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Kaleena Sales

One of the things I love most about Revision Path is talking shop with design educators like Kaleena Sales. Kaleena is an illustrator, a design educator at Tennessee State University, and the author of Extra Bold: A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-Racist, Non-Binary Field Guild for Graphic Designers. Kaleena is one of many Black design educators that are helping make the design canon more elastic for students by allowing Black culture and aesthetics to be a part of the conversation.

We talked about teaching design virtually at an HBCU, and Kaleena talked about growing up in Nashville and how she thought about pursuing a career as a fine artist before putting in time working in the advertising industry. She also spoke about what drew her back to her alma mater, as well as the many ways that she has seen design education change since she started teaching. Kaleena is also active with AIGA Nashville, and even shared some info about her upcoming book! With educators like Kaleena, I think the future is in good hands.

Next week: episode 400!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Kaleena Sales:
Hi. I’m Kaleena Sales. I’m a design educator, illustrator, researcher from Nashville, Tennessee. I teach design at Tennessee State University where I’m also serving this year as the interim chair of the department. I also serve on the steering committee for AIGA’s design educators community.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. How’s 2021 been going for you so far?

Kaleena Sales:
You know what, it’s been good so far. It’s been really, really busy. 2020 was busy and then I feel like 2021 is just sort of a continuation of that. Lots of really cool opportunities have come up. There have been a couple of book projects and conferences and some speaking engagements and things that have kept me really busy. That’s been really nice and it sort of like serves as a good balance for me between my teaching role at TSU.

Maurice Cherry:
Is it hard kind of trying to balance the teaching along with these other opportunities?

Kaleena Sales:
It can be, yeah. I mean, this year’s been weird anyway just because of all of the virtual instruction and then having to figure out how to deliver content to students in addition to taking on this interim chairs position for the first time and learning how to serve in an administrative capacity. That’s been a lot of really like a new space for me. So doing a lot of the the book projects and sort of my, I guess field work has really started as a really nice balance. So it keeps me really busy, but I really like being able to do all of the extra projects. I feel like it really gives me the context that I need to be a better educator.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s dive into more of the work that you’re doing at Tennessee State. So your interim chair of the, which department is it again?

Kaleena Sales:
It’s the Department of Art and Design.

Maurice Cherry:
Art and design. Okay.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah, studio and design.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I would imagine with sort of this, I guess, hybrid… I don’t know is it sort of a hybrid thing now that students are getting vaccinated and such or is it still all virtual?

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. Well, we have a few hybrid courses, but this past year a lot of the delivery has been virtual. So we’ve been trying to stay away from each other as much as possible. But there have been some classes, the more studio-based courses. So like ceramics or sculpture and those types of things that are difficult to teach just online. Those have been meeting a little bit in person. For my design classes, I’ve been all virtual though.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been trying to teach design virtually?

Kaleena Sales:
It’s not terrible. I mean, obviously with design, we have the benefit of using the computer as our main tool. So it’s been fine in that way. One of the challenges though is I’m used to like a lot of other design educators and just educators in general like I’m used to walking around the classroom and assessing student’s work and sort of being there with them as they’re navigating through some of their challenges and helping them to see things as they’re working.

Kaleena Sales:
So you lose some of that within the virtual space because students are either working offline or they’re not sharing their screens with you while they’re kind of going through those processes. So that assessment and kind of critique process really has changed quite a bit in the virtual space.

Kaleena Sales:
So that’s the part that’s tough and I think that the students are having a hard time with that and that feedback loop is a little bit difficult for some of them. But again, I’m thankful though that we do get to just use our laptops for the most part to do our work. There have been some issues though with just access to laptops and software for some of my students. So a lot of the students that I teach typically rely on using the computer lab to do a lot of their work.

Kaleena Sales:
So we have seen a drop-off in enrollment because some of the students who just don’t have the materials to do it just didn’t enroll in classes this semester or this past year. So that’s been really unfortunate and I’m hoping that in the fall we’ll see that turn back around.

Maurice Cherry:
I was listening to this podcast series from the New York Times called Odessa and they have been following this… Really, it was this high school girl and her class. Her band actually, marching band. And it struck me just like it has to be so hard for students right now everywhere. Regardless of the grade because school is such a vital social function as well as a societal function. And when something like the pandemic kind of strips that away and turns into a virtual experience, it’s not just so much about, “Oh, you can’t commune in public,” but it takes away something from like the whole society.

