My guest in this episode, recorded towards the end of 2020, is Maurice Cherry, founder and host of the award-winning Revision Path, a podcast that features black designers. It’s the first podcast to be added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
Maurice talks about his experience of growing up in Atlanta, getting into design and coding in the early days of the Web right the way through to starting Revision Path and his work as a Creative Strategist.
- Maurice’s website
- Maurice on Twitter
- Maurice on LinkedIn
- Revision Path
- Where are the Black Designers?
N.B. This transcript is partially machine created, so there may be a few errors. Timestamps are included for accessibility and listening along.
Andy Polaine: [00:00:00] Welcome to Power of Ten, a podcast about design operating at many levels, zooming out from thought with detail, through to organizational transformation and on to changes in society and the world. It’s also about our personal journeys through that book and life. My name’s Andy Polaine, I’m a service design and innovation consultant, coach, trainer, and writer.
My guest today is Maurice Cherry, founder and host of the award-winning Revision Path, a podcast that features black designers. It’s the first podcast to be added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture. He is currently principal and creative director at Lunch. Maurice welcome to Power of Ten
Maurice Cherry: [00:00:47] Andy, thank you so much for having me.
Andy Polaine: [00:00:50] So the first thing I always ask people usually is, you know, tell me a bit about yourself and how you’re doing now.
I’ve noticed on your podcast, something I started to steal, which is just to sort of check in. It’s been a tough turbulent more than half a year now. So how are you doing?
Maurice Cherry: [00:01:06] You know, I am, I am maintaining I would say earlier on. In the, in the year, you know, things certainly were kind of looking up it’s 2020, you know, I was working at a tech startup. qI was planning out a tour actually for Revision Path to do some live shows in different cities. You know, things were kind of really looking up. And actually I was out in Los Angeles in February. When news of the virus really kind of started to hit the United States. And I remember even flying back on the plane there were people on the plane wearing masks and everything, but wow, by the time I got back to Atlanta and March had started, you know, the lockdown started happening, events started getting canceled and my whole year has kind of been appended.
So I’ve mostly just been focusing on, well, one the podcast and two, trying not to get inundated with the American news cycle because there’s been so much that has also happened in the past six weeks. That is not related to the pandemic, whether it’s black people being killed in the streets by police, the resulting, you know, civil protests and things that have happened.
There’s been earthquakes. There’s been fires. There’s been hurricanes. We’re also in the middle of an election season. Like there’s a lot going on. So I’ve just been doing my best to maintain from day to day.
Andy Polaine: [00:02:29] Yeah, there’s a lot going on. I think there is definitely a a need to sometimes to check out of that and get some perspective as well that, you know, I was trying to think is there a time when we ever could do it, I keep hearing things about, or companies keep writing, you know, interpret in uncertain times, we’re here for you and all of that stuff.
And I was actually trying to think, particularly around social justice thing actually is, you know, was there ever a time when it wasn’t turbulent, was there ever a time when everyone sat back and said, you know, this is sorted everyone’s, everyone’s got an equal share?
Maurice Cherry: [00:03:00] No, I mean, I would say not in my recollection of modern history, but maybe at some point far, far in the past.
And I say this not just, you know, out of, out of comedic hyperbole, but also because I’ve been doing a lot of looking back at old issues of magazines most you know, most notably Ebony magazine and Jet magazine. And, you know, I saw the It was Oh God. When was this? I was looking at an issue of Ebony from the year that Martin Luther King Jr.
Was shot. And it was very interesting how. Ads back then were also posting these like innocuous black squares and messy, you know, kind of empty messages of hope, even back then. So this is clearly a tried and true marketing tactic because it’s still continuing in 2020. Yeah.
So you see the echoes of it over and over and over and it, you know, one.
One aspect of, it just makes you feel that we’re just sort of hopeless. Usually use this species. Basically I watched the David Attenborough, a film about, you know, life on the planet, which was basically his witness statement of, you know, what he’s seen as a, in a lifetime of doing natural history documentaries and how things have changed.
But also, so there’s that side, but there’s a kind of another side of that, which is. On the personal level of feeling really buffeted really kind of that reels of internal turbulence. Sometimes I think it helps to kind of get a perspective or know, you know, everyone before me also has had a lot of turbulence that they’ve they’ve had to work through.
And now it’s my time.
Yeah. And I mean, I, I grew up in a city that was known for being very, you know, turbulent throughout the civil rights movement. I’m from Selma Alabama. You know, I’m from kind of that first generation removed from, you know, the 1960s bloody Sunday that happened at the Edmund Pettus bridge, which as a kid I’ve walked over countless, but it’s you know, that kind of a remembrance and echoing of history is something that I’ve.
Been surrounded by since I was a child it’s kind of hard to escape, something like that when you grow up there. And, you know, I had teachers, social studies teachers that would take us on field trips downtown and show us the spots on the street where their blood was spilled. And it’s still staying there to this day.
