Eric Bailey

You may not have heard much about Eric Bailey, but there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve encountered his work out in the world. As the VP of experience design at Zillow, he brings over 20 years of strategic thinking, imagining, and making to revolutionize the process of buying or selling your home.

Our conversation began with Eric discussing how he builds culture and maintains joy on his team, and he spoke broadly about what he calls “the limitless possibilities of UX design.” He also talked about growing up in Ohio, being around for the early days of the Organization of Black Designers and Project Osmosis (which he co-founded), building his brand Properganda, and he gave the secret for how he’s maintained his authenticity throughout this career. According to Eric, anyone can look within and fulfill their potential through design — and he’s absolutely right!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Eric Bailey:
Well, my name’s Eric Bailey, and I’m a design lead. I lead a team of designers at a company called Zillow, and I’m also a graphic artist.

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

Eric Bailey:
It’s been going really well, not without its surprises. I think the big lesson in the last year and a half has been just be flexible, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eric Bailey:
And be open to change. And so I would say that’s the one thing I’ve really learned is just be ready to expect the unexpected given the pandemic and given just changes in life that we can’t control. So be flexible and be ready also to take advantage of opportunities as they come up. But in general, me and my family, we’ve stayed healthy so we’re really, thankful for that. And yeah, and just really working through the different ways now that we interact with friends and family and also the way we work has changed shape for us. And so, yeah, I would say lots of silver linings for us.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, I got to spend lots of time with family, really meaningful, deep time, things that we would probably never be able to do or have in any normal circumstances, so I have no complaints.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, this past year and a half, I mean, I guess really coming up on two years now that I think about it, it has been transformative in many ways. I feel like that’s the most apolitical way that I can state that. It has been very transformative. It has changed all of us in many different ways that I think we will still be unpacking hopefully years after this time has passed. There has definitely been a general shift in the collective consciousness that I don’t think we’re going to just snap back from.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. Yeah, it’s a great way to describe it, is just transformation in every aspect of life. And so, yeah, it makes you realize that you have to become, I guess, a being of transformation, right? You have to be able to change yourself too so that you can adapt. So, yeah, adaptation has been, I think, that keyword for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s the only thing constant in the world, change.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. That’s what it is. Right.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about the work that you’re doing at Zillow where you are a VP of UX. How are things been going during the pandemic with the team?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, no, they’ve gone well. The pandemic created a big threat to human beings and our way of life, but also to business. And so, there were some real questions about how Zillow as a company or the real estate industry, in general, was going to fare. I think that because the company, Zillow that is, is really part of the technology frontier around real estate, automating processes, consolidating processes, Zillow actually did relatively or very well during the time. There was lots of activity, lots of engagement with the business, one, because now people are doing so much online, and then, two, because they’re starting to think about how the pandemic might shape where they live and how they live. And so, that was a boom to the business.

Eric Bailey:
I would say to the design team and I think the workforce, we really took seriously the taking on remote work as the de facto way we approach our day-to-day. And that was a big shift. That was something that was, I think, we entered with real interest and did deep research with the workforce to get a sense of where their sensibilities were. The overwhelming majority felt like remote or having at least the option to work remotely was preferred. And so, we’ve done everything we can to really put in place processes and tools and even aspects of our culture structured around remote work and asynchronous work. And so it’s really interesting. I think, great, lots of benefits, obviously, right? Now we can work with folks from many markets, many regions. We have really now diverse teams when it comes to that. Obviously, people don’t have to commute as much. So lots of benefits there. But there were some trade-offs too.

Maurice Cherry:
What sort of trade-offs?

Eric Bailey:
I’ve been at Zillow for about three years, and I was a part of the team that was localized into an office, and now I’m part of a team that is distributed and virtual. And so, having experienced both, I would say one huge benefit of being in a physical space with folks is really the kinds of bonds you can build. I think that, eventually, we will need to, even with a remote workforce, we will need to create time together. We’ll be making plans for team offsites or onsites, I guess, and team meetings and really strategic moments for us to get together and collaborate. And that will be around problem-solving, but also mostly it’ll be around just building relationship and community with our team. So being in the same place just really does allow people to really get to know each other, I think, in a way that it’s difficult to do online.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How many people are on your team?

Eric Bailey:
I have about 22 people on my team. I lead what we call an experience area. And that experience area is called buy, sell, and transact. We’re focused on creating end-to-end experiences that support someone’s ability to buy a home from Zillow, Zillow sells homes, to sell their home to Zillow, and the transactions necessary to make that happen. So all the way through closing. And so I lead a team of product designers, essentially, that focus on that. And then I partner with research, user experience research, and content strategy. We partner to create those experiences.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. It’s interesting. I guess, over the past maybe year or so, I’ve talked to other design leads, and it’s really interesting to see how content strategy has… or really content in general, written word has become more of the design process to the point where they’re considered designers or they sit on a design team in that way.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. Yeah. Well, hence the word strategy in there, right? So not just writers, but these are folks that are creating strategies for basically touching and building bridges with customers, particularly when we are creating experiences that are either unprecedented or our customer base is unaware of, right? Most people know Zillow because of your ability to dream and shop, you come and look at homes, and you look at your neighbor’s home and how much they pay for it and things like that. But then there are all these other services. Well, you can actually sell us your home, or you can actually buy a home from us. These are things that less of our customers are aware of. And so, to really reach out to them and connect with them, we really need to be strategic about the way we communicate. And that’s more and more of an imperative for our business.

