we’re getting all of the information live. Like it’s not like before in the previous war, there was no social media. There was no, you know what I mean? It took a while to get news update. We’re getting everything instantly. I think that is what’s making this so different, at least for me. I mean, I haven’t existed in a war before, overtime.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s just new.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s also different to be completely honest that it’s happening to Europeans.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When this is what’s happening to Syrians and Palestinians, and there were news about these sorts of things happening, there certainly wasn’t this level of focus on it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Nope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Geopolitics aside, is there anything in particular that you want to achieve this year?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yes, I do, actually. I would like to achieve financial independence and stability. That is the main goal for me this year. And what I mean by that is actually having the profit that the business makes then stuck up to a point where the business kind of can run on its own and it’s more sustainable. Right now, I think we’re still very much in those early stages of, I won’t say paycheck to paycheck, but month to month, certain projects will definitely make a difference, that kind of thing. And so, being able to kind of get that stability within a personal business that one might have, they had a day job, I think that’s kind of the goal that I’m aspiring to for this. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk more about your firm Ayrïd by Design, what made you want to start your own firm?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I came back home in 2012 after I graduated from college. I haven’t realized that I’m one of those people that didn’t go the traditional route of started off with a day job and then decided to leave and do my own thing. I kind of always worked on my own. I went straight from college, well, not straight, like mainly from college to freelance to registering my business. Honestly, I was freelancing for six years and I discovered all of the different things of how business worked in Trinidad and basically, my banker was like, “You’re commingling your funds, right?” I was like, what does that mean? She was like, “Well, you’re passing business funds into your personal bank account.” I was like, what do you mean business funds like money that I’m earning? She was like, “Yeah, you’re supposed to have a business account for those things.” I was like, oh, I did not learn this from school. I never heard this before.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I don’t know anything. And so, that kind of took me down a trajectory of the researching things and finding things out and talking to different people and that kind of thing. And also, it came at a point in my life when I really wanted to ground myself a bit and set roots on structure and stability. It was a kind of a natural make sense progression of, okay, no, you need to make things official. You need to go and register your business name. You need to be a legal, registered entity. You open your business banking accounts. I got an accountant. Like I did all of the things correct to make sure that I was set up properly and that led to so many different opportunities, which was great, so yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it’s interesting, you mentioned that about it, not you being taught in school. I know that there are some schools that do have some kind of entrepreneurial program, but even for folks that want to just strike out on their own like, I know so many people have done over the past year or so because of the great resignation, like that kind of information isn’t super, I don’t want to say it’s not super available, but it’s certainly not something that is I think talked about a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, when I started my first business, I had the same issue. I was co-mingling personal funds and business funds before kind of getting my taxes back and getting audited and then realizing, you know what? I should probably separate these funds, which makes more sense. It just makes more sense.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But that’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. For sure. Also, to your points of like information being readily available, I mean, I’ve a 100% agree from being in the US system, at least for my college and my education, that information is way more readily available for you guys. But in the Caribbean, information is still kind of pretty hard to get in terms of the structures of things. And so, you have to do a way more research. You have to actually speak to another human being. It’s not as easy as go look it up somewhere because our websites are still… We’re very much kind of a little bit behind. I’d say we are a decade behind in terms of that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, but decade is a lot though, I mean.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, I mean.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad that you mentioned that it is different like that in other countries, because certainly I think what’s shown here in the US is about sort of being a digital nomad and you can work from anywhere if you work remotely and this kind of thing, and I mean there’s limitations.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was blessing for us…

Maurice Cherry:
What did you say?

Ayrïd Chandler:
… in a weird way. The pandemic was a blessing for us in a weird way because it forced us to get things like online banking, which we did not have before.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. Things like apps on being able to pay someone who banks somewhere else in Trinidad was a challenge, which set up a challenge usually for business. At least to me as someone who, I mean, I learned banking with like Chase and Wells Fargo when I was in college. I was accustomed, getting paid by the company that I worked on in Atlanta taking out my iPad at the time, scanning it on the app and having the money in my account. Then I came back to Trinidad and someone would pay me with a check and I’d have to go sign in a bank line, deposits that check and then wait four to five business days to access the check. It’s very different realities and that affects business as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Walk me through like a typical day for you.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. I always like to say no day is typical and every day is very different, but to paint a kind of a picture. I would start the day, usually catching up on emails. I have an assistant who I work with and she helps me establish what my to-do list is and what are the priorities in terms of clients, et cetera. I usually would have a meeting or two and these will all be online. It’s usually me chat, checking in with a new client, having a conversation about what their project is like, that kind of thing. Then it’s usually like four hours, especially if I’m working on a new branding project of just computer one on one time with zero disturbances. Well, I try for it to be with zero disturbances, but I have a dog that likes a lot of attention.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I usually just go into this whole work where the world does not exist and I’m in my creation mode. Then after that, it’s kind of, I do whatever I want in terms of relaxation, et cetera, and prep for the next day. The reason why I say it’s like there’s no typical for me is because that might be like a Monday, whereas if you were to ask me about a Wednesday, what tomorrow, it starts with me teaching my students, because I teach on Wednesdays from 9:00 to 12:00. And so, a Wednesday would start with me teaching and then most likely doing, having no other meetings for the day, just to kind of clear my head and focusing on getting tasks off my to-do list kind of knocked off. But I would say like if it was to broaden it a bit and talk about a week and a general week, it would be typically a little bit of teaching, many meetings, lots of discussion with my assistant as well as someone that I recently started working with who was kind of helping me structure systems and processes within my business.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Like set it up for a more sustainable model. A lot of just talking things through, talking steps through, talking like, okay, what is the process from the time I engage with a client to the final stage where they receive the final artwork, like what are the steps? When do they fill out the creative brief form? When do we meet? When do they make their first payments? When do they make their second payments? So stuff like that is kind of, what’s been happening a lot lately. Of course, well, the actual design work within those probable period.

Maurice Cherry:
What are the best types of clients for you to work with? Do you kind of work along clients in the particular industry?

Ayrïd Chandler:
No, I would say I work across multiple industries, both within the creative sector as well as corporate, as well as I think anything in between, best clients would be a paying client.

Maurice Cherry:
Hello?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Those are always great. No, but the ideal client for me is someone who’s a little bit open and clients who trust me, I think is what I am leaning towards noting is so important in the creative process. I work a lot with, I mean, well, as an identity designer, someone who’s there at the beginning kind of creating the logo for your new business, your new baby, your new idea, your new project or whatever. That’s kind of, I would say like 75% of the work that I do. I’m there at the beginning, right? I’m there with this person and they’re like, well, this is this thing that I’ve always wanted to do. And finally, getting started and I want to open a bakery or I want to create a new product. Those are kind of the SME as we call them that come to me and who I work with. And so, those are, I would guess the ideals right now, because they’re fun to work with.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it about identity design in particular that appeals to you?

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s an excellent question and I’m now like I have my hands down and I’m thinking deeply to answer your question. I think I’m good at it and I know that sounds kind of weird and conceited a little bit. I don’t mean it in that way. It’s just that it feels kind of second nature to me. It feels like the thing that I am meant to be doing and I’m able to do well. Even when I was studying design in college, like that was the thing, that was the part that made my brain tingle.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I guess when we did a different courses, maybe someone more into web, their brain might have tingled when we were doing that. But for me, being able to tell someone’s story visually is really, really appealing to me. And so getting into this, the background of why you’re doing this and how you want your customers to feel and what is the best way to put all of those things together to kind of become the new face or look of your business, your project, your company, whatever. It just it’s really exciting for me. Like I love it, so yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When a company or an individual contacts you about a new project, like talk to me about that, what does your process look like?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. It’s changed recently, so I now know it officially. Usually, an email comes in and it will go straight to my assistant and she would kind of be their first point of contact. They’d be like, hey, I’m interested in finding out more about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Most of the times, people want a quote. That’s usually where the first thing they want to know is like, if they can afford you or how much it’s going to cost and that kind of thing, at least here. What I do is we send a form that I’ve created that helps get information from the client to create a creative brief, because the typical client wouldn’t know what a creative brief is outside of certain industries. It’s just not common knowledge.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I created this form that allows them to answer certain questions that ultimately creates a creative brief for me. But it also does things like ask, what’s your budget, et cetera, et cetera. What are the actual deliverables that you’re looking for? It kind of lays all of that out for me. Then from that point, we send a quote and it includes things like the timeline, how long the project will take, and it also lays out the kind of rules of engagement. Like, when you’d get your first invoice, when you’d get your second invoice, who has ownership, who’s rights and credits, all of those things are kind of I include my, what you would call like a contract within the quote process. From there, the client either says yes or no, and usually it’s yes, thankfully.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sometimes, we need to meet and chat a little bit more about the project, sometimes we don’t. There’s some clients who I literally have never had a meeting with because they’ll just so very clear and they’re answering the form as well in their emails. And they’re like, “yeah, no, I don’t need to meet you, it’s fine.” But most of the times, there are instances where we’ll meet and just talk about a project a little bit so I can get a better sense of what it is that they’re looking for.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Then, I begin and head to phase one, which is usually sending, creating a document to send options for them, whether it’s one option based on their budget is on what they sent, whether it’s two options, whether it’s three options and I go through this process of research based on the industry. The great thing about what I do is that I get to learn about all of these different fields and lives and businesses that I would never have otherwise been exposed to. One day, I’m looking up all of the information about NFTs, the next day, I’m looking up real estate and how that works in Trinidad.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just go like a deep dive into whatever the industry is so that I can understand it. I can see trends. The great thing about this, that I get to go this deep dive into different industries, what people are doing, and so I research the trends within the industry. I research things like what colors do people use? What are the font styles? I’m really good at observing patterns for some reason. I feel like that’s like little secret thing that I have. And maybe not, maybe that’s what all designers do and I just am giving myself more importance than necessary. I tend to like just pay attention to all the trends, pay attention to all the details and then go back to the original notes that the clients gave me of what they want, what they want to achieve and marry it all together to achieve this perfect for them outcome.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I send that off, then comes the pain taken part of waiting for client feedback, which I think is always like, it’s like the best and worst part of the project for me, at least because it can go either way. It can go, I hate this and you’ve not understood anything that I said, or it can go, oh, I love this, and this is what we want to move forward with. From that point on, it’s just back and forth with the client, whether it’s edits, whether it’s tweaks, changes, colors, fonts, et cetera. Then we get to the end when they finally made their final decision, I package all the wonderful files for them and I hand it off and I say, here’s your child. Goodbye, good luck. That’s kind of how I do it.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, your process sounds pretty thorough from start to finish.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. I try to get as much information from clients as possible because that ideally is what helps me create. I think I’ve kind of figured out a way to eliminate as much as possible that back and forth period. Whereas in the early, when I first began, the back and forth was long and tedious and I didn’t ask as many question upfront as I do now. I wasn’t really designing for them. I wasn’t solving their problem. I was designing for the thing in general. I was designing for like, say someone wanted a logo for real estate. I was designing a generic real estate something. I wasn’t designing real estate but based off of what they wanted to achieve.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, I think when I finally figured out that I needed to be more in tune with the clients as well and asking them the right questions so that they would know, like not necessarily asking them what they want, because that’s not really what I want them to tell me, but more so what are their goals? What do they want to achieve? Why are they doing this? All of those questions help me then make sure that they have what it is that they need. I have noticed in the past couple of projects that I’ve wrapped up, that the back and forth period is way shorter as a result of that because of those questions upfront.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s usually really good to get as many qualifying questions as you can, because one thing it does also like you’ll quickly find out whether or not this is a project you even want to do. If it’s something you want to take on, if this is a client you even want to work with and certainly like, as you do more projects and as you mature in your business, you get a lot quicker at getting to the root of it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good that you kind of have that thorough process.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re originally from Trinidad and Tobago, tell me about what it was like growing up there?

