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.


RECOGNIZE is open for essay submissions for Volume 2! The deadline is April 30 – enter today!

MODA and Revision Path present Creative Atlanta 2020, an interview series highlighting Black creatives in Atlanta ranging from an award-winning cellist to a Harvard GSD Loeb Fellow.

Tickets are free with regular admission to MODA and include access to our exhibition. Space is limited, so grab your ticket today!

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What does the “middle” of a designer’s career look like? Does the “middle” exist outside of a corporate company’s career ladder? I examine these questions and more with this week’s guest, the one and only Chanel James. As a designer for EAB, Chanel works on production and design and for a number of different projects, all with the goal of making education smarter and our communities stronger.

Chanel talked about what attracted her to work for EAB, and also spoke on her work with AIGA DC on their board of directors. We also discussed the South and design, how she acquired a love for illustration from a popular kid’s television show, and yes, we went into the mid-career designer topic I mentioned earlier. Chanel lives by the motto “make it pretty”, and no matter her role or profession, she definitely brings the skills and experience to the table that make her motto a fact!

Full Transcript

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

Chanel James: Hi. My name is Chanel James. I’m an In House Designer at a company called EAB, which is like a best practices research, education firm. We essentially help schools, provide schools with research, and best practices to better the experience for students in higher ed, and otherwise.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. How long have you been at EAB?

Chanel James: I’m also at my two year mark, I’ll be at two years in February. It’s been a really awesome two years, I’ve learned and grown a lot while I’ve been here, I’ve touched a lot of different projects. It’s in house, but it can sometimes feel like an agency, which is exciting in that way. We get the same projects, but they change almost each year, so that’s exciting for me.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. What attracted you to working for them?

Chanel James: To say that I kind of got to back up a little bit, after graduating I went to go work for a consulting firm, which was not my vibe, not anything I enjoyed doing. Prior to that I was working in house for a nonprofit, still in the education realm and I loved that, it felt like a family, almost felt like school in the sense where I was learning as I was doing projects. But, the other place was not anywhere in the realm of what I wanted to continue doing.

Chanel James: I came across EAB, I met someone at an AIGA event in 2017 who worked here, and I looked up their work and I was like, “Oh, this is something I think I can get with.” I love the culture, like how the culture looks and stuff. I applied, and thankfully I got it, and the rest was history from there. Yeah, I was really attracted to, I’m a big one on workplace culture and balance, work/life balance because work takes up 85% of our lives essentially. And if you don’t enjoy it while you’re there, like if you don’t enjoy it, that’s like most of your life you’re not enjoying.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: I try to focus on that.

Maurice Cherry: What is the culture like there?

Chanel James: Very supportive. People here understand that you have like, people know that you have families, and you have life outside of the walls of EAB. PTO is taken seriously, that’s really hard when it comes to being in anything with design, often times people like, “Oh, overnight. Oh, we need this tomorrow.” But here if you’re like, five o’clock comes they’re like, “Oh, we understand. I’ll get it from you sometime midday tomorrow,” type thing. It’s nice to have like, I mean there are times like right now it’s like busy season, so things are kind of like we’ve got to get it done, but there’s still boundaries. I love how there are boundaries with work/life, and home life. I think that’s my biggest thing, it’s like why I love this company so much.

Maurice Cherry: So far what’s kind of been the most challenging thing that you’ve encountered while working there? It can be whether it’s just the general work culture, or in the job specifically working with a client, anything like that.

Chanel James: When I first started here it was, it’s not the most diverse place just in terms of actual diversity. There are not many people of color. They’re working towards that, but I think that was my biggest struggle when I first started coming from my back … you know, I went to George Mason University, I graduated from there, which is all about diversity. You know, celebrating people’s differences, and so there were always different types of people. But when I started on my team, my manager is a black woman, but then that’s it. Everyone else is white, which is okay, but I found myself not feeling like I fit in quite well, or wanting to do things the way other people do things.

Chanel James: I’m a very, I consider myself a very colorful black woman. I like wearing scarves, I have natural hair, my hair is like a big piece of my identity. Coming into a space where I don’t see anybody else who looks like me, dresses like me, talks like me, it’s tough because you don’t feel validated. And so, you kind of have to break out of that. It’s a mind game almost, you’ve got to remember that you can celebrate who you are even though there aren’t other people who look like you in the room. But that still takes practice, and it’s tough. Often times people leave places because they’re like, “I don’t see anybody here who looks like me, I’m going to dip out.” But I’m really proud of myself that I saw it through while I’ve been here because it’s gotten a lot better for me, but it’s still tough. I think we all, all designer’s kind of feel the same thing.

Chanel James: You’re usually like the only designer in a space, but when you’re the only designer, and the only black person or person of color in general it’s tough, it’s hard.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I’ve been in situations like that certainly where you end up being the, I don’t want to say the token, that’s not really the best way to put it. But, you end up being the only one kind of by default, and so it takes really a strong sense of self to know that you’re supposed to be here, you’re here for a reason, because imposter syndrome can really set in fairly quickly.

