Edwin Heathcote


Jun 26, 2019

Edwin Heathcote is the architecture critic for the Financial Times and the founder and editor-in-chief of Reading Design. Originally trained as an architect, Edwin has also written for GQ and is the author of multiple books on architecture and design. In this episode, Jarrett and Edwin talk about his writing process, looking at architecture through a wider cultural lens, and the value of reading criticism from history.
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    Jarrett Fuller Hey, welcome to scratching the surface. I’m Jarrett Fuller and this is the podcast about dismantling modernism. On this episode, I’m joined by designer, educator and curator Jerome Harris. Jerome was most recently a Teaching Fellow at mica and just became the design director at Housing Works. But I was especially interested in talking to him about a show that he curated last year called as not for a survey of African American graphic design. I was curious to hear about how this show came together and how working on it influenced his work and his teaching. We also talked about his circular path to graphic design, including being told by a Tyler School of Art admissions officer that his work actually wasn’t graphic design and his detour attempting to become a professional dancer. We’re also talking about experienced both as a student at Yale and then as a teacher at mica and how he approaches this work and the importance of showing students as wider range of work as possible. This is a great episode, I think that when in a lot of different directions, and I’m so happy we got to have this conversation, I really hope that you enjoy it too. If you’re a fan of the podcast and want to help support it, you can become a member for $5 a month or $50 a year, members get an exclusive monthly newsletter that features behind the scenes content, links and articles from former guests about design writing and criticism, and previews of upcoming episodes. scratching the surface is fully supported through these memberships. So if you would like to help with the ongoing production of the podcast, I hope that you would consider joining. thank you as always for listening. And here is me and Jerome Harris.

    So, you originally studied advertising at Temple University in Philadelphia? What were you interested at the time when you were studying there? Where did that kind of interest in advertising? Or what kind of career direction were you thinking about? Then?

    Jerome Harris Look, I was like, 20 19-20, right? Yeah, I had no idea to be completely honest. I knew from what I had been doing. I was making side money designing party flyers. I had met a friend in college who was designing party flyers. And he, you know, I told him, I was like, Oh, yeah, I’m pretty good with Photoshop. And so he, he taught some jobs my way. And I got pretty good at it kind of picked up my own client, like promoters and stuff like that it was doing that.

    But I actually started out at St. Joseph’s University in West Philly. There was like a weird, you know, not it was weird for me because it was a Jesuit college. I actually got there on a track and field.

    scholarship, but I hated it. And I wanted to be doing what I didn’t know. Exactly. I wanted to be doing graphic design around, I didn’t have a portfolio to apply to art school. So I figured, okay, I’ll sell you advertising at Temple. It’s like the closest thing. So I went there realized quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to design anything, and then actually, sim my party flyers to the Tyler School of Art, and got an email back from I think, maybe the administrative assistant or maybe I don’t remember who was the chair, I don’t know who it was, I’m pretty sure was the chair. And the and I don’t remember the exact message but it was something along the lines of this is not graphic design. You know, you don’t you you don’t have the skills to take classes in this program. And the any, you know, needs to design you need to apply with the proper portfolio. I don’t remember the exact email. I don’t even have access to it. But it was something like that. And I and I remember being confused, because I was like, but this is graphic design. Yeah. But yeah, so so I finished I finished temple and actually realized I was like, I don’t want to sell people. So right. I ended up moving to New York and pursuing my dream of becoming a professional dancer.

    Jarrett Fuller Okay, did not see that coming s the next step.

    Okay, so I have a couple of questions based on that. So you know, you said that you were designing these flyers for you know, for your friends and stuff that you were good at Photoshop, and then that you kind of discovered or or realized that what you wanted to do was graphic design. So I kind of want to go back even maybe before college a little bit. How did you get a copy of Photoshop? How did you know what graphic design was? What was your understanding of graphic design at that time, and especially kind of being confused when the Tyler guy was like, This isn’t graphic design? What was your kind of relationship to that word or that term at the time?

    Jerome Harris Yeah. Sorry, I grown up with a very black family. So Mike, my favorite magazine that I read probably more than my dad who subscription who had a subscription to it was vibe magazine. And vibe always had like really bombastic design over the top type Griffey and like I don’t even know what it was called. I was like, Oh, this is really cool. And so and then, like, even the music I was listening to this was listening to, you know, bad boy, federal records, or if he didn’t, you know, brief Marlowe’s total 112. And then like, also like cash, Money Records, all these things like Rockefeller habits, Jay Z. So like, I was listening to all this stuff. So you gotta imagine these are the images I’m taking as well, right? As a, you know, preteen teenager, and then I ended up taking a graphic design class in high school, my T shirt business, just she looks like taught us a few basic tools and Photoshop, and I didn’t know if there was illustrator, then. This was like, 2000 2002 2001. Okay. And, and she taught us a few tools. And it was like, Okay, do a self portrait. Okay, make a collage, like, you know, high school projects. Yeah, yeah. But I took a liking to the, to the software. And even before that, this is even going back a little bit more of my mom. Actually, we had a desktop computer at the house with the didn’t have Photoshop. So my mom would ask me to make flyers for family event. Family cookouts, or she’s been doing a toy drive for years and years now. Kind of collecting toys, and then hand delivering them to families in need in New Haven, Connecticut. So I’ve actually still designed that flyer every.