And you know, so you never really. Forget it, you know, and I don’t know if it’s just because I’m here in the South and that’s just where I happened to have been, you know, born and raised, but it is something that has been kind of an ever-present. Part of my reality.
Andy Polaine: [00:05:29] That’s some teaching method as well and experience as well.
That must really stick. So talking about your, your background, you’ve got this one, you’re one of those interesting people. I’ve had a few people like this actually where you, you started mathematics and then you kind of. When it took another kind of pathway. So let’s go back to you and your career. How did you get from, you know, from there to here?
What’s, what’s been the you know, there’s some spots at NASA in there too, right?
Maurice Cherry: [00:05:59] Yeah. I interned for a couple of years at two NASA facilities here in the States. I dunno, I’ve never really had a side that just, I guess you could say for my education, my career has never really followed a very sort of linear path.
I’ve always mostly pursued things out of personal interests and then try to find a way to. Monetize it just so I get, so I can have a roof over my head and food on the table. I mean, with math, it’s interesting. Cause I initially wanted to study English. I had been writing all through primary school, secondary school.
Did a ton of writing poetry, essays, et cetera, to college courses on children’s lit took AP English two years of AP English. So I was a big, big into writing. That’s what I wanted to do. However, it wasn’t really something that my mom was excited about in terms of future sure. Career prospects. The
Andy Polaine: [00:06:54] parental voice is always strong.
Maurice Cherry: [00:06:56] Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, it’s a good, you know, like it’s a good, or it’s, it’s good that you can write, but like, you need to actually have a, like a profession that pays. And you know, this is during the nineties when the tech boom is really starting to gain momentum. And I had seen, you know there had been, I guess you could say role models, I’ll say possibility models as, as Laverne Cox puts it, but there are certainly these possibility models, not just on television.
Through the sit-com note called a different world that was on NBC, where I could see someone who was a black male that was also working in technology. So I could see that possibility, but also, you know, in my hometown, like my father was an engineer for general electric for a number of years. So it’s not that, you know, going into a STEM field or something like that, which might be more lucrative in the long run was a shot in the dark or anything like that.
It just, wasn’t what I was interested in. I was good at it. I mean, I was good at all my subjects in middle school, high school, et cetera. But I was really into writing because I felt like that’s where I could really express myself, but I wasn’t getting scholarships for it. I was getting scholarships for, you know, math and science and everything.
So that’s kind of the path that I ended up taking at least going into undergrad.
Andy Polaine: [00:08:10] Right. So, so now can I ask how old you are?
Maurice Cherry: [00:08:14] I am 39. I’ll be 40 next year in March. Right.
Andy Polaine: [00:08:19] So that kind of classic moment of us as well of kind of considering what the next stage of life is. So what, when you are when did you make that sort of first decision, which is okay, so I’m, I’m following the somewhat, the script that’s been kind of given to me, whether it’s.
By parents or whether it’s by you know, this is where the scholarships are. This is where I’m, I’m getting supported. When was the, was there a recognizable moment where you thought, no, hang on. There’s this other thing here? Apart from the writing, there’s this other world out here and I want to be, I want to be doing this or this looks interesting.
Maurice Cherry: [00:08:53] That’s a good, that’s a good question. I think I’ve had several points like that, which led to like an eventual reckoning. So. While I was big into writing as a child. And, you know, even as a teenager, et cetera, I was also doing a lot of stuff with computers. I had been gifted, my brother’s old laser 50 computer, and I taught myself basic.
And then my mother bought me a pre-computer 1000 and I taught myself how to do sound through basic as well. And then when I. You know, but go to school and we had access to Apple, Toohey computers, and then eventually access to Macintosh computers, Apple computers. I learned HTML. I kind of taught myself that.
And so that was something that I was always interested in, but didn’t really know if it was a career prospect at all. I mean, I’m, I was in the middle of the country in rural Alabama. And while we did have access to the internet and access to computers, it wasn’t necessarily something that I looked at and could say, Oh, this is a career that I can do one day because the internet was still very new.
I mean, we’re talking. 1995, 1996. This is still a very, very new thing. You know, like, you know, peak browser Wars, et cetera. Like it’s, it’s it wasn’t something that I thought I could really do now. Granted, by the time I got to college, I did sort of want to go into that. So I started out in college with a computer science slash computer engineering, dual degree program.
Yeah. And with that, I was supposed to do three years of computer science, undergrad, and then do two years of computer engineering at Georgia tech. And then in those five years, I would graduate with a bachelor’s and a master’s. That was the initial plan. Yeah. But when I got to Morehouse and took my first computer programming class, we were learning C plus plus.
