Adrian Franks is a one-of-a-kind renaissance man. His work as a UX creative director at IBM focuses on experience design (iX) for their global business services brand, but trust me -- his skills don't stop there. Our conversation began with Adrian walking us through his typical days of meetings and projects, but things really came alive when we talked about his days growing up and learning design in Atlanta. Adrian also talked about how he connected with the venerable film maker Spike Lee for a series of art projects, and shared some great advice on the types of skills designers need to have in order to achieve their best work. I'm so glad we have designers like Adrian out there who can show us what the true possibilities of creativity can be!
Adrian Franks is a one-of-a-kind renaissance man. His work as a UX creative director at IBM focuses on experience design (iX) for their global business services brand, but trust me -- his skills don't stop there.
Our conversation began with Adrian walking us through his typical days of meetings and projects, but things really came alive when we talked about his days growing up and learning design in Atlanta. Adrian also talked about how he connected with the venerable film maker Spike Lee for a series of art projects, and shared some great advice on the types of skills designers need to have in order to achieve their best work. I'm so glad we have designers like Adrian out there who can show us what the true possibilities of creativity can be!
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Maurice Cherry: All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.
Adrian Franks: Hey, how you doing Maurice, my name is Adrian Franks. Currently I'm a UX creative director at IBM Interactive Experiences. This is a division of IBM that mostly deal with creating design and digital experiences for different types of clients. It's almost like an in house agency part of the consultancy. So that's just one thing I do, but that's kind of like my Bruce Wayne job. But my Batman job would be that I'm out here in these streets, design streets basically creating experiences. Anything from like film posters, designs and [Title 00:00:38] graphics to app designs that more or less connect brown and diverse creatives to clients in the form of a marketplace called Pepper. So yeah and I'm a dad, so I think that's the biggest title to have, besides being a designer and a creative and I'm a dad and then my husband...
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Adrian Franks: To Nicole and Garvey. That's my son's name.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. So I want to get more in to all of that. I first want to start off just asking more about the work that you're doing at IBM. Can you kind of walk me through what a normal day is like for you?
Adrian Franks: Oh yeah, sure. So if you think about IBM historically, it's a company that's been around a hundred years, right? I mean, these guys have created things such as the social security system that we currently all use, shout out to Equifax I guess. All the way to some of the semiconductor chips that was used in a lot of the computers that we use, 10 years ago, right? But now they're more of a software company. So these guys are really all about pushing cognitive... Different types of AI. Definitely everything like enterprise design and different types of digital and technical services. Well, the division I'm a part of, which is part of GBS or Global Business Services.
Adrian Franks: IX, we're more like a group of designers, UX researchers, creatives and strategists and production guys, who more or less help a lot of, what we call the partners and the various types of GBS leads, to engage a client almost in the same form as an ad agency. But instead of us approaching these guys where like a campaign that was more or less selling a product or service, we're there to have helped more or less help a business transform from the business perspective using digital and using like strategy. So a guy like me, would more or less team up with a strategist or a UX person or maybe another young designer and we would more or less help a partner to [inaudible 00:02:40] a client, reinvent whatever type of digital transformation they're looking for. So anything from like redesign apps or creating an enterprise approach for some of their services or products all the way down to helping these guys re-imagine what the business can be from a digital perspective.
Adrian Franks: So yeah, a lot of times I may be in sketch, I might be in keynote. I might actually prototype like an example of something that can work for a kiosk example. I helped redesign some of the kiosks at Jet Blue, as one of my projects. So yeah, we do a lot of different things that are more business oriented and not necessarily campaign, but sometimes we may do some marketing work too. But it's mostly digital transformation using what we call design thinking and experience in design.
Maurice Cherry: And what attracted you to IBM? I know you said they're doing a lot of, or they've done a lot of different things in the past, but what specifically made you want to lend your talent to them?
Adrian Franks: Oddly enough, I never imagined myself being at IBM to be honest with you. I went to school for advertising design because, I wanted to be an art director and creator director. So I pursued that for, obviously the first 15, 18 years of my career. But a friend of mine who we more or less kind of connected through freelance work here in New... Tri-state area out in New Jersey. She basically took a job at IBM and from my understanding her speil was like, "Well, IBM has reinvested in bringing in more designers again because they kind of stopped using designers from a long time ago." The last time they actually had designers working with the company, was like Charles and Ray Eames and Elliot Nunez and even Paul Rand, who ironically created the logo.
Adrian Franks: That was the last time Big Blue, that's the nickname for IBM, actually used designers. Being that they're now more of a software company and less hardware, we know that design thinking and design leaders and design type talent, can well let's help drive how that software is going to be used from an experience point of view. So to really make this long story pretty short, these guys really needed more talent that knew how to tell stories. At the end of the day they can tell a story, they can make it visual. They could give it some kind of context that can grind it like as a strategy or more or less selling experience to a client as opposed to, "Here is a bucket of the technology that you're going to buy, but here's how to use that technology in terms of targeting a user." So that's how I ended up there because they needed more design talent and she kind of gave me an offer I couldn't refuse, and I'm like, "Well I'll at least try it and see what happened." And I've been there now at least five years.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. What's been the biggest challenge for you so far with what you're doing?
Adrian Franks: I will say the biggest challenge is that, well, IBM is a 100 year old company like I mentioned. So a lot of times they deal with other companies, it's more or less like them. So that some of their clientele would be like these big insurance companies to governmental agencies to companies that's been around a long, long time. And if you know anything about big companies like that, you know those guys are very slow to change. So it's trying to convince these companies that if you don't disrupt yourself, well some smaller, nimble, more agile company is going to come right along and potentially disrupt your entire business. Now you can do one or two things. You can either jump in front of that change or disruption, or you can potentially acquire that company. Sometimes acquiring companies like that, it just kind of gets swallowed up into the current company, the big company and nothing really changes.