Maurice Cherry:
Have there been any particular insights aside from just, I think, team makeup and asynchronous work and stuff? Are there any particular insights that have arose over the past year now that the team is distributed?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. Well, one, remote work for some companies is old hat, but for Zillow, a company that’s, I think, we’re 6,000-plus, a large company like ours, I think we’re still navigating how you build culture, how you sustain culture. I think the company has a really strong and rich set of cultural values, and it’s very good at holding one another accountable and living up to those values. But then there’s sort of the unspoken things. In a virtual world, I think maintaining the joy of your experiences is something that requires a real attention and real intention. And so, our design team has spent a lot of time, especially our design leaders have spent a lot of time really trying to be creative about, “Well, how do we keep our team engaged? How do we have fun at what we do in lieu of having a space where you can improvise, right?” And so, we’ve really been experimenting and there’s still lots of work to do there. But sometimes it’s important just for us to get together and have fun.

Eric Bailey:
The amount of effort and energy that actually goes into architecting those is pretty large. That’s, I think, a big insight for us.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I didn’t know Zillow was that big. 6,000 people?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, don’t quote me on the exact numbers. But yeah, we’re-

Maurice Cherry:
In the thousands.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. And that’s because we’ve grown from this online platform to now a broad range of services and products. We’re a lender, so we offer mortgages. We have rental experiences and services for landlords and for renters. So just a really now a broad range of experiences around the home. And so in that, lots of different service providers under one umbrella.

Maurice Cherry:
I know a lot of people have been moving or downsizing or just changing up how they’re living because of the past year and a half or so with the pandemic. It’s interesting. How has Zillow helped to facilitate that outside of, I guess, what it’s for, which is real estate buying, selling, and searching? I don’t know, I guess I’m wondering, are there any particular ways that Zillow has helped out during this time in that process?

Eric Bailey:
For its employees or for just in the world?

Maurice Cherry:
For the world, yeah. For the world.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. That’s a great question. Well, there’s definitely this migration, right? The economists talk about this migration from urban centers and across state lines. Many folks now are not bound to a specific region to make a living, there’s an influx of movement of folks that are moving to other states. Some are moving back to the states they came from, right? They would’ve been centralizing in Silicon Valley and in Seattle, but now maybe they’re going back to the Midwest or maybe they’re going back South. So huge migration there that is, obviously, an opportunity for Zillow.

Eric Bailey:
But also there’s this multi-generational trend, right? We have now families that are thinking about, “Well, I should probably live closer to home or maybe even with my parents or even grandparents.” So there’s also an influx of folks coming together and actually buying homes or bringing families under one roof. So really interesting market trends. We have internal folks that look at this, but those have been some of the big macro trends that I think are really interesting. And then obviously just doing everything remote, the fact that you can now actually sell your home online, you can purchase a home completely online or almost. There are a number of companies also they’re springing up around this capability. But yeah, the future of buying a home and finding a home is going to change dramatically over the next five to 10 years.

Eric Bailey:
It could be very similar to something like trading in your car, right? You drive into the dealership with one car, you leave with a loan and a new car, and you’ve left your old car. It’s all just one stop where you were doing that, you’re solving that problem for yourself and you’re focused on that thing that you want to buy. That should be the experience of buying a home, and eventually, it will.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. What does a typical day look like for you?

Eric Bailey:
Typical day…

Maurice Cherry:
Does that exist?

Eric Bailey:
No. Well, yeah, right, no day is typical. It’s interesting. I think for me and my team, there are a few things. One, we work really hard to try to package our meeting times to a very specific timeframe. So between the hours of 10:00 and 14:00 are when we try to make sure that our hours… this is when we have core meetings. One, it’s to accommodate for multiple time zones. But it’s also to make sure that the other times outside of that are considered flexible and should be focused on getting the work done. And so, that’s a practice that we are all trying to employ and adhere to, or live up to.

Eric Bailey:
On a day to day, there’s probably logging in in the morning, attending some meetings. There would either be team meetings. There might be critiques for the design team. They’re usually planning meetings, some meetings that are about the work that we’re going to do in the future. And then there’s usually heads down working time. And yeah, I think some of the meetings if you’re getting together with a team you might be working on a project, you might be in a sprint, so you’re working at some point in the sprint process like you’re ideating or maybe brainstorming. And so, we’ll be doing some sort of remote activities, collaborative exercises to arrive at some outcomes there with teams. There’d be multifunctional teams, so product managers, designers, engineers, even folks from marketing, and obviously content and research. But yeah, now it’s mostly online, whether it’s collaborative or heads downtime. I think that’s how I’d sum it up.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned earlier about the challenge with building culture and maintaining joy. How have you been able to do that with your team specifically?

Eric Bailey:
I think I have two teams. I see myself as a part of a group of peers. I partner with other product managers and engineers and folks that are cross-functional. And so, I do what I can to create somewhat of a culture there. And then I have my working team, my team of designers and design managers. But in terms of design and design managers, some important things are maintaining my one-on-one. So I have weekly one-on-ones with all my direct reports. I have two team… They’re not critiques, they’re really focused on having the team share their work at earlier stages to get coaching. So it’s less about giving direction and telling someone to make it blue instead of agreeing and more focused on changing the arc of their thinking. So pressure testing their strategy and the questions they’re asking and the answers they’re coming up with. So those, I would say, are two review meetings where leaders are giving feedback to the design team.

