All posts by soulfuldesign

Self-starting Creative Director/Art Director with over 20 years experience leading brand strategies implemented over different media applications. Known for being hands-on from concept to execution and skilled with meeting deadlines while being very budget conscious. Comfortable not only providing creative leadership to a team but as well as taking direction. Classic design sense coupled with innovate solutions have lead to numerous awards. Excellent skills in oral and written communications as well as concept presentations.

Meet Ya’ In Arkansas!

aiga diversity and inclusion markAbout four weeks ago, I traveled to Bettonville, Arkansas to take part in the AIGA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force meet-up. This was to facilitate the face-to-face meeting of task force committee members with D&I chapter leaders. I am on the national AIGA D&I Task Force, again, and a member of AIGA with NYC being my home chapter. We meet from Friday to Sunday near the end of April to discuss how to bring the understanding of what diversity and inclusion is from the national view to the chapter level. It was an incredibly emotional, thought-provoking and freaking fun time.

Now I’ve been an official member of AIGA since 2004 but unofficially I’ve been messing with them since 1991. Side note: why is it every time I write the 90’s down, logically I know its a long time ago but emotionally it feels like yesterday. Always throws me for a loop. Really stumbled into it when they held the now infamous Why is Design 93% White conference at the HS of Art & Design here in NYC. I was a young designer just a few years out of Pratt and I was intrigued about what was going to happen there as I held the same sentiment myself as a student flipping through pages after pages of design mags and annuals and rarely coming across anyone of color or women. Long story short from then to now, I have been involved in some form of D&I development without realizing it.

The Northwest Arkansas chapter hosted this weekend event and were such great hosts making our time in Arkansas really fun and enterprising. Big ups to AIGA NWA! Our first night, Friday, we took a tour of the Crystal Bridges Museum where we saw their exhibit Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. This exhibition was a visual and historical treat seeing so many beautiful pieces that spoke about our community during a time of mass societal change. The tour guide encouraged us all to have conversations about the pieces but I don’t think he knew what he had encouraged. Our conversations were intense, probing but lengthy as several times the talks stalled the tour. What these talks did was to show how open this group was to having real conversations which came into full view the next day during our all day Saturday workshop.

The day’s track held your typical planning and strategy sessions but there was this one exercise we did called the Privilege Walk. Since it was a bright sunny day, we did the exercise outside. I’ve seen videos on Facebook and YouTube but to actually participate in one was entirely different. It works only if you are completely willing to be open in front of others. We all agreed to be and it was eye-opening to say the least. This walk was based on privilege, opportunity and experience and took many of us aback. The emotional toll of the walk came when we went back inside to discuss our feelings about the walk as an old segregation sign we passed around. It had a twist to it—it read Colored Only–No Whites Allowed. What transpired over the next hour was raw, cutting, insightful, self-realizing and cathartic. Truths were told that helped others see the world from that person’s eyes and vice versa. It made me realize my own truths that have existed only in my own head but now saying it out loud amongst folks I only met hours ago really had such an illuminating power.

After a much-needed break from the raw emotions expressed, we got back to business on sessions about engaging members, chapters and so on. We wrapped the day with dinner and drinks at one of the Mexican restaurants in the town having forged new friendships before we all headed back to our respective cities the next day.

 

There have been numerous occasions when I wondered about AIGA’s commitment to D&I (in all honesty, there are times I still do) but this weekend gave me strong optimism that this isn’t just good lip service but a real investment. The work many folks have put in over the decades and the stewardship of the current D&I chairperson, Jacinda Walker, have really blossomed into a good model for industries to follow. It lightens my heart to know that students of today and tomorrow will find/see design leaders like themselves easier and more frequently than I did as a young design student and professional. ♦

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Actions Give Strength to Diversity, Actions Shine Light on The Invisible Designers

One recent morning, I was doing my daily reading about identity redesign on BrandNew and clicked on a case study to see the studio who did the work. While admiring the great work I’m was seeing in the case study and the studio’s website, a familiar feeling settled in the pit of my stomach as I looked through the team profiles. That feeling was anger.

Anger that time after time I’m just seeing the same sea of homogeneity. In my bookmarks are links to dozens of studios whose work is different from one to the next. Yet, the leadership profiles can quite literally be duplicated over and over again because they look almost entirely the same. Lots of white guys, a few women and a sprinkle of the model person of color (POC)— a fair-skinned Chinese or Korean person. When you do see a brown/black person, they tend to be in a junior or non-creative position and very rarely in any leadership role. As logic dictates, there are some exceptions but not in the numbers to dispute that there’s a real lack of representation and equity out there.