Adrian Franks: So that's the always not the best strategy as well. The biggest issues that I've noticed being at a Big Blue, is that it is trying to get convinced a lot of these bigger companies, you know, why they should change and how's it going to add to their bottom line. How it's going to give them, like some type of return on investment and this idea that by changing a bunch of things now and investing in new technologies and new design systems and new design practices, it's going to save you money in the long term and even sometimes the immediate short term. Sometimes that can be a little challenging, especially dealing with like CMOs.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: CMOs are just there for like a short period of time and they're on to the next job. Because they want technology to work now and sometimes it take technology a minute to just kind of work properly.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I mean not even working properly, but also just to like get the adoption rate up, you know?
Adrian Franks: Correct. Correct. Again, people, companies are full of people and people are overall... People say they like change, but people really don't like change. They're very apprehensive to change, right?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: I know designers, we're always trying to change the way that people do or reinvent something. And, you know, we run up against that wall of people whose adverse to what we're trying to create. There's ultimately dealing with clients or dealing with people who don't want to change. I get it because sometimes changing something on the client end means that somebody's got to lose some money. Somebody's got to invest in this and I lose money here, I don't look great if I don't look great, maybe I get fired and at the end of the day people got families to take care of. So, it's a domino effect of a lot of things that we sometimes don't understand that, change is more than just a client saying no to something. It can... A bunch of things that we have to consider, like other variables or whatever. So, that's the bigger thing.
Maurice Cherry: Now you mentioned design thinking, but how do you generally end up approaching projects at IBM in the IX division? Is it kind of a similar process for everything,
Adrian Franks: More or less, yes. Sometimes clients may not always buy into the idea of using design thinking as a framework to change a business or assess how do we engage the user base or whatever. What we try to do is adapt it so it's not so cumbersome. Design thinking as a framework is pretty massive. It's scalable and is, it can be pretty big, right? I think a lot of times we're... We've now have learned to break it apart and use the parts of design thinking specifically to solve a problem for a company at that moment. Because, sometimes a company is not trying to transform themselves. They just need to solve one small problem, and maybe design thinking what we know and if you use certain parts of the design thinking, it can solve specific problems.
Adrian Franks: Now once you solve that problem, what usually happens is a client may realize, "Well, oh, being that I solved this problem, it's attached to this other problem, which is attached to two more problems, which is attached to five other problems, which now maybe we need to rethink this approach. And maybe use the full gamut of design thinking." But a lot of times you just kind of have to get the conversation going and just solve that one small problem first.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: So that's how more or less, how I've seen design thinking being used at Big Blue and of course, Big Blue is not like the company that invented it. Anybody who's a designer, like a product designer or some type of industrial designer, they been using this, the methodologies of design thinking for like ever.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: And I know IDEO and like I think the business school at Stanford was like the two most recent entities that basically made design thinking kind of popular. And then now IBM more or less adapted that framework and made it its own.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmmm (affirmative) And now before IBM, I know you've worked at a number of different ad agencies either as an art director or as a creative director. You worked at Digitas Health-
Adrian Franks: That is correct.
Maurice Cherry: The New World Group, GlobalHue, you were at 22squared down here in Atlanta. I won't go into to each one of those, but when you look back at that agency time, what really stands out to you during that time?
Adrian Franks: Well, I can truly say what agency versus what we're calling a design consultancy, agency do get at the reason why people do things. Because, at the end of the day we're narrative-driven creatures. So agency dues, they do a great job at telling the story. I think consultancies do a good job at trying to solve a business problem. Now, if you can have a place that can more or less do the both, then now you've got what they call like a creative unicorn. I think what I've tried to become is that person who understands how to tell a good story as well as how that story can solve a problem.
Adrian Franks: So, the things I've learned at the agencies that I've learned how to really tell a good, compelling, creative story. And what I've learned at working at places like Accenture and even Digitas and even obviously here at IBM, is that it's taken that story and put it in the form of a user story and a user story they're going to need to solve a problem for a user. Like the pain points and passion points and triggers and with things that ultimately can be solved for a user and putting it in the story form, it's a beautiful thing. So I just think having... Being in both of those worlds, I've seen how those two methods of replying together can be a very powerful thing.
Maurice Cherry: Now let's switch gears here a little bit because I really want to learn more about your background and certainly what has brought you to where you are now. Where did you grow up?
Adrian Franks: Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia.
Maurice Cherry: All right.
Adrian Franks: Grady baby.
Maurice Cherry: Grady baby? All right.
Adrian Franks: Proud of it too. Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: Was design and art and everything, kind of like a big part of your growing up?
Adrian Franks: I would say being just an artistic being, was a part of a big part of my growing up. My parents, they allowed me to more or less, kind of become who I am. It was my dad who kind of figured that I was kind of going to be like an artist and it was my mom who really supported that. So, she's the one that basically get me going to a lot of classes as a kid. Enroll me at a lot of screen printing classes, drawing classes, at like the Atlanta College of Art. That's what they used to be called before SCAD bought it. My parents man, they're the people I have to give the most credit to because, they are the ones that allowed me to more or less come down to... Take this path of being a creative and an artist at a very young age, more like the age of eight.
Adrian Franks: Growing up in Atlanta, I would say that the one thing that kind of made creativity kind of sticky for me and just kind of fun, was the music scene. Design as a culture, I wouldn't say it was big in Atlanta, but it was definitely present. And unfortunately most of the time it was amongst people who didn't look like me, it was amongst more people who either... Mostly white. So if you wanted to be more of a designer then you would have to kind of venture into that world, but if you just wanted to just be a full on just creative, fluid, individual, well, Atlanta was always a place that a lot of creative black people, just excellent black excellence type, black people would just be there. So-
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: I got a lot of that creativity man, just being in the city of Atlanta. Going to things like the Malcolm X festival as a kid, checking out things in the Westend and looking at my grandparents who were the entertainers. Definitely checking out FunkJazz Kafe when I was in college.
Maurice Cherry: Oh man.
Adrian Franks: Yeah, that took you back, right? Chocolate Soul back in the days. Watching groups like Arrested Development, kind of bubbling up and watching Outkast and looking at what planet... What was the name of that show, the hip hop show, American Rap Makers. Watching all those different things as a kid, it really fueled my creativity and drawing from comic books like that was kind of cool. Again, that's the creative side, but the design side, I kind of had to venture into uncharted waters. So going to the Atlanta College of Art and learning screen printing and understanding who was [inaudible 00:14:46] and Paul Rand and Milton Glaser and Louis Fili and even meeting black designers like Charlie Palmer and his wife at the time, Dorothea Taylor. That was a huge influence on my life overall.
