Giving form to a consultants deep cache of knowledge
Giving form to a consultants deep cache of knowledge
Ed Krow is a veteran HR Strategist, with a unique, no-nonsense, direct approach to Human Relations. But this doesn’t mean he is unfriendly. In fact, Ed is quite the opposite. He makes sure that he leaves each client better off than when he found them by bringing his authoritative yet approachable style to each job.
Ed wanted to collect the years of lessons and knowledge he had gained through collaborations with Fortune 500 companies and small business into one place. I worked closely with Ed to help him plan out and design his first book, Strategic HR, handling all aspects from sketching, design and pre- and post-production. The elegant and bold aesthetic I developed, utilizing striking typography and slick, contemplative layouts, gave shape to Ed’s thoughts and insights into the world of working with organizations and enabling them to create the best possible relationships with their employees.
Imagining the future of a company whose primary activity is imagining the future
PSFK is a curator of insights and data about innovations in the retail experience space. Through their extensive research, they deliver business intelligence to brands and agencies, enabling their clients to deliver a winning customer experience. They provide access to an extensive database, newsletters, reports, events and on-demand research and consulting.
However, PSFK had significantly matured since their founding over 15 years ago. The company was at a point where they wanted a major refresh, and needed help figuring out which path they should take
Before I could recommend a design solution to this question, I needed to understand the problem better. I interviewed stakeholders, gathered information about PSFK, highlighted interesting Google analytics, learned about the clientele, and about the competition. By doing this, I was able to name the demons that plagued PSFK’s user experience.
It became clear that in order to effectively inspire clients, PSFK must continue to innovate their own products and services. How could PSFK clearly position itself as hybrid curators and researchers, highlighting their unique intuition and in-depth research methodologies? How could PSFK expand the opportunity space, stay ahead of competition and best utilize its existing resources to differentiate the brand in a highly saturated marketplace?
This process resulted in an in-depth discovery document that revealed that their central tension was the need to decidedly break away from the editorial legacy of the PSFK website and re-imagine themselves as the lead procurers of data and AI driven business intelligence.
I addressed these questions through a redesign of the UX and UI of the site, and a reorganization of the overall site architecture. PSFK wanted a more high-end user experience that would be less obtrusive and have a more elegant and less sales-y use of pop-ups. The new UX and UI is refined and elegant, while maintaining a friendly and approachable spirit of engagement that is more boutique and made to order.
A cohesively implemented graphic identity (which retains the legacy color purple) and modern user interface changed the overall perception of PSFK, further contributing to a pleasing and effective user experience. By better showcasing PSFK’s extensive database and network, I enabled clients to search and utilize search results in a more dynamic and customized manner.
I also helped PSFK better define the purpose of the site, by making it clear exactly what PSFK does, especially to a potential client visiting the site for the first time. Through completely new wire frames and design sketches, as well as tweaks and adjustments to existing pages, we highlighted the depth of PSFK’s research, its methods for generating this research, and its extensive network and industry connections.
Building on the strategy and design work for the website, I also helped PSFK design their 2019 annual report, The Future of Retail.
Italian journalist and writer Italo Calvino described the role that the city played in his work in the following way:
“To represent the streets and the various districts as dramatis personae, each one with a character in conflict with every other, to give life to human figures and situations as if they were spontaneous growths from the cobbles of the streets, or else protagonists in such dramatic contrast with them as to cause a whole string of disasters to work in such a way that at every changing moment the true protagonist was the living city.” 2
With Calvino’s approach in mind, I will explore the role of the city of Atlanta in the work of American actor, rapper, and director Donald Glover. Through an investigation of how Atlanta plays the part of muse, protagonist, antagonist, and foil in the life of Earn (one of the show’s main characters, also played by Donald Glover himself), as well as the lives of the rest of the cast, I will examine how the city becomes a character in Glover’s comedy-drama television series Atlanta.
Calvino’s conviction that the “living city” is the “protagonist” in much of his work illustrated in the quote above will be employed throughout this argument. Moreover, viewed through a multi-disciplinary lens, the work of other writers, artists, philosophers, and architects throughout history will be connected to this central point.
The influence that the city of Atlanta on Donald Glover’s real-life creative processes will also be the subject of analysis. Are there connections to his lived experience? Does the lived experience of the people he has known influence particular scenes or decisions? What is the specific role of the city and how does it affect choices and decisions made by the other characters in the series? What connections or references are being made to broader social or cultural events that had occurred in Atlanta and in other cities around the world?
Two specific episodes of Atlanta will be subject to analysis. Using the methodology of semiotic analysis, primarily in the style of Italian novelist, literary critic and philosopher Umberto Eco, connections and parallels in meaning will be drawn between the dialogue, visual direction, and theme of each episode. These points of analysis will then be related to the hypothesis that the city is a character in the TV series. This method will also be used to reveal ways in which Glover alludes to the history and present-day reality of Atlanta.
