Carmela Wilkins

Design influences everything around us. It’s something I’ve said on this podcast dozens of times, but social impact designer and researcher Carmela Wilkins is the kind of designer who really embodies this tenet in her work.

We started our conversation with a look at Carmela’s work at NYC-based design communications firm A/B Partners, and she talked about how she got started there and the types of projects she’s able to work on. She also shared her globetrotting adventures throughout Europe during her college years, spoke on how she lets her ambition fuel her success via “the obtainables”, and talked about the importance of reanalyzing our connection to food and the environment during this current time. Carmela is a true citizen of the world who thinks deeply about the connected world around us — something we should all strive to be!

Sponsor

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

It’s time for Revision Path’s annual audience survey! Give us your feedback on the podcast, and you could win a $250 Amazon.com gift card from us! Head over to revisionpath.com/survey today. The survey closes on May 31, 2020. Thank you!
Arielle Wiltz

The COVID-19 public health crisis is affecting us all, taking us out of the lives we led before and forcing us to move forward through a fog of uncertainty as we try to find our way back to some semblance of normalcy. Such is the case with this week’s guest, Arielle Wiltz. While she is typically based in NYC, she was sheltered in place in New Orleans when we spoke. We started off discussing her work at frog design, including how she’s taking the current relocation in stride with everything else happening at the moment.

Arielle also shared how she transitioned from being a dancer to being a designer, talked about her volunteer work with ADCOLOR, and she shared some of the new things she’s learning to help keep her focused and motivated during this time of transition. Arielle may say she just fell into design, but it sounds to me like that’s just the kind of inspiration others need to hear in order to see themselves in this industry as well!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Arielle Wiltz:
My name is Arielle Wiltz and I am an interaction designer currently at frog Design. It’s a design consulting firm, one of the largest ones globally actually.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now, what’s a regular day like for you there? And I know that this is probably a odd question to ask given what we’re going through right now with this pandemic, but talk to me kind of like what your regular day-to-day is like.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. My regular day-to-day before the pandemic, well it’s usually, typically within frog, we’re in teams. So the teams are filled with like strategists, depending on a project, industrial designers, VD designers, interaction designers like myself.

Arielle Wiltz:
And we usually really coming together to brainstorm on whatever the project that we’re currently working on. So sometimes there’s a lot of white boarding the day and sometimes it’s a lot of heads down. It’s like executing the project. Other times you may be, for myself, especially being an interaction designer, we’re doing user testing, trying to understand how the users feel about the experience that we’re creating.

Arielle Wiltz:
So it really varies every day how we work and function. But usually when you’re on a project at frog and you’re with your team, you’re with your team for months. So you’re with that team the whole entire time. So it’s usually like you in your little corner with your team working, brainstorming, ideating.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like there’s a lot of just heads down work that you get to do to focus on a project.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, it is a lot of heads down. So one of the things I’ve found is like me working by myself, a lot of times frog is really big with collaboration. They believe in a lot of bringing ideas together especially from different disciplines. It’s rare that I’m just working with people who are interaction designers. I’m usually working with people who are in all different types of disciplines.

Arielle Wiltz:
I haven’t had the luxury to work with industrial designers but I have worked with strategists before and VD designers of course and design technologists. So a lot of times we’re really working together. And then once we come with an idea or concept, we’re go into like execution heads down.

Arielle Wiltz:
But I think it’s so beautiful. One thing I learned from frog that I absolutely love, it’s creative process. When I was in school studying, I used to feel like it just came from thin air. How do you go from A to B? What is happening?

Arielle Wiltz:
But with frog and working collaboratively and frog is really big on design research and pulling from all the research to really conceptualize and coming out with these amazing ideas. Because one thing about frog is we push for the next big thing. So I think that’s really phenomenal that I had the opportunity to learn this there.

Maurice Cherry:
How did you get started at frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
Actually it’s very interesting. I just really applied more so. So my journey to user experience interaction design is really a fluke. One thing about the career that I’m in or the discipline I’m in, people go to the top schools. Right. People go to School of Visual Arts, schools in Europe, school in Asia. They really work vigorously on their portfolio. They attend a lot of internships.

Arielle Wiltz:
Me, I just studied graphic design at Loyola and I didn’t even want to do it anymore. So I was really big into art nonprofits, helping out my community, decided to move to New York because that’s what I always wanted to do. So I moved without a job or a place to live. And with my first job just doing digital project management, I just fell into it. So I fell into it and I just build my way into becoming a designer. A lot of ups, a lot of downs because I didn’t have a lot of the resources like people at those types of schools.

Arielle Wiltz:
But in 2016, when I found that I was able to build my foundation regularly at a full time job, I worked really hard at it. So when it came time for when I applied at frog and I learned how to present how to articulate my story, I think that’s what really won them over.

Maurice Cherry:
What kind of projects are you working on right now at frog? As much of that as you can mention.

Arielle Wiltz:
So, I can’t mention much but frog… I could tell you about the type of projects. So a lot of projects within frog, which is different from other companies that I work with. Because, like I said, frog is not one of the largest but one of the top design consulting firms in the world.

