I’ve created graphics in celebration of Black History Month in the past. However, I wanted to do something different this year. I wanted to give some shine to African-American graphic designers that have made an impact on American culture. This design project also was my chance to learn about these designers I should know.
In 2019, there were albums that made such an impact on me that I just had to design something for them. I’m an extremely happy person any time I can use my creative skills to celebrate things I enjoy. Last year, I did a Top 10 design series. This time, when I was putting together my list, I had to include 11 to properly capture my favorites of the year.
In my newest video series, Making A Mark, I take you through my process of creating designs.
In the first episode, I try to interpret the word in·se·cu·ri·ty into a logo design.
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I am the Publications Manager & Multimedia Designer at Kappa Kappa Psi & Tau Beta Sigma National Headquarters. This means that I serve as the one-man graphic design department at headquarters and handle a variety of projects, which include websites, visual brand identities, trade show displays, magazines, and more. Last year, the more included designing the visual layout for the Chapter Vice President of Membership Teaching Manual and the Membership Candidate Guidebook for the Kappa Kappa Psi National Membership Education Program: The Road to Wisdom.
The Road to Wisdom is a comprehensive education plan that provides lesson plans and activities that was adopted at the 2017 National Convention in Orlando, Florida, by an overwhelming majority of brothers. The work behind this plan began years before its completion. My work with the Kappa Kappa Psi Curriculum Committee began with design the logo for the program. Knowing this logo would be the centerpiece of the entire brand of the program, I wanted something that would be immediately recognizable.
The star is a frequently used shape throughout the imagery and symbolism of Kappa Kappa Psi. I made the star the main shape and within it cut out the shape of a road. The road is drawn at an angle and curve, moving forward, upward, and onward. The two lines on the road mark the center of a two-way road. The two-way road can represent the giving and receiving of education as well as two-way communication between teacher and student. The logo was used to promote the program and brand the curriculum committee but the two full textbooks would be a much larger and in-depth design undertaking.
The outstanding Kappa Kappa Psi Curriculum Committee spent a lot of time crafting a lesson plan and corresponding documents to provide maximum value to brothers and Membership Candidates. Once they had the content collected and organized, they trusted me to interpret their great work visually. To do that efficiency, I used Adobe InDesign. For this kind of project, there is no better program to use that InDesign.
First, the covers of the two textbooks had to properly represent the Fraternity and the program. I put the Road To Wisdom logo large on the cover with the official Greek letter logo of the Fraternity at the bottom. The title of each book was placed in-between. In the background, there is a collage of various photos related to Kappa Kappa Psi, including historical landmarks and symbols.
Inside the book, I had to use the power of InDesign to setup certain things to make sure each book was visually consistent throughout. Font choices and title styles were saved in the Paragraph Styles section. Section titles, excerpt text, Membership Candidate Responses, Guiding Questions For Discussion, and other elements that would be in every lesson were made to be consistent throughout. Also, speaking of consistency, InDesign allows you to create Master Pages that create the template for the rest of the pages in the document as assigned. The majority of the books use the template I created with the full text Kappa Kappa Psi logo on the left, the Road To Wisdom star in the center, and “Road To Wisdom” with the page number to the right.
Each lesson in the Road To Wisdom is color coded. These colors are not only featured in their corresponding section but in the Table of Contents. The Table of Contents also are the first hint that I will be using the road (from the main logo) as a motif throughout the books. The road is featured on each of the lesson covers. Each lesson has its color and a summary of the information they will be learning or teaching, depending on the book. The Vice President of Membership had additional elements such as Required and Recommended Attendees. The differences in the two books stem from the different perspectives (teacher and student).
Throughout each book, information and directives are presented so that the teacher and student can get the most out of their membership education experience. The committee and I talked at length about the best way to translate their incredibly important and hard work into tangible publications. The purpose of The Road to Wisdom is to ensure that each future Brother, regardless of initiating chapter, is receiving the same national standard of education and training. These books are the foundation of building a positive life-long Brotherhood experience and I am blessed to have played a role in their design.
P.S. You can check out the official Road To Wisdom webpage we designed as a resource for the program.