Chanel James: And it set in really hard for me, and I think it was something I had to get over in college too because I came from, so I grew up in Richmond Virginia. Which, whoever is from Virginia in general knows that Richmond is a, it’s like a predominantly black city. I grew up in like an all black elementary school, all black middle school, all black high school. Because that’s the way counties are set up, and we know that gentrification, redlining, all of the histories behind that, why certain neighborhoods are more black than others.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: But, I got into my college which is in Northern Virginia, and that’s an entirely different space to be in. There are streetlights that are constantly on. I know that it’s a small detail, but it was something that … it was small, but it impacted me because I was like, “Wow, these people got streetlights, they got sidewalks, they’re encouraged to be outside, the houses look all nice and clean.” This is where I always pictured my … I’m not saying I grew up in the hood, but when you grow up in areas that are predominantly black, things are different.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: That’s just how it is, it’s just different.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: College for me was a little bit of a culture shock because it was beautiful, the campus was beautiful. Again, predominantly white, so I had to find my community while I was there. I was like, “Where do I belong?” Then I started meeting not just black, but African people so I was like, “Wow, then what am I?” Then my identity started like, I started having this identity crisis. I’m like, “Well, people are starting to say they’re from this country. Oh, I’m from Ghana, I’m from Nigeria, I’m from Germany,” people at Mason were very big about repping their countries. Then people would ask where I was from and I’m like, “America? Virginia?” I feel like I really had to find myself getting into college. That’s why I say my hair is my biggest part of my identity, because during that time, freshman year, I shaved my head. I cut all my hair off.

Maurice Cherry: Oh wow.

Chanel James: Went natural, and I decided, I was like, “This is going to be my thesis while I’m here. Let’s talk about the identity of black Americans,” and things like that. Now, did that end up being my actual thesis in senior year? No, but it was a big part of who I was. People knew me for my different hairstyles, my art was kind of centered around my hair, I always brought up some type … because again, I was the only black person in my classes, it was like one or two of us. That college was like the first time that I was the only person who looked like me in classrooms and things like that, and that took a lot of personality shifting on my part.

Chanel James: And I thought for some reason that when I graduated, things would change. I would go back into spaces where I’m like, “Oh, there’s the black boss, black CEO, or Spanish CEO,” you know? Different type of people, but I was wrong. I mean, so far everywhere I went, it’s been like … or everyplace I’ve worked at so far has been not too many people of color in general. I don’t really know why yet, I’m still trying to figure that out.

Maurice Cherry: When you look back at your past experiences, is that the main thing that stands out to you is the diversity of the teams that you’ve been on?

Chanel James: Yeah, I think so. Now, sometimes it can reflect the experience I have with working. When I first started at EAB I was not confident at all. I knew I was talented, people told me I’m talented, but I felt like I was doing everything wrong. We have a lot of processes here, and we’re very organized, we’re a very process driven team. When someone came to me and told me, “Oh, this is wrong.” Or, “This isn’t how we do things.” I would get discouraged because I’m like, “Ugh, I did it wrong again.” I would focus only on what I did wrong. On top of the fact that I was the only black person, so I was like-

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … “I’m being looked at differently because if I get it wrong, then that reflects not only on me, but everyone.” You know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and that’s such an unfair-

Chanel James: Burden’s a good word.

Maurice Cherry: … Yeah, it’s an unfair burden to even have on your mind. It’s like, “Oh, I’m not just messing up for me, I’m messing up for all black people.”

Chanel James: Right? [crosstalk 00:10:29].

Maurice Cherry: That’s, ugh, I hate that.

Chanel James: Yeah, and I started finding myself wanting to find spaces where there were other people who looked like me, or who thought like me.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: I was still pretty hesitant to be my full self around other than my boss whose black, I think it was just me and her going into like having our biweekly check ins. I kind of, like I was able to unfold a little bit. I’m like, “Girl, let me tell you about this week.” Or, [inaudible 00:11:01]. “Oh, did you see Black Panther? How did you like that?” Type thing.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: But when I’m in this, I had to … it was a huge challenge for me to call out things. I’m like, “Guys, we shouldn’t be doing …” It’s still a challenge, because you don’t want to be that person.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Like again, I’m black, but do I have to call out the things that might offend people of color?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: Or, do I seem like I’m whining a little bit? It goes back to the point of validation. Sometimes you don’t feel validated when you’re in spaces when you’re the only one who looks like you.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and I mean I think companies should realize that, that’s sort of like, or that should be seen as an advantage, or a cultural advantage in some way. You’re being able to see something that perhaps not everyone else is seeing because of the homogeneity of the team, you know?

Chanel James: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). One of the things that ended up happening for me to really feel like myself here was the fact that I found, we have employee resource groups, which I think most companies have. But, it’s groups that are for veterans, for parents, for just different groups of people to celebrate themselves, and things like that. We have the group called Mosaic, and I found, it was like two other black women on my team, some director level women, some entry level women, and men. And I was able to kind of find more of myself in them whenever I felt like I was running into an issue at work, or I wasn’t confident. I’d run up to one of their desks, I’m like, “Ugh, I can’t believe this,” type thing.

Chanel James: They would kind of help me feel a little bit better about whatever situation I was going through.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Now, I notice that all of the black people come to my desk during the day. They’ll come by, “Hey Chanel, hey girl.” It’s kind of become like we have a network, a system. I hate to say it, I think everyone has some type of Slack group, or group chat.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah.