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s been amazing. I enjoy being part of the Caribbean and I think growing up here was fun, I guess, would be the word I would choose. I am a carnival baby and what that means is that a huge part of Trinidad’s culture. And I say part of, or not the only thing that is Trinidad, because we have so much more to offer, but a huge part of it is our annual, I guess, street parade is what would be the best way to describe it. But it’s really a season that kind of begins right after Christmas, straight until the February or March, depending on the year, because it usually lines up with whenever Ash Wednesday is. It’s usually Monday and Tuesday before, so similar to Rio, I think also similar to New Orleans, all of our carnivals kind of line up around the same time, but I grew up playing kiddies carnival, which happened before the main Monday on Tuesday parade, trust that ability to express this freedom and creativity and this open way always really, really fascinated me.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, when I say I’m a carnival baby it’s because like from the time I was five years old, I was engrossed in this culture and I was playing these things. We say playing carnival, we say playing mask, that’s kind of how we refer to it. It was great. Like I was ready like the first time my mom told me, like the first time she took me, she was like, testing me out to see if it was something I’d be interested in. When I realized that it was only one day, because I thought I was going back like the next day, like how you go back to school every day.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And she was like, no, you have to wait until next day. And I was like, what? No, tomorrow. So yeah, I would say growing up is very unique. I would say, I mean, I don’t know how many foodies there are out there listening, but if you’re a foodie, Trinidad is definitely a place to enjoy all of the flavors. I mean, moving to Atlanta directly from Trinidad for college was an awakening because I didn’t realize how much I loved our food until I left Trinidad, so that’s always really interesting. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You didn’t run into any good like Trini spots here in Atlanta?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yes, it took me a while, because I mean this was 2008 to 2012 was when I was there. I didn’t have as much information and that first year was just me getting used to the fact that I am no longer home and dealing with the culture shock, which I didn’t think I would have. Because I was like, well its people where speaking English, there’s no language barrier, but learning, appreciate you or appreciate it, it meant thank you. That was like [inaudible 00:27:43] I guess. I was like, what do you say? Appreciate it, man. I’m like, what? There was a lot of back and forth with that in that first year for sure. And getting used to cafeteria food was also very interesting, lots of tilapia. It was weird time. It was very weird time, but I know I did eventually find some Trini spots there and I also started cooking for everyone and so it worked out, eventually.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Atlanta has a pretty big like overall Caribbean population, especially for students. I went to Morehouse. In the whole AUC area, especially when I first got to Morehouse, that was first time encountering anyone from the Caribbean outside of a bad impression that I might have saw in a movie or a television show.

Ayrïd Chandler:
[Inaudible 00:28:34].

Maurice Cherry:
I’m from Alabama originally so it’s just like one state over.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
But I remember getting to Morehouse and meeting Jamaicans and Trinidadians and Saint Lucians and at first thinking like everyone just sounded the same because I could kind of understand it, but I couldn’t understand it. But then also learning just the differences in everyone’s culture and the food, that’s where I introduced to roti and doubles and everything. Yeah, I know what you mean by the culture shock. I think Atlanta, I think for a lot of people when they first come to Atlanta from anywhere, it’s a bit of a culture shock.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, for sure. Also, I mean, I don’t want to sound like a little bit of an alcoholic or anything, but we drink at 18 in Trinidad, when you guys drink at 21.

Maurice Cherry:
Legally.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Legally, but like going to the club for me and being told that this was before you all changed the law. This was back when like at midnight on Sunday, the bar closed because y’all didn’t serve on [inaudible 00:29:42]…

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
… on Sundays. That was huge for me. And not realizing that I couldn’t like walk along the street and drink a beer because that’s just a thing that we do here, Savannah was kind of like a safe haven for me because you can kind of do a lot down by the river.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, I was always kind of running away to Savannah just to get a bit of what I learned for you a little bit just like a little bit of home, but yeah, all of those things that you like you don’t think about that are things until you experience it and you’re like, oh, this is something that I have never experienced before. Interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, now your dad worked in advertising, was that kind of your first introduction to the world of design in a way?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I feel like it could be, possibly. I grew up watching commercials and critiquing them with my dad. That’s just kind of a thing that happened in the household and never did I put the two and two together and be like, oh this is a Korean, this is a thing that I would then be doing in the future. It was never that direct or that straightforward. I would be… And my dad works at [inaudible 00:30:51] in Trinidad for many years and after school, that’s just where I ended up. And we would be the office until eight, nine every night because advertising, at least here, I know globally, it’s intense but here is many late hours and long hours of just making sure that clients are happy. I don’t know that I ever made the connection with this is like a profession or a thing that I can do or wanted to do.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I knew like very early on that I wasn’t never going to work in advertising because of the demand and the hours that it puts on someone. I think everyone was really surprised when I was like, oh yeah, I want to do graphic design because it was not a, well, I’m following in my dad’s footsteps or I’ve been exposed to this thing, to this long and this is what makes sense. After did languages in school afternoon, even do art and well, what we call secondary school that you guys would call high school. It really wasn’t like a very clear cut sort of thing that happened at all.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It kind of became a, well, what do you enjoy doing and what are you doing naturally? I was a person that was like creating event programs in school for our masses. I went to like Catholic girl school and we’d always have weekly masses and I was doing the program for those kind of things. I was there and illustrate [inaudible 00:32:13] in on my dad’s computer, that kind of stuff. It came that way, as opposed to like me watching this person that I’ve lived with my entire life kind of doing this thing and following him, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. I mean like, I mean, I grew up, my mom was a biologist and I never wanted to really go into science I think because I was always around it, and I was not to say that I didn’t have a passion for it or a proclivity for it. It’s just because it’s around, it doesn’t necessarily mean, oh, this is the thing that I want to do. Like, she was like super surprised when she saw that I was really into writing. Then when I went to college that I majored in math. She’s like, what? She didn’t really understand where that was all coming from because she thought I would either do… She thought I would either do biology or like pre-med or something like that, and I had no interest in it whatsoever.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What was it like SCAD for you? I mean, you mentioned that first year kind of being a bit of a culture shock, but how was it overall?

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was great. I mean, I was finally happy to be doing something that I enjoyed in a school structure because prior to school, like just to be completely transparent here. When I graduated from secondary school, high school, I had a 1.96 GPA.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I got into SCAD with a 1.96 GPA, let’s just put that there.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
This system here just didn’t appeal to me at all. Like I was doing it because I had to and not because of… And I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t engaged, it wasn’t anything like that. When I got to SCAD, it was like, oh my gosh. Like all of a sudden, I’m getting to do subjects, I’m choosing. All of a sudden, I’m getting to participate in this thing that I have actively decided like I’m interested in. It was the first time of me enjoying an academic setting at all, and it was great. I think we had some really great professors in the graphic design field. They made a huge difference for sure. Definitely, finding community and bonding with different people in different walks of life, from different parts of the world was really fun as well.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was also really active in student life. So I was like an RA. I was the youngest RA at the time because usually you’re only allowed to be an RA once you get into your second year. But by the end of my first year, I was an RA and then I became CA and I also was one of the loud ones who probably administration did not like, but I got the food to improve in the cafeteria. Well, what we call the hub in Atlanta and I met with like the manager of the food, situation was like, how can we improve this? And can we change up the menus? Can the recipes can change? Like you’ve been cooking the same thing for the past two years, what’s going on? And so yeah, there was like a huge shift that happened literally my final quarter was when the results started to show. The food that they serve now is amazing in comparison to what we got. I still take small credits every now and then I’m like, you’re welcome guys, you’re welcome.

Maurice Cherry:
You paved the way.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But yeah, no, it was great. It was really, really nice to just be in a setting that foster learning a thing that you already figured out that, that’s what you want to learn. You know what I mean? Like it was fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. After you graduated, like tell me about what your early career was like? Because I’m kind of curious about this period right after you graduated and you were in Atlanta before moving back to Trinidad, because you kind of alluded to that a bit earlier.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. [inaudible 00:36:16], well, for graphic design, we used to have this event called Out to Launch and basically it’s a reverse kind of portfolio review session where we set up booths. We, being the students, set up kind of a little booth about ourselves and our work. And then SCAD invites perspective employers and businesses and companies within our field to come and meet us. And so, we kind of sell ourselves at this kind of trade show kind of set up. It’s called Out to Launch and it’s for the graphic designers. It was meant to then introduce us to folks who we would then get jobs with after graduating. It’s in that final quarter and everyone, the pressure was on from that point in terms of, we were very much an interview stage and I was calling everyone and having interviews with folks, et cetera.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I had the option for OPT for a year, which allows non US citizens to stay and work in the US for up to a year after they graduate, legally. I guess the hopes is that a company loves you so much that they would then sponsor you so that you can get a work visa and stay on permanently. I interview with many folks and for some reason did not get through with many opportunities. Eventually, I connected with a company called Atleisure. I don’t think they exist anymore, but at the time, they were an outdoor furniture design company. They were based near Grant Park area, and they were looking for an in-house graphic designer to work with them, for things like instruction manuals and labels for their product. When I say outdoor furniture company, I’m talking things like patio furniture, umbrellas, that sort of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That was my first job. For three months, I was there, it was an internship. I was the in-house graphic designer. They would provide things to like Target and QVC. Those were like where they were selling these things. They had the furniture designers in-house who were creating their designs and then sending it off to China. Then I was like on the phone with China folks to get the instruction manuals and then design it with the established brand that they had. I had to tweak the brand a little bit because the brand was really rough when I joined. I was like, no guys, this is nuts, and I tried to tweak it a little bit, but there was only so much I could do because it was already registered and that kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was a really, really interesting time. I mean, looking back now, I see how that job helps me for a lot of the things that I’ve since done in a lot of the projects that I’ve since worked on. In the moment though, I will admit that I was very sad because in comparison, I had classmates who were interning at Nike and who interning at Apple and who were interning at Coca-Cola. Then there’s me like just interning at this furniture design company. I’m like, what gives guys?

