I am a Griot, born of two brilliant artists.
I didn’t come into this world alone, and by no statistic should I be living the rich, loving, storied life that I currently live.
If you know me, you know my story. And if you don’t know me, I invite to do the reading below.
In 2020, I co-led the Global Computational Design practice as well as served as a Group Creative Director at Publicis Sapient.
I was a member of the Global Leadership team to cultivate new ideas for improving our client impact, refactor how we recruit and develop diverse Experience Design talent, and scale design culture within a 20,000-person global organization. I completed a short tenure as Chief of Staff to the former Chief Experience Officer, John Maeda, where I worked to streamline our distributed Global Experience workflow and communications strategies.
John recruited our specialized team to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing our company’s ongoing pursuit of market excellence. Especially in the age of COVID-19, he’d often say that “we are just as committed to transforming the inner workings of this company to better serve the brands that impact the world.” His team world-renowned team of design leaders included Wendy Johansson, Leah Buley, Karin Giefer, and Adam Morse. I was honored to be one of the few he chose to steward his brave new vision for service and innovation, and I am grateful for each day he spends patiently investing time and energy into my success.
Publicis Sapient San Francisco Office. Kodak Portra 400, 35mm. January 2020.
Leah Buley and Wendy Johansson, San Francisco, CA. Jan 2020.
…we are just as committed to transforming the inner workings of our companies to better serve brands that impact the world.
The opportunity is stretching me beyond anything I could have imagined at the beginning of 2020.
I considered my time at Publicis Sapient to be my “MBA” in my ways, where I am expanding my capacity to solve complex problems, deepening my understanding of industry best practices, and growing my appetite to be the best at my craft. My hybrid role bounced me from being “a player on the field” to “a partner that surveys the field” from the C-Suite office. It was a once-in-a-lifetime seat at the table that I intend to take full advantage of.
Publicis Groupe Offices, San Francisco. Feb 2020.
At the Moment
I took a well-needed, and well-deserved, break from work as a full-time creative professional.
With the full support of my wife and family, I left my role as Blavity’s first Creative Director to focus on myself, my family and my dreams. I hustled in the start-up world for almost five years and simply put, I was tired. April 1, 2019 I delivered my resignation letter, ending it with the quote “Find your purpose or you wastin’ air” from the late Nipsey Hussle, the day after the hip-hop icon and prophet was assassinated.
During this time my personal well-being took first priority. I focused on reconnecting to my spiritual beliefs and inner values. I focused on facing my vices, healing past traumas, and mending broken relationships. I focused on breaking my addiction to superficial accolades as well as fighting my uphill battle with imposter syndrome. I knew that if I wanted to ever be in a position to truly serve others, I needed to first invest in myself. I could no longer give from an empty reservoir. I needed to refill my creative inspiration, build better self-care habits, face my on-going battle with panic disorder and ultimately, become a better life partner.
I could no longer give from an empty reservoir.
I initially carved out 3 months.
initially carved out 3 months. When I landed my opportunity with John Maeda in September 2019, I decided to take off the remainder of the year. I experienced as many downs as I did ups. I learned to be kinder to myself. I focused on reshaping my confidence and esteem. I spent time with family and friends. I returned to old stomping grounds to reconnect to parts of myself I long buried. I drew closer mentors like Jason Mayden, Squint, and DeVaris Brown. I took time to fully grieve the loss of one of my best friends. I truly uncovered parts of myself I didn’t have the knowledge nor had the capacity to deal with before.
I also made things — I created a strategy to rebrand myself. I formed a creative collective with Tamara Peña and Selena Davant. I curated photo walks for young creatives to grow as technicians and muses. I organized community events. I took over 1000 photos in 35mm film. I fell back in love with the process of creating with my heart.
I knew that if I wanted to ever be in a position to serve others, I needed to first invest in myself.
Portrait of 77 Mass Ave, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. April 2019.
My time brought me more clarity than I could ever imagine.
While I have more living and growing to do, I believe this opportunity to reset my life put me on a better path toward happiness and inner prosperity. Amidst all of this, I turned 30 years old on September 1st.
2019 was truly a transformative year for me.
Ariel Belgrave Harris, Waimea Bay, Hawaii. May 2019.
Waimea Bay, Hawaii. May 2019.
Xavier at work, Oakland, CA. July 2019.
San Francisco Pride Festival. Kodak Portra 400, 35mm. June 2019.
September 2020, shortly after my 31st birthday, life started down a path I could have never imagined.