    Jarrett Fuller That’s awesome. I love that. Do you still do it? I hope you said I’ll do it on that old desktop computer. No, I was like the same one. You know, it’s funny I did. I was the I did the same way. We had like an old gateway computer that had I’ve told this story on the podcast before Microsoft print shop Deluxe.

    Jerome Harris Yeah, that’s what I use.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, that was like, my entry into graphic design is like, like 10-11-12 year old and I would make flyers and I made signs. And it was only later that I realized that I was kind of doing this stuff. As like, some of my earliest memories. Yeah, exactly. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about finishing at Temple, moving to New York, and you said, you then pursued your other dream to become a professional dancer or tried to pursue that dream. And so could you talk about that time in your life? And basically, spoiler alert, you eventually end up at Yale studying graphic design again. And so I’m, I’m wondering how how, what you were kind of doing at that time in your life? And how graphic design came back into it or, or maybe not to make it to like, narratively nice. How did that kind of time as a dancer, get you back to design? You know what I mean?

    Jerome Harris Well, Funny enough, I had never stopped so I ok. So when I moved to New York, I was initially I had a boyfriend out of out of college, and he was from Long Island. So we actually moved into his parents attic for a couple of months, while we looked, we both looked for jobs and nice. And etc. So I ended up getting hired at a print shop. And I literally like walked in with I emailed them. I was like, Hey, you guys need a designer. Look Funny enough, the designer who was working there was leaving for for a corporate job. And they were like, Hey, dude. So I walked in with this, like, crappy portfolio, like the black plastic cover with this. Yeah, insert 11 by 17 into, so I go all of my flyer. It was I’m surprised like a higher, like, I printed out all my flyers, put them into sleep and brought them down there. And the guy looked through them, and the designer was there. And he was like, come like, come to the computer with me. So so he was like, here, I’m going to give you he was like this is he gave me a real job at the at the print shop. He’s like, you know, cut out this image, put it on this background, you know, make a headline, blah, blah. So I just like designed it pretty quickly. I was like, pretty efficient with Photoshop with him. And then he got my boss’s name was Steve. And he was like, Steve, he’s good. And then he was like, I start. It was like nothing in it. I wasn’t even, like, I literally got envelope of cash, like I was, I wasn’t even like on payroll. I’m a man. That’s awesome. So and I made a bunch of really bad stuff. But it was almost like an intensive in the Adobe Creative Suite. Which is Yeah, and I and I got to know the ins and outs of like offset printing, digital printing, like pre press, like all the kind of early 2000s, which was which is which is knowledge I still use right now. So I was actually in my boss was cool. I told him I you know, I wanted to be a dancer. And so I eventually got signed to a dance agency was called a clear talent group. At home, I like commercial dancers that you might see on like, TV commercials or dancing or how recording artists are usually represented by one device agencies. So I ended up doing a few cool jobs one of them. I always put brag about because the only one that people really know is uh, I was in the step of 3d, the dance movie. Installation of that cheesy dance movie, but it was, yeah, it was one of the dancers on the stairs, my claim to fame.

    Jarrett Fuller Do I feel bad? I’m pretty sure I only saw the first one of those.

    Jerome Harris You don’t even see you literally after like, stop the tape so people can see where I am in, in the one scene that I got cast for.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, that’s awesome.

    Jerome Harris But you see my name in the credits. So a dance more in the credits than I do in the mood. I love that the boy Yeah, that’s, that’s that’s how I live in New York. I was auditioning, but my boss was really flexible. He was like, hey, as long as you get your work done by five or six, you can do whatever you want. So I was like, all right. And yeah, it was it was a nice little, nice little gig. It was fun. Because that because it was nice to dance community. It was a bunch of people like me, who just like moved to New York trying to pursue becoming a dancer, then we all some of some of us are still friends now. And people are you know, we’re all like fat. And some people have kids. But like, we all still take dance class. I still teach dance class, actually. So

    Jarrett Fuller it’s interesting.

    Jerome Harris I still something that’s with me. But I don’t know if I ever pursue it as a career again, I actually came of age. And I have a beer belly now. So

    Jarrett Fuller that was that was kind of going to be my next question is is did you did you have some sort of tension between those during that time in your life between a career I hesitate to use the word career but you know, a career as a designer versus a career as a dancer, were those things that you were kind of both equally interested in was the design job, just this is what pays the bills while I tried to do this other thing? What was that kind of relationship? Like?

    Jerome Harris This is a kind of indirect answer. But I always knew that I think I watched my parents and my grandmother, and my aunts and uncles work these jobs, they never, they didn’t want to work. Nearly worked. A lot of my family worked at Pratt and Whitney, and Connecticut, we built helicopter airplane parts. But it was very good paying with insurance and all this. And so they were just trying to like, you know, pick, let you know, working to live. And I was like, I don’t do that. So I’m glad, you know, my parents took care of me and, you know, gave me a roof over my head and a chance to live, you know, live the life that I wanted in a way. And I was like, I’m not. If I’m going to work a job, I’m going to do something that doesn’t feel like,

    Unknown Speaker right, right? Exactly. I decided really early. So

    Jerome Harris I was like, if I’m going to work, I’m going to work as a graphic designer, which I ended up doing New York and and I was like that I want a career in dance. So when I was working at the print shop, I loved it every day, going in there and making crappy Quit making menus and, and decals for retail stores and stuff like that. But I liked it. And I liked pursuing, you know, the grind of auditioning and meeting dancers and doing this. Well. It was never any tension that they were both things that I like to do. I just didn’t, I didn’t even know what to call a career at the time, right? I was kind of living paycheck to paycheck. And then when I did get a dance job, you get paid a lot of money, like you know, 3000 $6,000 something like them, then you get no dance jobs for like.