Adrian Franks: So Atlanta did give me that overall, like genesis of being a black creative, but just being understanding that I, as a black person could have a long career as a creative. Which most of us don't even know these jobs even exist or these industries even exist. We understand the entertainment side of things, but-
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: Being a commercial creative or a designer or photographer or illustrator or art director, creative director or whatever you want to call that, we just didn't know that even existed. Even some of my teachers in high school, they couldn't even really instruct me of how to best go about that. So, definitely having opportunities to mentor with design professionals and having some teachers in high schools who understood that, "Hey, maybe you can be a graphic designer that you was going to be... Make some pretty good money." That helped too and definitely having supportive parents.
Maurice Cherry: Now I guess continuing along that thread for college, you went to Dekalb Tech, you went to AIU, which is American Intercontinental University. So given, I guess the fact that Atlanta was such a creative inspiration for you and then also going to these schools, do you feel like they kind of help prep you for getting out there in the world and being a working designer?
Adrian Franks: I would say definitely. The beautiful thing about Dekalb Tech, while it may have been a technical school and right next to the Dekalb College in Clarkston Georgia, but the instructor there at the time, the guy by the name of Mr. Ray Shed, this guy, he was a phenomenal light design instructor. This guy gave us more knowledge about the industry than any four year school could have ever prepped us for. So I was there for two years and I got my associates there and I went to AIU to pursue my bachelor's. Mr. Shed, I'm going to say those two years in his class, I learned so much about what design could do being a designer. Because, it was different facets of being a designer. You can go the art director route, you can go pure illustration route, you can go straight on just graphic design at the time.
Adrian Franks: Even doing... The moments I was in his class, those two years, digital wasn't really called digital. It was called web design. That was kind of bubbling up and I had a huge interest in that. But having that foundational knowledge from a guy like Mr. Shed, it really opened my eyes up to like the possibilities. Oh, so I can definitely make a really good living on working at an agency or working at a design studio or doing photo shoots. Then at some point, designing things for the web or now for apps. So, that really did start in Atlanta. I can truly say that it wasn't very accessible to a lot of black people. So that's the one, I guess red flag for me back then, is that a lot of us just didn't know that you could make a living in this professional and be black. Even to this day can still be very hard getting into the industry. But yeah, man, that's... I can truthfully say my Genesis is definitely in Atlanta.
Maurice Cherry: Before you were recording, you had mentioned Craig Brim and I swear I think he mentioned this, I know he mentioned Ray before, cause as soon as you said his name I was like, wait a minute, that name sounds really familiar. Were you all, I don't know where you and Craig in the same class or how did you-
Adrian Franks: We were.
Maurice Cherry: You all were in the same class, okay.
Adrian Franks: Yeah, me and Craig we was in the same class. I was 18. Craig was, oh I know he was older than me. I know he was being on like 12 or 14 years older than me.
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Adrian Franks: So he was, you know, he was way older than me and he was like a big brother for me. So, it was a huge age gap, but we learn at the exact same rate man, the same things and we call ourselves Sheddites. Anybody that came out of Mr. Shed's class was called a Sheddite. We didn't give it that name, it's like previous students of Mr. Shed's program coined that term. It was funny man, because all of us that more or less survived that program, we all have the same understanding of how the world works with the... When it comes to design. Mr. Shed, he actually went to art center and majored in illustration. So this guy was from way back then, he got to be like, late eighties at this point.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: That guy, man, he really, really informed us with a lot of rich, rich knowledge. And he's the guy that introduced me and Craig and a bunch of other black friend designers in the same course to Charlie Palmer. He's the guy that brought Charlie Palmer with two hours... A two hour course to our school. He talked to an entire class, but he specifically wanted us to connect with Charlie, because he knew that being black in this industry, it's just, it's going to be hard. And this is a white guy understanding this, that being a black person in a creative industry, predominantly ran by white men, was not going to be easy. So having some type of mentor and advocate, it's just going to be idea, and he introduced us to Charlie and there you go.
Maurice Cherry: Wow. I reached out to Charlie to come on the show. I don't know if he got back to me or not. I got to double check my records about that, but-
Adrian Franks: I'd hit him up, man, you should try getting Charlie is... Charlie's the man, man. He's the man. He lives in Atlanta.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So more speaking about Atlanta, I know you started out your early career at Bell South, now it's AT&T you're a graphic designer there. I mentioned before we were recording, I was at AT&T, this was like 2006 to '08, I was working in the yellow pages division as a graphic and web designer.
Adrian Franks: Yep.
Maurice Cherry: Absolutely hated it.
Adrian Franks: Me too.
Maurice Cherry: Well, well, [inaudible 00:20:43] I hated it, but when I look back at that time, I see how it prepped me, like for the work that I did kind of right after that. I-
Adrian Franks: Same here.
Maurice Cherry: Quit from that job, started my studio, was doing that sort of stuff. When you look back at that time, what do you remember?
Adrian Franks: Well look, I mean, I'll rephrase what I just said. I'm not going to say I hated it, but you know, the work wasn't great as it-
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: I'll rephrase what I just said. I'm not going to say I hated it, but, the work wasn't great, that was my learning ground. That was the place where I learned to how to use illustrator, how to use Photoshop, understand trapping and that trapping like we talking about Migos, we talking about actually returned trapping ink from spilling over into certain images, right? And learned how to do die cuts and learn how to do everything that was around printing back then. I cut my teeth.. At the time was called BAPCO, BellSouth Advertising and Publishing. I would say it did give me that foundational knowledge of being a design profession, or create a profession would play out because ultimately you start out doing production work. You got to knock out 15 ink column ads everyday.
Maurice Cherry: Oh God, don't say that.
Adrian Franks: You had the quota you had to meet, right?
Maurice Cherry: You're giving me bad memories now about the quota system.
