Reggie Black

Reggie Black is a true Renaissance man. He’s combined his talents as a multimedia artist, designer, speaker, and mental health advocate into an experimental playground he calls all things progressive. Whether it’s a hand-lettered design project for a client or a public art installation, Reggie is navigating through this time and letting his passions light the way.

Reggie and I really had more of a general conversation than an interview, and we touched on a number of issues: staying productive in the midst of uncertainty, the role of the Black designer during this current time, and making space for creativity to flow. It’s a little something different for our 8th anniversary, but I think you’ll enjoy it all the same.

Thank you all for keeping Revision Path alive and thriving!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Reggie Black:
My name is Reggie Black. I’m a multimedia artist and designer, Principal of All Things Progressive. I work primarily in hand type, which is this very distinctive style of hand, a hand type fonts that I’ve created and worked on through repetition for years to carve out as my distinctive language. And I use that to share and articulate thought provoking messaging through all mediums, whether it’s print, installation, all sorts of medias to just really raise questions and bring about thought to the public and our questions and just really highlighting the vulnerability and transparency of everyday life.

Maurice Cherry:
How have you been doing so far this year?

Reggie Black:
This year good. Man, I think we had an interesting ride in January. It feels like every Wednesday was like a different year, with being here based in D.C. and seeing what transpired on the Capitol and then the following week, getting a new president and then the following week. So this year not bad, but in general, Maurice, all things considered, I feel like with everything going on in the world, I feel like health is a luxury. And if you have that and family and employment, you can get up every day and just be grateful for that. I’ve been trying to focus more on that than the larger questions for now, if that makes any sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes a lot of sense. As you sort of, I guess, approach this year, did you have any resolutions or goals that you wanted to accomplish?

Reggie Black:
I’ve been dancing around this question and I think it’s clearly a result of what we’ve experienced in the pandemic, just living life without really, I won’t say without really questioning things, but I’ve been thinking about what is enough and that’s not the resolution, but I think it is a gateway to patience and intention for me. And I don’t really know what resolutions they have become, but I know I’d definitely as 2020 has told us all how very temporary everything can be. And then also quite how very transparent the world can be. I’ve been really thinking about, what’s the intention behind my life and what I want to do and being very specific about the work I want to share with the world. And then also, who am I as a person? Because to be perfectly frank, I feel like during the pandemic a lot was lost, a lot of business slowed down.

Reggie Black:
And so I didn’t realize that a lot of my life was connected with the work. So I had to go on this path of relearning myself and being with myself and spending more time with myself because it was normally, I guess, pre-normal times it was travel, travel, travel. So you didn’t really get that much time to have a lot of introspection. Been dancing around with those few things.

Maurice Cherry:
What are your days look like now?

Reggie Black:
Still, early rising. I’m an early riser. I get that from my grandma. And for me, I’m up, there’s meditation, there’s journal writing, which is very essential to my day, gratitude writing. I bought a WaterRower last year during the pandemic, when I realized that I was probably going to stay out the gym. So I’m doing that. Still, in work every day, still working on design projects. What I am learning is that it doesn’t have to be as aggressive as I used to think it was. And so, there’s breakfast, these conversations with my wife, conversations with my son. Breakfast coffee, I’m starting to buy more coffee table books and design books just to have time and reference material around the house to browse at and look. And so I’m doing a more of that.

Reggie Black:
It’s more research, more deconstruction to reconstruct a lot of things, just tons of notebooks all around the house I’m just jotting random thoughts and really, trying to document this process to be able to look back on it and think about where my mind was during the times and in between watching comedy on Netflix and stuff like that. So yeah, just trying to stay human in it all, still working, but realizing that we don’t have to be the machines that we once thought we did in order to get things done.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I feel like this past year has been a very interesting sort of, I don’t want to call it an experiment, a tree of this, I guess, on how our relationship to work is because I think one thing it’s amazing how quickly we’ve seen the disappearance of the American office space because of the pandemic. There were so many things about being in one spot and collaborating in person. And now all of that is largely been replaced or at least supplanted by Zoom calls and Google Meet calls and just conference calls and things like that. And sort of re-examining what it means to work collaboratively, what it means to work asynchronously, what it means to work across great distances, is something that I think a lot of people have had to contend with.

Maurice Cherry:
And to your point now with us depending on where you live in the country, being in one place that now is not just your home, it’s your gym and your kids’ school and it’s date night and it’s like, all these things rolled into one. That will cause… I hope it causes people to think and re-evaluate about, what is important? But yeah, this past year has been something for real.

Reggie Black:
That’s very true. Did you have a studio that you traveled to throughout the day? Or you’re doing everything in home or… That’s a very interesting point. And I think it takes a lot of… I think screen fatigue is becoming more real than anything and this idea of what home is, is being redefined. So just curious, are you in and out of a few different spaces, separating work from home? Or…

Maurice Cherry:
Before the pandemic, sure. So I’ve been doing this remote work thing since 2009. So by the time, I hate to say it, but when the pandemic first happened, I was like, “Oh, I can do this standing on my head.” I was like, “I got this, this ain’t nothing.” But what’s different is how other people now have to acclimate and adapt to this time, which is what I didn’t necessarily consider when it all first started. I don’t have a space. I have a corner in my bedroom where I work and I’m able to mentally… Well, I’m now able to mentally separate work from home largely through… I think I mentioned this on the show before, but I have smart lights in my apartment, so I have different lighting modes that will signal to me. Okay. This is the work lighting mode where all the lights are on and I’m working, but then this is relaxation mode where the lights are dimmer.

Maurice Cherry:
And I know this is for watching TV or something like that. And so the lights will come on and off at certain times and stuff and that just lets me know like, Oh, I need to switch gears into doing something else or I need to switch to another mode.

Reggie Black:
I love that. Yeah. That’s perfect. I love that. Figure out where you got those smart lights from. I love that. That’s a beautiful way to transform the home, right. Because it has become all one thing and I love what the pandemic has done for creativity to get people to think about collaboration. And that was really spot on when you talked about the American office and what that will look like in the future, because although I do think that office is where a beautiful place for meeting and collaboration. I wonder if the office was also this cage, that suffocated people’s imagination, right? Because you can contribute to your company from home in a way that activated certain creative senses that you probably couldn’t do in the corporate headquarters because of the culture that was embedded in there.

Reggie Black:
So it’d be interesting to hear or see or study or something, what type of new results are being generated from people being at home versus going into an office every day. Is there a difference in the modality and the thinking behind problem solving at work? I would love to just see how that could transform the workplace and the office in company culture in general.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think we’ll start seeing profiles like that certainly like within a few months. Because I feel like that’s when companies at least last year started saying, “Okay, well now you’re going to be working from home for the foreseeable future.” And some companies they were just kicking the can down the road, they were like, “Oh, well we’ll be back in the office by the fall. Oh we’ll be back here by the winter.” And it’s like, no, you still will be at home. The last company that I worked for and it’s funny, we’re talking about the American workplace, they really prided themselves on having a great office space. I know about this because I wrote about how great their office space was, about how it had these different modes inside the office for working. And we’ve got this terrorist and we’ve got this.

Maurice Cherry:
And at the time that I was working there, we were about to expand up to a higher floor that was going to give us more space, more desks, a sunlit reading room and all that stuff. And then the pandemic happened and shut all of that shit down. They just halted construction and then I think it was about two months after that they laid off my entire department. I was like, Oh, well. Fast forward to now, and this is only [inaudible 00:14:09] I know just from people that still work there, they’ve actually sublet the office now, there’re no plans to go back anytime soon. It was something that the company really prided itself on, almost as much as the product itself, they prided themselves on having this really great workspace and now they don’t have that.

Reggie Black:
That’s true. Wow. That’s interesting. Yeah. We’ll see, a lot of things aren’t coming back, the reality of this all, and I wonder where the home office not the home office. I’m sorry. Yeah. I wonder where the home office lands and then I’ll also wonder where the corporate headquarters, where do they begin or what’s the new future for them? We’ll see, we will see. I think that the longer we’re in this situation, the harder it’s going to be to get people to return back to work. I do feel that way.

Maurice Cherry:
It will be. I know that from experience, it will definitely be hard to go back into an office because… So back when I had my studio in full swing, I would spend days sometimes inside of a company’s workspace or I’d work out of a Starbucks or something. I had the freedom to move between different spaces to work. But I did largely work at home and it wasn’t until I wound my studio down at the end of 2017 and got a job. And even that was a remote first job because the company was headquartered in New York and I’m in Atlanta. So it was still a remote first job.

Maurice Cherry:
But there would be times where we would have to go to the office, whether it was onboarding a new employee or we had our onsite for the year or something like that. And it was so stifling for all of us that were remote workers, it was just so stifling being in that building, list like going to meetings and stuff. It’s just the chairs aren’t like our chairs at home and the snacks aren’t the right snacks, it’s why’s it so cold in here? It’s all these different sorts of things. It was certainly difficult, but…

Reggie Black:
Which all play… That’s so interesting that you mentioned that because I feel like all of those small things that we overlook are what contribute to our productivity and where we can teleport ourselves to produce work. Right? Like if you don’t have the right chair or the right environment, a large percentage of the day is all about getting comfortable to be able to perform. And so it’s interesting. I think that it’s all interesting and we’ll really see new definitions of what commercial spaces and home offices, how they overlap and one supersedes the other.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And to answer your earlier question. So I don’t have a separate studio space.

Reggie Black:
Got it.

Maurice Cherry:
But I want one now.

Reggie Black:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Hands down, I want one now. So I’ve started already looking even just at places in my neighborhood. I don’t need a lot of space, I just want a separate discrete space for work that’s not my home.

Reggie Black:
I’ve transported and teleported into the guest bedroom. So my wife was like, “Listen, I don’t think we’re going to have any guests. So let me just go ahead and and take this over.” So it has to become the nook that I’m able to get a lot of things done and to your point to have something completely separate just to come in and make this the work studio and the office. And it’s cozy for me, it feels really good to be here. I’ve got accustomed to getting up every day and making breakfast and then coming to work. It’s weird, all these things that I have to mentally do to get prepared, like get up and get fully dressed. I can’t sit around the house in lounge wear and sweatpants. I’m up fully dressed every day as if I was going outside.

Reggie Black:
And even if nothing really, really happens that day, if I just get on the keyboard and peck away at a few emails, I feel like I’ve done enough to keep myself motivated for the next day because of what I have noticed is that for me, it’s all or nothing. I’m either super inspired or I’ve watched too much news and I’m just depressed for a week. You know what I mean? There is no [inaudible 00:18:38] in-between. So in my head, the thoughts are, well, how can I keep myself inspired to focus on the things that are in the pipeline and the things that I am working on? Instead of creating this home retreat, where I can bounce back and forth between the news and calling a friend.