Ayrïd Chandler:
There was definitely that internal sort of am I good enough? What’s going on? What am I doing with my life kind of thing. But I also was that person who even when I left to go to college, knew that I didn’t want to stay and work in the US. I knew I eventually wanted to come back home. I think maybe that’s what folks saw as well in my interviewing process, even though I wouldn’t have said that out right. I think maybe seeing that I was not as dedicated or connected to staying in the US, so work permanently because they would’ve been looking for folks who they could then hone and then have a staff afterwards, so maybe that was a thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I wonder for young designers particularly here in Atlanta and this is something that I have, I’ve discussed it with business folks here with studio owners and things like that. For design graduates that are just coming out of school right now, Atlanta is a tough city to break into for your design career just overall for a number of reasons. One is, I mean, I would say the business culture here particularly, but it’s not like New York. It’s not like Silicon Valley. It’s not a city where you can sort of start out at maybe a more design forward or design focused company in that way. Like even some of the big names, like Twitter or Square or things like that. They may have offices here, but then they don’t really have a design department. They’ve got sales here or engineering or something like that. It can be tough to get in on the start like on the ground floor and then agencies are hard because agencies want you to have agency experience and you can’t get agency experience without working at an agency.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s like that kind of rough go of getting in and so I know a lot of folks, particularly at… It depends on the school like I worked at AT&T for two years, this was way back in like 2006, from 2006 to 2008.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I worked at AT&T and there was a direct pipeline from the Art Institute of Atlanta directly to AT&T like a direct pipeline. People graduated from there, they got referred by someone that they knew and so they start in house at somewhere. Then from there, they would either go on to the CDC or they’d go on to Northrop Grumman and they’d live just kind of this mid tier designer life so to speak, nothing fancy, nothing great, but it’s a paycheck, that kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I think the design community in Atlanta and I’m firing shots here. It’s just not that… I think for a designer just starting out, if they really want to sort of make an impact, it’s really hard to find a company here where you can do exciting work. If you end up at a good studio or something, maybe.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s tough. And so, I know that a lot of graduates end up leaving, you left, but a lot of graduates end up leaving to go somewhere to a more exciting locale with better prospects.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Better career prospects in general, not just entry level stuff.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. Most of my class left, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I would say when they like maybe two or three folks stayed in Atlanta and they got through it like Coca-Cola. For the most part, people yeah, for sure. I think New York and LA was where folks ended up. That’s a huge relation to SCAD and just kind of the grip that they do and making sure that you get an opportunity somewhere…

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Ayrïd Chandler:
… once you’ve graduated.

Maurice Cherry:
Because the school itself is a, I mean, it looks great on the resume anywhere you go, they say, oh, you went to Savannah College of Art and Design. That’s going to at least get you an interview, so that’s great. But here in the city, it’s tough. And I mean, I’ve heard this from art students that went to art school. I’ve heard this particularly from HBCU students. I’ve even heard this from people that have went to Georgia Tech or Emory or Georgia State. It’s just, it’s Atlanta is a tough design city in that aspect. I will argue it until the cows come home. It’s just tough. I mean, I had to start my own business to really further my career in design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
I graduated in ’03 with a math degree. Of course, I didn’t want to go into teaching so I did customer service jobs. That …

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
… sold tickets at the symphony. I was a telemarketer for Atlanta Opera. Like I did boring stuff. Then I got my first design gig, believe it or not from answering a classified ad in the back of Creative Loafing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh, okay.

Maurice Cherry:
I answered it on a whim. That was my first design gig for the… It was for the state of Georgia. I did that for about a year and a half. Then from there, I went to AT&T, quit AT&T and then started my own studio. The reason I quit AT&T is because I could see my career hitting a glass ceiling already and I had only been a working designer for roughly about three or four years. I’m like, I’m not going to get any further here. I was registered at A Queens and I was like putting my resume out there and no one wanted to even interview me.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m just like, I was going to move. I was trying very hard in like the last, like 2008 or so, I was trying very hard to move to New York. I had friends that were up there that were like, well, we know a broker, we can connect you with because I’m like, I’m not going to further my design career staying in this city.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
It didn’t change until I broke out and started my own thing, which is very similar to what you did. You left, you started your own studio.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. How does one with a math degree then do design? Walk me through that.

Maurice Cherry:
I tell people that math really teaches you how to think and so what helped me, particularly when I started my studio with being a math major, and this is going to probably sound a bit weird, but you write a lot of proofs in math. Math is all about proving things once you get like past a certain level, like you leave the numbers behind. It’s all letters and symbols moving forward. And so, you’re proving things like why is zero less than one? Why does one plus one equal two? And you would think like, oh, because it does. But then you have to prove it through all these weird theories and all this kind of stuff. Going through all those logical steps taught me how to put together a brief for a client, taught me how to put together a proposal, taught me to look at a problem and find more than one solution.

Maurice Cherry:
Like being able to abstract that out into a way that made sense is how I’ve done that. I would say everything from that has been just honestly just self-taught. I read a lot of books. I watch a lot of courses. Oh my God, when I worked at AT&T, for example, there was a Barnes and Noble that was nearby my apartment and I would go to that Barnes and Noble on a Saturday and get some of those Photoshop’s tips and tricks books. And I have my little point and shoot digital camera and just sit and just take picture.

Maurice Cherry:
Because I’m like, I don’t have $40 to buy this book so I’m just going to take pictures and I’m going to go back home and I’m going to look at the pictures and try to recreate it in my cracked version of Photoshop that I downloaded from some sketchy place that hopefully won’t give my computer a virus and just did a lot of practicing. There was a time where I went through and tried to figure out what every tool in Photoshop did, every single one.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m like, I’m going to figure out what each one of these things does. And then that helped me out once I actually got into a production environment, because then I knew these kind of things that Photoshop could do, that other people didn’t because they only knew maybe layers or something like that. And I’m like, oh, well actually you can make an art board and do this, this, this and this. And folks were like, how do you know that? That kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was a lot. I taught myself a lot about design. I’ve not taken a single formal design course.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I always envy folks who can be self-taught. I’ve tried to like try to learn things on my own and my brain, I don’t know what it is. I’m one of those people that needs to be in this formal setting and someone else is showing me the ropes in order to learn. I hate that about myself, honestly, because I’m so envious of folks who can just have that self discipline to learn a thing. I find it so fascinating and amazing, and I envy you right now, just a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’ll tell you, it doesn’t help when you have to go and apply for a job because you can put all that self taught knowledge on there and the first thing they’re going to look at and see is like, oh, you sold tickets at the symphony?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. That’s what I did.

Maurice Cherry:
Or they see that A, you don’t have the education and B, you don’t have the work experience. Whether I knew it or not, it didn’t matter once it got into that sort of setting like. Certainly, for my first design job, I really had to prove myself by creating a portfolio overnight for the job that I ended up getting. Then even for AT&T, I remember they gave me a take home test. They were like, we want you to make a three page website and there’s two types of businesses you can choose from, a bridal boutique or a motocross event. I said, you know what? I’m going to take the bridal boutique, the person, the interviewer was a woman. She’s like, what? You don’t want the motocross. I’m like, well, first of all, I’m feeling some sexism here, but I’m going to take the bridal boutique and I’m going to work with that and I made a little bridal boutique shop and they were impressed and I got the job.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just feel like that’s the easier option as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Like motocross, what do you even do with that?

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know, dirt background.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I’m not [inaudible 00:49:39].

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Tire treads, rough stencil type. I don’t know.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just feel like bridal boutique is a better way to show off your design skill.

Maurice Cherry:
But I have to do, but yeah, I did a lot of, oh my God, just so much playing around in Photoshop, just trying to figure out what stuff did, but eventually once I had design experience under my belt, when I started my studio, for example.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That was when I said my design career took off because clients don’t care where you went to school.

Ayrïd Chandler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
They don’t care where you went to school. They just to know if you can do the job that they’re paying you for. And so, I did that for roughly nine years and then I closed my studio down and got back into the working world. But it is what it is.

Ayrïd Chandler:
What made you close? Sorry, I feel like I’m interviewing you now.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, it’s fine. It’s fine. The market changed. I mean, when I started, I started my studio in like 2009, late 2008, early 2009. And back then, WordPress was really started to take off and so I had gotten good at making WordPress themes.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
That was something that really kind of let my career take off. I had gotten together with someone who was running for mayor for Atlanta. And wait, you were probably here during that time. What years were you in Atlanta?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was there 2008 to 2012.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Lisa Borders had run for mayor in 2009 and I was on her campaign. I was her director of new media.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
I made her website, her Twitter profile, her MySpace page to…

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
[inaudible 00:51:16] how long ago that was, and she didn’t win. She came in third place. But one, that experience really like connected me to so many other people, influential business people and donors and things like that. By the time the campaign disbanded, I had a Rolodex full of leads that I could then call on and be like, “Yeah, I can do this job. I can do that job. I can do that job.” But I’d say by the time 2017 really rolled around, the market had changed. WordPress was still a big thing but then you started having the rise of a lot of site builders. You had Wix, you had Squarespace, and then for clients, it suddenly didn’t make sense to have a $5,000 bespoke website from WordPress when they could just pay Squarespace $8 a month and throw something together themselves. It became harder and harder of a sell to make that happen.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Eventually I just kind of wound it down and got back into the working world.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Interesting. Interesting. Thank you for entertaining my question.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no problem. I mean, the thing is when you’re working for yourself, you always kind of have to keep an eye on just what’s happening in the environment like.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
I picked up different services. I stopped doing different services for a while, I’d say, right around the mid 2010s, I started doing diversity consulting. I had no business doing diversity consulting. What they saw was like a black person in design and this was around, I guess, maybe year two or three of doing Revision Path. And they saw me doing this podcast and companies were like, “Yeah, we’ll write you a check to come and tell us what we need to do to bring in more black people. I got to do work for Netflix and I did work for Vox Media. Now, I would say in hindsight, that was purely situational.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Not to say, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I didn’t know what I was doing. In hindsight, I would say that, because the money is spent now, but in hindsight I was like, “Yeah, you know what you need to do, change that job listing language.” And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s a good idea.” And I’m like, I don’t know what I’m doing here.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It did. You definitely did, because that sounds like good advice.

