Zariah Cameron

September means it’s time for back to school, so what better way to kick off the month here on Revision Path than by talking with a design student? Meet Zariah Cameron, a soon-to-be graduate of North Carolina A&T and an up-and-coming voice in the design industry.

We talked about going through her senior year and working as an intern during this pandemic, and we also spoke about the AEI Design Program, an initiative she started to foster and establish relationships with partner companies to create a pipeline for Black college students. Zariah also shared some of her future goals, current obsessions, and what she’s learned from her internships throughout college. Keep an eye out for this young designer — she’s definitely going places!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Zariah Cameron:
Hi everyone. My name is Zariah Cameron. I am a senior graphic design student at North Carolina A&T State University. Within the past two years, I’ve been independently studying UX design, which is now the space that I’m in. And I’m now evolving into a UX equity strategist. It’s now my evolving role.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How has the summer been going for you?

Zariah Cameron:
This particular summer is definitely been an unexpected turn of events in the best of ways I could say. Of course, just the opportunities of being able to speak and be in spaces where I definitely feel supported by my black community, specifically Black Designers has been great, but it has been hectic. I’ve been working my internship as a UX designer and then preparing for my last semester of school and just with my program and all the things we’re gearing up for. So it’s been a very busy summer. I’m trying to find ways to prevent burnout and exhaustion, especially again in the middle of pandemic. I’m currently home. I haven’t really gone anywhere in a year and a half, so I think that mental exhaustion is hitting me a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. This whole year, I mean, especially I think this summer in particular, it is probably harder than last summer, well for two reasons. One, we have a vaccine. And two, people aren’t taking it. COVID rates are going back up. And so, I really feel for, I mean, not just parents right now that have unvaccinated children, but also students right now. This is such a pivotal time in your development right now, from 18 to 21, 22-ish, you don’t really get this time back. And for it to be take in place during such a very stressful time in the world right now is really tough. But I mean, given all of that, what are you kind of doing for self care? How are you maintaining yourself while taking on all these responsibilities?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I feel like I always tell people sometimes it’s not enough time in the day, but I’ve been trying to force myself to implement that time and schedule that time because for a lot of people that do know me, I am a scheduler. If it’s not on my calendar, it pretty much doesn’t happen. So I’ve been trying to schedule in that time, whether it be through writing, whether it be through even binge watching. Just to have some mindless TV to just get my mind away from all the other responsibilities that I have. Going outside for a walk. I love hiking and going in nature whenever I can. And also, just journaling has been another way of me kind of releasing and relaxing from everything.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say you’ve changed over the past year?

Zariah Cameron:
Gosh, I’ve changed a lot, but I really didn’t think that I’d change within a year being in the same exact place that I have been since March of 2020. But it’s surprising what a year will do. And within a year, I feel like I’ve gained so much confidence within myself and been able to really vocalize a lot of the things that I was maybe apprehensive or scared or anxious to express, whether it was me as an individual designer, as a person, as a community leader now. Those types of roles, I never really saw myself being a part of a year ago. And now, I’m leading the community. I’m advocating for other black design students. I’m being able to speak on that work through various different speaking engagements, which, one, I never at all saw myself as being that person to kind of go up and speak. But now I’ve just definitely seen myself evolved with being more authentically myself and being able to be comfortable doing that even if other people may have their own negative opinions towards that, and also being okay with that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, speaking of opportunities, you spoke at this year at Where are the Black Designers Conference that they had back in June. I mean, that was a pretty stacked panel that you were on. The panel was called Navigating Different Design Professions and Levels as a Black Designer. And you’re on there with people that have been on Revision Path before; Kevin Bethune, Timothy Bardlavens, Gabrielle Smith, Raja Schaar, who I think is a professor at… I think she’s at either at Temple or Drexel.

Zariah Cameron:
Drexel.

Maurice Cherry:
One of the two. I get the-

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, at Drexel.

Maurice Cherry:
At Drexel. I get the E in Temple and Drexel mixed up, but yeah, she’s at Drexel. And then moderated by Omari Souza, who someone else has been on the show. I mean, you held your own in that panel. Those were some really heavy hitters. I mean, to be able to really speak about the work that you’re doing and you’re still a college student is great. I mean, I think that’s wonderful.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. One, they’re all amazing people. Raja, I’m very close with. And so, to just be on the panel with her was just amazing, and just having that community. And I tell people being able to speak at the Where are the Black Designers Conference was really a full circle for me because I was an audience member just last year watching that. And so to be able to have that opportunity to speak on that panel and speak about my experiences was definitely an honor.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you mentioned this internship that you were doing, or you just finished up. That was at Ally Bank. How was that experience?

Zariah Cameron:
It’s definitely a surprising experience. I did not know what to expect. I mean, I had gotten accustomed to… Well, I got a feel for the culture of the company with a few of events that I had been able to participate through my university and just Ally being a connected company. But I really didn’t know how that experience was going to be virtually. And from my past experiences, I kind of mixed the idea of interning or working at another financial institution. And so, I really wasn’t sure what this experience would be like.

Zariah Cameron:
I had expressed to my recruiter before I even accepted the offer and even when I accepted the offer that I really want to focus on inclusion work, equity work within the design space. Honestly, I really wasn’t sure how I was going to do that in a bank and what that would even look like, but I definitely had a really good experience and just being able to not only connect with other interns that look like me, that went to other HBCUs and even non-HBCU students and just the closest we had together in that virtual space, but also having like, I realized how important it is to have a manager that really supports you in your growth and your goals. And so I was very grateful to have a manager that did that. He kind of helped me to maneuver through that summer. And through that, I was able to get connected to this inclusive design team that was actually just starting up within our design organization.

Zariah Cameron:
And so, being able to be a part of that and lead a lot of discussions that I believe needed to happen, it allowed me to kind of realize or see what role I fit best within design, and also to see the importance of how design fits into helping marginalized communities reach that economic mobility and financial freedom. And so, it was definitely a great moment for me, and also just to have people that were supportive with me during that process too.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting how financial institutions are starting to become sort of the vanguard of that kind of equity center design. We’ve had several people on the show before from Capital One. That’s such a huge part of their design ethos, is making sure that as you’re saying about underrepresented or marginalized communities have that financial freedom, but just the level of care that they put into all of their interactions to make sure that equity is part of the goal from conversation design, to even how they sort of lay out the physical layout of their banks and everything. It’s really interesting how that sector has been sort of a forefront when it comes to that.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I definitely agree. I think I was able to see that from a financial lens and being able to have those conversations of like, “Hey, we really need to focus on the culture of our customers and focusing on working with our communities” and being able to provide this assistance, or, “Who are we actually excluding in these conversations?” and uncovering what our biases are or our assumptions are of our customers, or even people who could be potential customers of our bank and being able to create that organic relationship because we are an online bank. And so we have to be able to foster some type of connection to them, especially if we’re not going to be face-to-face.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean, look, my money is at Ally. So I trust that they’re doing the right thing. They’re doing something right. Let’s talk about the AEI Design Program. I first heard of this actually at the Where are the Black Designers Conference this year when you were speaking about it. But tell me more about the project. I mean, you started this while you were still a student. I mean, you’re still a student now, but you started this while you were at North Carolina A&T, right?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I did. I started this right after actually Where are the Black Designers last year, and I was just very empowered and inspired by [inaudible 00:13:45]. I was able to connect with so many different black designers and have that support in that community. But unfortunately, I realized that a lot of what I was seeing, they were professionals. And I wanted something where there was a space just for us as students. Looking at my own journey, I realized that there were so many gaps that I was missing, and not just within my own education, but just the support whether it be mentorship, sponsorship, things like that, that were hindering me from really fully being successful or having access to certain resources or just knowledge in general that would help me get myself in that door of even just landing my first internship.