Adrian Franks: I'm sure you're talking about the UDAX [foreign language 00:21:58]? See we sound like old men at this point because nobody knew what a UDAX act is. I can't remember the acronym. It's like universal design something whatever.
Adrian Franks: It's the sizes of the ads that you would see in the yellow pages. We didn't used to have to know all the different UDAX sizes and what that means. But it is funny, saying things that we would do in the yellow pages. I applied that same knowledge to building banner ads when I started working at these different ad agencies where it was going to be 22 squared or, even global hue or even [inaudible 00:22:39] whatever. That same knowledge of doing yellow page ads, it was the same. I applied all that knowledge to doing banner ads. It's the same thing, it just had motion to it. I appreciate the knowledge and all the learnings from the various people at BellSouth Advertising and Publishing who taught me a lot of things.
Adrian Franks: I would shout out everybody, but that's a lot of people. The one guy, I got a shout out though, he still lives in Atlanta to this day. One day, hopefully he will listen to this podcast and stop blushing. This guy by the name of Jerry Toronto, he's a native New Yorker, he's from Queens, but he moved to the South, I think fresh out of college and worked at BAPCO the same time I did. And this guy gave me so much knowledge and encouragement to stay in the game. He's the first guy that even told me, look, don't ever tell anybody you don't know how to do anything, go buy a book and figure it out. I guess at that New York hustle he had in him and he passed it on to me, and until this day I just feel like that guy was crucial to my development as a young lad. Shout out to Jerry Toronto, man, I love you.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. The one thing I remember... Well I remember a lot of stuff back during that time, but I'd say the thing that I retain the most is my speed. So you say, you had the quota system... For people that are listening, they probably have heard the story before, but we have this like point system where certain banners were the longer XNEGs where a 0.5 value or tile ads were a 0.9 but then if you moved up to doing webpages, webpages.. A one page website was three points, a three page was five, and then a five or more page was 10 points or whatever. They'd have this quota system... They actually had this wall when I was there. They had this big floor to ceiling wall with everyone's name on it and all of your titles were updating automatically.
Adrian Franks: Oh really?
Maurice Cherry: As you did stuff and it went through QA. So anybody, on any team, at any time could look and see exactly where you were in the pecking order.
Adrian Franks: You had the wall of shame.
Maurice Cherry: We'd get there in the morning, you'd get your pack, all the websites came in physical paper packets for some reason, you get the packet.
Adrian Franks: Because they were still printing things out.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, we'd pull the packet, we'd go through and look through and see all the texts we have to have and colors and all that stuff. By the end of the day, that website had to be done, it had to be finished, ready to go to QA so you can move onto the next thing. And what I hated about it was they kept increasing the quota and decreasing the point value. So you have to keep churning out more and more.
Maurice Cherry: I think we were always at least six months behind what was in the queue. This is a team of like 30 people. So we're having to keep continuing to do more work, more work, more work, quota increases point values decrease. But, it got my speed up to where now, I know exactly what I need to do when I open Photoshop, to make a banner or make or make anything, I can just say, okay boom, I got to do this, this, this, this, this done. I can do it, I can set up the art boards, I can make it happen, export it out, done.
Maurice Cherry: Similar way with coding, I had made my first CSS framework there. This was at the time when we were transitioning from tables to CSS with is a whole other issue. But we are transitioning over to CSS layouts and I made my first framework, shared it with the team. And so that's how I was able to crank out more sites because I could just get the framework, change a few variables, make the graphics in Photoshop, add the text, be done. So it got my speed up, and certainly by the time when I started my agency or started my studio, I should say, I was like, okay, AT&T taught me a little something. But when you're in the thick of it, oh it's, it's terrible, I hated it. I was working 12 hour shifts. I hated it.
Adrian Franks: And that's why I left BellSouth is because I wanted to get into the web. They didn't have.. They had a small group that was designing web pages for those guys, but I couldn't get into the groups. I'm like well I'm going to leave, I stayed up for five years initially, but I left BellSouth to go work for a dotcom called Outweb. To your point, all the things you just mentioned in terms of cascading style sheets and designed with tables, this is obviously long before any kind of responsive web was even thought of. We were still doing things in Dreamweaver, and chopping things up manually in Photoshop.
Maurice Cherry: Oh we were doing that. Lots of slices and leaving notes so if another designer picked it up, they could go right from where you stopped.
Adrian Franks: Yeah, man, those were the days bro, I told you, we sound like two old men.
Maurice Cherry: You also helped work on agencies in Atlanta, like I mentioned 22 squared, you do some work with shock there. You've done some work with Courtney Counts over at GTM.
Adrian Franks: Yeah, I love Courtney. I used to love that, I love GTM when those guys were around, they were cool dudes. Courtney, Kimball, Carl, Darious, Sean, I knew all those guys, GTM was really, really cool.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, it really was, now it's like a juice shop, I think.
Adrian Franks: Yeah, they broke it up, they had a good run though.
Maurice Cherry: They were around for like 15 years?
Adrian Franks: 15 years, yeah. That's a long time to be an independent marketing agency firm working on accounts like Truth and doing stuff for Mountain Dew. Those guys were innovative they also did more than just marketing and PR. They also held events, they would do a concerts.
Maurice Cherry: They would do a lot of guerrilla marketing stuff too.
Adrian Franks: Guerrilla marketing, they invested in an apparel line with Wheat Bread Life, with a Fuse Green, some of the earliest shirts Dave Chappelle wore on the Chappelle show. So with those guys, it's fine.
Adrian Franks: What's going on with agencies right now, those guys were already doing that back then. They were being more than just and ad agency, these guys was driving lifestyle, in multiple avenues. Sometimes you can be ahead of your time and sometimes you can just be behind. It's just very rare that people can be just right on time, right at a time, and it's really, really, really deep. But even the work I worked on with those guys and created for, it was very cool work man.
Maurice Cherry: And even now, you're in NYC, you're in Brooklyn. What is it like there now for you as a designer and how is it different from when you were in Atlanta?
