Category Archives: Communications Design

O is for…


In 2010, the design world celebrated the addition of Eddie Opara as a partner at Pentgram, the worlds largest design consulting firm. Spanning three countries across four offices, the company literally design everything. Even more impressive is that Opara is the only partner of African descent at the prestigious design company. Opara was born in London and studied graphic design at the London College of Printing, going on to get his MFA from Yale University.

Logo Opara designed for SORG.

Opara started his career at Art Technology Group (ATG), moving to Imaginary Forces, and eventually went on to head his own studio, The Map Office. His specialties are the design of brand identities, publications, exhibitions, user interfaces, environments, software, and installations. Opara employs many different types of media in his creations. Starting out more focused on print design, Opara learned web design, programming, and animation, expanding his breadth of work.

Example of publciation Opara designed.

Since joining the legend-wait for it-dary, Pentagram, Opara was instrumental in making their website more accessible and showcasing the firm’s work. It uses a content management system, MIG, designed by Opara himself that is customizable. The system is intricate, allowing visitors to sort out projects by a number of parameters to get the results they desire. This is just one small example of how his creative genius affects everyday interactions.

Screenshot of MIG in action.

One word many design publications have associated with Opara’s work is wizard. His manner of bringing mediums together to create multi-faceted readings in all of his projects. This is evident in one of MAP’s most well known projects, STEALTH, which was done for the Studio Museum of Harlem. The project had many layers, both cultural and visual. Shaped like a stealth bomber plane, the project makes reference to a line from Ralph Waldo Ellison’s, Invisible Man, alluding to the way African-Americans are treated in American society. At the same time, the aircraft it is based on is a paradox, expected to operate invisibly, but has such a well designed and eye capturing shape you want to watch it. Stealth is made out of paper, and can fold out to be a wall covering, but is viewed as an optical illusion. The text that wraps its surface is best read from far away, but becomes muddled up close, and once unfolded the patterns leads the eyes to believe the wall is moving. This one project shows the complex level of thought Opara pays to all his work.

Opara's Stealth project in its many forms.

His other work is just as impressive, so be sure to continue to check Pentagram’s website (content changes daily) to see Opara’s other magic. With the design field in an ever state of flux, only the future knows what Eddie Opara will do next.





A is for…

We at All Black Everything decided to wait until February to properly kick off the year in celebration of Black History Month.  Stay tuned every day this month for the ABCs of Black Design.  Starting our alphabet soup of inspiring artists and creative minds is graphic designer, CEY ADAMS.

We often forget about the design of many of the iconic images and items we handle on a daily basis, not understanding the thought, planning, and artistry that goes into making them beautiful, simply, and memorable. That’s where graphic designer Cey Adams comes in, who has been designing logos, album covers, and music artists branding since Hip Hop was still wet behind the ears. He started as a known New York City graffiti, traveling in the same circle as Basquiat. After earning a degree in painting from SVA he landed a gig with Rush artist management. In 1984 he became art director at Def Jam and started his design company, the Drawing Board.

He was in charge of setting the aesthetic tone and creating album and performer print identities for many noted artists such as Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, and Jay-Z. Adams then went on to create corporate ideas for Sean Comb’s and his restaurant franchise and the soundtrack packaging for Belly, Rush Hour and Next Friday.

Some of Adam's iconic album and concert direction.

The Drawing Board closed in 1999, allowing Cey to work on corporate advertising campaigns for Nike, HBO, Coca-Colo, and famed NYC radio station Hot 97. He also co-designed the hip hop wing of the Rock and Roll museum in Seattle. In 2003, he was hired by Dave Chapelle to create the logo for his new sketch comedy show, Chapelle’s Show. Recently, he has worked on the album designs, tour photography, stage wardrobe, and tour merchandising for acts like Maroon 5, the Foo Fighters, Enimem, Stevie Nicks, and the Beastie Boys. Throughout his career, Cey Adams has brought his unique urban stylings and strong design aesthetic to making some of the most iconic images of the hip hop generation.  Check out his website for more inspiration!

Adam's logo is now a New York institution.

A Day to Celebrate like a KING

People nationwide joined in collective celebration of one of our world’s great heroes yesterday, commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.  As I am sure there is no need for a history lesson right now and if you need to be informed about who this great man was… you need more help than this post will ever provide.  As we at All Black Everything spent our days of service reaching out in our communities, it was hard not to ponder the influence Dr. King’s actions and words have had on the fields of art and design.

For our supporters in and around the New York City area who want to tap into the spirit of the day, be sure to check out the acclaimed Broadway play, The Mountaintop. The story is a fictional retelling of the the night before Martin’s tragic assassination, with the entire play set in the Room 306 at the Lorraine Hotel. Written by playwright Katori Hall,  the UK production won the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Play.  This was monumental as Hall was the first black woman to win in history.  Add to all this that the Broadway production stars Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Basset, who could resist?  There are discounts for ticket purchases this week, so don’t miss out… the show closes on January 22!

