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

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

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I heard that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Shout out to Mike.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Howse: Right, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Howse: Always a pleasure, Maurice.

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

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

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

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

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

What does the “middle” of a designer’s career look like? Does the “middle” exist outside of a corporate company’s career ladder? I examine these questions and more with this week’s guest, the one and only Chanel James. As a designer for EAB, Chanel works on production and design and for a number of different projects, all with the goal of making education smarter and our communities stronger.

Chanel talked about what attracted her to work for EAB, and also spoke on her work with AIGA DC on their board of directors. We also discussed the South and design, how she acquired a love for illustration from a popular kid’s television show, and yes, we went into the mid-career designer topic I mentioned earlier. Chanel lives by the motto “make it pretty”, and no matter her role or profession, she definitely brings the skills and experience to the table that make her motto a fact!

Full Transcript

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

Chanel James: Hi. My name is Chanel James. I’m an In House Designer at a company called EAB, which is like a best practices research, education firm. We essentially help schools, provide schools with research, and best practices to better the experience for students in higher ed, and otherwise.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. How long have you been at EAB?

Chanel James: I’m also at my two year mark, I’ll be at two years in February. It’s been a really awesome two years, I’ve learned and grown a lot while I’ve been here, I’ve touched a lot of different projects. It’s in house, but it can sometimes feel like an agency, which is exciting in that way. We get the same projects, but they change almost each year, so that’s exciting for me.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. What attracted you to working for them?

Chanel James: To say that I kind of got to back up a little bit, after graduating I went to go work for a consulting firm, which was not my vibe, not anything I enjoyed doing. Prior to that I was working in house for a nonprofit, still in the education realm and I loved that, it felt like a family, almost felt like school in the sense where I was learning as I was doing projects. But, the other place was not anywhere in the realm of what I wanted to continue doing.

Chanel James: I came across EAB, I met someone at an AIGA event in 2017 who worked here, and I looked up their work and I was like, “Oh, this is something I think I can get with.” I love the culture, like how the culture looks and stuff. I applied, and thankfully I got it, and the rest was history from there. Yeah, I was really attracted to, I’m a big one on workplace culture and balance, work/life balance because work takes up 85% of our lives essentially. And if you don’t enjoy it while you’re there, like if you don’t enjoy it, that’s like most of your life you’re not enjoying.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: I try to focus on that.

Maurice Cherry: What is the culture like there?

Chanel James: Very supportive. People here understand that you have like, people know that you have families, and you have life outside of the walls of EAB. PTO is taken seriously, that’s really hard when it comes to being in anything with design, often times people like, “Oh, overnight. Oh, we need this tomorrow.” But here if you’re like, five o’clock comes they’re like, “Oh, we understand. I’ll get it from you sometime midday tomorrow,” type thing. It’s nice to have like, I mean there are times like right now it’s like busy season, so things are kind of like we’ve got to get it done, but there’s still boundaries. I love how there are boundaries with work/life, and home life. I think that’s my biggest thing, it’s like why I love this company so much.

Maurice Cherry: So far what’s kind of been the most challenging thing that you’ve encountered while working there? It can be whether it’s just the general work culture, or in the job specifically working with a client, anything like that.

Chanel James: When I first started here it was, it’s not the most diverse place just in terms of actual diversity. There are not many people of color. They’re working towards that, but I think that was my biggest struggle when I first started coming from my back … you know, I went to George Mason University, I graduated from there, which is all about diversity. You know, celebrating people’s differences, and so there were always different types of people. But when I started on my team, my manager is a black woman, but then that’s it. Everyone else is white, which is okay, but I found myself not feeling like I fit in quite well, or wanting to do things the way other people do things.

Chanel James: I’m a very, I consider myself a very colorful black woman. I like wearing scarves, I have natural hair, my hair is like a big piece of my identity. Coming into a space where I don’t see anybody else who looks like me, dresses like me, talks like me, it’s tough because you don’t feel validated. And so, you kind of have to break out of that. It’s a mind game almost, you’ve got to remember that you can celebrate who you are even though there aren’t other people who look like you in the room. But that still takes practice, and it’s tough. Often times people leave places because they’re like, “I don’t see anybody here who looks like me, I’m going to dip out.” But I’m really proud of myself that I saw it through while I’ve been here because it’s gotten a lot better for me, but it’s still tough. I think we all, all designer’s kind of feel the same thing.

Chanel James: You’re usually like the only designer in a space, but when you’re the only designer, and the only black person or person of color in general it’s tough, it’s hard.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I’ve been in situations like that certainly where you end up being the, I don’t want to say the token, that’s not really the best way to put it. But, you end up being the only one kind of by default, and so it takes really a strong sense of self to know that you’re supposed to be here, you’re here for a reason, because imposter syndrome can really set in fairly quickly.

Chanel James: And it set in really hard for me, and I think it was something I had to get over in college too because I came from, so I grew up in Richmond Virginia. Which, whoever is from Virginia in general knows that Richmond is a, it’s like a predominantly black city. I grew up in like an all black elementary school, all black middle school, all black high school. Because that’s the way counties are set up, and we know that gentrification, redlining, all of the histories behind that, why certain neighborhoods are more black than others.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: But, I got into my college which is in Northern Virginia, and that’s an entirely different space to be in. There are streetlights that are constantly on. I know that it’s a small detail, but it was something that … it was small, but it impacted me because I was like, “Wow, these people got streetlights, they got sidewalks, they’re encouraged to be outside, the houses look all nice and clean.” This is where I always pictured my … I’m not saying I grew up in the hood, but when you grow up in areas that are predominantly black, things are different.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: That’s just how it is, it’s just different.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: College for me was a little bit of a culture shock because it was beautiful, the campus was beautiful. Again, predominantly white, so I had to find my community while I was there. I was like, “Where do I belong?” Then I started meeting not just black, but African people so I was like, “Wow, then what am I?” Then my identity started like, I started having this identity crisis. I’m like, “Well, people are starting to say they’re from this country. Oh, I’m from Ghana, I’m from Nigeria, I’m from Germany,” people at Mason were very big about repping their countries. Then people would ask where I was from and I’m like, “America? Virginia?” I feel like I really had to find myself getting into college. That’s why I say my hair is my biggest part of my identity, because during that time, freshman year, I shaved my head. I cut all my hair off.

Maurice Cherry: Oh wow.

Chanel James: Went natural, and I decided, I was like, “This is going to be my thesis while I’m here. Let’s talk about the identity of black Americans,” and things like that. Now, did that end up being my actual thesis in senior year? No, but it was a big part of who I was. People knew me for my different hairstyles, my art was kind of centered around my hair, I always brought up some type … because again, I was the only black person in my classes, it was like one or two of us. That college was like the first time that I was the only person who looked like me in classrooms and things like that, and that took a lot of personality shifting on my part.

Chanel James: And I thought for some reason that when I graduated, things would change. I would go back into spaces where I’m like, “Oh, there’s the black boss, black CEO, or Spanish CEO,” you know? Different type of people, but I was wrong. I mean, so far everywhere I went, it’s been like … or everyplace I’ve worked at so far has been not too many people of color in general. I don’t really know why yet, I’m still trying to figure that out.

Maurice Cherry: When you look back at your past experiences, is that the main thing that stands out to you is the diversity of the teams that you’ve been on?

Chanel James: Yeah, I think so. Now, sometimes it can reflect the experience I have with working. When I first started at EAB I was not confident at all. I knew I was talented, people told me I’m talented, but I felt like I was doing everything wrong. We have a lot of processes here, and we’re very organized, we’re a very process driven team. When someone came to me and told me, “Oh, this is wrong.” Or, “This isn’t how we do things.” I would get discouraged because I’m like, “Ugh, I did it wrong again.” I would focus only on what I did wrong. On top of the fact that I was the only black person, so I was like-

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … “I’m being looked at differently because if I get it wrong, then that reflects not only on me, but everyone.” You know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and that’s such an unfair-

Chanel James: Burden’s a good word.

Maurice Cherry: … Yeah, it’s an unfair burden to even have on your mind. It’s like, “Oh, I’m not just messing up for me, I’m messing up for all black people.”

Chanel James: Right? [crosstalk 00:10:29].

Maurice Cherry: That’s, ugh, I hate that.

Chanel James: Yeah, and I started finding myself wanting to find spaces where there were other people who looked like me, or who thought like me.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: I was still pretty hesitant to be my full self around other than my boss whose black, I think it was just me and her going into like having our biweekly check ins. I kind of, like I was able to unfold a little bit. I’m like, “Girl, let me tell you about this week.” Or, [inaudible 00:11:01]. “Oh, did you see Black Panther? How did you like that?” Type thing.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: But when I’m in this, I had to … it was a huge challenge for me to call out things. I’m like, “Guys, we shouldn’t be doing …” It’s still a challenge, because you don’t want to be that person.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Like again, I’m black, but do I have to call out the things that might offend people of color?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: Or, do I seem like I’m whining a little bit? It goes back to the point of validation. Sometimes you don’t feel validated when you’re in spaces when you’re the only one who looks like you.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and I mean I think companies should realize that, that’s sort of like, or that should be seen as an advantage, or a cultural advantage in some way. You’re being able to see something that perhaps not everyone else is seeing because of the homogeneity of the team, you know?

Chanel James: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). One of the things that ended up happening for me to really feel like myself here was the fact that I found, we have employee resource groups, which I think most companies have. But, it’s groups that are for veterans, for parents, for just different groups of people to celebrate themselves, and things like that. We have the group called Mosaic, and I found, it was like two other black women on my team, some director level women, some entry level women, and men. And I was able to kind of find more of myself in them whenever I felt like I was running into an issue at work, or I wasn’t confident. I’d run up to one of their desks, I’m like, “Ugh, I can’t believe this,” type thing.

Chanel James: They would kind of help me feel a little bit better about whatever situation I was going through.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Now, I notice that all of the black people come to my desk during the day. They’ll come by, “Hey Chanel, hey girl.” It’s kind of become like we have a network, a system. I hate to say it, I think everyone has some type of Slack group, or group chat.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah.

