Interview

Elizabeth Carey Smith

Written by Agyei Archer on January 26, 2021

Social media makes it all too easy for us to escalate disagreements. My challenge with important issues being discussed on platforms like Twitter is that we lose the opportunity for things like nuance, and factors like popular opinion and factual circumstance can become flattened to the detriment of the solutions we might come up with otherwise.

I hope that we can have more frank discussions about the problems of industry inclusiveness and the approach and sense of responsibility around design, specifically in the world of type. With that in mind, I had a candid conversation with Elizabeth Carey Smith, a design director in New York and a past president of the Type Directors Club.

Among other things, we discussed the disbanding and subsequent restructuring of the TDC. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. — AA.

Self-portrait photograph of Elizabeth Carey Smith facing a projection screen displaying her name

Agyei Archer. Okay, all right. So I think I have not been the same since March-ish. Since March-ish, things have been a little different for me, and not just because the world has been on fire, but also because everybody else has been on fire.

And I think that it’s important for us to start by describing where we are now. Because I think that even now, people might have context for where we were five months ago, in terms of what we’re doing, and what we’re up to. Where does this time find you?

Elizabeth Carey Smith. This time finds me seven months later, kind of able to look at myself and the world as a different object that lives inside a container — everybody I know … we kind of all lived in this other container. And now we’re either outside the container, or maybe in a completely different one.

Personally, I’ve gotten out of a hole I was in for a long time, with my career and all of the things that get wrapped up in your own regarding of yourself when you’re unhappy, or you’re unsettled. But I have found a job now that I feel really good in, and so in a lot of ways I feel much better than I did two months ago.

And, you know, like a lot of people, I think we’ve all kind of zoomed out, and we’re looking at Before Times, and if you are a visual person, and you have been trained to think critically, you’re really critical of Before Times, in many ways. And that’s okay. I actually think it’s a really good thing. I think clearly it was headed this way, one way or the other.

AA. Right? And you think that right now is a good time for shit to have hit the fan.

ECS. It was … on its way. And we all saw it. Right?

AA. As hell. A lot.

George Floyd was killed, and then the world entered a moment where there was this kind of uptick in public expression for social justice. I think a lot of it evolved quickly, and trickled down to our industry — this desire for social justice, but also a desire to be seen as having a desire for social justice in this moment, specifically toward Black people and people of color. And I think it’s trickled down in this way, where there’s a kind of a very broad critique of everything that feels institutional. And you would have been elected TDC President, three months, four months before that?

ECS. Yeah, I wasn’t actually even technically the president yet.

AA. But you were in charge, yeah? I think you ended up in this place that I was looking at myself, and I was really interested to see, on the outside, everybody kind of rallying for things needing to be different, things needing to be better. And I thought that that was really good. And then on the other side, there is the very obvious looking at someone I know personally, who is newly at the helm of an organization, that it is now popular to dislike. And, we could be frank about that, right? That’s what social media does. If enough people say you’re shit, then immediately you’re shit. I can’t imagine all of the other mechanics as an institutional leader, so beyond that, how did you feel realizing that this was now your reality, as the person who had taken on this responsibility?

ECS. When George Floyd was killed, I really didn’t give a fuck about typography and didn’t understand why anybody else did either, because one of the critiques I have had for a long time about design is its inflation of itself, and the navel-gazing, and the lie that you can put design on the same level as activism. I grew up in a very political household; I grew up with protest; and as an avid feminist — it had nothing to do with design, ever. Design is a means of communication, and perhaps that can help. But it’s not the same thing.

And so, when George Floyd died, and I saw all of these organizations tripping over themselves to prove to themselves or to whomever, I don’t know, that they weren’t complicit in systemic racism, I was annoyed. And I didn’t want to be part of that, because I’m just watching them embarrass themselves. And I chose to stay silent, because I didn’t understand why, if you’ve listened to people of color all along, what they’ve said is: You need to shut up, right? So why did we need to insert a voice?

So that was where I was at when George Floyd was killed. I thought that the TDC’s role was — wherever we could — to continue to provide resources for typography and for design. We’re a nonprofit organization; we were already on the ropes financially, and I wasn’t looking at it from the perspective of what we could do in the industry. I wasn’t, because I already felt so outside of it, personally and in so many other ways.

So obviously, then, that perspective was challenged. And … I’m not trying to dodge saying it, but when you come down to what happened, I have to really look hard at how I’d been thinking, and I admit that I had been blind to many things that I wasn’t aware of. And mostly it was because I didn’t really value design enough to think about what we were doing internally.