Eric Bailey:
And then there are monthly meetings. We have a team monthly meeting. We’ve opened that up as open format to make it… We let folks from the team lead it. And so, there’ll be someone who’ll volunteer and sometimes they’re workshops. Sometimes they’re about learning. Sometimes they’re about problem-solving. Sometimes they’re about bonding or connecting, but there could be a range of things. But really the meeting is the operating system or the lever you have to create culture.

Eric Bailey:
I mentioned that other team and the other team is those cross-functional peers. And a lot of what I try to do there is really break the frame of your standard meeting format. When I’m leading meetings, I’m trying to make them interactive and make them conversations. I want them to be generative, so a lot of times I’m asking people to use the right side of their brains, folks that aren’t necessarily used to doing that. So giving them really solid provocations and asking them to think big with real big boat-like, “How might we,” statements?

Eric Bailey:
And then also done even some silly things like role play. I played Lori Greiner who’s one of the sharks from Shark Tank. We asked cross-functional teams to create concepts, and then I played a shark and evaluated the concepts, and they had to pitch those ideas to me. So even just trying to bring some humor into an otherwise what can be a, I would say, less than exciting format to computer screen.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you wear a long blonde wig too?

Eric Bailey:
I actually had a cut-out of her face. [inaudible 00:20:49]. And then actually before they came, I got them excited about it. I told them that we were going to have a guest actually, that Lori was coming. And so I’m a VP, so everyone thought, “Wait, maybe he knows her, maybe she’s coming.” They really got their pitches together for that, and of course, yeah, they got a big laugh when I came on with the mask.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, that’s good. I mean, that’s one of those ways that you bring joy is to just shake it up a little bit, you know?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, and not take yourself so seriously. We can’t do that, right? We have to have fun and remember that we’re human beings.

Maurice Cherry:
I think more so than, I mean, just being human beings, we’re all human beings that are now going through this shared kind of traumatic experience. And so, I think anytime that when you’re at work, when you can let that facade down of it being so serious and just open up and be human, I think that’s what everyone just appreciates that now more than ever, I think.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. Yeah, be authentic, your authentic self.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when you initially booked the interview, and people that have listened to the show noticed this, that I always ask this question about what do you want people to take away from the interview? And one of the things that you had mentioned early on was that UX is a field with limitless possibilities. Of course, you’re AVP of UX at Zillow. Can you expand on that for me? How, from your perspective, is UX a field of limitless possibilities?

Eric Bailey:
For those that know me, they know I’m really into self-actualization. I really come to the realization that my purpose is to create user experiences that help people become who they hope to be. And those would be experiences that end customers or users would use, and obvious industries are healthcare, education. In this case, it’s finding a home, right, finding a home is both existential for people, but it’s also aspirational. You can change the arc of someone’s life in finding a home. And then it’s also through my teams, right, creating experiences for them that help them become the vision of who they see in the future. I develop over the years, and I can talk a little bit more about that later. So I think humans have a limitless possibility, and I think that the design field is really the perfect platform for that. It’s a perfect sort of Petri dish at least for creative people to discover who you are, who you want to be.

Eric Bailey:
That’s because of a few things. I think, one, it’s really, really broad. It’s open to so many different kinds of talents. So we mentioned content, so people that are writers, people that are researchers, that are inquisitive and empathetic, people that are artists, and people that like to make and create, and people that are builders and people that are analytical. And so it’s just so open to the array of skillsets that it’s so welcoming, I think, to so many folks left and right-brained that I think it’s an incredible career. I started out as a graphic designer, but UX really is this thing that is multidisciplinary. Yeah, I think it’s a really rich field.

Eric Bailey:
I think some of the skills that come to mind for me are there’s research, there’s synthesis, there’s storytelling, there’s facilitation, there’s interaction design, there’s service design, visual design, prototyping, right? These are all things that a user experience designer might be asked to do. And that doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert in all of them, but chances are you are going to bias us towards one or two of those, and you’re going to become an expert. You can have a team that has certain expertise in any one of these dimensions or two or three, I think is incredible.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s really been interesting how really UX has exploded as a field over the past few years. Of course, you’ve got General Assembly and you’ve got other types of boot camps and other programs that are really cranking out UX designers into the industry at the same time as the design industry has gotten more lockstep in with tech. Companies have went from being just strictly visual designed and now being more product-based. And so, the market has changed, and to that end, the workforce has changed to go along with that. So I can see how those possibilities are really there because a UX designer can be called six different things for six different companies.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
They could be UX, they could be product, they could be-

Eric Bailey:
That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
… like you mentioned before, content, things of that nature. And so, it’s really flexible in that way.

Eric Bailey:
It is. Yeah, it’s incredible. And like I said, it’s welcoming, right? That means it welcomes folks that are the anthropologists and ethnographers. It’s just a really diverse field. I don’t know of another one that is as diverse. One other thing it’s really important to note is there’s real symmetry between the design process and new ways or progressive ways of learning. The field of education right now is really embracing the design process. You have a question, you go out and get answers to that question. You form a hypothesis, right? You answer that question. You experiment with your solutions. You validate them, and you learn from it. That is the basis of learning, and here is a field that you can do that every single day. Every single day you are applying progressive learning, and you’re following basically this process. You’re continually learning throughout your life. And that’s one thing that I just find really fascinating is that they’re really the same thing. That’s incredible.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, you’ve mentioned before about being a graphic designer. To that end, I want to really go back and learn more about your origin story. Tell me about where you grew up.