I was fresh off an incredible summer having launched Hella Creative, a Bay Area community and creative collective, and leading the #HellaJuneteenth movement, which called national attention to the recognition and observation of Juneteenth. A few of us from the collective knew we achieved something truly special.
With a number of brands and organization approaching us for even more work, we started to consider making our collective energy an official venture. My mentor and boss at the time John Maeda encouraged me to seriously consider venture funding, but I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed and not confident that I had a solid business plan. However, his consistent push forward proved to be fire I needed. He proceeded connected me with a few of his friends in the tech and creative space.
Then John introduced me to executive leadership of Publicis Groupe, and things got really interesting. Several conversations turned into several pitches, and then several pitches turned into several negotiation meetings. Things moved incredibly fast. My friends and collective members Chijioke Amah, Joy Ekuta and Ajene Green fearlessly joined along for the ride.
My Interview with John Maeda on Juneteenth. June 2020.
Publicis Groupe announces Le Truc, a new creative model that brings together more than 600 creatives, producers and creative strategists from Publicis agencies in New York into one collaborative space. Founder members, from left to right: Quinnton Harris (me), Elaine Barker, Chijioke Amah, Andy Bird, Carla Serrano, Neil Heymann, Bastian Baumann, Liz Taylor, Joy Ekuta, and Ajene Green. February 2021.
And in January 2021, Retrospect was born. My cofounders and I’s shared a vision for telling more inclusive stories and building better customer experiences in the market, specifically for historically marginalized people. Especially as we collectively processed the incredible lows of 2020, we made it our mission to find, honor and amplify Black joy by any means necessarily. We believed the pursuit of our own Black joy could heal the world, and creating a space where our diverse professional backgrounds could co-exist in harmony would be the x-factor how we shaped experiences for businesses.
Several conversations turned into several pitches, and then several pitches turned into several negotiation meetings…
My co-founders and I's story on the origins of Retrospect. June 2021.
So at moment, I am co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of our experimental studio that works with small-to-large sized companies to bring culture and perspective to their products and consumer experiences. We craft a strong brand identities, develop integrated marketing solutions, establish meaningful and innovative brand partnerships, and produce rich digital experiences.
Company Portrait, by Breyona Holt AKA Exquisite Eye. June 2021.
For less than a year and a half I served as the inaugural Creative Director at Blavity, Inc., a venture-backed media company that curates content and live experiences for Black American millennials.
The startup experienced exponential growth in its third year, acquiring multiple companies and nearly tripling the size of its signature AfroTech conference. I built and led the company’s newly formed Creative team. We did everything from design the new corporate brand identity to redesigning 3 of its 5 major brand assets. The volume of work we did in such a short amount of time was simply incredible.
Morgan DeBaun at Blavity HQ. April 2018.
Hasani Tyus at the VSCO Office, Oakland, CA. September 2018.
Shane Bernard, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA. May 2018.
Blavity is such a unique blend of familiar Black culture and corporate business tradition..
I had the pleasure of working with so many young, incredibly talented people — several of which were Forbes 30 under 30 awardees. I developed hard skills as a project manager and people manager. I discovered my love for mentoring early stage creative talent, and I learned to better trust my intuition as a leader. I had to mature quickly at this early stage startup, becoming more decisive and growing comfortable with ambiguity. I even gave a talk October 2018 at the Creative Works Conference in Memphis, TN about the growing pains of being a first time creative leader.
I learned so many important lessons during my time at Blavity — one in particular was that business impact does not need to come at the expense of cultural nuance and quality design. The better you serve your people, both inside and outside the organization, the better business outcomes you’ll see.
Crowd at Summit 21, Atlanta, GA. June 2018.
Cross Culture Ventures 2018 CoHort Photo Shoot in Los Angeles, CA. May 2018.
Elton Anderson, Jr. shooting Cross Culture Ventures in Los Angeles, CA. May 2018.
I had to mature quickly at this early stage startup, becoming more decisive and growing comfortable with ambiguity.
Walker & Company Brands Office, Palo Alto. April 2016.
Prior to my tenure at Blavity I spent a little over 2 ½ years at Walker and Company Brands, a consumer goods start-up founded in Palo Alto, California.
It was founded by Tristan Walker, a prominent and charismatic tech industry leader that dreamed of elevating the health and beauty customer experience for people of color. The first brand launched in 2013 was Bevel, a haircare brand developing products for men with curly, coarse hair.