Arielle Wiltz:
But what they do is people come to us and really want us to reinvent and reimagine. So think of any type of healthcare. How can we reimagine healthcare for the 21st century? Frog is known for building one of the first Macintosh and working with Steve Jobs. So that’s the history of frog really from industrial design to now into the digital age.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so a lot of projects when companies come to us and, whether it’s finance or entertainment or like I said, healthcare is really just reimagining the experience. Reimagining how it can be done, coming up with completely new concepts that hadn’t ever been done before. So that’s why I say the creative process is just so unique to me and so amazing on how do you actually get there.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you’re also the lead of frog’s Diversity and Inclusion group there in New York. As much of that as you can talk about, I’m really curious because I don’t hear about this a lot at design agencies. How did that group begin? And as you’re sort of leading it up, what sorts of things does the group do?

Arielle Wiltz:
So frog initially did start having a D&I, this amazing creative director in Austin, who I had the pleasure to work with, Alexa, she used to own it. But I feel like in New York we didn’t really have anything. So one day, again, one of my mentors at frog, John Wasserman, he was like, “Who wants to lead D&I?” Because we had a Slack channel.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so at the time I was on a bench and I was like, “Sure, I’ll lead it.” And so we started to have just workshops with people there. Frog, they’re diverse in a sense but when it comes to the numbers, as far as blacks, Latinos, is very low. So we were just like, everyone in it, no matter if you’re a designer or not. We all came together and we were just discussing what does diversity mean to us and et cetera.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so from those conversations I started two programs. One was breaking barriers, which is just a talk series open to the public where we invited people, but we for sure had people speaking, people of color. Because one thing in design, I didn’t believe 20% of it is people of color. And as far as blacks, there’s only 5%.

Arielle Wiltz:
So my goal was for us to actually see it because I think that’s the big thing a lot of times is I don’t see it so I don’t think I can do it. I really pushed for that to just have all different types of people of color to sit in those chairs and actually speak about their story.

Arielle Wiltz:
So, that was very successful and my baby. My favorite thing is for our mentors where it was a selective program where we reached out to, again, like I said, when it comes to these companies, a lot of times they hire from the top schools and I was like, “You know what? Let’s look at the state schools. Let’s look at the local community college schools, because the truth of the matter is there’s talent and innovators everywhere.”

Arielle Wiltz:
So we found, I believe, 28 people apply and we narrowed down to two amazing mentors, shout out to Sarah and Lisa. And they worked vigorously with two creative directors and came up with amazing portfolios who are now working at amazing companies. So on Buzzfeed and I believe Grey Advertising.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. Yeah. And that was the first time doing it. It was really prototype. I just hit the ground running as we were going up, I created it and made it. I did have help for, like I said, the mentors, the mentorship program was a lot of work. And we all have design jobs as well. People have like departments just to do that.

Arielle Wiltz:
But we worked really hard at it and I’m just so proud of my mentees and the difference that they’re making. Just being their authentic selves in these spaces. And I think that’s brings me joy, honestly. Seeing other people coming through the doors who look like me or represent another culture. That’s what design needs because it could be very Eurocentric.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, it totally is Eurocentric, in the United States absolutely.

Arielle Wiltz:
Totally, totally Eurocentric.

Maurice Cherry:
Now these kinds of D&I groups, I mean I feel like I hear about them a lot from tech companies. Tech companies will have some type of a group. Actually we had, back in December, Kendall Howse who works for Red Hat and he heads up their D&I group. But there’s something that I kind of hear from tech companies. I don’t really hear it from like agencies or design consultancies like what frog is. Why do you think it’s important to have this kind of group at a company like frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, it’s so important because us as designers, especially in today’s age, everything that you do, everything that you experience has been designed out for you. Where it’s like urban design, industrial design, the product that you’re using, the experience that you’re having.

Arielle Wiltz:
For example, tele-health that everyone’s using right now, especially with the pandemic. It’s like everything’s been designed for you. And if the majority of people who are designing are white male, consciously or unconsciously, you don’t know, it becomes bias. Correct.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I think it’s so important to have a diverse representation, not only just of as race, as ability, is of anything just to diversify it so other people can feel included and an experience and don’t feel left out. And especially since technology has taken such a hold with our society, people are being left out, which is so unfortunate.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like one of my missions, especially as a designer is to make sure I do my part in bridging a gap. And so to me that was what the mentorship was as a part, to bridge the gap as far as what product design and brand design. Even with brand design and making sure that images of different types of people from different cultures are included.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I definitely feel like it’s important. Especially when you’re working at a company, that whole goal is to innovate. One thing I love to say is diversity is innovation. Just imagine having a group of designers, engineers, industrial designers, strategists, all in a room from all different types of backgrounds, including economical backgrounds. Because that’s a issue too. Really thinking and brainstorming and strategizing a problem. Imagine the solutions that can come out of it. So that’s why I feel like it’s just extremely important, especially now to diversify the industry.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best thing about what you do at frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
You know what? I have to say, I work with extremely, extremely amazing creative people. I have been blessed that I have worked with people who really… I had two for sure managers or creative directors that have really pushed me to think at levels that I couldn’t even imagine. Also just, like I said we worked collaboratively, working very closely with the visual designer-

Arielle Wiltz:
… collaboratively working very closely with the visual designers, because that’s who I often work with. I learn so much from them. So I think that the thing that I really enjoy working with is, I feel like I’m blessed to have worked with, for example, I said Alexis from Austin, a creative director that’s no longer there, Jared, my manager, Henry. To work with people like that who really push me and just really, I feel like I’m being taken to another level from that. Then working with my coworkers, too. My VD coworkers for the most part.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
That’s the ones who I usually would work with. I think that’s what’s really cool about it, because you’re working with the top people there, so…

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So given that collaboration is such a big part of not just the work that you do at Frog, but also it sounds like just the culture of working at Frog, how have things been different now with this pandemic? Because now, I’m assuming, you’re working from home. Probably everyone is working from home, I’m assuming, right?