Maurice Cherry:
But it helped though. It helped though.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I think it’s obvious for us, but it’s not obvious necessarily. Like if you don’t live it and if that’s not, like if you’re not aware of the mistake you’re making, it’s very easy for us to… It’s your design training, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s very easy for you to… It’s your math training. You’re seeing what the problem is and you’re calling it out.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s very simple.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, there’s one company. I can say the company it’s Vox Media, but I remember I was doing consulting for their product team and they were saying that, well, we don’t know, like we’re trying to get a sense of how many people of color on our team and we just don’t know how to find that out. I was like, “Well, did you do a survey? Did you count?” They were like, “No, we haven’t.” I’m like, “Oh my God, how do you not count?” That’s like the… But they didn’t know that so they put out a survey and they got numbers behind it because this was at a time when a lot of tech companies were starting to first report, like the percentage of black people as part of their creative workforce.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, they’re like, well, we want to try to get behind it and figure out the number and see what we can do to improve it and everything. I was like, “You should do a survey.” That’s a great idea. Here’s $5,000. That’s a great idea. Okay. Look, I’ll take it. If that’s all you need to hear, pay me 5,000 more, I’ll tell you something else. But in hindsight, I would say very situational that it sort of occurred in that way, but in general, yeah. I just wound it down because the market itself was changing. It was harder to do the kind of business that I had did before. And while I was changing, my business was changing with the times, also the podcast was taken off.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There was a point where the pod… I was bringing in more money with the podcast than I was with the studio and I really had to look and be like, well, what am I doing here? I could just focus on the show.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And not have to chase down checks from clients.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s amazing. Congrats.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, it’s something where every year you kind of just have to like take stock and see what you’re doing, see what you can change and improve.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
If you can go where the market goes.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. I feel like, so my thing is like, I’m always, like I have a foot in terms of observation of the market in the US. Then I have the very real reality check of the market in Trinidad, which is completely different. I think this year as well, I’ve been trying to stop comparing the two. I’ve been trying to stop kind of beating myself up a little bit about, well, if you’d stayed in America, maybe you would’ve had this much and blah, blah, blah. And kind of just dealing with the reality of what it is to run a design firm in Trinidad. It’s definitely a challenge for sure, a 100%. No one’s going to pay me 5,000 US to tell them the things that I tell them all the time. That’s just not the reality of our situation here. It’s kind of sad on one end.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s kind of like, oh, I wish you people would just get with the program. Then on the other end, it’s like a nice challenge because it’s like, you get to be at this start of hopefully something different, something new, helping make a difference, helping improve a culture of what design could be in Trinidad. I mean, when I graduated from college, when I came back in 2012, at the end of 2012, there were no graphic designer jobs, like people don’t know what graphic design was. That wasn’t a thing. And the fact that now, like when I look through job listings, there’s graphic design of those, there’s graphic design of that, et cetera. To me, like that shows like, okay, in 10 years there’s been change. At least, I can say things are improving. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Now, we just need to get them to pay graphic designers what we’re actually worth and stop trying to get a graphic designer, who’s also an animator and a copywriter all in one, which is a huge thing here, locally. No, we want one person to do all the things and pay them a quarter of the price. That’s like the realities and I guess it answers one of your first questions as well of like, how come I would’ve started my own thing is because you could make more money doing your own thing than you could working somewhere, which is wild. That’s wild to me. Like the fact that there’s more stability as a designer, like freelancing and working on your own and trying to figure things out than having that stability of well a paycheck.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, that’s absolutely how it was when I started my studio, I felt like I could make more money, but also, like I said, I had just hit a plateau in my career. I don’t know where I would be now if I would’ve stayed at AT&T and didn’t break out and do my own thing. Because aside from just the freedom of entrepreneurship, it gave me a lot of confidence just in my skills overall, because…

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
… at AT&T and T I was like part of a team. The way that they had a structure was they really pitted you against your coworkers. Like it was really more of a competition than a team kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s terrible.

Maurice Cherry:
Once I left, I really felt like I’ve got a couple years of design knowledge under my bill. I know what I’m doing. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I could at least figure it out and come to terms with the kind of work I want to do and the kind of teams I want to be on and stuff like that. Because I was calling the shots myself, it made just a lot easier in terms of me being more confident, because at the end of the day, you know this, you have to hunt what you kill, I guess is how you put it. Like, no one’s going to be responsible for bringing the work in, but you.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Unless you happen to have a salesperson, but other than that, you have to be the one that’s the face of the company, especially if your name is part of the company, like you got to be out there…

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… selling it all the time.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. Definitely. I definitely learned that very quickly. It kind of happened naturally though, similar to how you kind of leap off points would’ve been working with that mayor. Well, going up the mayor person, I guess my equivalent project would’ve been working with our local film festival. That was one of the first design jobs that I got. And back when I moved back home, it was really just an internship, but I got to work alongside an art director, Melanie Atro, who is pretty awesome.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was a really strong brand that it was already created. Every year, we just kind of roll out all of the different elements for the festival, whether that’s signage, whether it’s the poster, but what that allowed me to do similarly to you was network in a country when networking is not as… It doesn’t happen as organically, or as officially as when I was in Atlanta, I’m going to AIG, AIG buzz events and that sort of thing, like that was what I was accustomed to. I was like, oh, I’m going to go to this networking event and meet these people and talk and blah, blah, blah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And then I got back to Trinidad and I’m like, where are the networking? And everybody’s looking at me like, what are you talking about? All of a sudden, I’m in this festival with all of these different creatives, doing all of these different things and I’m meeting this sponsor. I’m meeting banks and all of these different folks who are part of this community that I would have been completely removed from for four years while I was in college.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And that definitely led to all of the connections, like some of the friendships that I even have to this day are from that moment and that time. Definitely, would not change it. I don’t know where I would be now, similarly to what you’re saying, I don’t know where I would be now if I was still working on Atleisure, for example, or right after Atleisure, when I came back home, I would say, my equivalent of your AT&T job might have been like this bank take that I took where they advertised it as a desktop publisher.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And this is a time when I have my graphic design degree and I’m not seeing any jobs with graphic design on it. I find this thing, I’m like, what is a desktop publisher? I’ll look it up. It was like, it said something like someone that designs long documents or brochures and annual reports and that side of things. I was like, oh, okay, well, I can do that for a bank.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Day one, I had no computer. Day two, they gave me no… Like I was sitting at the desk, no desktop on it for me to do any desktop publishing. It turns out they just wanted someone to design PowerPoint presentations for their managers to do a transitionary, blah, blah, blah so I didn’t last, I didn’t last a month, I don’t think. I was like, no, this is [inaudible 01:02:31] I didn’t have to open PowerPoint any time in my four years at SCAD. And right after that was when I found out about the festival looking for a graphic design intern, I was like, oh my gosh, someone wants a graphic design or specifically in Trinidad right now on that, and the rest was history. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, aside from your design firm, you’re also a writer, talk to me about that.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was [inaudible 01:02:59] an aspiring writer. I’m not a writer. I won’t put myself just yet, but what I do is in my downtime or my free time, I go to a lot of writing workshops because like I told you, I’m not a self-taught person. We have this other festival here called Bocas Lit Fest, which is our literary festival. They put on different events and workshops all the time and I’ve been to a couple of them. I mean, I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. I’m like one of those people, I was always writing cheesy poems. I kind of over the years, just put a little bit more energy towards writing every now and then but this year, I put the most energy, I would say towards it, because I entered emerging writer’s thing. I entered Bocas Emerging Writers like competition, scenario, fellowship, sorry is the term.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was actually shortlisted in [inaudible 01:04:01] and I was like, okay, you really need to start putting a little bit more energy into this writing thing and stop seeing you’re an aspiring writer and just be the writer that you want to be kind of thing. But yeah, really, I use writing as way to get out of my head a little bit. I find as a designer and as someone that works primarily alone and not necessarily on a bigger team, that it’s a lot of thoughts just floating around in there always, like the brain is constantly flowing and writing allows me to take all of those thoughts and kind of put it somewhere, which I really, really enjoy. So yeah, and I write about me or about experiences that I’ve experienced. Yeah, I like it.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you think you’ll ever kind of branch out and write about design?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I would love to. So I have a blog. I do write about design on there, sometimes, but usually it’s in a critiquing manner or it’s in a, this is how, this could have been better. It’s more like me critiquing the design society in Trinidad rather than me writing about design formats or structures kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But I see myself doing both because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do simply because we don’t have it, one. Actually, technically I did write about design. I actually co-wrote a book called How to Get Paid for designers here locally in Trinidad and like talking about what the pricing is like and how to get those things done? Why you should I have a contract, stuff like that, but I guess that’s more business of design than design specifically.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But I also had this feature on my social media page on Instagram called Just A Tip, and I used to give design tips on Tuesdays and I wanted to turn that into something that I do on my blog or maybe a newsletter that continues and it’s a little bit more direct in terms of suggestions and that sort of thing. There’s room for it to answer your question, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
You could be the voice of Trinidad design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Some people would say that I kind of am and I run away from that a lot. Like that terrifies me the idea of being the person for anything that’s… I feel very badly about speaking on behalf of other people. I just want… Let me, I’m speaking for me, myself, Ayrïd Chandler. I’m not speaking for Trinidad or Trinidad graphic designers or anything like that. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think a lot of writers are like that. They have their own quirks and stuff, but I think as long as you’re talking about your work and your process and even just writing about yourself, like you mentioned, that’s a good thing. Writing is one of those things it’s called a practice for a reason. You kind of have to keep doing it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from writing, you also teach, you’re doing a lot.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I do.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re running your business, you’re writing, tell me about your teaching at University of West Indies St. Augustine.

Ayrïd Chandler:
A couple years ago, I was hanging, I was on a rooftop event and met a fellow designer who was one of the folks that I first worked with here and kind of guided me and did local design scene. And he was like, I just started teaching and they’re looking for more lecturers, are you interested? And I was like, I don’t know. I was like, I’ve never given teaching a thought, like I am I qualified? They’re like, “Yeah, you just need to be a practice and designer and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I was like, “Hey, sure, let me try.” And literally within 15 minutes, he had messaged the person and the person messaged me and I had a meeting the next day to talk about lecturing to university and my mind was blown and they were like, “Oh yes, we were looking at your work and we think that you’d be great for this blah, blah, blah.” I was like, okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Before you knew it, I was teaching year two students about design basics and going from practicing design and to applying all of the things that I tried to search up all of my SCAD syllabi to get some kind of inspiration. Then before you knew it, I was putting together my own syllabus and the rest is what it is. And so, I started, this year was my third year teaching this course. I’m a part-time lecturer. It’s only during the first half of the, well, first quarter, third of the year, I guess, for the second semester that starts in January. And yeah, I get to talk about design and teach design and kind of help shape what other folks are doing that process and cut in conjunction with working with interns at my business, kind of inspired me to then start teaching courses as part of my business.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Because I realized one that I actually really liked teaching, which really, really surprised me more than anything else. I was really, really shocked and I’m not sure why I was that shocked. I guess I just never thought of myself as someone who would have the patience to teach, because I feel like it’s very much like a devotion on one of those things where it requires you to remove yourself from yourself a little bit and kind of very much make sure that what you’re seeing is resonating with someone and helping them. Teaching is basically helping another person. And I guess design is also helping another person and they’re both kind of the service industry thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so maybe it does make sense that I enjoyed doing both, but I also noticed, and working with the interns that I worked with, they were coming from another local school and a lot of things were like lacking. They didn’t know some basic design things that I felt like they should know. We also have a huge self sort community in Trinidad. And so I thought, okay, cool, let me put together some design foundation basics, at least, that folks can reference. I’m talking about things like knowing the difference in a JPEG and a PNG and a PDF, like basic. And that also really went really well and so I’m actually preparing now to do the next, which would be my third offering of courses so far, but yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you’re writing, you’re teaching, you’re running your own business. Like what’s the best thing about all this work that you’re doing?