Zariah Cameron:
I realized there was a lot of other students, whether they went to a PWI or an HBCU, were experiencing those same challenges and they really didn’t have any type of community. No matter where they were, they didn’t feel any sense of belonging. And I wanted to bring that element to this space. And of course, there are tons of design student communities that were out there, but I wanted there to be a community just for us. And so we’ve evolved. I’ve evolved ever since then. I think AEI has definitely helped me to evolve into a leader that I never expected. I’ve always wanted to be some form of a leader, I just didn’t know what. And being able to have this program outside of just school has allowed me to flourish and have my own space and create a freedom to put all of these things out here with our programs, our events, all those different things. And also to be able to reach a larger audience than just the students that are within my school.

Zariah Cameron:
And so I was leading a team of three other students. And now we’re growing. We just added a few more team members to our group. And so I’m really excited of what we’ll be able to accomplish this upcoming school year too.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, as far as when you’re doing all this organizing and you’re getting students and stuff together, are events kind of part of this as well? Are you staging any sort of virtual events?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. All of our events are virtual because I realized, again, there was that access component, and I want students to be able to access us even beyond this pandemic if we get out of it, and just being able to have access to those resources whether you’re in our state, whether you go to our school or you’re not. And that’s what I want to be, provide through this program. Actually, within the next few weeks, we’ll be actually launching our Fall Design Bootcamp where students will be able to work with our company partners and create a design solution based on their stated problem. And so I’m really excited for this because it not only gives an opportunity for students to connect with each other, with other black students, but also for them to connect with companies and for them to see firsthand on a more personal level of how these companies operate, what their processes are like, and to ask those hard questions and for the companies to just see that talent that’s there. So I’m really excited for this, in particular for this year.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you like to see AEI continue to grow? I mean, it sounds like you’re already on a good path right now.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I’m really excited. I mean, of course, I’m hoping to have more company partnerships of course. But I mean just this year, this year in January, three or four of my students got landed their very first design internships. I think two of them are at Facebook right now. One of them’s at Spotify, and one of them landed a full time gig at Allscripts. I basically help them to transition through their interview process. And so, to see them land those interviews and land that offer was so thrilling for me. That’s one of my goals that I want to do this school year, as well as to continue to allow students to receive those offers and find a place where they feel comfortable and safe.

Zariah Cameron:
I also want within this next year to transition into our mental health initiative. A lot of students, especially during this pandemic, have definitely had burnout, have had several different experiences where their mental health has been at risk. Especially as a creative, I feel like we sometimes burn ourselves out even more because we’re exhausting so much creative energy. And so, I think one of my goals is to really start implementing different sessions or conversations around the importance of mental health and just finding that joy in our lives as black people and helping to separate ourselves from all the trauma that we have to endure and see and experience. And then I think my final thing is I’m in the process of making us an official nonprofit. So our main goal is the bootcamp, this mental health initiative, and leading into our nonprofit status.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. I mean, I’d take my hat off to you for being able to accomplish all of that even while you’re in school and doing these internships. I mean, that’s really admirable. I mean, I have to say you’re getting your career off to such a fantastic start right now, like you said, just helping out with community, it’s one thing to be able… Of course, you’re doing internships and being able to speak and stuff like that, but then to also give back to that community at the same time is, I mean, that’s really admirable.

Zariah Cameron:
Thank you. I definitely appreciate it. I think the reason why I wanted to start this out while I was in school is because I can see it from the lens of the student and I understand what those struggles are and what I’ve experienced. And I’m able to really advocate for what is a need. And not that people who are outside of school or far moved from school can’t advocate for those things, but I think within my current generation and just being within in the know of what really is going on and the realities of these educational institutions, I’m able to really speak on those gaps, those issues, and what solutions need to be implemented to move forward.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. Students know what students need, you know? I mean, I couldn’t possibly guess what students now would want. I’m 20 something years removed from that so I couldn’t tell you. I mean, to be able to do it from that perspective is also a really added benefit.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to kind of switch gears a little bit here, because I’m curious where that spirit of volunteerism and everything sort of comes from. Tell me about where you grew up.

Zariah Cameron:
I grew up about… I always say I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, because a lot of people, when you say somewhere else, they’re like, “What? Where are you from?” So I’m about 30 minutes on the south side out from the city of Atlanta.

Zariah Cameron:
Design was never really a thought in my mind, that I would ever major in design. I’ve always seen myself as creative with writing, being an outlet, whether it be poetry, things like that, or even just expressing myself in a lot of different ways, but never really saw myself going into design. Because I was such a strong writer, I actually had in my mind all the way until my senior year that I was going to be a journalism major. That’s what I wanted to do. Everyone was always telling me that I was a strong writer and that was the direction that I was going to take.

Zariah Cameron:
But I was very fortunate enough to have the opportunity, for those that don’t know me, I went to a year-round school. That allowed me to have breaks in between the year when other students were in school. During that time, I was able to be around my dad who works in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. And I was submerged in technology. I was just completely at awe by computer science and how tech was able to just change and impact lives. And through that, just being around there, I was able to work with Black Girls CODE and work with students and teach them and volunteer in those different ways. I think through that, it was like, “Wow, I’ve really liked doing this type of work.” I don’t know how I’m going to do it or what I’m going to do, but I really do like the space. And I also really love working with children and teaching them in some capacity because I love just when their eyes light up when they’ve learned something new, especially when it relates to technology.

Zariah Cameron:
And so at the time, design really wasn’t this great big… Especially UX design, it was not this great big buzz word or exciting space to be in that people were talking about, especially within academia. And so everyone was like, “Okay, if you want to be in technology, go into computer science. That’s the only way. That’s the only possible way you’re going to be in technology if you want to impact tech.” And so I was like, “Okay, well I guess this is the path that I want to go into.” And I always tell this part of the story because I think it’s important for students and anybody else to know and understand the path is not going to be perfect. It’s definitely not going to be linear. And just because you get one rejection doesn’t mean that is end of your journey.

Zariah Cameron:
And so, I applied to our Computer Science Program at my school, and I got rejected. I thought it was the end of the world and that I was not going to be able to make the impact that I wanted. But I’m very glad that I did get that rejection because I don’t think I would be where I am right now in my journey. My school has a Graphic Design department which explores elements of game design and obviously the foundational elements of graphic design. We learn a little bit of CAD and modeling and all these different areas. I decided to kind of go into that space because I’m like, “Okay, well I can go into design, and maybe still somewhat have an impact in technology.” Through that, I was able to transition into UX design very easily through just like me researching, doing things on my own.