I became completely enamored with the mission of the company. The cultural vignettes Tristan and team created in the marketplace spoke directly to my experience as a Black man in America, and I felt his company would be a great place for me to follow my curiosity and examine the intersectionality of design and culture in my work. I joined the team in 2015 as a UI/UX designer, moved to California in 2016 and quickly climbed the ranks to become Design Lead. I helped launch Bevel’s second product, the Bevel Trimmer, curated editorial content, designed eCommerce platforms, and launched the company’s second brand Form Beauty.
AfroTech Conference at the Palace of Fine Arts. November 2018.
August Greene speaking at AfroTech Conference, San Francisco, CA. November 2018.
Cuts at Spelhouse Homecoming, Atlanta, GA. Photo by Aundre Larrow. October 2016.
The better you serve your people, both inside and outside the organization, the better business outcomes you’ll see.
I’m incredibly proud to have co-authored a historic moment in Silicon Valley alongside some of the most brilliant minds, including Mari Sheibley, Aundre Larrow, Mir Anwar and Iyore Olaye. In December 2018 the company announced that it had merged with Procter & Gamble, and moved its base of operations to Atlanta, Georgia.
Nana Achempong in the office, Palo Alto, CA. July 2017.
Form Beauty Bottle Design. July 2017.
Only a month before I interviewed with Walker and Company, I interviewed for the then one-year-old company Blavity.
While the founder Morgan DeBaun and I both determined that it wasn’t quite the time for us to work together, she boldly claimed to me “Oh don’t worry, I will hire you one day when we get some money.”
An Early Start
Before taking the leap to Silicon Valley, I planted roots in New York City to work with Digitas' newly formed Experience Design team, an emerging group within the company that brought new digital product capabilities to the company’s traditional marketing services.
The initiative was the brainchild of UX leader Andrew Carlson. He championed our organization’s need to stay competitive in the shifting landscape of advertising and client services. His forward thinking and approach to building and deploying teams unlocked the powerful rise of design leaders like Kevin Lockwood, Min Chung and Jessie Harte. He would often say that we were “a band of misfits”, and leaning into this he took me under his wing to nurture my unique combination of skills and interests.
Andrew Carlson, New York, NY. June 2014..
Holiday potluck, Digitas, NY. November 2014.
New York City became a sounding board for my blossoming creative spirit. While I had spent plenty of time in the city as a visitor from Boston, living there gave me an entirely new reverence for its magic. I inherited space to grow not only as a designer but as an artist. I lived in Harlem, then in Crown Heights. I doubled down on photography and spent time exploring fashion. With every shutter snap, I became more of who I was meant to be.
"Finding my story." Portrait by Aundre Larrow. August 2014.
Nostrand & Atlantic, Brooklyn, NY. March 2015.
Puerto Rican Day Parade, Harlem, NY. June 2014.
Celebrating Akira-Adel's 28th birthday, Harlem, NY. April 2015.
Prior to Digitas New York, I started my career as a digital art director at Digitas Boston in September 2011, coming off a strong performance as an intern in Summer 2010.
I didn’t have a traditional background or well polished portfolio, but I had people like Kenny Renard, Tony Cappozzi, Peter Riddle and Sandra Sims-Williams who championed my story, believed in my aptitude and gave me a shot. These folks helped me build resilience and character. They taught me the importance of paying dues as well as how to avoid “corporate politics” at all costs.
Inside and outside of work I kept busy experimenting with ideas and side projects. I started clubs, blogged on Tumblr, organized photo projects and volunteered as a mentor. A project I am most proud of was called the L’Académie Project, where I curated a day-long event for fashion professionals to facilitate practical, informal instruction to aspiring talent. It resulted in a beautiful editorial series, featuring a diverse cast of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Summer 2010 Intern Class, Digitas, Boston.
It required me to show-up, humble myself, and trust the process.
My cubical at Digitas Boston. October 2013.
Hatch Award by the AdClub Winners, Boston, MA. November 2012.
Prelude to L'Académie — Randal Jacobs in a clothing store shopping for our project, Cambridge, MA. March 2013.
The night before L'Académie — Prepping for wardrobes the experience, Dorchester, MA. March 2013.
I had never done anything like it before nor directed models on a shoot as a photographer — but with a little curiosity and a passion to create with my friends, I brought to life a concept that interpreted academic spaces like MIT through the lens of art and fashion. Projects like L’Academie pushed me past my fear of being unqualified or incompetent. It required me to show-up, humble myself, and trust the process.
Practice shoot with Nathaniel Porter, Jr., Boston, MA. February 2013.
Practice shoot with Sandra Teixeira, Cambridge, MA. December 2012.
More Coming Soon