Chanel James: Like a black … I mean you don’t name it that, but you kind of treat it like a black Slack, just going, “Hey-”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … “Did y’all see this in the news, pop culture?” Things that you can talk about freely without feeling judged in a sense. Finding that community here was really important for me, but that took a while. Prior to that I started going to Meetups. AIGA’s been a really big part of my identity too, so I in 2018 applied to sit on the board of the DC, AIGA DC chapter, and I ended up getting it. I started off as a Program Coordinator, and now I’m Woman Lead. And that-

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Chanel James: … Yeah, thank you. That’s been a really big part of my identity as well, because I am able to create spaces, find other young designers, even like non designers who are just looking for a community, and help build that sense of community for them. Just to help them push through the end of the work week. We create programs that I think build people up, and I think that’s why-

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Chanel James: … I’m such a big fan.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s switch gears here a little bit because I’m curious to know, you mentioned growing up sort of in the DMV area earlier, was design, and art, and tech, were those a big part of your upbringing? Were you exposed to them early?

Chanel James: Yes, yes, and no, I’m just going to say yes.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Chanel James: Not design specifically because I think we get that … a lot of people growing up would be like, “Oh, design, computer.” I’m like, “I’m not a computer whiz.” But, let’s see. I had a speech impediment growing up, like when I was really young. I took speech classes in elementary school, it was so bad that my parents sometimes didn’t even understand what I was saying, it was like only my big … I have two older sisters.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: One of my sisters who I roomed with would have to translate for me. I watched Blue’s Clue’s a lot, and that taught me how to take basic shapes and build these complex forms, right? I would illustrate sometimes to communicate, and then I started becoming more inspired by, you know how you go into black homes, you go on family reunions and things like that, and you realize everyone has the same piece of art?

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: I think I was also pretty taken back about that, so my mom introduced me … not introduced me, but showed me some pieces by Jacob Lawrence who was, anything in the Harlem Renaissance I was a huge nerd for. I hate to bring him up, but Bill Cosby, Little Bill, that cartoon.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: Those pieces of works really inspired me growing up. Then, I got into middle school, I was introduced to animating. But not using any Adobe programs, I think we just used like iMovie and the Paint app. I can’t tell you what exactly we used, but it was frame by frame. My art teacher Mr. [Epps 00:16:24], really saw something in me, and so he encouraged me to keep doing these digital illustrations. Which again, I didn’t connect that to design because no one was using that terminology around me back then. I was really inspired by doing that, art has always been a really big part of my life, to the point where I applied to the Center for the Arts High School in my area but I didn’t get in. Which crushed me, but I had a pep talk by my mom. She’s like, “No, you can do it, la, la, la. Just keep going to the regular high school, make things happen for yourself.”

Chanel James: I think my parents both encouraged me in art, but my mom told me I had to pair it with something. She’s like, “If you’re going to be an artist, you have to make it profitable, so go work for a company …” again, she’s describing graphic design, but she’s not using the terms graphic design. She’s just kind of like, “You can work for a company and make maybe advertising, and things like that.” I’m like, “Okay yeah, I can do that.”

Chanel James: I ended up senior year applying to VCU Arts, which again, I didn’t get into. My world was crushed again, my validation was crushed again and I was like, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” Found George Mason, applied there, and got in. That’s when, I think it was in one of my entry level design classes, someone … they started teaching us about design, and Bauhaus, and all the histories. That is when I started, like I was introduced to the programs, and I just kept practicing.

Chanel James: I think the biggest turning point for me was meeting my professor Reese Quinones, who walked in the room, and it was the first time I saw a black professor walk into a room up to that point. I think this was my sophomore year, and I was shook. I was just kind of like, “Oh my gosh, I have a black professor.” And she was so talented. She spoke with … Now, she’s Puerto Rican but just looking at her you’re like, “Oh, she’s black.” You know? It’s black, it’s Puerto Rican, we’re all the same thing.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chanel James: But, she spoke with such passion about what she did. She would build things, and it was almost like watching a movie. She’s like, “Here, we can just take this shape here, add some transparency here, align here, and boom.” I’m like, “How did you do that? I want to be just like you.” She inspired me so much that I would sit and practice on weekends, just copying things that were in the media and things like that, going to museums, and just trying to understand …

Chanel James: Going to museums and just trying to understand why I liked what I liked, and stuff like that. So I think, yeah, that was my biggest introduction to design. But growing up I’ve always been a little Chanel artist. That never changed to me.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. When did you sort of get the sense that this was something that you could do for a career? Because it sounds like George Mason was a time that really was formative in shaping the fact that you kind of could do this-

Chanel James: Full time.

Maurice Cherry: Just as a scale. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chanel James: Yeah. Let’s see. I was able to sign up as like different school groups that we… I was in fashion society and I’m not a fashionista but they wanted me to make some of their flyers and social media ads and things like that-

Maurice Cherry: You were just saying you, you have the colorful scarves and everything [crosstalk 00:19:55] not a fashionista.