Reggie Black:
I still have office time where I like do not disturb hours. And just to try to have some structure and regimen in place that allow support to constantly exercise mentally to make sure that I’m in a space to produce something. And if I show up that day and I end up with nothing, then that’s what it is. But at least I like to carve out that landscape to be able to do so. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s super important now, because you have to impose those structures when you’re working from home, because your home is the place where you really don’t have that structure. Home is where you’re supposed to after work, you let your guard down, you have a glass of wine, you relax, you chill. It’s hard to really shift between work mode and relaxation mode in the same place. So you have to put… I time shift a lot of my emails. I have a booking link, if somebody needs to reach me, it’s not like, “Oh, can I pick your brain?” No, you can pick an appointment and we can get to something maybe later on in the week or something. I have to really segment and regiment my time pretty strictly now during this pandemic that I really didn’t have to do before, but it is important to do that.

Reggie Black:
It is. And I think because we will find ourselves doing things, the busy stuff. It’s like, Oh, well, I can watch a movie and cook a nice lunch or do laundry or clean up or straighten up. But like you said, home is comfortable. And so the things that we do at home, aren’t typically figuring out a way to stay productive and work. And so the moment escape and slide off to even just go to the kitchen to get a glass of water or something, right. It’s like you think of something else that could be done while you’re at home, when really it’s supposed to be the working hours. And so I think you’re spot with having those regimens in place to keep supporting and listen, the reality is, because I don’t want to sound like I’m super buttoned up but there are some days I just don’t have it.

Reggie Black:
And it’s like, all right, I’m sitting right here and I’m going to binge watch a few things all day for the next couple. You know what I mean? And that’s just the ebb and flow of where we are right now. It’s okay to not be productive. It’s okay to not want to create, all of 220, a large percentage of it, I couldn’t muster up to produce work. I just couldn’t because the social tension, black brothers that look like you and I were being killed pretty much every day, it felt like in this country. And so the things that my creativity was fighting for, it didn’t feel important. It wasn’t important. It’s not important because it’s like, if we’re not doing anything to contribute to shifting the climate of racial tension in this country or whatever your cause is, climate change or food deserts in the country or economic disparity, whatever it is, if none of that is really happening and you’re not contributing to that, it’s like, all right, well, what I’m doing is invalid at the moment.

Reggie Black:
And so I don’t want it to appear to be like this time is a priority productivity training camp, when you have to be as productive as you can. No, if you gain a couple pounds, no out this thing, everything is okay because we’re all dealing with this differently. And it is something that none of us have experienced before. I spent a lot of time talking to my mom on Facebook not Facebook, FaceTime. And I’m starting to enjoy those conversations more because she’s like, “Listen, I’m 72. I have no idea how people are dealing with this. We’ve never seen anything like this before.” So it’s interesting to talk to an older person to hear what they think about where we are at the moment. And it’s like, this is the most mental exhausting time periods because life was open, it was everybody could be and do.

Reggie Black:
And so however people are dealing with this thing is perfectly fine. I just feel like for me, I’m trying my best because I spent a lot of years in depression, I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’m almost what, somewhere in between six and seven years sober. So I’ve struggled with anxiety, I struggle with mood disorders, all sorts of things. My ability to stay strong in this moment is really predicated on a lot of, I like to call them tricks that I have to impose on myself, to keep me moving and keeping me motivated.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m the same way with having those tricks. I’ve basically had to give myself a routine. I wake up every morning 7:00 a.m., from seven to 8:30 it’s me getting ready for work. I’ll water the plants, make some tea, all these stuff. And then for me, I’m completely in work mode from 8:30 to 4:30. I don’t answer any other emails or anything, everything is focused just on work. Because for me, I know that I’ve got stuff to do usually right after work. I end work at 4:30 and then I’ll start doing interviews at five o’clock, or I have other calls or something else that I have to do after work. So there’s my eight to 4:30 time, which is work. And then there’s my five to maybe 11:30 or midnight where I’m working on other stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
I try to put that split in there, so I know this is when I need to shut this off and then turn this on. Even like I was telling you about the lights, the lights help me, those are tricks too. 11:30 all the lights in my apartment are off and whatever I’m working on, it’s like, “Okay, I should probably go to bed now.”

Reggie Black:
Yep. That’s the thing too. And I love how you’ve underscored the home. Right? We don’t want it to become like, because it’s so comfortable, we can go throughout the day and not really identify the things that need to happen. And so you find yourself at being midnight and you’re still working. You’re like, “Wait, but I’m supposed to be in bed too.” So it’s tricky, the home can transform and become whatever you want it to be during this time period. If you engulf yourself in work, you’re going to feel so comfortable that you don’t realize that you’re working that much. Or if it’s become an oasis of relaxation, you’re going to find yourself struggling to find a spark that gets some things done. And that’s why I said just having some system or a few things to keep you in line of break that, like you said to have that break in the day. Because we’re not active as we used to be.

Reggie Black:
We’re not commuting, we’re not moving our bodies, which I try to do a lot. But I have several free friends who just do walking meetings only. They refuse to sit Zooms and they refuse to sit on Skypes. So they take all of their meetings on the phone. It’s straight, I’ll get your Zoom call in number or you can call me on my cell phone and they walk the neighborhood while they’re having a meeting and take notes on their phone. You know what I mean? To find balance, to stay active, because like you said, if we’re just sitting in front of screens every day, you got to think about what that’s doing to our physical health as well. So that’s something I’m going to try to incorporate this year as well too, just moving more and getting back to it because yes, I row at home, but I still think that there’s something about getting up and getting out and physically moving your body and walking. I don’t know if [inaudible 00:26:17] or YouTube workout.

Reggie Black:
So I have a Peloton subscription, I don’t have the bike. I have the classes that you can take online, but you’re still in front of a screen, following the trainer. And so it’s much different than walking to the local grocery store to get groceries and physically moving your body. Something that happens there that just we’re missing with being dormant for this period of time.

Maurice Cherry:
The walking meetings, that’s a good idea. I’ve watched something on the news recently that I think scientists were saying that the biggest byproducts of the pandemic is going to be just how much people’s mental health is being affected, whether it’s like you said, depression, anxiety, et cetera. I was out of work for half of 2020, and during that whole job search and everything, it was a lot to deal with. Especially when you’re also seeing with other things happening in the world at the time, like you said, the social unrest, the former administration and how they’re handling all of this, it’s just like, there would be days I would just get high and just play video games all day. And that’s the day, that’s all I’m doing.

Reggie Black:
I think what I’m trying to say is that all of those days are just as important as having super productive work. Because I don’t think we’re in this space to judge what day is superior than others, because I feel like now more than ever, we’re seeing the value of life and just how important it is. And so whatever you do with that day, it’s a success, because you could not be here. You know what I mean? You just couldn’t be here. And so to have that, we got to somehow undo this badge of honor that America has imposed on us, this busy badge of honor. And I’m on that same quest too, there has to be a balance of being a human fucking being, and also being able to produce and do work. You shouldn’t be consumed by work all the time.

Reggie Black:
And the walking meetings is actually from a good friend of mine, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. She’s a good friend of mine, we met during Ted years and we’ve just become really cool and some of the best closest homeys ever. And when I heard her tell me that I was like, “Wait, you don’t do what?” And she’s like, “Nah, I got to move my body.” And so I’m constantly grabbing things from people that inspire me and makes sure that I can keep finding new ways to just to stay in this fight. You’re right. It’s a mental fight that we’re more in term with than anything.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about work. Tell me about the studio. When did you decide to start All Things Progressive?

Reggie Black:
Man, All Things Progressive. It’s a love child of mine that I’ve had in my head for a few years. And I’ll tell you why a few things contributed to the thought, working as a solo artist, I feel like when there’s not a studio or some formal structure, business structure is what I’m talking about now. When there’s not some business structure formed, what happens oftentimes I feel like when you’re pitching for larger work or larger clients, it’s weird. And this is a trick that I’ve kind of… Not even a trick. It’s like a professional hack that I believe is really stupid, but also very important. It’s a legitimacy thing. Most large companies won’t choose to work with you if you’re just a solo artist. And so it’s like, Oh, well either they don’t take you serious or they don’t think you’ll have your terms and conditions in place.

Reggie Black:
Or a lot of times they want you to be the artist when you’re saying no, I have a multitude of services that I could provide. And so, yes, there’s Reggie Black that’s the hand type artist. That’s the multimedia designer that can do a lot of the beautiful things with my hand and with type and with abstracts and all the things, but then there’s also a part of me that can do the very beautifully graphic design products or package design or identity systems, right? I have two sides of my brain that allows me to do both. And so what I realized was that in order for me to be able to empty the tool bag and access all of the things that I’ve been able to accumulate throughout the years, through beautiful mentorships and just countless hours of trying to figure this thing out, I said, well, what if I put a business structure in place that allows me to separate, if someone wants to hire Reggie Black for the bold and visceral hand type that he produces, that’s one thing.

Reggie Black:
But if there’s a graphic design job or book cover job or anything that separates it and takes me away from Reggie Black, it’s almost like a personality. And then it evolved into just having a few collaborators that I could work with and I can hire them for various projects and almost became like a think tank. And so 2018 is when I officially formed it. I had the name for a while, I didn’t really know what to do with the name, but really it’s just about trying to create value and spark things that move forward and work with clients that want to have a bowl perspective on where they’re going and what they would like to do. And so with All Things Progressive, it’s really just an experimental playground for companies and businesses and clients that want to figure out how to redefine their perspectives in where they’re going and what they want to do.

Reggie Black:
And we assess each project as such and I like to look at everything that’s going on in the market place, within that particular genre of industry that I’m being hired for and go the complete opposite, because I think that there’s a clutter that’s happening in every industry where people are just copying and regurgitating what is successful in the industry. And then when that trend ends up dying, you see all the businesses that have led themselves down that path die with it. So I’m always about how can we go the opposite direction? And that’s what All Things Progressive that every project we can assess, it’s like, all right, well, if there’s a book cover design, the author speaking on self-help well, let’s look at every self-help book cover and go the complete opposite direction.

Reggie Black:
Because it’s very easy to follow the herd and end up in the clutter. But I think it’s brave to say, well, sure, yes, I am a smoothie company that I’m thinking rebranding [inaudible 00:32:41] like, well, do we have to use green? Do we have to use the colors of vegetables? I’m always about how can we push something in the opposite direction of where people think it should be? What if we do the impossible? What if we do the unimaginable in every case and see where that experimental plate side of our human instincts take us.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been finding that clients have been more experimental during these times?

Reggie Black:
Yes. Because what I think, Maurice is happening is that everybody is realizing that everything… And I think you and I talked about this previously, everything needs to be redesigned. And right now, while the world is figuring out or trying to figure out where to go, I think this is a beautiful time for everybody to shake things up. I don’t know if we were living in like no one’s under scrutiny right now. Right? You can do something that’s completely left field and it’s completely okay because we’re all trying to figure out a way to move our businesses forward. Because what we thought worked, we saw something as large as COVID come and hit us and realize that, Oh, I might need to figure out how to not be so comfortable. And so experiment and play as becoming a part of almost the culture of companies now, because what they’re realizing is that one, you have to fight for attention now because everybody’s home.