    Jarrett Fuller Right, right, right.

    You know, this? This is not a question that I was planning on asking you, but I kind of want to follow this thread for a while if we can. Yeah. And I will admit to you that I really don’t know anything about dance. Are there? Did you see connections? Or are there relationships between design or the design process and dance or, you know, choreography? I feel I feel like there are and I’ve talked to other designers on this podcast who have been involved in dance in some way. But we’ve never kind of talked about it. What do you have thoughts on that? No, I?

    Jerome Harris Yes, I really tried, actually, my MFA thesis was an attempt at using my choreographic data to generate graphic design. And, I mean, I personally feel like it felt like it was a failure. In a way just because I was being in grad school yells was very difficult for me in a way, I was not coming from Fine Arts, I couldn’t talk the talk. It was I was trying, I was actually getting learning two degrees. At the same time, I was learning how to be a, a fine arts person at the same time as learning how to design and talk about my work, like doing things I had things that had never been done before. Right. So it was so I think that that thesis would have been better if I might have been mentally prepared for. for that. Yeah.

    But back to the connection, I’m sorry, that the only connection is in the end, like kind of the data data part of it like I like or for Okay, for example, when I choreograph a when I make a piece of choreography, I don’t like to repeat the same movement more than once or twice. Like, formally, if I’m thinking about a post, like a 24 by 36 poster as a piece of choreography, you know, like, temporarily from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. I wouldn’t want any crop as you scan the page to ever look to say, you know what I mean? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Um, so this kind of like this, this application of my music house, you’re like rhythm from my choreography into how I compose a page, or maybe do make a piece of motion. But this, I don’t, other than that, know that because they are two diff, two separate things completely. Right, and separate processes in my head.

    Jarrett Fuller So I mean, you mentioned that you kind of tried to connect them during your thesis and that your time at Yale was was a challenge. So if it’s okay, I’d like to talk about that a little bit. Why? Why did you decide to go back to school? And what were you kind of interested in? or Why? What was what were you kind of thinking about at that time when you decided to go to jail?

    Jerome Harris You know, I think it got it. So I had a I was burnt out and

    Unknown Speaker and, yeah,

    Jerome Harris I was just tired. It was it’s it really takes a beating on your ego to be you know, again, and again and again, at auditions. And I just decided to switch over into teaching dance, and I stopped kind of, I didn’t stop designing party flowers because I needed money. But I started making self generated work. So kind of being gay work about being a dancer. We’re doing dance, let me doing design for dancers that I knew so that I could kind of work on figuring out what Jerome’s graphic design looks like, as opposed to doing what my clients wanted. Right? And, and I noticed that I was missing kind of a Polish or I knew there was something missing, like, like, I wasn’t doing research, it was all kind of intuitive work. You know what I mean? I I knew I was like a smart person. But I didn’t know I didn’t think of graphic design kind of academic way. It was just kind of like open Photoshop blank canvas, what am I gonna do? Right. And so I kind of like so I taught myself like HTML, CSS, and I myself like InDesign and illustrator and started making books and making large scale larger posters and started doing things I had never done before thinking about what I didn’t even know was like type Agra fee or you don’t mean just like brain playing with type in new ways. And and I knew him because I felt that I was like, oh, there’s a certain that my work doesn’t look like this work, but it can I know, it can. Like me online, I’m looking at, I’m gonna go to the bookstore. When I go to museums, I go to the gallery and pick up printed material. I’m like, this is so nice. How can I look like this? So yeah, that’s why I applied to grad school at USC. But I just felt something missing. And I’m really in I did the three year program. So the program here wasn’t the MFA program is just like graphic design bootcamp for one year. Right. And that, I think that was like, partially one of the most poor in learning graphic graphic design, learning intensive years of my life, because I learned I worked in all mediums. And I was really, I was really frustrated, because my teachers are like, think conceptually drone. And I was like, What the fuck is that? Right? Right. What book and, and learning how Justin work, working my creative muscles and learning how to cook. Because I mean, conceptual thinking in itself is a skill that needs to be honed, you don’t even need to design anything. Like it’s just a thing that you you can do through sketching or writing, just to get the thoughts out. And for me, that was the biggest takeaway that first year and then moving into the met the Masters year, then I was super insecure, because I’m in there with all these people, you know, words and worked all these amazing jobs. I’m like, shit, apply to a party flyering be

    Jarrett Fuller there? I mean, there must have been something in those party flyers, you know, like there had to have been some something that got got there I to get you there.