Arielle Wiltz:
Right. Everyone’s working from home right now. Yes. Yes. Oh man, it’s been so different working from home. I feel like I’m working more working from home than… I’m not really having a lot of downtime. I’m on a screen the whole entire time, and we have a lot of meetings. This project I’m working on now, we have a lot of meetings just to make sure everyone’s in the loop, and like I said, with agencies it’s usually a lot of fast paced work as well.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I won’t say difficult, I would say new, you know? It’s different. It’s different in a sense. I feel like say this pandemic lasts until June, July, people would get used to it, but it’s definitely new. I know the company did set up parameters of how to work from home and they leased out different softwares in order to do it, which is all cool, but just really adjusting yourself to do it.

Arielle Wiltz:
I usually would wake up early, have breakfast, do this, do that. Now I’m so tired because I feel like I go, go, go, go, go the whole entire time. It’s not like I’m leaving work then coming home, my work is at home. So that’s been really new for me, but yeah. We still have meetings. Every [inaudible 00:17:17] is basically running the same way as it was running before, it’s just the adjustment of working from home that I feel like everybody at my company, or everybody everywhere if they don’t really work from home, is kind of struggling with.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Does it feel like Frog is extending some kind of, I don’t know, grace during this time? Because this is a big shift for everyone, I’m assuming. It’s not just the change in working from in an office to working at home, but having the right set-up in terms of your desk or chair or laptop or monitor, or even now you live in New York but you’re currently in New Orleans. So now you’re not even at your place, you’re at a different place, trying to adjust to this. So hopefully Frog is extending some grace with how you all are working from home, and not expecting right away the same level of creative output, I guess. I don’t know.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, well you know what? When you work at, like I said, a company like Frog, they’re always going to expect top notch creative output, you know? That’s just how it is. But I think what’s beautiful is my creative director right now, every single time we check in, she really does a check in. Like, “How are you?” It’s not just like a regular, “Oh, how are you doing today?” It’s like, “Seriously, how are you?” If you’re feeling stressed or whatever, “Okay, maybe you need to take a walk. Maybe you need to step away.”

Arielle Wiltz:
So I think it’s really the creative directors who really taking in and up to account different things, like, “How are you doing right now? What’s going on with you?” If you don’t feel well… Really checking in. Checking in way more than before. That’s what I love about the creative director now. Every day she’s really just checking in and saying like, “How are you?” And really having a conversation about it.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like that’s really important right now because not only at Frog, I feel like any company or most companies, it’s still work. People are still going, people still trying to make deadlines, and it’s really hard right now because… I’m fortunate right now that I don’t know anyone who’s sick or anything like that, but for people who do, or people who are going through it, are sick themselves, or… Man, I can’t imagine. Even the health system, like we were saying earlier, being so overwhelmed right now. So I think everybody at some level is feeling it, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
But yeah, like I said, the creative directors, they’re aware of it and I think that’s what’s good about it. We’re human-centered design. We’re making sure things are human-centered within the teams too, so that’s really needed right now, and it’s happening.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s what I was saying. I hope that companies are extending just that grace because it’s… I don’t know. We know who people are at work in an office, but people’s home lives and their work lives are completely different. Some people use work as, I won’t say as an escape but that kind of feels like the best way to put it. They may not have the best home life, and going to work is the thing that’s sort of their brief respite from whatever they might have to deal with. Whether that’s, I don’t know, kids or a spouse or dealing with aging parents or anything like that. There’s a lot of things that can go into play, and working from home, it’s the option that we have to take right now-

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s just, it’s a lot. And then on top of all of that, just the overall impending news of the pandemic and what’s happening.

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
It wears on you.

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, definitely. It definitely wears on you. I remember one day before I came to New Orleans I was in New York. It was right before I started on a project so I was reading through files and getting prepped for it, and I was watching MSNBC the whole entire day. It created so much anxiety for me. It was when people were still trying to figure everything out, and that’s something that’s a big concern. Like I said, I’m fortunate, but 100% there are mothers who are working from home now, dads, and people who have a ton of different businesses that they are running right now, and now to work from home and do everything plus manage your kids, managing like you say, your aging parents, or possibly even if someone is sick right now.

Arielle Wiltz:
So that definitely goes into play with everything, but like I said, being the design nerd, I think it’s the time where people should, like I said, start mobilizing more. So utilize your skills to help others right now. There’s right now [inaudible 00:22:00] going on with UX for Change, and they’re working, partnering, with data center, I believe, that’s really heavy hands on what’s going on right now. And actually all these designers, data scientists, engineers are coming together to actually help solve a problem.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like this is the time, now, where people should start doing this. I know a ton of fashion designers right now within the health system that things are going on, just making face masks right now. So I feel like this is the time for us to really hone in and come together and help solve these issues, like you said, because I can’t even… Like I said, I’m not dealing with that but I can’t even imagine for someone who is dealing with something like that right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The last time I went out was the 14th of March. I remember this because I was already a bit skeptical about going out because I had just come back from LA a few weeks before that and I was sick when I came back. Now, when I came back, the sickness that I had, I sort of chalked it up to allergies because we have terrible pollen in Atlanta. But I chalked it up to allergies, just the fact that I was in and out of planes, I had switched hotels during the trip, I was at a conference. I figured all of these things just came into play with, “Oh, I’m feeling kind of sick.” Not flu-like at all, but just more annoying than anything else, right?