Zariah Cameron:
UX design isn’t offered a part of our curriculum. But through that foundation that I did have through my school and just the support of my teachers, specifically my black teachers, they were able to kind of help me and guide me into this new space that I am now in, which is UX design. Like I said, this path was definitely not linear. It took me a long time to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. But I think with UX design, it allows me to get the best of both worlds of working in tech if I want to and being able to still be in that design space while also just being able to understand people and implement their stories and understand who they are to implement within the experience. I think that’s probably one of my favorite parts about UX is, it’s really is all about people. And I think being a writer, I’m a natural storyteller. And so I think it always resonates with me when I’m able to connect someone’s story to the experience that we’re creating within design and tech.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a really great way to sort of tie those two concepts together. For a while, Revision Path had a kind of this writing initiative, we called it Recognize, where it was sort of like an essay submission sort of thing. People would submit essays around a certain theme, but they would have to be designed focused. For last year for example, the theme was Fresh. And so you would write design essays that sort of in some way encompass the theme of Fresh. My goal with it is actually kind of the goal of what you were sort of alluding to. It’s about using writing and using texts and using storytelling as a way to kind of also put forth these certain design concepts or things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Unfortunately, Recognize was not super successful. We have to kind of shut it down this year. I hope to bring it back at some point in the future. But I like how you’re able to kind of tie into what writing does for you as a designer and how that storytelling ties into what you do with UX design. I think that’s a really powerful connection to make.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. Like I said, I think I finally found my space. Just because I think even within computer science, there is that level of strategy and critical thinking that I had the knack for. And now to be able to kind of have that skill set or mindset and implement that ideology within design has been just really great for me. I think now I’ve definitely seen myself evolve from just an individual contributor, like an individual design contributor, to this person that is really being able to lead conversations about how we think about design, in again as I mentioned before, that inclusion equity space.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me more about the program at A&T. I think when folks look at HBCU and then they think about design, I’m not sure of North Carolina A&T is a school that they may readily think about. But can you just tell us like a little bit about the program and sort of what you’re going to remember the most from being at A&T? Because you’re about to graduate this semester.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. I wish that our program was a little bit more marketable. I wish they marketed us a little bit better, because I think a lot of students would benefit from just having black teachers that really want you to succeed and do well. And I think also, I wish that our particular department sat in a different space because I think sometimes we can get overlooked. So we sit within the College of Science and Technology. And so when a lot of people think of science and technology, you think of biology, chemistry, mathematics sits within that space too. And then you’ve got IT, informational systems, all those things like that. So you’ve got all these other majors, and then we have graphic design. And so, a lot of people whenever they think about the College of Science and Technology, they don’t think about that graphic design technology space being an option for them to major in especially because North Carolina A&T is especially known for agriculture, in the name, Engineering especially is one of the largest areas that we’re known for.

Zariah Cameron:
So again, design is really second priority. But I wish that it wasn’t, because again, like I said, I’ve had really great professors that have really helped me grow as a designer. Some definite tough love that’s been given to me and brief anecdote. I had a professor. I failed his class in my first year. I really just didn’t do well and had to retake it. And the second time, I got a B+. He had written and I told him, I was like, “Thank you. Thank you for helping me to get to this point.” And he was like, “I already knew you could do it. You just have to really prove to people that you can do it and you have the capability because I know it’s already in there.” And just him really believing in me and giving me that tough love that I needed, just helped me to appreciate not only him more but the space that I’m in, and really been able to push myself that much harder and see what I can achieve.

Zariah Cameron:
I think having those people in your corner that are looking out for you in that way is one of the best experiences. Now, reflecting and looking back, now that I’m getting ready to graduate, it’s something that I definitely love and will miss. Yeah, I have some more thoughts, but I’ll stop talking [inaudible 00:31:10].

Maurice Cherry:
No, I have to say that’s one thing about HBCUs that… I don’t know. You just don’t get that at other schools. The professors really do care. And that’s not to say that at PWIs and at other schools, other professors don’t care. But I mean I can only speak from my experience also going to an HBCU. I went to Morehouse. I mean, there’s just a certain different level of care. They’re really looking out for you in ways that you may not even really be considering. I mean, don’t get me wrong. There’s some professors that are like, “You’re just another student, just another number, et cetera.” But I think once you get into your degree program, you’d be surprised just how much the professors are really rooting for you and wanting to make sure that you succeed, because it looks good on them if they have graduates that come out of the program. So it makes sense that at HBCUs that they would just be more open to that.

Maurice Cherry:
And then of course, it’s just as black people helping black people. I’ve had several other folks on the show that when they talk about their time at other design institutions that I won’t name, but they’re not HBCU, but at other design institutions, it’s rough. Their educational experience is rough. There’s no mercy. And certainly not anywhere their having black professors or even really able to design towards their culture in the work that they do. I mean, you have all these different inherent benefits that come with being able to study at an HBCU. And just from what you’re sharing about the program, sounds like it’s a really great program. I mean, NC A&T overall is a great school. I think it’s one of the biggest research institutions in North Carolina. I’m guessing probably second to UNC.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, [inaudible 00:32:59]. I mean, of course, every school has it’s… I really had to advocate for myself and try to reach out to certain people and do certain things that I was like, “Hey.” That I actually saw everything that these companies had to offer, the realities of what things were, and being able to kind of bring that back to the students within my program and show that like, “Hey, there actually is great black designer talent that needs to be sought after.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Duke is the other school that I was thinking about.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Folks that went to Duke don’t kill me, I was like… But I know that North Carolina A&T though, is one of the big research institutions in the state. So that’s good to know. And also while you were at A&T, you worked at a number of internships. I mean, you mentioned Ally. But you worked at what? Like two or three other companies while you were there, right?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I did. I worked for Wells Fargo last summer. It’s kind of weird because all my internships that I’ve had have all been virtual so I have no idea what this corporate world will look like once we go back in person. That’s going to be a whole another, I guess, hill or road we’ll have to cross to get there. But yeah, I interned at Wells Fargo. I wasn’t a designer, but it gave me the perspective of just how things work, how systems work, how corporate space work, how financial institutions are run, and in some ways being that fly on the wall of seeing the realities of what things were. But it gave me perspective of not just… Even though I wasn’t a designer for that particular role, I was a QA, I was a quality assurance analyst. And so that role taught me how to really pay attention to the details, the importance of how things work and how things function within a platform, a tool, and pointing out those shortcomings of how we can really better improve those products for the user.

Zariah Cameron:
And so, that really helped me to analyze a lot things better when it came to actually designing. And then recently what this is, I worked for a startup. It was really small. That was really catered to black women’s hair and finding the right hair regimen for them. And that was a really great experience to kind of work on it from the ground up and being able to work with other black women that had natural hair and just pouring my own experience, my own stories, and other people’s research and hair journeys into that. So that was a really fun experience. It’s also challenging in that quick, fast paced type of environment.

Zariah Cameron:
And then recently, before Ally I worked at PepsiCo as sort of a UX, UI designer, which I focus more on UI. And so, I realized I’m a better UX designer than a UI designer. I think people definitely should understand the difference because I think sometimes we group it together, but they definitely are separate things and have their own responsibilities. And I think people are stronger or, I guess, weaker in certain spaces. I definitely saw myself as more of a UX designer. But through that experience, I learned so much. I learned about the responsibilities and the job of a UI designer and how much work it takes in the input and all the different intricacies that you have to think about when developing certain things.

Zariah Cameron:
So that was a really good experience as well. And then I think just as I’ve grown, I’ve evolved and figured out what’s the best space for me to be in through all these different internship opportunities that I’ve had, and just where do I not only feel the most supported but also safe because I’ve definitely thought a lot about myself as a black designer. I’m not just a designer working at a company. But really just caring about the impact that I make. And does that company actually, or the people really care about my wellbeing and not just my individual contribution to the product?

Maurice Cherry:
And you say all these internships that you’ve done have been virtual. What is that like? What is a virtual internship like? Just kind of give a brief example of what that’s like.

Zariah Cameron:
I’m not going to just say, oh my gosh, it sucks, but it is a lot harder. Because, one, with PepsiCo for example, I was working or having to interact with working on a project with a physical product. And so it was a lot harder because it was like, “Okay. I’m designing for a physical product that I can not see, feel, touch anything. I can’t interact with to see how it functions to better make improvements on it.” And so it was more or less like, “Okay, well I have to watch videos. And I have to figure out, watch customer reviews on this product to see what are their pain points without me actually being able to physically interact with it myself, which was definitely harder.