    Jerome Harris I think so I thought there was one project I did in the class with Laurel Schultz. So I say her name wrong. So yeah. One added to took a interactive class with her, but we had to do a, we had to make images based on a Twitter feed of our choice knows every day for 30 days or something like that. So I chose this gay wrapper leaf from from Brooklyn. And that was the first time I didn’t feel the pressure to design things that looked modernist, or like, anything like this, I was kind of like, I’m gonna go back to my party fire, you know, days, and I would make out make these ridiculous collages that just in this working the same way I was before I was with party flyers, but then with the Yale weirdness in there, like scanning stuff and move.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, yeah.

    Jerome Harris And so I was, so they didn’t think so my classmates were like, this is really cool. And I was like, well, this is what I was doing anyway. Yeah, it is, is regular, why aren’t you doing this?

    Jarrett Fuller Can you talk more about that this is something that I think about a lot of this, just this like idea of amateurism, I guess you could kind of say, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my own undergraduate design experience, and how kind of like, kind of like what you’re talking about, there’s a there was something that was like, very intuitive about, I was just kind of going with my gut, I was just kind of making things all the time in these like, different ways. And then somehow through education, through working through bosses, whatever. Some of that amateur Nish, some of that, intuitive, this gets beat out of you. And I even think like the thinking conceptually, or thinking, you know, something, everything has to have some sort of meaning, it almost can sometimes do the inverse of what it’s trying to do. Because you’re like, putting all of these rules or pressure, how did you kind of think about that, while you were in school, and you were kind of learning all of these new things you were learning to think conceptually, but you’re also like, going back to the your old work? How do those things start to come together for you?

    Unknown Speaker I think

    Jerome Harris and this is also a reason why I feel like my kind of thesis. Well, I don’t think it’s completely failed. But I looking back, I feel like it could have been much better. But I felt the

    Jarrett Fuller I think everybody fixed thesis could be better after, after they’re done with it.

    Jerome Harris But the pressure to make this like seductive modernists work, you know, I and then work that I was making that was kind of in the vein of what what I was doing before. My professors could what could didn’t respond to, they couldn’t want to it. I feel like they, they would look at it. And they, they would say they wouldn’t say it was bad, but it clearly was a bad critique. Also just thought, well, you don’t know where I’m coming from. You know, it’s, it’s Yeah, for me, it almost felt like an identity thing. You know what I mean? I’m presenting a new characteristic to I remember, one of my professors actually told me, based based on the way I speak spoken class was super casual. He was like, Jerome, do you ever? Are you familiar with like code switching or changing registers? And I was kind of like, No, I’m just, I was the same person all time. And but I didn’t, it didn’t really hit me until I went home that night. And I was like, Oh, he wants me to be like, a upstanding Negro. I see. Like, puts me to more proper in this in this in this context. It really didn’t mean I didn’t, it was it was kind of, it hit me kind of hard. But, but yeah, that I forget. Now I forgot the question.

    Jarrett Fuller Just just kind of like how, I mean, cuz you’re talking about your kind of like answering the question already, but you’re talking about kind of how hard your time it was because you didn’t have this kind of art background, you’re learning how to think conceptually, but you’re also kind of realizing that that early work was there was something to that, and how all of those things start to come together for you how you kind of work through all of these different things. I mean, even kind of being subtly told that your work needs to be modernist, you know, or, or that, that your point of view isn’t maybe quote unquote, good design. How do those things start to come together for you to start kind of generating new work and new ideas?

    Jerome Harris Okay, okay. Okay, part one.

    Jarrett Fuller Do you know what I mean? Does that make sense? said a lot there.

    Jerome Harris So far. I I got in like scream screaming matches with like, a buffet. And like, Who else was arguing with

    Irma boom, like,

    like, I’m like,

    people are telling me like, this is like the most important workshop you ever do in your life? And I’m like, why is it?

    That was my time at

    all these capital, the capital D graphic designers telling me what I was doing wasn’t good enough. And I’m like, Well, tell me why I was like, I think you just don’t know what I’m doing. Yeah. But But I also was seduced. And even like, my classmates, were doing really cool experimental stuff. And I was like, Oh, yeah, that’s cool, too. But like, I didn’t understand why. Anyway, so that was my, it was crippling self doubt, and also insecurity, and also, but also a little bit of like fighting back, because I was kind of like, what, tell me why so I can fix it. So that’s the first part. And then moving forward. I think that I’ve tried to start working, like working in new experimental, like, I think I didn’t get grad school until I finished. And then when I,

    Jarrett Fuller yes, I know exactly what you mean.

    Jerome Harris And then if I finish, I was like, oh, shoot, I have like, all these. Like, I think I was just I was in a better meant, like, my mental health was a little better. I had like money in my pocket. And I was kind of, Oh, yeah, I feel better. So I was working for an organization called Art Space. And I did kind of the the visual identity. Art Space is an arts nonprofit in New Haven, by the way, and visual identity for annual event they have called city wide open studios, I think that’s the first time that I really got to show my chops because I got to make everything myself and I really made a whole visual identity system and then pumped out like up to like 50 deliverables for like print, web, you know, motion pieces, animated banners, social media, all of this by myself. And I was kind of like, Oh, I couldn’t have done this before, because I was literally doing one piece, sending it to the client. Whereas now I was able to I, you know, I was able to see all the skills that came up. But then I was I started doing this this 2d flat stuff. And whereas before, I was doing kind of more dimensional glowing Blinky stuff, kind of in the vein of like, a pen and pixel, like Cash Money record. Yeah. And so I think I also also had to catch myself and I was like, wow, you know, I was like, I it was even kind of difficult for me to start stepping back in that direction, because I got out of the habit of working in that way. So I think slowly, as I started doing more and more freelance work, I started moving back toward that direction. With with now with that kind of, like, ability to think through and do in research have a kind of a research based process. For graphic design. I want to

    Jarrett Fuller I want to try to connect this a little bit, maybe to to the exhibition that you curated. This was that earlier this year,

    Jerome Harris that was in September, okay. And then it’s like, all over the place now.