MLK has also been the inspiration for many other influential design moments. Its only been a year, but Spike Lee’s moving commercial for Chevrolet from last years King Day Celebration still moves me.   With their whole Table of Brotherhood campaign ad, Chevrolet was one of the major advertising accounts that helped solidify Spike DDB, the firm that resulted when Spike Lee opened a joint venture with DDB Needham Worldwide.  They are one of the more noted black advertising firms to land some major accounts like FinishLine.

Turning our head to the built environment, there were many other memorials and buildings that came long before the newest addition to the Washington Mall.  One of the lesser known design gems to feature the words and evoke the spirit of Dr. King’s work was the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, ALby architect, Maya Lin.  The fountain includes a timeline that ends with Martin’s untimely death.

Another King inspired fountain can be found in San Francisco at Yerba Buena Gardens.  The site was designed by architect, Joseph de Pace and sculpted by artist Houston Conwill.  The fountain is the largest fountain on the Western Coast of America.

Moving further up the Western Coast is the Martin Luther King Memorial Park in Seattle.  Inspired by the “I’ve Been To the Mountaintop” speech, the site is set into the landscape of the park surrounding a reflection pool and statue honoring the event.

Another site that uses the inspiration of Martin’s words to commemorate a site is the former Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Campus in New York City.  After the original high school was closed in 2005, sculptor William Tarr created a steel sculpture matching the new campus’  facade on the site in homage to the school.

Moving to Atlanta, most people have done the historic  tours to Ebenezer Baptist Church and the King Vistor’s Center to see his tomb, but there may be a new stop on the MLK tour soon.  Designed by the Freelon Group and HOK, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights will create a space for the study, celebration, and education of the struggle for equality for all.  The building’s shape is based on the idea of interlocking arms.

You may remember early last year when we covered the announcement of the final design of the now completed MLK Memorial in Washington DC. Recently, a lot of controversy was sparked regarding one of the quotes chosen for the Stone of Hope, the cornerstone of the memorial’s design.   Many visitors have spoken out regarding the paraphrasing of a quote from Dr. King’s and have asked the designers and people managing the memorial to change the inscription on the stone.  The controversial quote is “I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness” which has been adapted from Martin’s original words, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Looking at the way Dr. King’s life, vision, and legacy have inspired other artists and designers in their creation of unique works is inspiring. We at All Black Everything challenge you to look to his words and message and find a way to champion it into your own creativity. And because there is no better way for it to be said….

“And we all know everything that he stood for time will bring for in peace our hearts will sing thanks to Martin Luther King…”

Swag as a Commodity

Nothing like the beginning of consistent warm weather to bring out my favorite things; basketball shorts and wife beaters on a well defined man. This season has already been off to a great start; with the summer blockbusters on the big screen, the NBA Playoffs on cable, and the brothas on the block, there is an abundance of sheer masculinity everywhere I turn. I’m not complaining… So of course, I couldn’t help but notice the increased presence of men of color; a trend that personally brings nothing but smiles.

What began with the popularity of actors like Will Smith and peaked with the presidential election of Barack Obama, the public perception of the black man has made a great shift in recent years. Gone are the days of the sidekick, the laughable coon, and the magical negro… usher in the HERO. It was a trajectory that can be easily identified in movies; which led to a lot of the commentary following the opening of Fast Five last month, being less about the movie and more about the skin tone of the cast and its lack of the blonde haired, blue eyed action stars people are used to seeing.

One of these things is not like the others....

Where I have noticed the biggest surprise shift was in advertising. I consider myself an astute tv watcher and lover of pop culture my whole life, so commercials and print ads are always something I notice. Just this year alone, the number of black men I’ve seen in ads portrayed in a positive light has been amazing. Even during the NBA playoffs, with a sport that has long been dominated by men of color, the number of brothers getting endorsement deals and major commercial time has increased. I remember growing up when ads simply featured  MJ or Magic, and we were happy.  Now every popular black figure can be found filling commercial time slots.

Today I wanted to share my observations with you and take a walk down memory lane to celebrate the positive acknowledgment of the strength, power, and beauty of the black man. It’s great to see them get their chance to shine.

In the beginning, there was the Cream of Wheat Man, Rastus. I know we all shudder when we see the old ads depicting black men featured in a position of subordination, often talking with the pidgin more akin to African American Vernacular English (that’s the new name for Ebonics in case you missed the its political correction). The black man as the butler, attending to his superiors, who were generally depicted by a white person, even worse when it was a young girl or animal, followed this.

As time progressed and the black population garnered more social status, people started protesting the media portrayal. The new answer became the black man everyone liked to laugh with; the loveable sidekick. Recently this has been revisited with the Bacardi and Cola ads. It sent the message, that they were acceptable in moderation paired with a more dominant Caucasian counterpart if we could be funny.