Chanel James: Like a black … I mean you don’t name it that, but you kind of treat it like a black Slack, just going, “Hey-”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … “Did y’all see this in the news, pop culture?” Things that you can talk about freely without feeling judged in a sense. Finding that community here was really important for me, but that took a while. Prior to that I started going to Meetups. AIGA’s been a really big part of my identity too, so I in 2018 applied to sit on the board of the DC, AIGA DC chapter, and I ended up getting it. I started off as a Program Coordinator, and now I’m Woman Lead. And that-

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Chanel James: … Yeah, thank you. That’s been a really big part of my identity as well, because I am able to create spaces, find other young designers, even like non designers who are just looking for a community, and help build that sense of community for them. Just to help them push through the end of the work week. We create programs that I think build people up, and I think that’s why-

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … I’m such a big fan.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s switch gears here a little bit because I’m curious to know, you mentioned growing up sort of in the DMV area earlier, was design, and art, and tech, were those a big part of your upbringing? Were you exposed to them early?

Chanel James: Yes, yes, and no, I’m just going to say yes.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Chanel James: Not design specifically because I think we get that … a lot of people growing up would be like, “Oh, design, computer.” I’m like, “I’m not a computer whiz.” But, let’s see. I had a speech impediment growing up, like when I was really young. I took speech classes in elementary school, it was so bad that my parents sometimes didn’t even understand what I was saying, it was like only my big … I have two older sisters.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: One of my sisters who I roomed with would have to translate for me. I watched Blue’s Clue’s a lot, and that taught me how to take basic shapes and build these complex forms, right? I would illustrate sometimes to communicate, and then I started becoming more inspired by, you know how you go into black homes, you go on family reunions and things like that, and you realize everyone has the same piece of art?

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: I think I was also pretty taken back about that, so my mom introduced me … not introduced me, but showed me some pieces by Jacob Lawrence who was, anything in the Harlem Renaissance I was a huge nerd for. I hate to bring him up, but Bill Cosby, Little Bill, that cartoon.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Those pieces of works really inspired me growing up. Then, I got into middle school, I was introduced to animating. But not using any Adobe programs, I think we just used like iMovie and the Paint app. I can’t tell you what exactly we used, but it was frame by frame. My art teacher Mr. [Epps 00:16:24], really saw something in me, and so he encouraged me to keep doing these digital illustrations. Which again, I didn’t connect that to design because no one was using that terminology around me back then. I was really inspired by doing that, art has always been a really big part of my life, to the point where I applied to the Center for the Arts High School in my area but I didn’t get in. Which crushed me, but I had a pep talk by my mom. She’s like, “No, you can do it, la, la, la. Just keep going to the regular high school, make things happen for yourself.”

Chanel James: I think my parents both encouraged me in art, but my mom told me I had to pair it with something. She’s like, “If you’re going to be an artist, you have to make it profitable, so go work for a company …” again, she’s describing graphic design, but she’s not using the terms graphic design. She’s just kind of like, “You can work for a company and make maybe advertising, and things like that.” I’m like, “Okay yeah, I can do that.”

Chanel James: I ended up senior year applying to VCU Arts, which again, I didn’t get into. My world was crushed again, my validation was crushed again and I was like, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” Found George Mason, applied there, and got in. That’s when, I think it was in one of my entry level design classes, someone … they started teaching us about design, and Bauhaus, and all the histories. That is when I started, like I was introduced to the programs, and I just kept practicing.

Chanel James: I think the biggest turning point for me was meeting my professor Reese Quinones, who walked in the room, and it was the first time I saw a black professor walk into a room up to that point. I think this was my sophomore year, and I was shook. I was just kind of like, “Oh my gosh, I have a black professor.” And she was so talented. She spoke with … Now, she’s Puerto Rican but just looking at her you’re like, “Oh, she’s black.” You know? It’s black, it’s Puerto Rican, we’re all the same thing.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: But, she spoke with such passion about what she did. She would build things, and it was almost like watching a movie. She’s like, “Here, we can just take this shape here, add some transparency here, align here, and boom.” I’m like, “How did you do that? I want to be just like you.” She inspired me so much that I would sit and practice on weekends, just copying things that were in the media and things like that, going to museums, and just trying to understand …

Chanel James: Going to museums and just trying to understand why I liked what I liked, and stuff like that. So I think, yeah, that was my biggest introduction to design. But growing up I’ve always been a little Chanel artist. That never changed to me.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. When did you sort of get the sense that this was something that you could do for a career? Because it sounds like George Mason was a time that really was formative in shaping the fact that you kind of could do this-

Chanel James: Full time.

Maurice Cherry: Just as a scale. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chanel James: Yeah. Let’s see. I was able to sign up as like different school groups that we… I was in fashion society and I’m not a fashionista but they wanted me to make some of their flyers and social media ads and things like that-

Maurice Cherry: You were just saying you, you have the colorful scarves and everything [crosstalk 00:19:55] not a fashionista.

Chanel James: [crosstalk 00:19:56] to be colorful and do your own thing. But I don’t think I’m an influencer, [crosstalk 00:20:05] more stylish than I am but I would do things for them. And eventually some people from there would be like, “oh actually,” some girls would be like, “hey, I need a logo for this. Do you think you can do it?” I’m like, “yeah I can.” In my head I’m like, no I can’t. I don’t know how to do anything. And I would just kind of go for it. Open up Illustrator, which was at that time was like my best friend and put some texts and things together. Now, looking back on it, some of those things I did was, I mean I was just starting out so it wasn’t the best stuff, but that’s when I started doing things for profit and then if one person heard from another person that, oh yeah Chanel’s the graphic designer. In Black Mason, people would know me as the graphic designer.

Chanel James: So because our community was so small, you had maybe three designers who you’d be like, or three artists in a sense who would kind of do things for the black programming and things like that. And I also ended up getting a job on campus working with our housing department as a graphic designer, which was I think a pretty, that helped me figure out how to work on a team. It was kind of set up in house where we would be doing things for just housing and things like that. We’d create illustrative posters for our campus residence fairs and things for, what’s it called, freshmen move in was a really big campaign that we would have to create marketing materials, signage, flyers and all of these sorts of collateral pieces was when I started building that skillset of time management, sending things to print and things like that.

Chanel James: So that molded me a lot. By the time I finished that role there, I think I was able to intern with my mentor who was Risa [Kanyonez 00:22:15], the professor who I was drooling over [inaudible 00:22:21] I interned at her company and then ended up contracting for a little while and I’m going down the line of my timeline, but that’s essentially how I started, realized how to make a profit. People just kept referring me by word of mouth.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Now you graduated in 2017. You’ve been working here in the industry for a few years and we spoke about this a little bit before we started recording about the notion of kind of being a mid level slash mid career designer, I suppose. Where do you see yourself, like right now we’re recording this 2019, where do you see yourself in the design industry at this level?

Chanel James: I see myself, I don’t know, I’m in the middle of it. I don’t see myself as a expert by any means. Right. And I said this before, but I also don’t see myself as… I see myself as a [inaudible 00:23:18] I don’t, it’s so hard because I’m still trying to figure that out essentially. And I think a lot of us mid level designers are just still trying to figure that out. I am a part of a lot of things, mainly because of my job, AIGA, I do freelance and I use all of these different avenues and tools and people and volunteering and things like that so that I can say, yeah, like I’ve worked on, I know how to put a team together. I know how to run a program, I know how to ask for donations and things like that. But I haven’t been doing it as long as other people, so I get nervous to say, yes refer me for this or see me as an expert. You don’t have to use the word expert, if you’re not using the word expert, what else do you use?

Maurice Cherry: Right. It’s something where it feels like the, it’s the mid part that is kind of I think a little bit trippy because certainly when you see entry level positions, I see entry level positions that require as much as five years experience. That is not entry level if you’ve got five years of experience under your belt. But in the same vein, what is the middle of a designer’s career at this stage in the game because the tech is changing. The roles are changing. I mean 10 years ago there weren’t product designers. Everyone was a web designer or a graphic designer, so the roles are changing, the structures are changing within companies. What if you are a really strong individual contributor but you don’t want to go into managing a team or managing people? Where do you go from there? It’s a lot of sort of nebulous nebulousness in the middle of the design kind of career because I think even the ones that are the experts, I feel like they, I don’t know, it’s tough to say.

Chanel James: It’s a-

Maurice Cherry: I certainly. No sorry go ahead.

Chanel James: I was going to say you’re really just looking at the time of how long I’ve been doing this or if I’ve been doing this too long, have I refreshed up my skills? How long has it been since I’ve learned the latest, newest thing about this topic. And I also think with being mid level, you’re trying to move away from the negative notion that comes with being new or being labeled as new, labeled as entry because a lot of people who I’ve… Even this summer I was able to mentor two amazing individuals for our marketing department, but they both expressed to me how weird they felt, how much negativity came with the word intern, came with the word new, came with the word college grad or college student. Because people kind of brush you off into thinking that you’re not, oh, she’s not skilled or she doesn’t have, but because I mean they both were Black women. I think that sometimes young White people can get away with being new, but also being something that people gravitate towards as experts or go to’s in that sense. I mean look at-

Maurice Cherry: They’re a fresh new voice-

Chanel James: A fresh new voice. Look at, what’s his name? Facebook dude. What’s his name, the CEO.

Maurice Cherry: Mark Zuckerberg.

Chanel James: Mark, yeah. He was this college level, new, wet behind the ears guy and then like, hey, I want this app. Him and his other dudes are like… I’m sorry I’m using such basic terminology, but [inaudible 00:27:08] But when new people come up with an idea, sometimes it’s like, oh, they’re so ski… Yeah, let’s give them a chance. But I feel like as a person of color, if you’re coming in as new, young and of color, it can be really hard for people to take you seriously. It can be so hard for people to take, you unless you have a bunch of awards behind your name. You, oh, I interned at Google, I interned at Facebook. I got into the center for the arts at my high school. I went to VCUarts and because I didn’t have those names, I didn’t start having many titles behind my name until a year or two ago, it made me feel like I didn’t have much of a space in the industry to give advice or to really just kind of be seen as a person in the industry. I was still like a student of the industry, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry: That makes sense. I’ll tell you a secret, even, and this is just not only from people who I’ve had on the show, but also speaking from personal experience, even when you get to that level of having the awards and the accolades and all that stuff, guess what? People still don’t take you seriously. It doesn’t really get, I don’t want to say it doesn’t get that much better. You sort of have a little bit of an advantage depending on the communities that you’re speaking to. But I run into some of the same issues of credibility at this stage in my career as I did 10 years.

Chanel James: Why do you think that is? What issues of credibility come up? Like who would-

Maurice Cherry: I mean, how real can we get? I mean…

Chanel James: For me, I started listening to this podcast when I started this job, actually before I started this. Every day when I was at the job that wasn’t for me, to be very frank, I was very unhappy. I would listen to this podcast Revision Path every day, I would go back and I would listen to all… Though, this is maybe like summer of 2017 because I felt so inspired by all of the individuals who looked like me who came from places like me, who, they almost seemed like, I was like, okay, they have these accolades and they have these medals, these badges, they are taken seriously in these spaces. Even when people spoke about their struggles of getting to where they were, they still got to where they were.

