Tag Archives: business

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.


A Curious Turn of Events…

bldtr040035I’m always looking out for new design opportunities to learn and grow. That’s part of being a creative person—that need to continually learn and use it to help the group, business or client you’re working with. Recently, one such opportunity came up. It was as a creative director for an educational non-profit. It really piqued my curiosity. I had several meetings with them and one of the key messaging points was the aspect of diversity—marketing for and experiences in developing diversity.

Having had such experiences with AIGA chairing its Diversity Task force, my years of design experience along with my childhood background being very similar to the audience they serve (black and latino kids from underserved communities), I saw myself as an ideal candidate. The more I progressed through the meetings and learned about the group, the more I felt the connection. Through the last meeting before the final decision, I sweetened the pot by presenting a digital publishing app I created off the initial exercise they asked for in the beginning of our process. Along with this and the issue of diversity experiences being highlighted again, I felt extremely confident about this opportunity.

Continue reading A Curious Turn of Events…

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…

Where is ME?

My 44th birthday is in just over a week. For the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about my career, my studio—just my life overall. There’s been tremendous opportunities, some great times and experiences but also some very, very tragic happenings. Throughout all my reflecting, one feeling has kept coming to the surface. I’M TIRED.

Tired emotionally; tired spiritually; tired financially; tired physically which all makes me tired creatively. The desire to one day run my own design studio has been there since I started designing. In one sense, I succeeded in achieving that goal. In another sense, I still haven’t. In the last few years though that desire as been waning. While I’ve been trying to make a go of my studio, I have also had to support my wife’s business, support my kid’s programs/schooling and sustain our household. All this support has severely weakened my creative foundation. My mind is filled with worry, anxiety, stress and tension. From my mind all the worry, anxiety, stress and tension has now become physical as my body aches with pain that didn’t exist before. None of which helps a creative mind live, grow and expand. This is not quite the picture I had in mind all those years dreaming of my own studio. Continue reading Where is ME?

Stop All The Shit!

Why don’t you become a doctor?

Why does it seem to be that communities of color don’t support or encourage the creative arts as much as the mainstream community does? Why are families pushing to their children that being a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant or Wall Street power player are the only ways to have a career? Why do we buy into the notion that the creative arts are a luxury—something that only the mainstream, i.e. white, folks can enjoy, understand and execute?

Many of times I’ve witnessed this underlying cultural fallacy in clients who feel that when I, a graphic designer who is black, informs them of the need to invest in a visual plan for their business, they hear me suggesting they waste dollars on superficial expenses. Yet that same advice coming from a white designer or studio, then it’s taken as crucial marketing advice and must be budgeted for immediately. REALLY? We both can have the same design background, education, experience but somehow my professional advice is considered to be superficial. Dismiss the fact that I might be more sensitive to your business’s needs because of shared cultural experiences however, when the professional expertise is identical yet the conclusion is that mine is superficial says but one thing. Cultural genocide. Continue reading Stop All The Shit!