Chanel James: [crosstalk 00:19:56] to be colorful and do your own thing. But I don’t think I’m an influencer, [crosstalk 00:20:05] more stylish than I am but I would do things for them. And eventually some people from there would be like, “oh actually,” some girls would be like, “hey, I need a logo for this. Do you think you can do it?” I’m like, “yeah I can.” In my head I’m like, no I can’t. I don’t know how to do anything. And I would just kind of go for it. Open up Illustrator, which was at that time was like my best friend and put some texts and things together. Now, looking back on it, some of those things I did was, I mean I was just starting out so it wasn’t the best stuff, but that’s when I started doing things for profit and then if one person heard from another person that, oh yeah Chanel’s the graphic designer. In Black Mason, people would know me as the graphic designer.

Chanel James: So because our community was so small, you had maybe three designers who you’d be like, or three artists in a sense who would kind of do things for the black programming and things like that. And I also ended up getting a job on campus working with our housing department as a graphic designer, which was I think a pretty, that helped me figure out how to work on a team. It was kind of set up in house where we would be doing things for just housing and things like that. We’d create illustrative posters for our campus residence fairs and things for, what’s it called, freshmen move in was a really big campaign that we would have to create marketing materials, signage, flyers and all of these sorts of collateral pieces was when I started building that skillset of time management, sending things to print and things like that.

Chanel James: So that molded me a lot. By the time I finished that role there, I think I was able to intern with my mentor who was Risa [Kanyonez 00:22:15], the professor who I was drooling over [inaudible 00:22:21] I interned at her company and then ended up contracting for a little while and I’m going down the line of my timeline, but that’s essentially how I started, realized how to make a profit. People just kept referring me by word of mouth.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Now you graduated in 2017. You’ve been working here in the industry for a few years and we spoke about this a little bit before we started recording about the notion of kind of being a mid level slash mid career designer, I suppose. Where do you see yourself, like right now we’re recording this 2019, where do you see yourself in the design industry at this level?

Chanel James: I see myself, I don’t know, I’m in the middle of it. I don’t see myself as a expert by any means. Right. And I said this before, but I also don’t see myself as… I see myself as a [inaudible 00:23:18] I don’t, it’s so hard because I’m still trying to figure that out essentially. And I think a lot of us mid level designers are just still trying to figure that out. I am a part of a lot of things, mainly because of my job, AIGA, I do freelance and I use all of these different avenues and tools and people and volunteering and things like that so that I can say, yeah, like I’ve worked on, I know how to put a team together. I know how to run a program, I know how to ask for donations and things like that. But I haven’t been doing it as long as other people, so I get nervous to say, yes refer me for this or see me as an expert. You don’t have to use the word expert, if you’re not using the word expert, what else do you use?

Maurice Cherry: Right. It’s something where it feels like the, it’s the mid part that is kind of I think a little bit trippy because certainly when you see entry level positions, I see entry level positions that require as much as five years experience. That is not entry level if you’ve got five years of experience under your belt. But in the same vein, what is the middle of a designer’s career at this stage in the game because the tech is changing. The roles are changing. I mean 10 years ago there weren’t product designers. Everyone was a web designer or a graphic designer, so the roles are changing, the structures are changing within companies. What if you are a really strong individual contributor but you don’t want to go into managing a team or managing people? Where do you go from there? It’s a lot of sort of nebulous nebulousness in the middle of the design kind of career because I think even the ones that are the experts, I feel like they, I don’t know, it’s tough to say.

Chanel James: It’s a-

Maurice Cherry: I certainly. No sorry go ahead.

Chanel James: I was going to say you’re really just looking at the time of how long I’ve been doing this or if I’ve been doing this too long, have I refreshed up my skills? How long has it been since I’ve learned the latest, newest thing about this topic. And I also think with being mid level, you’re trying to move away from the negative notion that comes with being new or being labeled as new, labeled as entry because a lot of people who I’ve… Even this summer I was able to mentor two amazing individuals for our marketing department, but they both expressed to me how weird they felt, how much negativity came with the word intern, came with the word new, came with the word college grad or college student. Because people kind of brush you off into thinking that you’re not, oh, she’s not skilled or she doesn’t have, but because I mean they both were Black women. I think that sometimes young White people can get away with being new, but also being something that people gravitate towards as experts or go to’s in that sense. I mean look at-

Maurice Cherry: They’re a fresh new voice-

Chanel James: A fresh new voice. Look at, what’s his name? Facebook dude. What’s his name, the CEO.

Maurice Cherry: Mark Zuckerberg.

Chanel James: Mark, yeah. He was this college level, new, wet behind the ears guy and then like, hey, I want this app. Him and his other dudes are like… I’m sorry I’m using such basic terminology, but [inaudible 00:27:08] But when new people come up with an idea, sometimes it’s like, oh, they’re so ski… Yeah, let’s give them a chance. But I feel like as a person of color, if you’re coming in as new, young and of color, it can be really hard for people to take you seriously. It can be so hard for people to take, you unless you have a bunch of awards behind your name. You, oh, I interned at Google, I interned at Facebook. I got into the center for the arts at my high school. I went to VCUarts and because I didn’t have those names, I didn’t start having many titles behind my name until a year or two ago, it made me feel like I didn’t have much of a space in the industry to give advice or to really just kind of be seen as a person in the industry. I was still like a student of the industry, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry: That makes sense. I’ll tell you a secret, even, and this is just not only from people who I’ve had on the show, but also speaking from personal experience, even when you get to that level of having the awards and the accolades and all that stuff, guess what? People still don’t take you seriously. It doesn’t really get, I don’t want to say it doesn’t get that much better. You sort of have a little bit of an advantage depending on the communities that you’re speaking to. But I run into some of the same issues of credibility at this stage in my career as I did 10 years.