Chanel James: So that pushed me and knowing that you’re the voice behind it, and knowing all… Of course we can list a bunch of things about Maurice Cherry and all the things that he’s done for the community in the task, I know you were on the task force many years ago, things like that [crosstalk 00:30:00] I met Jacinda. Jacinda was a really big part of pushing me back in like 2017 or 2016 so that community, right? I’m like, oh you guys made it, you are it. But to hear you say like, “ah no, we’re still trying.” It’s interesting.

Maurice Cherry: I might be telling some secrets here, but I feel like some of us, and I’m not speaking for everyone, some of us try to do a good job of obscuring that. I think from those that are coming up because we don’t want you to have that baggage. We don’t want you to come into it knowing like, oh, you can even still get this far and still run into issues because the hope is that the work that we’re doing clears the path, makes it easier for the next generation. I wouldn’t even say next generation. I mean it’s not like we’re that far apart, but I mean it makes the road easier by walking it. So that’s the hope, is to just not talk about all the negative stuff that happens and just try to focus on the more positive things to be that inspiration because it can be, there are still a lot of isms out there and I’m not just talking about the isms that have cropped up, I’d say even more vibrantly because of our current political system. But I mean racism is still very much a thing. Sexism is still very much a thing. Other isms-

Chanel James: Ageism yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Homophobia, et cetera. Ageism, yes. Even location. I mean, I’m in Atlanta and I get so many sort of small microaggressions about being from the South. Or being in the South and doing tech and design-

Chanel James: I understand.

Maurice Cherry: Like if I’m not in New York or if I’m not in an LA, these capitals?

Chanel James: Where are you? What are you doing?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah. It’s like, oh, Atlanta. Okay.

Chanel James: But at least in Atlanta, I mean, sorry to change the subject a little bit, but Tyler Perry, the studio, I feel like, I don’t know, Atlanta is on the come up with a lot of things.

Maurice Cherry: It is on the come up of a lot of things. I think particularly as it relates to entertainment. I would even say as it relates to tech, but it certainly doesn’t get the same level of, I think-

Chanel James: Respect.

Maurice Cherry: Oh absolutely not. It doesn’t get the same level of respect at all as like what’s happening in California or what’s happening in New York, Georgia still, because you know what ends up happening, I mean Atlanta is still very much a blue dot in a red state if we’re talking politically. So there are political issues which crop up that will overshadow a lot of other good things that are happening here. Like for example, the abortion heartbeat bill from earlier this year, that came up and then people from Hollywood wanted to boycott Georgia, boycott Atlanta really. And Atlanta is, because we’re that like blue dot in the red state, we get the brunt of that. It’s very much a different world once you leave Atlanta in terms of being in Georgia. So to that effect there are a lot of things that happen here that oftentimes will just get overlooked because it doesn’t come in the, I guess in the right package. I don’t know. It’s an odd thing-

Chanel James: I mean and that sucks too because I’m still pretty young. I mean, it doesn’t even matter about age, but essentially I have time to go anywhere. I have time to explore everything. But when I think about, I’m like, okay, so where can I go? What’s next after this? DC is hot and happening. There’s always jobs, there’s always things going on. But do I want to live in DC forever? Probably not. Absolutely not. And I’m like, do I want to move back home to Richmond? Probably not. There’s no jobs. I don’t consider jobs there.

Chanel James: And so then I’m like, oh, I don’t want to move to New York. I don’t want to be that girl. I don’t want to be that person right now. Who knows what’s going to happen in like two or three years. But when I think about Midwest and things like that, South, what’s happening in the South, you’re right. I mean other than Atlanta, because I think about different companies and things like that’s there. I don’t see myself in many other places and then it just puts me back on like, well, let me see what’s happening here in DC, which is unfortunate because I feel like there’s so many amazing things that each city can bring in terms of design life and culture.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. You have to really kind of work hard to make and carve out whatever that space looks like. I remember when I was 29, 30, I was really trying to move out of Atlanta hardcore. I was like, this is not working. My career has hit a plateau. Well, at that point, let’s say I was 29, 30, I had started my studio. I had just finished up this political campaign that I was working on and so things were kind of on an uptick, but I still felt like I was hitting a wall and I was like, I am not going to get better in my career until I leave and go to New York.

Maurice Cherry: So I had a friend of mine in New York who was sending me all these apartment listings and everything and I mean, long story short, I didn’t move to New York, but I ended up finding a way to make it work here, which is not to say that I gave up, but certainly I just couldn’t, I personally couldn’t see myself in New York. I mean I’m a Southern boy through and through. I know that about me and I mean I’ve visited New York a ton of times. New York is just, I wouldn’t vibe with the city. Like that’s just not how my whole, my energy would not vibe with New York. So I was like, I can’t do New York. I can visit, but I can’t live there.

Chanel James: Same. And I’m from New Jersey originally. All my family’s in New Jersey. And before that, Alabama. So, I mean, I never lived in Alabama, but my family has. And so I also am the same way about like the North. I’m like, no, thank you. But I think that that’s also another thing with being a mid level designer. You mentioned how you saw yourself somewhere and you tried to go for… So when you’re in the middle of it, I’m going to call it in the middle of it, you’re essentially looking at multiple roads in front of you and you’re like, my actions right now can affect where I am by the time I’m 30 or by the time I’m 35 and things like that. I just turned 24 so I’m always cautious and thinking of what’s going to happen if I do jump job, do find another… Should I try to work abroad for a few years like some of the other people you’ve interviewed?

Chanel James: I listened to some people who are moving to China and going to Germany, I’m like, maybe I should try, is that something I should try to do before I’m X amount of years old? Or maybe I should, I don’t have a family. I have no ties to anything. So I’m like, I should do this, or maybe I should do this. I’m looking at all of these different paths that I can take and it can sometimes be really overwhelming. And I think that’s the other part about being in the middle of your career because you’re not quite sure what can happen and what can change. And that’s with life in general, obviously, but it’s a bigger thing when you’re looking at like all of your idols and the people you look up to. You’re like, okay, I see that they made this decision, but what’s going to be right for me type thing so.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And I think, I mean that involves a lot of introspection. It involves really sitting down with yourself and saying, or answering the question, what does success look like for me? What is the space? And this is.

Maurice Cherry: What is the space, and this is something that we actually explored at Black in Design this past weekend, but there was one of the things about how do we carve out a space for wellness and for joy. Because I mean certainly in America, I mean we black folks in America, we know what the deal is in terms of how we’re perceived by society, treated by society and law enforcement, incarceration, a number of different things that are set up to go against us as just basic human beings. Does that change if we move overseas? Maybe. I think certainly from the folks I’ve talked to on the show, it’s a trade off.

Chanel James: Right.

Maurice Cherry: You certainly gain some things, but you lose other things. I remember I was talking to Douglas Turner, I think he was episode 107 or something like that. He lived in Iceland for a number of years and he was talking about how the Icelandic society is very tribal in that, everyone kind of knows each other and he’s the only black man in Iceland.[laughter]

Maurice Cherry: And saying how for him it didn’t feel like racism really existed there.

Chanel James: Right.

Maurice Cherry: Which I thought was interesting considering he’d be one of the few people of color there. And then coming back to the States and seeing how it was different. Another interview with Qa’id Jacobs, who’s a UX designer in Amsterdam. Originally from, I think he’s from Jersey, New York. He’s originally from the Northeast U.S. But him and his family are in Amsterdam and we actually had a two part episode. The first part was, Hey, you know, you’re out there in Amsterdam, what’s it like working out there, et cetera. And then we recorded the second episode right after Trump was elected and it was a pretty heavy episode. I think it’s episode 179, but I remember cause it came right at the end of 2016. We had this conversation like, well do you think you would come back?

Maurice Cherry: Now given the state of how things are, what would that look like? And I know, now I’ve been talking to several people who are really seriously considering moving abroad; moving to another country; going to Ghana or going to.

Maurice Cherry: Isaac Hayes, who I interviewed a couple of months ago, is in China right now with his family. A friend of mine right now is currently going through Thailand.

Chanel James: Wow.

Maurice Cherry: Just coworking. He says it’s like a black coworking space in Thailand in Chiang Mai.

Chanel James: What? Where? How?

Maurice Cherry: I have a passport. [laughter] We can go. We need to make this happen. If we need to start doing Black Design ex-pac trips, we can make that happen. I think about that a lot as just the industry is changing, the wages that the world is changing and what does that mean for like our safety and our sanctity. Not just as practitioners of this craft in this industry, but just as people in this world. It’s heavy stuff. It’s a lot of heavy stuff cause especially when I think about what is it that is stopping black designers from becoming leaders of design? Clearly we’re out there and we’ve had a couple of them on the show, but it’s very few and far in between. Even even.

Chanel James: Oh no, I’m sorry, go ahead. No, go, keep going.

Maurice Cherry: I was going to say even some of the projects that I’ve done, most recently, the literary anthology I did, Recognize, is about trying to set up what does the next generation look like because yeah, we have the big names now. And I’m not singling them out, but we have Debbie Millman, we have Stefan Seigmaster, Polisher. We have these big names, but they’re not going to live forever.

Chanel James: No that’s.

Maurice Cherry: What does the next generation of design criticism, design thought, design leadership look like for this industry? Cause a lot of people from around the world do take their cues from what’s happening in design in America. So if we’re putting forth this monolithic, monocultural view of what design is based on the people that are practicing it, then where does that leave us?

Chanel James: Right. And I think on that note, with who the next leaders are for me, my focus used to be so much on who’s already there. Right. I’m looking at, for me, some of my idols, Diane Holton, who I used to fangirl over all the time and now I work alongside her. We’re both on the same programming team for AIGA. When I was looking at these large names in my eyes, I’m like, well they’re already there. That’s when I switched my thought process a little bit to who’s alongside me. Who’s with me right now? Who’s doing amazing work? Who’s doing amazing things, who’s probably going to be the next big thing in terms of our industry. I don’t know if like you listen to this quote that Issa Ray, who I also stan. She said instead of networking up, network across.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Chanel James: We just had our DC design week a few weeks ago and I was able to create a program; an event around my friend Bria Taylor. She does these amazing, she started out as a designer.