Eric Bailey:
I grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Maurice Cherry:
All right.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. East Side.

Maurice Cherry:
We’ve got a lot of Ohio folks, specifically Cleveland, on the show. I’ve even got some family, they’re in Cleveland, they’re in Youngstown, they’re like right around that area. Yeah.

Eric Bailey:
Yes, that’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
Cleveland’s a great design city too.

Eric Bailey:
I think so, yeah, and we always represent. It’s an incredible town. Well, I grew up drawing. I loved to draw. I loved comics. I grew up creating characters and writing comic books and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh cool.

Eric Bailey:
I think my parents put me in some classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art. They have an industrial design program, so it’s the first time I saw these models of people making, basically, the cars of the future. I mean, Cleveland Institute of Art is a pretty top-notch school. It’s affiliated with the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is one of just a handful of world-renowned art museums, something that I was exposed to really early too. So, yeah, it’s a hidden gem in the Midwest, and a lot of talented people come out of Cleveland.

Maurice Cherry:
I was first there… When did I first go to Cleveland? I mean, aside from family stuff, but as a designer, the first time I remember going was in 2014. Yeah, 2014 I went. I spoke at a conference there. Damn, that was seven years ago, Jesus. But I spoke at a conference there. There’s a local studio there called Go Media, and they had this event called Weapons of Mass Creation. I don’t know if they still have the event. I don’t think they do, but every year they would have a number of different panels. It was a multi-day event. They would have live painting. They’d have break-dancing. It was a whole thing, and that’s how I really got introduced to Cleveland as a design city. I was like, “Man, this is great. This is wonderful.” And got to meet other designers from nearby, from Chicago and from Detroit and stuff like. So it was great. I want to go back to Cleveland once all this pandemic madness stuff is over. But, yeah, sounds like your parents really kind of introduced you to design and exposed you to that early on.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, they knew it was ordained that I was going to do something creative. I mean, I had been drawing since I was maybe two years old, and I would spend hours and fill up sketchbook after sketchbook. I just loved to be creative. Yeah, they just did what they could to expose me to different things. I didn’t want to be “a starving artist” artist. Obviously a stereotype, but I didn’t know what design was. But I applied to a graphic design program in Cincinnati when I was coming out of high school. So it’s the University of Cincinnati in graphic design in School of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning and-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, it’s a mouthful.

Eric Bailey:
… really… Yeah, it is. DAAP is the acronym. But it was an amazing program. I think like many of my experiences, it was serendipitous. I just followed a calling, but I didn’t know what it was going to turn into. One, it was a five-year program, and two, it had a… First year was foundation, so you spend that first year with architects and industrial designers and fashion designers all doing the same thing, learning the same fundamentals. And then you break off into your expertise. And two, it had an internship program or a co-op program that wound up being six quarters in the field. So every other quarter I would-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Eric Bailey:
You wind up working the equivalent of a year and a half before you get out of school. And so that was an incredible experience.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m not saying this to date you, but this is-

Eric Bailey:
That’s okay, you can date me.

Maurice Cherry:
No, but I mean, this is in the early nineties, this is really prior to the advent of the personal computer and design really coming into its own through things like CorelDRAW and Photoshop and stuff like that. It sounds like, I mean, that sort of hybrid program of work plus in-class instruction was really good.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I would say anyone looking at design programs should choose or take very seriously programs that have internships, right? Just the amount of autonomy and independence and the amount of clarity I got on what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do was incredible. The other thing is as part of that program you move from city to city. I worked at the National Park Service working on the publications and brochures that they use in the national parks. I worked in St. Louis at a retail doing design for retail. I worked in Dallas, Texas doing environmental graphics at an architectural firm. And then I worked at a small but cutting-edge design studio in Boston. Every quarter I was moving to a city, finding an apartment, and either living with other students or living on my own and had a full-time job. I mean, it was incredible.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I don’t know if there’s really any design program like that now that really put you out there as a working designer while you’re still in school in that way.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, I think there are a handful, and they’re definitely worth you tracking down. I’ll any day hire someone from Cincinnati as an intern or full-time.

Maurice Cherry:
How was your early career post-graduation because it sounds like you’ve managed to gain a good bit of work experience while still being a student?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. I definitely didn’t want to stay in Cincinnati. I came out of high school in ’90 and from 1995 was an undergrad. When you’re from Ohio, you do a few things. You either stay in Ohio, you move to New York, Atlanta, or Chicago. And so, I started applying to jobs in Atlanta and Chicago. I had some family in Chicago. I actually wound up a conference for The Organization of Black Designers. It was the first one, it was held in Chicago. Through that, I think I wound up landing some contract work in Chicago. So I went ahead and moved to Chicago. And then while in Chicago, I attended at a conference, and that really got me connected to a number of opportunities. But that was a really pivotal moment for me.

Maurice Cherry:
The Organization of Black Designers, wow. Revision Path and OBD kind of have a… I don’t know, I don’t want to say a history, that makes it sound contentious. But since I’ve started the show and I’ve been talking to people, the organization has definitely come up several times. I’ve tried to get David to even come on the show. But we’ve had other past folks that have been on the show, we did a whole oral history of OBD back in… Wait, when was that? 2018, I think, something like that. I mean, it’s just amazing hearing about how that organization came about it and really how many people it helped out because it’s something that I don’t think a lot of black designers even know about because it’s hard to really pin down-

Eric Bailey:
I know.