The Power of Video
Recently, Instagram announced their new feature, IGTV. When initially announced, I thought it would be like Facebook Watch where only the most popular & well-known creators would be able to create programming for the platform. Imagine my surprise when my Instagram app updated and I found out everyone on IG could now create long-form video content. At launch, some well-known creators and personalities had content populating IGTV, showing us what was possible. Days before the launch, I had been thinking about making more videos for Instagram and possibly making an “Instagram show” of sorts so this development pleased me.
Instagram has evolved from just photos to allowing 15 second video (which I experimented with) to allowing up to 60 second videos. Now, with IGTV, creators can upload videos up to 15 minutes with some creators being able to upload up to 1 hour. I’ve written about the power of video before and the power only increases with each new advance in tech. So, with each new advance, comes new opportunities to experiment and attempt to master.
The Process of Making IG Video
The process of designing anything for any platform or purpose begins with setting up the file. I edit all my videos in Adobe Premiere Pro. So, when I create a new sequence in Premiere, I have to make sure of two things in particular: the frame size and the pixel aspect ratio. For square Instagram video that I’d post on my regular feed, I use a 1080 x 1080 frame size. For IGTV, I use a 1080 x 1920 frame size for the vertical video format. With any video I am posting on the Instagram, I always have the pixel aspect ratio at 1.0 (square pixels).
According to Instagram’s website on IGTV:
Videos must be between 15 seconds and 10 minutes long. Larger accounts and verified accounts can upload videos up to 60 minutes long, but they must be uploaded from a computer.
Videos must be in MP4 file format. Videos should be vertical (not landscape) with a minimum aspect ratio of 4:5 and maximum of 9:16. The maximum file size for videos that are 10 minutes or less is 650MB. The maximum file size for videos up to 60 minutes is 5.4GB.
As far as filming (or using) content for IGTV specifically, I try to keep in mind the vertical video format. I either just try to keep the main content centered when filming so I can maneuver while editing in Premiere or just film vertical, which you can do naturally on your phone. I have attempted to translate some videos I already created into IGTV format from my YouTube channel. The challenge there is to not assume all the content will be seen in a vertical format. I shift video file around and get creative in editing to make sure I am presenting the visuals in a way that’s appealing and unique to the platform.
I encourage everyone who has a personal Instagram account or manages one for a brand to experiment with IGTV and video on Instagram in general. With any new feature or platform, you have to taste it and figure out how to best use it for the building and sustaining of your brand for your goals. I like that Instagram is giving creators so much on one app. I don’t necessarily see it as a YouTube killer but it does give creators another option and avenue. I have enjoyed my IGTV experience thus far and am looking forward to producing more content on it in the future.
From the moment I laid eyes (and ears) on her “Tightrope” music video in the year 2010, I have been in love with the creative tour-de-force that is Janelle Monae. She is my favorite music artist of any genre, any time period. She and the Wondaland Arts Society produce music that is so creative, exciting, soulful, meaningful, and exquisitely crafted. I devour any and all music that she releases or is featured on. Recently, she released her latest marvelous body of work, Dirty Computer, and I was inspired to create illustrations based on each of the marvelous songs on the album.
Similar to my 100 Songs Project, I listened to each song as I attempted to illustrate a corresponding visual concept. I sketched out some ideas that I thought would work for each track. From each sketch/idea, I went into Adobe Illustrator and came up with something I thought would speak to each track. Along with listening to each song on repeat while designing, I used the lyrics and breakdown from the website Genius as well as her own interactive tracklist with her listed inspirations. Some of the illustrations are also inspired the accompanying emotion picture she released along with the album.
Here are the 12 illustrations I came up with for the project.
1 – Dirty Computer – This one was a minimalistic illustration of the back of my MacBook Pro with a silhouette of an Janelle Monae illustration from her “Django Jane” music video (which you’ll see featured in number 5) replacing the Apple logo.
2 – Crazy, Classic, Life – This is an illustration of a frame taken directly from the Dirty Computer emotion picture.
3 – Take A Byte – A microchip branded with love with a literal bite taken on out of it.
4 – Screwed – This illustration is directly inspired by the lyric – “You f*cked the world up now, we’ll f*ck it all back down”.
5 – Django Jane – I drew this from the frame in the “Django Jane” video where she pans right for the angle.