And while I was understanding it, I just didn’t like it. Like, it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun, like doing web programming. And I remember going to my advisor. And telling him what I wanted to do and showing him the web and everything. And he just said that, you know, the internet is a fad. This is, if this is what you want to get into, then you should probably change your major because we don’t do that here.
Like we do real computer science, like Java and assembly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s all that stuff. And so. I sat down and sort of looked over my credits and the course load. And I had the, you know, the school course handbook and was really trying to figure out, well, I don’t want to stay in this program if like, if I can’t do that on the web, I don’t want to stay in this because I don’t like it.
I was good at it, but I didn’t like it. And that was, you know, maybe that’s another thing. The thing that has kind of fueled my career is that I’ve tended to go into passions and things that I liked, not just out of utility. Yeah. But yeah. After sitting down and figuring all that out math was kind of the next logical choice because it shared many of the same courses and credits as computer science.
Plus, I had credits from that summer, I was actually at, at Morehouse college in the summer and did a program there and had some credits. I was like, Oh, if I switched to math, I can actually graduate a little bit earlier. So I switched my major to math and The rest is history. And I actually, I mean, I really liked math.
That’s why I’m saying I switched because I didn’t like the computer science program, which is true, but I also really liked math. Like I was captain of the mathletes in high school. We went to math club competitions in place. Like I was good at math, so it wasn’t a stretch to. Go from computer science to math and I really liked it.
And so that’s kind of where, where things went.
Andy Polaine: [00:12:34] Yeah. And so then that, and then you had a, you went freelance and then you were kind of doing, or you were doing design stuff on the side to the, to the NASA staff or what, what was the interest in that moment where you kind of, you must have been by the sound of it?
Doing S. This multimedia web, you know, fad thing on the side, there must’ve been a moment when you kind of thought, I know this is actually a real thing, and this is something I can do for a living. Was there something you saw or someone you, someone you met where that was a kind of a moment or was it a gradual process?
Maurice Cherry: [00:13:09] I think there was a bit of a gradual process because while I was in the computer science department and, you know, meeting other people that were in the major, there were other folks there, there were also interested in the web. Maybe not to the degree that I was in terms of like programming and designing.
But they had an interest in it, you know, even if only just as a, as a passive consumer. And I mean, it might be weird to think of right now that in 1999 I was in college and the internet was not a big thing. It really was knocking.
Andy Polaine: [00:13:38] I mean, I remember those days, but I think it’s quite hard for some people to remember that it’s a think of that.
Maurice Cherry: [00:13:44] And, and it was at sort of this nexus point where the internet was certainly trying to become a thing. I mean, this is, you know, pre Facebook pre my, I don’t know if it’s pretty my space, maybe it was, but it certainly was definitely at a time when social media was not ruling the roost in terms of what people did in their spare time.
We did a lot of hanging out and doing stuff in person. But there were people that I met in my. You know, in the computer science department, there were other folks that I met at Morehouse that were interested in, you know, in the web. And I had opportunities to actually flex the little bit of HTML knowledge that I had and put it towards, you know, bigger things.
So like for my scholarship program, they let me design the webpage for that. Right. And, you know, I did sort of pick up a few freelance clients here and there for people that needed some, you know, web design work and needed like a little webpage or something. Once I. Interned at NASA. The first internship I did, which was in the summer of 2000 that was at Moffitt field at Ames research center.
I actually got to do a little bit of web work there for their robotics education initiative. And that was when I really saw that this could be something that I could do as a profession, because I think one I’m in Silicon. Yeah. Yeah. And this is right around the time. I think Google, maybe a year after Google started something like that, but there were people out there like working on the web and doing the web and building the web.
And so it became more of a possibility for me. Once I saw that there were people there doing it. So I figured, well, I could just keep kind of doing this in my spare time and see what happens, because again, this is still. Super new. Yeah, no schools are teaching this you’re you may be my pick something up in a magazine article or like reverse engineering source code on a website.
There were a few books out about HTML, but they were mostly tied to the tools that you would use to create HTML. So it was tied to like, you know, Macromedia, Dreamweaver or something like that. So it was more tool-based than language-based. So a lot, there was a lot of trial and error back then in those early days of the web, just trying to figure out like, what works, what doesn’t work, how does this work?
You just figured it out and you kind of built the web as you did that. And so definitely seeing out there at Moffett field that, you know, my skills could be used in a way that actually could help people. And that there were folks that were working on this sort of stuff did lead me to think, okay, well, you know, This is something that I could still do in my spare time, but I didn’t necessarily know how I would finagle my current education, you know, studying math, into doing design.
I figured I could just do it on the side and maybe something would, would happen. My mom was always a big proponent of, of having something of your own on the side from your main thing that you do just so you can have it. You know, your own creative control over it. So I always kind of kept, yeah, my design work, except for the work that I did for clients that just sort of.
