This interview is part of an ongoing Design Observer series, Chain Letters, in which we ask leading design minds a few burning questions—and so do their peers, for a year-long conversation about the state of the industry.
In February, we celebrate Black History Month and examine how to better design for inclusivity.
Formerly as one of a half dozen Design Directors overseeing the brand for Nike Brand Design, Jason Murphy has conceived and executed multi-million dollar campaigns that continue the company’s dominance in athletic apparel and footwear, representing 62% of the U.S. market. Jason’s creative thinking and narrative concepts are at the heart of Nike Brand Marketing’s print and digital campaigns promoting Athletic Training, Nike Basketball, Football, and Sportswear. He’s created signature footwear and apparel releases including The LaDainian Tomlinson Air Force 1, The Black History Month Air Force One dual pack, the Basketball Never Stops Tees during the NBA lockout, and the Marcus Mariotta 1 of 1 AF1 release during the NFL Draft.
Jason has also illustrated the many ways that a powerful brand can transcend athletics, by playing a key role in Nike’s cause-related marketing around Black History Month; crafting the visual identity for Kevin Hart’s “Move With Hart Campaign,” which engaged thousands of runners in free, spontaneous 5K events all over the country; and leading Nike’s Equality campaign, launched in the wake of police violence against young African-American men and growing tensions during the 2016 Presidential elections.
How does being a black designer influence your work?
That’s a loaded question. Being Black or an African living in America influences how I move through the world, so it naturally impacts every aspect of my work. We as African American designers have to fight against stereotypes created and perpetuated by U.S. history and its relationship to us as a people. We have to move through the world with a different set of eyes and sensibilities. The rest of America can pick and choose how they want to interact with or view other African Americans and myself. We don’t have the same choice. We’re force-fed history and culture which often paints us in a negative and subservient point of view.
"There’s such significant discrepancy between the number of African Americans in the various design fields versus other ethnicities that I feel a unique responsibility to remain as authentic as possible in the work and stories that I produce."
I often feel like non-African Americans view African American (Black) culture as something they can put on and take off like a coat or pair of pants, while no matter how many times I change my clothes I can’t escape who I am—nor do I wish to. I hope the work I create inspires and influences others who resemble me to know they can aspire to do the same. There’s such significant discrepancy between the number of African Americans in the various design fields versus other ethnicities that I feel a unique responsibility to remain as authentic as possible in the work and stories that I produce.