Chanel James: She’s still a designer, but she designs these kick ass looking cakes. It’s called Killer Cakes and she is so talented to the point where I’m like you need to have your own show on TLC or something or wherever they’re doing the baking things nowadays. [laughter] I was using my leadership role at AIG. On our chapter board, I was able to create a program that sold out, oversold out actually around her speaking about her process, her story, what she does, and then selling had her make a little bit extra money by doing a pop up shop with brownies and cakes and things like that. And I was like, that’s what I feel like we mid level designers should be trying to do. Instead of step on each other.

Chanel James: Use each other to build each other up. Refer each other for projects that we can’t take instead of just letting the project fall through. Telling each other about, Hey Bria is having an event happening on Saturday, or Simone’s having an event tomorrow. Building a network within ourselves and then that eventually the eyes are going to start turning on us and it’s like, Oh these, this is what this person is doing in the industry. And then that’s when the shift happens. Some people still can have a competitive mindset of, Oh, I’m not going to tell you about this opportunity. Oh, I’m not going to tell you about this stuff. And then it can be even harder than what it already is. I had a friend recently tell me about the Add Color Conference.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. They’re like a conference and an award show.

Chanel James: Right. But there’s also an opportunity some type of fellowship opportunity. I don’t know, I’m going to say fellowship, but it’s a really cool opportunity for young people who are creatives to, or in the marketing. Some people worked at Facebook and things like that, who get mentored for a week gets to take these classes, gets to take back these it’s like workshopping and things like that. And then they get sponsored to go to the award show and meet some of the leaders in that industry and things like that. My friend could’ve kept it a secret and be like, Oh, I’m going to apply when that time comes. But she instead shared that information with me and was like, yeah, you should also do. I see you also in this space able to do that. And I think that type of mindset is important for where we are in our careers right now because it’s the only way that we’ll be seen.

Maurice Cherry: No, I agree. I think so there’s two examples when you talk about that networking across. One is this sort of, and sorry, I don’t know if anyone has written about this. This may be a free idea if there are any journalists that are listening, but over the past five years there’s been this emergence of are you familiar with the Brack Pack? Does that name sound familiar?

Chanel James: No, not at all.

Maurice Cherry: So the Brack Pack was a group of actors in the eighties and nineties that all ended up starring in the same similar types of movies as Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Patrick Dempsey, Rob Lowe, some folks like this. They all were friends, but then they also were in all these movies together and stuff like that. The name sort of comes from the Rat Pack, which were a group of musicians in the 50s and 60s. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior, Dean Martin, couple of other folks.

Maurice Cherry: But now I feel like there was this emergence of a black path in a way. Where it’s like Issa Ray, who you mentioned earlier. Melina Mitsui SKUs, Quinta Brunson. I’m thinking of people that have started on the web and have moved up into larger areas of media and they all work.

Chanel James: Together.

Maurice Cherry: With and across each other together in a really interesting way because you see them in each other’s projects and you’re like, okay, they’re working together. That sort of thing. I also see that honestly in the podcasting world too. Are you familiar with The Read?

Chanel James: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So The Read, there’s a number of shows that are in the same orbit of The Read, but they’re all friends. There’s The Friend Zone with Hey Fran, Hey and Dustin and Asante. There’s Getting Grown with Jane and Kia. There’s Jade and XD, and they all are friends, but they all have their own separate shows and platforms. But they all cross pollinate [chuckle] with each other. And I’m like, that is so dope. I would love to see what a black sort of design collective of some sort will look like if we were doing that. [inaudible 00:48:34] What could we accomplish and put out in the world with that sort of thing?

Chanel James: Right. I talk about that all the time with some of my friends. I have a friend in New York, Tavis Northam, who is a designer, director, photographer, and we are always collaborating on projects and then he came out with this indie short called Bakari about this runaway slave. And I created the poster for it. He’s always referring me all the time. I’m referring him. Same with, Oh man, it’s so funny. I can’t believe I’m printing your name, but some of my friends who actually went to Black and Design, I’m the same way with them and I think, that that emergence is already kind of happening. When you look on certain channels on Instagram, certain things popping up. People are creating a lot. There’s a lot of things like Well Read Black Girl. I don’t know if that

Maurice Cherry: Oh yeah, yeah, I’m familiar with that.

Chanel James: Things like that; platforms like that that are black creatives also on Instagram. Things that you can hashtag and tag. It’s a feed that you can kind of scroll through that is getting larger and larger by the month where you’re seeing people support each other. I gained a lot of my followers I think by my different hat. I always hashtag in on my art on Instagram and then I get people messaging me, deeming me, and all of a sudden I have a whole network of new friends who are enjoying the same things like type arts and things like that as I am. So yeah, I think that’s cool and it’s really important.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I would really like to see more of that; working together, collaborating on projects and things like that. I mean I even try to help out where I can. Certainly, for people who I’ve had on the show. If there is something they’re interested in, I try to make those connections. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t.

Chanel James: To be honest I’m not afraid. For a long time I would write notes from the PI. The different episodes that really inspired me and I would message, I would go on in LinkedIn or wherever they said at the end of the show to talk to them. I would message and be like, Hey, my name is Chanel. You really inspired me with this thing that you said. Just wanted to let you know that effected me. One girl who you interviewed, I think she was from Boston. Her name started with a D and I’m blanking on exactly what it was, but maybe last year I reached out to her on Instagram and we actually ended up becoming like, I’m not going to say friend friends, but like IgE friends and I would comment on her work and stuff like that. But she was, I think she was also my age. So I was super excited to hear her story and hear her process and hear how what she was able to do after school.

Maurice Cherry: In Boston? I’m trying to think who that is.

Chanel James: Okay. Boston. Maybe Connecticut? She [inaudible] but I don’t think she went to [inaudible].

Maurice Cherry: Oh! Daniqua Rambert her name.

Chanel James: Deniqua. Yes.

Maurice Cherry: She goes by Willow now, but yeah.

Chanel James: Oh Okay. She definitely was a big inspiration to me and I think I caught her off guard when I messaged her. [laughter] I was like, hey girl. [laughter] I’m a fan! She was probably like, who is this girl? I mean, she seemed cool with it. I was cool with it. I know. [laughter].

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Well when you look at, I mean we’re coming up at not just the end of a year, but the end of a decade right now. What do you see yourself doing in the next five years? Like it’s 2025 what is Chanel James working on?

Chanel James: Wow. Okay. So I definitely wrote out my five year plan.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. [laughter].

Chanel James: This was actually on my five year plan. So Pat on the back for me for making a revision path. [laughter] I’d say I don’t ever say where I am because I don’t like jinxing it. I say how I feel and what I’m doing for other people. So I’m financially able to support myself and my family. Me and my parents. [chuckle] And I am continuing to create spaces for specifically black and brown youth to enter specifically the design realm; a creative space to encourage them to be creative and educating them on what design is and looks like. I think that’s my biggest hope for myself on these next couple of years. Especially entering the new decade is to introduce design as a possibility to more people; young people of color and older people of color. Because you can always switch careers and just create spaces where they able to be there, their fullest self.

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

Chanel James: So I am on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn and not Facebook. LinkedIn. You can find me on Instagram at Chanel Niari, C H A N E L N Y R E and on Twitter at Chanel_Niari and there’s also my website, chaneljames.com.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well Chanel James, I want to thank you for coming on the show and not just sharing your story, but also really for first of all, really illuminating conversation. I love being able to really talk and go into these sorts of issues around identity, and the industry, and motivation, and all that sort of stuff and I hope that others that listen to it will get inspired too. I feel like there’s a lot of folks that are in the middle, but the thing is the middle is very vast as we sort of discussed. It can be a few years in to a decade or more. There’s a big gap there where a lot of us are in the middle of it, as you put it earlier and I’m just really glad to be able to talk about these things with you. Glad you’re able to mark this off your five year plan. But this was really, really great. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Chanel James: Yeah, no, thanks for having me. And I encourage anyone to, if you felt inspired by this, to reach out. I’m always excited to chat and network with people. Let’s make this, what did you call it? Black Pack. [laughter] Let’s make it happen. Let’s make it real. So thanks so much for Maurice, for having me on the show.

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

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

When I first heard about Jerome Harris’ exhibit “As, Not For: Dethroning Our Absolutes,” I knew I had to interview him for the podcast. I was thrilled to hear him speak at this year’s Black in Design Conference back in October, and this conversation follows directly after that event.

Jerome does it all — he’s a graphic designer, an educator, a writer, a curator, a DJ, and even a choreographer! We touched on all those aspects in this interview, starting off with talking about his current work at Housing Works. From there, we discussed the trajectory of Black graphic design, and how that guided him through his studies at Temple and Yale and inspired his exhibit. Jerome also shares some of his current influences, and we step into the future a bit and look at what Jerome would want to work on in 2025.

Keep an eye out for Jerome — his perspective and candor are a refreshing antidote to current design discourse, and I think we’ll see a lot more from him soon!

Full Transcript

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

Jerome Harris: Okay. My name is Jerome Harris. I’m originally from New Haven, Connecticut. Studied advertising at Temple University and I got my MFA from Yale University in graphic design. For the last I’ve been working at MICA, Maryland Institute College of Art as a teaching fellow. So it’s full time faculty with one course taken off of the course load for research purposes. Now I’m the design director of Housing Works in New York City and I’m also a choreographer sometimes. I also DJ sometimes and I like to cook. Oh yeah. And I’m a big gamer.

Maurice Cherry: Sounds like you’re juggling a lot over there.

Jerome Harris: I mean some things take more priorities than others.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s talk about what you’re doing over at at Housing Works as the design director. What is Housing Works first of all? Then walk me through what you do there. What’s a regular day like there?

Jerome Harris: Cool. So Housing Works was originally the housing arm of the ACT UP activists collective from the late ’80s, early ’90s who were advocating for the rights of people with HIV and AIDS during the AIDS epidemic. So Housing Works was just the group of people who were trying to get people with HIV AIDS into homes so that they could … Because they believed that if they had a place to stay they would get better faster as opposed to being on the street or what have you. So that group of people from from this activist group grew into this huge NIO nonprofit organization. We have four health clinics around the city of New York, and then we’re self-sustained by 12, now 13 thrift stores. 14 actually, we just opened a new one. 14 thrift stores around the city. And then we have a bookstore cafe. And in addition to that, we do a four to five huge fundraising campaigns every year.

Jerome Harris: We moved beyond the scope of just HIV AIDS. We help homeless people, people who need to reintegrate into society after they get released from jail, drug rehabilitation, youth services for LGBTQ youth and of course housing, Housing Works. We have, I think, 600 plus units. That might be incorrect, but we have a housing around the city taking care of people with different illnesses, getting them care.