Zariah Cameron:
I think if I was in the office, I could just go to that room, look at the product, be like, “Okay, this is what’s wrong.” And I think it’s even more crucial for black people because you do want to make sure that this is a safe and healthy space for you. I heard a lot of people have very toxic experiences from companies. I think that’s the one big fear because you can easily hide behind a screen and you don’t really know what that culture is like, and they could be portraying something that may not even be realistic. And then you get in the office and it’s something completely different.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting. The conversation in tech over the past, I don’t know, maybe like six or seven years has been around, of course, making sure that these tech companies and design focused companies are safe spaces for black people and people of color to work in. And now with the pandemic and it’s driving people to have to work from home, how do you make sure that that same feeling is also existing in the virtual space? I mean, I just know from the past few places where I’ve worked at that have been sort of a hybrid of remote and even in the office, and then of course with the pandemic driving it to be fully remote, it’s amazing how different sort of microaggressions can kind of pop up or just different sort of ways that you can feel left out in a way.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I think that’s something that companies are still going to have to deal with and try to figure out as it looks like this is not abating anytime soon. We’re still going to be on this kind of hybrid/fully remote sort of workforce thing. But how do you make sure that those digital spaces are also going to be safe and accommodating for your workers that are people of color? That’s the best way to put it.

Zariah Cameron:
I definitely agree. I think working with Ally is probably one of the best [inaudible 00:40:36] so far, just because, like I said, I’ve never been able to connect with other interns in this way. I think that was a big thing. The way that they’re recruiting was… I don’t even know how they did it, but they just chose a really good intern class that reflected the culture of the company that they were really trying to promote. Of course, again like I said, every company has its shortcomings and things like that, but I believe like from the top down, everyone was welcoming and really wanting to promote that culture where you can email an executive and they would reach out to you and they would meet with you and answer your questions or talk to you and have a brief conversation.

Zariah Cameron:
I think that openness is something that you don’t always get a chance to have and get exposure to. And so, I think not only having a intern class but also having your recruiters really just help you have that personal experience as best as you can in this virtual space. Again, like I said, it was hard not being able to be in the office and collaborate. Especially as designer, it’s so hard. You’ve got to find all these alternative ways to collaborate together to design, to communicate virtually, that it can make things a little bit more difficult. But I mean, if the people are good, I think the collaboration will kind of fall in line with that energy and that team chemistry.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Right now is your… I mean, again, you’re at this very pivotal point in your educational career as well as just your professional career, about to get out there in the working world. Do you feel supported as a black designer?

Zariah Cameron:
There’s many different ways we can take that. I want to say yes, but I feel like yes is such a short answer. I think depending on what area of my life that I am a black designer, it could go yes, or maybe, or even no. I think with my Black Designers community, I’ve been able to find amazing mentors/friends who have really supported me and been like, “Hey, if you want to take a break, it’s okay if you want to take a break. We’re still going to be here when you come back and we’re going to be holding down the fort till you get back while you’re gone.” And being able to be comfortable and also vulnerable with these people has been such a privilege because I know a lot of people don’t get a chance to do that or don’t feel comfortable enough to.

Zariah Cameron:
So I think in that way, this community like Where are the Black Designers, my Black Ignite community, those people have really allowed me to be comfortable being my authentic self and also being vulnerable enough to express certain concerns or issues that I may have that’s going on in my life, whether it be personal or within my career. So I think in that way, I feel supported. I think in a corporate setting, I’m still navigating through that. I would say yes from certain people, but of course, I’m still getting a feel for what that is and what people’s intentions are. I think for the most part, I would say yes.

Zariah Cameron:
But then again, it’s just been something I’ve been thinking about. Even looking at Simone Biles and her deciding to leave the Olympics because of her mental health. And people just giving so much backlash to her making that decision because she was prioritizing her mental health and just the exhaustion energy that she was giving out and probably just how tired she was. And just seeing how people only appreciate your skill and the value you bring over your actual health and you as a person. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’m concerned about is like, “Are you really caring about me and my self as a human being? Or is it just the value that I bring to this company? The value that I bring to this community? The value I bring to this school?” or whatever it may look like. That’s where I’m trying to find what that balance is, and who are those people that I should have in my corner, and who are those people that will have access to those versions or sides of me. So that’s kind of where I am.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s really tricky now. I mean, I say that as someone that’s been in the industry for a while. I mean, certainly within the past 10 to 12 years or so, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in really just black spaces at design. There’s podcasts like this, but there’s conferences, there’s meetups, there’s initiatives like what you’re doing with AEI Design Program. A lot of that stuff really didn’t exist 10 years ago. It was hard to find. And so it can be interesting now, especially if you exist among different identities. Like, if you’re just like a cis black man, and there may be one thing. But what if you’re a woman? What if you’re a member of the LGBT community? What if you identify a different part of the gender spectrum? The level of support that you would get as a black designer can even vary within all of those spaces and so. It’s still evolving like you said, I think. It’s a big question with a not so simple answer. So I feel you there.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. That’s kind of where I’m at with all of this. It’s like in certain places I could say, yes, that I do feel supported. In other spaces, it’s like you’re on the fence and you’re not really completely sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Zariah Cameron:
You still have to only give one element of you. I guess that’s where code switching comes in. But even then, it’s like code switching is this element of losing a sense of your identity. That’s a whole another thing that I’m trying to navigate through.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What are you obsessed with right now?

Zariah Cameron:
In terms of personal life?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I was going to say you can answer that any way you like. Personal, professional, whatever.

Zariah Cameron:
I would say… What am I obsessed right now? I think right now it’s maybe a weird answer, but I’m honestly obsessed with the friendships that I’ve gotten to have over this past year. It’s very overwhelming. I’ve never had friend group of black designers or even designers that have really been so overwhelmingly loving to me, not only my career but just me as a person, and really being that support system that I needed. I think for so long…

Zariah Cameron:
I mean, even the people that are like, “Oh, well you go to HBCU. Of course, you have support.” And I’m like, “Yes, but even within that HBCU, there are groups.” There are groups. And so, sometimes you don’t always fit into those groups. Or even within those groups that you may be a part of, you still don’t completely feel a sense of belonging. And so to be able to go in a space, be around people that care about me and love me for just who I am and whether I change or evolve or whatever phase of my life that I’m growing into, that they’re there to support me and guide me through those different shifts, those different transitions.

Zariah Cameron:
And I know, like I said, weird answer in terms of being obsessed. But I think, like I have my own podcast with Heatherlee who’s the founder of Black Ignite, and just how our lives cross within a year, I would have never imagined for our friendship to be where it is, going from professional relationship to this very personal friendship that I value very deeply and to be able to work on this podcast with her and hear her story and how much our stories literally are parallel to each other. And so being able to have people like her and other people like Mitzi, like my Design to Divest Community as well. Having them in my corner is something I’m truly become obsessed with and want to continue to be around and want to just have that energy around me, that healthy energy. Because sometimes being around your own people still isn’t healthy, so having those people in those relationships has been really great for me within this past year.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Aside from those friendships, have you had any mentors or anyone that have really kind of helped you out either over this past year or just along the way in your journey as a designer?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. I’ve had a lot of different people, some that I’m very, very fortunate and very grateful to have in my life. And they’re all for different reasons. At first, at the start of my career or even school experience, I thought that I could really only have one said mentor, and that’s what it is. But as I’m evolving, I realized I need different mentors for different things, different spaces in my life. And so, I’ve had mentors that have taught me about just how to run my program, guiding me answering those questions as we’re moving into becoming a nonprofit, understanding elements of brand strategy for our program. Then I have mentors that who I now can call friends as well, who have helped me, guide me as a person and just where I need to go on my life.