    Jarrett Fuller Okay, so so you curated this exhibition called as not for dethroning our absolutes. And this this exhibition, which I will admit, I’ve only seen pictures of I didn’t get to experience it yet, in real life. But it is, is a kind of survey of black graphic designers throughout history. Yeah. And I’m, I’m wondering if I’m wondering if you could kind of talk about where this came from, because kind of hearing you talk about professors telling you about code switching, and that that these certain modernist principles are important and that you’re working should be a certain way and come from a certain place. And you kind of fighting against that saying, you don’t really kind of understand who I am or where I’m coming from, or what my point of view is, I feel like these are connected in some way. And I feel like the way that we often talk about design history is that modernism is kind of the pinnacle is, this still is what good design is, is kind of how we talk about it. And this is a topic that comes up on the podcast all the time, that design history. That is a very limiting way to talk about design history, and that there are a lot of people there are a lot of ideas, there are a lot of cultures that are kind of completely written out of that. And could you talk about the exhibition and how that’s kind of trying to remedy this and also how you started to think about this and kind of realizing that these things are being taught are actually just one point of view not gospel.

    Jerome Harris Yeah, I think I realized is pretty

    my first year in grad school was on history class with Doug Scott and everybody knows that Scott Yeah, I think if you went to a rusty or you you you’ve taken you know that you’ve taken design history with him. So his seminar was on for me almost life changing because it because I never thought to research design, like I didn’t think it mattered who designed the typeface and, and thinking about historical context and design so I do have to give them props for that. But there were no black people in his lectures. And I was kind of like as the only black person to programs like what was a black people. So the we had to do a just a design research project and then present like a book about this about the figure. So most people chose kind of, you know, a programming and we’ll find one guard that you know, the classic Stephen Stephen said Segre, Meister Ditka, and, and I chose buddy, Esquire, who was a party fly designer for during the rise of hip hop, am in the 70s and 80s. And in my effort to do research, I couldn’t find anything on him. Cornell had a really cool archive of hip hop party flyers that I did a lot of my kind of visual research from and then there was a woman at Cornell, Amanda Lalanne, I hope I’m saying her name right, who wrote an extensive kind of bio on buddy sky, this is really all I had to go over. And then a lot of it was just kind of like speculative, speculative, like, with the understanding that he was like, for example, inspired by art, you know, Art Deco, because he said, He’s like he, he was really into art deco posters and architecture. Some of his flyers kind of mimic Art Deco facades and government buildings in the Bronx. So it’s easy for me to believe that he was looking at this and being like, let me You know, one hand will transferring this but not may also abstracting it. So it’s like, whatever. So, but that that was the first time I ever did that. But it was so difficult. And I kind of stopped doing that kind of like blood graphic design research. And then when I finished school, I kind of picked it back up, discovered other people like phase two who I actually interviewed, he’s still alive. I interviewed him in AI ga and design worth issues came up last month, two months ago. And then more and more people kept popping up. I was finding out about all these designers in Chicago. Leroy when bush and McBain and I was like, dude, but like, the funny thing was, is that these guys are also like, kind of trained by guys from the Bauhaus or working in advertising agencies working in modern, right, I’m right, where do I not hear about these guys? So then that’s kind of the impetus that was kind of the impetus for the show. When I got hired as a teaching fellow at Micah. We were required to do me and Munson eo shout out to him. And so he was the other fellow.

    Fellow. And

    we both did research, it was really funny because we ended up doing research in our own identity. He did Hangul type biography, integrating Hangul typography with the English language, and effective ways, which I thought was amazing. And then added kind of the history of survey of African American graphic designers of the 20th century. And so it was supposed to be a book and rocket horn, the chair she suggested, she was like, why don’t you make an exhibition? And I was like, it was like, Don’t give me a challenge, because I’ll do it. Yeah, and I had never curated before I had never, like written academically kind of beyond graduate school. And I just took it on I you know, I went to Chicago a couple times. There’s so much to look at University of Chicago University. Chicago campus. University of Houston has a huge pen and pixel archive Well, the cash money a masterpiece Snoop Dogg artwork. Where else the list goes on and on. I kept discovering so many archives and even in the back of my head, I was kind of like a bunch of this stuff in like, somebody’s grandmother’s basement that I’m see. Yeah, but um, yeah, it and it was a very graphic designer, a show designer leash show. It was a poster show. It was a, what was somebody called a meta poster show? Because it was posters of posters sometimes. So

    Jarrett Fuller Oh, right. Because you you reproduce them all at the same? Yes. Size within a kind of standard poster format.