Maurice Cherry:
So I can only imagine trying to focus and learn, and you can only do it on the computer and you can’t really collaborate in person or knock ideas off of other people in real time in that way. It’s really tough.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah, it is tough and a lot of the students… Everyone’s wired differently. So you have introverts like myself who are completely fine like being at home and away from people. But we have a lot of students who really, really do need that social component and they’re missing it. Then all the other activities that you have with just college life in general, outside of just your classes. And on an HBCU campus, one of the big draws to an HBCU for a lot of students is the community and it’s that sense of being around your peers. So when you’re back isolated at home, you’re missing out on a big part of why you even attended college in the first place.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s very, very true. Overall though, I’d like to know because I mentioned before we started recording that I’ve had a lot of design educators on the show just really this year, but what’s the experience like teaching design at an HBCU. What makes that special?

Kaleena Sales:
There’s a really I think a kind of specific experience that happens when you’re learning design at an HBCU. And I’m sure it varies depending on which HBC you’re attending and all that. But a lot of the students that I teach, they come from cities like Memphis, and Atlanta, and Chicago. They are really from like black parts of town and then they come to a college that’s predominantly black.

Kaleena Sales:
So your cultural kind of experience is very kind of specific and that comes out in your design work at least in my experience it has for the students. So when we’re teaching about international typographic style and Bauhaus, and all of that, the students are engaged to a certain extent, but they’re very much interested in expressing their culture through design.

Kaleena Sales:
So I would say that’s a really big distinction between learning or experiencing design and learning designing in HBCU versus at a predominantly white institution is because you’re surrounded by black people, black culture all the time and you’re not really in the minority yet. So the students that I teach often don’t really see a need to create work that fits the mainstream necessarily.

Kaleena Sales:
They’re not really pulled to do that or compelled to do that the way that I see black students who are in predominantly white institutions doing. So that’s really interesting to observe and it actually kind of is what created my personal research interest in general. So that’s one of the biggest observations I’ve made.

Maurice Cherry:
I would also imagine because you being a black design educator and it’s at an HBCU, you don’t dissuade students when they try to do that, right?

Kaleena Sales:
You know what though, it’s been a journey for me because I’ll be honest and say that when I first started teaching, I was teaching very much the way that I was taught. So I was teaching very much like, again, international topographic style, and sans serif, and flush left, and these are the rules. I started teaching really like when I was 27, so it’s been quite a few years ago now.

Kaleena Sales:
So I wanted my students originally to fit into the mainstream. I felt like that was going to be their path into the industry. And it very much still is to be honest, but I’ve changed the way that I feel about that and the way that I teach about that now. So instead of wanting them to squeeze into the mainstream. There’s a really good quote by an AfriCOBRA artist that says something about making the canon… Instead of fitting into the canon, making the canon more elastic. So that’s sort of like how I approach it now versus the way that I taught in my really early years.

Kaleena Sales:
So now, I’m encouraging them to consider the ways that their identity might show up and the way that their social economic kind of status or upbringing might even influence their design work.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. I’m thinking on how that would look like. I don’t know. Can you give an example of what a student… And you don’t have to like call-out a student by name or anything, but what’s an example of something that a student would do in that instance?

Kaleena Sales:
I actually write about this in the book Extra Bold, but one really kind of specific example would be just even the way that we all view wealth or money for example, right? If you think about if you grow up wealthy or in a family that’s pretty well off, your view of money is normalized. So if you were to ask to design a logo for a bank for example, you might represent that in a really sort of corporate way. It’s like simplified typography and that sort of thing.

Kaleena Sales:
If you grew up like I grew up, which was like inner city and not very well off, your ideas of what wealth looks like is very different. It might be a little bit flashier and it might have gold as a representation or some other kind of symbolism that matches that type of thinking. So I see my students choosing fonts, and colors, and textures that really speak to the visual landscape and the culture in which they come from.

Kaleena Sales:
So there’s a lot of, I think, influences from hip-hop and just very like urban design. They don’t shy away from that and I don’t want them to. So those are kind of some things that come to mind when I think about that specific aesthetic.

Maurice Cherry:
The first thing when you said that what came to mind was… I don’t know if you remember seeing this, but there’s this black bank called One United Bank and they have this visa card with Harriet Tubman on it doing the Wakanda salute.

Kaleena Sales:
Oh, okay.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I saw it on Twitter and people clowned it, but leave it to a black bank to do that. You know what I’m saying? You wouldn’t see that at Wells Fargo. That ain’t happening.

Kaleena Sales:
That’s funny. That sort of pushes it into sort of a space where those symbols… And I don’t want to criticize that design, but those symbols sort of take on a little bit of a stereotype or they don’t mean as much. I think that it’s hard to talk about black aesthetics and black design sometimes because I think sometimes we feel that we’re being or we’re describing like a monolithic viewpoint or like a monolithic experience when we do that.