Maurice Cherry:
So I had been getting better leading up to the 14th, and I remember this because I was going to go vote. They had early voting then because our primary is on the… Or was, I should say, on the 24th. They’ve now pushed it back. So I went to go vote early in the morning. It took me, I don’t know, maybe five or 10 minutes, and I remember walking into the voting area in the library and the women there were like in hazmat suits.

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
These are the poll workers. Gloves, huge jugs of hand sanitizer, masks, hazmat suits. I’m like, “Is this ground zero?” It felt like I walked into an emergency room or something. But I remember going to vote, came home, and if I would have known that would have been the last time that I really could have left the house I would have, I don’t know, made a liquor store run or something, but I would have done something else.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s just that all the news about all this is happening so quickly with shelter in place and what’s going to happen in terms of financial stimulus. This has affected so many other businesses out there. I mean, I feel very fortunate in tech that the company I work for hasn’t been affected by it in terms of furloughing employees or anything like that, but depending on how long this goes on, there’s no telling what this looks like. There’s no end in sight.

Maurice Cherry:
Now hopefully, knock on wood, by the time this podcast comes out we’ll be outside chilling. Hopefully.

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
But right now, I’m on day 17 and I’m just like, one day at a time, I’ll just see how it goes.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, for sure. I spoke about how with design we could provide tools with healthcare workers or the government, but even just simple pleasures like… Not being able to have a human connection, you didn’t even realize how good it feels to go by your friend’s house and just chill, hang out, give them a hug. These little things you really miss doing. But one thing I love is how technology right now… With Instagram Live and D-Nice and the Quarantine Club, having a club at your house, feeling human, having some type of connection again with someone other than the same people you see all the time in your house. That feels warm to me. Really needed right now, you know? To still feel like you’re human, not just really just stuck in the house and I can’t go anywhere except just get groceries [crosstalk 00:25:57] if that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. If that, yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
So…

Maurice Cherry:
So, I haven’t been going out to the grocery store, only because I’ve been trying to heed the advice of stay in, order, because that’s the best way. They can drop it off. So, but even doing ordering through Instacart or something, they’re like “There’s nothing here. Half the stuff that you wanted to get is not here.” I don’t know, it’s just a lot going on right now that can make it tough to focus on work because there’s so much other stuff that’s happening and you’re just at home. It’s all like that’s the epicenter of everything, because you can’t really go out and do anything.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. I think another thing that this hasn’t… When I speak with my friends right now it’s really helping us focus on self care tools and what to do right now to really just not increase your anxiety with everything. My theory, like I told you, I was fine until yesterday when I really started thinking, “How long is this going to last?” I started freaking out because I was like, “Wait, how long is this going to last and I’m going to have to be here and do this and that. What about my normal life? What about what I was doing all the goals that I had summer? What I’m trying to do?” So it’s a adjustment, but I feel like I am learning more self care tools that I probably needed while I was in New York, because New York itself can be hectic.

Maurice Cherry:
Well yeah, that’s true. That’s true.

Arielle Wiltz:
So yeah, so really readjusting it and when we come out of this we’ll definitely continue doing those things because even, this is so basic but even like eating. I noticed that when I’m New York, waking up and then going on the subway, then work, then sometimes I’m working past normal hours depending on the project, I just forget to eat. That’s so crazy and insane, but it really does happen. So since I’ve been working from home I make sure to have my meals and do things [inaudible 00:27:58] and really just take care of myself, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
And I think that’s, no matter what we do or what you’re doing, make sure you take care of yourself. Especially in this because your immune system is what’s going to help you if you do get sick and you don’t want to, by any way, shape, or form, have it down.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, and you’re in New Orleans, which as of the time that we’re recording this is one of the big hotspots for the virus now.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yes. Yes, New Orleans is because people are assuming, I don’t know for sure, but people are saying because of Mardi Gras with so many people here it was able to spread it rapidly. Yeah, so it is one of the hot spots. New Orleans, I think the difference is New Orleans is more spaced out. So for example, my mom, she works out every morning so she might do a little run, but no one’s outside. We live in little subdivision and it’s spaced out.

Arielle Wiltz:
Unfortunately people are not staying at home like they should, but yeah, it’s pretty bad in New Orleans, actually. Really bad, actually. I know a couple of friends of mine who know someone who has it right now, or even died from it. My mom mentioned one or two people, so it’s really bad here now. Especially when you’re in a city. What I love about New Orleans, it’s so warm here, so hospitable, and for you not to be able to do something that’s so natural down here, it’s been very difficult and hard.