Zariah Cameron:
And then of course, I have two of my really close professors. One in particular that has become a very good mentor to me, that actually was the one who got me into UX design that just I go for not only personal advice, but of course career advice as well. So I think over this past year, I’ve definitely had some great champions and mentors in my corner that are designated to different areas of my life to help me to flourish.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work would you like to be doing?

Zariah Cameron:
Getting my PhD.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Zariah Cameron:
I mean, yes, that is a goal of mine. I’ve expressed I will not… a lot of people have told me like, “Oh, why don’t you just go ahead and get your PhD now?” I’m like, “I’m exhausted. I’m tired. I do not want to go through school again at the moment.” But I think eventually, right now I currently see myself leading a community, wherever that may be in, whether that be in the corporate space, I definitely see myself leading those conversations surrounding equity within the design space and growing in that, because that is a space that I want to continue to be in, in various different areas, whether it’s like I said, in the corporate space, leading my community, or even teaching. I think eventually I want to get my PhD within this element of design and psychology in understanding people. And to be able to eventually [inaudible 00:53:17] down the line teach to students, teach to that next generation college students that are coming in.

Zariah Cameron:
I think by then I already have that experience of being in the corporate world myself, and I can be able to instill that wisdom and have those connections to people through my community to be able to give back to those students that I’m teaching. That’s eventually where I want to evolve myself into.

Maurice Cherry:
And just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you, and your work, and everything you’re doing online?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, one, they can find me on Medium, in terms of my writing. By the way, an article will be coming out, not through my Medium, but through the Ally Tech Blog on inclusive design being more than a buzz word. So definitely look out for that. And then you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m very active on there, and it’s of course just my name. And then you can find me at Instagram. It’s just my name, zariah.cameron. And then of course our program, our program’s Instagram, aeidesign_. You can find me active on all of those. Definitely feel free to follow me and stay connected, especially those who want to get plugged into my community, my program, and even companies wanting to work with us, and just people just wanting to connect and definitely open to that.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Zariah Cameron, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show, for taking time to come out on the show. Like I said, it’s been a while since we’ve had a design student on the show, particularly one from an HBCU. But when I first heard about you at Where are the Black Designers and heard you speak and everything, I was like, “I got to get her on the show just to have her talk about what she’s doing.” I mean, just the fact that you’re accomplishing this much as a student, I think bodes so well for your future career. I’m really excited to see what you’re able to accomplish once you graduated and really got out there in the design world, and are able to make an even bigger impact. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Zariah Cameron:
No, thank you. It’s been such an honor, and thank you for asking such great questions. I love being able to share my story with you and the audience.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

Adobe MAX Logo

Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills…all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Lisa Cain

Striking out on your own can be tough, but I can tell you from personal experience that it can be one of the most rewarding things you do in life. And what better person to talk about this feeling than design strategist Lisa Cain. Lisa has worked in the visual design field for well over 20 years, so she knows a LOT about what it takes to get things done.

We started off talking about how she started her studio, and Lisa gave a peek in to her creative process on some of her projects. Lisa also spoke about her early career in visual merchandising, how that has helped her as a designer, and how her family has helped motivate her drive to succeed. (Also, did you know she was a backup singer?) It’s awesome to have designers like Lisa to show us how to thrive as a creative on your own terms!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Lisa Cain:
I’m Lisa Cain of Lisa Cain Design and I’m a design strategist that helps nonprofits. Some of those nonprofits are healthcare and medical organizations, advocacy organizations and educational institutions. I help their brands stand out and build awareness, raise funds and also build their membership.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, we’re in the second half of 2021. I’m kind of curious to know how has the year been for you so far?

Lisa Cain:
Oh the year has been really good to me. I’ve been very busy this year. This year’s busy. Actually, 2020 was actually pretty busy as well. It was a little bit interesting at first and it slowed down and had to kind of pivot and do business a little bit differently. But for the remainder of 2020 and throughout right now at ’21, it’s been very busy.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have any sort of plans or things that you want to do for your business for the rest of the year?

Lisa Cain:
Just continually working on great ad campaigns, finishing out some of those things, really exciting projects that I’m working on.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you mentioned your focus is on medical, education, advocacy, nonprofits. How did you come to specialize in those particular fields?

Lisa Cain:
Right out of art school, right out of college, I worked for… It was a nonprofit management company and basically they managed hundreds of nonprofits under their umbrella and it was a group of designers that they had to do all of the design work. So I had maybe 10 clients that I managed, design project management, things like that, and just learning how to work with nonprofits. They were called my clients and just doing projects from high tech, medical, healthcare, food manufacturing. I just began to love work for nonprofits. My niche, for me, became healthcare, medical and advocacy because I just really love helping people and making a difference in their lives.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that what sort of really gets you truly excited about your work?

Lisa Cain:
It is. It is. Really seeing that project come to life and then seeing the numbers. For instance, one of my clients is the Organization for Autism Research and we created a brochure years ago to send out to schools and the teachers would present it to the students and teach them about autism acceptance. And to date, this brochure has probably influenced, touched the lives of children, over 125 million children worldwide so –

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Lisa Cain:
To me, that’s really huge. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That is a huge. That’s a big… It’s always good when your work is able to make that kind of a big impact. I think oftentimes … I’ve worked with nonprofits too and I’ve worked one in particular here in Atlanta. It’s the Grady Health Foundation, this was years and years and years ago, but some of the work that I did, I’ve actually seen on billboards and that’s such a… It’s a good feeling. You’re driving along and you’re like, “Wait a minute, I did that.”

Lisa Cain:
It is. Yep, it’s awesome. So yeah, seeing your stuff plastered all over the place and then getting those numbers in that this many people have been touched by it, it’s a wonderful thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What does your creative process look like when you’re starting on a new project? Walk me through that.

Lisa Cain:
Sure. My creative process, I usually like to kick off every project with a meeting, so meeting with the client, listening and gathering information to better understand what the client is working with, then we collaborate and strategize their goals and challenges and expectations. Then from there, I’ll create a scope of the project using a creative brief and a proposal just to make sure we’re on the same page about vision, deliverables, costs, timeframes, things like that, and then once that is agreed upon, we move forward. It could be a mood board or concept development. From that gathered information of the creative brief, find out about the clients, target audience and mission and work on different concepts and different design solutions. From there, present those design solutions and explain my thinking behind that and my recommendations. Usually, we’ll narrow down one direction to go in and there’s the revision, refine process. Usually within my proposals, I’ll include up to three rounds of revisions. Once we go through that, there’s delivery or production.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I hope for people that are listening, they got a sense of like that’s a pretty rock solid way when it comes down to starting the process. I mean, part of it is that creative and strategy work, but then, as you’re mentioning, you’re getting a proposal, you’re making sure that you and the client are really on the same page as you move forward is super important because nonprofits, they can sometimes change on a dime. They want something completely different midway in the project and you have to make sure that you have something that can hold them to what they promised would come from the project.

Lisa Cain:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, do you mostly do print design or do you do a mix of that with other mediums?