AA. Right.

ECS. In terms of racial justice, obviously, I value design. I probably didn’t really answer your question, I went off on a tangent.

AA. No, it’s cool. The question was around how you felt, and I was really asking about how you felt because I think a lot of people don’t acknowledge a reality about organizations like yours, which is that somebody opted in to do this thing, because they think it’s important, and it’s valuable. And then, of course, there’s inherent nobility in that, but I’m not paying attention to that. What I was paying attention to is the actual reality of a human being, a person who now has to shoulder this responsibility of a bunch of people pointing a finger at them. And whether or not the finger was well deserved is, like, not the point. I’m asking: How was that for you, as somebody who had just assumed the leadership of a very influential design organization?

ECS. I mean, on a personal level, it sucked. Because what I realized very quickly was that I think I ascended to that “level” of being president because people very much like, or have liked, things that I say, and the way that I say them. And I realized very immediately that that voice was not what was supposed to come out as the TDC. I had no idea how to speak as an organization. Plus the fact that we had two crises that were happening simultaneously, publicly, it was impossible not to conflate them.

So we had accusations of racism happening while we were trying to figure out a way to continue to provide the platform we had been growing right in many ways. And so the statement we wrote, as you said, is a thing people opt into, people volunteer to help.

We were a bunch of parents of young children, and volunteers, and people who were either out of work or slammed with work. Now, suddenly, having to write a new voice and make a decision … that was very hard to do, because to be honest, we felt pretty blindsided by Juan [Villanueva]’s departure. And at the same time, we didn’t feel like we had any avenues left of what we were trying to do, to fulfill our obligation as board members. People want to think that it’s crass, that we were talking about money, but the board is there to make sure that the organization exists. We have a fiscal responsibility; that’s what boards do. Things have to happen with money. So you can’t separate them, they happen simultaneously.

One of the things I push back on with some of the accusations of us not being a collaborative organization is that it took us nearly forty-eight hours to respond, because we wanted to make sure all of our board members weighed in; we wordsmithed every single statement we put out, because we don’t want it to be one voice. We all needed to understand and be on the same page and behind it. So that part was really hard.

I’m very good at organizing, in general. I’m a director, I’m a manager; that’s what I do, and I’m good at it. And I have been wrangling this team now for several months. And it has been an incredible learning process, and also incredibly frustrating. You know, on a personal level, I was already feeling pretty low mentally. But I also am very aware of white woman tears, and fuck that because I’m also strong, you know, so I wasn’t afraid of doing whatever needed to be done. I wrote a lot internally, to the others, about trying to figure out what did need to be done. Is the TDC a confederate statue that we all need to pull down? Because I’ll help you pull it down. But we need to figure out in what ways it is. In what ways is it upholding racism? In what ways do we have an existing platform? We might as well use it for good, and we have been using it for good, actually.

You know, the makeup of the organization has been changing drastically. At the time of the acquisition, our board was about half people of color and half women. The assumption, you know, from the public view, who didn’t really consider what what we were actually made of at the time, was pretty inaccurate; we had already changed the makeup of not just representation, but the content of what we we’re promoting, what we’re putting on the platform, the makeup of our juries, and the people who win — around the world. So I think one of the failings is that we didn’t communicate that very well, because obviously, when push came to shove, people thought that we were just a board of paid white men.

AA. Not gonna front: fair assumption to make. So, you took down the statement you released.

ECS. Ah, yeah, just to replace it with the next one.

AA. I find it interesting that that’s one people reference in their critiques. I want to ask pretty directly about Juan’s letter. There’s this kind of tone that it’s written with, this kind of resigned frustration. To me, it implies this vibe of, I’m tired of this bullshit; there’s a frustration in it that permeates the entire thing. And I think it’s totally fine that there’s frustration there, but you’ve been on this board with him as well. Was it something you guys had been dealing with internally, and this is the first time it’s become a publicized issue?

ECS. The short answer is no, not at all. I mean, we did not see that coming. That said, I knew he was frustrated. I did try to reach out, to have phone calls. So, I knew that he was mad about something, but I was seeing this from a feminist perspective, and I was blind to the fact that he was potentially seeing my race. And what it did, actually, was make us both walk away, rather than address things. I don’t mind saying this, because I’ve written this to him in an apology, because I failed at an intersectionality that I thought I possessed. And that’s not to use a buzzword when I say that — I can now look at the past several months in a container and from a different perspective.