Arielle Wiltz:
Or even for example, I know, which is so hard, but people can’t even see the grandparents right now. New Orleans is very family knit community, and so people can’t even see the grandparents or even take care of their grandparents. I know when my grandparents were alive my mom used to go and take care of my grandmother, so I couldn’t even imagine being in something like this and we can’t even take care of my grandmother who was differently able. She was in a wheelchair. So I can’t even imagine people who are dealing with that right now and how difficult it can be.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been able to at least keep in touch with her, like call or anything?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh no, she’s not here any more but I’m just saying.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, oh. I’m sorry. Oh.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, no-

Arielle Wiltz:
More.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh. Oh, I’m sorry. Oh.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. No, no, no. She lived a long, beautiful life though. But I’m just saying, I’m just thinking about the times when my mom did do that. That I know so many people are probably doing that now and can’t. That’s difficult because you don’t want to go there because you don’t want to get her sick sick in any way. But at the same time she needs to be able to do certain things because she’s differently able. She’s unable to move because of the wheelchair. I think that’s really difficult right now. Because not everybody can afford to put their loved ones in nursing homes or can do certain things or provide assistance. A lot of people are doing it themselves. To even be in a situation like this right now, it has to be very difficult.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. To kind of switch gears here a little bit, I know we really ended up talking about this for a good bit of time, but you mentioned New Orleans, you’re from New Orleans, you grew up there. What was it like growing up there as a kid interested in design?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. Oh, so it wasn’t so much that I was interested in design. I was just a very creative kid. One thing I do is write. I write Medium articles. I used to write a lot of stories. I was in dance in school. I thought I wanted to become a professional dancer, even studying in college. I was a dancer. Also I was part of different activities within church. I feel like that all kind of brought in my skills to become a good designer. That’s one thing that I’m really big on is STEM to STEAM and including the arts because I feel like that all contributes to innovation. Even if the person decides to become a scientist or technologist or engineer, having the arts really help push your creativity. Because that definitely helped me because, oh man, I used to dance. There’s this program in New Orleans. New Orleans have a lot of free dance programs and it’s NOLA NOBA.

Arielle Wiltz:
Man, I used to dance every single day. Go to dancing school, dance, dance. Very disciplined. Studied ballet, studied modern, studied jazz, and just that discipline, that creativity, I really felt brought into my skills as an interaction designer more so innovating different ideas within technology.

Maurice Cherry:
I was just going to ask, how did you go from dancing to design?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. When I was in college and I was studying dance, I became injured in one of the programs and so when I was injured they was saying, “Oh, you’re going to have to like…” How this program went was fall, you take this course. Spring, you take this course. Back and forth. They was like, “Oh, you’re going to have to sit out for a year.” And I’m like, “A year?” I was so focused on graduating on time, which still did not happen, but I was like, “A year? I don’t want to wait a year.” I was so upset and I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to change my major.” I didn’t even really know what I wanted to do but I knew I still wanted to be somewhat creative. So little that I knew because I didn’t know really much about all the different types of designs and I was like, “Oh I heard of graphic design before. I guess I’ll get into that.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Again, like the story of how I got into anything was all a fluke really. I was like, “Okay I’m just going to get into this. I’m going to become a graphic designer I guess.” I wind up, because I transferred schools and I was at Loyola studying graphic design and I wound up not being so into it because I guess I didn’t get the full grasp of it at the time being so young. But once again I fell into interaction design. I was like, “Oh wow.” Using my analytical skills because I am quite a nerd when it comes to research and analyzing and then being creative and combining both together. I thought it was just like the perfect job for me. Like, “Oh my God, this is like everything that I’ve been wanting to do.” Because I’m very analytical and I like a process. It was like this is the process to get to point A to B. It doesn’t come from thin air. It’s very rigorous. But it’s some type of silver lining to it.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, that was my experience more so. But yeah, New Orleans definitely helped me out, especially when we were speaking earlier about my involvement with diversity inclusion because I attended NOLA NOBA. Again, design is again very elite. I mean not design, dance. Dance is very elite. For NOLA NOBA to have programs in the inner city with top design dance teachers who taught in New York, Europe, et cetera, teaching us. That was just everything. It felt like things were possible that you probably thought you couldn’t even do. That’s one thing that I really admire and really grateful for having that background as being a dancer.

Maurice Cherry:
What did your parents say when you kind of switched it up like that? I mean from dancing to design. Did they have anything to say?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh no. My dad wanted me to be a doctor. He had his heart set on it, so my parents, they weren’t into it. They weren’t into it at all. They weren’t into me studying dance. They weren’t into me… They really didn’t get into it until… They weren’t into me moving to New York at all. I think they really didn’t realize my journey, my path that I chosen until like I started becoming successful into it and now they go bragging. Like, “Arielle, what do you do again.” I’m like, “I’m a designer.” “What is that again?” I have to explain it over like, “I’m an interaction designer.” “What does that do?” “Oh, it’s computers.” I’m like, “It’s more than computers.” “Well, we’ll just say computers.” They’re very proud but my parents have been supportive. But I feel like most parents of people of color, especially like black parents, they want you to be a doctor, engineer, think that they know you should do. When I was like, “Oh, I’m going to become a designer,” it was like, “What is that? We don’t get that.”

Maurice Cherry:
I think also part of it probably is them just… I think it might be less about wanting to be a doctor or engineer and more about being in a successful role where you can take care of yourself and hopefully them too.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s more about the possibility or the probability of that because I mean we know that there are working artists and designers out there, but when we think about jobs that have some level of respect or prestige or make money, it does end up being those kinds of doctor, lawyer, engineer kind of things. It’s less about being a designer or an artist or an illustrator or a musician or anything like that, you know?