Kaleena Sales:
And that’s certainly not ever like what I want to suggest. I think it’s true for everyone’s experience. I think we just are all influenced by just the things around us and the media that we consume, and the way that we grow up. Even our fashion choices respond to our culture as well. So those are really the things that I see.

Maurice Cherry:
And your research focus, I mean it plays into this about black culture and aesthetics. How did you end up deciding on that as a focus?

Kaleena Sales:
Well, exactly sort of what I was just describing, which was I started to notice that my students were making some choices. So for example a lot of my students were liking like the Old English typeface. I was getting so frustrated and I thought, “Oh my gosh. Why do you guys keep choosing this?” I stepped back and I tried to be less critical and I was like, “Well, why do they like this particular typeface and why do I see certain color palettes repeating like red, and black, and white and really bold color combinations?” I started to study a little bit about the mere exposure effect and subliminal exposure. I don’t know if you are familiar with that or not.

Maurice Cherry:
No. I haven’t heard of that.

Kaleena Sales:
So it just simply says like the more you see something, the more you like it. The subliminal exposure effect essentially just says that even when things are repeated subliminally and you don’t notice that you’re seeing something over and over again, you still end up having a sort of a preference for that. So it’s sort of similar to, if you grew up in a household where people smoke cigarettes and then maybe as an adult, the smell of cigarette smoke is actually sort of calming to you because it reminds you of home.

Kaleena Sales:
Or if you grew up in New York City, and it’s busy and loud, maybe a very quiet kind of experience is discomforting to you. It’s sort of that kind of thing. So when we see things, textures of the city, the sounds of the city, even like fashion choices depending if you’re into sneakers or if you’re into certain kinds of shoes those color palettes and things, they stick with this.

Kaleena Sales:
So I see that in the research that I’m doing. What I started to do in my research was pull examples of my students work and compare it to the visual landscape of urban environments and I saw a lot of similarities between the two. So for graffiti lettering and then an interest in that kind of typography style or even textures from a city like walls or landscape and then the textures that students are choosing in their design work.

Kaleena Sales:
So I just think it’s kind of interesting and fascinating. Although, I specifically am interested in like the black experience and particularly the urban black experience, I think that this can certainly be true for people who grew up in rural areas and that sort of thing. So that’s sort of where that research interest comes from. It’s directly from my students experience and in my experience observing them while teaching.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Now, I want to switch gears here a little bit. I know we’ve been talking about the work that you’re doing at Tennessee State. Of course a lot of the work you’re doing with your students. Did you grow up also in Tennessee?

Kaleena Sales:
I did. I grew up in Nashville and I went to Tennessee state university for undergrad. So that’s home and Nashville is home.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I would imagine creativity and art were probably a big part of your childhood and your environment growing up.

Kaleena Sales:
You know what, not really. I would say I wasn’t exposed to a lot of art. My parents were military parents and my dad was in the army. My mom was in the army for a while. It wasn’t really a very artistic kind of household. I was sort of the oddball in my family in terms of having an interest in that, but it was always supported though. When I did decide to pursue art as a career path, I was lucky that my parents were supportive of that. I know I teach a lot of students who say that their parents are sort of unsure or not supportive of that when they first decide to choose that as a major.

Maurice Cherry:
So growing up in Nashville, I’d imagine Tennessee state was probably just always in your backyard?

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah, it was. It was the only college honestly that I even considered going to. When you grew up in Nashville, especially I went to like a black high school and was in the band. So you get used to that, that culture. So we would march in TSU’s homecoming parades. So it was just always there. I think about this sort of in hindsight sometimes because I didn’t even know of any art schools back then. When I was thinking about going to college, I just had never heard of like MICA or RISD. They were completely foreign to me. So I think about that too in terms of exposure. I wonder if I would have known what choices I would have made.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s funny you say that about going to a black high school and sort of being close to another historically black college. So for folks that know that have listened to the show, I grew up in Selma, Alabama and the nearest… Well, we have a HBCU there. We have Selma University, but it’s a small college. We don’t even have a band. Nobody really pays attention to it. But Alabama State University in Montgomery was always like the school that we kind of, I wouldn’t necessarily say, emulated, but we also would march in their homecoming parade and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
So that whole culture of all of that is just so rich. Oh. See, now you got me thinking about marching band and memories of all of that is so rich. But it’s interesting though about not really knowing about the possibility. I mean, when did you sort of know that you wanted to study design to go to Tennessee State and to study it?

