“You’re going to have to change it,” my career coach sniffed at me through her glasses.
I looked up from my notes. “Change what?”
“The name of your website. It’s too divisive.”
Back in 2010, I started a blog. At the time, I was trying to get into advertising, and had just returned to Seattle after trying to make a career move to Minneapolis. I wanted to document my experiences as I started this journey. The blog wasn’t very good, and I didn’t do it often, but it was for me. It was my outlet, and it was so vital at the time.
I was taking classes at the School of Visual Concepts, working on my book, writing sporadically about all of it, and I started to notice a severe lack of people in the ad industry that looked like me. I actually brought the lack of diversity up to one of my SVC professors at the time, who was a creative director for an agency that you’d probably know. He said, and I quote, “If there were any good black art directors in Seattle, I’d have their books in front of me.”
I recanted this story over lunch with my friend, Jessica Hagy, a few weeks later, as I was struggling with the focus in my writing, and contemplating a new name for my blog. When I got to that point, she interrupted me.
“That it,” she said. “That’s the name. Black Art Director. Because at least now they can’t say they don’t know of any.”
In hindsight, it was probably a risky decision to go with that name. I was a nobody. An unemployed nobody. An unemployed nobody with a shitty portfolio. There’s no reason it should have worked. But I kept going on interviews, and working on my book, and writing when I had the time.
The response from that piece was surprising. I got emails from around the country, from students and teachers alike. I heard stories of struggle, and messages encouraging to keep fighting. But that piece confirmed to me that I wasn’t the only creative out there struggling with this. I wasn’t the only one that felt invisible, that they were trying to love an industry that didn’t love them back. I remember around the time I wrote this, reading an article that suggested a lot of black creatives give up on the ad business and start freelancing or moving into another field of design, which is why the field isn’t very diverse. That wasn’t going to be me. I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to keep learning, and writing, and putting out great work, and it would eventually all work out.
It didn’t work out. I needed a job, and so I hired a career coach, and after lots of back and forth, she convinced me to change the name of the blog.
“You don’t want the name of your blog to turn off a potential employer, do you?” she asked.
“I’m not so sure I’d want to work for a company that would disqualify me based on the title of my blog,” I replied.
“That’s fine,” she shrugged. “Do you want to have your pride or pay your bills?”
Eventually, I moved into the startup world, transitioned into user experience design, and it’s been the best career move I have ever made. I’ve got a dream job I never would have even imagined six years ago, doing work I absolutely love. I’m in a completely different field than I expected when I started my career. I’m very much living my best life right now.
But I still get the emails about that blog post from five years ago. I still get the questions. And the tech world isn’t any more diverse than the ad world. And there’s still work to do. So I'm bringing the name back.
This year, at HOW Design Live in Atlanta, I met with Maurice Cherry, founder of Revision Path, a podcast that showcases Black designers, and Jacinda Walker, who is doing great work at Ohio State in exposing Black and Latino youth to design careers. We talked at length about the hurdles, the successes, and the challenges of getting more designers of color into our business, and the importance of not just having a voice, but sharing that voice. And they both challenged me to do more.
This is step one. Welcome (back) to Black Art Director.