Inspiration: Designers in Service of Community

Like many designers that came of age in the early years of accessible nation wide internet access (and to a lesser degree personal computing), my design education is a mixture of formal and informal training—academic settings and self learning. Discovering design for myself in the mid 1990s while bouncing around the many design forums, internet relay chat channels, and DIY web zines introduced me to a wide range of designers and creatives, many of which I consider peers and friends to this day.

On a macro level I am naturally inspired by well known print designers, design philosophers, web designers and technologists such as Reid Miles (Blue Note Records graphic designer and photographer), David Carson (former art director for Ray Gun Magazine), Alexander Rodchenko (a cofounder of constructivism ), Joshua Davis (Praystation, Dreamless, Kioken); names you are likely to see on a myriad of other lists of this nature, yet quite specifically I’ve drawn some of my most meaningful inspiration from peers in design and creative spaces I’ve learned along side of having watched them take their crafts and skill to serve their communities and/or share and shape narratives important to those communities. This praxis has informed the work I’ve done personally throughout the years and is in part what drew me to the mission here at Matter.

I’d like to introduce you to a few today!

Sarah Huny Young

sarah huny young is an award-winning creative director, interdisciplinary artist, and photographer based in Pittsburgh, PA. I met huny in the early days of the Black blogosphere (pre-tumblr, pre-livejournal, pre-blogger.com) when there were few Black designers online in the space that maintained personal “experimental design playgrounds”. Realizing a need, she created and maintained a message board called Havoc for Black designers, bloggers, and hobbyists to congregate online (of which author and satirist Damon Young of VSB is an alum). Beyond creating spaces for Black creativity, she also served in senior and director roles at BET, Vibe Magazine, and UltraStar (founded by the late David Bowie) professionally.

There are many projects of which I’ve been proud to witness huny create in the 20+ years I’ve known her, but perhaps my most favorite is AMERICAN WOMAN, a portrait & interview series about Black women in America. It aims to “…counter stereotypical archetypes and the “othering”, dehumanization, and erasure Black American women have historically faced. It’s about our complex relationship with this country and the labor we’re tasked with as its most resilient, brilliant population.”

The project was awarded an Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Grant, a partnership of the Pittsburg Foundation and Heinz Endowments and is still underway.

Scott Sasso

10.Deep / @10deep

Scott Sasso

Scott Sasso is a designer, artist, and the creator of the foundational Brooklyn based streetwear brand 10.Deep®. He created 10.Deep, while at university at Vassar, initially producing a few select t-shirt designs to sell hand to hand around New York City, and over the following 25 years expanded to full fashion offerings, cut and sew pieces, outerwear, headwear, bags and other accessories, and even the occasional skateboard deck.

Scott’s brand “sticks to the essence of where [they] come from – the 90s NY indie brand scene” and with that comes a certain kind of downtown sense of humor and irreverent worldview. I met Scott when I moved to Brooklyn in the mid aughts and was often amused by some of his “joke t-shirts” and constantly impressed by the use of pattern, color and typography in his designs.

Amongst the cheeky references to (and occasionally critiques of) pop culture, music, conspiracy theories, and youth culture, Scott has always made sure to include a few pieces each season that speak to our current politics in a serious and at times satirical way. Last summer, after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, Scott designed a t-shirt and gave 100% of the sales (just north of $20,000) to the National Bail Fund.

Julian Alexander

Julian Alexander

Slang Inc. / @slanginc

Julian Alexander is an artist, creative director, and designer based in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve known and have admired his work (his Typography game is strong) long before I met him in person. He comes from a music and entertainment background having served as Design Director for Sony Music, where he won a GRAMMY® Award for The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions by Miles Davis for Best Boxed or Special Edition Package. As Executive Creative Director of Guild, Julian led creative teams on experiential projects for Nike, Target, and Stella Artois. His iconic logos and album artwork for Jennifer Lopez, 50 Cent, and Eminem among others can be seen on packages that have sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Impressive stuff!