Kept it to myself and continually honed my skills. That’s
Andy Polaine: [00:16:45] sorry. You did manage to finagle that career across into a design career or a creative career. Yeah,
Maurice Cherry: [00:16:52] it took a few years, but it happened.
Andy Polaine: [00:16:55] And so you know, what, what was there a kind of moment there where you kind of went, okay, now I, I, then this is a thing I want to be doing.
He is his, I, I want to work as. In this role, I want to work as a, you know, in communications or in as a creative strategist. How did that all come about
Maurice Cherry: [00:17:15] now? The creative strategist thing. That’s fairly recent. I would say that’s maybe within the past two to three years and. You know what, to be honest, a lot of these titles, even I would say the title creative strategists are indicative of the times and the market that we’re in.
I mean, when I started learning about HTML and the web back in the early two thousands, you were a graphic designer, a web designer or web webmaster. Like that was, that was, that was kind of, those were the three positions that you had. And of course now you have all types of difference. You know, designs and things like that.
Creative strategy, I would say mostly came about through my time working at glitch, which was my old employer, because the work that I was doing was not just discreetly in one particular field. I mean, I kind of served almost as. The company’s in-house creative expert because I worked across so many teams doing different things.
Like I would work with the business development and partnerships team on new proposals and pitches to potential, you know, collaborators. I would work with our marketing department on campaigns. I would oversee the media team, you know, our producers and editors that we had for. Video and podcasts. I would work with engineers on translating new product features into marketing campaigns.
So I was working across teams across the entire company, not doing one set specific thing every day, but always juggling a number of different tasks. And because I think. Certainly with the nine years of experience I have with running my own studio and managing a distributed team, I’m able to bring to the table more than just, Oh, I can, you know, work in Photoshop or sketch, but I can also bring the business level.
Strategy about what we need to do when and things that we need to work on and, you know, look at the data and pull out insights and things of that nature. So that really has evolved with the times, like I said, within the past, maybe two or three years.
Andy Polaine: [00:19:18] So within you, it’s interesting listening to that.
Cause you, you know, with your, also with your coding and, and sort of mass background, you’ve got the, the engineering, I’m sure you can speak engineering too. Right? So, so you’ve got feasible, viable and desirable kind of. Or within you as, as one
Maurice Cherry: [00:19:35] person. And I have a master’s degree in telecommunications management, so I can also work along those lines as well.
Andy Polaine: [00:19:45] So so let’s talk about the podcast because you, as you said, do you, this isn’t. Black Lives Matter has obviously been going for some time. And you, and yet, you know, there’s been this enormous in the last one in the last, what? Six months, probably eight months. There’s been this huge attention on it again as a movement and it’s gaining momentum.
Thankfully. But you know, you’ve got a kind of unique perspective because you’re not, I kind of, ah, quick quickly, me too. Let’s do a podcast about you. You’ve been interviewing black designers and creative people for what, since 2013. Right. So and I think you said you started it at the beginning of the black lives matter movement, so you must’ve seen Well, first of all, actually, I think I’m going to ask the kind of question, which I think has probably got an obvious answer, but what moved you to start it?
Maurice Cherry: [00:20:32] What moved me to start revision path was. The fact that design media and really the design community was not giving black designers really any kind of recognition. I don’t necessarily mean outsized feature level type, you know, recognition. This isn’t, this isn’t like a, an Oscar, so white kind of campaign.
It’s more so like we’re not being mentioned at all. Like back then and probably still to this case now in some instances, but back then, certainly it was very common to see all white speaker panels at conferences you know, podcasts with all white guests and no one blinked an eye about it. No one said anything about it.
My notion for starting Revision Path actually was earlier than that, I wanted to start it back in 2006. At the time I was doing another project of mine called the black web blog awards, which I started in 2005. And with the Black Weblog Awards, the focus there was to show black bloggers and video bloggers and podcasters that, you know, we recognize you even if these other entities don’t.
So I made the Black Weblog Awards in 2006, particularly. I, that was the first year that we did a best blog design category, I believe. And I was a working designer at the time I was working at, AT&T. And I had friends that were like working for Vibe magazine that were doing websites for celebrities that were doing like really big, you know, lucrative, splashy, you know, noteworthy kinds of projects, but nobody was talking about them and no one knew who they were.
And it didn’t seem like the industry was interested in knowing who they were. They still wanted to, you know, kind of prop up the same people over and over again every year. And so I wanted to start revision path then I didn’t know what form it would take, but I just didn’t have the time I was working full time at, AT&T I was also just starting grad school back then.
And that was during the black weblog awards. In my spare times, I just didn’t have enough free time to do it. It wasn’t until, you know, seven years later in 2013, where at this point I’ve quit. My job started my studio and I’ve been in my studio successfully now for five years that I’m like, okay, now I have the time to do this.