Reggie Black:
Everybody has four to five screens at home, whether it’s the TV, the iMac, the iPad, the phone. So attention is at an all time high and everybody’s willing to consume information. And so what are you going to do to separate yourself to at least just to garnish a little bit of that attention, or take a little bit of that in the marketing department or a product that you’re building or campaign that you’re about to launch? What’s going to make your messaging stand out a bit more just to hold the attention of somebody that’s scrolling on Instagram for 10 more seconds, that it would, if you were doing things differently? And so I was just talking to one of my design friends. We talking about how you see a lot of the large, I guess old guard companies doing identity system re-brands, GM just did it, Kia just did.

Reggie Black:
There is another one that I thought was important as well. Even the CIA just rebranded. Right? And so you’re watching so many old guards realizing that if we don’t do something differently, there’s a possibility that we’ll become Blockbuster. You know what I mean? When they was completely avoiding what Netflix was trying to say or Blackberry, when they had the largest market share in mobile devices and they thought that we were all going to love Qwerty keyboards forever, then we got the iPhone. And so no one is at liberty to rest and relax in this moment of uncertainty. I think if things are in certain, let’s push on certain ideas. If things are unorthodox, let’s push unorthodox ideas. And that’s what I’m really excited about. What’s going to land when the smoke clears from where we are? And if it does land, will you be able to tell a story that was innovative and different in the midst of all of the smoke that’s happening?

Maurice Cherry:
That it’s good that companies, I think now are starting to be open to this, they almost have to. I think at this point they have to.

Reggie Black:
I think they realize that either two things happen, the brand story expires, or they realize that they aren’t the only players in the industry that they thought they were. And so they have to and they have to innovate in a way that respects the customer and respects their consumer base, but also figuring out a way to tap into new consumer basis too. Right? That’s what we’re seeing happening and everybody’s scrambling and trying to figure it out. And to add another layer on it, everybody also now realizes something they should have realized or been able to… Excuse me, identify years ago is that they had to have a social responsibility. And now we’re seeing a scramble where everybody’s trying to figure that out on the fly.

Reggie Black:
And it’s like, Nope. If that was built into the culture beforehand, you wouldn’t have to hit the panic button, when you see something like George Floyd happen. When you see something like our sister Breonna Taylor happen, when you see something like the former administration wants to put the wall and immigration and family division on the borders. If there was one company that I sincerely love is Patagonia because they’ve been that way for a while, that the CEO and the ethos of that company has clearly stated that, this is what we’re going to speak on and we’re going to speak on it regardless of what the social times are. And I think that the commercial structure has existed in a space of reactionary approaches. And I think now we have to figure out a way how to be more proactive, like Ben & Jerry’s is doing a good job, but Patagonia has clearly put their foot down in so many instances saying like, this is where we are and we’re not going to waiver about it.

Reggie Black:
And then what ultimately happens is that you see something transpire socially and they’re the first ones to respond. Nike has always done a good job, Wieden and Kennedy and their marketing teams over there, everything about their campaigns are beautiful because they’re always thinking about how can we make sure that we’re on top of what’s happening socially? Because our product typically lives in urban cities where black people and people of color are affected. And so we have to make sure that if we are speaking to the Colin Kaepernick situation, if we’re speaking to social or racial injustice in this country, we have to make sure that we’re ready to be able to articulate that at any moment.

Maurice Cherry:
No. I was just thinking, I think it was right around the time this year started. I’m like, I wonder how companies are going to react to not just Black History Month this year, but also Juneteenth. Because I think a lot of folks will say non-black folks, I think a lot of folks just discovered what Juneteenth was last year. And for many people, this is going to be a free paid holiday for them. I’m like, how are people going to jump out the window, trying to show how woke they are this year? I wonder. We’re recording this at the start a Black History Month, so that remains to be seen. But yeah.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. I agree with you. I think and that goes back to the point that I was just trying to make, in addition to support what you just said, I feel like they weren’t considering it to begin with. And so they are in panic mode because what today’s we’re recording this on February 1st, as you just said. And so they got four, five months to rally up to figuring out how to structure things. And then you’re seeing companies in Black History Month trying to rollout these large beautiful campaigns that they probably thought about two weeks ago or yesterday. So I don’t know, man. I think what it really boils down to is equality and diversity in the workplace and in the companies, when you look at a lot of the companies, VC funded companies, tech companies, everywhere across the board, people that look like you and I aren’t represented at large numbers.

Reggie Black:
And so you have a specific voice that’s speaking for the entire company, that’s offering a product to the world that it’s as diverse as America is, which we know that that doesn’t land well. And as a result of that, you end up seeing messaging that’s off and messaging that’s tone deaf. And that’s why they always have to hit the panic button because they’ve overlooked that women need to speak and be in positions of power. Black men need to speak and being in positions of power. So that there’s a diverse language and it’s not just coming from a white millennial, who started a company with X amount of dollars in C funding and they’re just doing it to be cool. We have to figure out a way ensure that people have a social impact model built in before they even get started.

Reggie Black:
Sure, we want beautiful products. Listen, I’m a student of Japanese culture and beautifully designed through and through and Herman Miller and Scandinavian design. I love all the things, I love all of that, but what I love most importantly is being able to… I love Nina Simone’s quote, “Art must reflect the times.” And I think that now companies have to identify that and figure out a way to catch up to speed, but then also realize that it’s not black people’s responsibility to solve the overlooking of what white people have dragged along in this country. It’s not our job to fix that. That’s the work they have to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, that’s very true. Very, very true. So I know we’ve just spoken at length about a number of things. I want to jump into some of the projects that you’ve done. You just recently… in this conversation, you mentioned being in Southeast Asia for a while. Let’s start there. What brought you to Southeast Asia?

Reggie Black:
The entire family and it’s a trio of us. There’s the wife Shante who I love dearly, we’ve been together for forever and there’s my son, [inaudible 00:41:59], we were looking for a life change. And 2014, there was an opportunity for my wife to take a job in [inaudible 00:42:07] with their company. And we wanted our son to go to international school and then to be quite frank, I think I was hitting a wall here in America. At that time… We talked off the record a little bit, at that time that’s when Sticky Inspiration was deplaning and there wasn’t a lot of momentum happening there anymore. And we’ll talk about Sticky Inspiration later to draw back and connect the dots. But I was just out of a lot of opportunities and things weren’t really looking as promising as I thought they would.

Reggie Black:
And I felt like let’s just go away and start over, at least for me, my wife’s career was successful. My son was entering high school. So everybody was engulfed in this new chapter and we left, 2014 we moved and moved to Bangkok. And what I did know is that it was an opportunity for me to set myself apart, but it was also an opportunity for me to go and to discover something. At that time, what it was, I had no idea. I had no idea that Asia and Southeast Asia in general would birth largely the design sensibility and the style and the projects that would give me the platform to be able to come back to America. So when we got there, it was like, Hey, well, this is the new terrain that you have to summit if you will.

Reggie Black:
And so I didn’t have any relationships there, I didn’t know anybody there, but I knew I wanted to start to get my work out internationally. So it was just a matter of me just doing the groundwork and meeting people. And clearly, for the record, I didn’t speak Thai. I didn’t speak Japanese. And a lot of the places that we went and a lot of the pitches that I was submitting for, there was a lot of rejection. Recently as of last year, I just got an artist manager, which is my friend, Alison Beshai. Who’s now my artist manager, but for my entire career, I think the last 15 years it’s just been my wife and not just managing this thing and figuring it out. So everything that we were submitting for and trying to make happen, we weren’t getting any responses.

Reggie Black:
And so you and I had a conversation about starting where you are. And so I was the only thing that I knew was that one, I love coffee. And so there was a community there that was creative. And then also there was the coffee culture there in Bangkok that I loved. And I just started going to the same coffee shops every day, every day, that was my routine. I would go there. I would do a couple of hours in illustrator. I would write a little bit, I would read a little bit because this was this new path that I was trying to figure out. And funny enough, what happened is that I realized that one of the coffee shops also had this multimedia function where it served as an art gallery. And so I literally, after so many months and just going to the coffee shop every day, I was like, Oh, I would love to have an exhibition here one day.

Reggie Black:
And the owner [inaudible 00:44:59] at Ink & Lion, shout out to them because they were really gracious here you are, you have a black man coming to Bangkok in a Thai owned coffee shop and multimedia space, they took a chance and was like, well, let’s do it. And this was 2015, so we got there in 2014, it took me about a year to really go outside. As vibrant as the world sees Bangkok, to be quite honest, I was somewhat afraid of it, Because there’s 20 million people there at capacity when the city swells up on a midday Tuesday afternoon from the commuters. And it’s a huge city, we’re talking New York City, maybe times two, there’s 20 million people that swell up in that city every day.

Reggie Black:
So I just think the hustle and bustle of it and the foreigner mentality that we had to experience being black, which is whole another podcast we could record for, all of those elements frightened me a bit. And so I took this route of familiarity and I guess, did the things that I knew. And when that one opportunity for an exhibition started, there was some local press that picked it up, the numbers are few BK Magazine who did a really good job with doing a story on me there. And we’re all talking Thai publications. There is no English and documenting English culture or foreigners that come there. I started to land placement and notoriety in the Thai creative community. And so one thing led to another, one exhibition happened at a coffee shop and another exhibition happened during Bangkok Design Week.

Reggie Black:
And then another exhibition happened at another space and it all just kind of snowball. So it ended up being three exhibitions in Bangkok, one in Tokyo, which was a combination of our… When we were there, we were traveling a lot. So we would just go to different places for family vacations. And I was like, Oh, I want to show here. I want to show there. And it was just tons of groundwork, tons of rejection, the ecstasy of a gallery that I showed out in Japan, Diginner Gallery, they took a chance on me as well. So I think there was a lot of people along that way and along that journey, that was gracious enough to see the potential of my work. Because it wasn’t always like what it is now. There was a lot of discovery of me trying to find a voice.

Reggie Black:
So the work that I showed in 2015 looks completely different than the work that I produce now. And so going on that journey and having that rejection and being this kind of an ambassador for myself, it was basically like, alright, you’re here by yourself. You have to figure out a way to believe in your art and the things that you’re making because no one else will. And so three exhibitions in Bangkok, one in Tokyo, and then it landed to meeting some really cool guys Marble Print & Clay in Hong Kong. And so within that four years, it was a matter of what five exhibitions internationally, which started to garner a lot of attention back in the U.S. because I was sharing everything on social when people were seeing the momentum happen, but it wasn’t the case before I left.

Reggie Black:
So I was like, well, maybe it’s time to go back. And then the family now we decided to come back four years later, here’s where we are to the modern day. Yeah. It was a journey. It was a real journey. And I’m grateful for all of it because I think that it was something that I personally needed to go through to really just trust myself, that thing for a long time. I didn’t want to call myself an artist nor did I ever really want to own the role as an artist, because I always thought it was like, you have to have all paintings and a cool studio and large canvases to work, but I’ve always worked in language and I’ve always used messaging as the art form. And I didn’t know anybody that ever did that before. I didn’t learn about the Barbara Kruger’s and Jenny Holzer’s, and Hank Willis Thomas and the beautiful art that they produce on a public scale.

Reggie Black:
I just knew that there was street art. And then there was art that you experienced in the galleries. I didn’t know that there was a hybrid of the two, Paula Scher who works a lot in graphic design. So it was just also of discovery that I knew I had to like go on to carve out the space. If it didn’t exist, it was a testament of being able to trust myself enough to create it.

