I am a graphic designer, brand consultant and educator with 20+ years of experience in visual communications. I have a BFA in Graphic Design from The University of the Arts and an MA in Urban Studies from Eastern University. I've taught undergraduate & graduate classes in the Social Sciences and Marketing at universities in and around Philadelphia. I am the principal of Prophetik Soul Branding + Design, my award-winning freelance design studio. The majority of my work is in the nonprofit sector where I connect with those interested in reaching urban and multicultural audiences. Occasionally, schools call on me to function in advisory and mentoring roles. I also write so check out my blog at prophetiksoul.com
Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I grew up in North Philadelphia developing my creative skills drawing in the street with broken bricks before there was such a thing as sidewalk chalk! Most of the art I saw was artistic 1970s album covers and 'burners' (elaborate graffiti pieces) in my neighborhood. This exposed me to the idea of telling stories visually with shapes, colors, images, and words in a confined space. Also, as a shy kid, I spent a great deal of time observing human behavior. In high school, I created airbrush graffiti tees. When I look back, I see how my urban experiences prepared me to utilize visual culture, behavioral psychology, and sociology in my design approach.
How did you first get interested in design?
Throughout grade school, I only heard the term 'artist.' But I was also told that artists don't make any money. (Lesson #1: Never listen to people tell you about something that they know nothing about.) I was always recognized for my drawing and lettering skills. I studied my mother's handwriting so well that I occasionally secretly forged her signature on school forms. In middle school, one of my art teachers mentioned commercial art. I attended a vocational technical high school learning about commercial art for three years and was exposed to the creative thinking that goes into advertising. I also learned calligraphy. (The term Commercial Art isn't used anymore. Today it would be called Advertising or Graphic Design.)
Tell me about the work you've done?
I have done a wide range of design work such as logos, posters, books, displays, signage and brand identity. My favs are logos. As the digital landscape has expanded, I design websites and do social media research and management. My newest endeavor is developing apps with clients.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
When I worked as a graphic designer at an international relief and development organization early in my career, I designed a series of posters that highlighted specific social causes and other topics. Friends traveling through Asia and Africa saw a few of my posters hanging on office walls. It felt good knowing that my ideas and work was reaching people in developing countries. Also, I started a t-shirt business in the early 2000s, and the same thing happened. A friend sent me a photo of a man in East Africa wearing one of my shirts.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
Lack of access to design mentors and dealing with discrimination in the graphic design profession. Ten years after receiving my BFA, I decided to get a Masters degree because I did not see a future being a graphic designer. Well, God had other plans. I am grateful for mentors in other professions who encouraged me during hard times.
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?
I spend time going in schools to speak to minority youth about entrepreneurship and graphic design. I also teach college courses in the Social Sciences to many people who come from the same background as me. This is one way I am giving back and encouraging others to keep moving forward.
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
In the past, I attended AIGA chapters events in Philly to build my network and seek out mentors. Sadly, I was not treated like a professional. I canceled my membership and never looked back. I stayed on the nonprofit side of design since I found more openness and interest in my abilities. Also, since I came from a poor community, giving back has always been important to me. Many nonprofits are doing great work in the U.S. and abroad. Because of their high social impact, I derive a great deal of personal and professional fulfillment working with them.
What are your biggest motivators?
- My wife (she has her own hairstylist salon)
- My children (seeing them do so well inspires me)
- My friends
- A problem in search of a solution
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
I'm pretty sure my biological family still don't know entirely what I do. They just know I fly places a lot for business. Many family members tried to dissuade me from being a designer. I was told to be a doctor or a lawyer. I am glad I did not listen to them. My wife, children, and in-laws are always supportive.
What do you love most about working in design?
I love solving problems, exploring ideas and doing visual and analytical research. I know I was built for this because all of my academic training and personal/professional experiences give me an advantage. I also love typography. As a kid, I had dreams of letters chasing me. Now, I know why.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
I am trying my best to start with me. I want to be an encouragement for younger designers as they make their way in the field. This is a competitive business. You may fail more than you succeed, at first and sometimes you need an experienced designer to provide perspective. Approach design like an entrepreneur because doors don't stay open forever for us. Think about it: how many experienced designers of color can you name?
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
There is a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion right now, but most of it is coming from Caucasian American designers. That's not a bad thing since the industry favors them anyway. But my question is, what are they willing to risk? Any anthropologist or sociologist will tell you that the quickest way to learn about a group of people is to spend significant time in their space so that you learn to care about what they care about. (Moving into their neighborhood while it gentrifies doesn't count.)
If designers with influence aren't willing to do this, then diversity and inclusion will always be this 'thing' that they do instead of something that is deeply personal. The real truth is that African Americans (and some other underrepresented groups) live diversity every day because we are minorities living in a white-saturated society. W.E.B. DuBois articulated this double consciousness in his book, The Souls of Black Folk.
What are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
I am developing a visual identity for a thrift store that seeks to train and employ immigrants. Their audience is the most diverse working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia so this is a challenge. I am also trying to resurrect my calligraphy skills.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
- Operating a 3-5 person branding + design studio in Philly
- Teaching college courses and/or doing workshops on entrepreneurship, visual culture and/or graphic design for urban teens.
- Traveling to developing countries helping students to explore the visual history in their own culture to develop their own design fundamentals.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in design or hoping to get into it?
Everyone has access to the same graphics software that designers use. Social media platforms have also added more tools. Everyone is a content creator now. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence is a 'decorator mentality' where the focus seems to only be on making things beautiful. If you want longevity in design, you must also become a strategic thinker understanding how business overlaps with design. Graphic design is an interdisciplinary field so be prepared to always learn something new.