I wish we’d had a chance to resolve those differences, mostly because I felt a responsibility to ensure the club had a future for all of the good things we’ve done. And also for Carol Wahler, who has been running this for thirty-seven years — it’s her life’s work, and I thought we couldn’t let her life’s work end this way. The responsibility was there on us to try to fix that.

So when he chimed in at the board meeting, what we had been discussing, and what we were hoping to vote on, was to entice new members with a twenty-five-dollar membership option. Our membership is really expensive. It’s like $195, right? And what we were trying to do was have different tiers, so that we could not lose the people who are unemployed, and also invite new people without a high cost barrier. But of course, we’re still trying to make enough money so we can survive, right?

So he chimed in, Why don’t we offer free membership to BIPOC designers? And we went silent for a moment because he hadn’t participated in a while, so this was a proposition that felt out of the blue. And so we said, Okay, what would that entail? We spent forty minutes discussing the pros and cons of free membership when we can’t really afford to do anything. Some people said, Well, all of our public events are free anyway, right now. We can’t afford to give a free membership. Our membership includes the book because the annuals cost a lot of money to produce. And we spoke back and forth. Some people also took issue with someone having to identify as any particular thing because we’ve never collected any demographic information from anyone aside from their location. Others brought up how problematic it is to assume that twenty-five dollars is the barrier to entry for people of color. And we were just questioning it — nobody said no.

We never ended up voting on new membership. The meeting ended because it ran out of time. And when pressed to add some context to where this had come from, or what else we could do to ensure that we were making money or the points the other board members were bringing up, he refused to participate in the conversation. He only asked the question, he said, I’m just listening to what you’ll say. So I knew that he was upset. Then, the next morning, his resignation came to us. I called the board, and said that I think we need to approach Juan with kindness, and that I’d like to ask his permission to publish his resignation letter. And then somebody said: He just posted it on Medium.

AA. Ha!

Sorry. You mentioned a lot of people resigning, and I noticed that as well, in that timeline of the TDC, getting publicly dragged. And I found it interesting that other people that resigned weren’t Black. But some of them did make the suggestion around making room on the board for a person of color. And I found that to be an interesting reference, because it’s making room on a board … for a person of color … to do some extra free work.

ECS. Yeah. In that same meeting, one white board member said, “Perhaps one solution is that I can step aside, and we can try to find somebody of color who would like to be on the board.” And a few of us jokingly said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll do that too!” Because it’s hard, free work, right? And that person left, and then two others … and then another person resigned … and then two people who were young women, it was their first board meeting, and they got spooked, and I totally understood why, and I said, “Look, I understand.”

One stayed on to help us to help us work out our positioning on antiracism. I really appreciated it. I said to another, the problem with resigning is, who’s going to do the work? And she said, I could give you a whole list of women of color who will do the work. And I said, Well, I was under the assumption that I wasn’t supposed to hand unpaid antiracist work off to people of color. So, I’m going to do the thankless job, because it seems to me that that is the job to do: the free work! So, you know, I stayed on … and other people left.

AA. There was an allusion to a set of financial problems that had come up with the TDC as kind of the core of this. You described yourself as insolvent at one point because of that — what changed? because you’re no longer inactive, are you? It seems like you guys are on the uptick again.

ECS. Prior to Juan’s resignation, but after COVID’s impacts were being felt, I had put us into a triage of six categories of things that we could address. We were in the position we were in, in part, because we couldn’t have our conference. At the time, we didn’t even think to do it virtually. Our conference was actually supposed to be March 27, or something like that.

So we couldn’t have a conference, and we thought, everybody’s unemployed … maybe they won’t enter a competition … we anticipated a dearth of income, and we had a pretty high overhead with our physical space. What we had been planning to do, in addition to some of the other things surrounding opening up membership, was a fundraiser for the TDC. And we’d already secured some donations that would have really helped buoy us in terms of our overhead of the space, but of course, once the resignation letter came out, it was inappropriate to then go out and ask for money. So we negotiated our way out of the lease and the physical space. And then the existing board continued looking at what we could salvage for free from the organization. And for several months now, we’ve been in meetings with landlords and accountants and lawyers, and learning all kinds of things about how to conduct and dissolve a 501(c)(3).

And then we were approached by The One Club. And they said, “We have an infrastructure, we’d love the credibility and the esteem of your organization. We will give you autonomy, we will let you still govern yourselves. But we have accountants, we have lawyers, we own a space, we have resources for you.” And of course, that was a wonderful offer. So we’ve been going through the process of merging; the merger has just gone through. And now it’s happening.