Adrian Franks: I've been in New York now 11 years and I can truthfully say that while Atlanta created me, I did get a chance to learn a lot of about agencies here in New York. Before I came to New York, I worked at Bernard holders and even 22squared, so that was definitely, major ad agencies. But to see the ad cultural advertising started the Genesis here in New York to work and thrive in the agency here, it is a different kind of experience. But I would say the things I learned here is, New York is the place where it won't get in the way of what you want to do. You want to be this? Go right ahead. We're not going to stop you.
Adrian Franks: But unless you don't, we are not actually going to pay you no attention either. So being here, you're going to run across a lot of different types of people. So you're going to run across a lot of really good talented people, and really bullshit creatives, and sometimes you can't tell the difference between the two, right? Because it's New York, everybody's here getting it, grinding, getting their hustle on and a little bit more guarded when it comes down to engaging like a creative team, it's very tribal in most instances. I've learned that, being a creative here, if you cut your teeth pretty quickly, you're definitely going to understand how things work fairly quickly because things move quick. Sometimes the turnaround can be very harsh, sometimes in most cases in agency, if they lose an account here, certain groups of people in the creative department, are just gone.
Adrian Franks: They were here today, and they are gone literally by the end of the day because they got word that they lost in the account. Things just change quickly here. The one thing I was shocked though is how far behind New York agency world is when it comes down to technology, I feel like New York agencies are really just kind of catching up because of.. It's weird if you start looking at New York agency's almost like hip hop, right? Hip hop started here, advertising started here, hip hop went somewhere else and became something different. Advertising did the same thing and went to Minnesota and became Fallon, went out to LA and became TBWA\Chiat\Day. It went to Boston and became MullenLowe, it became something different, in different parts of the country, right?
Adrian Franks: But by actually moving to different parts of the country, it had to innovate. I feel like a lot of New York agencies, more or less stay, more or less the same because of this legacy mentality. Cadillac hip hop, right? Like hip hop didn't really evolve in New York until maybe...If you start thinking about Dame Dash and Hov doing anything with Roc Nation, I mean Rockefeller records, or even when Diddy was doing in late nineties. But for the most hip hop in New York was more or less the boom bop, and now hip hop is inspired by a lot of Southern rap, so the same thing with agencies are being inspired by a lot of other agencies that are not historically from New York. I'm just kind of surprised how far behind a lot of the cultural agencies here or even just the general market agencies, where they are lagging behind it was still in the traditional manner of producing campaigns as TV, print, and radio.
Adrian Franks: Now they're really trying to incubate technology and look at design thinking and incorporate that into their workflows and looking how to create products as opposed to just selling products for other clients who are really becoming more like a lifestyle agency as opposed to just old school, Madison ad agency. That's the one thing I've noticed here these last 11 years, how things have changed drastically these last five years, but initially, advertising here was still pretty far behind in my opinion, it was very late to adapt to the web.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, when did you start doing design work with Spike Lee?
Adrian Franks: Oh wow. So that's a good question, it's 2019, ironically a month before I started working at IBM.
Adrian Franks: That's a weird thing. I just see these things in my life sometimes it just kind of happened, out of the blue, and it's always like happening like twos or threes. Two big, two or three major things happen all at one time. So me taking a job at IBM, I started doing some things with Spike, unfortunately, it's because of some things I posted on Instagram due to the untimely death of Eric Garner, I put up this image of his prom picture, what seemed to be his prom picture, and I gave it this poster rise, almost like Cuban propaganda poster look to remind people, this is a human being, so the goal was to more or less react to what was going on in the world in a digital manner. So normally I would want to paint something and create a handcrafted piece, but unfortunately with technology, especially in social media, things move really, really quick.
Adrian Franks: So I found an image of Eric, I gave it this really cool posteriad treatment with his foreground being in black, the background being in blue and the lettering's in yellow and white, and those are the colors of the NYPD, New York police department here. I just kind of created this graphic that basically said I can't breathe, just really reminded people of who this person is and what happened.
Adrian Franks: Long story short, I posted it online, literally the day that I found out what happened with Eric Garner on YouTube, which was kind of weird to see somebody die online. Posted it online, occasionally I just be tagging people, because you tag people, you don't really pay it any attention, because they never responded, I had, at the time, 500 followers, I don't really trip about that, but that's what it was. Long story short, maybe like a day or two later, I get this weird reply from Spike Lee, I'm like, hold up, this is real Spike Lee, he asked me, "Hey, this is Spike.", like I don't know who he is.
Adrian Franks: "Could I repost this on my Instagram?" I'm like, sure, I'm not going to tell him no. He took the image, he reposted it and that kind of began our relationship of doing work together. He wanted me, he found out I was from Atlanta and then we just started creating a bunch of cool imagery, unfortunately, around Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, a bunch of others, unfortunately a lot of people who was killed at the hand of police brutality. That kind of began that whole little series that I call suspicious prisms and we basically took a lot of those posteriad looking, treated imagery, and created a Memorial at Forty Acres and then that turned into us just doing other work together. Working on the stuff for Shairaq or even working on, movie posters for Michael Jackson and even his block parties. I've been rocking with him for five years because of the one thing that happened on Instagram.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And I've seen the other ones that you have in the series, I know there's Eric Garner, when you spoke about, there was one with Michael Brown, there's one with John Crawford and I mentioned this again, before we were recording the last time I was in New York in May, me and a friend had went to the restaurant that's right next to Forty Acres, that's when I first saw the piece, malaise, that was how I first saw them. I was like, wait a minute, I know that image from somewhere. You even worked on a custom Moleskine with spike, right?
Adrian Franks: Yeah. Spike will just hit me up randomly via text message or I need to call, and he'll be like, yeah, I got this idea, I wanted a Moleskine. I'm like, okay. He said so can you design a Moleskine? Just going back what Jerry told me.. I can design a Moleskine, I just got to get the specs. But yes, designing a Moleskine is like designing a book, so it's not super hard. Long story short, with that project, Spike was coming up on the 30th anniversary of he's got got to have it, and this is back in 2016 because the movie came out in '86, he wanted to design a Moleskine that celebrated the movie, but it also pay a homage to his mom.