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, 100%. But that’s the thing that I love about what I do is because yes, I am a designer. I’m an interaction designer. But the reason why I truly decided to go this path and with my career is because I always loved helping people. That was one of my passions because in the beginning I was working at art nonprofit and making sure I was bringing the arts into the cities where people weren’t exposed to or kids aren’t exposed to it more so. So I was thinking about going… I was working at campus at the time, a digital project manager. I already started assisting the UX design, so I already was kind of doing it. So I just wanted to learn more about it. Like I said, I’m a researcher so I was on a computer. I found this company and they created this really, really amazing technology that allow patients with, I believe ALS, be able to communicate their needs in control. Things like for example, turning the lights on or off or turn on the TV or not using technology.

Arielle Wiltz:
When I saw that I was like, “Oh my God, I’m still contributing in some way.” I may not be the doctor in the hospital, but I’m creating the technology for the doctor in the hospital. That’s when I was like, “This is what I need to do. This is what I want to do in my life.” That’s when I rigorously pursued it. I feel like really letting people know the different opportunities in me in choosing to become a designer is one of the big things. Or even being in the creative field because I feel like sometimes people just think we just color and draw all day, but that is not the case at all. Like no. No, I definitely do not do that.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you decide to make the move to New York? Because it sounds like you kind of had your roots there in New Orleans with your family and going to school there. Why the move to New York?

Arielle Wiltz:
Again, like I said, this has been my journey. This is probably the beam of my journey. A fluke. I was just like, you know what? I was working at amazing nonprofit called Young Audience of Louisiana, amazing nonprofits. I was working there and I was making decent amount of money to be in New Orleans. Moved from office manager to marketing associate. Because one thing you realize is when you have any type of degree in design, the first thing they make you do, no matter what you want to do, you could definitely step out of design, they’re like, “Oh, you studied graphic design? We need help with this.” They pull you back in. It was just like I was working one day and I always wanted to move to New York since I was a child. I just went to my mom because I was still at home. I believe I was 24, 25 and I was like, “I’m moving to New York.” My mom was like, “With what money?” I was like, “I don’t know. I’m just going to start saving and I’m going to move.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Then I went and I picked the day in the calendar I was like September 6. That’s when I’m moving. My mom was like, “Why is it set for 6th?” I was like, “I don’t know. This is just the plan.” I did it. It was just so crazy. I tell my friends, I can imagine now my best friend Tracy, it’s like, “Where are you going to live?” It was just, I didn’t have a place to live. I didn’t have a job at the time. Everything kind of fell into place because of course I wasn’t homeless. But yeah, I was working in restaurants for a good time when I first moved to New York. Shout out to the restaurant industry. Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
What I did know is I did know that I wanted to be in digital so I did have some type of plan. I was like, I want to work in digital, but I didn’t know about all the different types of disciplines. All I knew was I studied graphic design. I don’t like graphic design. So those were the two things I knew. I knew I wanted to work in digital and knew I didn’t want to be a graphic designer anymore. From my research I was like, “Oh, I want to become a project manager.” But I thought that was being a product manager. I didn’t know the difference. So I just started applying for those jobs.

Arielle Wiltz:
That’s really how it all happened. Basically just fluked. It was just like something in my spirit. I’m very intuitive so I try to listen to my spirit and just go forward with that. But go forward with a plan though. I do have plans in place when I do things. When I decide I’m going to do something, I go forward with a plan and make a schedule and really sketch it out moving forward. But yeah, that’s really how it happened.

Maurice Cherry:
I saw from looking at your LinkedIn, you worked at a company called Tigerspike for over two years as a UX designer. What did you take away from that experience?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. Tigerspike really gave me my foundation because when I was a canvas at the other companies too, it was really me just trying to find myself. Like how do I fit in in this world? I was studying at general assembly part-time because I couldn’t afford the full time program. Working full time. Trying to become a UX designer at the time. Then finally doing just some freelance gigs or contract gigs. But once I got to Tigerspike, that really set my whole foundation of being a designer. One thing I had to say about Tigerspike. Tigerspike, it’s now smaller in the US, but it was the first time I met another black designer. I know that may sound crazy but that was… I remember it like yesterday.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to say, not for this show that doesn’t sound crazy.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. I know. No, no. It was definitely not. I remember I was… So the recruiter at Tigerspike, She helped me get a contract job and so my contract was ending. She’s like, “Oh Tigerspike…” She now worked at Tigerspike and she was like, “Oh now we’re hiring for this project. It’s going to be contract to full time. I’ll let you know if you qualify.” So we were talking back and forth because they needed someone more senior. I knew I did not have anything for a portfolio. I had one general assembly project and I made up projects.

Arielle Wiltz:
She told me, say it was Monday, she told me Monday I had an interview. Then so on Tuesday, I stayed up all day and night creating a project because I know I didn’t have a portfolio and I know I didn’t have anything. I just stayed up all day night working on it. Right. No sleep. I go in the next day delirious but determined to do well. I was so shaky and nervous because when you go into the space, it’s predominantly [inaudible 00:13:21]. It’s not me. I don’t see myself. I walked in and I see this black woman, her name Rachel Robbins, automatically just like relief came through me. It was my first time seeing a black designer and she was high up too as well.