Maurice Cherry: Wow, that sounds like a lot of stuff that you all are doing there. It sounds really impactful.

Jerome Harris: Yep. So a lot of work. It’s all hands on deck. We have a huge team. We have two administrative offices, one in Soho in New York and one downtown Brooklyn where where I work and everybody’s there. Everyone’s down to do the work. It’s a very cool work environment. I mean given the population we work with you have to be empathetic and down for the cause. It’s funny cause a part of the job is were required to take part in civil disobedience as a part of the job. I feel like in your performance review they asked how many protests have you been to this year?

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

Jerome Harris: Which is cool. I’ve only been to one so far.

Maurice Cherry: You’re slacking. You’ve got to go to more.

Jerome Harris: It’s awesome.

Maurice Cherry: Get out on them streets.

Jerome Harris: It’s only been three months.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Okay. Okay. All right.

Jerome Harris: However, yeah, I like that. It’s awesome. It’s just the values and everybody there, we’re all working on the same team. No egos. Everybody is just getting work done.

Maurice Cherry: That’s good.

Jerome Harris: And okay, so you also asked about a day at work. Now designing is, I’m literally like three designers right now. We’re also hiring, so when this airs, if we haven’t hired anybody, we’re looking for a designer. I do a variety of things. I work for the thrift shops in the bookstore, so I do all of the marketing for that. So that can be just weekly events, sales signage, in store signage for the store. We do cut vinyl posters. I do motion as for social media, this is across the board, everything for the thrift shops. Same thing with the bookstore, just any of their needs.

Jerome Harris: And then on the other end, I do designs for fundraising campaigns. So that usually means building out an identity in the system for the designer that we’re going to hire and then our production designer to then build our assets for print, for screen, for social media and everything else in between. Like we just had a protest on October 8th in Washington DC for LGBTQ rights in the workplace. So I got to make protest signs and so usually protest signs are these scrappy things that people make them their own, but it’s nicely designed protest signs. It’s really nice to see. A whole coach bus of Housing Works employees went down to the Hill and protested and it’s just awesome. You know? It’s just a cool thing to feel that you’re a part of that, you know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. How did you first hear about them?

Jerome Harris: Well, I knew about the thrift stores. When I tell people about Housing Works, they’re usually like, “Oh yeah, I go to the thrift store.” I did know the history, which I liked, but I was contacted by the creative director because they had kind of contracting designers and hadn’t had anybody, a design director full time on the team for awhile. So she reached out to me because of my work, the exhibition, As, Not For, and thought that that would be a good fit for the workplace. And this was like back in January and I was like, I don’t know. I might stay at MICA. I don’t know. Academia was proving, after my second year there, was proving to be a little draining for reasons I don’t know if I want to talk about. I just wanted to move into something that was still fulfilling personally, but I still wanted to give back and I wanted the work to be fulfilling. So I talked to the creative directors. Said I’ll give it a shot. And I interviewed, went through a second round of interview, they gave me a design test and then they pulled me on in June.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. And so I know you’ve only been there, like you said, for just a few months now. What do you want to accomplish going into 2020? What do you see Housing Works becoming in the next year?

Jerome Harris: There’s multiple goals because it’s such a scrappy … I keep using that word, but everything moves pretty fast and everybody has to be all hands on deck. So I’m trying to get them to a place, particularly the thrift stores for example, to be in a competitive advantage design-wise with the retailers in the areas of the city that they’re in. They’re placed directly next to places like H&M and J Crew and Uniqlo and stuff like this around the city. And these are stores with huge design teams and these corporations with beautiful design. And so I just try to, even though it’s just me and eventually one other person, just try to give them a visual competitive advantage. They already have a great perception amongst their regular shoppers, but just drawing in a new community through more contemporary design and more slick design that fits into the environment where they exist.

Jerome Harris: And then the other thing is the fundraising campaign in the past, usually because they happen so fast, it’s so much work to do. In the past I’ve just been not completely well thought through, just let’s just get it done. So then I’m trying to really bring in more of the advocate voice into it and then also bringing more contemporary design sensibilities into the work. A little more thoughtful design into the work too. And that way, in addition to convincing people to give us money, make people feel good through the design, gain a better perception from the audience and the donor through the work.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Now, you mentioned a lot already about starting out a Temple, being at Yale, you mentioned your exhibit, all of which I want to go into of course, but I’m curious the story before all of that. So where did you grow up? I know you’re currently in Brooklyn right now, but where’d you grow up?

Jerome Harris: Yeah, I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, actually. Literally, I lived the walking distance from Yale as a kid and that was a interesting place to be because I ended up being in a way a benefactor of Yale being really close as a kid. There was the African American Cultural Center on campus and they had free tutoring. So I think all through elementary school and middle school, so I think maybe starting in third grade through eighth grade, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to private school, but they did want me to have some help. Some advantage. They understood the public school system can be a hindrance in some ways, sometimes. And so my parents brought me to the African American Culture Center for free tutoring. I literally went there three days a week for that five years between third grade and eighth grade and just got tutored.

Jerome Harris: I mean it wasn’t I needed tutoring, but I think that they understood that we are in proximity to this place. Why not give our son the leg up, which shout out to my parents for that. And then how I got into design was in high school we had Photoshop in our computer lab and in 2001 … The first thing I designed, which is really funny, in 2001 Aaliyah died. That was in August and 9/11 happened. And so I was so moved.

Jerome Harris: I was like, what do I do? And I made an image. I probably wasn’t using Google. I was probably using like Alta Vista or something like that. I was searching for images of the twin towers and Aaliyah and I made this whole collage of all these pictures of Aaliyah and her choreographer Fatima Robinson and all these people. That was the first thing I ever made. And then after that, that sensibility to isolate figures, which I feel like I most likely got from Cash Money Records album artwork fed into an interest in college and undergraduate to design party flyers. Because after that I got better and better and was using illegal versions of the Adobe Creative Suite back in the day.

Maurice Cherry: I think a lot of us were back then, so.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. No shame. No shame about it.

Maurice Cherry: Nothin’.

Jerome Harris: It became a side hustle. I was a Photoshop guru at one point and I would just design these party flyers. But yeah, New Haven was a really interesting place to grow up because you have the whole disparity. You have the poorest of poor and the most rich and elite all in the same place in almost evenly spread in a way. You get these crossovers of these different moments and Yale students crossing over with locals. And that happens in any college town but in New Haven it’s a particularly special mix.

Maurice Cherry: So I went to Morehouse here in Atlanta and I remember the first year that I was there, this was ’99 and I mean I’m from the sticks. I’m from the country. So it was already a bit of a culture shock coming into a big city, but not a huge one. Morehouse is one of those schools that has people from all over the world, from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and everything. And I remember my roommate at the time, apparently his mom told him that he needed to dress down if he was going to go out into the neighborhood because Morehouse is literally in the hood. It’s in the middle of not the best neighborhood in the city. It’s not terrible, but it’s the hood essentially.

Maurice Cherry: I’m probably fucking that up. But anyway, I remember him saying his mom was like well they told me I need to dress down. Dress in less expensive clothing just to make sure when I go out that nobody’s going to rob me or anything. And I’m like that’s sounds dumb. But if you feel that’s what you have to do, go right ahead. So I know what that odd disparity looks like.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Now, It’s interesting enough because that area around Morehouse has cleaned up a lot. Mainly because the school just bought the land and tore the buildings down and stuff. But yeah, I know what that can look like in an urban setting.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, both of those things are really interesting to think about because I’m being reductive when I’m saying this. I’m just going to let everybody know I’m being self aware about what I’m saying. But there are a spectrum of black people and that was also, besides it being pretty racially diverse and socioeconomically diverse. I would have a group of black friends and some of them would come from money, come from more money, and their parents would be a little more like respectable. So they wouldn’t use the N-word and dressed a certain way. Some of my friends would not be allowed to go to somewhere like the all ages parties I would go to in high school or middle school. I totally understand that, know who that mom is. The mom of your roommate. But yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So you were designing these flyers at Temple. What was your time like there when you were studying and everything?

Jerome Harris: Temple was interesting because I didn’t realize that I wanted to do graphic design. Even when I was making party flyers, I was like, oh, I’m a party flyer designer. You know what I mean? I didn’t realize completely what I was doing. So when it came time for me to choose a major, I was like, oh yeah, I’m going to major in advertising because I didn’t, you know what I mean? For me that was a logical choice. You’re asking a 19 or 20 year old what they want to do with the rest of their life. I was like, okay, I think I want to do this.

Jerome Harris: I think around my junior year or so I realized, oh, Temple has a whole art school. Tyler School of Art. Maybe I should try to go there instead. I got shut shut down because I wasn’t coming from a fine arts background. I didn’t know that ling so well. I emailed the chair photo images of my party flyers. I don’t remember her name, but she said, “This is not graphic design. You can’t take classes here.” I was like, whoa. Then I actually went through the advertising school. There’s all these roadblocks. The art school’s different than the main college. Dah, dah, dah.

Jerome Harris: I was a little bit disappointed. At that point I was self taught anyway, but I didn’t have any guidance. My parents didn’t know what graphic design was, you know what I mean? I didn’t have anybody to say, “This is what you’re doing.” I was just doing it. Temple was cool. I love Philadelphia. I would move back to Philly any day.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m curious about that, that remark, because I don’t know, for some reason that just rubbed me the wrong way about them telling you that those flyers that you were doing were not graphic design. As you look back at that time, do you agree with that sentiment or no?

Jerome Harris: I think, and this goes into my issue with the understanding that modernism is the whole graphic design. Because what I was doing was a trajectory and black graphic design of following in the footsteps of the artwork used for Master P and Cash Money Records and DJ Screw. Artwork made by Pen & Pixel in Houston where they would isolate the figures, have all these affects and blingy texts and stuff. This still is a legitimate method of approaching graphic design. So these are the things that I was sending, but good design is modernist, right? It’s on a grid, it’s aligned, it has good proximity and space and asymmetry and it’s minimalist. Good design only requires a little bit to design. You know what I mean? These principles by the champions of the Bauhaus and Swiss, you know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Like Euro centric design principles basically.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. Became just the entirety of when you say graphic design, that’s what it is, right? Only. As a 20 year old, I was like, well I’m making money doing this. This is real. This is legit. But I didn’t know how to say that. My feelings weren’t really that hurt because I did see that what they were making in the graphic design program and I was like, oh this looks like what I see in Time magazine or what I was looking at the time. This is how the ads look. When I watch TV commercials, this is how things are designed.