Kaleena Sales:
So I had an art teacher in high school and the class that we were in was called commercial art. I didn’t know what that meant, but for some reason I really liked the way it sounded. So I used to draw a lot. I didn’t know anything about computer graphics or what commercial art even meant, but for some reason I really grabbed a hold to that title. So when I was choosing a major, I chose art.

Kaleena Sales:
After the first year or two of studying as a studio art major, I realized that I liked painting and all of that, but I really did not… I was sort of afraid of pursuing a career as a fine artist. I didn’t want to have to… I’d had this weird vision in my head that I would be standing on the corner trying to sell paintings for a living. I was afraid of that lifestyle and I was just like, “I need to find something that has like in my mind more stability.”

Kaleena Sales:
I was reading a magazine, I think it was like essence magazine or something like that and I came across the titles in the beginning of the magazine and it listed like art director and all these other… And I thought I don’t know what an art director is, but that sounds like something that I want to do. So I really clung to that and I started researching like early internet days. I started researching art direction and found the VCU’s Brandcenter. It was called the Adcenter at the time, but found that program online. And that’s what took me off in that direction.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. And VCU’s Brandcenter, I mean is well known, I think internationally well known. We’ve had another guest on the show, Brandon Viney who also went. I think he grew up in and around Virginia, but he knew about VCU. So certainly their program definitely cranks out people that can perform at a top-notch design level. How was it when you were there?

Kaleena Sales:
It was amazing to be honest. When I discovered the program and I set my sights on going there for grad school, I’ve sort of like obsessively stalked their website and tried to emulate the work that I saw coming out of that program. When I got accepted and I went, it was all that I was hoping it would be like it was intense and rigorous. I don’t think it’s really meant for… I mean, I have thoughts now about how it sort of does exclude people who could not go through a program like that because maybe they had to work or had other kind of obligations. But for those of us that were privileged enough to not have other obligations and could do that, I really learned a lot about how to just think and how to solve problems and how to process ideas.

Kaleena Sales:
So I feel like although I’m not working in the ad industry anymore, it definitely has affected every part of my career since then in terms of just me being able to think about things in more of a problem-solving and strategic viewpoint.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know you interned for JWT for a while and then you worked for several years at Doe-Anderson which is an advertising firm. With that whole experience, how did it sort of bring you back to Tennessee eventually?

Kaleena Sales:
When I worked at Doe-Anderson, I worked there for a couple of years right out of grad school. It was a good experience, but 2008 right when the country was going through a recession, we lost a big client and I got laid off. I was like, “What? What is happening?” I had just won some awards and I thought everything was going great and it was one of the early shocks in my career that things could be turbulent and things could not go the way that you think they’re going to go.

Kaleena Sales:
I don’t know why I was one of the ones that was let go and honestly, it’s sort of a side note. I do think that it’s possible that there was some cultural fit issues. But that’s what made me move back to Nashville. I thought, “Okay. Well, I’m out of work. What do I do?” And I started freelancing as a graphic designer.

Kaleena Sales:
That was really the first time that I really started to think about my skills as a designer a little bit more seriously than when I was doing the art direction thing. So I got pretty serious about learning craft and investigating typography a bit more and that’s sort of kind of is what paved the way into me teaching design.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, the ad industry though is notorious for being like… It kind of chews people up and spits people out so that could have been for the best.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. At the time, it felt really crappy. I was like things happen for a reason and I’m so happy with… In hindsight, I’m happy with the direction that my career has taken since then. But it’s a tough industry to be in. I mean, so many ups and downs. So many people that I know that still work in the industry that have just been uplifted so many times and moved. I think it’s great if you have a passion for it, if that’s your thing and that’s what you’re really interested in and that’s rewarding. But I think my forceful exit was what I needed to refocus on the things that I really care more about.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’ve mentioned you’ve been teaching for a number of years. We won’t do the math on that, but how have you seen design education change since you started teaching?

Kaleena Sales:
Oh, man. I think that one of the biggest ways is that the conversation surrounding diversity and the canon and decolonizing design. I don’t know if I was just disengaged or if those conversations just weren’t really happening when I first started teaching. So that’s been one of the biggest ways that I’ve seen a significant shift in terms of pedagogy and just the ways in which we are considering what we’re teaching to the point where if I do teach things that are traditionally in the canon.

Kaleena Sales:
I make sure that I’m providing context whereas early in my teaching days, I wasn’t doing that. So that context might be the reason why we’re learning about this person is because there are other people that were excluded that could not be a part of this conversation. And the reason why we’re learning about this particular design style is because other design styles aren’t in this book at all that we’re using.