Maurice Cherry:
Before we were recording, I asked you, was there a point that you feel like your work pushed you to that next level of awareness? And it sounds like this is when it happened, this time when you were in Southeast Asia.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. I think you’re right, Maurice like 300%. And at the moment I didn’t realize it because it was just so much groundwork and we never… As creative as we never come up for air to assess the things. But what did start to happen there throughout our travels, we would go to Japan. I would pick up Sumi brushes and Sumi ink. And it was almost like the art started to be influenced by the cultural tones that we started to experience. So if you’re in Korea, and you see this beautiful art being produced in a certain way. All the tools that I use are pretty much Asian inspired. And I’m pretty sure that I use all of them wrong. I’m sure that I don’t use the Sumi brush properly. I know I don’t use a lot of the Sumi inks the way that they’re supposed to be properly used in traditional Japanese and Chinese calligraphy.

Reggie Black:
I don’t use them properly. And what I did lean into was that, I knew that my family and I, we were very fortunate to be a black family and have the opportunity to experience and travel throughout Asia. And pretty much all of that side of the world. We we went to Australia, we went to New Zealand, we traveled a lot. And to my wife’s credit, she was like, well, if we’re here, we might as well make it happen because this is a long trip. And we need to experience and see this. And so the travel started to really inform the work that I was making. And all of what you see now is a testament to having that. I like to call that an artist residency to go away and figure out because most people don’t get that time.

Reggie Black:
And so I’m very fortunate, you get into college and then as an adult, it’s like, all right, go out into the world and pay your dues to society, be an adult and pay your bills and go to work. And so what I realized is that my ability to have that four years to incubate and produce and create at that point, I had to figure out a way to make sure that, that time spent there would be able to produce a lifetime of projects and opportunities that I could make it feel like it was all worth it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So I’m curious, there’s a lot of things I want to ask you about now that you’ve really been going deep into a lot of this stuff. I was looking at your latest installation called No Records. Can you talk a little bit about where the idea came from for that?

Reggie Black:
No Records. Man. I think so many things happened last year, but I think that, that’s Alison and I that’s our highlight of the year, our pride and joy that we were really excited about. And Alison has been a great friend of mine for over 10 years. And it transpired from a good friend of mine, Amanda always like to do names when [inaudible 00:52:18] opportunities happen. So it’s like you’re giving people the credit and shouting people out along the way, because there’s this weird thing where people feel like artists are just making it alone and it’s bullshit. Nobody is making it alone. Somebody always reaches out to you, giving you a nudge or an opportunity comes from the great vine, which is essentially a person, being like there’s no, Oh, I’m just out here doing it by myself.

Reggie Black:
And so a good friend of mine, Amanda, that I also had met from the TED Residency! during that time, she reached out and said, Oh, the Dyckman Farmhouse in New York, saw your work and they’re looking to highlight this story of slaves living in New York. Because a lot of times when we think about slavery, we only equate it to the South. And we don’t think about the amount of slavery that transpired in New York City. And so when they presented that opportunity, Alison and I, we looked at the project and said, if we can’t say anything bold, we don’t want to be a part of it. And when the Dyckman house, they sent us over a lot of their archival documentation, a lot of the things that they had kept on record, but to be perfectly honest Maurice, there wasn’t any records. There wasn’t anything on file. They tried to have a lot of information that they thought was valuable to document the lives of the six slaves that lived in upper Manhattan and they didn’t have it.

Reggie Black:
And so hence the title, No Records. Because we said, listen, we can’t pretend to tell a story that is false, if the institution has pretty much given us the goal and letting us know that they didn’t even have any records. And so slaves lived here, what we were learning is that people were living in Inwood community, which is where the Dyckman house is like 207 and forgot the cross street Broadway actually. And people live there in that community every day. And they just thought that Dyckman house was like a farmhouse as an artifact or something. It’s like, no, this is where slaves lived. And we wanted to highlight that and really put that on display. And so that’s why I said, the language and the messaging has to be clear to allow people to really get what has happened here.

Reggie Black:
We don’t have to sugar coat it. We don’t need to dress it up. We don’t need to make it appear to be anything than what it is is that slaves lived here. And Alison and I we talked about it a lot and we were really thinking about the messaging. And then when we learned that there’s also a very Spanish speaking population in Inwood community, she said, well, let’s do it in Spanish too, because I feel like we have to start making art accessible and to translate the communication so everybody can be a part of the conversation and at which was my first time doing that. And I thought that it was probably my favorite part of the deliverable of the project because it invited everybody into the conversation. So at the installation, the night of the installation, there were beautiful conversation with people from all walks of life because the art was accessible and people walked by whether they saw it in English or Spanish, they was able to get it immediately and have a conversation about it.

Reggie Black:
Not being able to really know that this was something that had happened and they lived in the community. They didn’t even know that this existed. And so for me, it was about accessibility and being able to make a clean statement that this is what happens and let’s not overlook this. And throughout learning that I learned a lot of the names and places in New York City are named after slaves owners, because that’s what it was. So I lived in [inaudible 00:55:58], but I didn’t know [inaudible 00:55:59] and was a notorious slave owner. I just loved it because I lived there and the culture’s there. You know what I mean? Home of Biggie Smalls and home of Jay Z. And I lived in Brooklyn for three years and it’s another huge part of the story that gave me the skin that I needed to keep pushing forward.

Reggie Black:
And, but I didn’t know that [inaudible 00:56:20] was in the history was rooted in slave trade. And so we overlook a lot of the things by default, I think, because we tend to focus on what we deem is cool, but we don’t really utilize the resources that we have to outline a whole story. And so for that project, for me, it was like, listen, I want to make sure that I don’t leave anything uncovered here. So let’s talk about it. But most importantly, let’s make sure that it’s extremely plain, so everybody can understand it.

Maurice Cherry:
And you did that right near the tail end of 2020, is that right?

Reggie Black:
Yep. Yep. That was the end of December, December 7th, I think was the installation night. We were going to postpone it. We were going away to 2021. There was a lot of back and forth with the logistics. And I said, I think that this is an important conversation that needs to happen now. And mind you, where right off the tails of such a devastating year for black men, women, black trans, everything was transpiring in this country where police brutality and just the unjustice in this country. And I said, if we’re not going to do this now, what better time? Because I think for some odd reason, let’s just say, non-black folks feel like that this is a temperamental temporary issue. When the reality is this isn’t going away. There is no special time to talk about these things.

Reggie Black:
And it’s something that you and I have to experience every day. There is no vacation for being black. You don’t get to wake up and turn it on and off when you want to, this is the life that we live. And so if this is the life that we live, let me make sure that I’m doing what I can to highlight the things that we go through. And was it always this way Maurice? Possibly, possibly not. I don’t feel like I did my due diligence to make sure that I was highlighting the things of importance. And so when I was looking at a lot of the projects that we had on the table last year, and it was assessing things, I noticed the change in me too. I was like, you turn on the news and you see this thing happening nine minutes and 17 seconds or whatever that the exact time was when the gentlemen stood on George Floyd’s neck for, Breonna Taylor was shot in her sleep.

Reggie Black:
You look, and you see these things. And then I will have to show up to the iMac the next morning and try to design something that was beautiful to sell a product. I started to feel disconnected. Yeah, I’m a black man, but am I really using my voice to highlight the things that define the black plight in this country? And the answer was I wasn’t doing my best. And so now I’m trying to make sure that I need to make a conscious effort. My messaging sends a symbolism and it’s inspiring and it’s thought provoking. And I do a lot of work in mental health in Outland articulating that messaging and outlining that conversation. Right. But that’s a very colorless thing.

Reggie Black:
We can all experience that because human emotion is colorless, but when it comes to specific black issues, am I doing enough? My wife has, which is why she’s my wife. She’s like, listen, we all have more work to do. And when she said that to me, that was like another pivotal moment in my life. All right, you got to do more to make sure that your voice and your platform is being used and executed in the right way.

Maurice Cherry:
So something I definitely get from really from this conversation and really just from how you talk about your work is that you’re a very deep thinker. It’s not just about doing the work, but you’re really set on finding the intent and the drive behind it. How do you see the role of the black designer in this current climate? And I’m asking this for two reasons. One, I think certainly now with this increased awareness that people have about black creatives. And I would say just the struggles of black people in general, I hate that we had to get to this point this far along in human history. But one there’s this increased awareness, but two, just here on the show, one question I asked every guest last year was how are you using your skills to create a more equitable future? So I’m posing this question to you, and I’d love to get your answer to it. How do you see the role of the black designer in this current time right now?

Reggie Black:
There’s two folds to that. I think that forever, I feel like we’ve been overlooked. Like you just say, right. And I think we’ve been overlooked, but then also we’ve been undervalued. And I think we’re only called upon when it’s time to clean up something or when it’s time to make something look cool. Like when you look at the makeup of the black community and the black culture, we run the world, we run shit, we validate what’s cool. We make it cool. And then the world grabs it, right? Hip hop is the fastest growing genre in the world. And it’s only like 35, almost 40 years old. It’s a very young genre, but it’s [inaudible 01:01:19] the world. Right. And so we look at our ability to have cool, but then we look at like, we don’t own things and we’re not in positions of power.

Reggie Black:
And so for the black designer right now, I think what’s important is for us to say, okay, here’s my place in the world. Here’s my position, here’s a corporation at wants me to work or collaborate with “them”. Right. And if that’s the case, we have to make sure that we’re saying the things that are important to amplify, the topics and issues that are affecting our communities. And I think that’s the role. It’s okay. Because that’s another thing that it’s a lot is that we feel like artists aren’t supposed to be compensated properly. We need to be properly compensated for the things that we contribute and the value that we contribute to messaging. And then also we need to be able to say the things that feel good and speak to our people.

Reggie Black:
And I think that we can’t be used as pawns in the system to tell a story that isn’t accurate to how we believe. We have to reflect the times, which what I was just talking about my work, I was realizing that I was speaking to one thing when in fact the world was on fire and I’m a black man and in any given moment, I could have been shot as well. And I’m not saying that you have to abandon your bread and butter and what you’re known for. Both things can exist, but I feel like somehow they want us to exclude a specific messaging for a specific messaging. And I’m saying no, that they both need to exist right now. So it’s our obligation as the black designer to make sure that when we speak on these things, we’re making sure that we amplify a point that needs to be said that can’t be said by a non-black person.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you make space for these days?

Reggie Black:
I’m trying to get better at self care. I know it’s a hot button topic and everybody’s trying to explore it and define it for themselves. But for me I’ve always been a very inquisitive child. I’ve always been like you said, and thank you for that compliment, man. I’ve always been a deep thinker. I get it from my mom who isn’t as I guess won’t say talkative, but she’s a woman of few words, but the few words that she says are super impactful. And so I picked that up as a child from my mom who was just very intentional about what she says and why she says it. And so as a result of that, I’m trying to be intentional about how I treat myself and how I care for myself.