Photos of the TDC archives and staff preparing them for a move
Carrie Hamilton and executive director Carol Wahler prepare the TDC archives for the move to their new home at The One Club in July 2020. Photos: Elizabeth Carey Smith.

At the same time, we had to figure out what to do with all of the assets of the TDC. Our seventy-four years of archives, and what to do with those things. We already had a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit specifically for our educational initiatives and our scholarships and stuff, so we’ve found a way to keep that separate from The One Club. A couple of board members have taken charge of that, writing grants, to make that much more accessible and open to the public: an educational resource where we can digitize our physical archives. And that feels really promising and really good. It’s what allows the legacy of the TDC, from an educational standpoint, to live outside of the capitalism of design, and focus only on education. And then we have the other part of it: our competition, which is, you know, a really wonderful competition. We did a survey of all of our members around the world and asked our community around the world if they valued the competition. They were like, Fuck yeah, we value the competition. If you win the TDC competition, that’s a real game changer for your career. It means so much: you have really wonderful juries, you have an incredibly competitive landscape, the work is stellar. And we looked at the price to see if it was too inequitable, and we realized that we’re actually much cheaper than a lot of competitions.

So that part can keep living on and we can do the TDC annual, which is still, like, the only physical archive we’ve got left of typography. And we think these are for real.

AA. I found it interesting that a lot of people who, some people, um, some of the people who were very quick to, you know, hop on the back of the naysayers were people who won awards? And that’s something that you noticed?

ECS. Of course, yeah.

AA. How did that make you feel?

ECS. I understand that you want to be on the right side of history. Right? Don’t want to look bad. Here’s the thing: many of those people never once questioned the ethics of the Type Directors Club before, publicly anyway, or even to me. We had these past white board members, from privileged places, jumping on the bandwagon of all of their frustrations they’d had on the board of the TDC, conflating whatever their frustrations were with a messy organization that you’re doing for the love of it (right?), with systemic racism.

And I had a real issue with the opportunistic aspect of that, because I thought, Some of you have made a pile of money, and gotten all of the accolades in typography. And you’re not willing to look at this organization that you previously knew and loved and were part of and therefore complicit in? So, you know, it pissed me off, because we’re all pretty smart people, this whole community is smart people.

AA. I read this article by Cheryl Miller, and it was this kind of very sweeping critique of the design industry, I think much in the spirit of what’s going on right now, and she had this particular perspective, because she’s been writing about this for I mean, literally over a decade, where nothing has changed, and I think that, like, when I read her frustrations, it’s something that, especially as a young black designer, I am very tuned in to reading because she’s been there shining that light, but at the same time, there’s this broad-brush critique of the AIGA, which makes sense, because it’s a national organization, and it has pockets all over your country.

And then there’s the Type Directors Club, which got kind of brought into it. So people even reference the fact that the first statement was taken down, and I found it interesting the way that that type of thing can go, because it doesn’t take much for what you’re doing to be representative of a problem. But I also do think that because of its level of influence, the TDC is representative of the industry. And I think that’s something that we can’t help. I think that it necessarily does represent the industry, at least in microcosm. And there has to be this question of, if we can look at the TDC as a microcosm of our industry, then we can probably have some takeaways on what we can do better.

So, where do you think the important work is?

ECS. It starts in our industry, because our organizations are reflective of our industry. I think the TDC, in general, has been very good in some ways because we have so many friends around the world. It’s not difficult to garner different perspectives. And we have been good at that in the past, but I think the easiest thing we can do is to be better at that, about being global, because one of the biggest aspects of diversity in typography is the global diversity of scripts. And that, to me, seems like an easy and welcome challenge, because we don’t have to start at zero. The AIGA is based in the US, and they’re an American organization, as their name suggests. So that would be a daunting task for them. But that’s not so hard for us. So I’m excited about really leaning into that and into the global community.

I think that membership models, in general, are difficult to justify in this day and age in 2020. Whatever the financial model of the TDC is, in terms of how it survives, is the thing that we question, because perhaps that is where we’re lacking in terms of really reaching out, from a community standpoint.

One of the problems with typography is, as anyone will tell you, that it’s notoriously standoffish, as a crew. And of course, once you become immersed in the typographic community, you realize that it’s close and warm, and you can be yourself in a way that it is incredible … But how do we then address that standoffishness? Is the standoffishness because we have a lot of gatekeepers? How do we explain that when type designers or typographers ask a lot of annoying questions, it’s not to deter you, it’s because they’re such specific people? They want to know exactly what you mean, by everything that you say and do. And that can be frustrating for somebody who’s a new designer, and is saying, “I just want you to tell me what you think of my typeface”. Well, what part of the typeface? The proportions? You want to talk about the weight? Do you want me to talk about its effectiveness?