Kaleena Sales:
So I see that across the board. It’s not just something that I’m doing. There’s tons of design educators that are revamping curriculum and really trying to respond to some of the changes that we’ve seen socially over the past few years.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. it has really been interesting how… I didn’t go to school for design so I can’t really speak on it from a historical standpoint, but certainly I know since I started doing this podcast back in 2013, it’s amazing to see how educators have really started to come together not just in, as you say kind of elasticizing the canon or like teaching outside of the canon, but also even coming up with other curriculum or even opening up their class to talk about these sorts of things because students, like you said, you teach at HBCU.

Maurice Cherry:
So students are coming with these questions or they’re coming with these viewpoints and to not shy away from them and to be able to speak to them and place it in a modern context and place in a cultural context. I mean, it’s amazing just how much that has changed. Really, it feels like within the past maybe 10 years or so, it feels like it’s really started to grow around that. I’m seeing it even from mostly white art institutions. I’m seeing the same thing start to happen. I’m glad that it’s starting to take shape in that way.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. I think that a lot of people recognize the opportunity to make these changes and are feeling some of the responsibility. I think as educators we are certainly sort of on the front lines of reshaping the next generation of designers and the way that they approach design. So I’m really happy with a lot of the conversations that I’ve listened to or been a part of even over the past couple of years that are really starting to push things forward.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I guess the pandemic maybe might have accelerated this a bit, but now you’ve been seeing more events around this. I remember 2015, Harvard’s graduate school, they have an African-American student union there and they put together this conference called Black in Design. And the first year that they had it was in 2015. I remember trying to get people that I knew like peers and friends to go like, “Let’s go. It’s at Harvard.” The tickets were less than $100. It was super cheap.

Maurice Cherry:
But they were looking at the program and the thing was it was called Black in Design but it wasn’t digital design. At least for the first year, they have the conference every other year. And for the first year, the theme was around the concept of space like the city, the neighborhood, the region, et cetera. So people are looking at that and I’m trying to get people to go and they’re like, “But they’re not talking about Photoshop. They’re not talking about illustrator. Why would I go to a Black in Design Conference when they’re not talking about digital design?”

Maurice Cherry:
I’m like, “How many black design conferences have you been to in your career? None. Let’s just go. It’s cheap. Let’s just go.” I’ve been fortunate to go every year that they’ve had it. I’m interested to see how they pull it off this year because I went last in 2019 for their third installment and I want to see how they do it this year. I mean, last year for example and this year as well, there was State of Black Design that went on. There’s Where are the Black Designers? I’m seeing even other colleges doing small little designs speaking events and things like that. So it’s really starting to blossom. It’s wonderful to see.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. There’s been a lot of really great programming. The State of Black Design, the one that you just mentioned with Omari Souza. I mean, incredible. So I love it. I think the more that these types of things pop-up, it’s just going to further the conversation, get more people involved and engaged and really just recognize that this movement is happening and it’s not just like a fluke.

Kaleena Sales:
I think when there’s just like one conference here, maybe some people will catch it, but when it’s happening over and over and all around us, at some point you can’t avoid it. So you have to kind of decide whether or not you’re going to engage in this change, in this movement.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you seen any sort of pushback against it, I’m curious like from a student standpoint?

Kaleena Sales:
Not directly. My students have not pushed back against it. They’re all about it. They’re excited to learn about, again, black culture, black history and whatever discipline that comes from whether it’s in their art history course or whether it’s in one of my design classes. So not directly with my students. I have seen questions maybe from design educators surrounding how do we engage students who aren’t interested in this?

Kaleena Sales:
So I would imagine at predominantly white institutions where this might seem like it’s sort of like breaking from the norm of what’s being taught. There may be more pushback, but I think overall even at predominantly white institutions there’s a lot of excitement or a lot of recognition that these are important areas. So yeah, I mean overall it’s going in the right direction.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, that’s good to hear. That’s good to hear.

Kaleena Sales:
At least in my experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What would you say your students teach you?

Kaleena Sales:
Oh, man. Well, I think just they taught me to be a better professor and to understand context more. They also taught me how to give feedback. I think when I first started teaching one area where I struggled was how do I communicate the things that I would like for them to focus on in a way that they’ll understand it and in a way that doesn’t feel subjective and just a personal opinion.

Kaleena Sales:
So I had to learn that and I had to sort of read them and read their responses and figure out what was landing and what was not landing. So I certainly have learned that from them just based on the ways in which they respond back to me when we’re in class. They also have really great ideas. I just sat in on a bunch of meetings today and yesterday where our seniors were presenting their senior thesis projects and they’re choosing such interesting topics that are sort of blowing my mind.