Chanel James: Why do you think that is? What issues of credibility come up? Like who would-

Maurice Cherry: I mean, how real can we get? I mean…

Chanel James: For me, I started listening to this podcast when I started this job, actually before I started this. Every day when I was at the job that wasn’t for me, to be very frank, I was very unhappy. I would listen to this podcast Revision Path every day, I would go back and I would listen to all… Though, this is maybe like summer of 2017 because I felt so inspired by all of the individuals who looked like me who came from places like me, who, they almost seemed like, I was like, okay, they have these accolades and they have these medals, these badges, they are taken seriously in these spaces. Even when people spoke about their struggles of getting to where they were, they still got to where they were.

Chanel James: So that pushed me and knowing that you’re the voice behind it, and knowing all… Of course we can list a bunch of things about Maurice Cherry and all the things that he’s done for the community in the task, I know you were on the task force many years ago, things like that [crosstalk 00:30:00] I met Jacinda. Jacinda was a really big part of pushing me back in like 2017 or 2016 so that community, right? I’m like, oh you guys made it, you are it. But to hear you say like, “ah no, we’re still trying.” It’s interesting.

Maurice Cherry: I might be telling some secrets here, but I feel like some of us, and I’m not speaking for everyone, some of us try to do a good job of obscuring that. I think from those that are coming up because we don’t want you to have that baggage. We don’t want you to come into it knowing like, oh, you can even still get this far and still run into issues because the hope is that the work that we’re doing clears the path, makes it easier for the next generation. I wouldn’t even say next generation. I mean it’s not like we’re that far apart, but I mean it makes the road easier by walking it. So that’s the hope, is to just not talk about all the negative stuff that happens and just try to focus on the more positive things to be that inspiration because it can be, there are still a lot of isms out there and I’m not just talking about the isms that have cropped up, I’d say even more vibrantly because of our current political system. But I mean racism is still very much a thing. Sexism is still very much a thing. Other isms-

Chanel James: Ageism yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Homophobia, et cetera. Ageism, yes. Even location. I mean, I’m in Atlanta and I get so many sort of small microaggressions about being from the South. Or being in the South and doing tech and design-

Chanel James: I understand.

Maurice Cherry: Like if I’m not in New York or if I’m not in an LA, these capitals?

Chanel James: Where are you? What are you doing?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, yeah. It’s like, oh, Atlanta. Okay.

Chanel James: But at least in Atlanta, I mean, sorry to change the subject a little bit, but Tyler Perry, the studio, I feel like, I don’t know, Atlanta is on the come up with a lot of things.

Maurice Cherry: It is on the come up of a lot of things. I think particularly as it relates to entertainment. I would even say as it relates to tech, but it certainly doesn’t get the same level of, I think-

Chanel James: Respect.

Maurice Cherry: Oh absolutely not. It doesn’t get the same level of respect at all as like what’s happening in California or what’s happening in New York, Georgia still, because you know what ends up happening, I mean Atlanta is still very much a blue dot in a red state if we’re talking politically. So there are political issues which crop up that will overshadow a lot of other good things that are happening here. Like for example, the abortion heartbeat bill from earlier this year, that came up and then people from Hollywood wanted to boycott Georgia, boycott Atlanta really. And Atlanta is, because we’re that like blue dot in the red state, we get the brunt of that. It’s very much a different world once you leave Atlanta in terms of being in Georgia. So to that effect there are a lot of things that happen here that oftentimes will just get overlooked because it doesn’t come in the, I guess in the right package. I don’t know. It’s an odd thing-

Chanel James: I mean and that sucks too because I’m still pretty young. I mean, it doesn’t even matter about age, but essentially I have time to go anywhere. I have time to explore everything. But when I think about, I’m like, okay, so where can I go? What’s next after this? DC is hot and happening. There’s always jobs, there’s always things going on. But do I want to live in DC forever? Probably not. Absolutely not. And I’m like, do I want to move back home to Richmond? Probably not. There’s no jobs. I don’t consider jobs there.

Chanel James: And so then I’m like, oh, I don’t want to move to New York. I don’t want to be that girl. I don’t want to be that person right now. Who knows what’s going to happen in like two or three years. But when I think about Midwest and things like that, South, what’s happening in the South, you’re right. I mean other than Atlanta, because I think about different companies and things like that’s there. I don’t see myself in many other places and then it just puts me back on like, well, let me see what’s happening here in DC, which is unfortunate because I feel like there’s so many amazing things that each city can bring in terms of design life and culture.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. You have to really kind of work hard to make and carve out whatever that space looks like. I remember when I was 29, 30, I was really trying to move out of Atlanta hardcore. I was like, this is not working. My career has hit a plateau. Well, at that point, let’s say I was 29, 30, I had started my studio. I had just finished up this political campaign that I was working on and so things were kind of on an uptick, but I still felt like I was hitting a wall and I was like, I am not going to get better in my career until I leave and go to New York.