And so initially when I started Revision Path, that was going to be, you know, kind of very similar to. I don’t know something like the great discontent or something where you have these long form, 2000 plus word interviews or something like that. That’s what I wanted to do. The problem was the frequency is just, you know, going back and forth with people over email and trying to pull everything together with photos.
It was a lot and I was doing it by myself. So it was a lot to kind of pull together. And someone who had been reading revision path this was a person in Chicago. She contacted me one day saying that, you know, she had been reading revision path and she really likes it and said that she was going to be coming down to visit Atlanta and wanted to know if we could record a podcast and off the top of my head, I said, sure, because I’ve done podcasts before, so it wasn’t.
Yeah. A stretch, but at the time I didn’t have any podcasting equipment. I didn’t have any mics or anything. So we did meet up and I ended up recording it on my mobile phone at the time. The audio quality is terrible. It’s, it’s actually episode one, the revision band of anybody wants to go listen. And I leave it up there to show the progression that the show has taken over the years.
But that’s really where the catalyst for the podcast started. If Raquel that’s her name? Raquel Rodriguez. And she didn’t say to me like, Oh, let’s do a podcast. I don’t know when that idea would have come to me. I probably would have still been trying to do this long form, you know, article kind of thing.
But once I did the interview with her, I was like, wait a minute, this is pretty easy. We can talk in like 60 minutes and I’ll do some light editing and we can get it up and I can build a system around this. And so I did, and that’s where we are now
Andy Polaine: [00:24:30] The engineer kicked in for that bit. But it’s a good example of how small nudges. And small coincidences can, can make a massive difference. Right. Which is, you know, obviously part of. It’s part of structural inequality and addressing that. And it’s, you know, you wrote this, this piece about where all the black designers, and if you go to the, if you go to the archive of of Revision Path one, there are one all of them, but there are a subset of them.
And how many episodes you’re on now? You stopped numbering them. I have 367. The latest one was Brandon
Maurice Cherry: [00:25:00] Yeah, 367. Now as of, as of today, as we’re recording this, I just recorded episode 371. A couple of days ago. So I try to stay a little bit ahead. My goal usually for every year, my goal is to be done with recording for the year by Halloween. So then anything that we do after that, because November and December are always kind of dicey months for scheduling because of the holidays. I don’t know how that’s going to look this year because of the pandemic, but I still wanted to have my regular production schedule kick in. So we have things that are still going to be going on through the holidays into next year without any interruption.
So we, we will hit episode 375 at the end of November, right. And we’ll just keep going. We’re definitely on track to episode 400 that’s a week.
Andy Polaine: [00:25:47] So with that, it gives you a kind of unique perspective. And I kind of meta view, if I was to use this zooming analogy again, and continue zoom up one level again of you’ve, you’ve spoken to all these people who spoke to all of these people in, they’re not all pure designers, as we might say, I was going to say some black creatives. Is that a kind of a better catch all would you say? You know, and over that kind of period of time, if you, have you recognized any sort of meta themes or common stories of, of people?
Maurice Cherry: [00:26:15] Oh, absolutely. I would say first off the biggest theme that I would get is that it is so important to expose children to these sort of alternative fields, art design tech, what have you, it’s so important to expose them to that at an early age, to give them the opportunity to make the choice, if that’s something that they want to do.
For some people that we’ve had on the show, they grew up in a household where they were with a parent or with an uncle or someone that was, you know, maybe in the industry and then that’s how they got into it, you know? So they saw someone in their proximity that was doing it. And let them know that they can do it as well.
I would also say education plays a big role in this, particularly in high school is letting you know high school students know about these types of careers. I mean, when I was in high school, who, when I was in high school, my, my guidance counselor was. An extreme racist. I think she would not, she did not want to see me succeed at all.
Like would not give me applications to colleges would regularly tell me that I need to learn a trade. That I was wasting my time trying to, you know, you know, focus on becoming valedictorian and all this sort of stuff. Like a lot of, I had a lot of outsized opposition from. White people essentially in my hometown to venture into the field that I am now.
So I say that high school education, I think is important because that’s such a, a crucial point in in someone’s development. Like you’re, you’re leaving the structure of, you know, K through 12 and going into something completely untested and something new, at least for you, like, you’re going to be most likely out of the, out of your house in a new space, learning something new, like having to forge new relationships, learning new material, like that’s, that’s a lot.
And so it’s crucial. I think at that point to really show. What possibilities are there and to nurture those talents because as children, you know, certainly we are exposed to, you know, design there’s finger, painting and coloring and all that sort of stuff. And then the older you get, the more that gets phased out of curriculum.
Andy Polaine: [00:28:27] I was gonna say, it’s, it’s why most people, you know, when they look at designers or people who, you know, the visual artists now, you’re so lucky to be able to draw out that when you get people to sketch in workshops or something, that I do get people into a corporate environment to sketch. They all sketch like 10 year-olds, because that’s when they stopped doing it.
