Andrew Bass Jr.

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

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

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Step.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, yeah.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, here in Atlanta.

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Somewhere over there.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, he was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Jacinda Walker, yeah.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Barry.

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

Maurice Cherry:
So that went nowhere.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Bennie F. Johnson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, yeah.

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Uh oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No problem. Thank you.

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Andrew Bass Jr.

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

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

Make sure you tune in next week for Part 2!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Hey.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh wow.

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh that’s cool.

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That’s cool.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh my god.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about growing up there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a dip.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No. No.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, that’s linotype.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
I remember Microsoft Publisher.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Expensive. Mm-hmm.

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right. Yeah.

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TTK

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

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

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Fame. Yeah.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Of course.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

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

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

TTK:
Yes. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Or how did that happen?

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Abstract. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TTK:
Oh, wow.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

TTK:
Yeah.

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

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

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

TTK:
We managed to find.

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

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

TTK:
And they’re active, too. Yeah.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah.

TTK:
Yeah, oh man.

Maurice Cherry:
She’s episode 248.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TTK:
That’s beautiful.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
There you go. All right.

TTK:
Yeah.

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