    Jerome Harris Yeah. So it it was like a scalar. With some things, nothing was really to scale. Everything was either scaled up except for the web, two boys posters, which are scaled down. And I did the show, and I ended up getting a lot of press, I was in on the afro punk website on the design website. And I was just kind of like, okay, it was like you guys like this? Don’t. I thought I was going to put up the show and take it down and go on about my life. Yeah, and so the show’s traveled. It’s been at VCU, it’s been at risk. It has been a city to in Brooklyn, it’s going to him. in Minneapolis, California. Yeah. It’s been at CCA, San Francisco and Oakland. It’s, it’s it’s really weird. And in, in in. For me, it’s hard because it was a selfish project. It was like, I need to know I need to be able to prove to people the reason why my work looks the way it does. And also I need to be able to prove to myself that there were myself. There were other black designers in the field, because I don’t see I don’t see too many black people in the field, or I didn’t see the black people. So I did this show and all the black people came out the woodwork I’m like,

    right? I mean, I mean,

    Jarrett Fuller I almost I almost feel like there is something in the you know, you said you did this kind of selfishly and to kind of prove to yourself I I’m thinking about that administration’s person at Tyler, who said, This isn’t graphic design. You know that in some weird way, this is a response to that guy saying, look at all of these party fires, designed by these great designers who are also trained by Bauhaus guys just like, just like you are.

    Jerome Harris And the funny thing is also that like, even when I was at Yale, I also couldn’t argue back Why my work was good, right? It was the moment for your work is bad, it would say and, you know, art school critique language, but I also couldn’t be like, well, if you look at buddy, Esquire kind of pixel, I’m actually you know, using heavy layering and Photoshop, right? I didn’t have that language to to explain it. I was kind of like, I’m incapable. So now I feel like, for me, it was kind of being able to give receipts as they say, in the real housewives.

    Jarrett Fuller That was that was kind of my next question. Actually, I was kind of curious how doing this research and putting together this show, how has it changed how you think about both your work specifically, but also just graphic design, as a field, or as a profession?

    Jerome Harris Oh, I just wrote about this in,

    in the amalgam magazine, but

    I think it was listening,

    which should be coming out, but it’s called that articles go against but the spirit of modernism and just kind of like goes over the how modern modern was trying to fight against like the, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in a way and the nice antiquated kind of traditions and bring about the new and now modernism is now that antiquated. Working with text and image, which now needs to be needed a new modernism needs to happen. And I think about like post modernism, too, but like, it’s still feel like there’s a another step that can be taken.

    Jarrett Fuller I’m curious how, how these ideas that you’re talking about, of kind of, you know, both rethinking design history and how we talk about it, and kind of the the work that inspires you how does how do these ideas come into the classroom now that you’re also teaching? Yeah, design? Are they kind of influencing that?

    Jerome Harris You know, I think if anything, I’m what I’m not doing is is trying to make my classroom a mini Bauhaus is, which is what I feel like a lot of graphic design teachers do. I’m not going to call anybody out. But I feel like a lot of people do that. And I tend to show a wide range of work I show amateur worker shows means a show music videos. I do as do show commercial work. But I also show like work by up and coming designers. You know, I try to show a range. I show other students work like you I try to show everything. Yeah.


    and I’m not everybody does that. And I think that what happens is, my students, my students work in the being in their own kind of combination of what they’re interested in, as opposed to me art directing, what work should look like, or just showing them a limited set of work and saying, okay, work in this narrow framework, right. So I think that’s, if anything, that’s the way that my interest feed into it, I have a larger interest. And I just don’t have as much time as I want. But I would like to research kind of more American subcultures. And beyond hip hop, hip hop, definitely, because that’s what I grew up with. But like thinking about, like, Chicano culture, or thinking about, I got, I don’t even know, Native Americans were making graphic design. But if they were, I’m pretty sure it was pretty cool. I just want to know, I want to know people were doing on the margins, and kind of trying to find a way to like, respectfully honor that. And my work, you know, for what I find interesting about it.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, I have two questions about that. And these might be completely selfish questions, to be, to be honest, you know, I think I’m really liking what you’re saying about how you’re trying to not have the classroom just be a mini Bauhaus or a new Bauhaus. Which I agree, I think a lot of design education is trying to kind of just kind of continue that. And that’s what my undergraduate graphic design education was like. And so when I started teaching, kind of, I had all of these ideas of how I was going to do things differently. And then my first year of teaching was basically just doing, you know, teaching in a very similar way to the way I was taught, because I knew how to do that. And it made it easier to, you know, present things and talk about things. And yeah, and now the longer I’ve been teaching up and trying to move away from that a little bit and trying to get into more of this mode that you’re talking about. I’m curious how your students respond to this, especially when they might have other professors who are telling them otherwise. How do you kind of navigate that of being him? I’m showing you a bunch of different things. There are other people who will say say that this is wrong. But guess what, it’s not our students into that, are they? You know, kind of self conscious about it? What’s that? What’s that experience? Like?