Maurice Cherry:
… that history. It’s not a story that’s like AIGA or something like that. I mean, you tell me because you were around, was OBD for the black designer back then?

Eric Bailey:
For me, I mean, one, I was probably maybe one, maybe two black students in my cohort, right? At least I would say I identified as black and that I was making it really clear I’m black. I kind of led with that. But very few in the design program in Cincinnati, very few… In all the internships, I was probably the only black person in all the internships, maybe one that I interacted with in the corporate environment. And then moving to Chicago and working at these firms, just seeing so few black designers. So this is the first time in my life I stood in a room and saw hundreds of black people that were creative that were just like me, and fashion, art, graphic, industrial design, you name it, architects. To do that for the first time is transformative. You just realize you’re not alone.

Eric Bailey:
So I think that’s what it did for me, just make me feel a sense of belonging in a way that I had never felt before and realize even if I do go back into these other spaces and I go to my nine to five at this company over here where I’m still the only black person, I know we’re out there, and I’m validated by that. I know I have a lifeline to them. I can always touch base with them. A lot of what I was doing was taking the people on that list and calling them up and saying, “Hey, I’m looking for work.” So a lot of it was pre-Linkedin, just using that network to see if you can make inroads and either get a job with them or have them refer you.

Maurice Cherry:
But right around that time, you also got involved and helped co-create something called Project Osmosis. Can you talk about that?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, this is part of the oral history of OBD. I think I had the fortune of meeting some of the folks that after that initial conference in Chicago, there are designers there that convened themselves on a regular basis from that point on and kind of became the Chicago chapter of OBD. And that was led by Vernon Lockhart. You met with him before. He really helped coalesce a team of folks that we call ourselves OBD, Chicago, and we were representing OBD and that chapter. And so I was attracted to that group, so I joined them and had other friends that joined. And so, we got really close and just really bonded and tried to carry on the legacy of the larger org to both network, but then also to try to do some more outreach to the community and primarily to younger folks.

Eric Bailey:
And so, that outreach was through University of Illinois Chicago. We were doing programs either with students there or through local high schools, middle schools. I also did a little bit of internal visioning and journeying and we together came up with this idea of more like an outreach, like a consistent outreach to creative youth that would eventually enter the design community. And so, the idea was we know that there are creative folks out there that have this innate talent and they probably don’t see any pathway for themselves, right? They don’t see that there are these fields out there, these roads to success that they could take, and using their talent something that they could have fun and in joy every day.

Eric Bailey:
We wanted to expose more and more creative kids to these fields, to industrial design, fashion design, graphic, architecture, et cetera, and so we decided to create a program around it. There was this woman named Lisa Moran, Keith Purvis, Vernon Lockhart, Marti Parham. There’s a number of other folks, I don’t want to leave them out, but we basically came up with this idea of Project Osmosis. And that was, of course, these kids learning from the design professionals, and that was the genesis. We actually converted OBD Chicago into Osmosis. And that was its next incarnation; we were no longer OBD.

Maurice Cherry:
And shout-out to Vernon Lockhart. I mean, he is still keeping.

Eric Bailey:
Oh my gosh, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
… Project Osmosis going to this day.

Eric Bailey:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
To this day. Shout-out to him. Wow. So you were working for a few different design studios back then doing a lot of graphic design work. What do you remember the most about being a working designer from that time?

Eric Bailey:
It’s funny you mentioned the adoption of computers. I would say I was in my second year in college when we were using Mac computers and Adobe software. I was using those all through college and in my internships as well. And so, yeah, most of my work then going out, I would kind of… I think the first year or so I was a freelancer and I would use my network to see who’s looking for a designer, and I would join these small studios. There was a studio called Metaphor. There’s a number of others I can’t even remember right now. Pivot Design. I would just go work with them for a few months and work on mostly corporate communications and things for whatever local restaurants, whatever, doing mostly print work. But I wound up working at a small web design shop for the first time. They were working on websites, and that’s when websites and web marketing was just taking off. So this is 1997, ’96, ’97. And yeah, that’s when I started learning web design at this place called Streams Online Media. No longer around. And then I wound up joining a company called Giant Step, which was the digital arm of Leo Burnett, a larger ad agency, and so made my way into web design.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s hard to overstate just how much of… There was nothing back then of web design.

Eric Bailey:
True. True.

Maurice Cherry:
There were maybe a couple of books, but even those felt like they were being written on the fly. There was just a lot of view source and figuring it out.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely, especially when it came to digital design. Digital design, it was a gamble, right? The paradigm for designers was you’re a graphic designer. You either work at either a large graphic design agency or you work at an advertising agency. And then you eventually become a creative director, right? Your Paul Rand was the prototype for your career. But I think digital, really those larger agencies didn’t have experience in that. So it was really the small tech companies and webshops and things like that that were really starting to hire designers and do groundbreaking work.

Maurice Cherry:
Because they could move faster because they were smaller.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember, let’s see, ’97. I was in high school in ’97, and I remember that’s when I got my first HTML book. We had went to a… Was it a Walden Books?

