Category Archives: Culture Comments

Opinions regarding design in the context of our society.

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.

 

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.