Maurice Cherry: So I had a friend of mine in New York who was sending me all these apartment listings and everything and I mean, long story short, I didn’t move to New York, but I ended up finding a way to make it work here, which is not to say that I gave up, but certainly I just couldn’t, I personally couldn’t see myself in New York. I mean I’m a Southern boy through and through. I know that about me and I mean I’ve visited New York a ton of times. New York is just, I wouldn’t vibe with the city. Like that’s just not how my whole, my energy would not vibe with New York. So I was like, I can’t do New York. I can visit, but I can’t live there.

Chanel James: Same. And I’m from New Jersey originally. All my family’s in New Jersey. And before that, Alabama. So, I mean, I never lived in Alabama, but my family has. And so I also am the same way about like the North. I’m like, no, thank you. But I think that that’s also another thing with being a mid level designer. You mentioned how you saw yourself somewhere and you tried to go for… So when you’re in the middle of it, I’m going to call it in the middle of it, you’re essentially looking at multiple roads in front of you and you’re like, my actions right now can affect where I am by the time I’m 30 or by the time I’m 35 and things like that. I just turned 24 so I’m always cautious and thinking of what’s going to happen if I do jump job, do find another… Should I try to work abroad for a few years like some of the other people you’ve interviewed?

Chanel James: I listened to some people who are moving to China and going to Germany, I’m like, maybe I should try, is that something I should try to do before I’m X amount of years old? Or maybe I should, I don’t have a family. I have no ties to anything. So I’m like, I should do this, or maybe I should do this. I’m looking at all of these different paths that I can take and it can sometimes be really overwhelming. And I think that’s the other part about being in the middle of your career because you’re not quite sure what can happen and what can change. And that’s with life in general, obviously, but it’s a bigger thing when you’re looking at like all of your idols and the people you look up to. You’re like, okay, I see that they made this decision, but what’s going to be right for me type thing so.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And I think, I mean that involves a lot of introspection. It involves really sitting down with yourself and saying, or answering the question, what does success look like for me? What is the space? And this is.

Maurice Cherry: What is the space, and this is something that we actually explored at Black in Design this past weekend, but there was one of the things about how do we carve out a space for wellness and for joy. Because I mean certainly in America, I mean we black folks in America, we know what the deal is in terms of how we’re perceived by society, treated by society and law enforcement, incarceration, a number of different things that are set up to go against us as just basic human beings. Does that change if we move overseas? Maybe. I think certainly from the folks I’ve talked to on the show, it’s a trade off.

Chanel James: Right.

Maurice Cherry: You certainly gain some things, but you lose other things. I remember I was talking to Douglas Turner, I think he was episode 107 or something like that. He lived in Iceland for a number of years and he was talking about how the Icelandic society is very tribal in that, everyone kind of knows each other and he’s the only black man in Iceland.[laughter]

Maurice Cherry: And saying how for him it didn’t feel like racism really existed there.

Chanel James: Right.

Maurice Cherry: Which I thought was interesting considering he’d be one of the few people of color there. And then coming back to the States and seeing how it was different. Another interview with Qa’id Jacobs, who’s a UX designer in Amsterdam. Originally from, I think he’s from Jersey, New York. He’s originally from the Northeast U.S. But him and his family are in Amsterdam and we actually had a two part episode. The first part was, Hey, you know, you’re out there in Amsterdam, what’s it like working out there, et cetera. And then we recorded the second episode right after Trump was elected and it was a pretty heavy episode. I think it’s episode 179, but I remember cause it came right at the end of 2016. We had this conversation like, well do you think you would come back?

Maurice Cherry: Now given the state of how things are, what would that look like? And I know, now I’ve been talking to several people who are really seriously considering moving abroad; moving to another country; going to Ghana or going to.

Maurice Cherry: Isaac Hayes, who I interviewed a couple of months ago, is in China right now with his family. A friend of mine right now is currently going through Thailand.

Chanel James: Wow.

Maurice Cherry: Just coworking. He says it’s like a black coworking space in Thailand in Chiang Mai.

Chanel James: What? Where? How?

Maurice Cherry: I have a passport. [laughter] We can go. We need to make this happen. If we need to start doing Black Design ex-pac trips, we can make that happen. I think about that a lot as just the industry is changing, the wages that the world is changing and what does that mean for like our safety and our sanctity. Not just as practitioners of this craft in this industry, but just as people in this world. It’s heavy stuff. It’s a lot of heavy stuff cause especially when I think about what is it that is stopping black designers from becoming leaders of design? Clearly we’re out there and we’ve had a couple of them on the show, but it’s very few and far in between. Even even.

Chanel James: Oh no, I’m sorry, go ahead. No, go, keep going.

Maurice Cherry: I was going to say even some of the projects that I’ve done, most recently, the literary anthology I did, Recognize, is about trying to set up what does the next generation look like because yeah, we have the big names now. And I’m not singling them out, but we have Debbie Millman, we have Stefan Seigmaster, Polisher. We have these big names, but they’re not going to live forever.

Chanel James: No that’s.

Maurice Cherry: What does the next generation of design criticism, design thought, design leadership look like for this industry? Cause a lot of people from around the world do take their cues from what’s happening in design in America. So if we’re putting forth this monolithic, monocultural view of what design is based on the people that are practicing it, then where does that leave us?