Adrian Franks: That's why you probably noticed that the Moleskine is in fuchsia or AKA pink, because that was his mom's favorite color. When that movie came out, his mom had passed away 10 years prior to that. I don't know fully why he wanted to make it pink, but obviously it was in remembrance of his mom. The goal of that Moleskine was to kind of remind people of, this is Spike, and if you ever open it up, that's why I say you should take it out of the plastic, you see all the different movies that he produced, he has it as a credit inside of the Moleskine. It was almost like an ink credit as I would want to treat the Moleskine.
Adrian Franks: When you open it up, you see this beautiful image of Nola and you see Mars, those are the two iconic characters from the film. Then you get the credits of all the people who helped make the film and what he called his joint tography, which is all the different films at the time that he had, basically created. But also you get some stickers of Mars and Nola and the please baby, please phrase. So it's kind of cool, right? This is where it gets kind of funny, Moleskine wanted to do it because you know they're fans of his work. The company has a headquarters in New York so some of those reps came to Forty Acres, we walked those guys through a couple of different ideas and they basically connected us with their production team over in Italy.
Adrian Franks: Because his company is based out of Italy. Talking with those guys, they said, we've never put a face of a human on our moleskines, like a actual person. So what was kind of dope about it is that particular project saw the first time of a a human being, being the face of a moleskine, it just so happened to be the face of a black woman. I thought that was kind of dope.
Maurice Cherry: It's really dope.
Adrian Franks: It's actually kind of cool, so it turned into more than just a notebook, or a moleskine, what it turned into like a really cool design piece that almost kind of creates his own history onto itself, compliments the film very well. It is a moment in time, so that was a pretty fun project.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. As Adrian mentioned, I have the notebook, it's still in the plastic because when it came out it was like, Oh, it's a limited edition. Let me go ahead and get it as a collector's item because I don't know how much longer it'll be on sale, I don't know what the demand will be like, let me just get one so I have it. So I do have it, I just haven't actually used it. But to know that all those little tidbits are in their stickers, the joint tography and all that stuff, I'm going to open it up, I'm going to check it out.
Adrian Franks: You should check it out. And next time in town, maybe I'll take you by Forty Acres you can get it signed.
Maurice Cherry: Oh, okay.
Adrian Franks: Because it should be numbered, I think yours is numbered, right?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I think it's numbered.
Adrian Franks: The first couple of thousands, I think they ran like 5,000 but I think the first two or 3000 were numbered. If you're in town you should just bring it, we can go get it signed. That'll make it better, that's why you got to open it.
Maurice Cherry: Got it. Do you know if there's plans to do any more of these in Spike's film series?
Adrian Franks: I'm sure. I guess the 30 year is a milestone for almost anything in life. Right? I remember turning 30 and that was kind of fun. I don't know what's the next film that's coming up? I think it's his 30th because I know '86 he did, she's got to have it, '87 with me, school days is coming up.
Maurice Cherry: I would pay top dollar for a school days Moleskine, I definitely would, oh my God.
Adrian Franks: That'll be dope, but that's already happened. The 30th anniversary has already happened though. Right? I think that came out in '88, so it seems that the next 30th Spike joint, it may be coming up, it's either going to be probably, Mo' Better Blues, and then at some point you're going to hit Malcolm X. So I'm thinking he's waiting for his big film to do that, maybe, I don't know.
Adrian Franks: ... his big film to do that. Maybe, I don't know. You know, here's the thing. I can't tell you what Spike is thinking because only Spike can tell you that. Because he's just one of those Brainiac kind of people.
Maurice Cherry: I think the next one that's coming up would probably be Mo' Better Blues.
Adrian Franks: Oh, yeah. Mo' Better Blues was great.
Maurice Cherry: Because I remember about Do the Right Thing, 30th anniversary happened this year in May or June or something because there was a block party about it. So I think Mo' Better Blues is the next one coming up because Spike has put on a movie like every year in the 90s.
Adrian Franks: For a while, he was on a roll between the late 80s going into the 90s. He was ... every year man. That guy was cranking them out.
Maurice Cherry: Yep. He had a new movie every year. There was Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X. When did he do Crooklyn? Crooklyn was out in 94. I remember that. Crooklyn was [crosstalk 00:42:53] out in 94.
Adrian Franks: That was a great film, great film.
Maurice Cherry: Did Clockers, Girl 6.
Adrian Franks: I like Clockers.
Maurice Cherry: ... which Girl 6 is really underrated. I think it's because of-
Adrian Franks: It is.
Maurice Cherry: I think it's ... Well, one, I loved the Prince soundtrack, but that's a really underrated Spike joint. It's Girl 6. Get on the Bus too. I really enjoyed Get on the Bus. Both of those came out in 96.
Adrian Franks: That was great.
Maurice Cherry: 4 Little Girls, [crosstalk 00:43:15] he did the documentary.
Adrian Franks: Get on the Bus was excellent.
Maurice Cherry: Huh?
Adrian Franks: Get on the bus was excellent man.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. He did He Got Game in 98, Summer of Sam was 99. Yeah, he was cranking them out. Bamboozled was 2000. Wow, man!
Adrian Franks: Yeah, he put them out, man.
Maurice Cherry: Look, if-
Adrian Franks: I know some people want to critique him on some of his latest work. But hey man, he's given the culture a lot, so for that, we got to be grateful. Without him, we probably wouldn't have Cosby copying him from school days, creating different worlds.
Maurice Cherry: That's true, that's true.
Adrian Franks: ... which indirectly allowed a lot of us to more or less be influenced to go to school.
Maurice Cherry: And Spike went to Morehouse. I went to Morehouse, so I can't say anything bad. It's in the-
Adrian Franks: Oh! You're a Morehouse boy?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. It's in the code. I can't speak ill against Spike. I can give a side-eye. I can't say anything bad about Spike. That's against the code.
Adrian Franks: You guys are like a little secret society. You just don't know who went to Morehouse until they say it. And then when they say it, you just know it, right?