Reggie Black:
And I’m spending a lot of time and introspection asking larger questions as I get “older” what do I want this life to really look like for myself? And how can I give myself enough love that’s detached from the results? And just really thinking about where I want to go and how I want to impact the world. But before I get there, how do I impact and change myself? Because I think we go out with the Superman cape on every day to stand up and design and raise questions and fight for causes, which are all beautiful. But I think sometimes we go out half empty. We’re not completely together ourselves.

Reggie Black:
And as I’m going on this journey, I don’t believe that you could be of complete service to a cause, a company, a client, if you’re not really at whole yourself or have a beautiful sensibility to be able to compartmentalize that, to show up and do that work and then go home and figure out a way, how to sort your own personal stuff up. So I’m really just trying to figure out one, who am I outside of work? And then how can I bring that guy to the work to be able to impact it more?

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would have been if you’d never became an artist and a designer?

Reggie Black:
Funny enough, man, I’ve always wanted to be a business banker.

Maurice Cherry:
A business banker.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. A business banker venture capitalist. Like one of those guys Goldman Sachs with the suit on. And don’t… I won’t say don’t ask me why, ask me why. Yes. But then there’s two points to it. I wanted to be it because growing up, I felt like that was the only way, which I do feel like it’s still important, but economics is the way to freedom. And so growing up, I was like, well, let me pursue a career money, one, because that’s what a lot of my teachers told me. And that’s what was like, Oh, you need to go… And growing up without it. It’s like, well, that’s what I want. And then two, I feel like there’s not a lot of space for creative venture capitalists.

Reggie Black:
I know that the full premise of it is to fund companies to have a return, to build more companies. But I think we’re doing a huge disservice to excluding the currency of creative intellect. And somehow one thing that drives everything, but it’s the last thing to be compensated for. So it’s like we can bill big companies to connect us as fast as we need to be and share our most valuable moments. But we overlooked the importance of the everyday creative that’s trying to get an idea off the ground. And so I would love to in a perfect world start a creative venture capitalist fund where there’re these micro grants that small entrepreneurs and innovators and thinkers can apply for and receive. And I know it exists in the world.

Reggie Black:
There’re so many beautiful people doing that work Backstage Capital, who I love, she’s doing an amazing job, Arlan Hamilton. There’s so many companies that are doing that work, man. But yeah, I think that’s what I would have been, man. It’s the impossible for a lot of us. And I’m always looking to explore the edges and go on to extremes or a DJ.

Maurice Cherry:
Or a DJ.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. Or a DJ. Because I love music. And I’m still got to execute fun in your life. So on a business side, super serious side venture capitalist. But outside of that, I think that a DJ of some sort.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s interesting that certainly other countries do a lot to sponsor artists or to fund the arts. And I feel like we used to have that here prior to the last administration. Hopefully that will come back. Or we start to at least see some more investment from, I think the government towards artists. But yeah, I would think even celebrities or other businesses or things like that, you probably see this too. There’s so many big names that expect free creative work.

Reggie Black:
Sure. And that’s the part that has to be dismantled because art and creativity is the one thing that communicates every element of our lives, but it’s still one thing that’s always negotiated. Right? Everything we interact with is designed by somebody, the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the clothing we wear, there’s a designer, there’s some creative intellect that’s going on behind that. But for whatever reason, like you said, we’re always the ones that are like, Oh, well just do this for exposure. One of the person that I do have to highlight and give the credit for, somebody that I would like to, if in a big sky dream Pharrell Williams, I think that he does a beautiful job and he just launched the new, Black Ambition incubator to do this very thing.

Reggie Black:
And that’s give the black and Latino X, co-founders an opportunity to launch businesses and stuff. He’s clearly doing something that I would love to do, but in a large wish upon the sky, he’s the one person that I would love to meet and work with to some capacity. Just because his ability to see, listen, I’m a kid from Virginia Beach, Virginia. And I connect with that story. I’m a kid from Northwest, D.C. growing up in 80s pre-gentrified D.C. when it was very rough to like and see yourself to transcend this place outside of what society deemed for you to be. And so there’s a connection there as well.

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

Reggie Black:
That’s a loaded one, man. I don’t know; no one knows. Right? But I think because I don’t want to perceive to have all the answers. I don’t know what I will be doing, but what I would hope is that my work will land in places that could inspire people to use their voice. If All Things Progressive could work with clients that could inspire a new generation of business, I feel like that’s what I will be doing. So maybe it’s in the aspiring business and that’s not a business, but maybe I just need to be in a position to ignite new ideas and birth new generations of ideas, maybe it’s this venture capital thing. I know Reggie Black the artist will always be able to produce beautiful, innovative things that I love and believe in.

Reggie Black:
But I think in the next five years, somehow focusing on impact and that could be with the black artists fund that Alison and I were working on to carve out and creating a platform. I think me personally will probably I won’t say, take a back seat, but I’ll be thinking about more how I could use my platform to amplify the voices of others. To some regard I don’t know what it looks like.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here. Where can our audience find out more about you and all the work that you’re doing, where can they find that online?

Reggie Black:
iamreggieblack on Instagram. iamreggieblack on Twitter. And my website is, Iamreggieblack.com. So out of those few places you can find me. It’s where I’ll be man. And then before we get off, I just want to thank you for the work that you continue to do with your platform Maurice because it’s super important. And I want to thank Ashley for recommending me to be here because I think that iron sharpens iron, and I think that the work that you do connect so many people to give them the hope to see. And that’s a point that I want to make as well before we go off, the ability to see what you’re doing is a huge void that I missed in my life because I didn’t meet my first black designer until I was 25.

Reggie Black:
I didn’t know that this was a real thing. I didn’t meet anybody that could work Photoshop or Illustrator till I was 25. So your sessions and your interviews that you consistently put out to the world is hope for somebody that’s listening to this, like the little Reggie that could have been listening to this 10, 15 years ago to see that this is possible. I think that the translation and the gaps that happen here, are all exposure, people don’t think that design of some black kids, or people of color. They don’t think that this is possible because we don’t see anybody that could do this. So thank you brother. I really appreciate you, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, thank you. And thank you for coming on the show, for not just sharing your story, but also really going deep into the thought that you put into the work and also the messages that you want to put out there in the world. I really feel like we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Reggie Black in the future. I think certainly just based off what you’ve been doing so far, I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Reggie Black:
Thank you, man. As long as I’ve been doing this, I feel like I’m just getting started. So thank you so much for acknowledging that. And I’m looking forward to just staying a student and stay open. And if there’s any way I can support further banger, you know where to reach me, man.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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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.
Bennie F. Johnson

For our 375th episode, I had the opportunity to sit down with Bennie F. Johnson, the new executive director of AIGA, the professional organization for design. As the first Black executive director in AIGA’s 100+ year history, Bennie is taking on a huge responsibility. When I asked him how he felt about this, he gave me two words: “boldly hopeful!”

Bennie talked about what attracted him to this role, and how he’s managed to grow into it during this tumultuous year. We also discussed a number of other topics, including AIGA and today’s modern designer, diversity and inclusion, as well as some of this year’s recent public exits from members. Bennie is working hard on building (and rebuilding) AIGA, and I’m glad we are having this conversation on Revision Path!

Johnny Austin

“While it’s important to have mentors and peers in the industry, at the end of the day, your career is in your hands. You have to put in the work.” Those wise words are from Johnny Austin, VP of Engineering at Till, a startup that’s helping revolutionize rent for residents and landlords.

Johnny walked us through his regular day at Till, and shared how his prior experiences at Mapbox and ISL helped shape him for his current role. He also talked about attending the prestigious Tuskegee University and learning computer science, and spoke on lessons about motivation and work ethic that he’s learned throughout his career. Thank you Johnny for being an inspiration for the next generation of tech!

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.

Kojo Boateng

It’s Revision Path’s 350th episode, and for this special, historic occasion, I’m honored to talk with Kojo Boateng. You might remember our 2016 interview with Kojo (episode 125!), and we get into everything that’s changed in his world since then.

We started off talking about the transition period in his life that led him to move to the United States, and Kojo goes into his current work as a creative director for PBS News Hour. He also shared some of the community work he’s doing in the DC design scene, including creating safe spaces for Black designers to fellowship and network. Kojo also spoke about the effect hip hop has had on his design work, and talked about how he’s staying motivated and inspired during these current times.

Thanks to all of you for helping us get to this huge milestone!

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.

Terry Biddle

Maintaining a creative career these days can be tough, but Terry Biddle makes it look easy. As product design director at DC-based edtech company EVERFI, he helps oversee a lot of UX work while also collaborating with his team to help create lasting social impact for millions of learners every day.

Terry talked about how his love of design came from film and animation, and recalled his time at Howard as an undergrad before continuing at Pratt Institute while holding down a full-time gig. He also spoke on his first design gig once he graduated, his side project The Knell, and how he created his own typeface under the teaching of the legendary Tony DiSpigna! Terry says he started his design career in a world with no undos, and that kind of determination is what has helped make him a success today!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Terry Biddle:
My name is Terry Biddle, I’m a product design director, and I live in Washington DC.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you work for a company called EVERFI, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, EVERFI is an education technology company, just to put it in a nutshell. We make education technology products, so anything that you can think of, as far as online courses, we make them. We make them from kindergarten through 12th grade, for adult learning, for technology companies, for schools, for banks, you name it. That’s what I do, in a nutshell. I make online courses for all types of learners.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How did you get started there?

Terry Biddle:
It’s kind of an interesting tale. So, before I worked at EVERFI, I had my own company, called The Knell, and I sort of got my feet involved in the tech community in Washington DC. And we may get into this a little bit later, but shortly before I was getting ready to start launching The Knell, my CTO left the company, and so, I was left with making a decision that a lot of tech companies have at the time, it’s , “All right, now what do I do while we’re right before launch? Do I keep this going, do I stay active, or do I find myself another job in the tech industry?” So, I found myself another job in the tech industry, basically, and one of my really good friends in the tech community ended up working at EVERFI, and he said, “Hey, they have some positions that are open for designers, maybe you should check it out.” And so, I did, and now I work at EVERFI, and it’s been a pretty good experience so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What kind of projects are you working on now? You mentioned these courses, but in general, what kind of stuff are you working on?

Terry Biddle:
Just to make it really easy for folks to understand, I basically make web applications. I design web applications. We make them for responsive design, of course, so it’s going to be [inaudible 00:05:41] on web, all in a web platform, like tablet, desktop, mobile phones. So, I lead a small team of designers, international designers. Actually, a lot of the designers that are part of the team that [inaudible 00:05:58] the courses that I help build are based in Argentina, mainly Buenos Ares, Argentina, and we have quite a few designers in the DC office as well. And we also do a lot of communication with our development team, also, just to make sure everything works the way we intend it to work. It’s really collaborative. UX is really involved, UI design is really involved in the process too. So, it’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of communication, also, with our content team. We work really closely with our content writers and our instructional designers and our learning experience designers, as well, to craft courses that are going to make sense to learners. So, it’s really a lot of, “Okay, does this make sense on this page? All right, now, does this make sense to navigate to that page?” It’s really, actually, a good deal of science that goes into it, it’s not just visual. So, that’s a lot of what my day to day is.

