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Month May 2014

4 Corners: An Interview with Mo Woods

If race equality progressed at the same rate as technology, we’d be living on an amazing planet right now.

Yet, here we are in 2014 and there is little doubt that the playing field for people of colour looking to break into the world of design and visual communications is still not level. However, our profile designer this month is one man who has managed to break through and scale heights that befit his 6’ 10” frame.

A self-confessed perfectionist, and prodigious college basketball talent, whether working previously with the likes of design legends such as Pentagram or now as senior visual designer with technology giant Yahoo, he always brings his best game. And as co-founder of a pioneering social project that is helping introduce under-priviledged, inner-city kids to the world of design, he’s someone we can all certainly look up to.

Please be upstanding for Mr Maurice Woods.

Maurice Woods

Maurice ‘Mo’ Woods, graphic designer, co-founder of the Inneract Project and senior visual designer, Yahoo.

What’s your background?

My roots are in visual communication design. I received a Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree and a Master’s Degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. This is a great programme that taught me crucial fundamental skills I still use today. If you are at all serious about being in this business it is imperative that you find a good school with solid teachers that push you and have a good mix of other talented students.

CultureBusThe CultureBus logo was designed while at Pentagram

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Well, my trajectory was not typical. I got into design via basketball. I was granted a basketball scholarship to play at the University of Washington, and after realising I might not make it to the NBA, I had to decide a major. My mother actually suggested I try graphic design, because I ‘liked to draw’. From her suggestion I took an intro to graphic design course. After the first class, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a designer.

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I don’t think I thought of getting into the profession as a challenge. I think I had a personal challenge, and that was to prove that I could be good enough to work with the best designers in the business. I guess you can say that basketball had a profound influence on me. In a way, I think it was the competitiveness that sports ingrains in your spirit that makes you want to win, all the time. I was that way, although I never expressed it. It was more of an inside goal I had to reach. I would do anything I could to achieve the success I believed I could achieve.

Miles+DavisEnvisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design Poster Series, 27” x 40”

Who and what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I have a ton of influences. There have been a lot of people who inspire me, not just creatively, but through encouragement, sincerity and advice. I would say that some of my biggest design influences are Doug Wadden, Tony Gable, Kit Hinrichs and Chris Ozubko. I became very close to all of these guys and collectively, I learned a lot of what I now know through them. Doug Wadden and Chris were teachers of mine in both undergraduate and graduate school. They always gave me good solid advice, pushed me to move forward, and were a part of my growth in key phases of my career. Tony Gable, from a creative standpoint, was the first African American designer I encountered. Ironically enough, I stumbled across Tony’s work as I was entering into the school of design. I saw a poster he did at a poster shop. I asked the owner of the shop and he told me about Tony, and I connected to him through this way. Much like my trajectory into design, key experiences in my life I believe shaped the career path I have now. Tony, ‘til this day is still a good friend. Kit Hinrichs was an important person. I learned a lot from him. He probably does not even know it. I always tried to learn from everything down to the way he presented, to his incredible work ethic. Kit has been in the business for a very long time and ‘til this day still is usually the first one in the office and one of the last people to leave. I found that to be extremely inspirational and a trait I felt I needed to learn from. Especially from someone who has had a career as good as he has. 

NikeFrom a series of concepts developed for a project for Nike on an all-black basketball team that thrived in the United States in the period between 1904, when basketball was first introduced among African Americans on a wide scale organized basis, to 1950,

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

Hmmm, I get asked this a lot and the answer is none. I am actually very bad with this. There is not a single project that I feel was just right. I am a bit of a perfectionist. I always see way I could have made a project better. It is a curse and a blessing at the same time. However, the thing I am most proud of, currently is the Inneract Project. This is a free programme I started to expose inner-city youth and communities to careers in design. It is my life’s work. It inspires me because I have seen the work we do impact the lives of young people. As Inneract Project continues to grow, I get excited about the potential of our program developing a greater appreciation of design in the schools and inner-cities.

RobotsRobots exhibition that took place at the Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle. Designed while working at Pentagram

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream design job was to work at Pentagram Design. I worked there, so now I am working at Yahoo. There, I am working on my next current interest, interactive design. I consider myself very fortunate to able to work at this company.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

Most of the people I think would deserve the credit, already have the credit. Those who I know who don’t get enough credit, don’t care. I am one of those people. I, like so many others, do it for the love. But, make no mistake, we want to get paid fairly to do it too.

FistImage created as part of “Envisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design” project.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

The best advice I can give someone is to make goals for yourself, and never stop working til you get there. It sounds sort of like a cliché, but it’s not, really. It is actually pretty simple, and pretty much proven to net you some success. I wanted to be the best, and my competitiveness and work ethic would not let me give up. I practice my skills everyday. If I am putting together a Word doc to send to someone, I am thinking about the format. When I am at home, and moving things around in my house, I tend to think about composition, balance and symmetry. I admit, it is a compulsive behavior, but those little things have helped me fine-tune my skills and now I can work rather quickly and effectively when designing something for someone. It is the daily practice that enhances your skills — working everyday to get better.

What’s next for you?

The next step for me involves my fascination with technology, interactive design, education and community awareness. These areas of interest will more than likely influence the next big thing I do. We will have to see what happens next.

For more information visit www.inneractproject.org

Network:

EUROPE:

Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is the UK’s largest ever exhibition of mainstream and underground comics, showcasing works that uncompromisingly address politics, gender, violence, sexuality and altered states. It explores the full anarchic range of the medium with works that challenge categorisation, preconceptions and the status quo, alongside original scripts, preparatory sketches and final artwork that demystify the creative process. Open until 19 August 2014 at The British Library, 96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB. For more information visit www.bl.uk

THE CARIBBEAN:

Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica. The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present an exhibition of street art from Kingston and environs. The exhibition is on view at the National Gallery until 11 July. National Gallery of Jamaica, 12 Ocean Blvd, Block C, Kingston, Jamaica, (W.I)
For more information visitnationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com

THE US:

When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South queries the category of ‘outsider’ art in relation to contemporary art and black life. With the majority of work having been made between 1964 and 2014, the exhibition brings together a group of thirty-five intergenerational American artists who share an interest in the U.S. South as a location both real and imagined. Runs until 29 June 2014 at Studio Museum of Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, New York, New York (212) 864-4500. For more information visit www.studiomuseum.org

AFRICA:

Rotimi Fani-Kayode Retrospective: Autograph ABP presents the first major Rotimi Fani-Kayode museum retrospective in Africa. Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s photographs constitute a profound narrative of sexual and cultural difference, seminal in their deeply personal and political exploration of diaspora, desire and spirituality. In his large-scale colour and black and white portraits, the black male body becomes the focal point of a photographic enquiry: ancestral memories and a provocative, multi-layered symbolism fuse with archetypal motifs from European and African cultures and subcultures, inspired by what Yoruba priests call ‘the technique of ecstasy’. Runs until 18 June at Iziko South African  National Gallery,  Cape Town, South Africa. Visit autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/solo-exhibition for more information.

POPCAP 2014 Call for Contemporary African Photography. Now into its third year, POPCAP ’14 welcomes contemporary photographic portfolio submissions for its annual competition. Five winners will be selected by a panel of 18 international judges. The winners will all be invited to exhibit their work internationally at five open-air POPCAP exhibitions in Basel and Berlin during the European month of photography and with the Cape Town Month of Photography, Lagos Photo Festival and Addis FotoFest. Deadline 1 July 2014. You can apply here.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.