6 – Pynk – Directly inspired by the music video and the pants the dancers wore.
7 – Make Me Feel – Inspired by the shades she wore in the music video and how she danced between a man (Mars) and a woman (Venus), hence the symbols.
8 – I Got The Juice – Juice box for the win! Using the Django Jane silhouette here too.
9 – I Like That – Made my own like icon on this one. Inspired by “Told the whole world, I’m the venom and the antidote / Take a different type of girl to keep the whole world afloat”
10 – Don’t Judge Me – A judge’s gavel crossed out.
11 – So Afraid – This one was the most challenging. I was trying to figure out how to visually represent fear. So, I took inspiration from the Scream movies. I utilized negative space for the heart shaped tongue, the teeth, and the tears welling up in the eyes.
12 – Americans – A good old-fashioned American apple pie! With equal signs all over the top. Using red, white, and blue.
Tribute projects are fun to work on. I am happy anytime what I love do can intersect with other things I am passionate about. Put time into design series like this is great practice for me and a way for me share what I like with the world – like the greatness of Janelle Monae.
To properly execute a strategy you need to know what you want to accomplish. In my humble opinion, creating with purpose is essential to a fulfilling life. Regardless of what you are creating, you need to be aware and constantly evaluating why you’re doing it. What do you want to accomplish? This past weekend, three words came to mind and I wrote them down. I want to accomplish these three things with my work and content.
Teach. Inspire. Reveal.
I want to teach what I learn as I learn it. I believe in pouring into others as I am being poured into. Being a person with expertise means having the power to help others who want to do what you do. I want to be seen as a resource for aspiring designers as well as potential clients.
I want to inspire through the work that I share. I cherish the ability and the opportunity to be a catalyst for someone else to create. My wish for everyone is to achieve the reality of their creative potential. Sometimes that takes seeing someone else doing what you want to do. I follow numerous graphic designers who inspire me on a daily basis. I would love to one day be seen as an inspiration to someone who sees my content.
I want to reveal the process behind the work I do as a way to help people gain understanding. People who aren’t even in the design space seem to enjoy my content. They like the visual concepts and content I post on my social media. They like seeing the behind-the-scenes of what I do. That behind-the-scenes content contextualizes my designs and serves as teachable opportunities.
Through this blog, my video series, my designs, and more, I want to be an advocate for creativity. I want to do as much as possible with the skillset, resources, and opportunities I’ve been blessed with.
March Madness, also known as the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, is the greatest post-season in all of sports. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. This time around, I decided to create a logo that celebrated it’s return.
The concept I had was a basketball in the center with brackets feeding into it. I started with the basketball since that would be centerpiece. A lot of things can be made in Illustrator simply by positioning the right shapes in the right places. I started with the circle. Once I applied the right amount of stroke on the circle path, I copied the circle twice. I positioned the two additional circles so the bottom and top curves, respectively, would line up like they are seen on a basketball. The two crossing bars were applied and positioned to complete the center image.
Cutting away the portion outside of the center was done in three steps:
- highlighting everything thus far and doing Object > Path > Outline Stroke
- drawing a new circle on top
- applying Divide Objects Below and deleting everything outside the main circle.
Step 1 was necessary because I used Stroke to create the weight. If I had attempted to draw the circle and Divide Objects Below in that state, the cut would have been incorrect. I didn’t want the blank center to count as something to cut. The circle(s) must be counted as rings and not full circles.
The brackets were pretty easy. I just drew one bracket with the desired weight and copied the positioned the rest. I added the text “March Madness” in the center and used “Unite” Shape Mode in the Pathfinder window. I like to unite the vector paths to make sure there aren’t any small white border lines separating the different layers. Uniting the paths helps ensure that the concept is seen as complete and not an assemblage of parts.
After finishing this and posting on my social media, I saw an interesting thread. Carrington Harrison posted a March Madness style bracket of Kanye West’s best songs – the #KanyeMadnessBracket. Immediately, I started working on a Kanye version of my March Madness concept. I kept the same brackets on the outside and created a simple Kanye West illustration. I used a Kanye photo as reference and made the center image. I started with the head shape and worked on everything fitting within and around it.
Those glasses were chosen because they are iconic and easily recognizable as a past Kanye staple. I played with the colors and even made a graphic for my personal #KanyeMadnessBracket Final Four.