Chanel James: Right. And I think on that note, with who the next leaders are for me, my focus used to be so much on who’s already there. Right. I’m looking at, for me, some of my idols, Diane Holton, who I used to fangirl over all the time and now I work alongside her. We’re both on the same programming team for AIGA. When I was looking at these large names in my eyes, I’m like, well they’re already there. That’s when I switched my thought process a little bit to who’s alongside me. Who’s with me right now? Who’s doing amazing work? Who’s doing amazing things, who’s probably going to be the next big thing in terms of our industry. I don’t know if like you listen to this quote that Issa Ray, who I also stan. She said instead of networking up, network across.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Chanel James: We just had our DC design week a few weeks ago and I was able to create a program; an event around my friend Bria Taylor. She does these amazing, she started out as a designer.

Chanel James: She’s still a designer, but she designs these kick ass looking cakes. It’s called Killer Cakes and she is so talented to the point where I’m like you need to have your own show on TLC or something or wherever they’re doing the baking things nowadays. [laughter] I was using my leadership role at AIG. On our chapter board, I was able to create a program that sold out, oversold out actually around her speaking about her process, her story, what she does, and then selling had her make a little bit extra money by doing a pop up shop with brownies and cakes and things like that. And I was like, that’s what I feel like we mid level designers should be trying to do. Instead of step on each other.

Chanel James: Use each other to build each other up. Refer each other for projects that we can’t take instead of just letting the project fall through. Telling each other about, Hey Bria is having an event happening on Saturday, or Simone’s having an event tomorrow. Building a network within ourselves and then that eventually the eyes are going to start turning on us and it’s like, Oh these, this is what this person is doing in the industry. And then that’s when the shift happens. Some people still can have a competitive mindset of, Oh, I’m not going to tell you about this opportunity. Oh, I’m not going to tell you about this stuff. And then it can be even harder than what it already is. I had a friend recently tell me about the Add Color Conference.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. They’re like a conference and an award show.

Chanel James: Right. But there’s also an opportunity some type of fellowship opportunity. I don’t know, I’m going to say fellowship, but it’s a really cool opportunity for young people who are creatives to, or in the marketing. Some people worked at Facebook and things like that, who get mentored for a week gets to take these classes, gets to take back these it’s like workshopping and things like that. And then they get sponsored to go to the award show and meet some of the leaders in that industry and things like that. My friend could’ve kept it a secret and be like, Oh, I’m going to apply when that time comes. But she instead shared that information with me and was like, yeah, you should also do. I see you also in this space able to do that. And I think that type of mindset is important for where we are in our careers right now because it’s the only way that we’ll be seen.

Maurice Cherry: No, I agree. I think so there’s two examples when you talk about that networking across. One is this sort of, and sorry, I don’t know if anyone has written about this. This may be a free idea if there are any journalists that are listening, but over the past five years there’s been this emergence of are you familiar with the Brack Pack? Does that name sound familiar?

Chanel James: No, not at all.

Maurice Cherry: So the Brack Pack was a group of actors in the eighties and nineties that all ended up starring in the same similar types of movies as Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Patrick Dempsey, Rob Lowe, some folks like this. They all were friends, but then they also were in all these movies together and stuff like that. The name sort of comes from the Rat Pack, which were a group of musicians in the 50s and 60s. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior, Dean Martin, couple of other folks.

Maurice Cherry: But now I feel like there was this emergence of a black path in a way. Where it’s like Issa Ray, who you mentioned earlier. Melina Mitsui SKUs, Quinta Brunson. I’m thinking of people that have started on the web and have moved up into larger areas of media and they all work.

Chanel James: Together.

Maurice Cherry: With and across each other together in a really interesting way because you see them in each other’s projects and you’re like, okay, they’re working together. That sort of thing. I also see that honestly in the podcasting world too. Are you familiar with The Read?

Chanel James: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So The Read, there’s a number of shows that are in the same orbit of The Read, but they’re all friends. There’s The Friend Zone with Hey Fran, Hey and Dustin and Asante. There’s Getting Grown with Jane and Kia. There’s Jade and XD, and they all are friends, but they all have their own separate shows and platforms. But they all cross pollinate [chuckle] with each other. And I’m like, that is so dope. I would love to see what a black sort of design collective of some sort will look like if we were doing that. [inaudible 00:48:34] What could we accomplish and put out in the world with that sort of thing?

Chanel James: Right. I talk about that all the time with some of my friends. I have a friend in New York, Tavis Northam, who is a designer, director, photographer, and we are always collaborating on projects and then he came out with this indie short called Bakari about this runaway slave. And I created the poster for it. He’s always referring me all the time. I’m referring him. Same with, Oh man, it’s so funny. I can’t believe I’m printing your name, but some of my friends who actually went to Black and Design, I’m the same way with them and I think, that that emergence is already kind of happening. When you look on certain channels on Instagram, certain things popping up. People are creating a lot. There’s a lot of things like Well Read Black Girl. I don’t know if that

Maurice Cherry: Oh yeah, yeah, I’m familiar with that.