Kaleena Sales:
One student is interested in fashion and she was addressing ways that the pandemic has changed our outlook on clothing and fashion. Another student was thinking about the ways in which bias and stereotypes can be addressed through animation and cartoon. There’s all these like topics that they come up with that I’m just like, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” I love to see like the way that they’re processing how to use art and design in those ideas. So I’m constantly learning from them.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really interesting. I don’t know. I mean, of course kids now have just so many different experiences that they’re pulling from especially during this current time. That part about the fashion though, I mean I can just personally attest. I’m looking at my closet and I want to get rid of everything. I want to adopt like a minimalist capsule wardrobe at this point. I look at my slacks and my suits and stuff, I’m like, “I want to get rid of all of this.” Because I haven’t had to wear them. I haven’t had to go anywhere with it.

Kaleena Sales:
That’s exactly what the student was sort of suggesting. We’re liking this comfort thing. Let’s get more of that, more yoga pants and sweatshirts. Then even just sort of like this particular project for example. The student was even questioning, “Are we learning more about sustainability? Are we not comfortable being as flashy anymore?” So she was just really posing some really interesting thoughtful questions and those are the things that are really refreshing to hear especially from really young designers.

Maurice Cherry:
That is a great question. Now, that you’ve mentioned that I’m just thinking like when I scroll through Instagram, that is exactly what I see. I see so many tie-dyed sweatshirts. I mean, of course there’s like muted color palettes. There’s talk about sustainability and organic and all this stuff, but everything is very beige.

Kaleena Sales:
That makes us feel like we’re being socially conscious because beige is the color of being socially conscious.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’ve been talking about design educators kind of touching on that earlier, but there’s also been this kind of pretty regular conversation in the design community around maybe the lack of black design educators. What do you think contributes to that?

Kaleena Sales:
I just think that we’re underrepresented across the board in the industry. In design and in education, higher education, and the end of higher education, I mean most accredited… Well, I guess depending on if your state school or how your funding works, you have to have a terminal degree to work as a college educator. So that’s the MFA in most cases. So that already pushes a lot of people out of the possibility of pursuing this.

Kaleena Sales:
I know a ton of amazing black designers that went to college for it and would be incredible, but like a lot of other designers, they’re working. They’re doing their practice and so they didn’t go and get that MFA teaching degree. So that’s one of the ways that I see that it’s limiting because it begins to be really expensive. Obviously, the more education you’re pursuing. So those advanced degrees you’re having to decide on do I want to get student loan debt? Is this worth it? Is the college teaching job going to sort of offset the cost of all of this?

Kaleena Sales:
So that’s a really big consideration depending on who you are and where you’re from and what sort of like… Maybe even generational wealth you might or may not have. So I think that can contribute to the lack of diversity in education in general, higher education in general. But then even as designers, there’s just so few still, so few black designers working in the space that it just gets narrowed even further when you add in another criteria. So it’s black designer and educator. The numbers just get real slim. So, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I could see that. I mean, I think visibility is sort of one part of that as you mentioned. You just don’t really see that many. Although now, I think you’re seeing more and more with these events and speaking and things like that. But also I wonder if students as they’re learning, are they also being enlightened about going into design education as well?

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. Probably not as much as we should. Actually, just before joining this call with you, I was listening to Jacinda Walker do a presentation about the work that she’s doing and she pointed out that there are, I think 300 and something black design educators across the country. That’s a really tiny number and she actually just mentioned something about to your point, we sort of need to do a better job of advocating for our career and talking about it and communicating to younger students what it is that we do and some of the things that we enjoy about this.

Kaleena Sales:
I think that there’s still, I guess, a little bit of a misconception in terms of what teachers do. A lot of people, I think there’s still a little bit of that idea of like if you’re… What is it saying? If you’re good, you do and if you’re not, you teach.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah. Like those who can do and those who can’t teach.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. So I think that can sometimes, the mindset of a lot of creatives. So if you’re in a creative field, you really do have that itch inside of you to do the work, right? You want to practice. So teaching feels like, “Well, I’m not going to be able to do the work. I’m going to be in this box where I’m not really practicing.” But what I would love for people to know is like when you’re working in higher education as a professor, research component that a lot of us are asked to do allows for us to grow our practice and really do a lot of personal projects that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do if you’re working in the industry. So I’ve seen my personal work grow since being an educator.

Maurice Cherry:
Now is that sort of how you came across doing the book?

Kaleena Sales:
Extra Bold?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I was trying to give you a good segue into it.