Eric Bailey:
Walden, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was Walden. We went to Walden Books in Montgomery. I’m from Selma, but Montgomery’s 50 miles away, so we went to Walden Books and got this big HTML book. It was orange. It was like a thousand-page book. I don’t know, back then, they had a bunch of books like this for different languages. There was one for HTML, one for ASP, different things like that. And I remember this big, huge thousand-page book, and I would carry that around with me at school. And whenever I got a chance to go to the like… We had a supercomputer lab in my high school, and we had computers in the library. Whenever I had free time, I would just go in with that book and I had a Tripod account, and I would just start trying to figure out like, “What does the blink tag do? What does the marquee tag do?” Just trying to figure out how it works. Because it’s one thing to see it in the book, but then to actually do it on the web and see how it works in real time, to me that was just such a transformative time in learning design. Because really there were no rules.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
You really could do what you wanted to do.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. And this is also when so many of those other roles were starting to enter the field, right. You might be a graphic designer who was usually doing comps and mock-ups and doing layout for, let’s say, posters or books or write other corporate communications that was like a… we’ll say layout, but then there were people who were technologists, right? There were people who are anthropologists who were becoming information architects. And so yeah, just sociologists and cognitive psychologists. So that now as a designer, you’re starting to interact with these people. They’re also people with backgrounds in motion design and film design, and so they were starting to come together at these companies. And so that was really interesting, was just now interfacing with such a range of creative people, whereas as a graphic designer you might interact with a photographer and maybe an illustrator. But yeah, really interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I would say for of those of us, like designers that are probably 40 and up, to really see how the entire design community has changed from those early days in the nineties to now, it’s been really inspiring to see just how much things have changed.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely. That is why I also say that UX or user experience is such an amazing field is just because it is really on the cusp of that Moore’s Law of continual transformation and change. It’s almost as if design is becoming something new, and UX is sort of, I think, on the forefront of that. So the fact that it’s, yeah, it’s constantly growing and changing it’s really exciting. It has a continual frontier, right? There’s a continual green field in front of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now even with all the design work that you’ve done over the years, you also have your own side business, side project that you do that’s called Properganda. How did that come about?

Eric Bailey:
That’s a great question and great timing for that question because what we’re talking about right now, this moment for me was a time when I stopped doing that kind of work. So when I was an undergrad, I kind of… Really short story here, when I was an undergrad, I did really well my first year, my second year in school I started to get really just uninspired and really had a hard time understanding how… I was this black kid. I’m pretty much the only one in my program, there’s one every year in the program. Really felt isolated. How is Gestalt psychology and semiotics, and how are these things… Will they have anything to do with me, all these Western theories and things?

Eric Bailey:
And so, I even had a professor approach me and say… I had a really hard end-of-year review, and he pulled me aside and said, “I look around the city, and I see so many black folks basically. But then I look in the program and you’re really the only one. I would think that you would want to essentially represent your race… or represent your race better.” One, he was not black so I had no [inaudible 00:47:33].

Maurice Cherry:
Of course.

Eric Bailey:
[crosstalk 00:47:33].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s pretty wild to say. Yeah.

Eric Bailey:
I mean, it was a jaw-dropping moment for me. And from that point on, I was singed by that, like really burnt by that. But we had a project shortly after that where we had to take a word and manipulate it and have it mean something else, a typographic study. Something clicked at me and for some reason, I chose the word Thanksgiving. I started playing with the letters in the word.

Eric Bailey:
I started with red letters, and I changed one letter to white and another letter to white and another one and then started making the red letters disappear, and it started to simulate population. I started thinking about the reds and the whites and how whites move in and reds start dying off. And at the end I added, I just added an E to both words and wound up with the words take and give. And there was white take and red give at the end. So it was really just repeating the word Thanksgiving and changing the color of one letter each row. So the statement was obviously about colonization, about gentrification… well, not gentrification but genocide essentially and the Holocaust, American colonization, and was through a typographic study. And that was the first time I realized, “Oh, I can use the tools they’re teaching me to make the statements I want to make.”

Eric Bailey:
And from that point on, it took off for me. I really loved visual pun. I really loved to use really simple graphics to make a really hard-hitting statement. And so the rest of my career there in undergrad was really making really cutting, really socially critical statements in my work. And that was my way of pushing back on that professor and basically on my cohort.

Eric Bailey:
It was really liberating for me. That’s what got me excited about design, was that I can use this craft to make a statement. Most designers, you’re meant to be objective, you’re not meant to make a statement. You’re meant to channel, right? This was my ability to communicate. So of course, I graduated. I went into the workforce, entered corporate America, and I stopped doing that kind of work. And that was around the time we talked about when I moved to Chicago and started working in health. So fast forward probably 15 years, I was working at a startup. I was a lead of design and really uninspired. I was really unhappy. I was burnt-out. For those years, I knew that I was not fully self-expressed.

Eric Bailey:
One night, I took out some of the old pieces that I worked on. The first one I took out was Thanksgiving, and I just updated it. I redesigned it, refined it. And that was really me getting in touch with that old self through the craft of just reworking those pieces. I picked up another one and started reworking and kind of updating it. And then from there, I started making new pieces, and they were usually some critical statements. An obvious, easy target is social media. That’s one that I have a love/hate relationship with. So started making lots of pieces around social media and its impact on us.