Chanel James: Things like that; platforms like that that are black creatives also on Instagram. Things that you can hashtag and tag. It’s a feed that you can kind of scroll through that is getting larger and larger by the month where you’re seeing people support each other. I gained a lot of my followers I think by my different hat. I always hashtag in on my art on Instagram and then I get people messaging me, deeming me, and all of a sudden I have a whole network of new friends who are enjoying the same things like type arts and things like that as I am. So yeah, I think that’s cool and it’s really important.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I would really like to see more of that; working together, collaborating on projects and things like that. I mean I even try to help out where I can. Certainly, for people who I’ve had on the show. If there is something they’re interested in, I try to make those connections. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t.

Chanel James: To be honest I’m not afraid. For a long time I would write notes from the PI. The different episodes that really inspired me and I would message, I would go on in LinkedIn or wherever they said at the end of the show to talk to them. I would message and be like, Hey, my name is Chanel. You really inspired me with this thing that you said. Just wanted to let you know that effected me. One girl who you interviewed, I think she was from Boston. Her name started with a D and I’m blanking on exactly what it was, but maybe last year I reached out to her on Instagram and we actually ended up becoming like, I’m not going to say friend friends, but like IgE friends and I would comment on her work and stuff like that. But she was, I think she was also my age. So I was super excited to hear her story and hear her process and hear how what she was able to do after school.

Maurice Cherry: In Boston? I’m trying to think who that is.

Chanel James: Okay. Boston. Maybe Connecticut? She [inaudible] but I don’t think she went to [inaudible].

Maurice Cherry: Oh! Daniqua Rambert her name.

Chanel James: Deniqua. Yes.

Maurice Cherry: She goes by Willow now, but yeah.

Chanel James: Oh Okay. She definitely was a big inspiration to me and I think I caught her off guard when I messaged her. [laughter] I was like, hey girl. [laughter] I’m a fan! She was probably like, who is this girl? I mean, she seemed cool with it. I was cool with it. I know. [laughter].

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Well when you look at, I mean we’re coming up at not just the end of a year, but the end of a decade right now. What do you see yourself doing in the next five years? Like it’s 2025 what is Chanel James working on?

Chanel James: Wow. Okay. So I definitely wrote out my five year plan.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. [laughter].

Chanel James: This was actually on my five year plan. So Pat on the back for me for making a revision path. [laughter] I’d say I don’t ever say where I am because I don’t like jinxing it. I say how I feel and what I’m doing for other people. So I’m financially able to support myself and my family. Me and my parents. [chuckle] And I am continuing to create spaces for specifically black and brown youth to enter specifically the design realm; a creative space to encourage them to be creative and educating them on what design is and looks like. I think that’s my biggest hope for myself on these next couple of years. Especially entering the new decade is to introduce design as a possibility to more people; young people of color and older people of color. Because you can always switch careers and just create spaces where they able to be there, their fullest self.

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

Chanel James: So I am on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn and not Facebook. LinkedIn. You can find me on Instagram at Chanel Niari, C H A N E L N Y R E and on Twitter at Chanel_Niari and there’s also my website, chaneljames.com.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well Chanel James, I want to thank you for coming on the show and not just sharing your story, but also really for first of all, really illuminating conversation. I love being able to really talk and go into these sorts of issues around identity, and the industry, and motivation, and all that sort of stuff and I hope that others that listen to it will get inspired too. I feel like there’s a lot of folks that are in the middle, but the thing is the middle is very vast as we sort of discussed. It can be a few years in to a decade or more. There’s a big gap there where a lot of us are in the middle of it, as you put it earlier and I’m just really glad to be able to talk about these things with you. Glad you’re able to mark this off your five year plan. But this was really, really great. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Chanel James: Yeah, no, thanks for having me. And I encourage anyone to, if you felt inspired by this, to reach out. I’m always excited to chat and network with people. Let’s make this, what did you call it? Black Pack. [laughter] Let’s make it happen. Let’s make it real. So thanks so much for Maurice, for having me on the show.

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

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

Angelica Quicksey’s insights into civic design are unique and insightful. She designs federal government services with a focus on digital transformation. As a recent graduate with two Masters degrees from Harvard University, she is also now co-teaching a course on technology and innovation in government.

Angelica is passionate and our conversation touched on the many changes going on in the industry. If you want to learn and be inspired make sure to give this episode a listen!

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


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Take our annual audience survey at revisionpath.com/survey, and help shape the future of Revision Path! Survey ends on June 1 at midnight ET! Thanks for your feedback!


How do you define success? If you haven’t thought about this, then this week’s interview with Belindah Jones will help put you in the right frame of mind to answer it. Belindah works a UX designer with Capital One’s Digital Team, and she brings a rich history of design education to one of the country’s most popular banks.

We began by looking at Belindah’s day-to-day work, and she shared how Capital One champions diversity in design. From there, Belindah talked about her work as a design professor, life growing up in Kenya, her dream project, and drops some gems on what designers need to know in order to be successful. This episode will definitely give you something to think about!

Get your tickets today for “The State of the Internet 2019”, live on February 28!


Big thanks to Capital One for sponsoring this month of Revision Path.

The Capital One Digital team is a diverse group of people who work together to build great products for the enterprise and to disrupt how people interact with their money, their bank, and their financial lives.

Curious about what they’re working on and how they’re growing?

Check them out at capitalonecareers.com or at their Medium community at medium.com/capitalonedesign.


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