Ayrïd Chandler:
What do you mean the best thing?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean I could ask what’s the worst thing. I mean, I would imagine that you have some enjoyment out of this, Ayrïd?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, yeah. For sure. For sure. Honestly, I am one of those people that likes connecting with other human beings. I never thought I would’ve like, if you asked me this 10 years ago, that would not have been what I said. I very much am one of those people that enjoyed my alone time. I’m an only child. I like doing stuff on my own, solo traveler here, like all of that stuff. But I quickly realized over the past couple of years that I enjoy connections, I enjoy connecting with other human beings. I enjoy that experience. All of the things that I’m doing, I’ve realized that is the one common sort of thing that’s happening. I am able to step out of myself a little bit, step out of my world and connect with someone else in their world. That’s great. Like I enjoy that so much and it kind of makes life a little bit easier to live, at least, for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel creatively satisfied?

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. Like right in this very moment in time, I would say I need a little bit more and I think maybe that’s what writing does for me in terms of satisfying that creativity. I think, yes. Sorry, I feel like I am creatively satisfied, especially when I wrap up a branding project and the client is happy with it. I was like, I know I did the right thing and I know I hit the mark on what it is that they were looking for and also, what it is that they needed?

Ayrïd Chandler:
When they say things like, oh my gosh, I wasn’t expecting this, or like I get a lot of those kinds of reactions, which is pretty wild and fun and interesting. I think that does kind of satisfy that creativity, but I am also at that point where I’m at that 10 year mark. Because I moved here 10 years since I graduated from SCAD. I am feeling that itch of like, what now? What more? Where else? What can I do differently? Like what is the next step for me? You know what I mean? Like where do I go now? Do I pivot as we’ve been talking about so much on these past two years? Do I learn a new skill? What’s the next step in terms of that creativity and that flow and what I want?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Where do you see yourself for the next five years? What do you want this next chapter of your life to be?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I definitely want to teach more. I would love to be able to get to a place where I can go from being a part-time lecturer to maybe a full-time lecturer. I think that would be really awesome. I kind of really see myself becoming, I want to step more into that brand identity designer shoe out of that whole graphic designer shoe, where I still kind of float around, meaning I still do anything under the hat of graphic design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Even though, I focus a lot on branding, I kind of want to like be like, I am a brand identity designer and I am the person that you come to for that specifically and that alone. I kind of I want to eliminate as much options and kind of zone in and be more specific and intentional with what I’m doing. In five years, I’d like to be able to impart that knowledge more, more talking workshop opportunities. Hey, if I can give a TEDx talk in five years, that would be awesome. You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s kind of where I see things.

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

Ayrïd Chandler:
Ooh, I make it very, very easy. So I have my website. I technically have two, but for my business Ayrïd by Design, A-Y-R-I-D bydesign.com. That’s my website. I’m also the same thing Ayrïd by Design on Instagram, I have a very kind of unique name. I think I’m the only Ayrïd Chandler of there. So from a time you type that in, I think most of my stuff comes up, but those two places are kind of where you can start. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Ayrïd Chandler, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you really for just sharing, not just your story, but also I think giving us kind of a behind the scenes of what it’s like to run a business, particularly running it from another country and showing people out there, as you said, kind of right before we started recording, you said you wanted to let folks know that they’re not alone and that there’s a sense of community. And so, I hope that people will listen to this and they’ll sort of get exactly what you’re talking about. Like a lot of the experiences you shared are universal experiences to a lot of designers, to a lot of entrepreneurs. And so, even as you do your work with writing and teaching and everything, you’re not alone out there.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Thank you for having me. I enjoyed this.

Keisha Okafor

We’re halfway through the year! Summer’s here, and I thought it would be a great time to feature an extraordinary young designer whose work I recently discovered — Keisha Okafor. Her work is brimming with energy and vibrancy and joy — feelings we all could use a bit more of these days.

We start off talking about freelance design, and Keisha told a bit about how she helped make one of the features Google Doodles for Black History Month 2021. Keisha also spoke on her signature design style, talked about one of her dream projects, and gave some great advice on being an illustrator. Keep an eye out for Keisha — I think we’ll definitely see more of her work in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Keisha Okafor:
My name is Keisha Okafor. I’m a freelance illustrator. And I would say that my work I’ve been using depicts joy and celebrates people. I really like to use bright colors and bold patterns.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going so far?

Keisha Okafor:
It’s been going pretty great. I actually just went freelance full time. So that’s the thing. But before that, I’ve been working full time in design as a production designer, actually for print and also doing project management. Ironically, I was managing all the print projects I was doing. So kind of like a one-woman show. So all of that was very technical and like sending client emails. And then out of work, I was doing illustrations and drawing and working with my freelance clients. So it’s nice to have more time this time, but honestly, it’s been going pretty well. I mean, I know the whole pandemic is still happening. In my mind, it’s not even close to being over, but as a very, very heavy introvert, my day-to-day isn’t really that different, I be inside. So I’m still watching Anime, still playing video games. Yeah. Outside of work is pretty normal to me because I wouldn’t be outside anyway.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Wow. So yeah, you just went freelance. That’s a kind of scary thing to do to make that leap of faith. I mean, did you feel like you were prepared for it when you did it?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. I definitely did, which is surprising because years ago, would have been terrified, but I did a lot of planning, I watched so many seminars and workshops about going freelance, like what do you need to have in place before you do that? And I also saw enough clients coming in and projects coming in to where I believed like this is going to keep happening. I’m not just a Juneteenth, Martin Luther King Day illustrator. I can do this 365. So once I saw that and all the other planning I’ve been doing for the past several months, I wasn’t as scared as I expected to be.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good. That’s good. I mean, oftentimes, we’ll have the designers that are here on the show that either are freelancing or they’re thinking about going freelance, and making that leap can often be really scary. I mean, you said that you had some preparations in place, which is good. I mean, to know that you can step out there and have at least some sort of a foundation, so you’re not necessarily going at it alone, but you have, it sounds like you had some major things already planned out before you made the jump, like clients.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. I also had savings. That was like my main thing. I didn’t want to jump with like $25 in my account. So with all the freelance money I’ve been getting, luckily because I had the full-time job, I was able to save all of that pretty much by pretending that I didn’t have it. I was tricking my mind, like, don’t spend this, this is for your future. Like, don’t wild out and buy stuff, but I’m also not naturally a big spender. My biggest splurge last year was getting Netflix, the two accounts. Yeah. I mean, I bought video games, but I would’ve done that anyway, but yeah, I got Netflix. So that’s like an idea of something I think about, a purchase that I would think about for a while before doing so. Was able to save all that money to have bought a year’s worth just in case nothing happened, which I don’t believe that was going to happen, but just in case, I had enough money to live off of that.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a very smart move.

Keisha Okafor:
Thanks. I take risks, but it’s very calculated because I get very scared, just the idea of going freelance is so scary. So I just wanted to make sure I have things set in place, I thought it through that I’ll be good.

Maurice Cherry:
What made you decide to go freelance? You said you were working as part-time gig, did something happen or did you just feel like it was just time to go?

Keisha Okafor:
Honestly, just in general, the jobs I’ve had, it was a full-time job too. Boy, was I tired anyway. It was just like, no matter what job I had, it ended up being rinky-dink. And by rinky-dink, I mean, no matter how confident I am, no matter how competent I am at the job, no matter how much work I do, how fast I go, I’m still getting treated like I’m entry-level or like the level of a recent graduate in my pay, in how I’m talked to when I ask questions. And I’m just getting tired of that. And because I saw that doing freelance wasn’t as intimidating as I thought, I was just like, let me better myself and make sure that I’m handling that side for myself, that I get to advocate for myself and also determine what I’m worth.

Maurice Cherry:
That is a big reason why I ended up going freelance back in 2008, the company that I was working for was treating me in that same way, like I felt like I was being undermined or belittled or patronized too, even though I’ve got the skills to be there and I’m cranking out top quality work, you still feel like you’re almost treated like a child.

Keisha Okafor:
Yes. Oh my gosh. Yeah. This past job, the work I was doing, it took four people to do before I got there.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. And they’re not a startup company. They’ve been around for many years over a decade. And even taking on that work, they still saw me as a rookie. And I’m like, “Really after all of this?” So I could see that that wasn’t really going to change anytime soon. They would give me compliments, but I’m like, “But my pay isn’t changing.” And when I say things and give suggestions, it’s just going over the head and out the window. So I’m just like, “All right, I see where this is going. I’m out.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What does a typical day look like for you right now? I know you just started freelancing, but have you started getting into a good rhythm?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. Generally, I have a Trello account, where I have all my freelance projects that I’m working on right now and just different to-do lists, broken down to all the small steps, just so I can see overall what I need to work on. So if there are any priorities or upcoming deadlines, I’ll then write a list, a to-do list of like at least three things I want to get done during the day, like I want to finish this sketch or I want to finish this piece, send this email to the client, things like that. I usually start my day at around 10 o’clock. I am not a morning person at all. Also, I have a cat who only wants to be pet in the middle of the night. So from like 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM, she’s crawling on my chest, like, “Pet me, pet me.” And I’m like, “Let me sleep.” That’s why I start at 10:00 to get back some of that sleep I lost.