Jerome Harris: It’s really interesting and in retrospect that person, and this is not uncommon, it’s just being a gatekeeper of what graphic design is and what it should be. And I think that’s a large part of what I’ve been writing about and lecturing about recently is about how just making people self aware that that’s not the only way to approach graphic design. There’s a bunch of ways to approach graphic design. It’s easy. Modernism gives an immediate legitimacy to any piece of work. If it looks like that, it’s immediately familiar to people and they’re like, this is good. And yeah. Anyway, I hope I answered your question.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So, after Temple you went back to your roots in a way. You went to graduate school in New Haven at Yale. What was the design program like there once you were actually in that institution instead of around it as you were before?

Jerome Harris: Yeah, it was interesting from a social standpoint. I was at school, I went to class, but I would go home and do my homework and then go to my parents’ house and have dinner. So it was a weird return back home because a lot of people who came to Yale were from other places as clearly as most people do in school. So their society was just their classmates. I was home. So I was like, “Well, I’ll see y’all later. I’m going to eat this fried chicken. I’ll see y’all later.”

Jerome Harris: And then from a academic point of view, it was literally like the clouds broke and the light shined through because I had never thought of approaching design from a research standpoint. I’ve never had to think about concepts any deeper than, okay, I’m designing for a gay party, so I’m going to put a dude half naked on the front. And it’s a beach party so I’m going to put palm trees. You know what I mean? I never thought any deeper than that. So it was like I had professors who were really pushing me to be more conceptual and really push it and get really weird and then say, okay, have I gone too far? Is this still accessible? So thinking about the range of visual references that you can make and thinking about who’s looking at it and who can access that.

Jerome Harris: And also methods of production. So like I had, for example, I had taught myself HTML and CSS prior to, but thinking about just not even using coding to make a website, but using coding just to make type a graphic form. You know what I mean? Just things like this that sound basic that you would learn in probably undergraduate art school were just new ideas to me and I was like, oh shoot, I like this. It was really fun for me and I had no understanding of how graphic design operated in the fine arts world. I used to go to museums and stuff and just look at this stuff but never thought about it in that way. So just learning the nuances and the subtle choices that designers make and the understanding of how to give people access people through images and texts was really interesting.

Jerome Harris: Also how to expand my thinking. How to broaden the way that I think about designers. That was more the takeaway from me being at Yale because I literally knew nothing that they had to offer. Whereas a lot of my classmates had an understanding of fine arts and graphic design and conceptual thinking and the heroes of graphic design. My heroes, I didn’t even know who they were actually. I was just reading Vibe magazine and Ebony magazine. Looking at music artwork for Hot 97, which is a hip hop station in New York. Hot 97 mixed tapes and Cash Money Records. All these things, that for me.

Jerome Harris: … cash, money, records, all these things. That for me it was graphic design in my black life as a youth.

Maurice Cherry: I would say it’s still very much is still graphic design. When we look back at it I think that’s the case. It’s interesting though that it sounds like Yale was the nexus point where you realized that, what I’m doing actually is valid and I can apply and explore different things through the work as opposed to like you said before, using the work on its face.

Jerome Harris: Yes, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s talk about your exhibition. It’s titled ‘As, Not For: Dethroning Our Absolutes.’ I heard about it last year. Someone sent me a link to it on AIGA’s Eye on Design. It was a whole article about it. Can you talk about the exhibit and where the notion came from to curate all this?

Jerome Harris: It’s really funny. When I was at MICA, we were required to do a research project and I had two topics that I wanted to do and I was actually leaning away from doing black design because I was a little bit exhausted with the notion of being a mascot for the race in a way in graphic design. I was like I don’t know if I want to do this.

Jerome Harris: And so my other topic, because I’m a gamer, I’m really interested in the maximal really saturated colors and compositions and if you look at a still of a video game and bring in that level of overwhelming-ness over into graphic design and communication standpoint. That was my initial idea and I was interested in fantasy worlds, but then I started going down both paths and researching both. I already had done a little research into Buddy Esquire. He designed hip hop party flyers during the rise of hip hop before it was even called hip hop. I think I just had the thought, “There has to be more people. They got to be out there.”

Jerome Harris: I felt like a detective because I started with nothing. I had him. I knew I had Cornell’s hip hop archive and I was like, how am I going to find anybody else? So I’m emailing people, asking people. I did an extensive search. I found out about Aaron Douglas who did illustrations during the Harlem Renaissance, but he wasn’t really a graphic designer. And I think I accidentally stumbled upon Emory Douglas, who was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panthers. And then Emmett McBain who had his own McBain Associates in Chicago. He had a black ad agency. I don’t know how I found him. And through him I found Leroy Winbush and Eugene Winslow all of which were black men who had advertising agencies in Chicago.

Jerome Harris: And then Archie Boston was out there. AIGA had written about him a bunch. So I kept stumbling upon people and I was feeling optimistic and at the end of that semester, that was my first year at MICA. We had to do a presentation of our research. And I did the presentation and my chair at the end of my presentation was like, “Why don’t you make this AN exhibition?” And I was like, “Okay, I will.” And I did.

Jerome Harris: And it’s a very graphic designerly exhibition. It’s 47 posters. It’s not like things. Of course a graphic designer would make an exhibition of posters and it went up. MICA asked, the communications office, was like, “Do you want to put together a press release?” And I was like, I don’t care. I was just trying to fulfill a requirement for my fellowship to be honest. I wasn’t thinking about it any deeper than that. And it really took off. People received it well. I think a lot of people were like, I did not know this was needed. And I was like, me neither. I didn’t know either. I just wanted to do this.

Jerome Harris: It was more of a selfish endeavor, more than an endeavor of trying to do some diversity inclusion initiative or something like this. It was just a black man searching for his history in graphic design. It’s really been received well. The show went to Virginia Commonwealth University. The students in a design research class are actually writing an addendum to Philip Meggs A History of Graphic Design, because he wrote that book while he was at VCU. So now they’re writing an addendum. I was told that they were going to do this through the class to include these designers and his history in that book, which I didn’t know that would happen.

Jerome Harris: And then the show is also at CCA, California College of Art in San Francisco. And the letter form archive is out there. And they found out about Sylvia Abernathy, who’s the only woman in my show, unfortunately, sorry. She had these beautiful record sleeves that she designed for Delmark Records for jazz music. They found out about her through me, actually acquired copies of the record sleeves for their archives, and then did an exhibition of design and music. So when I was out there I went to the exhibition and they had Joseph Albert, who was the first chair of Yale’s graphic design program. He had done some record sleeves for jazz music next to Sylvia Abernathy.

Jerome Harris: And that was one of those moments, I didn’t know that I wanted that. I didn’t know that I wanted to see this person who is highly celebrated next to this underdog on the same wall doing the same work for the same thing. Those moments are like these surprises that come up along the way. In addition to short conversations that I have with young designers who are like, “Thank you for doing this.” And I was like, “Well, it’s accidentally at the service of you, so you’re welcome. But you do something like this. You do it now. Continue the work.”

Maurice Cherry: I’ve seen some of the posters in the exhibit. It hasn’t made it to Atlanta yet, nor have I made it to where the exhibits are. But I’ve seen a couple of photos. I see that there’s album art from Def Jam, the record sleeves that you mentioned from Sylvia Abernathy, there’s movie posters from Art Sims who did a lot of work with Spike Lee. And I’m sure that like you said, you get a lot of questions about it. It’s getting a lot of feedback. Is there one question in particular that you hate answering about the exhibit?

Jerome Harris: I can’t necessarily put it into words, but I think that I always get caught up in some question about buzzwords like representation, diversity, inclusion. These catchall terms that when you see a person who’s not citizen white, they are fit into these groupings. At this point, me touring the show and doing workshops and stuff. Now I’m working at the service, but out of service of the field in a way trying to shake things up a little bit, because I see there’s the need. But initially, no, it was a selfish endeavor. I just wanted to know.

Jerome Harris: I needed to know and I needed to be able to defend my work and talk about my work, which came from a lineage of black designers and be able to defend that when people ask me about my work or why things look the way they do, et cetera. And so something about that feels a little reductive. Let’s just say, is this a diversity inclusion thing? Because what happens is if there’s something, dealing with the queer community, then you’re still put in a marginalized group. This is a queer thing. This is a black thing. It’s not, it’s a graphic design thing actually, and it’s been neglected. Just normalize it. Thanks.

Maurice Cherry: With revision path and I know that feeling that you’re talking about, because I started revision path honestly under part selfish part I guess petty I guess. And I’ve told this story on the show before, but I initially had the idea to do this way back in 2006. I had this event that I had created called the Black Web Blog Awards and one of the categories was for best blog design. And it’s interesting you mention vibe and album covers and stuff like that, because I knew who those designers were. I knew the people that were making those designs and they were not getting any level of recognition. I’m not talking about an interview here or there. Nobody knew who they were. Nobody was mentioning them. Nobody was talking about them. No one was asking them to speak anywhere or anything like that.

Maurice Cherry: And I wanted to do something around black design back then, but I was doing the Black Web Blog Awards, I was in grad school, and I was working a full time job. So I was like, I don’t have time to do all this. It wasn’t until seven years later after I had stopped working for corporate America, started my studio and was five years in on that. I was like, I have time to do this. So I really honestly did it as a selfish/petty thing, one to put my thumb in the eye of graphic design in terms of the graphic design community to be like we’re here, you just don’t see us for some reason. I don’t know. But then also to do it because I wanted to see more of us out there and I felt like, I don’t know who else is really doing this, at least on a level that is picking up any level of visibility.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m just going to try to add to it. I knew I wasn’t the first to do it, but I also hope that I’m not the last to do it too. So I get that feeling because what ends up happening is that as the project gains steam and gets out there in the community, it gets out there in the world really, other people start ascribing values to it that have nothing to do with why you started it. So like with revision path, people will say that it’s for people of color in the tech industry. It’s for black people. You can say black. You can say that. You don’t have to to codify it in that way. You can say it because that’s what it is. Or they’ll say, it’s only for African Americans looking to get into Silicon Valley.

Maurice Cherry: No, it’s not. I talk to people all over the world, not just in Silicon Valley, not just trying to get into tech. And I end up having to do a lot of clarification because people want to ascribe their own values to it because they see it, or at least they’re using it as a resource for diversity and inclusion. And that was never my initial goal for it. It was really just I want to see more of us out there and I want to celebrate what we’re doing and what we’re contributing. I’m not doing this as some sort of a way to highlight a deficit. I think AIGA already does a great job of that. This is no shade by saying that by the way, but they do the design census. They point it out every year so that’s a fact.