Big events breed big, creative ideas. Glad I was inspired to design a couple of ideas to add to the fun of the season!
Time is the most precious resource. I have friends who have full time positions but also pursue passion projects and other purposeful endeavors after work. So, they know the power of time management. I am far from a master of time but I have learned the power of scheduling time to work on my designs, videos and blogs. You’ve heard a million times that we all have the same 24 hours each day. It’s an immutable fact. But sometimes we get trapped by the idea of having to do everything in that 24 hour period. That trap causes you to think, if you don’t accomplish everything on your 35 task long to-do list, you’re a failure. That fear of failure can keep you from attempting anything at all. Start with one 30 minute period and one task to complete.
Doing weekly blogs and weekly videos first requires commitment. The commitment is the state of being dedicated to a cause or activity. It’s the initial determination. Denzel Washington, in his acceptance speech at the 2017 NAACP Image Awards, stated that “Without commitment, you’ll never start.” You have to first discover within you what you want to do. Preferably what you want to deposit into the world for the benefit of others. I knew I wanted to do more. I knew I wanted to give more than just what I did at work and for freelance clients. I wanted to share as a way to help people understand design and give insight into the world of graphic design, branding and content creation. I also wanted to practice my craft and get better in as many phases of creativity as possible. It’s important to maximize the potential I have and inspire others to do the same. The better I get at designing and communicating, the better help I can be to others in all aspects of my creative life.
Consistency is not easy. Multiple times I’ve done the 100 Day Project, where I designed a logo every single day for 100 days. I committed to the project and wanted to see it through. But, somewhere in the middle of the project, I hit a wall where I realized just how much I’ve committed too. Consistency is about showing up every day. The improvement and desires I expressed in the previous section are only achieved with consistent, purposeful practice. It doesn’t have to be perfect each time. Denzel Washington says, “Without consistency, you’ll never finish.” We all have to power through those “I don’t feel like it” days. We are responsible for the kind, quality and amount of good work we do. There are more people than you think counting on, appreciating and benefiting from your consistency – “your showing up moments.”
One hour of focused time on one task, building something you’re passionate about, is better than no time spent at all. Commit to your purpose. Consistently work towards being better at it.
Life would be easier if I were to just go to work and go home. But much less fulfilling. Take and use the time you have to deposit as much of your gifts and talent as possible into the world.
Keep working. Keep striving.
Bonus: Denzel Washington’s 2017 NAACP Acceptance Speech
Last year, I talked about my dislike for the decision the NFL made to standardize the Super Bowl logo. I was a big fan of the personality shown in the old logos. So, I decided to start a design series in anticipation of the then-upcoming Super Bowl 50. I continued that with my Super Bowl 51 design. This year, after much struggle and many deleted concepts, I arrived at my version of the Super Bowl 52 logo.
Super Bowl 52 will be held at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. So, the very first thought I had was to try to incorporate the unique shape of the stadium architecture in the logo design. Deciding how to incorporate the shape proved more difficult than anticipated. I mistakenly tried to jump right into Adobe Illustrator and play. After failure and frustration were achieved in vector form, I took a step back and decided to go to pencil and paper. Sometimes you have to just stop and start over instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole – especially, when you’ve created an obscene amount of layers with no solution in sight.
Once I recalibrated and created a new concept on paper, I felt a lot better about the possibilities. In 2018, I’ve pledged to do more pencil and paper work – not just for rough ideas, but drawing full concepts before opening Illustrator. With the Super Bowl 52 concept, I finished my idea and then analyzed it. I drew guides on the drawing, which helped me see how I would want to construct this on the computer. It is important to determine as much as possible before opening Illustrator. The drawing, with guides for construction, proportions, and angles, helped give me clarity before assembling the vectors.
The hardest part of designing these Super Bowl logos – actually, logos in general – is achieving something I feel like could even stand in the same room as those that have come before. I’m not comparing myself to other designers, positively or negatively. It’s about the work. It’s about creating something that has a worthwhile polish that will appreciated and accomplish the goal. I was constantly looking at the Super Bowl logos that have come before, while reviewing what I had done for 52. I arrived at something I felt comfortable enough showing to the public.