After the rise of rap and the evolution of the black sports figure as a public figure, the hyper masculinity of black men became the standard. Fulfilling every belief about the Angry Black Male and reinforcing the idea that they should be feared. Depictions of black men as thugs or hardened became the norm. During this period, ads tended to highlight this phenomenon by using popular hip- hop artists as models. The more thugnificent, the better, extra points for hard time and/or bullet wounds. As the urban style, slang, and lifestyle took flight and became more popular, the hypersexual black male became the media darling. Similar to King Kong, they were depicted as a threat to their female counterpart or as oversexed, playboy lotharios. This undermined ideas that they could be faithful, trusted, loving partners.

Amongst all this came Will and MJ, representations our community welcomed with open arms. They were safe, adored, and accepted. Most importantly, they changed the game. While each faced their own media identity struggles, what they overcame was even greater. Will managed to get parts that were not written for blacks and own them. Thus began the movement of the racially ambiguous male model. Mike became a brand on his own and made the lucrative endorsement the norm for black athletes. Athletes were expected to use their personality and physicality to market products based on their athletic prowess. After them, the power balance shifted. We began to see black males making the decision to have some control over how they were depicted. It also became more desired to see them portrayed in a positive light.

With “post- racial” America or the Age of Obama, the black man has been elevated once again. Following our leader, the many traits that were previously countered or downplayed are idolized. Swagger is a commodity. Now, black men are depicted as the cool guy you want to be. He’s got the great job, the impeccable style, and the girl you wish you had.  Mass media has bought into it and it is spreading everywhere.

Gone are the days of the servant, bad boy, and the player and for that I thank black Jesus #seewhatIdidthere. I am happy to pick up a magazine or change a channel and see a depiction more akin to the people I know in my life and I look forward to seeing what is coming next.

Progress has been made.

Hennesey's new ad campaign gets it right.

I’d like to leave you with a few of my favs… just to bring it home of course ;).

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless

The artist in 1976.

In my attempts to experience culture, and be like Stella and get my design groove back, I went to the Art Institute of Chicago’s Target Free Day. In my silent reflection I sat and pondered over many of the pieces and paintings that I bring me back time and time again. What most excited me was the  relatively new Modern Wing. Because it was constructed while I was away for college, I haven’t had many experiences perusing it’s galleries and previously had been more occupied by Renzo Piano’s design execution than the pieces it was created to house. This visit was a whole new experience. I wandered from room to room devouring the Rothko’s and Kandinsky’s.

Then I unexpectedly came upon something that stopped me in my tracks. Mentally… I was speechless… which with me is something of a feat. I was taken aback by a black and white photograph of a black woman sitting at her kitchen table looking as it she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. It struck me a symbolic and iconic. It was just one piece of a series that I spent the better part of the next hour, but the most important thing was the three words on the placard announcing the artist: Carrie Mae Weems.

Feel free to stop and stare as I did.

I came home excited about my art museum discovery and wondering why the name sounded so familiar. Then a few days later a I perused old news blasts from my alma mater I discovered the same name in connection with the arts initiative I had been reading headlines and snippets about for months. This connection excited me to take a second look at the efforts Ms. Weems had been exerting in Syracuse, because its hard to not be curious about a place that was so integral in the last few years of my life. The project, Operation: Activate, seems to have brought a much-needed poignant look at life beyond the hill, as we referred to it when I was there.

The public arts campaign addresses the issues of gun violence plaguing inner cities, focusing on bringing change to Syracuse, NY.  In my research I learned that 98% of the victims of gun violence in the city are ethnic minorities.  It resonated with me both for the countless news stories I witnessed as a college student as well as the violence that is currently afflicting my hometown and many other locales nationally. The initiative uses billboards, signs, placards, and online pictorial campaigns to encapsulate the anguish and terror of those affected by these horrible situations. Like so many of her pieces, Weems’ work in this project personify the expressions and emotions of these experiences offering pointed cultural criticism of the piece of the black experience. Carrie always seems to find the strength or guile to say what no wants to actually say but we were all thinking.  Her in your face pieces make you stop and question the situation at hand.

Weems is no stranger to using her art as a vessel for political messages and this one takes it directly to the streets and away from the high culture walls of world-renowned art museums. Her strength is in  the narrative, telling a story in a still frame and taking you inside the emotions of her subject. This seems to be a great tactic to address issues of violence publicly, because the heart wrenching images force their way into the public realm, creating a community conversation and focusing people on the issues at hand.  In interviews, Ms. Weems has said that her purpose was to have a conversation with the perpetrators as well as encourage members of the community to take action and responsibility for preventing the senseless acts of violence. Part of her goal was to address this national issue, while attempting to stir the waters towards social change in the Syracuse community. For now she has given a voice to many in this city who have yet to be heard and delivered a difficult message that needed desperately to be said.

The artist’s other works can be enjoyed on her website and in her monographs, . For more information on Operation: Activate you can view the Initiative’s Facebook Page: Social Change. Carrie Mae Weems has been a noted photographer and artist for over 25 years and is known for tackling issues of race, gender, politics and class in a variety of mediums. Her projects have been exhibited in many noteworthy galleries like the Whitney Museum of Art, MOMA, and the Art Institute of Chicago.