Kaleena Sales:
Well, yes. I actually met Ellen Lupton. She came to Nashville, I think it was 2019 and she was AIGA Nashville. I served on the board for AIGA Nashville and we hosted her. she was actually doing a presentation for one of the really early iterations of the book before it took the shape that it is now. We took her to dinner. The board of directors for AIGA Nashville took her to dinner and we sort of chatted and just touched base and kind of do what you do when you’re at dinner.

Kaleena Sales:
She followed up and asked a few questions. Then eventually I was going to be a contributor for a small part of the book along with so many other amazing contributors. That was where it was for a while and then I got an email last year sometime from her where she invited me and to be a co-author and do some more writing in the book. So that’s how that took shape.

Kaleena Sales:
So it’s been amazing to be a part of that collaborative project. And what I love really most about that book in particular is that it involves so many different voices and perspectives and narratives. You hear from people like me who I don’t think typically has this sort of platform. So I love it. I feel like I’m learning so much from the other co-authors and the other contributors in the book.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when does the book come out?

Kaleena Sales:
So Extra Bold will be released on May 11th, and so really soon. It feels like it’s been in the works for quite a while now, but just a couple more weeks. At least from the time we’re recording the podcast. I don’t know when it’ll be released, but May 11 is when the books will be on the shelves.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. So I’m excited about that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. By the time this airs it’ll be out.

Kaleena Sales:
Oh, good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. So that’s exciting.

Maurice Cherry:
So about your work with AIGA Nashville on the board, what is it like sort of serving a chapter that’s in a city like Nashville? I’ve had other people from Nashville on the show before and even other people from Tennessee, but I don’t know if people might think of Nashville as being a really sort of design hub or a design city of any sort.

Kaleena Sales:
Yeah. Nashville, we’re known for our music, country music. But we do have a pretty good design community in Nashville. What’s really interesting about the board and what I love about AIGA’s national board is it’s extremely diverse, much more diverse than the industry is. We have maybe 50% black designers and lots of women designers. It’s just a very welcoming kind of place and community to be a part of. It was really the first organization that I took on any sort of a leadership role. I was the director of education for a while and then I transitioned over into being the director of diversity and inclusion.

Kaleena Sales:
And just by being involved, I have met so many other like wonderful designers. I didn’t realize that I was missing out. I think that naturally a lot of artists, designer types are kind of in our own little like circles or worlds. When I joined the board, it sort of forced me to grow and be a part of the larger like Nashville design community. And I certainly feel like I’ve benefited from doing that. I love just being a part of the events and figuring out content that will service the community there.

Maurice Cherry:
What are some upcoming events and things that you all are planning to do this year?

Kaleena Sales:
Well, we always participate in Nashville Design Week. So we’re brainstorming some ideas for that. It’s not released yet, but we typically invite in some inspiring guest speakers. Last year, we did a panel with Mitzi Okou from the Where are the Black Designers conference and Forest Young, and Bobby C. Martin. We just had an amazing conversation about the experience that they’ve had working as black designers in the field.

Kaleena Sales:
This year will hopefully be like a continuation of those types of conversations. We also do a lot of programming. I don’t serve in the educator role anymore on the board, but we do a lot of programming for students. So we do a lot of like portfolio reviews and meetups for students. So that’s always fun to help them get their foot in the door.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I kind of want to switch gears here again. We’ve been focusing again a lot on your work and the things that you’re doing, but I’m curious what is it that sort of keeps you motivated and inspired to really continue this work?

Kaleena Sales:
The more that I work and the more that my work sort of shifts, I really want people to feel seen and I want to value the different experiences that black and minority designers have in this industry. So that might be again looking at the ways in which there might be some differences in the ways that the portfolios from an HBCU might look versus again a predominantly wide institution and advocating for us to remove bias in our review practices.

Kaleena Sales:
So it motivates me to talk about that and to share students work and students experience. And it motivates me to continue to have conversations about just diversity and design in general and sort of like the implications of the lack of diversity on our experience when we’re working as designers, how does that affect our confidence? How does that affect our mental health? How does it feel to be the only black designer in a creative department? Similar to when I was working at the ad agency and sort of it motivates me to talk about that so that other young designers who are black and are in those situations can feel seen, feel understood and sort of recognize that they’re not doing anything wrong. It might just be the industry needs to catch up to fully appreciate their point of view.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want to accomplish this year?

Kaleena Sales:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from launching the book, I should say.

Kaleena Sales:
That’s a big one. But I want to actually write more, but I really would love to find a way to connect my illustration interest with design. I feel like right now they’re still living very separate lives. I do a lot of like illustration work and portrait drawings and things, but also obviously, I have a really big passion for design and writing. So one thing I’d love to do is find a way where they can sort of… Like these things can co-exist. So I do a lot of experimentation and I’m trying to figure that out. So I’ll feel really satisfied if I can get to some sort of a solution on that. And especially if it continues to elevate black voices and experiences.