Arielle Wiltz:
I presented her my work, her and two other designers my work, and it was just such a calming relief to see someone so familiar in that space that I think that’s one of the reasons why I did so well because I was no longer nervous and scared. I felt like, “Okay, she’s there. I don’t know how her experience, I don’t know her background, but this woman looks like me, so if I don’t get in here, I could make it within this industry.” I think that really helped me get my foot in the door. Like I said, it was like the foundation of design for me. Very rigorous but amazing team, amazing company. I was even able to travel to London. It was my first time in Europe and I worked there for three months. So just the opportunities were endless working there.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Sounds like you came out of that with a lot then.

Arielle Wiltz:
A lot. Yeah. I was, like I said again, just very blessed on his journey. The journey has up and downs, but the highs be really high sometimes. You’re like, “Wow, I can’t believe I just moved here when I didn’t have a place to live and now I’m in London.” That was just really amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s funny you mentioned that. The place where I work at now, Glitch, the first week was split between me being in New York and being in London. The first day at work was they flew me up there, did paperwork and everything in New York that Monday. Flew overnight to London, was in London. That was my first time in London. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday-

Maurice Cherry:
And that was my first time in London, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That Wednesday actually was a conference that my CEO was at and my boss was attending. So it’s my first time meeting these people and it’s at a conference where I’m expected to represent the company on day three of working at the place. And then flew back on the Thursday, Thursday afternoon/evening. And then, was in New York on Friday. And then back in Atlanta on Saturday. I was like, “This is wild.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Wow, I know. And for you, you hear about… I know being from the South and being from New Orleans, you hear about people who live like that, traveling all the time for work.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
And going to big cities, but actually for you to experience that, it’s like wow. Especially how old was I? Probably 27, 28 experienced, something like that first time. And no one in my family ever did anything like that. So for me to do it, it was just a surreal experience.

Maurice Cherry:
So I also saw that you do some work with ADCOLOR, you’re on their advisory board. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Arielle Wiltz:
Sure, yeah. So on the ADCOLOR advisory board, what we focus on is the Futures. So Futures are junior level people who are in their careers and we focus more so on building skills for them to develop so they could carry on throughout their professional career. Especially, another big thing is diversifying the industry, not just what people call it, but also different genders as well as different abilities. And the list can go on and on. And so what we do is, our goal is to create these programs for them. So when the conference come in, we have the Futures come a little early and create these programs to help them develop these skills, as well as we help out really voicing and speaking out for ADCOLOR and what it’s about. Isn’t it amazing? I’ve only been in it one year so far. This is my second year.

Arielle Wiltz:
And it’s been a really amazing experience because we’re working with people in all different industry because you’re also… It’s primarily ad, but now especially technology people in tech companies like Google and Facebook on the board, as well as people in different marketing industries as well, people with different backgrounds. But we all have the same mission and goal and that’s just to diversify an industry and the importance of diversifying industry. So I think it’s an amazing experience because it’s again, holds on to what I really believe in. What we say in ADCOLOR is rise up and reach back. And that’s one thing that I feel like I just been doing before ADCOLOR. Now and probably after ADCOLOR, I’ve been doing that with my life, just really trying to rise up to the best that I can, but always trying to reach back to others to make sure they can come on as well and try to really narrow the gap. So that’s what ADCOLOR is about and it’s been a dope, dope experience.

Maurice Cherry:
When you kind of look back over your career, I know you’ve been mentioning getting into design and the opportunities that you’ve had as a fluke, but when you look back over your career, what are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned about yourself?

Arielle Wiltz:
Biggest lessons I learned about myself, resiliency for sure. Because as I’m telling a story, there were a lot of lows. There was a lot of times, especially when I first moved to New York, I was really struggling financially and trying to make it. And there were times where I just really thought maybe I need to go back home, maybe I can’t do it. But I’m telling you hard times really help you. You know how they say hard times help build character and you’re like, “Yeah, whatever.” Because you’re going through the hard time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
But when you look back you’re like, “Yeah, I know.” It really did help me built my resiliency. I feel like everything that I went through, no matter it was like the harshest of making it into New York or it was very heartbreaking for me because I did wanted to go to one of the top design schools. And when I was speaking with my mom at the time, it was like, “Well, we can’t afford it right now.” You can’t really afford it yourself, with how you’re trying to pay for things. So how it’s going to happen? So really me trying to strategize and figure out ways on, okay, I want to become this use experiences. I want become this interaction designer. I want to work at these companies. How do I get there?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
So really building that skill of becoming strategic. And I feel like also the skill of being a fighter, man. Really being a fighter in a sense of standing on what I believe in. As far as, like I said, diversifying the industry, making sure more of us are in a space and not just talking about it but actually being about it. Actually trying to create these programs. Like I said, the mentorship program for our mentors was very prototype. It was not a refined program by any means, but I just created it. And now we have one Latina and one Middle Eastern, amazing women working in the industry now.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Arielle Wiltz:
So you got to start somewhere. So one thing I will say is you learn to just go for it. This is what I want, okay, kind of like about to get into design thinking. But this blue sky, this is I want. Now okay, how do you get from point A to point B? How are we going to get there? Kind of like the creative process that I’ve been speaking about. How are we going to get there? What are you going to do? And those are the things that I really learned from my experience.

Maurice Cherry:
What keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Arielle Wiltz:
Especially these days, oh man, man, man. Yeah, you’re able to think a lot now. So now I feel I’m really honing on what’s my Northern star and that is diversity and inclusion. And how do I do that? Kind of like go to parks, that’s my choice of weapon. My choice of weapon is design and innovation and technology. So how I’m utilizing it is, I’m trying to focus on product inclusion now. That’s one of my main goals. I’m actually now that I have so much free time, I’m starting to take courses in algorithm design, AI, and machine learning because that’s the latest revolution that’s happening right now for us.