Keisha Okafor:
But yeah, I usually start eating cereal, see if I have any emails. I don’t really get too many emails, but I’m also someone who like, I get through them. So I usually only have like three tops. And then I just start the work I’m doing. And if, and then I just keep reviewing that Trello list with my deadlines and checking things off. And if I’m like at the right pace, because I’m trying to pace myself doing a little each day to make sure I hit the deadlines early, instead of like binge doing it all in one day. So once I hit that pace for the day, if I’m done, then I’ll take a break and rest for the day. Yeah. That’s generally how it’s been going so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The best thing about freelancing is really setting your own schedule and then no one can tell you to change it. It’s completely up to you. So if you want to stay in till 10:00 AM, till noon, you can do that. No problem.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. It still feels like, I feel like a kid beginning summer break, but then I’m like, “Keisha, you’re an adult.” Make sure you get stuff done, which I always do. But waking up at 10 o’clock and being like, “Well, time to get this started.” That still feels wild to me. I’m like, “I get to do this. I planned for this and it’s happening.”

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now, I first heard about you this year from your work you did for YouTube’s Black History Month campaign. I think they did four different illustrators and artists for each of the four weeks in February. Can you talk about that? How did you become a part of that project?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah, that still blows my mind. This was like maybe a week before Christmas. I randomly get this email saying, “Hey, Keisha, I work with YouTube. Want to work on this project about Black Creativity for Black History Month?” I immediately thought it was a scam. And then I googled everyone that he mentioned just to make sure kind of just like, who are you? What the heck? His email didn’t say @youtube.com. So I was just like, “Oh, I don’t know about this. Let me just double check.” But I googled everyone and then their LinkedIn pages were like, they’re designer at Google, engineer at Google. I’m like, “Oh, okay. So he was serious.” So I immediately said, “Yeah, I am available to do this. Are you kidding me?”

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. And then probably a week or so later, I met with like a small design team at the YouTube. And they were just telling me about the initiative that they had and they want to work for artists celebrating History Month and wanted to have all the artists make art around black creativity. And that was it. They were like, “You can make that whatever you want it to be, but it just needs to be around black creativity.” And they gave some keywords, like forward-thinking, hopeful, bright, like that. Literally, those were the keywords they gave. So I pretty much just took that and ran with it. But also in the back of my mind, I’m like, “Okay. Okay, Keisha, this is YouTube. You got to show up, you got to show out. So like, do it, do the thing.”

Keisha Okafor:
So initially, I was planning on doing portraits of women who in math and science from the past just to celebrate them. But then they wanted something, when they said forward-thinking, that’s why they gave me the idea of having children in there, like giving like a hopeful idea instead of looking to the past, wanting people to look to the future as well. And I was the one who chose math and science, just because normally when you think of creativity, I usually think of a paintbrush, like dancing and music.

Keisha Okafor:
And they also mentioned that they didn’t want to hit the normal black stereotypes. So like a boombox and people doing break dance. They want it to steer away from that. So I personally like math. I still, even at my big age, I watch PBS Kids shows about math and science. So I figured that would be a fun thing to do, a fun thing to go around. And that’s in that forward thinking idea, it was me having like women in STEM, showing young girls the magic in front of it. So that’s where the idea came based on their feedback. That’s how that idea came to pass.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. And once they approved it, I was just going with it. The main critique was at first, I made everyone dark skin and almost the same tone. And they were like, “Oh, can you give it some variety?” I go, “Oh yeah, no problem.” And then they wanted me to use like, I was being very literal at first. So like the sky is blue, rockets are gray. And they were like, “Can you use like some of the colors that you use? Like the ones that you use.” And I was just like, “Oh, okay. So you actually want me to put my spin on it.” I was putting all these rules, adding all these rules to myself. This has to be very literal. If I’m drawing math, it needs to look like math. But once they said that, then that’s when I went crazy with the colors, like, “This guy could be pink and yellow and purple.” So yeah. Then I added my own spin to that. And that’s pretty much how it turned out.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I have to say it looks amazing. And for people that haven’t seen it, we’ll make sure to put a link to it in the show notes so you can definitely check it out. I mean, I get that kind of forward feeling, that forward-thinking notion from that. It’s interesting enough, I had discovered an organization, I think they either left a comment or I saw it somewhere else on the web, but because your piece was centered around STEM, I had discovered this group called Black Girl MATHgic, like Black Girl Magic, but MATHgic. And I mean, I love math too. My degree is in mathematics. So I saw that, I was like, “That is so cute.” That was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s like it’s a program, but then they also sell some merch for fundraising and stuff. I was like, “This is really dope teaching young black girls math fundamentals and stuff.” It’s pretty cool.

Keisha Okafor:
Oh, that is so amazing. I just love that so much. And the lack Girl MATHgic, Oh my gosh.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like you working with YouTube on this was like a really kind of collaborative process. Are those sort of the best types of clients for you to work with?

Keisha Okafor:
Yes. I would say that working with YouTube was definitely like ideal client. They were very responsive, followed the schedule, they communicated so well. And they were also really nice, like we’re working with big clients, I just assumed like they were going to be very strict and we need to have it look a certain way. They want to work with people, but they want it to look a certain way, it’s what I expected. But working with them, I really saw that they wanted me to show myself in there and to put my own spin. When they said, put your own spin on a theme of black creativity, they actually meant it. That’s why I mentioned the thing with the colors. That was like very refreshing for me, something I really enjoy, like the great communication, being responsive, when things were delayed, they adjusted the schedule to match the delay. I was like, “You’re amazing.” Yeah. I really enjoyed them as a client. And those are things that seeing that it’s possible, those are things that I start to look for when I’m working with people.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s go back to freelancing just a little bit more. When you have a new client or you’re approaching, let’s say, a new project, what does your creative process look like?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. So usually, I try to get as much information from the client at the beginning as possible because a lot of people say, “Oh, just do whatever.” But they actually have something in mind. So I try to ask a lot of initial questions, just to get an idea, like, do you have an idea or do you actually want me to give you my ideas? I just want that to be clear from the very beginning before I start doing research. And then I also asked like a lot of technical questions, how much do you want the resolution to be? What size? What’s your timeline? Because if it’s a small timeline, then I won’t try to do this super complex thing. I’ll make it simpler.

Keisha Okafor:
But in terms of like the creative making the thing once that’s settled, I usually do a lot of research on stock websites. I like iStockphoto, just to get an idea of like composition, and if it’s something I’m not familiar with, I can’t just think of 35 math formulas off the top of my head. I just got f of x imprinted in my mind, but I need more. So I like to look at stock websites just to see what kinds of things are default, their body poses, body expressions, what do real people look like? Because I don’t want every person I draw to have the same face, but different bodies and different hairstyles. That feels weird to me, but I like when other people do it.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. So I like to go on stock websites just to see if anything is giving me ideas, is it inspirational? Is it good for reference? And once I get that, I’ll start sketching out different ideas, trying out different compositions, just to see like, does anything look good? Can I draw this thing? What are the hands going to look like? And then usually, that’s when I start going back and forth with the client, seeing what they think of my ideas.

Keisha Okafor:
But if anything’s going in the right way, usually, that’s also the time I’ll ask, “Do you have any other ideas once you see this, a better idea of what you’re looking for kind of thing?” And then once that happens, I’ll either revise it or start going with color, again, make more ideas, send that to them. And then it’s usually just a back and forth, giving them the art and then getting their feedback. But as I’ve been working and seeing like how easily that can turn into a 100 revisions, I put limits like, okay, we’re going to have two rounds of revisions. And if you want more, this is going to cost. So yeah, I say back and forth, but it’s back and forth like twice just to protect my time essentially.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, even with all of this, are you also thinking a lot about, let’s say, colors, like a color story or anything to go along with a new project? Or does that come naturally?

Keisha Okafor:
Sometimes it comes naturally, but I also have a Pinterest board just full of different pictures that are like, it’s either a fashion outfits, stationary, graphic design branding, things like that. But if I don’t have any ideas, I’ll just pick from that, like, oh, let me try this, or since I’m on social media a lot and have a lot of artists I follow, there are just some artists I like the way they use color. There’s an artist, her name is Olivia Fields. And one thing she likes to do is have a very monochromatic color scheme, but she uses value so well it’s still very interesting to look at. So if I’m thinking about that lately, I’ll like, let me try to use a monochromatic scheme just to see what it look like if I do it kind of thing. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just trash it. But yeah, it can either come from other artists, that Pinterest board or I’ll just start off with, I want the main color to be yellow and then I’ll just randomly pick colors and adjust it based on that.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So I want to switch gears here a little bit based on what we were talking about prior to recording. You mentioned you’re from North Carolina, that’s where you grew up. Tell me what it was like growing up as a creative kid in North Carolina.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. I will say my grew up story isn’t similar to like the ones I hear on interviews. People will be like, “I drew all the time, I love drawing.” I drew some of the time and I was mostly watching cartoons, animated movies, just a lot of TV, playing a lot of video games. It wasn’t until I was 13 that I even decided like, oh, I want to do something art related. It was from seeing the Incredibles. I saw the behind the scenes animation thing. And I was like, “I want to be an animator.” But then once I got closer to picking a college and saw what animation was, very quickly, it was like, no, I don’t want to do that.

Keisha Okafor:
I want to draw because I used to draw like a little bit, when I say every once in a while, I mean like a handful of drawings per year. I wasn’t really, I liked to draw, but I wasn’t sitting around drawing all the time because I was just overthinking it so much, I would draw, one time, I drew the Powerpuff Girls, like just very stiff Powerpuff Girls poses and look like them. But then I took it to school for the next few days and showed everyone. I was like, “Praise me. I’m a good artist. Look at me.” And then didn’t draw for like the next few months.

Keisha Okafor:
That was me as a kid artist, but still very much enjoyed it. I took art classes in middle school and high school. And I would say that’s where my artistic skills and sense and interests started to grow. I wasn’t doing anything like extracurricular. I was just taking it as an elective. So by the time I got to college, I was like, “I don’t have any other interests. I want to be an artist. And I’m hoping college will unlock the key to figure out how people actually get paid to make art.”

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, you went to North Carolina State University, which we’ve had several alums just here on the show that have went there. While you were there, do you feel like they really prepared you to become a working designer out in the world?

Keisha Okafor:
Now, when I look back at it now, I’m like, “Oh yeah, they actually did.” But at the time, I didn’t think so at all, because it just felt very vague, because I also, I majored in art and design at NC State and I thought that meant I’m going to paint, like be an artist. They attach design to it. But they really mean art, right?

Maurice Cherry:
No.

Keisha Okafor:
It was like the first week they were like, “Hey, I know you guys like to draw and paint, but we’re not teaching you to be artists, we’re teaching you to be designers.” And in my mind, I was just like, “No, what is design? Oh, no.” Looking back on it now, I see they were teaching us how to think like designers and how to problem solve. And that’s something that’s been so helpful. And also, with drawing, making sure you understand the foundations of drawing, that’s something that I’ve been using a lot as well, but really that problem solving thing and also how to think like a designer, I would say that’s been the most helpful in my design career. But in terms of like how to get a job, how to make a good portfolio for a job, nope. I’m just like, “I wish I did something about it.” But now that I am working and have had jobs, those design fundamentals have actually been very helpful.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now, after college, you ended up for a while moving out to LA, what prompted that?

