As part of AIGA’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative, we are kickstarting our new series Diversity in Design – a collection of interviews that showcases the work, and celebrates the accomplishments of Tampa Bay area creatives who represent the multi-faceted definitions of diversity. Candidates featured come from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds or groups including gender, sexual orientation, ability, cultural and ethnic origins, race, age, and socio-economic conditions in the Tampa Bay area. In honor of Black History Month, join us as we talk with award-winning art director and designer, Xavier Rivera.
Tell us about yourself, and what were your influences growing up?
I am an Art Director at PPK Tampa, living in Brandon, Florida with my two kids, Avery and Alaya, and my wonderful Girlfriend of 7 years, Ianna. Born and raised in Brentwood, New York with a big family; I was the middle child of six siblings – and two more siblings later on in life. Where I grew up, it was in the midst of the 90s Hip-Hop era, and it was a huge melting pot where everyone was accepted. I was influenced by the scene, culture, and pace of life while there, and pretty much solidified my identity by the time I moved to sunny Florida in the middle of high school. Later In life, talented creatives like Tom Burrell, Gail Anderson, and Shepard Fairey were also a big influence.
My cousins and older brother were into graffiti, and they had stacks of magazines and sketchbooks that I was influenced by. My dad had a bunch of reading material as well. At the time, I was a very bored kid so anything in front of me, like a cookbook or the back of a cereal box, got me wondering, “how did they put this together?” or “how did they print those images?”
I remember as a kid, I would pause a video game, and try to emulate what was on the screen by pressing the paper onto the TV screen and outlining the game with a pencil. Literature also opened up my mind quite a bit, short stories by Franz Kafka and Langston Hughes Poetry to drop a few names.
How did you first get into design?
It was a winding trajectory for me. In high school, I took a drafting and illustrating class that piqued my interest. After graduating, I went to college at the Art Institute of Tampa. I knew that I always wanted to make stuff, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. My school’s counselor suggested graphic design; I’ve always appreciated printed material – especially movie posters and album covers; the composition, photography, the graphics, and all the work that goes into it.
Even though I was half way through school, I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I continued to focus on my craft. Sometimes I got the impression that people looked at me like I couldn’t succeed, but I used that as my motivation to learn more; I spent time in the computer labs reading and learning Adobe programs.
I remember spending hours on Adobe Illustrator learning the basics and how to use the pen tool by drawing comic or anime characters and outlining them… It looked terrible, but it taught me to take my time learning new things, overcoming the feeling of failure before finishing, and training myself how to not get into a negative mindset. Ironically, I started out being terrified of using Photoshop. Now, I use it comfortably very often. I would often place large challenges in front of myself just to see if I could figure it out and do it, and it had been one of the habits that has helped me the most.
What do you love most about being creative?
I’ve always spent a lot of time just thinking. You are giving your perspective of the creative world for people to see. As a creative, you drive the inspiration that you take in based on how you express it: whether it’s on a computer, writing, drawing, painting, architecture. It’s a lot of fun to solve elements of visual space.
While at PPK, I’ve had some amazing opportunities I’m truly grateful for. Here is some of the work I am most proud of:
What is representation to you, and why is it important in the design community?
Representation is working hard and being successful, while unapologetically expressing yourself. It’s very important to project your true self, especially in the times we live in now. Representation helps map out the progress and pave the road for other people that do what you do, and also look like you.
Any advice do you want to give to people of color who are wanting to break into the design industry?
Command respect; don’t demand it. Don’t walk in front of people like you know what you’re doing already. Let the work do the talking.
Listen. Be quiet. Learn how to speak last. It’s easier to articulate ideas when everyone gets a chance to speak and listen separately. Don’t finish other people’s statements.
Failure is just part of life. Don’t let it get you down negatively, always talk to yourself in a positive way. Always exude positivity. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with just believing yourself, even if it’s just a little bit.
Don’t wait for someone to tell you to follow through with an idea. Just make it.
About Xavier Rivera
Xavier joined PPK’s creative department in early 2015. Since then, he has had the opportunity to work with a variety of distinctive clients, including The Florida Aquarium, Big Boy Restaurants, Wichita Brewing Company, GTE Financial, and many more. He especially takes great pride in helping nonprofit accounts, such as the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation and Big Cat Rescue. Since then, his work has been featured in Graphis International,HOW International, and has been recently announced in as a finalist in this year’s LÜRZER’S GRAND SLAM. Overall, when Xavier is not working on the next idea, he loves spending time with his family.
The Diversity in Design Series aims to cultivate and broaden an inclusive design community by celebrating creatives from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in the Tampa Bay area.