Maurice Cherry: [00:28:44] Absolutely. And then as you get older and that becomes a thing that you’d do it, it ends up getting relegated to being a hobby, but I’d say that’s the case because maybe they don’t know about the potential career opportunities that this could be, you know, this could become.
Andy Polaine: [00:28:59] It’s a thing that Akala talks about in his book, Natives, he was a very smart black kid growing up in London in the eighties, which were very kind of racist time in, in London, in particular. And how many times he really overtly, he had teachers and people around them saying, Oh, well that’s, you know, basically that’s not for you. That’s not for the likes of you. You can’t do this. And it was only because that’s what I meant by the nudging earlier, you know, it’s only because someone recognized, hang on. You know what, I think it was a librarian or, and a someone in our kind of like a Sunday school or something. Said, hang on, what is someone with a mind like yours doing in this situation, you should be doing X, Y, and Z, and kind of pushed him and supported him and got him back into that. And my next, I think the next episode coming up on Power of Ten Alatti El Henson. And she was talking about this moment where, so, Oh, that’s you know, design and visual desin is a thing that people do for starters. And it’s also a thing that people who look like me can do and, and that kind of shift and how, I mean, you talked about your, your career guidance, counselor being a racist, and it’s in some respects that when it’s sort of overt like that, there’s, there’s something to push against, but it’s the sort of care this ness or the care less comment, or the kind of like, not even presenting this thing to you, not even presenting this idea to you, or kind of just the lack of effort, which can often do the most damage because it goes unknown.
Maurice Cherry: [00:30:28] And I mean, I should mention, you know, granted, she was a part of that, but you know, my senior year, and I’ve talked about this in, in other interviews, like my senior year, there were, there were teachers that were campaigning against me. There were teachers that were failing me on purpose. Like it was, it was at one point definitely a coordinated effort to ensure that I would not succeed. Which is, you know, sinister and vile. It almost sounds like something out of a comic book, but. But the reality is that, you know, I’m wondering if stuff like that is still happening, but maybe not in just, you know, like you said, such overt fashion I would say one other kind of central theme that I’ve gotten from interviewing people on the show is that mentorship and apprenticeship is super important, particularly for underrepresented minorities going into design.
I would say so now, because, you know, sorta like how I said before with the job titles, you know, now there are so many different methods and ways and paths that you can go to become a designer in this industry. And they’re not all going to be a part of a school’s curriculum, you know, like there, there is sort of that linear path of you would leave high school and go to say SVA or RISDI or Mica, or one of the, you know, like big design schools.
And then you would just go into an agency or something from there, and that’s one path, but it ends up getting marketed as the path when that is not really the case, especially with how much technology is a part of design. You don’t have to go to college at all. To be a working designer and to know kind of what the different paths are that you can go into, like you can do strategic design, you could do service design, like you do.
You can be an experienced designer. There’s, you know, now conversation design because of, you know, AI and smart speakers and things like that. There’s so many ways that you can go into that. And so having mentorship and apprenticeship to open. Someone’s mind to these other possibilities is super important.
Otherwise, you’ll look at that linear path of high school, college agency or high school, college tech firm, or whatever, and think that’s the only path to get into the industry. Yeah. And it’s not.
Andy Polaine: [00:32:37] And then you’re just following the script that everyone else is, is telling you is the right one. I mean, it takes quite a lot of let’s say resilience, but it takes quite a lot of, kind of personal sense of self to push against that.
But, you know, hence the mentors and role models, there was a, there’s a great piece by Jaheed Hussain in the UK called Whitewashed where he talked about being a design school in the US in the UK and said, you know, there was no one who looked like me, none of my lecturers - they’re all white. There were no people of color amongst my lecturers. And so there was, again, that’s sort of an unsaid, but very openly said in terms of just, you know, who’s being presented in front of him, that this is a pathway for him or not. And so that stuff becomes really crucial. So, you know, I was talking to my ex colleague Tanarra Schneider about this and saying, you know, the, the rise of momentum that Black Lives Matter has created in the industry. And we were talking about a kind of design and innovation master at one point, be a kind of eye-rolling moment of like, you know, finally you’re kind of getting it. And on the other hand must create a lot of inner turmoil. And on the other hand, a sense of hope. Have you seen a kind of shift. As you’ve gone through those years. Cause it really is fascinating. Kind of look through the back catalog of Revision Path and kind of see this so much has happened in the last seven years. Right?
Maurice Cherry: [00:34:02] Yeah. I mean a lot has happened in the design industry. A lot has happened in the world in general. I mean, there’s certainly, I would say if you go back to the archives probably.