    Jerome Harris I don’t know. It’s, it’s really it’s 2018 2019 this last school year was really weird because students don’t talk. They like they like to they don’t talk ask them to participate in class. They don’t say anything. So partially, I don’t know. But I, but they do gossip. And the students that do are my fans, they do they tell me that students who don’t like my class tend to think that teach too loosely, like I’m not super didactic, which I do on purpose, because I’m like, yeah, figure it out. Like, yeah, I’m the same way. Here’s the tools. Okay, go home and think about it. And then I’ll correct you next week. And but, but some of my students like that, they like the autonomy. I think I’ve learned that I can’t, I do have to be a little didactic, I do have to give them like, I’ve started putting, like, number and make a numbered list of requirements for homework assignments, for example. And then grading based on that, because they just because I don’t know what to do on their own sometime. Wrong. But okay, getting back to your question, the you know, I’ll tell you this, I’ve had a, say, a dozen plus students of color, come to me and tell me, I’m not getting enough feedback and class from my professor, can we meet one on one to talk about our projects. And this isn’t just black kids, Asian, Middle Eastern, South Asian, like everybody is and I’ve almost become this kind of like, outspoken, outspoken, you know, person of color in the department who they feel comfortable with. Who coming to and saying, Hey, I didn’t talk about my identity. But But nobody knows how to talk about this, or I’m being told that I should lesson my cultural, my background and my work and make it more quote unquote, professional. And that that really pissed me off. So I don’t know, I really, I really pulled them aside and try to talk to them, try to talk them through it, let them know, you know, I mean, a lot of times, this isn’t even like, bashing white people. But like a lot. I think white people just don’t you it’s really easy to live a default, non, you know, white life. Yeah, in that you might not even be trying to be an asshole. But like, you just don’t know what to say just because you’ve never encountered that thought before. Right. And but I do feel like it’s a you need to take the responsibility of getting your student the resource, as you know, I think is that it’s important, especially if they want to do work on identity. And he said, You know, I can’t help you. But let me get you somebody who can

    Jarrett Fuller write? Right. Yeah, I mean, I it’s you are talking about something that I think about every day in the classes that you as a as a straight white man who’s teaching predominantly international female students? Yes, I’m, you know, I’m kind of confronted with this literally every class. And so it’s it, you know, and it’s why I’m thinking about all of this stuff that we’re talking about, of, Oh, am I just showing all the same white dudes in class again, you know, yeah. And, and so, you know, it’s, I feel like, you know, all of this stuff we’re talking about is kind of, we have to rethink the whole system of how we teach design, otherwise, it is going to be that take out your identity make this more corporate, which which, what does that even mean, you know, in that context?

    Jerome Harris Yeah, I think I said something a little controversial in a faculty meeting recently, because we were given a test to assess students, juniors, rising, you know, rising juniors. And I was largely disappointed, because it just looked like copy. Like, they looked at things that look good. Like, they looked at chobani, redesigned things on the internet, and then they just copied it, you know, and it looks clean, and like, resolved, but it’s not the work of a graphic designer. So I said in the meeting, I was like, This is the work of a production artists, this isn’t the work of a graphic designer. And if you want if that’s what you want to teach at a college that’s, that you may might as well go to school, you know, they’re like, Yeah, because they’re not, they’re not learning what they’re supposed to be learning in this place. And I’ve got a little bit of fire for that. But I mean, I was it’s true to learn, you’re not learning how to be graphic design. Yes, I’m gonna be looking, you don’t want to think that’s that’s the part that so? Well, can.

    Jarrett Fuller Can you talk more about that, because again, this is something that I actually talked about this with my students, we’re just kind of having an informal discussion about the design field and that sort of thing to wrap up the semester. And they were talking about how they enjoyed in the, in this class, being able to kind of do work that meant something to them. And that was different, and giving them space to kind of be, quote unquote, experimental and that they were fearful that when they move into the quote, unquote, real world, that they won’t be able to do that anymore. And that they will have to just be those kind of production artists, and basically kind of asking is that what we should be learning here is just how to do that other thing instead of this, like, stuff that’s from ourselves. And so it’s like a thing that they’re thinking about, of, you know, how do I navigate my education? So I can have the best portfolio to get a job? How do you talk about that balance, either with other faculty or even just with your students who are kind of thinking about these questions?

    Jerome Harris I think that I taught a class called a GD for Mike. But it’s basically like, it’s like partially conceptual thinking partially, like systems, a system relevant in a way. So learning how to think systematically make a machine and then pump your content through it and see what happens on the other end. So learning how to build the machine and learning how to think conceptually to assemble the machine in a way, if that makes sense. Right. So they, that class complained about me so well, I learned after the fact. And it made it made Brock get really nervous about me, because she because the students really didn’t understand that I was pushing them way further than they were, they were thinking way harder conceptually than they’ll ever have to think of any job that they’ve ever had. But I will explain to them along the way, when you get a job, you’re going to have like a creative director and an art director and maybe like a senior designer, and then you’re just going to have like all these ideas that are never going to make it to the so like,

    Jarrett Fuller right.

    Jerome Harris So what you need to do is learn how to be generative, make a bunch of stuff, and then like, have all these things to choose from and then be select, learn how to edit all these things. And they didn’t get it until the very end when it was time for them to put their machine to work. And they were making stuff. And they were like, Huh, this doesn’t work. I need to change this. And I was like, exactly. Like you.