Keisha Okafor:
It was actually like one of those moments of close family member passed away. So it was just very much like life is short kind of moment, let me try things that I would never do, just you never know you get this chance again. And growing up, watching a lot of TV, California always looked cool. And that was one of my bucket list thing, like I want to see what it’s like to live in California. So once that chance came up, I just went for it, oh, man. So scared. I was sweating on that plane just, Ooh, oh my gosh. I was so scared. But yeah, that’s how I ended up getting there.

Keisha Okafor:
And really, my goal was just to see, like, can I go there and survive? Can I do enough to make sure I don’t have a flight back in three months? And I ended up staying for four and a half years, going on five years. I came back to North Carolina at the end of 2019, months before, I mean, months before COVID happened. So I am so, oh, I don’t have family in California. So that’s why I’m like, I am so glad I moved just in time so I could be near my family and at least know they’re safe in person versus a phone call from like 3000 miles away.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, while you were out there, did you get a chance to really experience the LA design scene?

Keisha Okafor:
I don’t think so. When people say that, I’m just like, “So where’s the scene at? And how do I get there?” My only experience was through the jobs I had. And comparing it to North Carolina, the main difference I noticed was that things were way more fast-paced. Yeah, that was like the biggest difference I noticed. And also like, but this is with anything. Once you see the process behind things, it takes that bale away. Things aren’t as glamorous as I initially thought, like I had a job at a media buying agency, where I was editing album covers for social media posts or resizing banner ads that will be put on YouTube, like watching the YouTube video and seeing of like, oh, this looks so like, well, one it’s annoying, but also seeing like a big artist with an ad, I’m like, “Ooh, fancy.” But hearing the media buyers trying to get the space and make it and asking me to resize things and how crazy that process can be, I’m just like, “Okay. These are just regular people trying to just do their jobs.”

Keisha Okafor:
And I would say a big thing that just in general in the workforce, I’m just like, “Man, people procrastinate so much.” I thought that was like one of those warnings I got in college, like, you’ll never be able to procrastinate when [inaudible 00:27:40], but adults do that all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
All the time.

Keisha Okafor:
Yes. Oh my gosh. And it happens so much. When I was working on those album covers, I was just like, “Come on guys. Just please send me the picture so I can resize it.” But it did help me build up efficiency because there were such fast turnarounds. I was used to working at a fast pace. So coming back to North Carolina, that’s how I ended up, when I mentioned earlier doing the work of four people, because I was used to working so fast. Like when things are slower here, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It felt normal. It helped me in that sense. But yeah, you asked about the design scene. I would also love to know what the scene was like, where was the all people? Where were the people at? What do design people do? I didn’t really get that question answered.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it’s interesting because like, you mentioned earlier like, well, where is the design scene? I think designers carve out their own scene based on who they’re working with or working for, who they have met or inspired by. I’ve been to LA only once, I went in the beginning of 2020 in February. And I found that it was just like real, it was just so spread out. I mean, Atlanta is spread out, but LA is way more spread out. I’m like, it takes forever to get anywhere. Like if you’re going to go somewhere, you better hope it’s on your side of town, you don’t have to cross over and go down. It’s so big. I was there for two weeks and I know I only saw maybe like a 10th of LA. It’s so big. So big. I mean, I guess when I asked about like how the design scene was, I’m curious if it was different from maybe the design scene that you knew back home in North Carolina, like you mentioned, it was more fast-paced, but were there other differences?

Keisha Okafor:
That’s a good question. I will say, like you mentioned, because everything was so separated, it was kind of like, if you weren’t in that neighborhood, we’re not going to meet or we’re not going to meet often. So it ends up being like pockets of communities that I would notice. So I had a lot of animation friends because they lived in Glendale and Burbank and they were interested in working at Cartoon Network or Disney TV.

Keisha Okafor:
So I would meet those people in Burbank and Glendale, but then the people who were interested in more of graphic design or stationary, I talked to those people down near the beach because that’s where a lot of the agencies were. It was like, I could find pockets of people in different areas, but it was so rare for them all to come together just because how long it took to go places like, like literally, Google Maps will say something is maybe 10 miles away and you think, oh, I’ll get there no time. That’s an hour trip one way. I’m just like, “This doesn’t add up.” But then you take the trip and I’m just like, “That took an hour. Oh my gosh.” So it’s just like people aren’t going to make that. Even people who were natives, they weren’t really going to make that trip on a regular basis. So it was just like pockets of communities that I would have in the different places I was at depending on where I lived and worked. That’s how I ended up seeing the people.

Keisha Okafor:
But I feel like in North Carolina, everyone is in Raleigh, you’re in Raleigh, I can get to the edge of Raleigh, the top, it will take like 20 minutes. So to me, compared to being in LA, I’m like, “That’s not a big trip at all.” So I feel like people are taking more initiative to meet up, and I’m sure that’s because of COVID as well, have like a lot of meetups and groups and workshops and stuff. Whereas it would be like a once in a lifetime thing to do, I’ll take this trip one time an hour for this workshop, but don’t count on me to come every week.

Maurice Cherry:
And the web is going to change things too. I mean, there’s events and workshops and things. A lot of stuff has come online just over the past year that before either didn’t exist or it was just inaccessible because of location or something like that.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. Adobe MAX, the first time I attended it was last year because it was virtual. I lived in LA and it happened there every year, but I just was not about to sit there and pay for it not only, but just go there and talk designer talk. Sometimes I feel like there could be a prestige that some people might have, like, hello, I’m art designer. I integrate things together. They use all the design words and I’m not very good at that. I’m just like, “Yeah, make pictures.” So being in that environment isn’t something I would want to pay to do. So it was nice to be able to attend the virtual version because I never would have went otherwise. Yes, there were so many conferences and things I’ve never heard about that I got to hear about because it was virtual and people I got to meet because of that, which is nice to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. As I was going through your work, I saw your illustration work and your portrait work, which is beautiful, but your patterns, the patterns on your website are absolutely gorgeous. I love that you have in your bio, on your website, you mentioned that you’re an artist and designer depicting joy. What does it mean for you to depict joy in your work?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. So in terms of people, you’ll probably see that I draw a lot of black people. And one thing that makes me happy about black culture and just black people in general is just seeing us love the things that we love, however we love it. It just makes me really happy to see all the different facets and ways that black people just are. I get so excited. And I feel like when I draw that, that’s where I’m trying to convey just how excited I am to see black people as they are, doing whatever they like, looking as cool or as goofy or as happy as they are. I feel like that comes through with the people.

Keisha Okafor:
And in terms of the patterns, I really like music. But when I hear music, I tend to see a lot of different shapes and colors just moving together. That’s how I see the song. Like me drawing those abstract patterns, it’s usually me listening to music and drawing whatever comes to mind. So just kind of like the happiness that comes from listening to music, that energy is something I’m trying to capture in the patterns. And I like for it to fit together kind of like different sounds fit together in a song, that’s how it shows up in the patterns.

Maurice Cherry:
And when you’re even doing these patterns, it also seems like you’re drawing from nature some too. I don’t know maybe if that was just the particular collection that you were doing, but I saw a lot of kind of tropical themes and leaves and stuff like that. It’s just very, very stunning work.

Keisha Okafor:
Thank you. Yeah, the tropical thing is I just love the way tropical scenery looks. I also think it’s nice, like all the different leaves and like patterns that you see within leaves, I think that’s nice as well, but also sometimes, if I draw too many triangles and circles, I’m like, “Let me draw something that people can recognize.” So it ends up just being leaves and flowers for some reason. I’m not even a big flower person, it just ends up coming out, or I’ll just look up pictures of flowers. But yeah, I really love tropical weather and themes and stuff. So I just end up drawing it a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
I have not met a Nigerian that didn’t like bright colors. So you’re definitely onto something there.

Keisha Okafor:
[inaudible 00:35:22]. I love that. You’re right. You’re right.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you get your creativity back if you are feeling uninspired, like say you hit a block in a project somewhere you’re working on something, what do you do to get that spark back?

Keisha Okafor:
So when I am inspired, I have a bunch of hidden Pinterest boards. And then I also have a notebook where when I’m inspired, I just write down ideas of things that I think will be cool to make. So when I am feeling blocked or uninspired, I’ll look through that Pinterest board. One is just called Black, and it’s just black people, just random black people that I can find on Pinterest. It used to be really hard, but I saved so many pictures and looked at it that Pinterest has realized this girl likes to look here black people. So now my homepage has that.

Keisha Okafor:
So I’ll either look at that Pinterest board, just kind of seeing people do stuff or I also have some with just colors or textures or shapes. I’ll just look through the Pinterest board or I’ll look through that list of ideas that I have. I’ll either do that or I’ll just take a break. Turn the thing off, turn the computer off, turn the iPad off, watch TV, play a video game, take a nap and then come back. Yeah. And then if there’s like a time crunch, I’m just like, “Well, honestly, think about the money.” I’m like, “Girl, do you want to get paid?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So I just do it no matter what I’m like, okay. Just loosen up. Then I’ll take a five minute break, loosen up, get some water or something and then come back and just do it.

Keisha Okafor:
Or another thing I’ll do, sometimes I’m not a good singer, but I love to sing. So I’ll just turn on Spotify and then just force myself to sing along out loud as bad as it’s going to come out, just so to get my mind not overthinking it. And then things usually come out better. If I have, like my mind is focused on me singing, even though like, what notes? What notes am I hitting? So that helps me have a bit of more energy and looseness to the art that I’m making.

Maurice Cherry:
One thing that I would do when I was working on projects is I’d always build in at least a week into the sort of like project plan, because I mean, I think the expectation, certainly, I think from clients, but oftentimes, for us as freelances, as designers, the expectation is we’ll get the work and we’ll just be able to knock it out, like we’ll sit down and we’ll know what we do because the client has brought us on for our expertise. So we have to be the expert.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, depending on how, if you set up a project rate or hourly rate or a day rate or whatever, sometimes clients will try to nickel and dime you to try to know like, well, how long did it take you to work on X, Y, Z, and blah, blah, blah? And I certainly early on in my freelance career, that was a mistake that I made. And then eventually, I switched things over either to like a project rate or I do like a day rate or something like that. I’d build in like a week of time because there’s no telling.