Most of 2016 has a slight political bent to it in terms of the folks whom I was able to interview as well as honestly, just the tenor of some of the interviews. I think some of the most poignant interviews that I’ve done have been from around that time. Most specifically a bonus interview that I did with Maya Patterson, who now is a, she’s a designer at Twitter at the time she was working at Trunk Club in Chicago, but we had a very like real conversation, I think days… days after our current president [Trump] was elected. And then there’s a two-part I think it’s the only two-part interview I’ve done, but there’s a two part interview with Qa’id Jacobs who is an ex-pat living in Amsterdam. And we talked about, I think the first interview we did was prior to the election.
And then the second one we did was following up afterwards. And it was, it wasn’t even about design. It was just about how do you feel about the country and, you know, do you want to come back one day? Like now you have a family. Do you want to. Like bring them back into this. And you know, at the time in 2016, it’s like, Oh, I don’t know, man.
Like, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, now I’m sure the answer would be much different. Not just because of the pandemic. I’m sure the answer would be much different, but certainly back then, those were some of our more poignant interviews. And we also had a talk with people that, you know, were involved in the black lives matter movement that certainly works alongside those kinds of social justice causes.
So I’d say that’s probably been one way that’s. The, the podcast has sort of changed the bits. It’s kind of changed what the focus of what the industry has been talking about. So like this year, for example, I think most interviews, we talk about the pandemic in some shape, form or fashion, but I also, at the end of the interview, try to inject a little bit of hope.
So I’ll also ask every guest, how are you using your skills to build a more equitable future? So, yes, you’re doing these great things now, and that’s wonderful, you know, and I’m not going to say that that’s a bad thing, but when you look at the state of the world, like how do you see your part in changing that? Or do you see your part in changing that?
Andy Polaine: [00:36:22] Yeah, that’s true. And you’ve been doing that and an enormous amount. I’ve got a question for you, actually, it was only just sort of struck me just now, as you were talking, which is, you know, with your creative strategies, head on and with the kind of what’s your… not what’s your judgment, but what’s your view on the Black Lives Matters, create a strategy by which, I mean, you know, how they’ve communicated, the message and how that’s been kind of rolled out. Has it, has it been a coordinated thing or has it been much more sort of grassroots than that?
Maurice Cherry: [00:36:48] I think it’s mostly been grassroots.
I think it, you know, when you look at. Certainly, you know, the protests that have, I would say blossomed across the country this year, that has all been grassroots. You know, whether it’s been the continued sustained protest in Portland, in Seattle, or even ones that have arisen over, you know, police shootings like in Atlanta or Minneapolis, et cetera. It’s definitely more grassroots. Now. I do think that corporate America has done a terrible job of co-opting it. Which I think we all have seen from this past June when so many companies were coming out with, you know, black square solidarity is what I call it. Post these black squares on, on Instagram and Twitter. And as I alluded to earlier, yeah. In my interview, even, that’s not a new thing, just like a total blackout, like yeah, turn the lights off. That’s the best way to handle the situation, whatever. But they’ve, they’ve done that or they’ll say, Oh, well, we’re gonna, we’re gonna recognize Juneteenth as a, as a paid holiday.
And I mean, Okay, that’s great. But that doesn’t fix the systemic issues that is causing this unrest in the first place. Yeah. You know, there’s murals painted in the street. What does that do? Yeah, I mean, yeah, it’s a nice drone photo. What does that really do? That’s not changing legislation. That’s not defunding the police.
That’s not making sure that black people don’t get shot in the street for, you know, breaking up a domestic violence situation or, you know, selling loose cigarettes outside of a convenience store. Like it, it’s not stopping the underlying problem. And so I think there are certainly, there’s certainly a lot of empty virtue signaling from companies that want to appear woke in order to, I don’t know.
Take the focus off of their single digit, you know, diversity numbers for their workforce or whatever. And what it ends up doing is that the people of color that work there have to pick up the Slack in these ways. That honestly, to me feel. Cartoonish minstrel ish in a way. I’m not going to name any, any brand names cause I would get in trouble, but there are certainly some, some some well-known brands out there that I, when I see what they try to do around not necessarily around black lives matter, but certainly around like showcasing how diverse they are.
To me, it’s like step and fetch it 2020, like, what are you doing? You know? There are some organizations that are like actually, you know, saying like we’re going to donate money, which is great. I think at this point that’s probably the best thing companies can do. Give up some of that money to the, to the causes and the people in the organizations that are out there actually doing the work.
You know, I’m not expecting, you know, SAAS company X to be out there on the front lines of the black lives matter movement. You’re a SAAS company. Stay in that lane, but you can fund the people that are out there doing that, like do that, do more of it that.
Andy Polaine: [00:39:50] And you can put some money in some of that money into, as you were saying into education and mentoring initiatives, huh?
Maurice Cherry: [00:39:56] Yeah.
Andy Polaine: [00:39:57] That, that early on moment where people might get turned off away. Cause it feels, those are such fragile moments, really.