Eric Bailey:
That was it. I just was creating for the sake of creating, and it really breathed life back into me. I was up until 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning, multiple nights just not being able to stop creating. That was kind of the genesis and coming back to that idea of Properganda. I had come up with that nomenclature in the nineties, and so I decided to bring it back and say, “Okay, I’m going to build something around this.” So Properganda it was.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Properganda, I like that because, of course, back then, proper was part of slang back then saying something was proper. I’m curious, have you heard of the book Visual Puns in Design?

Eric Bailey:
Eli Kince.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Bailey:
Yes, yes. Yeah. Tell me, how’s that top of mind for you?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, God, a few years ago, I was really seeking out design books by black designers.

Eric Bailey:
Wow. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I got his book. Saki Mafundikwa has a book called Afrikan Alphabets that is super hard to find, and I managed to get that. And yeah, that’s how I first found out about it.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s my jam. When someone can use the visual image to break expectation or to change perception and change meaning, I just think it’s so brilliant. He’s actually a University of Cincinnati alumni.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, so he went to my school, he went through my same program, and he probably had that same instructor. Yeah, I love that sort of compendium of work that he collected there. I actually reached out to him maybe a few years ago when I picked Properganda back up. I was compelled to reach out and try to meet him. I think we chatted for a little bit through email. But, yeah, that’s so interesting you bring that up because that’s a really, I think, a great north star for me. Really impressed with this brother who, who was from my neck of the woods, basically,

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to try to get him on the show. I reached out to him a few years ago too, and I think we were trying to get something going but he was busy at the time. So I’m going to try to pick that back up because that is a really good book. And for folks that are listening, you may be able to find it on eBay or Etsy. Because I don’t even know if it’s still in print, but I know that there are some copies of it floating around if you’re trying to find it.

Eric Bailey:
Yes. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
So it sounds like having Properganda as that side project really helped fulfill you as a creative, even as you did your regular nine to five work.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. I mean, I think it was I became really aware that my full-time work was not enough for me to be fully self-expressed and be fully self-actualized, and it was only going to be through doing that work that I would be my whole self. So from that point, it’s been a great ride. I mean, it’s hard. Like I said, I was compelled to do all that work. So I created a lot of work and lots of hours. I’m a full-time parent and have a full-time job. And so to do this as well, it’s a commitment. But yeah, it’s a part of me that has to be expressed otherwise I’m not fully myself.

Eric Bailey:
A lot of it is really not only just I have to create, I want to have that experience of creating. Because as a design leader and a manager, I create so little nowadays, right? I create success through teams, and my design is really people and their careers. And so then it’s like, “Well, but I still want to make things.” And so this gives me ability to do that. I call myself and this work the armchair activist, the person who walks through life, knowing that things aren’t quite right and just knowing something… It’s that whole matrix, right? You know that things aren’t right, but they need that tipping point. They need something to say, “Hey, look,” like nudge them and say, “You should be questioning this phone that you’re staring at for 10 hours a day. You should be questioning the things that you’re consuming. You should just think critically about your own behavior and how these things shape your behavior. So that what that’s based on.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s a designer I had on the show a few years back, his name is Andre Hueston Mack. He is a designer who had some experience in the financial industry but then later became world-class sommelier and now has his own brand of wines. They’re called Mouton Noir or Black Sheep Wines. His design, I don’t want to say it’s something similar to what you’re doing, but he also does these visual pun sort of designs as well. His design studio is called the Get Fraiche Cru, but fresh is spelled F-R-A-I-C-H-E like creme fraiche, and then cru is C-R-U, as in a vineyard because he does the wine. Actually, for people that are listening and for you too as well, if you all want to go to Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel, I know that that has had its own controversy, but if you go to Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel, he’s done a series of videos where he talks about wine and stuff so you can get to see his personality and stuff like that. But if folks want to check him out, I think he’s episode like… I want to say 313 or something like that, Andre Mack. It’s in the 310s from what I remember. I tend to remember pretty well who does what when. It’s a weird quirk, but if folks want to take that episode out, 313, it’s pretty good.

Eric Bailey:
Thank you for sharing that.

Maurice Cherry:
So between Properganda and the work that you do with Zillow and everything, and even, I guess, throughout your career, how have you worked to stay your authentic self?

Eric Bailey:
Well, I think Properganda is part of my authentic self, so even manifesting that. One, acknowledging it, “Hey, I need to pay attention to this aspect of my personality, and two, I need to feed it, and I need to make it public and build it around it.” Acknowledging that in myself, and I think that’s advice I would give to everyone, listening. I do a lot of internal listening. I usually do visioning exercises at least once every two years. And that’s to check in with myself on, “Okay, what experiences you want to be having and what skills do you want to be developing?” And so, Properganda is a manifestation of that. It’s like that happened in order for me to be whole.

Eric Bailey:
I think at work, a lot of it is around… Working from home was a milestone, something that I wanted to achieve. I just had the good fortune of things making that the case. For me, going into an office, commuting for three hours a day or four hours a day is not sustainable even though I’ve done it for 15 years. And so, having a better integration of home and life because home is the authentic me, so integrating that, that puzzle piece has fall fallen into place but that’s been important.

Eric Bailey:
I think also you talked a little bit about the last two years and not just the pandemic, but all of this sort of… I don’t call it social up upheaval, but it was just folks tired and pushing and being vocal. Whether it’s the protest or the election or whatever, but they’re the real issues about equity in our country and race. Those issues now have become part of the discourse at work and/or on in day to day. Now people are talking about things that they would rarely talk about or in spaces that they would rarely talk about. And so that is really important to maintain that. Now if I’m at work, we will talk about being a black designer or a black design leader or being a black male or a black woman or a black trans person, all of the diaspora and all of the issues that go with that, those are now part and parcel of the things that we talk about in work in our daily lives.