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

Kaleena Sales:
I was serving like I said as the interim chair. So the next year I’ll be the chair of the department. I think I’d like to be still in that position in five years. So that’s a lot of administrative work for the department. But what that looks like for me is like revamping curriculum and thinking about ways to get more of our students working in art and design spaces and facilitating that experience for them. So again, changing curriculum, getting them connected to mentors in the industry and just doing all of that sort of work on behalf of the students that I teach, but more from an administrative role and capacity.

Kaleena Sales:
So that’s where I see a lot of my time being spent. I would also love to do illustration work for some… I don’t know. I want to take it away from just sort of something I’m doing on the side and maybe do more commission work in that space.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have like a dream client or a dream project that you’d want to do?

Kaleena Sales:
Sort of. There’s not a specific client. I think that I would just… I sort of believe that if I continue to work on my craft and then refine it, that whatever’s meant to happen will happen and that right opportunity or that right client will find its way to me. So we’ll see. I would love to do some sort of partnership. But I don’t know what that exactly looks like. I’m really open to wherever that goes.

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

Kaleena Sales:
So I am on all the social media channels on Instagram @kaleenasales. On Twitter @kaleena_sales. I think that’s right. And I’m on LinkedIn. I would love to connect on LinkedIn to whoever would like to connect and stay in touch that way. I’m on social media. My website is kalinasales.design, if you just want to kind of check that out and read a little bit more about what I’m up to there.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And we’ll also put a link to the book in the show notes.

Kaleena Sales:
Yay. Thank you so much.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Kaleena Sales, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really helping to teach the next generation of designers. I mean, it floored me the first time when I heard a teacher tell me that they actually use this podcast in their class because for people to know, I do this at home in my bedroom. And the fact that it has this kind of reach where I know educators are teaching it around the world, I think also speaks to this greater elasticization of the canon that you’re speaking about. I’m just glad that you’re there to help really guide and shepherd the next generation, and also keep them true to their cultural identity as they do it. That is super important. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

David Jon Walker

Let’s start off Black History Month with some education, shall we?

Meet David Jon Walker, owner of the graphic design studio Rhealistic, and a design professor at Austin Peay State University in Nashville, TN.

Our conversation started off with a brief look back at 2020, and from there, David spoke on adapting to teaching design during this socially distant time. He also talked about growing up in Nashville, discovering design during college at Tennessee State University, and shared some of the goals he wants to accomplish this year. I’m really glad there are educators like David out there to help guide the next generation of designers!

As an engineering manager at Abstract, Dee Tuck juggles a lot. But whether it’s overseeing teams or recruiting and retaining talent, Dee makes sure that diversity and inclusion are a crucial element of her work from day to day. That’s where we began our conversation, but wait…there’s more!

Dee talked about her time attending the illustrious Tuskegee University, gave insight on where her strong sense of ambition stems from, and talked about the importance of bringing your whole self to work. According to Dee, the journey isn’t always easy, but the payoff is definitely worth it!

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


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


slack-monochrome-iconJoin the Revision Path community on Slack and learn how you can win free tickets to Revolve Conference 2016! Here’s your invite!

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I first met Paul Edoho-Eket earlier this year at HOW Design Live here in Atlanta. Paul is a design educator that’s currently pulling double duty in Nashville, TN at Nossi College of Art and Fisk University. Talk about dedication!

Since our interview was an extra from HBCU Month, we did spend a good bit of time comparing and contrasting his teaching experiences at Nossi and Fisk. Paul is a Fisk alumnus, and he talked about his time at Fisk, as well as what drives him to give back through education. Paul had a lot to say and the conversation definitely went pretty deep in a few places, so make sure you listen through it all. Thank you Paul for sharing your story!


Enter to win a copy of “Rip The Resume” by top recruiter and diversity strategist Torin Ellis!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
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Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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“If there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s that computer science is accessible by everyone.” When Dr. James H. Hill told me that, I had a feeling this was going to be a pretty interesting interview. Dr. Hill is currently an associate professor of computer science at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and serves as co-director of their Software Engineering and Distributed Systems research group.

We started off with Dr. Hill’s backstory and how he got into computer science, and from there he walks us through his work at IUPUI and some of the current projects he’s overseeing and researching. Dr. Hill and I also spoke about the current government administration’s focus on computer science curriculum and what that means for educators and students. It’s a great interview, and I’m always glad to get the chance to talk with a fellow Morehouse alum. Enjoy!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
Facebook Design logo
Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
Hover logo
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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