This feeling of anger over our invisibility has been continually feed for the last twenty-nine years I’ve been in design. The line has barely pushed forward since my college days in 1988. Even now in 2017 looking at the most progressive studios, there’s barely any representation. The most common explanation told is “well, we can’t find any GOOD designers of color”—or some variation—just doesn’t hold water today. That explanation is just laced with implicit bias to the ears of people of color. Why? Because the definition of good is left up to the subjective whim (and racial preconceptions) of that mainstream studio when factually there are countless GOOD to GREAT designers of color working but never moving beyond staff level. Yet, everyday there are many mediocre white designers getting promoted, mentored, given project leads and booked for speaking engagements while talented designers of color are overlooked or not even considered for those same opportunities. Ever ask why we keep seeing the same faces over and over again at conferences, workshops and magazines?

The reasons why are many—straight-up prejudice, cultural/racial ignorance based on unfounded perceptions, laziness, uneasiness, fear, shortsightedness and yes, not being qualified may certainly one of them. More times than not though, the real reason has less to do with qualifications and more to do with any of the other reasons I stated. If we agree that the work of Eddie Opara, Gail Anderson, Kenny and DeAnna Gravillis, Arem Duplessis and Darhil Crooks (to name just to name a few) are examples of good designers, logic dictates that there are others just like them but they just haven’t been seen. Beyond a few select folks, rarely does the light shine on these invisible designers.

Genuine motivation, desire, honesty and work can move the issue of diversity forward light years. Actively seek out colleges and arts programs with large student bodies from underrepresented communities for internships and/or employment along with all the traditional venues; break out of your familiar network circle (which more times than not will be homogenous) and engage with associations aligned with creatives of color; give educational workshops on being a designer at local high schools to expose students to design that might not otherwise have known about it and engaging in mentorship with creatives of color are just some basic solutions to expanding one’s comfort zone and tapping into a new resource pool.

Personally, I’ve done this continually throughout my career because I know first-hand the experience of being a creative of color. A professor of mine gave me my start in design. The interesting fact of this is that my professor was a black man just like me. While my other professors—who were white—liked my work, not once did any of them offer guidance or mentorship nor help me with getting design work. After graduation, my first two “real” design jobs were given to me by folks who valued and understood the idea of a diverse workforce. The interesting fact to most of them is that they too were from an underrepresented demographic—a black woman, a gay white woman and a gay white man. The last person was a white man originally from Canada. In all my years of employment, he has been the only white man I’ve known to really understand the concept of diversity in the workforce and actually put it into practice.

He was the owner of the media company where I worked 6 months after graduating. It was in this same media company that my two subsequent bosses (a white lesbian and a gay white man) treated me to opportunities with equal consideration to my white co-workers. It was here that when my boss decided to leave the company, he recommended that I replace him as the art director. Being 24, unproven in an AD role and in the back of my mind being black, I didn’t think the owner would give the green light. In meeting with him, he didn’t hesitate in telling me that he thought I’d be very successful as the new art director. He explained that my work had been excellent and that he prefers to cultivate and promote talent from within. He reasoned why shouldn’t I have access to this opportunity if I’ve proven myself? In typical owner fashion, he told if after 6 months I wasn’t doing a good job, I’d go back to my original position. And just to note, my salary was competitive with bonuses.

After five years as art director, I left the company for a new opportunity. When I met with the owner to tell him of my plans, he was extremely happy for me and agreed it was time for me to meet new challenges. Even though I was leaving the company, he said that his help, guidance and door would always be open for me. And it was…until the day he died. His funeral was jam-packed and truly reflected who he was as a person because the folks in attendance represented what the world looks like. True diversity.

To this day, I have not come across another soul like that but his example shows that it’s not some unfathomable equation to achieving diversity. It just takes genuine motivation and desire to know that it’s good business and just good humanity to have different viewpoints, perspectives, insights as it just make us all that much better.

 

Back Again!

Hi, there.

I know that it’s been quite a while since I’ve written. To be honest, maintaining a blog along with social media apps is truly like juggling a few jobs at once. Add into that mix your personal life and you have a recipe for one hot mess.

The best way to get back into the cycle is to take it at my own pace and not some pace I feel I have to maintain to be relevant. I created this blog really as a way to discuss design and designers of color since that conversation is still not happening. There are a few sparks happening in some places but by and large, it’s still more of whispers than a full-on dialogue.

In the next few days, I will post the content I’m working on now. It’s time to come out of my little corner and get back to the daylight.

Is the age of fifty and over the end of a design career?

Recently, I got a save the date card from Pratt announcing a reunion for my graduating class of 1989. Reality sank in—it’s been 25 years since I graduated college. Holy fuck!