Eric Bailey:
So being authentic to that and putting words to that is really essential. I think I spent many years compartmentalize my blackness from work. And so, now that’s what part of being my authentic self and bringing that authentic self to work is that we can talk about aspects of my identity, other people can talk about aspects of their identity, and then we can talk about these things that go along with that. One thing is also working on things that are relevant to my own interests. Zillow is really pushing to create a social impact agenda and initiatives that are focused on changing paradigms in the housing industry and the fact that housing is kind of key center point around inequity, especially in [inaudible 01:00:47] communities. So being able to participate in work and help steer work, that’s focused on creating social impact, like doing that also is a part of my full-time job. It’s not just about paying the bills but being able to move certain boulders that are important to me in my life and then also being more and more myself. Those are the things I really push for, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Do you feel satisfied creatively these days?

Eric Bailey:
I do. I do. I think my biggest challenge right now is probably I want to do so much more and there’s just so little time. The last year was tough because the kids were home during the day, so we were working and we were parenting. And so by the end of the day, it’s just like, “I’m done like toast.” And so, there wasn’t a lot of bandwidth to do other things. Now the only thing that limits me in terms of my happiness with being creatively expressed is just time. But I now have the things that I know I love to do. And so, yeah, I would say the answer is yes.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want the next chapter of your life to be like? Where do you see yourself in the next few years? What kind of work do you want to be doing, projects, stuff like that?

Eric Bailey:
I think in the future I want to work to live, not live to work. And so that means that I want to work smarter not harder. I want to work on things that I’m really good at and do that with ease. And then I want to be able to take advantage of the benefits of my accumulated knowledge and expertise. So if I’ve worked for 25-plus years, I should be able to take the foot off the gas. And so, to be honest with you, it’s less about what new kinds of work I want to do and more about the balance I want to strike between work and life. I want to do less of busy work and logistics and administration and less churn and more generative and creative, and then also connecting with my family. I know that doesn’t directly answer your question, but, yeah, that’s the goal.

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

Eric Bailey:
They can find me on LinkedIn, so Eric Bailey. I think you’ll share some links there. I’m Properganda1, the number one, on Instagram, and then propergandadesign.com is a website for Properganda. Yeah, and there’s zillow.com. So you can obviously connect with Zillow and all the great things we have there for folks that are looking for a home, whether they’re renting or buying. And let’s see. Yeah, I think that’s not a huge digital footprint, but those are the things I keep it to.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Eric Bailey, I want to thank you just so much for coming on the show. Thank you for, I mean one, sharing your story about how you really have become a designer and have made your way up in your career, but also really sharing how you’ve been able to balance these parts of yourself, whether it’s doing Properganda on the side, whether you’re building your teams. It sounds like you’re continually striving to have that sense of balance among the creative and the professional and the personal aspects of your life. And I think that’s something that all of us listening can really learn from. So thank you so much for coming on the show, I appreciate it.

Eric Bailey:
Maurice, my pleasure. Thank you. I’m really honored, yeah, just to be a part of a illustrious cohort of interviews, so thank you so much.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

Adobe MAX Logo

Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills…all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Fred Noland

This week on Revision Path, I’m sharing my conversation with visual storyteller Fred Noland. You might have seen his recent illustration work in The New Yorker, but he’s been featured in newspapers, magazines and museums throughout his extensive career.

We talked about navigating work and creativity during this pandemic, and he spoke on an ongoing project of his — a graphic novel about professional cyclist Major Taylor. We also discussed representation in comics, his artistic influences, and his podcast Serious Moonlighting. Fred’s voice and his work are an important addition to the world of visual storytelling, and I hope we’ll see and hear more from him in the future!

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.

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

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

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I heard that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah.

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Shout out to Mike.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Howse: Right, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Howse: Always a pleasure, Maurice.

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

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

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

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

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

According to Kim Williams, it takes real grit to be in the design field. She serves as the group manager for the UX core team at Indeed, where she leads a interdisciplinary team of designers, technologists, writers, and researchers working across the globe.

We talked a lot about design leadership — what it takes to not only build and lead a team, but also how to enable them to do their best work and make sure they have what they need to succeed. From there, Kim shared her journey as a designer, starting from her humble roots growing up in Jamaica to leading design efforts at Ogilvy & Mather, eBay, and now her time at Indeed. It’s important as a designer of color in this field that we own our narrative, and Kim’s definitely someone who is doing that! Get inspired from listening to her story today!

Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Deanna Testa and edited by Keisha “TK” Dutes. 


It’s survey time!

Take our annual audience survey at revisionpath.com/survey, and help shape the future of Revision Path! Survey ends on April 30 at midnight ET! Thanks for your feedback!


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

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Have I mentioned lately that I love our Slack community? There are so many talented and amazing people there, including this week’s guest — Lyn Muldrow! Lyn is a front-end developer, as well as the technical manager for Oakland-based nonprofit organization Hack the Hood.

We talked about how she got interested in technology at an early age, her experiences in Silicon Valley (and how that led her to where she is now), and we touch on the double consciousness around “being yourself” in an industry that expects you to conform to culture fit. Lyn also recently attended the White House for their LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit, so keep an eye out for her — she’s on the rise!


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