Category Archives: Culture Comments

Opinions regarding design in the context of our society.

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.

Closing The Digital Divide

Technology represents an industry where people of color can create some equality both from an economic and employment perspective. At least that’s the idea. The reality is there aren’t many people of color of either gender in the tech industry, especially black and latino folks. There are numerous reasons for this—some which are out of our control and some well within our control—but my focus here is to introduce you to a person who has taken control of the situation to make it better for others.

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Remember this name ANGELA BENTON. She is real a doer and is proving to be a force in the tech world. She’s a graphic designer who was working in both print and web but evolved more into the digital creative space. She founded a company called BlackWebMedia. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Angela in person, only on-line, but she has really impressed me. Her motivation, tenacity and drive is something I envy in a good way. She created an incubator program out in Silicon Valley called New Me Accelerator. Their mission is quote “…a 12 week immersive residential tech start-up accelerator for businesses that are led by under-represented minorities (African-Americans, Latinos & Women) in the technology industry.” Black Enterprise and CNN have prominently featured her and her program. There are folks who talk about leveling the playing field yet do nothing about it. Angela is not only doing something about it, she is making positive, tangible inroads in the technology sector. She is blazing a path for us to follow as this is the way our communities can get ahead of the game instead of just be bit players.

Pass the word and follow Angela’s example and pass forward the opportunities you have to someone else so they can make new ones. Kudos to Angela and looking forward to seeing more of what you do.

Diversity Works When One Wants It To Work

Today, I read a posting on the statistics of race within the tech industry (http://newsone.com/nation/tjstarr/is-technology-racist). For an industry talked about as being the one area where everyone can make a mark, it clearly shows that this seems to be a fallacy. It did, however, make me reflect on my experiences in the design & publishing industry. There was one man in my experience who truly believed in diversity and put his money and mouth to it. That was George Mavety.

I worked at Mavety Media Group pretty much right out of college and grew there for five years. George Mavety was the owner of this publishing house. Now, MMG was not your mainstream publisher but rather it was an adult publishing house. Yes, that’s right. Porn, erotica, dirty mags, all those things running in your head. Despite all the preconceived notions one might have about working at an adult shop, it was very much the opposite. George Mavety ran his business as what it was—a business. The offices were loft-styled right in the middle of Soho. Entering the lobby, you’d have no clue what Mavety Media Group was all about. Even walking down the halls after being buzzed in, you’d still have no clue. It looked very much like most magazine publishers until you hit the art, editorial and circulation departments. Here’s where you actually saw the magazines and instantly knew this wasn’t People magazine.

What also made it starkly different from mainstream publishers was the fact that the employees were a virtual rainbow coalition. Black, White, Latino, Asian, Male, Female, Straight, Gay, Old, Young and so on. George Mavety wasn’t concerned about staffing his business with people who looked like him but rather with people who worked like him. This man was serious about what he did and wanted folks under his roof with that same mentality. He supported us all, he was generous, he was concerned about our problems and was a remarkable human being. As normal, some folks don’t have the fondness for George Mavety as I do but that’s what makes our experiences all so unique. With me, George Mavety was the first employer I had who truly lived by these words: all men (and women) are equal. 

I started work there as an Assistant Art Director and was promoted to Art Director of four monthly titles two years later when my AD stepped down. He recommended me for the position but the final say was George’s. Naturally, I was nervous as all hell since here I am at 24 years old being considered to run four of his best-selling magazines. That all disappeared once I entered his office. He had this jovial, light-hearted nature that just settled you. We talked about the responsibility of the job, what my thoughts on it were, where I see taking the magazines and so on. Without missing a heartbeat, he shook my hand and told me I’ll do a fine job. Just like that I was now the Art Director. It blew my mind. He had complete faith in what I could do for his business. That bolstered my whole spirit and I dove into my new position with much enthusiasm and drive.

I stayed at Mavety Media for five years at which time I felt I couldn’t do much more with the titles. When it came time to tell George that I was moving on, I was unsure how he would respond. The move wasn’t because I was unhappy or unsatisfied with the company but rather I just hit my creative end. In true Mavety form, he agreed that it was time for me to expand my creative career and that he appreciated all that I did with his magazines. He told me that he knew that I’d be doing great things in design from the first time I worked at the company. He was nothing but supportive extending his help even after leaving Mavety Media. The recommendation letter he graciously gave me just humbled me. His kind, supportive and encouraging words really helped make my first true work experience so incredibly wonderful.

George Mavety passed in 2000. His funeral was packed with so many people and just like his beliefs, it was filled with this wonderful mosaic of folks that he touched.

For diversity to truly work in society, the people who are in control must want to believe in the benefits of diversity and put that faith into actual action otherwise the status quo will remain the same—even with the token representation some industries do to deflect warranted criticisms. Rest in peace, George.

The Truth is Neither Sweet or Soft

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t be so open, so raw in my postings—that I should censor myself. But then what would be the point? I created this blog to talk about the things that ARE NOT being said…real experiences as a designer, creative, both positive and negative, that should be exposed, calling out bullshit when it needs to and so on. Truth is never easy to digest. Blogs are basically opinions of their creators but in my process of doing this, I want to be true to all sides and that means sometimes what I say, see or learn may not be pleasing to all.

We’ve become too much of a politically correct society while throwing away our common sense. DO NOT MISTAKE this to mean that fools can say ignorant, racist, sexist, misogynistic statements and claim that they are just being real.

NO…ignorance is still ignorance.

But in creating this digital journal, my hope is that it grows and engages those who read it. In growing, my hope is that a dialogue is created among myself and all that read SoulFul Design. Sharing our stories, experiences and mishaps can only help us all grow and give seed for the future generation to blossom in ways we haven’t. We acquire so much while living that it would be shameful—no, it is shameful NOT to pass forward what we’ve learned both the bad and the good. It can’t exist without one another.

So at the end of the day, I will not censor, nor be soft about what I see, experience and feel as a creative communicator. This is my voice…and it needs to be heard.

Gone Too Soon Brother Steve…

How ironic it was to learn of Steve Job’s death while on my newly bought iPad? Upon seeing the breaking news flipping through my CNN app, I just went into shock. Logically, I knew he was very sick and dealing with pancreatic cancer but emotionally I just always saw him outliving us all, pitching to us all the great new toys to come. His passing truly means an end of an era to me. Having practiced graphic design since 1988, Steve was right there with me. No, I didn’t know him personally but I had intimate relationships with his techno toys.

The first time I meet the Mac was around late 1990 to early 1991. Oh baby, it was love at first sight! The company I was working at began to phase out live mechanical boards and moving everything to the computer. All of us in the art & production departments went into training and learned how to use Quark on Mac Quadras. Man, oh man, were they so sexy! After training, I’d run back to the offices and continue working on the Quadras in the office because I couldn’t get enough. I would be there for hours. Damn, those were the days. Continue reading Gone Too Soon Brother Steve…