Lisa Cain:
I think it’s a mix, but more heavily print, yes. Usually, I’ll create a theme around something, say for… Nonprofits do a lot of event publication, event collateral, things like that and so I’ll create a theme around that and that is printed on everything. If it’s around an event, then it’s their lanyards, their brochures, their signage and then it can go digital where it’s social media, banner ads and even apps.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, aside from Lisa Cain Design, which you’ve done now for what? 20 plus years.

Lisa Cain:
20 plus years. Yep. Officially though, officially it’s 16 years. That’s when I truly got the business license and this is the name that I decided upon. But yeah, before I was freelancing and burning the candle at both ends, working a full-time job and freelancing on the side, kind of making my path to truly going into my own business.

Maurice Cherry:
I think once you make it past 15, you can round up to 20. I think that’s acceptable. But yeah, aside from Lisa Cain Design, you also have a company with your husband. Is that right?

Lisa Cain:
That’s right. It’s called Black Action Tees. Black Action Tees is a pop culture website that offers T-shirts and the T-shirts feature superheroes, music culture, sneaker culture and TV and movie pop culture.

Maurice Cherry:
I think I told you this when we talked earlier, but I actually had ordered something from Black Action Tees way back in… I think it was like maybe 2010, 2011, something like that, I think so.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah, probably about 10 years. Yeah, 10 years ago. First started it, yeah. Yep. Yep. Yep. Well, I hope the experience was really good and you really enjoyed your tees.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Do you and your husband blend business like that a lot? I mean, you have your-

Lisa Cain:
[inaudible 00:10:46].

Maurice Cherry:
Well, you have that business with him with Black Action Tees, but does he end up doing anything with Lisa Cain Design or is that just a separate thing?

Lisa Cain:
You know what, he doesn’t do any of the design, but he’s an IT guy so he does IT as his professional. He’s a IT manager, but he’s my IT guy. That’s as far as it goes within my company.

Maurice Cherry:
I gotcha. Now, we’ve gotten to know a bit about your work and everything and we’ll probably dive more into the specific things later, but tell me about where you’re from. I know you’re located in Chicago. Is that where you’re originally from?

Lisa Cain:
I’m originally from South Side of Chicago. I grew up in South Side and then, yeah, moved to the south suburbs in the mid 70s.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What was it like growing up in Chicago back then?

Lisa Cain:
It was good. I think it was a really good experience. I mean, we had a neighborhood full of kids. I remember playing. You had to come in when the street lights came on, things like that, but it was a really good experience. Lots of great kids to play with. Families intact still in the 70s, I’m dating myself, yes. But it was a wonderful experience growing up in the city.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you get exposed to a lot of design and art growing up?

Lisa Cain:
The only real exposure that I had creatively was sitting at the kitchen table with my grandpa and he would teach me how to draw different things. Then I don’t know if you remember the TV guide, there was this ad on the back and it would say, “Draw this pirate and you can win a scholarship to art school.”

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. It would be like a pirate or like a turtle or something like that, yeah, I remember that.

Lisa Cain:
So I would draw that and I would send it. I was too young but I would draw it and send it in but I would never hear back from them. So that was pretty much the extent of being creative. I also had this set of books, it was kind of a sister set that came with an encyclopedia set, and there was this one particular book called Make and Do and so it was a book full of crafts and I would just do crafts endlessly in that book. So that was pretty much the extent of being creative at a young age.

Maurice Cherry:
Now was your family kind of supportive of you going into design?

Lisa Cain:
Absolutely not.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Lisa Cain:
They came from that generation of thinking that design, you would become a starving artist. I remember back in high school, I had finished all of my graduation requirements as far as credit so I was able to take a lot of electives so I chose to take nothing but art and photography classes and just be totally immersed in my last year and it was absolutely wonderful. I had wonderful art teachers and I think from that experience that’s where I knew and chose that I wanted to be a graphic designer. They had alumni come in and show their portfolios from art schools and it was just so inspiring and exciting.

Maurice Cherry:
Eventually you started out studying in visual communications, even though your parents didn’t really unfortunately support you going into that.

Lisa Cain:
That’s correct. I remember I got a catalog for the Art Institute of Chicago and I was so excited and I showed my dad and he saw one look at the tuition cost and he was like, “Why don’t you take some secretarial classes at the local community college?” Yeah, we’d butt heads on hat. We’d butt heats. But again, he came from that generation where just they couldn’t see it. He meant well and I have to say that years later, when I did go to a different art school, he bought my first Mac. So he was supportive down the line.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So you were at Prairie State College majoring in … Back then it was called visual communications.

Lisa Cain:
Yep. Visual communications. That’s right, and back then, nothing was computerized yet. So I was taking illustration classes and intro to graphic design, things like that. So we used, my supply list at the art store, you had this long list you had to go get all of these supplies for for your classes. It was things like hot press boards, Zipatone, technical pens and Prismacolors with Letraset type that you kind of rub down and using light boxes and making folding dummies for brochures. Everything was really hands-on. I remember walking with those gigantic portfolios and a little tackle box with all your things. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, a lot of the design back then was really … I mean of course it was tactile because the personal computer I think was not fully in homes at that point. I know it was available, but it was really expensive.

Lisa Cain:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
I remember seeing ads for RadioShack for the … I think it was the Tandy?

Lisa Cain:
Tandy.

Maurice Cherry:
The Tandy 1000 I believe? It was like $1,600.00, $1,700.00. It was expensive. I mean –

Lisa Cain:
Definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
For folks that are listening, that’s about the cost now of like maybe a souped-up MacBook Pro or something like that.

Lisa Cain:
Right. Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean you’re talking something that had maybe, maybe 512 megabytes of RAM. Like there’s no way you’re really designing anything on something like that.

Lisa Cain:
Anything.

Maurice Cherry:
It was basically just a very expensive calculator at that point.

Lisa Cain:
Yep, and at Prairie State, they did have a computer lab and they had like a handful of … I think they were Apple [inaudible 00:16:39], the Macs.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh goodness.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah, so you know you couldn’t really do much on it at all. You’d draw a circle and put some color in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, and even if you really drew a circle, it wasn’t like smooth. It was sort of like a jagged kind of … Yeah. I remember those times very fondly. I remember I was learning Basic and I’m dating myself by saying this but I was learning Basic in elementary school and they were … Like little graphic stuff, like you’d make a rocket or something like that. I mean it was very rudimentary stuff compared to certainly what you can do now, but it’s amazing to see how in such a fairly short amount of time, how much design on computers has really kind of taken over and changed and grown. It’s amazing.

Lisa Cain:
It is amazing, it is and you have to stop never learning and keep up with all of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So from Prairie State, you ended up going to the Art Institute. But you studied a different kind of sort of design. Can you talk about that?

Lisa Cain:
Sure. So I decided … I wasn’t sure about graphic design, I was trying to just kind of find my way in, discovered the Art Institute of Illinois which at the time was called Ray-Vogue College of Design, and I decided to go for fashion merchandising but minor in visual merchandising. At the time it was kind of interesting being middle class and it was kind of hard not being able to get a student loan for like your full four years. It’s like you ran of money and your parents needed to get a plus loan, you didn’t qualify for grants. It was kind of hard. That’s exactly what happened. I finished my first year and couldn’t get another loan, my dad couldn’t get another loan. I decided to go ahead and finish out my minor which was in fashion merchandising, finish that, and then I was able to get a job at a big department store in Downtown Chicago. I was already working there as a salesperson so making that move into that position was fairly easy. So it was exciting. I thought once I got that job I thought I had made it. I was a visual display designer down there and it was fun and again it was a lot of physical work. But a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
So when you say it was physical work, like you were … Were you like designing storefronts and stuff like that?