Jerome Harris: That was also problematic too, because people who are like me who are self-taught designers are not filling out that survey because they don’t know about it. They’re not a part of the AIGA. They’re making the things that they make. There’s a website called seven days, seven nights, which does nightlife in the New York City area and around the United States in general. But the pen and pixel aesthetic is still there. They’ve definitely pushed it forward. None of those designers are filling out that survey, because it’s Latino and black parties, I’m pretty sure it’s Latino and black people designing those things. So I feel like there’s still work to be done because there’s a whole batch of people who are making good money doing that kind of work and are not being included or their careers are not being acknowledged.

Maurice Cherry: And one interesting footnote on the whole pen and pixel style. I really love that style. For those that are maybe not familiar, go to Google images, look up Master P, Mia X, Silkk The Shocker, Juvenile. It’s the gilded cera font with the baguette diamonds for text kind of thing. And I think it was the art directors club or the type directors club or someone did a version of that for their young guns. I might be completely getting this wrong, but I remember the backlash from it from people saying, honestly it was mostly from black people saying, “I can’t believe that you would represent design in this way. It looks so ghetto. It looks so hood.” And I’m like, it looks like it’s design. Granted the way they did it, it did kind of make it look like the guy was a pimp inside of the art director club image with gold teeth and he had a forefinger ring. It wasn’t the best I guess presentation, but I got where the inspiration was coming from.

Jerome Harris: I’m not going to go too long on this, but the owner, Sean Burch, I don’t know how to say his name. He’s contacted me twice about including the work from pen and pixel in my exhibition. In fact, I can open the email right now. He made the point that, my studio was not a black studio. He basically didn’t want the public to think that pen and pixel was a black owned business. I can even read the email right now.

Maurice Cherry: This isn’t an expose is it?

Jerome Harris: No, it’s not an expose. I really don’t care because pen and pixel doesn’t exist anymore. It hasn’t existed for a really long time and it’s been featured. They’ve been getting a lot of press. People have featured them. But the work that gets featured has been, even in Sean Burch’s own words, was art directed by Master P, Baby Slim, DJ Screw. These people came in and said, “You know what I want? I want a Mercedes. I want a photo of me bent over the Mercedes. I want two lions on the side. I want diamonds in the text.” This is the work of an art director. For me and you pen and pixel is working more as a production designer because not all of their work looks like that. And I tried to explain that to him clearly. We had a long phone conversation and he pulled out the, “I have black friends.”

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Jerome Harris: Anyway, he emailed me a picture of his employees with his one black designer on the team. I was like dude. I was like do you know this is racist? Do you know?

Maurice Cherry: Listen, I’ll add a little something to the anecdote, not necessarily pen and pixel related, and I’m not going to name names here, but there a certain show that comes on a certain streaming service that highlights designers. They just had a new season which came up recently. And the people who create that show for example had made sure to reach out to me and mention that they had two black designers this year. Am I supposed to be doing cartwheels in the street over that? Okay, fine, wonderful. Thanks, that’s great. Because the first season they only had one so progress.

Jerome Harris: I do have to say, I try to listen to other design podcasts but there’s such a ubiquity. I’ll listen to the person and look at the work and I’m like yo, you keep interviewing the same person over and over again. There might be a shift in medium, but the work all looks the same and it’s really boring. And that goes back to the stupid modernism thing. It’s like you got to love a little sans serif typeface. Y’all love their modernist principles. Just build another Bauhaus. I’m honestly sick of it. There’s so many other ways to do a piece of graphic design to approach in any medium. Anyway, that’s not your podcast.

Maurice Cherry: Present company excluded.

Jerome Harris: The people you interview are very diverse and it makes me very happy. I’ve been listening for years. Shout out to you, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry: Thank you. I’m curious, do you think that your exhibit would have gotten the same visibility if it weren’t at MICA? Let’s say if it was at the Lewis Museum? For people listening, the Reginald Lewis Museum, it’s a African American History and Culture museum. Do you think that this exhibit would have gotten the same level of reach to white design spaces?

Jerome Harris: I don’t know. I want to suspect. I think no. But what ended up happening and MICA, they asked me, they were like, “You want us to put out a press release?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Because that’s the thing, once it started getting press, people were like, “Oh shit, there’s a black show. Let’s go see it.” And not just white people, but everybody was like, “We should go see this. This looks cool.” And so I don’t know if the Lewis Museum put out a press release if it would have been received the same way. I don’t know that. And also like I said, I didn’t expect anything for the show. Thought it was going to up for two weeks to a month and I was going to take the posters down and throw them away.

Jerome Harris: I can’t answer that question, but I suspect the perception of the institution did help. I suspect so. I don’t know though, because also the reception of the show was such that people did respond well regardless of what, so it might’ve. The show itself might have also drawn people to the Lewis Museum had it been there. Let me also say this though too. I have not shown at a black institution yet. I would like to. I’ve been trying to, so if you’re listening to this and you’re the HBCU or a white gallery or museum I would like to show my show there. Thanks. Bye.

Maurice Cherry: Bring it on down here to Atlanta. We got a few of them. We got Hammonds House. Actually Hammonds House is in my neighborhood. Hammonds House, Spelman has a art museum on campus. So just putting that out there. I’ve seen the exhibit also been referred to as incomplete. And one thing that you mentioned a little bit earlier in the interview is that there is only one woman in the exhibit, Sylvia Abernathy. Now that it’s on tour, are you planning on supplementing the exhibit with more designers as you discover more about them?

Jerome Harris: No, because I don’t have time, because I work full time and the exhibition. When I was teaching, I was teaching a two, three course load and that first semester when I was teaching two classes, that time off was the time I would use to research. I literally was taking a part-time job load, maybe 20 hours or so a week just dedicated to the show. And I just don’t have that time now. I know there’s more people. The curator of the Lubalin Center at Cooper Union put me on to an article in Idea Magazine, which is a Japanese design magazine from the ’70s and apparently somebody else did an exhibition of black designers in Japan and I looked at the spread. It’s in Japanese so I don’t know what it says, but there’s like 50 plus black designers that were featured, African Americans. And I was like, who are these people? I think the only one who I knew was Georg Olden and the rest of them I was like, I need to look these people up. In addition to Michelle Washington, she knows everybody. She also did a-

Jerome Harris: She knows everybody. She also did a show with Flo, I’m saying her name wrong.

Maurice Cherry: Fo Wilson.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Fo. And back in the back, I need to see documentation of that, too. I didn’t know that until we ran into Fo at Black in Design. I was like, “Oh.” Michelle hadn’t mentioned it to me. Then I also met other black designers who had done their thesis. I met this guy, Steve, in San Francisco, who did his thesis at RISD back in the 90’s on black designers and the representation of black people in design. So, it’s been happening. It’s just hasn’t been a thing that has gotten traction.

Jerome Harris: I think maybe the advantage for me is that, my show is kind of a research guide in a way. When you go to the show, in the didactics, you can see what archive I got the work from, the name of the work, the name of the archive, the city that it’s in, it’s almost like encouraging everybody to go ahead and continue the work themselves. If you go to the archive and look at the work or if you go to a digital archive, you might respond to the work differently than I did. So, it’s like a traveling archive, as exhibition. I mean, that’s the only thing. I would like to celebrate these shows. I don’t know. So, I would like to include those more into my work as well, somehow. I just haven’t figured out how yet.

Maurice Cherry: So before you mentioned, Vibe magazine and other publications and things, that were influencing you when you were first starting out, who are some of your influences now with your work?

Jerome Harris: It was really funny because, I’ve actually been looking at fine artists more than graphic designers, in addition to video games and things that are not graphic design. Let me see if I can find… You know, like Lorna Simpson for example, her collage’s. Or thinking about how Lorna Simpson’s work and then thinking about how Carol Walker isolates the figure and about how I was doing that. In reference to pin and pixels work, finding those those formal connections and thinking about different ways of applying that formal gesture in different ways, if that makes sense. Aaron Douglas for example, in his work, he uses a hand drawn type face, which looks like an art deco typeface, but he does it the same way on all of his illustrations. So, looking at this artists painting type, in a way.

Jerome Harris: Who else? There’s a bunch of people that, fine arts, I look at. Laila Ali, definitely. Glenn Ligon was a huge inspiration on my poster because he has the, I am man, with the notations. I forgot what it’s called, The Inspection Report or something like, This Quality Inspection Report, something like this, where he was pointing out the flaws in the poster. And that led me to do the markings. That and also looking at BASCA and doing the markings on the poster that advertises the exhibition itself.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. That’s a really dope poster, by the way.

Jerome Harris: Thank you. I appreciate that. And so, it’s this idea of searching, but also mark making. And me, I had a very, very messy notebook where I was making connections and I was like, “Oh shoot, all three of these guys are in Chicago.” Okay, sorry. That was a long ramble. But, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: No, no. As I was saying, I really liked that additional poster. It’s very rare… Actually, I wouldn’t even say it’s rare. I’ve never seen Jackie’s Back on a poster like that. When I saw it I was like, “Ooh. Are you serious?” I was like, “I got to interview this guy,” after I saw that.

Jerome Harris: There’s a couple-

Maurice Cherry: I don’t know if a lot of people that know about the classic, that is, Jackie’s Back. That movie is a classic.

Jerome Harris: Jackie’s Back is everything. [crosstalk 00:04:25].

Maurice Cherry: It’s all on YouTube, too. The whole thing is on YouTube.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, it’s on YouTube. Jennifer needs to get her money. So, anyway. For those streams. Yeah. I have, I mean whatever, this is going to be controversial. It’s kind of like, as, not for, and it’s kind of, moments in black pop culture that are as meaning, like just existing as your natural blackness or meaning, making yourself presentable or respectable or palatable to white people or something like this. So, in the top I have Spike Lee and then I have Tyler Perry crossed out, but that’s going to be a little controversial. Then I have Jackie’s Back, but then not Sparkle. Because Jackie’s Back was mocking a blaxploitation film, where Sparkle was a blaxploitation film. Then I have Richard Pryor, after he comes out behind The Wiz machine and then I have him crossed off as The Wiz machine. I guess all these little black pop culture gems that I put in there because people who get it, get it.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. So outside of design, you mentioned you choreograph, you DJ? You’re DJ Glen Coco, is that correct?