Maurice Cherry: [00:40:04] You know, we don’t need you know, virtual conferences with DJ sets and stuff like that. Like that’s, you know, that’s nice, but I mean…
Andy Polaine: [00:40:12] Have they been doing that? Have there been virtual conferences with DJ sets
Maurice Cherry: [00:40:16] Have there?!
Andy Polaine: [00:40:17] I’ve obviously been not going to the right conferences.
Maurice Cherry: [00:40:19] Oh, yes. Oh yes. I mean that, that actually applies to a lot of events that have happened over the summer, but again, like it doesn’t fix the underlying issue, especially from these companies that. You know, have millions and millions of dollars in annual recurring revenue, like give up some of that money to the causes and the people that are out there fighting the fight.
We’re not, I’m not expecting the SAAS. And maybe that’s just a personal thing. I’m not expecting them to be out there on the front lines like that, but what they can do is support with their dollars..
Andy Polaine: [00:40:48] Yeah. And, and fix the HR. You know, it’s interesting going back right back to the beginning of this interview where, you know, you’re saying, and I don’t really fit the profile and some of that’s… it’s often, you don’t feel that what, like what recruiters understand the box to be in a in, in those things. It’s, it’s pretty broken HR and recruitment, quite often, particularly in the sort of tech space, which is, you know, yeah “we want a UX UI designer who kind of is really across all of these programming languages and knows strategic.”
So there’s no one exists like that. And it’s, it means that it’s very easy… again, it’s those kinds of small moments, which can suddenly just kind of shut a door, you know, it doesn’t take it unfortunate. It doesn’t take much of a notch to completely shut a door to people. And you know, that’s the thing that they could also fix and work on, which I’ve almost we’re coming up to time almost.
Maybe I’ve, I’ve come up with the answer for you. As I mentioned before, the, the podcast is named after this Ray and Charles Eames film about the relative size of things in the universe and this kind of zooming in and out of different levels. About how small things can have an outsized effect or how that kind of whole structural thing can affect people individually is the kind of constant theme of the way I’d like to think and talk about design.
So the final question is what one’s more thing is either, you know, needs to be redesigned or as well-designed and overlooked that has a, would have an outsized effect on the world.
Maurice Cherry: [00:42:17] You know, the first thing that comes to mind and. This is probably super random, but the first thing that comes to mind are toenail Clippers.
Andy Polaine: [00:42:28] That’s, that’s, that’s the most random one I’ve had so far.
Maurice Cherry: [00:42:31] They are so poorly designed for anyone like, it’s just not, I mean, I, I get the utility of it in that, you know, you have a lever and there’s the fulcrum and you’re, you know, I get that.
And like for fingernail, like you have fingernail clippers that, you know, kind of works, but toenail clippers is weird. Cause you’re like, Stretching, especially to try to get like the pinky toe on the opposite foot. Like the toenail clippers are not well-designed and I’ve seen different types of toenail clippers that have like a different lever or something. It’s it’s, they’re not the most well-designed product that I would like to see some more innovation.
Andy Polaine: [00:43:04] And would the world be a better place if people had in more comfortable toenails, do you think?
Maurice Cherry: [00:43:09] I think so. I mean, you wouldn’t have gnarly looking toes.
Andy Polaine: [00:43:13] Do you think all the anger and violence in the world is in fact down to people being really uncomfortable shoes?
Maurice Cherry: [00:43:20] Hey, look, we all have to walk on something.
Andy Polaine: [00:43:22] And walk in someone else’s shoes. So, where can people find you online or whatever the interwebs, where are you?
Maurice Cherry: [00:43:29] So website is mauricecherry.com. That’s M A U R I C E C H E R R Y.com cherry like the fruit. I am also on Twitter @mauricecherry, just all one word.
And for Revision Path, you can find it at revisionpath.com. And you can find it on Twitter and Instagram as well, just search for Revision Path. And we are everywhere that you can find podcasts, whether that’s Apple podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, you name it. We’re there.
Andy Polaine: [00:44:02] Well, I’m still working my way through the archive cause there’s a massive amount there. And it’s really fascinating. There’s a lot, but I’m pleased to note, see, there’s a few people I know as well, but it’s also been a treat to kind of discover new people too. Maurice. Thank you so much for being my guest on Power of Ten.
Maurice Cherry: [00:44:18] This was an absolute joy. Thank you again so much for having me.
Andy Polaine: [00:44:22] Take care. As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve been listening to Power of Ten. My name is Andy Polaine. You can find me at @apolaine on Twitter or polaine.com where you can find more episodes and sign up for my newsletter, Doctor’s Note. If you liked the show, please take a moment to give it a rating on iTunes. It really helps others find us and as always get in touch, if you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions for guests. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening. See you next time.