Like many Black creatives that I’m in frequent conversation with, the last several years of intense racial strife, political polarization, and police killings of unarmed Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor people in America have had many of us asking where do we fit in this struggle for a better, more equitable, more just world where White Supremacy doesn’t have the strangle hold it currently does nation and world wide. For some the answer has been expressions through music and film, for many it has been marching and direct action and community building. One of Julian’s contributions has been his Supremacy Project, which addresses “…the systematic oppression and violence our communities are fighting to end through art.” Taking his background in album art design and hero graphics for music and film projects, he created album covers, posters and billboards highlighting several high profile deaths at the hands of American policing in the last several years and white supremacist violence at large throughout American history, resistance to which came to a fever pitch the summer of 2020. Sad, but unsurprisingly, some of these installations were met with repeat instances of public defacing.

Joe Buck

Joseph 'Joe Buck' Buckingham

Joe Buck Art & Design / @joebuckart

Joe Buck is a graphic designer and artist that I first became aware of through music. The first design of his that I ever saw was the album cover for the groundbreaking and classic sophomore effort De La Soul is Dead by, you guessed it, De La Soul. One of many albums I played on cassette over and over as I began to develop my musical palette.  De La Soul is one of those groups that I still listen to constantly, and throughout their career, Joe Buck has been there designing artwork and logos for them. Perhaps my second favorite De La Soul album (and if not second, definitely top 3), Buhloone Mind State was also designed by Joe. His style is singular and unique, often a mixture of quirky illustrations, and surreal paintings, and definitely stood out as Hip Hop album art in the early to mid ’90s.

Imagine my surprise, 15 years later when I am designing album covers and packaging full time and I realize that Joe is still actively  designing for other music artist friends of mine. Not just album packaging, but posters, and logos, and merch. I felt like his artwork was ubiquitous in the New York Hip Hop scene, whether it was hand drawn posters at annual J Dilla parties, or logo tees and album covers at Fat Beats in the village, or as a pattern on oxford button up shirts hanging on the racks at Jeff Staple’s Reed Space on Orchard St.

What’s inspiring about Joe for me is not only did he come out the gate with ground breaking work in the space, but that his longevity is just as astounding. 30 plus years in the game and his style now is just as fresh as it was to me as a youth squirreling away allowance money to buy cassettes and CDs and dissecting liner notes as I fell in love with the music.

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Walé Oyéjidé

Ikiré Jones / @ikirejones

Walé Oyéjidé is a Nigerian-American writer, fashion designer, musician, and lawyer based in Philadelphia, PA. He is the founder and creative director of Ikiré Jones through which he combats bias with creative storytelling using fashion design as a vehicle to celebrate the perspectives of marginalized populations worldwide.

I initially met Walé as a musician when we were both in university. I designed a half dozen LP jackets, CD packaging, and 12″ single covers for his releases. He performed under the moniker Science Fiction, primarily producing sample based instrumental hip hop in a style he dubbed ‘broken jazz’,  before eventually performing under his given name and delving into Afro Beat soundscapes. After several record releases and finishing his undergraduate studies, he attended law school and practiced law for a few years before finding his calling and founding Ikiré Jones in 2014.

Walé uses Ikiré Jones as a creative outlet to explore long form personal essays, pattern making, afro futurism, and creative directing his own fashion line where he produces custom tailored suits, jackets, silk scarves and pocket squares, and outerwear—Neapolitan tailoring with African aesthetics—using bright colors, ornate and kinetic patterns, and centering Black people and Black bodies in typically western settings.

His apparel designs, most especially his afrocentric silk scarves, impressed many and eventually found their way into Marvel’s Black Panther worn by the late Chadwick Boseman in a number of scenes as well as in the recently released Coming 2 America.

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Frank William Miller, Jr.
https://matterunlimited.com