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

Terry Biddle:
The best thing about what I do. I don’t know if I’ve thought about it in that way before. I really like collaboration. I would say the best thing about what I do is working with a team of people across all different parts of the product team, that are just… I work with a lot of really, really smart, super sharp people. I really enjoy, just, the comradery and the communication and just really coming together and solving a problem as a group. I really love that. So, for me, collaboration is a thing that I really take the most enjoyment out of, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I want to get more into your career, including The Knell, that you just mentioned recently, but first, let’s take it back a little bit. You grew up in Ohio, is that right?

Terry Biddle:
That’s correct. Cincinnati, Ohio, born and raised.

Maurice Cherry:
Cincinnati, Ohio, tell me about that.

Terry Biddle:
Well, it’s a city on the river. It’s right across the border from Kentucky on the Ohio river. I like to let folks know that Cincinnati, even though it’s considered a Northern state, it’s right on the border of the South, so it’s the last Southern state in the North, basically, is what I consider Cincinnati to be a lot like. So, you can go to Cincinnati and get good barbecue is what I’m trying to say.

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Terry Biddle:
That surprise you? And what was it to live in Cincinnati? So, growing up in Cincinnati, I lived in Cincinnati proper for the first part of my childhood, and then I ended up moving to the suburbs. My parents are both college educated. My mom was a teacher, so for her, education was super, super, super important. She wanted us to go to school in a district that had higher education standards, so we ended up moving to the suburbs, and now, went from living in an all black neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, to moving to a suburb called Evendale, Ohio. And it was a bit of a culture shock for me, living in an all black neighborhood and then moving to a majority white suburb. It was cool, as far as finding friends. I was a kid, I was eight or nine years old, so finding friends and playing was no big deal to me.

Terry Biddle:
This was about fourth grade, and in fourth grade, the first school that I went to, it was majority white. I think there were two black children in the entire school that I was going to. It felt a bit out of place. In retrospect, I remember a couple of instances of people saying things that we would definitely consider to be racist now, but it was something that was not considered that back then. And I remember, I had a best friend that I used to play with all the time, and then one day, we stopped playing, and then I found out, later, it was because his parents were racist and they forbid him to play with me anymore.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, damn.

Terry Biddle:
This was when I was eight years old, so that was probably my first experience with racism and sort of coming to grips with understanding what that was. So, it was a big shock to me, actually, just to experience that because before that, I wasn’t really aware of… I mean, you know people look different, but you’re not really aware that people… It was my first understanding that, “Oh, people can just hate me for any reason they want to.” So, that was my first… really coming to terms with it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I grew up in Selma, Alabama, so I know all too well, that feeling of people just not liking you, hating you, for whatever reason. I mean, they have a reason, it’s because they’re racist, but unfortunately, I know exactly what it is that you’re talking about.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, and it’s really weird. I didn’t even have the faculties to even understand what that was or how to navigate that at the time. Thankfully, it wasn’t a period that really persisted. I had that happened, and then there are things that happened over the course of it, but I will say that as I was growing up in Cincinnati, I always felt like something wasn’t… I didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt, a lot, I wasn’t able to be myself. I felt like being myself was seen as being rebellious. And it wasn’t until I got older and I went to college in Washington DC, and then, eventually, I went to grad school in New York City. It wasn’t until I was in those places, where I can be myself, anonymous, and nobody cared. It made me realize, “Oh my God, I can actually be myself and nobody is looking at me, nobody’s staring at me, nobody’s making me feel I’m an outsider.”

Terry Biddle:
I used to dye my hair and stuff when I was in Ohio, I think I dyed my hair red, I used to dye my hair red, and I’ve bleached it before. I used to have my ears pierced a while, I used to have my ears double-pierced. I had nose ring, I had a labret piercing. I used to do the stuff that a kid does, but me doing it, being a black guy doing it, it was like, “What is this guy? What is this guy? Is he a freak?” People would look at me funny, people would assume I was gay. Why would it matter if I was? I wanted to be someplace where I wasn’t made to feel like I was an other. So, being in DC and being in New York really made me realize like, “All right, I think I need to move someplace where I can be myself without feeling like I’m made to feel like another person.

Maurice Cherry:
And when you moved to DC, I mean, you went to Howard University for undergrad, which is, I think, probably a great place to find yourself.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, so there’s a bit of a story about that too. So, my freshman year of college, I actually went to Columbus College of Art and Design. I got a $20,000 scholarship to Columbus College of Art and Design because I originally wanted to be an animator for Disney, that’s what I wanted to do. When I graduated from high school. I was like, “I’m going to be an animator for Disney.” The Columbus College of Art and Design recruited students from Disney to become animators there, so that’s why I originally went to the Columbus College of Art and Design. When I went to that school, I found myself in a similar situation that I felt when I had moved from Cincinnati proper to Evendale when I was about eight years old, when I was in fourth grade. I was one of the few black kids there, and it was a really small school. I think it was smaller than my high school. And I felt, again, like I was an other, and it made me feel uncomfortable again, and I wanted to experience what it was like to not feel like an other, to not have no reason… not to have the most obvious reason for people to segregate themselves from me.

Terry Biddle:
So, that was why I went to Howard. I applied to Howard and CCAD and got into both. And after I went through my freshman year, I was like, “All right, let me go to Howard.” And also, the other part of it was, aside from Disney animation, I wanted to study film a little bit more broadly, so I went to Howard to study radio, TV, film in a more broad fashion, and not just focus on the animation part of it. So, that’s how I ended up in Washington DC.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So, what was your time like at Howard?

Terry Biddle:
Oh man, it was great. I don’t want to say it was the best years of my life. I don’t want to say that because every year brings something different. I loved going to Howard. I look fondly on the years that I spent there. I had a lot of good friends, a lot of them I still stay in contact with to this day. It was just a really good experience. It’s really fortunate, I think, that we live in a time that I think what it means to be black is very different than what it was then. I think a lot of us, we’re coming into our own with it. I started wearing dreadlocks when I was at Howard, I had dreads all through Howard. I’m trying to think how many years I had dreads. I had them for a long time. I had them for five or six years straight, then I grew them again for another seven years after that, I-

Maurice Cherry:
And what years were this?

Terry Biddle:
So, Howard was 97 to 2000.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, all right.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, I forgot I have to say the year because-

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, I’m thinking this is post-

Terry Biddle:
[crosstalk 00:15:47] listeners, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, no, I’m also thinking this is… when you talked about, sort of, the different ideas of blacks, I’m kind of also trying to quantify it within what else is going on in history and pop culture then, so this is post A Different World.

Terry Biddle:
Post A Different World.

Maurice Cherry:
L.A. Riots, that sort of thing, Million Man March, et cetera.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, in fact, I should probably talk a bit about that because… So, one of the big thoughts about going to Howard, then, was… this is when we didn’t really have any black directors that were mainstream successful at that time. And John Singleton, this was a few years after Boyz n the Hood came out. So, Boyz n the Hood came out and it just blew up the mainstream. Spike Lee was on the scene at the time as well. I should also say John Singleton and I actually had the exact same birthday on January sixth. His death really, really got to me because he was one of the people that I looked up to coming up, in addition to us sharing the same birthday. So, it was really shocking when he passed away.

Terry Biddle:
But yeah, I mean, this was what pop culture was like. And this is a pre-YouTube world, so when I came to this school… Google didn’t exist yet when I started college. Google didn’t exist, we had a couple of web search engines, I think, at the time. So, this is how far back. So, we had Lycos, WebCrawler, Yoohoo was the most popular at the time, Ask Jeeves. This is what was out at the time, this was a pre-Google world, and we couldn’t even write papers… You couldn’t even use the internet to write papers back then. To do research for papers, we had to go to the library, we had to use floppy disks. This is an area that a lot of folks don’t even know anything about. Dial up internet, having to download music with dial up internet. Man, I remember sitting in my dorm room, waiting 15 minutes to find tracks on Napster. It’s like, “All right, aw man, this track. It’s only going to be 15 minutes, cool, cool, cool.” And 15 minutes was an acceptable time to download one song.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terry Biddle:
It’s crazy. Just leave that stuff playing overnight to download an album. Oh my goodness, take me back, take me back now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Napster, Kazaa, I think there was one called Audioscrobbler.

Terry Biddle:
Limewire.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Limewire, all of those. Yeah, I remember that very, very fondly.

Terry Biddle:
Oh my gosh, man. That was the era.

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative). So, you’re studying at Howard, you graduated in what, 2000, you said?

Terry Biddle:
Graduated in 2000, yeah. I got my undergrad degree in 2000. That was in the School of Communication, shout out to School of C, radio, TV and film. So, my emphasis was mainly in TV and film. That was where the primary area of my study, so there was a lot of screenwriting and TV and film production. And this was back in the day, so we did video editing on Super VHS and Beta video.

Maurice Cherry:
So, what was your next step after…

Terry Biddle:
S and beta videos.

Maurice Cherry:
So what was your next step after Howard?

Terry Biddle:
Well, my next step after Howard I thought was going to be going into film industry and I couldn’t quite find a linear path into the film industry back then, the only way to get into the film industry. This was, again this was, everything was analog. I think when I came out of school there was only one mainstream motion picture that was shot on digital video and that was the Phantom Menace. George Lucas’ Star Wars movie was the first, I think, one of the first mainstream movies that were shot on digital video. So it wasn’t… Digital video wasn’t even mainstream at the time. Like now, most things are probably shot with Arri Alexas and Red cameras, that wasn’t even a thing then. So think back when, what you had to do to break into the mainstream to do filmmaking, you had to shoot on 16 millimeters.

Terry Biddle:
That was the only way to do it. So it was… And it was incredibly expensive, I want to say it was about $10,000 a reel to get 60 millimeter film. So it was incredibly expensive and you had to try to get funds like that. So if you were going to try to break into the film industry then, the only way to do it was to be a production assistant, and you really had to be a P.A in New York or LA to do it. I mean from Cincinnati, Ohio, not having any connections in New York city or in LA, I couldn’t really find a path to do that, I mean it was really difficult. Like they’d kind of walled you out so you would have crash on buddy’s couch basically and work for minimum wage or so to do it in New York.

Terry Biddle:
I didn’t see that path there. So what I ended up doing after that was, I was always a visual artist. That was the main reason why I went to school in the first place was to be a visual artist, to be an animator. So I was like, all right, so I know how to draw, I knew how to paint, so I should probably go back to school and do something creative as a profession. I need to find some way to use my creativity as profession. And I wasn’t actually familiar with graphic design at the time, so it was something that I sort of researched and I ultimately, decided to go into studying graphic design as a major for my graduate school. Some crazy stuff go out in between them. This was around 2001 too. Just to give, give your listeners a time frame and this was during, this was around 9/11 so there were quite a lot of stuff that was going on at the time.

Terry Biddle:
I had sort of made it, I made, I was making a decision. It was… What do you call it? Where you like… I was like flipping a coin basically to decide what was the right choice for me to do. So, I had applied for, I had asked for some recommendations from some professors at the time to apply to film school for my master’s program. But I also was thinking about doing graphic design as my master’s program.