Lisa Cain:
We designed all of the store windows. Then we did interior design and we set up for fashion shows, things like that. So it was like set design and prop building. I remember once we had to spray-paint hundreds of styrofoam trumpets and then glue them to eight foot panels. So we were making like sets and backdrops and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. It’s interesting, it sounds like the design got even more I guess … I don’t want to use the term analog, but it got a lot more physical I would say because you’re now really building the designs that you want to see.

Lisa Cain:
Right, right, and then on top of just the set design, you were dealing with these really heavy, expensive mannequins. Like a rite of passage for being a visual display designer is learning how to strike a mannequin and basically it’s posing, but what you did was you wrapped wire around the mannequin’s waste and then it would be under the clothes and then you would have to attach nails to the end and you would actually … So I’d be walking around with a hammer all day and you were hammering these nails in, striking the mannequin so they’re standing up and styling a wig was a rite of passage and getting burned with a glue gun on a regular basis because you had to do everything, you had to dress this mannequin from head to toe and that meant clothes, shoes, sometimes pantyhose, even the jewelry. It was fun, it was interesting and very physical.

Maurice Cherry:
How often were you kind of doing these displays?

Lisa Cain:
On a weekly basis. So there were –

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Lisa Cain:
Oh yeah. The downtown, that store was eight floors. So yeah, there was a whole team of us. That was interior, windows, everything and then there’s like these little light boxes. You did like the cosmetic displays, you had home furnishing. All the different departments.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds kind of thrilling actually to be able to kind of turn around and do that so quickly every week.

Lisa Cain:
It was. It was fun. It was again a lot of physical work, and at the same time the building that we were in, it’s a Chicago landmark. So a lot of times we would be goofing off and we would go and explore this building. This building was built in 1904, the architect Lou Sullivan did it and it was like this beautiful elaborate rotunda entrance and be exploring and we found like hidden staircases that were absolutely beautiful and beautiful tiled flowers. There was like sub, sub, sub, sub basements, so yeah, we were running around there and just having fun.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. I mean for people that want to look up or have not heard of Louis Sullivan, he was like the father of modern architecture. Like he was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, a lot of what I think people see now in skyscrapers is really thanks to him.

Lisa Cain:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And the building was the Carson Pirie Scott Building.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Wow. That’s amazing, so you were doing that while you were at Art Institutes or was that after you left there?

Lisa Cain:
It was after, it was right after I left there. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Why did you decide to sort of make that shift from visual communications to merchandising like that?

Lisa Cain:
It just seemed more exciting to me at the time and again I’m young and I’m just trying to find myself. So just trying out something new, and that’s something that I do encourage up and coming designers. Don’t be afraid to just take chances and try out new things.

Maurice Cherry:
So aside from doing that kind of storefront set building kind of work, what other kind of career experiences did you have after you graduated from the art institute?

Lisa Cain:
After that, I decided actually … I did kind of a detour and believe it or not, I ended up getting secretary experience. I became an administrative assistant. I guess again trying to find myself and I ended up working for The NutraSweet Company. It was a big company at the time. This is in like the early 90s, mid 90s. They had a Mac there that no one knew how to use. So I volunteered and they decided to send me back to school, and so I ended up at the Illinois Academy of Design and Technology. So there, computers were for the design community and design studios and all of that. They were starting to make that transition from doing everything by hand to going digital and doing everything on the computer, I remember at the time it was a lot of animosity between new people coming in and people like old-school people that just refused. They would not learn, they would not get computer skills. So it was a good time, a good transition to kind of be on that cutting edge of learning. Up there I learned how to do Photoshop, I think it was Photoshop 2.0 and CorelDRAW and some 3-D animation applications. So by the time I finished that, I had three job offers before I graduated.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice. So even then, you have kind of this burgeoning … I guess this burgeoning rise of design on computers and now that you’ve learned these tools or you’re learning these tools, it’s opening up these different opportunities.

Lisa Cain:
Right, right. Because when I graduated, it was a student portfolio but I think they could see the creativity there and the ideas that were sparked. But more importantly they knew how to work within these applications. So that was huge at the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Would you say that your work in fashion merchandising kind of helped with that though?

Lisa Cain:
Oh absolutely. Absolutely. I think just from doing fashion merchandising or visual merchandising, project management, bringing something together like on a set, we had to like plan things out on paper first and decide what was going to go where and then this color scheme, there was always a theme about something so that kind of translated to design, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean I would imagine also just being able to come up with those concepts. I mean that’s creative direction, that’s art direction. Those are things that if you look at a blank Photoshop canvas or something as your stage, like you can kind of bring those same visual elements in with perspective and sizing and all that sort of stuff.

Lisa Cain:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now you’ve said that you came through the back door to become a designer at age 30. Tell me what does that mean? Because it sounds like you were already doing a lot of design.

Lisa Cain:
Well you know what? For me I felt like I truly didn’t arrive until after I graduated from the Illinois Academy of Design and Technology and I was actually doing graphic design on the computer, and that was at age 30 and The NutraSweet Company sent me back to school and yeah, I felt like, “Okay, it’s official now, and I’ll officially have the title graphic designer.”

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I mean aside from I guess getting that title, did that … I’m curious, did your family at that point kind of see like, “Oh, this is something like serious.”

Lisa Cain:
Oh yeah, oh yeah. Even when I was in school, they finally came around. Like I said, my dad, he was the one while I was in school because it was rough. You had all these projects to do and they had a computer lab but you needed something at home to work on and so he bought me my first Mac and that was what, 1996? It wasn’t inexpensive at the time. We’re talking, you had to get the modem and everything else separately and yeah. And speaking of modems, my first job … So out of school was with USRobotics who actually built the modems. That was quite interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
So now you’ve made this shift. I’m looking, kind of trying to follow this. So you’ve made this shift now from visual merchandising to graphic design. How was the work different, I mean aside from obviously physical to digital but how was the work different that you were doing now?

Lisa Cain:
I think with graphic design, this opened up a whole new world. I think I personally felt like the possibilities were endless to be more creative. As a visual display designer, you’re working at this one particular place and you’re doing stuff at one location. But as a graphic designer, it’s like endless possibilities to creativity. There’s always different projects coming up and not only that but it could be different clients, different organizations or companies. So the creativity is endless.

Maurice Cherry:
One thing that I really remember from those like early days of kind of digital graphic design. It really was like … You could do anything you wanted. It was like … I don’t want to say it was like the wild, wild west because that implies some level of lawlessness but like you really could get away with anything because the tools were so accessible. Like everyone can point and click, but not everyone’s going to do the same combination of filters or colors or even settings on certain things. So you end up coming up with just the wildest kind of designs just by playing around. I felt like there was a lot more play back then to get to kind of what the end result could be.

Lisa Cain:
It was, and then at the same time … I actually started creating websites with my husband at the time we were dating and we were doing webs, I created my first, my website, my portfolio website like in ’98 and I thought it was like the coolest thing because it was like this crocodile on the front. Remember it was like landing pages and it was like maybe a little bit of animation. I thought it was so cool because my crocodile’s eye was like winking at you.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, those early animated GIFs. I love those.

Lisa Cain:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Now as you kind of continued on in your career, you worked in-house as a designer for SmithBucklin and then you were an associate creative director at Urban Ministries Inc. When you look back at those particular experiences, what did they teach you?

Lisa Cain:
I think most importantly they taught me how to work with my clients, how to project manage everything, stay on timelines, stay within budgets and be creative at the same time. They were invaluable experiences.