When people ask those questions, it can be off-putting to a young designer. I think a lot of that is just in our community at large. And so when I think about how the TDC can help that, I think the fact that we’ve always had a lot of public events where a young designer could go to this place where it was a specific group of people and no one was behind a velvet rope — I think that’s helpful. I remember feeling I could ask anyone there any questions I wanted; I could stand in the same room as my heroes and feel totally welcome going up and talking to them. And I did that, and I have maintained those relationships to this day. And it’s so important to me; we have an intimacy in this community because we’re small.

The other problem and the larger thing that I’m annoyed at that has really been skirted in all of these conversations is that for all the criticisms of these not-for-profit organizations that represent our industry, there’s not the same level of scrutiny for the for-profit organizations that we know are problematic, the ones we know are run by all white men, right?

We don’t have the balls to question that because that’s our paycheck, right? So there’s only so much that the TDC or an organization like that can do to solve your industry issues for you. Because the organization, as I said, is a reflection of the industry. We’re much more diverse than the industry. And that’s because of the people who love it, volunteering their time to do that work.

AA. You feel like people are expecting you to solve the industry’s problems, and not the industry organizations?

ECS. I don’t think right now it seems like people are actually all that interested in solutions. I think they’re interested in whose fault everything is. It feels like it’s about who do we get to be mad at as opposed to, like, how can we solve this problem that’s been around for a century?

We spent many weeks writing, really thoughtfully, word for word, how we would move forward as an organization: the things we had thought about, what the organization was, where we came from, where we’re going, what to do, what promises we could keep, what we could predict, and what we couldn’t … I didn’t want to issue a statement that we pulled out of our asses in twelve minutes. Because that’s lazy. And it’s disingenuous.

We spent all this time really thinking about these things, and that got no traction at all. And that was very telling to me with regard to what people are interested in right now, from a community standpoint. That said, I think there are a lot of organizations that are getting it right. I love what Letterform Archive is doing for the community; I think that whatever their model is, it works really well. I’ve always been very vocal that Typographics is my favorite conference. I’ve gone to every single one except for this year.

And they’ve asked a lot of good questions. Now, the differences are that Typographics is run by people who are paid to run it, year-round. And Letterform Archive also has resources that the TDC just hasn’t had, and they also don’t have the baggage. So I’m in awe of them. And I want to not be the stodgy old grandpa in the room. But we are right now. Getting grandpa to change is a slower turn. Because we do carry a lot of legacy, a lot of legacy we’re proud of, and a lot of stuff that’s just hard to shake free.

One of the things I’m really excited about is an outreach program that we have started. Bobby Martin has rejoined the board; he and I were on the board for a while together. He started the Superscript Scholarship. And this isn’t offering an excuse or anything, but there weren’t very many applicants to the Superscript Scholarship.

AA. Yeah, because black people don’t care about type.

ECS. The AIGA survey says, you know, 3 percent of graphic designers are Black. Maybe that’s not fully accurate, but it feels accurate to me. So, let’s go with that. I’m less concerned about giving scholarships to people who are already in school for design. I mean, obviously, we’re going to do that. That’s easy.

But how do you get those people in design school, these schools where you have all these other issues about cost and privilege, and whether their parents want them to study graphic design, because who knows if that’s a lucrative career? Most of my students, almost all of them, are kids of color. I don’t think their parents, by and large, from what they tell me, are super stoked that they’re not studying something that is definitely going to make them money. But they’re doing it anyway. They’re doing it for the love of it.

So where I see a big possibility is going into high schools and middle schools and talking about what design is. The wonderful thing about the alphabet is it’s a system that every brain loves. All over the world, we learn these basic shapes as babies—our brains love it. And to me, that’s a more exciting field. And there are a lot of questions about it.

Do we go in to espouse an industry that’s inherently slanted toward white people? I’m not just questioning the profession, but the people who profit off of it. You’re asking Black and Brown people to become complicit and work for industries that profit off of them. There are a lot of issues with that. But there is also the idea … all I wanted to do as a kid was draw. All I wanted to do was sit in my own world and draw letters and draw weird alphabets and read, because I liked words. And I didn’t know what any of that was. I was in college before I even knew what graphic design was. I like the idea that I can go talk to those kids, those introverts who like to draw, those weirdos. That’s the biggest … I don’t want to use the word blessing. But that’s the part that makes me smile about all of it. The rest of it’s a shit show.