Terry Biddle:
And this was right after 9/11 there was I don’t know if you, if you will remember this or listeners will remember this, but there was Anthrax, there was an Anthrax, a mail scare that happened right after that. And a lot of things were put in the mail and people weren’t getting their mail in. And I had some packages that were sent out that were supposed to go to schools that just completely got lost in the mail and I never got them. So I wasn’t able to complete my process. And the other side of the coin was graphic design. So I decided to go back to school to Pratt and studied graphic design there and their grad comd department that was based in Manhattan. So that’s kind of like a crazy, crazy way. And I ended up at graphic design.

Maurice Cherry:
You know, it’s interesting, there’s like a… And maybe it’s because I’ve had so many people on the show that I sort of followed a similar path but, there’s like this pipeline between Howard and Hampton to Pratt university or Pratt Institute, I should say, sorry, Pratt Institute. There’s like this pipeline where people will start out at one of those two schools for undergrad for design and then ended up going to Pratt. Did you find that there were a lot of Howard folks when you were there?

Terry Biddle:
There were a couple of Howard folks and there were some Hampton folks too. One of my best buddies at Howard as I was a, I’m sorry, one of my best buddies at Pratt was, it was a Hampton grad. I think they need to stop the Hampton pipeline. You don’t need any more people from Hampton going to Pratt. That’s a Hampton joke for folks that don’t know. And just to be clear on air, Howard university is a real H.U. I don’t care what anybody tells you. Howard university is the real H.U. just got to be clear about that.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I went to Morehouse, so I don’t know if I really have anything to say in this whole conversation, but I’ll let you have that one. Okay.

Terry Biddle:
You probably witnessed the turf Wars.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. So how was Pratt different from Howard, aside from it being, graduate to undergrad? How was it different?

Terry Biddle:
Oh man. I mean it’s, I don’t even know how to explain it. There were so completely different experiences. I mean, first I lived in the dorms at Howard, so it was a very, very different at Pratt, I lived in an apartment. I worked a lot while I was in school, so I didn’t really work full time when I was in undergrad, but I worked almost full time when I was in my Master’s program. So it was a very, very, very different experience like working in, I lived in Brooklyn when I was at Pratt and I would commute to Manhattan to go to class. So, it was a very, very different, very, very different experience as far as the classroom makeup was of course very different obviously. But there were a lot of international students that at Pratt too, which was really cool.

Terry Biddle:
It was nice to have different perspectives. We had a lot of students from South Korea that were in our classes, which was really cool to have some international perspective on things where we’re in class and I don’t know if I can really talk to the differences because my schooling was so different. I was really doing a lot of TV production and video editing when I was an undergrad. And then I, Pratt was very like, design focused design. I will say that Pratt’s program was really intense. It was really, really intense. And there were a lot of the big difference I would say that the grad comd department at Pratt, the professors were working full time, so a lot of them were there. They were doing it, they were in involved in the process, like they were actively working in the field. So I think the perspective that we were getting was a very, very different than what you can see sometimes at universities where you know folks are lifelong professors and that’s what they do full time.

Terry Biddle:
But having the perspective of being a designer that’s working is really, really helpful too, for students to understand what market, what the market is and not just, understand what the design principles are. because I mean I’m just going to be honest, a lot of what we learned in design school, it goes completely out the window when you are working at a big company. It just doesn’t compute and you’re going to make, you’re going to have to make choices that are completely like counter to what you think you learned in design school. And it’s good to have the perspective of folks that you know that are working to put food on the table that are working to employ other people because they have a different, they’re going to come at it with a little bit more reality I think sometimes then than what we can learn in a university system.

Maurice Cherry:
That actually is good to know. I mean, I didn’t go to art school at all, so I was always curious about sort of how much of that transference happens once you graduate and you get out there in the working world, do you feel like it’s equipped you with the basics or not? So that’s interesting to know. So right after Pratt, you got your master’s degree. What was your first design gig after that?

Terry Biddle:
My first full time design gig was at Reader’s Digest. I worked at Reader’s Digest for almost a year. It was, they send a Midtown Manhattan and DC and sorry, Midtown Manhattan in New York city on your Bryant park, which is, I think we’re good morning America puts on their little music show on the summertime there’s summer stage. So that was kind of fun walking past there sometimes in the summertime, seeing the shows. Yeah, that was my first gig working in publishing and in Reader’s Digest, which is really big company, but it was, I really learned a great deal from working there. I got a lot of good jobs. We’re talking about a lot of back in a day stuff. So let me just let your listeners know what the deal was then.

Terry Biddle:
So the first program I used Quark 4, to get started and Quark 4 for folks that don’t know had no undo’s, zero undo’s. This is, I started my design career in a world of no undo’s. So just so folks and understand that Adobe distiller, you had to make a postscript file and then you had to convert that to a PDF. So,that was like the workload back in the day. Adobe distiller, Quark 4 no undo’s. That’s how I started my design career.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember Quark 4 not fondly for that reason. I do remember it though because we used, we used Quark and I think we ended up switching to, maybe it was Adobe PageMaker or something. This one I was, I was probably still in high school at this point. No wait. You said… What year was this when you were doing this?

Terry Biddle:
This was 2005

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no. I was out of high school by then. We did use Quark in high school, but it was a previous version that also did not have undo’s. So I feel your pain there. Absolutely.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah. It was crazy. I mean, you learn, you learn really, really quickly how to, how to make it work.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, absolutely. You end up adapting to the situation for sure. Now let’s talk about The Knell, where did the idea come from to create that?

Terry Biddle:
It’s interesting, so like we have, it came from a lot of, we were just talking about, so I came out of school as an undergrad and a pre YouTube world. There wasn’t any way for the creators of color really to get their work out into the world at the time. When I came out of school and it wasn’t really easy. But now, I mean, I think when I thought of this idea, vine was still kicking around, YouTube exists or Vimeo exists, but there still wasn’t quite the pipeline to get creators of color. You know, a moment to shine.I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, but social media is completely broken in the United States. The way Twitter and Facebook have sort of, so I’m looking for amplified the loudest voices and it’s really difficult to be heard outside of the noise and outside and some of that negativity.

Terry Biddle:
I wanted to try to find a way to create a platform where, marginalized voices would feel like they had a place to showcase their work, but also a place where they could feel safe online without dealing with the idea of harassment. So I wanted to create sort of a video. I wanted to create a video platform that was for marginalized voices and that’s really what I, how I thought of the idea for The Knell. I wanted to create the platform that I wish existed when I was, coming out of school at Howard. That [inaudible 00:31:02] idea came about.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I checked out the website and looked at the video. I really liked that kind of bell animation kind of reminds me of almost like afterschool special when they have the little rotating texts or whatever. Like this is a specialist afterschool special announcement or something. I really liked the branding with that. How has it been going so far?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I’m going to be real. I’m probably going to wrap it up and in the near future it’s really, really difficult out here for black entrepreneurs to sort of get the key behind, stuff like this. It’s really hard to find, the funding and to find the people and the manpower to really get your thing off the ground. And I will say that I learned so much from it. I learned a great deal in the tech space from doing it, but it’s been really, really difficult to get off the ground. And I think it might be a time to put it on the back burner for a while until I can come back to it at another time. Now they’ve got a full time job and I just, I’m actually, I have a one year old daughter who just turned one a few days ago. As a matter of fact, being a dad, being a dad man, having a full time job, I’m going to have to let my other baby chill out for a little bit until I can come back to it in a better, in a better spot.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You have a whole new, a whole new life to take care of though.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, definitely. She definitely keeps me busy.

Maurice Cherry:
With everything that you’re doing, I mean with work and everything. One thing that really sort of stuck out to me as I was doing my research, and we talked about this a little bit before recording, is that you’ve created your own typeface. we’ve had a few typo…Well, I think we’ve only had two, two typographers on the site, on the podcast before, but tell me about your typeface and how you came about creating it.

Terry Biddle:
Oh man. Let’s see. How did I come about this? I’m like a type geek. Like I was obsessed with typography, when I went to grad school at Pratt. One of my professors was this a gentleman named Tony DiSpigna and I don’t know if folks know who Tony DiSpigna is, but I Shall let people know that he’s like one of the, he is a kind of a design legend. He worked for Herb Lubalin, a lot of the type faces that are really popular now, he helped design like ITC lubalin graph, avant garde, Serif Gothic. Those are, I think he’s credited with creating Serif Gothic. It’s for, folks, that was one of the type typefaces. I think that was used a lot in the 80’s I believe even the [inaudible 00:34:01] it and its titles as well.

Terry Biddle:
Hand lettering. So I learned a lot of typographic techniques from Tony DiSpigna and I for my grad school thesis. I did like a really like a type-based thing where I sort of, I did a re-design of the New York city subway system and where I designed a typeface but I studied, it was pre UX. It was like, I did all the legibility tests and all that, all that. So I was really, really into the geekery and the like the science behind legibility and understanding cognition and things like that. And after, having my hands and my getting into really, really nitty gritty type design, I kind of want to do something that was a little bit more fun, more free. I really loved hand lettering. Hand lettering was something I pretty much always did growing up.

Terry Biddle:
It wasn’t until I went to Pratt that I found an actual application for understanding how to make typography legible. So I was like, all right, let me just play around with some letters. And I just started drawing these letters, and inking them with an ink brush. And I was like, I really like looks I think my initial ones where I was making a new website for myself and I was just drawing a bunch of type and one of the treatments that I had done with Hamlet or type I really liked and I wanted to take it further. So I just drew it all by hand. I drew every single individual letter out by hand and then I started scanning it in and decided to make a typeface out of it. Now little did I know when I started doing that, how difficult it was going to be from start to finish because it took me several years to actually get it going.

Terry Biddle:
If I were to put it all together, I would say from start to finish, it probably took about 2 years total to do it. But I sort of stopped in between on the way and then came back to it later on. But it was fun. I mean it was a lot of fun. But then it gets really, really super, super technical after a while and because it’s a layered typeface. So folks who can’t see it, the typeface that we’re talking about is called Bizzle Chizzle. It’s actually like a series of 4 fonts, but you layer 3 of them on top of each other and they make a dimensional typeface. So it looks like it’s chiseled out of stone. And when you do that, you have to make sure that each layer lines up exactly perfectly. There was… After I had designed it and then could submit it to MyFonts for fonts creation and after you submit they give you pointers.

Terry Biddle:
I’m like, all right, your [inaudible 00:36:21] off and like, yeah, you need to work on this. And your tracking and all they, they give you all these details about how to get your font ready for commercial release. So did some more tweaking after that. And then low and behold they accepted. It was pretty cool. It was a pretty fun experience. So come back to it and then like I have some typefaces for sale on MyFonts, so that’s something I can say I did. Oh, that’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Would you ever make another typeface one day?

Terry Biddle:
Oh would make another typeface someday I’ve made other typefaces. I just haven’t released them yet. I keep like I have some type of basis that I just use for my own personal use. I made a handwriting typeface that I keep on my computer that I just use from time to time whenever I’m making a comic type treatment, things like that.