Jerome Harris: Yes, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: What do you spin?

Jerome Harris: It’s a very specific reference. If you get it, you get it.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Well, what do you spin?

Jerome Harris: Oh, mostly black ass music. I play cookout music. So, it’s Evelyn Champagne King, Love Come Down. Luther Vandross. There was this moment between disco and the 60’s and 70’s and then house music and the 90s, when black people were making this dance music, but it wasn’t a specific genre. It was just kind of like The Whispers. I don’t [crosstalk 00:52:23]-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, I love that genre.

Jerome Harris: I don’t know what that’s called. But, that’s what I play mostly and house music and disco and contemporary stuff that sounds like that. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I’ve heard the music called… So, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Axle F Party. Have you heard of this?

Jerome Harris: No.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. So, Axle F Party is this party in DC where they play all this music. It’s from ’77 to ’87. It’s Jheri curl funk, champagne soul, laser boogie. Those are the terms that they call that genre of music. If you’re in DC, you got to check it out. Even looking at the flyers and everything, the flyers are very much in the style, I wouldn’t say in the pin and pixel style but, I think even if you look at the flyers, you’re like, Oh, you can tell that they are pulling this inspiration directly from that time period. That music that mixes R&B with synths and vocoders and other electronic things of the time. I mean, I love that genre of music. It’s so good.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. That whole moment for me is, I don’t know, it’s something about it. If I’m at the grocery store and I hear, Patrice Rushen’s, Forget Me Nots, I can’t stay still. I’m like, How do you listen to that and stand still? You just can’t. That whole moment is maybe, my favorite little moment in music history. It’s just, nobody ever decided to call it a thing. Which is okay, I think I’m okay with that.

Maurice Cherry: I call it the shoulder music. Sometimes, you got to just like-

Jerome Harris: Ooh, I like that.

Maurice Cherry: You got to hit it with the shoulder, sometimes.

Jerome Harris: Cookout music is the closest. When you say cookout music, black people are like, “Oh, yeah. I get it.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. You definitely got to have some Frankie Beverly and the Maze in there. Some Earth, Wind & Fire. So, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Do you have a dream project that you’d love to do one day? That maybe melds all of these things that you’re passionate about?

Jerome Harris: I have two and knowing me, I mean, if you’ve known me since I was a kid, I was always doing, at least, three or four things. In high school I ran track, I choreograph for the dance team, I used to sketch and I was also part of a youth organization called, City Kids. We used to do youth empowerment. I did a lot. So, this is just who I am.

Jerome Harris: But my two dream things, dream projects are, I want to start a dance company. I don’t want to dance, I want to start a dance company. And I want to represent African-American design, street dance, things like this, on a concert dance stage and tour. I think that would be awesome, just black dance all the time on stage and get paid for it.

Jerome Harris: The other thing is I would like to start a nonprofit research organization for marginalized American aesthetics and design methodologies, because outside of the neglected history of black design, I know everybody else has their own history, it’s also been kind of shunned as well, and something that’ll bring those to the forefront… In my head, it will help to transform the trajectory of design, moving forward and maybe, help diversify the way that things look. There was a article even on my Medium today, I get a Medium Digest every morning and it was, why do all websites look alike? I was like, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Oh my God. I brought that up. Actually, I read that article. I brought it up in an interview I did recently about how all websites have the same hero image, three column whatever, parallax scrolling thing. Yeah, I saw that article.

Jerome Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it’s a thing. I feel like a lot of other people are sick of it, too. It’s a trickle down effect and I feel like it happens every couple of years. I feel like people in academia and culture write these essays and do exhibitions and talk about a thing enough, where people on the ground who are designing, all have this acknowledgement and say, “Oh, shit. Maybe we make a shift.” Then the shift happens. So, I feel that we’re in this moment now, and there’s a lot of folks in the design world, like Ramon Tejad at RISD and Silas Munro at… Have you interviewed Silas?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, episode 85.

Jerome Harris: Oh, shoot. Okay. I have to go back. Silas at Otis. I feel everybody’s tired of… Ramon and Silas have a thing called, Throw The Bauhaus Under The Bus, which I love. Questioning the Bauhaus, not shitting on the Bauhaus. Because they did have a huge contribution to design, but just also questioning it. Then as far as queer representation goes, Nate Piper and Nicole Kilian. They’re thinking about publishing and black publishing is not [inaudible 00:12:06]. So, everybody’s doing really cool shit. I feel like something’s happening right now. I mean, even thinking about your podcast and being a part of that as well. Because you get the conversations, not the neatly tied up essays and lectures.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I try to add a lot of diversity into what could be seen as a monolithic set of people. I try to get not just the top designers, captains of industry in Silicon Valley, I talk to folks in New York. I just spoke to a young lady yesterday in Fayetteville, Arkansas, about the UX community there, which, they have a UX community in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in case people didn’t know about that. I talk to people in the Caribbean, throughout Europe, throughout Africa. I’ve interviewed two people in Australia. I would love to get a black Brazilian on the show. I would love to just know about what the design scene is in Brazil, since it’s the largest country, but just in general.

Maurice Cherry: So, I try to add a lot of nuance and diversity into that, because I think people can see black designer and think just one thing. Also sometimes, and this is, I’m not trying to take shots here, but sometimes, especially with black media, when the term black design gets thrown out, it often ends up only being kotumb to the realm of fashion. They’re not looking at the web or graphic design or arts, in that way. It’s like, Oh, black fashion designers. We’re like, “Well, what about the rest of us?” So, yeah. I get that.

Jerome Harris: Also the same thing with my exhibition, it’s the same sentiment. You can walk in and say this is black design, but then you have hip-hop party flyers and Black Panther, newspapers and Marlboro advertisements by having Emmett McBain and Cey Adams, The Violator, artwork from ’99 and Sun Ra, Sun Ra’s poems from his book, The Immeasurable Equation and Sylvia Abernathy’s jazz. It’s such a diverse group of work, that when you walk in, you’re saying these are black people, but there’s no monolith there. And each one has its own history. Sylvia Abernathy with the Black Arts Movement. Amiri Baraka and Cey Adam’s huge contribution to hip-hop and the Black Panthers influence. It’s so many moments in history through this [inaudible 01:00:51] that you can’t walk away from this collection of work thinking about black people in one way.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So speaking of black people, and I think also, just speaking of the future, we both were at a Black In Design. This year the theme was Black Futurism 2019, we are now at the end of the year, we’re at the end of a decade, we’re really going into the future. When you think of years that sit in pop culture as the future, there’s 1984, 1999, 2020 not just a news show, but you think of that as a future, ahead. When you look ahead, let’s say it’s 2025, what is Jerome working on?

Jerome Harris: That is a good question. I think that might be my planning phase for the next step. I would, right now, want to further build my portfolio in arts and culture and nonprofits and working with artists who speak up for marginalized communities. Louis Flemings project, like the queer in black communities and build up that set of work. And then with that sort of work, start doing my dream, one of my dream projects.

Jerome Harris: The research nonprofit, most definitely, is a huge… For me, it’s something important because I don’t know if anybody else is doing it. I have to do my research to see if it’s happening and if it’s not, then I definitely want to exploit that opportunity and really try to shift the dominance of the way things look right now. Like, all websites look alike. And if not that, if I get tired of design, I’m kind of tired of design, in a way. Because I feel like I’m fighting hard and I feel like I work really hard. I feel that all designers might feel this way. You do a lot of stuff, you’re staying in front of your computer for hours, you’re arguing with vendors and then you finally get a poster or a website or something. People look at it for two seconds and walk away, you’re like, “Okay.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I mean, digital design can be very, well it is, very ephemeral in that way. We spend so much time on something which has such a very short half-life, once it’s out there in the world.

Jerome Harris: I feel design itself is not, for me, not very important. It’s a set of skills. It’s a set of tools to get to essentially, help people. Right? You make things for people. So the thing itself is not really that important. I think that the reasons and the implications and the intentions behind what you do, is the more important thing. I feel like a lot of people should stop designing because they’re just making bullshit and wasting time.

Maurice Cherry: That’s a bold statement.

Jerome Harris: I mean, for real. It’s a lot of stuff out there that doesn’t need to exist. Especially with the condition of the world right now. You’re privileged by default to sit in front of a computer and make images all day. So, why wouldn’t you use that position to do something?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Yeah. See, that’s really what I like about the… To bring up the Black In Design Conference again, what I really like is that these are people that have design skills, clearly. But they’re using them in ways that are affecting and impacting the community. I first went in 2015 and it was about how do we affect the physical space from the neighborhood, to the city, to the state, to the region. Then in 2017, it was around spaces for organizing and for protest. Now this year, it’s about really, black people in the future, black justice black, black-

Jerome Harris: Wakanda.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Wakanda, basically. Black utopia. How do we take these skills and use them to ensure that we are in the future. So, I totally agree with that. Yeah. Well, to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work, online?

Jerome Harris: I pretty much have my CV on my… My website’s pretty much an interactive CV, at this point. My website is jwhgd.co and that’s also my Instagram. So, @jwhg.co and I also have an Instagram for my choreography that I do here and there. It’s @32counts. @32counts. The number’s 3-2, don’t type out thirty-two and that’s really it. If you want to give money to Housing Works, comes on to the fundraisers and yeah, that’s it. That’s really it.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well Jerome Harris, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, one, I think for an enlightening conversation about the work that you’re doing or the work that you done through your exhibit, but also, to show that… It’s interesting how even with the advent of technology design, or at least entry into the design industry, still seems to be roped into these particular narratives around, you have to have went to these schools or done these things or all this sort of stuff. I’m a self taught designer, too. I didn’t go to design school, so to be able to use the talents that you have, to not only, one, make a living for yourself, but also, to showcase others that are doing this, to help change and rewrite the canon of design history. I mean certainly, I empathize with that, because it’s what I’m doing with Revision Path. So, I applaud anybody that’s also walking that same path and making sure that more of us are being celebrated. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jerome Harris: Thank you. This was awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

➡ Glitch is hiring a design director! Apply today!

Brian Cherry is driven and passionate about design! He’s a true hustler–not only is he the Creative Director of Nutrisystem but he also runs his own design agency Cherry Fresh Designs. Brian is a nonstop force to be reckoned with in this industry and he has no signs of slowing down anytime soon!

We chatted about everything from his career trajectory and education to hopes for the future of the industry. Brian is truly humble and inspiring while his insights and observations are keen and on point. If you’ve ever been afraid to pivot in your career or path this is the episode to listen to!

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

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

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

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

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