Andrew Bass Through the Years

I remember being that ambitious, bright-eyed design graduate looking to make my way into the design world with such energy and drive. My dream was to be an art director working at a big company, traveling for photo shoots, mingling at company parties, building a network of creative allies and maybe one day run my own studio all while doing something that I loved. Looking at the calendar, I’m reminded its around 20 days away from my 47th birthday. I’ve realized that many of the things I dreamt about as that young graduate have came true. But I also realize that some have yet to see the day of light. There’s still much I want to do and learn as a creative but there is an undercurrent that I am beginning to feel—it’s the age concern.

I AM APPROACHING 50.

In the past decade, I have seen the industry shift to a younger mindset for design leadership in all creative disciplines and discarding experienced creatives (i.e. older) as stagnant, out-of-touch and irrelevant. This weighs on my mind more recently now as I see the pages drop off the calendar. Reading Commarts.com, I came across a link talking about this same idea (click here). Ask yourself, at your place of work how many creatives are employed with you that are over 50? So many places value youth as being the only innovators, the only ones interested in new technologies, the only ones willing to learn or try new directions. That’s so short sighted as we turn into a country that is dismissing a large segment of our population.

At the story link points out, unless you are a studio owner or high-position creative, you don’t see many mid-level creative over a certain age given the same latitude and tools as a younger creative. Thanks to my parents’ genetics, most folks have no clue about my age and guess it at 10 to 12 years younger. I keep up-to-date with the latest trends and tech not because I need to but because I can’t exist without it. I equate it to air—you can’t breathe without it. Now add to the mix, the issue of race and gender. Fuck all you naysayers; this is a stone-cold hard fact of our society. If you are older, white and male, you will have it tough. If you are older and non-white (male or female), it just got unbelievably difficult.

Don’t believe me, can you name at least three designers over 50 who are white? Now, name three who are non-white, male or female and over 50? Bet you it’s easier to name three older white designers without much trouble but hit a wall the other way round. (Look at the gallery and see if you know their names.)

Three white over 50 designersThree non-white over 50 designers

Tony Gable (gable206.com), Crystal McKenzie (cminyc.com) and Archie Boston (archbosgd.com) all happen to run their own shops and have distinguished themselves in the industry although they don’t receive the same recognition as their counterparts above. How often do you hear their names in lectures and publications compared to Milton Glaser, Paula Scher and Kit Hinrichs? Be honest.

So, what are the options if you don’t run your own studio or a high-level creative? Going into academics in one possible avenue. Freelancing might be on the table but poses this question, if one won’t hire you as an older full-time employee why would they hire you as a freelancer? Changing career paths when older might be a consideration but that present a new series of obstacles that might bring you back to the original age problem. Many of us will face this dilemma in the coming years and I hope the tide strengthens for the value of experience when we do cross that road. You would tend to think, creativity has no age limit but sadly, business seems to have an expiration date on age.

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

Hey all, I hope you have been doing well. My last post was a few months back and I apologize for that. It’s been hectic with a new job search, my kids’ activities, the occasional freelance project and just general house duties. With all that going on, I realized that I can’t maintain all the social portals I signed up for trying to stay up-to-date. So I cleaned house and closed a few of them so no more Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and I am rethinking my Facebook page. SoulFul Design, however, will get much more of my attention.

You will notice a refresh of the blog and I will commit to posting new content at least twice a week. So for today, it will be a smattering of recent tidbits that I came across over these few months. So as Captain Picard would say, “Engage.”

Inneract Project websiteINNERACT PROJECT
People of color are not plentiful in the creative field. One of the ways to change that is to introduce design to students of color in schools that normally wouldn’t have the exposure. Maurice Woods is one designer who is doing something about it. Maurice is a highly recognized graphic designer based out of the San Francisco area who is the founder and executive director of Inneract Project. Their mission is to provide free design education to inner-city youth and their communities, to serve as a facilitator to aspiring career designers and to mentor youth to pursue higher education. The more we can expose our children to the value of design, the more representation we can have for our communities and their visual voice.

Rob Vargas and Bloomberg coversBLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
Yes, that Bloomberg. Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg of NYC always had a day job even as the mayor. He owns Bloomberg Media and one of his properties is Bloomberg Businessweek. This monthly magazine is celebrated for its edgy and irreverent publication design. It recently appointed Rob Vargas as its new Creative Director. He had been with the magazine as one of its founding members of their creative team but he now carries the official title as the creative head. He worked at the New York Times Magazine, Blender, New York and Details magazines.

Arem DuplessisAPPLE JUST GOT COOLER
Arem Duplessis is a design leader that has led some prestigious teams. His design skills are top-notch with innovative solutions and thought-provoking visual tones. He’s been behind the design scene at Spin and GQ magazines. Apple is a company that epitomizes cool and forward thinking in relation to design. Mix them together and you have a dynamite combo of super coolness. Arem joined Apple’s internal marketing team leaving the Design Director chair at the New York Times Magazine. I, for one, can’t wait to see the fantastic campaigns Arem will integral in shaping. Apple just made itself even cooler.