Terry Biddle:
I might someday expand this set and release it. But it’s a lot of work to do a typeface. There’s just so much work and it’s, it can be a really tedious process. It’s typical sometimes to find the time to do it, but yeah, I mean I think, I think one day when I’m like retired on my Island or, or at the beach or something, I might just like crack open, some font software and just like start making some typeface again, when I have some more free time, I can see myself too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. There’s a typographer we’ve had on the show. You may have heard of him. His name is Trey Seals. He’s out there in the D.M.V area. He’s made a number of different typefaces, mostly centered around, I think like protest signs and protest imagery from the 60’s and before, but he’s made a number of different typefaces. I remember when I had him on the show, he talked about how it’s, it’s really, it’s a very painstaking process that goes into it even.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a very painstaking process that goes into it, even for something that you would think, oh, there’s like 26 letters and you know, upper case, lower case, maybe throwing some numbers, some punctuation. There are these glyphs that we see all the time, but we’d never really think about construction of them because especially in a unified family sort of way, like a typeface.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, it is painstaking. It’s a lot of detail that goes into it. It’s not as easy. Like if you’re doing something hand handwritten, it’s not as easy as just like, “Oh you draw it and you scan it in.” Well, when you scan it in you’re going to bring in a lot of artifacts that you have to really clean up for the font software because you have to make it readable by the software that you’re going to use, so you have to simplify the line work a bit. So it’s quite a lot that goes into it. I mean some of that nitty gritty stuff though can be the fun part of it once you get into it. The next thing that I want to do is I want to take a crack at making a super family.

Terry Biddle:
I really love like a type of super families. So I would love to take a crack at doing that at some point. But that’s, of course, a lot of pains staking work, but one of these days I would love to have a bit of time to really sit down and do it. I love sans serif faces with true italics, man. I want to make a super family. I want to make a sans serif super family with a true italics. So that’s like one of those things that I’m going to do on my wishlist.

Maurice Cherry:
Alright, and now also as I was doing my research, I saw that you have also been a design educator at an HBCU. You taught at University of District of Columbia. Tell me a little bit about that experience.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, I mean, I really like teaching, and one of the things that I told myself before I went to grad school, it was one of the big reasons I wanted to go to grad school is that I wanted to be able to teach other students. I think it’s important to me in particular to sort of give back in a way, to pass knowledge on, to give people insight, and to help them grow in a way that may not have been available to you at the time. I want to be able to do that for other people. So that to me, was one of the main reasons that I really wanted to be a professor. I really love talking about something in class and sort of seeing their eyes light up when you can tell that you’ve completely blown their mind.

Terry Biddle:
There’s just nothing like that, when you see them have this aha moment where you’re like, “Oh man!” Where you can tell that they really got something that you said. And it may not even be something big or something grand, but it’s something you say and you see them take it in. That’s really rewarding. It’s really rewarding to see a student learn. I just love being able to pass that on and really helping folks know their path in the future. So that’s one of the main drives for me to teach. I really wanted to do that, to give back some of that knowledge and to make a path easier for others.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think your students teach you?

Terry Biddle:
Everything. I mean, it’s funny you say that because one of the things that I always say to my students is, “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always learn something from somebody else,” and say, “As much as I would like you to learn from me, I’m learning from you as well.”

Terry Biddle:
I don’t think it matters what age you are. You can always learn something new. That was something that I learned from my grandma. My grandma was a voracious reader. She would read always, always, always until the day she died. She was reading, absorbing books and was always up-to-date on what’s happening in the political environment. I would remember calling my grandma. We talk about politics all the time. She used to watch C-SPAN. I mean my grandma watched C-SPAN 24/7. I think what I love learning from people that are younger than me is just a new way of thinking. There’s always a new way of thinking, a new way of doing things, and I like to be open to learning something new. You know I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point in my life where there’s not something I can learn from someone else.

Terry Biddle:
I mean, I learn from my daughter every day. Actually, one of the things I learned from my daughter is just what it’s like to find out what’s new in the world or just be exposed to what’s new in the world. That was the coolest thing about now having a really young child is you actually get to witness someone learning something for the first time. Everything to them is new. So it really sort of makes you… I learned how not to take things for granted in a way by seeing people learn something new every day. It just really keeps you open and makes you really grateful and thankful for what you have.

Terry Biddle:
When you see how amazing things can be, like when you see the kids’ eyes light up when they see something for the first time, you’re just like, “You know what? That is really neat, right? That’s really cool.” It is amazing that this sunset is amazing. Those colors are amazing. Like, look at that rainbow. You know, just stuff like that that we’re just like, “Alright, keep it moving. Yeah. I’ve seen that sunset 20,000 times.” But, you know, if you spend a little extra time looking at that sunset it’s amazing. There’s just so much beauty I think that we take for granted, and that’s something that I think of that I learned from everyone is just how they experienced something… can always learn something from another person’s experience with something.

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

Terry Biddle:
What keeps me motivated and inspired these days to create? I don’t know if I have one particular source. One thing that I usually do is.. What I usually get inspired is something that’s completely opposite of the thing that I’m doing. I find that it’s best to have your head outside of the realm that you’re in to find something new. Like I don’t read a lot of design blogs. Back in my younger early career, I used to read all the design blogs. I used to read all about design. I don’t do that as much anymore. I like to read about tech and science and math, sometimes everything, art, music. That’s what I do. I read a lot. I love reading. I mean there’s so many things that you can learn. The reason I like looking at something that’s completely opposite of what the creative thing is that I’m doing is that it frees your mind from the thing that you’re actively trying or problem that you’re trying to solve.

Terry Biddle:
And you may find an answer to the problem that you’re solving in something else. Cause we are all part of… I mean the world is more interconnected than we often like to think. You know, the golden, I’m about to throw a design term out, but you know, like the golden ratio. I think about that all the time actually. How many times is that shape replicated throughout the world? You know, in the things that we make, in patterns outside. Everything is connected in some way. So I think a lot of times finding a solution to something or finding inspiration in something comes from outside of the thing and outside of the realm that you’re in. I think that also keeps your mind open and it keeps your mind open. It doesn’t block you in to thinking that the answer to what you’re looking for exists only within your particular realm or only your particular avenue. So for me, it can be anything that’s not design is really where I look for inspiration. Anything that is not specifically in the design world, I look for inspiration.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you appreciate most about your life right now?

Terry Biddle:
This one’s easy for me. Being a new dad is the thing I most appreciate about life right now. There’s nothing like being a dad. I’m a first time parent, so I’m probably gushing more. I’m sure folks who have more kids who might be listening to this are like, “Mmhmm, wait till you get to the third one.” But you know, right now I’m still in that little baby bliss period. So it’s really cool to me… It’s just nothing like it. It’s really changed my perspective, being a dad. A lot of the things that I would do, before I had a child or not, the things that I would do now to me my main priority is getting home and seeing my daughter, getting home and having dinner with my daughter and seeing her off the bed or like giving her a bath and things like that. That’s hands down pretty easy for me right now is spending time with my daughter.

Maurice Cherry:
So one of the themes that we kind of have for the year here, you know it’s 2020, the whole future is now sort of thing, is like how are you using the skills that you have now to basically do good in the future. So I’ll ask you this question, how are you helping to build a more equitable future?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I spent a good amount of my life post 2016 with The Knell doing that. That was really my big driver for quite a while. Right now what I’m doing is I am participating in some groups, company I work for at EVERFI actually, we’re about to start a mentorship program. So right now I think I am going to be helping the next generation of kids coming up to help them get a foothold in the design and really in the professional world. So mentorship is my next step, I think. I did a little bit of that as professor, but now I’m going to be able to do a bit of that now where I work and I think that’s what I’m going to be doing for 2020 for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What did you think you were going to be doing five years ago? Like in 2015, what were you thinking you’d be doing now in 2020?

Terry Biddle:
Man, oh man, that’s a really interesting question because 2015 was sort of a pivotal year where I was sort of making decisions. What did I think I would be doing right now? I think that I thought that I’d be doing pretty close to what I’m doing now, or I’d be doing something in the entertainment realm. I had another little detour where I did some stand-up comedy, and actually 2015 was interesting because I helped do Washington DC’s first Comedy Hack Day where I sort of got into or sort of like made a connection to tech. But I’d also had some connection to the comedy world because I started doing stand-up comedy during that time, so it was sort of like an intersection between my entertainment background and tech. So I would say that I would probably be doing something pretty similar or The Knell in some way right about now. So I think I’m surprisingly pretty much where I thought I’d be in 2020.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now to look forward, where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Terry Biddle:
Well, I’m about to get woo-woo on you. As one of the big changes I had in my life was that I really started to embrace more living in the moment and living in time, so I try not to think too much about what’s going to happen in the future. But, since you asked the question, there’s two paths I could see for myself. I love entertainment. I love script writing. One of the reasons I got into comedy back in the day, it wasn’t back in the day, actually it wasn’t that long ago, but one of the reasons I got into stand-up was because I love writing and I would love to be as part of a comedy writer’s room or a TV writer’s room. So I could see myself back in entertainment doing that.

Terry Biddle:
Or I would love to either have my own company and/or work in the VC realm. I think what’s most needed in tech right now is a really diverse representation in the VC industry. I’m saying in order for the tech industry to change more broadly, we need to have more representation in the VC realm, and I would love to see a more even representation amongst women, minorities, LGBTQIA tech folks to really start driving broader change in the tech industry. So I would love to be part of that movement if that movement were to come in the VC realm.

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

Terry Biddle:
Well, you can find me on TerryBiddle.com and you can also find me on Twitter at TBiddy.com. Not TBiddy.com. TBiddy is my handle on Twitter. You can find me there. I do own TBiddy.com, which I used to use as a URL shortener for Twitter, but you can find me on TerryBiddle.com and on Twitter handle TBiddy.

Maurice Cherry:
Alright, sounds good. Well, Terry Biddle, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s funny when we talked about this before, you were saying like, “Oh there’s not really something in particular I sort of wanted to discuss,” but I think as we’ve heard your story and definitely as we’ve seen you kind of grow throughout the years just based on what you’ve told us, it’s clear that forging your own path to be a creative is not an easy task. And I think that’s something that a lot of people may forget because creativity from the outside looking in can often look like a very easy thing. Like, “Oh you just sit around and just come up with ideas all day or you draw all day.” The things that are attributed to creativity when you’re a child tend to be discarded as frivolity when you’re an adult, which I think is really odd.

Maurice Cherry:
But certainly I think what I can draw, and hopefully what others draw from your story, is that carving out a career like this is something that takes time. It’s not necessarily an easy thing, but I think as long as you have this sort of underlying goal of what it is that you want to put out there in the world that you can really sort of make a name for yourself. And I think certainly you’re on your way. I mean, even with the typeface, I am blown away by the typeface because I want to make a typeface. I don’t know how to make typefaces. I too am a type nerd. So you got props from me just for the typeface.

Maurice Cherry:
But overall I think with your startup work with The Knell, your education work, and even the work you’re doing now through EVERFI, you’re on your way man. I mean we profiled you for 28 days of the web, so clearly you’re out here making an impact. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I really do appreciate it.

Terry Biddle:
Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.


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