To understand a person in the present, it is first necessary to understand their past. Similarly, the history of the city of Atlanta must be explored in order to understand its modern-day relevance. As a character, Atlanta can be marked by four major events; the razing of the city by the Union Army under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman at the end of the American Civil war; the practice of slavery which was especially prevalent in the American South; the central role that Atlanta played in the Civil Rights movement spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the evolution of Trap music, led by rappers Cool Breeze, Dungeon Family, Outkast, Goodie Mob, and Ghetto Mafia among others.
2.1 Historical Background
“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it…Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth—right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war.” – General William Tecumseh Sherman’s comments to Prof. David F. Boyd at the Louisiana State Seminary 3
Located in the American South, in the State of Georgia, Atlanta was founded as a transportation hub at the intersection of two railroad lines in 1837. After being mostly burned to the ground during the American Civil War, in what some saw as an unnecessary act of retribution 4, the city rose from its near complete destruction to become a national center of commerce and the unofficial capital of the “New South”.
Despite multiple warnings—such as General Sherman’s above—the state of Georgia voted to secede from the Union and join the rebel Confederacy on January 19th, 1861. During his ‘March to the Sea’ towards the end of the war in 1865, General Sherman signed Special Field Order No. 15, distributing some 1,600 km² of confiscated land along the Atlantic coast to freed slaves. 5
Although slavery was officially abolished when the Thirteenth Amendment took effect in 1865, the practice had already been theoretically abolished by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, this applied only to slaves located in territories that were in rebellion from the Union. Because the Union government was not in effective control of Confederate territories until later in the war, many slaves were still held in servitude until those areas came back under Union control. 6
2.2 Civil Rights
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Atlanta became a major organizing center of the civil rights movement. In addition to being the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the key reasons Atlanta became the movement’s headquarters was its strong infrastructure of black churches, social institutions and political organizations. The city was also home to one of the most successful black business communities in the country, known as “Sweet Auburn” Avenue. The city earned a reputation as “too busy to hate” for the relatively progressive views of its citizens and leaders compared to other cities in the so-called Deep South.
Atlanta had established a reputation as a land of upward mobility for black Georgians looking to improve their lives, however, this was not always realized. Growing up in Atlanta, Dr. King’s middle-class background offered some insulation from the brutalities of the Jim Crow system, yet the same year that he was born, Dennis Hubert—a sophomore at Morehouse College and son of a prominent black minister—was murdered for allegedly insulting two white women. This injustice illustrated the limitations of middle-class standing for the Atlanta’s blacks. On the other hand, Dennis Hubert’s white killers were in fact, arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison, a highly unlikely outcome in any other more rural county in Georgia. This demonstrates that Atlanta, with its more urban and cosmopolitan social environment, possessed a different soul, so to speak, than the rest of the state. 7
2.3 Atlanta and Hip Hop
In 2009, The New York Times noted that post-2000, Atlanta moved “from the margins to becoming hip-hop’s center of gravity, part of a larger shift in hip-hop innovation to the South.” Atlanta hip-hop’s pop breakthrough involved a blend of various hard-core sounds from the West, bass beats from Florida, and styles and images from the North. Producer Drumma Boy called Atlanta “the melting pot of the South”. Producer Fatboi said that the Roland TR–808 (known colloquially as the “808”) synthesizer was central to Atlanta music’s versatility. 8
“With the exception of Outkast, let me think, Goodie Mob… with the exception of that, before I came in the game, it was Lil Jon, Outkast, Goodie Mob, okay so you had crunk music and you had Organized Noize. There was no such thing as trap music, I created that, I created that. I coined the term, it was my second album, Trap Muzik it dropped in 2003. After that, there was an entire new genre of music created. An open lane for each of you to do what you do, and live your lives, on T.V., and be accepted by the masses. The masses have accepted you ’cause I opened the door and you walked through it. Don’t forget who opened that door cuz.”—Atlanta-based rapper T.I., in a December 2012 interview 9
Throughout 2018, Atlanta Trap music continued to dominate pop music charts. 10 In 2017, Atlanta recording artist Future had back-to-back releases that debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Many other Atlanta artists, most notably Lil Yachty, Ludacris, and Migos have also capitalized on the internet and the cultural buzz surrounding Atlanta to help make their name and further cement their music careers.
Atlanta’s hip-hop scene is also responsible to sparking a number of dance crazes. Moves such as the “Dab”, the “Whip”, and the “Nae-Nae” have all ascended from Atlanta based hip-hop into the global mainstream. Thanks in part to the rapid diffusion enabled by social media, these dance moves have been embedded in global popular culture, with prominent figures of mainstream recognition such as 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton even practicing these moves on the popular talk show, Ellen. 11
The music and lyrics of Atlanta’s music scene reflects the inherent tensions within Atlanta’s wider black community. Many areas of the city continue to languish in poverty and despair, while other parts have risen to levels of prestige and wealth not seen since the reconstruction. The black nouveau riche, steeped in Atlanta’s black popular culture from the past and present, have redefined what it means to be elite, yet at the same time, they have also become resistant to other aspiring movers and shakers who desire to join their ranks.