AA. Okay, so you mentioned something a little while ago that I found really interesting, which I absolutely didn’t identify with: this feeling of a kind of a level playing field when you’re inside of the room with your heroes, and you feel like you can talk to them, and how empowering that is. And I think that’s super important. Right? But I have never felt like that. I mean, I typically have made my way through the room, because it’s hilarious to be there, and to be powering through a huge amount of awkwardness with even small interactions.

But that is probably our difference socially, right? Where I am when I’m there is in a room with a group of people I don’t have a particular shared experience with that’s very fundamental to who I am. And what I’m wanting to know is if, by and large, the TDC is a force for good.

I do think things need to stop happening in the Grolier Club, or the Grolier Club needs to get a virtual archive as soon as possible, because nobody wants to see a type archive and slavery-era imagery. But it sounds like there is a lot of potential for good.

So, what is your Black agenda? What will you guys do to get more Black representation?

ECS. The short answer is that there isn’t enough Black representation right now. So that was why my original thought was that we have to get more people who are practicing design to want to join the TDC, or even if they’re not yet practicing design, making letter-lovers out of Black kids. I am from Detroit, and I grew up with a lot of Black culture around me. A lot of the reason I love letters and words is because of rap music. Part of the thing about the TDC is that type feels like a pretty white culture.

I don’t think there’s a lot of white participation in general in Black culture. So how do you invite people to a thing that doesn’t feel Black adjacent? But I think there are ways to find correlations between aspects of Black culture that make it pretty natural to come into the world of letters. As an example, Cey Adams, the first creative director of Def Jam Records, is one of the nominees for our next board. What an awesome and natural example of how we bridge pretty classic aspects of Black culture—graffiti, album art for hip hop—with typography. That representation of both the person and his work and his impact could mean so much.

AA. I’m interested, because it’s an important question on an organizational level; I don’t think enough people ask it. I think that, for example, from a presidential-electoral stance, I am not concerned with your diversity program anymore. Because that doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s tailored to my problems, because it’s not all of the minorities, and I want it to be clear that not all minorities are excluded from type. So I’m not trying to put you on the spot.

ECS. No, it’s fine. The reason the answer is tough is because the more I listen to Black designers — for example, Naj Austin, who runs Ethel’s Club, maybe she doesn’t want to fucking come to the TDC. I don’t blame her. She made her own club. And I get that because then when those people come to Ethel’s Club and hang out, they don’t have to feel that intimidation of not knowing what to talk to anybody in the room about.

So that part of it, to me it feels — not insurmountable, but it feels like a long game, because it’s going to take a while, just as it took even me. When I first started coming to TDC events to meet people, I was often one of the only women. But as a woman, I’m aware that I still have to commoditize my ability to flirt and be charming to people who would not otherwise come to talk to me, right. So the onus is unfortunately put on the newcomer to do it.

And that’s going to stay the same, as long as the people who are the old guard are just old white dudes. That’s why I think there’s no changing that awkwardness or that standoffishness until the industry itself becomes more naturally integrated. I wouldn’t go to the TDC necessarily either, if there are other resources where I don’t have to engage with someone, and if the organizations where I could engage one-on-one felt more welcoming, where you could be vulnerable, and you could be yourself.

So that is a criticism I have of the TDC and I don’t expect to be able to solve it for a few years. The shit doesn’t happen overnight. It should have started happening a long time ago, but that wasn’t just the TDC — that was the industry and our society.

One of the things I think about a lot is that my students didn’t grow up with books on the Bauhaus in their living room, or any of those other kinds of early references a kid can look at or see on their walls to shape a path to white Eurocentric design.

One of the things I think we can do immediately is to have way more programming around other senses of design beyond white eurocentrism. Because those conversations can happen naturally. But the idea that any of these organizations can just come up with some answer is insulting in several ways. Because it would be inauthentic if they could do it quickly. And, if they could do it quickly, authentically, then they just chose not to. That sucks, too.

AA. Yeah. What are you still learning?

ECS. My New Year’s resolution was to talk less.

AA. That’s great. I love that.

ECS. I’m learning how to listen more.

Agyei Archer is a designer from Trinidad and Tobago who works with graphics, type, and code. He studied visual communications at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, and typeface design at Cooper Union. His interests include language, culture, and technology, especially as they relate to the Caribbean.

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