Arielle Wiltz:
And again, we as a people are being left out in a lot of things. There’s a lot of biasness happening when things are being built. So I’m trying or not trying, I am learning these skills and learning how to apply them as a designer and how I can utilize my human centered thinking into it. So that’s what keeps me motivated right now. And I now know what I love to do. I now know who I am and how can I play a part of it. So now it’s just honing in all these different skills to make things happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025 hopefully, we are well past this pandemic by then. Where do you see yourself? What do you want to be doing in 2025?

Arielle Wiltz:
Ooh, I would love to become a director at some level. That would be a big goal of mine. I also would definitely want to start probably creating a more formal program with the mentorship program. Whereas kind of like, you could say a school, but more on the free end for us and really provide all the professional resources that the top schools will have.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
That would be something that I want to do. And also like I said, I have all these amazing skills that I have learned from Tigerspike and from frog of how to innovate and come up with ideas and concepts. And there are so many amazing people who come up with these dope, dope, dope ideas in tech or just services. But then they need help with the creative process of how to go about really executing it or how to really solve this problem like what products need it.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so I want to start offering a service to more so focusing on us and focusing on us as black people, focus on us as brown people as well, and really providing those services because we need all of us in those entrepreneurial spaces as well. So providing those types of services. I’m actually kind of starting on that with a friend of mine. She’s investment banking, so she’s more so knowing how investor relations and how that work and I’m more on the creative side. So hopefully by 2025 we are fully established and functioning and really one of the top companies doing it.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, look at that.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah.

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Sure, so I’m on LinkedIn, my name is Arielle Wiltz. Also Medium have me writing articles. And right now they’re in pandemic, but I’m definitely going to start back up writing more articles on diversity inclusion within design and the workspace and now product inclusion. So on Medium, my name is Arielle Wiltz. And as well as I’m finalizing my website, it will be www.ariellewiltz.com

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Arielle Wiltz, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I know that we’re recording this during a very tumultuous time right now just in terms of our society and everything. But I mean, I have to say talking to you has been so refreshing today. Your enthusiasm and your drive for really just kind of carving your own path to becoming a designer is something that I think I needed to hear today. And hopefully for people that are listening, they can hear that too. Hopefully, they can pick up on just how excited you are about the work that you’re doing and I really think that you’re going to go far if you keep that attitude, that positive attitude, it’ll take you far. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Arielle Wiltz:
Thank you so much, Maurice. This was a pleasure.

Sponsors

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

This episode is brought to you by Abstract: design workflow management for modern design teams. Spend less time searching for design files and tracking down feedback, and spend more time focusing on innovation and collaboration. Like Glitch, but for designers, Abstract is your team’s version-controlled source of truth for design work. With Abstract, you can version design files, present work, request reviews, collect feedback, and give developers direct access to all specs—all from one place. Sign your team up for a free, 30-day trial today by heading over to www.abstract.com.

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

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

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

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

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

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

Jerome Harris: It’s awesome.

Maurice Cherry: Get out on them streets.

Jerome Harris: It’s only been three months.

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

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

Maurice Cherry: That’s good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Nothin’.

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

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

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

Jerome Harris: Yeah, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome Harris: Yes, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Present company excluded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Fo Wilson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome Harris: There’s a couple-

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome Harris: Yes, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: What do you spin?

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Oh, I love that genre.

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

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

Jerome Harris: No.

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

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

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

Jerome Harris: Ooh, I like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, episode 85.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: That’s a bold statement.

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

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

Jerome Harris: Wakanda.

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

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

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

Jerome Harris: Thank you. This was awesome.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Adrian Franks is a one-of-a-kind renaissance man. His work as a UX creative director at IBM focuses on experience design (iX) for their global business services brand, but trust me — his skills don’t stop there.

Our conversation began with Adrian walking us through his typical days of meetings and projects, but things really came alive when we talked about his days growing up and learning design in Atlanta. Adrian also talked about how he connected with the venerable film maker Spike Lee for a series of art projects, and shared some great advice on the types of skills designers need to have in order to achieve their best work. I’m so glad we have designers like Adrian out there who can show us what the true possibilities of creativity can be!


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

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

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

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

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


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


How much do you factor accessibility into your work? If the answer isn’t “a lot”, then hopefully this week’s interview with Erin Newby will give you some insight. Erin has recently struck out on her own, and she brings years of product design experience with her to help clients and companies provide the best experiences to their customers.

Erin and I talked about growing up in Detroit, and she mentioned how she first got interested in design and what prompted her to move to NYC. We also spent a good bit of time talking about the current state of accessibility, invisible disabilities, and steps and resources that designers can take to make their projects more available by everyone. Erin strives to be an example to others, and this episode only further illustrates that. Thank you Erin for helping make the web a more accessible place!


Google is proud to sponsor Revision Path in championing excellence and diversity in the creative community.

We believe that design is critical to building great products and experiences, and we’re committed to fostering best-in-class results with efforts like Material Design — a unified system combining theory, resources, and tools to help you craft beautiful, digital experiences — and Google Design.

From producing original articles and videos, to hosting creative and educational partnerships, our goal is to connect, support, and inspire designers and technologists.

To learn more, please visit us at design.google.


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