Maurice Cherry:
And for me, it’s almost like creative insurance, like I may need it in the future if something happens, like what if I get sick? Or what if I just am not feeling it? And I can take that time out of the bank sort of because I’ve built it into the project and then I can, like if I take a day off and then decide to come back later and do it, then that way I’m not impacting the project because I built that time in there. It gives me permission to not have to be a machine when it comes to like creativity because sometimes the ideas flow and sometimes they just don’t.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’ve certainly been at that place where you’re at, where you’re like, you just have to think about the money, like think about what this is going to do. And then you soldier on or you push through it. But yeah, that’s one thing that I would do is I just build in the time because the good thing is if you never use it, then you come out early and the client is happy. And then if you do use it, the client is still happy because you came out on time.

Keisha Okafor:
Right. That’s great. Because I learned in the design world as well, especially when I was at that media buying agency, it was an open office and there were only like eight of us. So sometimes I’ll work on stuff, they just be standing over my shoulder, “How long do you think it’ll take?” I’m like, “Please. Oh, I think it’ll take me a few hours rolling.” It wouldn’t. It would take me shorter than that, but I like to add in that buffer, just like you said, like if something happens, I can still turn it in when I said I could, but also giving myself that insurance, like you said, to make it.

Keisha Okafor:
But in terms of the illustration projects now, those few hours turns into a couple of extra days or maybe an extra week, like you said. Yeah. Especially when people say they have a tight turnaround, things never are as tight as people want it to be, especially with getting revisions and just getting feedback, especially if there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. So it is way better to add in more time for that kind of stuff in the beginning, like you said.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now when you were in school, when you were back at North Carolina State, let’s say, I think that was maybe probably around 10 years ago at this point, right?

Keisha Okafor:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Where did you see yourself career-wise by this age where you’re at now?

Keisha Okafor:
Honestly, by the time I graduated, I was just like, “Am I cut out for this?” Honestly, because I thought, again, like when I was 18 entering college, I thought, okay, college is going to give me the roadmap. And by the time I am a senior, I’m going to know exactly what I want to do, how to get there and I’ll be able to get there. But that didn’t happen when I was a senior. I felt kind of similar to how I was as a freshman, like, what? Like, what am I doing? I need to find a job.

Keisha Okafor:
So I mainly, the main goal I had, I was like, Keisha, please have a job, please have a job and an apartment that you can pay for with your job. I had very, very basic goals for myself, have a job that’s something related to design. Yeah, that was pretty much my only goal. I wanted, the idea of freelance sounded good, but then at that time, I had no idea how to do it. So it wasn’t even, it was more like a fantasy more than like me seeing myself there.

Maurice Cherry:
I didn’t go to design school, but it is something that I’ve thought about in terms of like, do I need this in order to have this legitimacy for myself as a designer? Because I’ve been self-taught and I did a little bit of work at companies, like I worked for the State of Georgia for a while, I worked at AT&T for a while. And then like, I really had just felt like, you know what? I got this, I could start my own studio and do this and really do it myself. And I’ve learned so much really just in the time that I had my studio doing things by myself, but they never really teach you entrepreneurship. I mean, again, I didn’t go to design school, but even with the work that I was doing, by the time I started my studio, I had a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and still didn’t know anything about freelancing. I was really either making it up as I went along or I was asking other freelances. I was really gaining this education while I was also trying to run my business.

Keisha Okafor:
Absolutely. Because in design school, in my senior year, we had this class that the description was literally, we’re going to prepare you to get a job. But when we actually took the class, they were like, “You need a website. Do you know what a website is? You can make websites on Squarespace.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me? This is my senior year and you’re teaching us that we need a website. Of course, we do. What are you talking about? How do you get a job? Please tell me what to put on my resume and how to get the people to actually hire me.”

Keisha Okafor:
Even then, like being in design school didn’t make that difference. It’s almost like they’re out of touch with what was happening in the world. Like they got the art skills, but getting a job or even being an entrepreneur, that wasn’t even close to being thought about in any of my classes. I would have had to talk to alumni who are already doing it. And kind of like you said, they were figuring it out on their own or like having outside resources to figure that out. So I definitely don’t think going to design school will or not going to design school, you won’t really be missing out honestly.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, by the time I really started figuring it out, I think I was about, I don’t know, I think maybe I was about two or three years into my studio and from just talking with other freelancers and picking up, because sometimes you just have to get, unfortunately, you just have to get burned a few times in business before you learn that lesson or whatever that particular lesson is. But I think by the time I was like, by the time I hit my fifth year, I had it down pat at that point, I knew about contracts and proposals and getting things done and everything just ran smoothly, but it took some time to get there.

Maurice Cherry:
So yeah. I think now, because freelancing is an option for so many people, whether they do it either independently, like you’re doing, or if they do something like working via like a design marketplace, such as ThemeForest or Envato Elements or Envato Market, whatever the thing is that Envato has with all of the different websites and stuff, Fiverr, even those kinds of things, Upwork, there’s ways that you can use those tools to manage your business better, but it’s still, at the end of the day, it comes down to really knowing what those fundamentals are and knowing what works best for you. I think certainly, when I was doing business, there’s not an all-purpose solution for like being an entrepreneur. I wish there was. But once you learn what works for you in terms of cashflow and payments and client communication and everything, then you’ve cracked it, you’ve cracked the code pretty much.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. A lot of the stuff I’ve learned even about graphic design because NC State does have a graphic design major, but I majored in art and design, a lot of the stuff I learned about graphic design was just learning by doing. It ended up being like the jobs I had, more doing stuff for family and friends was really the stuff that prepared me for the different jobs. And I’m learning that that’s the same thing that’s happening with freelance as well, like the classes that I take, the people, the Instagram artists that I’ll DM or Instagram friends I have, I’ll DM, those things have been really helpful. And also, like you said, being burnt, having bad clients, that helps me set better boundaries for future clients, like knowing what to do. So yeah, that’s definitely something I’m in the process of right now. I’m definitely looking forward to the part where everything runs itself.

Maurice Cherry:
It’ll get there probably I think sooner than you expect. Before you know it, it’ll just flow. It’s sort of like a… I mean, you watch anime, it’s like the Avatar State. Eventually, you’ll be able to just invoke it and you’ll be good.

Keisha Okafor:
Awesome. Avatar is one of my favorite shows. So I love that you said the Avatar State.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you obsessed with at the moment?

Keisha Okafor:
Speaking of anime, so I’m watching this anime called Fruits Basket. It’s a silly premise. When it’s like, if you hug someone of the opposite gender, they will turn into Zodiac animal, so like the Year of the Horse, or a cat, rat, like things like that. But you end up finding out everyone has these crazy backstories and there’s this whole curse and things like that. So I’ve just been binge-watching that show basically, because I’m so curious to see what’s happening. Other than that, I’ve been playing a video game called Mario & Sonic at The Olympic Games for 2020. I’ve just been going through the story mode. There was one, it’s the triple jump and I keep getting disqualified. So I got mad and turned it off, but I still think about it because I’m like, “I’m going to win.” Yeah. I would say those two things.

Keisha Okafor:
Also, I have a cat. I’ve never had a pet before, but I got one a few months ago, honestly, off the strength of seeing other black people on social media have cats and they seem to enjoy it. And I always wanted a cat. So I ended up getting one. So I spend a lot of time peeking over the couch, seeing what she’s doing or looking for her around the house and just smiling really big. She gets annoyed, but I think she’s used to it. I would say I’m pretty obsessed with her.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Do you have like a dream project that you would love to do one day?

Keisha Okafor:
That’s a great question. I would say the only dream project I had, I got to do it last year. So I got to illustrate a deck of playing cards and I pretty much did the art direction for the whole thing. So you mentioned the tropical idea, there was a running idea I had for a long time of joining black people in the tropical space, kind of like an oasis, a place where they could freely celebrate themselves without all the isms in the world that black people carry. So I pretty much made the deck around that and got the job black people being happy or silly in that tropical environment. And that was something I really enjoy doing. If I think of like a future project, it would be a similar thing, but in a different format. I haven’t figured that out yet, but definitely enjoyed doing that deck of cards, but I’m not sure if that’s like a book or like a coffee book or like a storybook, but that’s kind of like something that I’m juggling in my head right now.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the best advice that you’ve ever been given regarding what you do as an illustrator?

Keisha Okafor:
Interestingly enough, I would say the best advice I have is more of like a you as a person. So like, not finding your identity in the work that you do, you’re more than the work that you do. You are enough as you are. Like those kinds of things I’ve seen have made the biggest difference for me. Yeah, a lot of times the artsy-fartsy, mumbo-jumbo, it just slides off of me. I’m just like, this sounds, but when I draw, what does that mean? So hearing things like, I’m more than the art that I make is very freeing for me to be able to just have fun with it and do stuff that I like. And I don’t have to judge myself based on how well I drew today.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I can see how that, I mean, well, one, I see that is good advice just in general, like, make sure that you don’t get too caught up in the work, but also realize that you put your own identity into everything that you do as well.

Keisha Okafor:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next like five years? Like this whole pandemic craziness is over with, it’s 20, what? 2026. What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Keisha Okafor:
Honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead. I was like, “Will the world still be turning at that time?” I think it would be.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope so.

Keisha Okafor:
You’re right. Me too. Honestly, I hope I’ll be doing bigger projects, projects I’m really excited about. I’m enjoying the projects that I’m doing right now. So more, just like an extension of the kinds of things I’m doing right now getting to illustrate different people, doing things, really hoping to get into the Children’s Book World, be able to illustrate them to children’s books. That’s something I’m looking forward to. And also, I want to get my patterns onto products. So one thing I’m hoping to do also in five years is to have my products on things. Yeah. More of like, just like all the different ways I can get my work out there, either on products or online in different formats. That’s something I’m hoping will happen, just as I grow and do things and get better at art, have it just spread onto different formats as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything that you’re doing online?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. So you can find my work on my website, which is keishaokafor.com, O-K-A-F-O-R. You can also find me on social media on Twitter and Instagram, mostly Instagram @keishaoak, oak as in oak tree, O-A-K. The reason why it’s like that is just so you know how to pronounce Okafor. But yeah, that’s pretty much where I’m at, Instagram, Twitter and my website.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Keisha Okafor, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I have to say, I just love how joyful and colorful and vibrant your work is. Like I mentioned, when I discovered you from the work that you did at YouTube, I was just looking at your website, like, this is so fun. And I have to say that it’s rare to see a designer put that sort of joy into their work, but I am really excited to see what sort of work you’ll be doing after this interview, after people get a chance to really see your work, because I feel like this sort of vibrancy and joy in life is what we need right now. We need to be seeing more of this everywhere. And so I’m excited for people to really learn more about you and learn more about your work. And yeah, just thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Keisha Okafor:
Thank you for having me. I am hope, really excited for people to see my work too. And I really appreciate all your kind words. Yeah, I definitely, I’m just like, if I’m going to draw, I’m going to have fun with it and I want everyone else to have fun with it too. So definitely excited to see where it all goes.

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We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

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