Maurice Cherry: That's true. That's very true. I've gotten access to places that I know I shouldn't have gotten access to just by ending up finding out, "Oh, you went to Morehouse too?" I was like, "Yeah, Class 03." They're like, "Oh, this is Class 01," or whatever. So it's just ... you never know.
Adrian Franks: It works.
Maurice Cherry: You never know.
Adrian Franks: It works brother.
Maurice Cherry: So when you look at the design field today, and of course, you're working, not only in corporate America with what you're doing with IBM, but also just even this grassroots ... I don't want to call it protest start, but even the art that you're doing with Spike and everything, what do you think is the most important skill that a designer needs to have these days? It doesn't necessarily have to be a technical skill or anything. But when you really think across both of those, that's a big range, what skill do you think a designer needs to possess?
Adrian Franks: I would say, on a fundamental level, just understanding basic layout and grits, if you just want to say just pure fundamentals. Outside of that, I would say work ethic because there are a lot of very talented people who just never show up. They're good, they could be the best designer, best photographer, best producer. It doesn't matter whatever creative that may be. They can be top-notch, just naturally talent. But being just talented, it's just not enough. You can't just rely on that because regardless of your talent, the one thing clients will not tolerate is tardiness of work. Because they're spending money, and when somebody is spending money, they want things to be on time, or they want an explanation of why something is not going to ship when you say it was not going to ship. But outright, just not having a work ethic, I just don't think that's going to work man.
Adrian Franks: Because thinking about the design field now, there are a lot of different types of groups of people entering. It is pretty diverse than it has ever been because, technically, for the last, just say, 100 years if we want to look at it like that, it's predominantly been a white male driven field. But now, that there is more and more people moving into it, there's definitely more black people and a lot of people from the Far East are moving into it, definitely.
Adrian Franks: If you're talking about people from Korea, people from China, they have people from Japan. These guys are coming into the field, and what they are bringing is a work ethic that most Americans don't have because these guys are just taught to culturally get things done, or do things better than what you possibly can do, or go way beyond your own capabilities, really stretch yourself. Because they're not just representing themselves, they're representing the whole country.
Adrian Franks: And in some cases, places like SVA, they are sending ... places like Korea are sending kids to SVA to learn everything they can from the School of Visual Arts and bring that knowledge back to the country, and they're paying for that. You got us coming into this field competing against that. So you're competing against individuals who have been sponsored by entire countries, and whose work ethic is, no, there's no failure. You got to get it done. That's just the way it got to be, and you're probably dealing with a bunch of talented people.
Adrian Franks: So I just feel like having a work ethic is vitally important, man. If you've got to stay up late to get something done, or get up early or, do whatever it takes to get the job done, sometimes you got to cheat. It just is what it is. But as long as you get the job done, I don't consider that cheating. It's called, I got the job done, so work ethic is real man, and it's different from one person to the next. Everybody have different modes of operation, different ways of working.
Adrian Franks: But definitely, having that work ethic, I feel like any designer nowadays have to have that, and I say this. Because some of our design talent or design skillset, let's just be real. It's going to get automated, and a machine is going to be able to design apps in a few minutes. It just is, because apps are just patterns. Some, they even got AI that can actually take good photography, or create really beautiful photography, literally, out of pixels of a person who don't even exist, so-
Maurice Cherry: Deep fakes.
Adrian Franks: Yeah, yeah man. So you've got this AI thing that's, not just automating just taxi drivers and people delivering whatever with drones or whatever, but this sense of automation is coming to the creative field as well, and I just feel like having a great, compelling idea is not going to be enough. You're going to have to have a work ethic that basically show people that you bring value.
Maurice Cherry: It's funny you mentioned that about the AI. They've even been putting little drips and drabs of it in Photoshop. Photoshop has this content-aware fill. I've used that so many times. It basically will ... say you've got an image that you want to put on a long landscape thing. If the image takes up, maybe ... I don't know, 70% of that you, can inverse select the other 30 and do content-aware fill, and Photoshop will look at the pixels in the main image and fill in the rest. And sometimes, it is seamless. If you use a single color, it can be seamless. I've seen it continue brick walls, branch out trees. It's astonishing.
Adrian Franks: It's astonishingly real. You used to have to use the magic lasso tool to get that done.
Maurice Cherry: Oh, God! Clone stamp, all that stuff.
Adrian Franks: Or a pen tool, because we need to get detailed. Now, it's like a couple of gestural swipes and boom, you've got all of that. So I just think AI is real, and it's here. I do think this though about AI: everybody's talking about AI with these jobs, but if AI becomes a problem when it comes to automation, I think the one thing that is going to curb it, is ... Well, when you kill a job, that means you're killing a tax payer, so I think municipalities may get involved with it. Because while a company may automate a lot of their workforce ... and this is nothing new. Automation was round even during industry age, but if you automate a full factory, or in the case of some of these white collar jobs, or whatever job that is, even at McDonald's, that's one person now not paying taxes. And when you don't pay taxes to your local municipalities, schools can't get funded. Your roads can't get built, bridges can't get repaired. You can't employ firemens or policemens or whomever or EMS.
Adrian Franks: So that, I just feel like society is going to check a whole lot of this automation because at the end of the day, people still got to live, and people still got to provide, and the city's got to make money. They can't make money off a bot, unless a company paid for that.
Maurice Cherry: What do you think helps fuel your ambitions?
Adrian Franks: As a 42 year old man, I would say at this point, what's fueling my current ambitions is my son. I think he's given me a whole another reason to just be on this planet. I love living, but that's a really good motivating reason to want to stay healthy, want to see him graduate, see him go on to become a father himself. Or if he don't want to become a father, just thrive as a human being, right?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Adrian Franks: Whatever he decides he wanted to become, whoever he wants to love, whoever he wants to ... whatever he wants to be in life, I don't care. I'm just going to be there. I just want to see him be him. And I know for me, that's my newest motivator, so I just want to make a better future for kids like him. Hopefully, using design, maybe we can solve some problems. I don't know if we can solve racism, but maybe we could solve systemic racism, right?
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Adrian Franks: Or maybe we can solve a lot of things around creating jobs for these kids because certain jobs probably won't be there by the time they are my age, or just of age. That's my motivating thing now, it's helping the future for younger generations. That's it.