    Jarrett Fuller Right? Right. Right.

    Jerome Harris Um, and so it was a some of my students really still praise me to this. They’re seeing graduating seniors and they’re like, I loved your GD for class. Nice. Some of them just completely avoid me. And don’t talk to me at all. So I think that always happens. But it’s a it’s a, it’s the that rigor is kind of like, I put say this, I mean, all my classes, I teach interactive design, too. And I let them know like, okay, learning how to code HTML, CSS is important. Because if you get a product design job at a, you know, a digital agency, whatever, you’re going to have to do a mock up of an app or something like this, and just code it yourself. And then you send it off to production, or the developer who actually make does this thing for real. And it’s important for you to know how to think interactively for like UX UI design, you know, so like, but I say this in class, just to try to make it one for one for them, even though it’s still abstract. And they didn’t like they’re like a job. You know?

    Jarrett Fuller You started

    mentioning a little bit about this already, but I’m kind of curious about what you’re thinking about. Now. What are your research interests? What’s kind of work are you interested in right now? What’s next for you at this point?

    Jerome Harris Um, I am I think after this exhibition as not for I am so I am actually really are talking about race and diversity and inclusion. I’m sorry. No, no, it’s okay. It’s okay. Because I do I think I’m also realizing that with my with that with my kind of exhaustion of talking about it, I do feel like it’s like white people need to be like, the dicks that are white people need friends who are saying, hey, you’re being a dick. Just calm down. Cuz I mean, because I can’t do it. Yeah, like the the white people who are a little more level headed need to be like, Hey, this is cool. Like, you stop doing this. Like, I’m tired of being black people and people of color should have do it anymore. So So I’m actually kind of interested, I’m a big gamer. And there, there’s so many little nuances in game design and graphic, this. It’s such a rich, visual language, it’s really tacky all at the same time, bright colors, and explosions and meters. But like, you can extract things out of it. And I feel like and build beautiful compositions. So I’m, I’m really interested in building fantasy worlds and content, thinking about video games, and I’m obsessed with borrowing kind of language. I made a book in grad school that I love, which instead of having page numbers, there’s a health meter at the top and you die. Yeah. And so that was like, maybe, like, the first time that ever did it. And I was like, I want to go back to that, you know, I kind of want to always use health meters as page numbers. Yeah, you know, in like, I want to just start bringing kind of that language into kind of traditional graphic design.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, that’s hilarious.

    Jerome Harris Still. Yeah, I think it’s also I mean, I think you get the I’m a, I’m a huge goofball, everything’s, I can’t take a lot of things seriously, because it just, I will be sad and depressed. And I have to laugh, let a lot of things go. So with that being said, I think building fantasy worlds and think doing deeper origins of these things. And also, there’s not much academic literature on it. So it’ll be I would have to go to developers and interview them and actually, actually talk to graphic designers and at square, Square Enix, and Disney and read about what what they’re thinking. So

    Jarrett Fuller that sounds awesome. What are the your favorite books or authors or people that have really influenced kind of how you think about design? how you think about design history, teaching kind of all of this that we’ve talked about today? Who are the people or the books that have, you know, really kind of shaped that? That’s really interesting.

    Jerome Harris I don’t did not design books.

    Jarrett Fuller That’s okay. I don’t, I didn’t mean for them to be, you know, designers.

    Jerome Harris It’s the thing about it, it’s hard because a lot of the the things that I think I theorize in my head aren’t things I necessarily have read. Oh, interesting. You know, I like the way that I’ve talked to talk to you about like, how choreography and kind of rhythm kind of influences my compositions? I do. Okay, I think I do think I do think john gamble. Shout out to john gamble. My time my type first type teacher first for giving me rubber bring her elements a type of girl, right? Yeah. And then hand in hand, I have to shout out my 10th grade English teacher who introduced me to the Elements of Style. Oh, I think that I think I’ve learned more and more the better I feel at type biography, the more the less I feel like I know. So and the thing about it is that it is I was we were having this conversation on Twitter, there’s a bunch of us who I started a thread because I was complaining about who begins naming graphic design graphic design. Oh, I saw a little. Yeah. And so with some we were I was somebody was bonded, and was talking about how important literacy was. And I was like, This is so true. Because like I do, the more you get into type, the more you understand how a person will read this, and you have to make it you know, you have to make the language readable and legible. Like it has to be beautiful. And it has to be something that makes sense to people. And then also I got to getting into writing has been helpful. So like this, I guess this kind of more of a technical and theoretical thing, but knowing how to edit text, and then yeah, like also knowing how to arrange texts in a in the best possible way to make it readable.

    I think is an important, I use the term literacy engineer, as opposed to grow high life. Because I think that I think that is actually what we do.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, that’s great. That’s such a great way to end this here. Jerome, this was such a fun conversation for me. I enjoyed talking to you and kind of thinking about all this stuff and thinking through all this stuff with you. Thanks so much for being on the podcast.

    Jerome Harris Yeah, thank you.

    Jarrett Fuller This episode was recorded on May 14 2019. Our theme music is by Andy Borghesani it we’re on Twitter and Instagram at surface podcast. You can find us wherever you get your podcast at scratching the surface.fm Thanks for listening