Adrian Franks: It used to be, I want to get all the awards, I want to do these dope campaigns and build these apps. That stuff is cool, but that's not legacy. That's cool, but it's not really going to impact society in my opinion, so I feel you. Using my talents to make a better future for young people, and definitely young designers, I think that's my next adventure as a creative.
Maurice Cherry: That reminds me of an interview I did. I think this was near the end of 2017 or so, but it was with John Jennings who's an author, illustrator. He did the graphic novel of Kindred, from Octavia Butler, and I think he also is doing it now currently for Parable of the Sower. But he is a new dad as well, and he talks about it as embarking on the most important design project he's ever been a part of.
Adrian Franks: Yeah, I agree.
Maurice Cherry: How do you design an experience for a human being? It's like the system of decisions that ... The way that he talked about it just blew my mind.
Adrian Franks: It's true. Because how do you ... Okay, case in point. How do you educate a black child in 2019, post Obama era? Because you don't want them learning everything from the indoctrinations that we had to deal with, like pledging allegiance to using ... pledging allegiance or singing the national anthem that never has you in mind, all the way to you're learning about Columbus. Why did we have to learn about Christopher Columbus? Even that knowledge to this day, I don't use it for anything. So why are we teaching our kids unuseful knowledge, especially knowledge that basically demeans them? Why did we have to learn about George Washington who was supposedly the father of this country, who turns out had slaves? Why does my son have to learn that?
Adrian Franks: Why does he continuously learn about an oppressive system that was never created for him? And I just felt like it's old history that's outdated, antiquated, for even white people in my opinion, so let alone for brown people. Because we don't use none of that stuff for our day-to-day jobs. We only use it for some weird national sense of pride, and this sense of patriotism, which I think is relative because while ... and I don't really want to get too deep, but our people helped build this country, so I feel like the original patriots us and Native Americans. But with knowing all this stuff and understanding where we come from, where do we go? How do we now start educating our kids to be competitive in the world, and not just here in America, and not being so indoctrinated by false history? Because all of that history stuff we learned in high school, it was bullshit.
Adrian Franks: Teach me more about how to balance my checkbook. Teach my kid more how to compete in the corporate world, or the non-corporate world, or how to go out and create a job, or how to use your hands to build something. Teach them more of that than that all this ... which I call propaganda knowledge because all this stuff that we was mostly taught in school was basically, indoctrinating us to just be great citizens and not rebel.
Adrian Franks: So I got to figure out how I'm going to teach my son to navigate the world with knowledge that I think is useful. Yet, I've got to inspire him with cool things that are fun to learn about too, so I don't know what that is. I don't know what that system is going to be, but it'll come to me.
Maurice Cherry: What does success look like for you right now?
Adrian Franks: Is that a short term answer, or a longterm?
Maurice Cherry: Anyway you want to take it.
Adrian Franks: I would say, success in the short term is setting myself up for the longterm. So acquiring some more property, or acquiring some property here in the Northeast, and maybe, setting up some type of center or creative outlet to teach design to younger generations or people who need to learn it from the community. And more or less, setting up some of my other creative outlets and ideas, and helping those things to better run and be successful.
Adrian Franks: I won't talk about them now, but I can say one of them is a marketplace to help brown creators sell their work to buyers, and those buyers could be anybody at an agency, a film house or a production house. It is helping black creatives or brown creatives or just diverse creatives sell their work to the right people, so I feel that would be a success for me. And, obviously, anything around making sure that everything is good for Garvey.
Adrian Franks: That's it, man. That's all I can ask for. I've done a lot, so I figured I'm not asking for nothing else superficial. I'm asking for really specific things that builds around legacy building.
Maurice Cherry: Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and your work, and everything online?
Adrian Franks: You can check me out at my website, at adrianfranks.com. That links to all my social channels. Lately, I mostly only been on Instagram, and I'm thinking about going back to Twitter because I don't really do Facebook anymore. But you can check me out on Instagram @afranks3, and I post a lot of stuff on Insta stories. And I occasionally, I post some things via just regular postings, so ... yeah, man.
Adrian Franks: I typically don't do a lot of over posting. I'm just trying to post things that are meaningful, and I mostly try to post things that make sense as opposed to this just being a habitual posting of just memes and stuff like that. I just try to keep it pretty curated, so that's where I'm at, man.
Maurice Cherry: All right.
Adrian Franks: Also-
Maurice Cherry: Design Uncle, Adrian Franks ... Oh no, I'm sorry. Go ahead. Sorry.
Adrian Franks: I am Uncle Adrian Franks. Yeah, I am uncle, a design uncle. Also, I appreciate you bringing me to your podcast, but I also do a podcast with three other guys, called Ad Bro$, so you can check that out too on Apple Podcast. We're going to probably bring it to Spotify at some point, and definitely, on SoundCloud, so it's called Ad Bro$. We've been doing it now for about two years. We've got roughly about 30 episodes. It's-
Maurice Cherry: Nice.
Adrian Franks: It's fun. It's more of therapy for us. It's me, four other guys that we all used to work at an agency together and three of us are creatives, two of us are media guys, and one is like a producer. But it's like we're an agency of dudes doing a podcast, so it's pretty fun. It's called Ad Bro$.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. I'll definitely make sure we put links to all that in the description. But man, Adrian Franks, thank you so much for coming on the show for, one, sharing your work that you're doing at IBM. But also, just sharing your story about being inspired, growing up as a designer, working throughout the world. I think that people that listen to this will get a lot of inspiration from it, and certainly, I want to see what you're going to be doing in the next five years because I feel like it's going to be something that really ends up changing and impacting the culture, just as you've done right now, with the work you've done with Spike, and even some of your other work. But I am really curious to see what comes next, so thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Adrian Franks: Hey, man, I appreciate you, Maurice, for bringing me on, and I'm honored to be here, and it's been fun. I appreciate it. Let's connect when you're in town, for sure, and whenever I'm back in Atlanta.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, okay. All right.
Adrian Franks: All right, bro. (silence) Okay. I love science. Yeah, yeah.