Maurice Cherry:
Were they like different? Because I mean I’m imagining in Urban Ministries, that’s kind of more religious whereas SmithBucklin I guess you could say is secular. I don’t know. Was it a big difference in just like the type of work that you were doing?

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. SmithBucklin was very, very fast-paced and they had to account for every 15 minutes of our time so they could build a client and if you had to go to the bathroom, you had to figure out a way to pad that in there.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Lisa Cain:
It was rough but at the same time it was such a good learning experience and truly taught me everything about working with non-profits. Urban Ministries definitely. It’s a publications company and way more laid back. I designed the Vacation Bible School curriculum there, so they were much more laid back and actually even just the attitude, they were way more appreciative of your work. You felt valued there.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that where the seed was kind of planted for starting your own studio?

Lisa Cain:
It was. It was because at that time I decided to go part-time. They allowed me to work part-time and I started again burning the candle at both ends and I would work like till 3:00 a.m. on my freelance projects and then get up and go to work and yeah. But it was definitely the stepping stone to build Lisa Cain Design.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from it sort of being that stepping stone of seeing how your work impacted people, did you just kind of feel at this point like you were just ready to strike out on your own?

Lisa Cain:
Absolutely. Because at the time, I had small kids that I desperately wanted to be here for. My son at the time, we had found out, he was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum and he was put in a special pre-K class and I really needed to be there for him. So I was driven to be here, be home, and run my own business.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, interesting. What do you wish you would have been told about the design industry when you first started?

Lisa Cain:
I think the number one thing, and it’s something that I’m truly still working on to this day and that’s boundaries. Healthy boundaries. So what I mean by that is it’s okay to say no to some things. Being selective in the type of projects that you want to work on, the type of budgets you want to work on. That’s super important to determine and work within.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of the mentors and people that have really kind of helped you out along the way as you sort of rose as a designer?

Lisa Cain:
Besides my high school teachers, there was one particular person that actually I grew up with. I’ve known him since first grade and I remember, he could draw really, really well in grammar school. So I was kind of drawn to him and we remained friends over the years. He is a graphic designer and at the time he was working for Frankel, it’s an ad agency in Chicago. But he was also freelancing for Burrell Communications. So I would go to his design studio and he’d let me just kind of hang out and work on some of the stuff he was working on here and there and kind of built my skills but then there was one particular project that stood out and it was a media kit for the Sprite Voltron ad campaign and it featured rap artists like Fat Joe, Goodie Mob, Common and Mack 10. So it was really cool to work on that project, and at that time, we made stock art. Stock art was really, really expensive at that time, so I remember they wanted like a sky created for like a Voltron thing and with stars, and instead of buying that stock art that was like $300.00, I like hand-placed each star in the background.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. It’s on my Instagram page if you want to take a look at it but yeah. I’m super proud of that project. That was in ’98 actually, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s where that visual merchandising muscle kicked in. You’re like, “I just got to go and do it.” That was a really … God, I remember that campaign too. That was dope. They had two of them, there was one that had male rappers with Voltron and then I remember there was one with women rappers that was more like … I think like kung-fu based?

Lisa Cain:
I don’t remember. I didn’t work on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
I think they both might have been kung … Okay, there was one I remember that had … Oh god, who was on it? I think it was Eve, Angie Martinez. I don’t remember who else was part of the fighting squad but the last person they fought against was Roxanne Shante. Like they unmasked the villain and it’s like, “Oh.” I remember those, those were really good.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there any advice about like design or about your career that’s really stuck with you over the years?

Lisa Cain:
I would say … You know what? My teacher back in art school, she said, “Don’t work for free to get a deposit.” You know what? It’s advice, don’t work for free, don’t give your work away. However at the same time, like currently, there is a project that I’m working on and it’s a newly created non-profit organization and it’s a school, they’re teaching kids with disabilities how to do automotive and carpentry and stuff like that. So I think it’s okay to do a pro bono project every once in a while for a good cause that means something to you.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What is it that you’re obsessed with these days?

Lisa Cain:
Sleep. Sorry.

Maurice Cherry:
See, I thought you were going to say the dog. No, sleep … I mean look sleep I think is great, don’t get me wrong. I’m probably going to take a nap after this interview but sleep, I totally, totally understand that.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. Actually my dog, my dog, I’m not obsessed with him but he is my inspiration. There is this quote that says, “To grow creatively, you must give yourself time to play.” So my dog is my hobby. He’s my play. It’s humorous dog photography and it’s kind of my inspiration and kind of way to get away from things and have some fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Now speaking of having fun, there’s one thing that you had shared with me before we recorded. I have to bring it up because I think it’s just so dope. You were a house music backup singer once upon a time.

Lisa Cain:
In another lifetime.

Maurice Cherry:
In another lifetime. Please tell me about that because you sent a YouTube video and I can put it in the show notes if people want to check it out but like I noticed it was like, oh it was like Frankie Knuckles Productions? I have to know how did this happen.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually I was dating Jamie Principle at the time. I was right out of high school, so it [inaudible 00:37:57] era. Yeah. Yeah, and so he needed a backup singer and at the time he was making music actually out of his home and we went to the studio and I did my part and at that time there was no sampling. So that part that you hear? I’m saying over and over and I had to say it perfectly, all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. That time was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun. We performed in a lot of Chicago clubs and went to New York and performed. That was a whole nother lifetime.

Maurice Cherry:
Now were you just on this one record or id you do others?

Lisa Cain:
Just that one.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I mean that’s quite a claim to fame though. That’s really dope.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it was really cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there anything that you would like to do in your career that you haven’t done yet?

Lisa Cain:
Yes. Actually I want to do kind of a pivot. I guess this would be kind of a career/hobby thing but I would love to get into doing newborn photography. [inaudible 00:39:03] kind of my hobby and I absolutely love newborn photography, so I’m kind of working on really perfecting my craft in that and that’s something that I see myself doing somewhere down the road.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel creatively satisfied now?

Lisa Cain:
I do. I do. I actually absolutely love what I do. I absolutely love campaigns, the ad campaigns that I’m working on currently and doing some really exciting projects with a Chicago PR firm. Yes, I love what I do.

Maurice Cherry:
Now after … I mean I know you’ve had a storied history as a designer, both with your studio as well as this kind of physical design work with visual merchandising, but when you look back over all of that, especially with being in the game as long as you have, what’s next? Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Lisa Cain:
I think I want to focus more on … I guess I love the ad campaigns. I’m not sure if I’ll get away from non-profits. Right now I’m working on some things like the Chicago Department of Public Health and we’re also creating like a food bank app. So I want to do more things like that. It’s advocacy but not so much non-profit. Like you said earlier, just seeing stuff come to life and seeing it kind of plastered all over the place is really exciting. I want to get more into that.

Maurice Cherry:
Well Lisa, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything online?

Lisa Cain:
My website is Lisa Cain Design, that’s L-I-S-A C-A-I-N Design, or on Instagram at Lisa Cain Design.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well Lisa Cain, I want to thank you so much, so, so much for coming on the show. When I reached out to you initially, I really wanted to have you on to talk about just the fact that you’ve had your studio for 20 years and the work that you’ve done. Because I think that’s something that’s so rare that we really hear about from black women. I don’t know if I mentioned this when I initially reached out to you but I had saw you in I think it was a Graphic Design USA like people to watch for one year.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I was like … I had put your name down on my outreach list, like I’m going to get around back, I’m going to come back to Lisa one day, and I’m glad now to have been able to do so and to talk with you and learn more about you and of course share your story of how you have come up in the design industry throughout the years. I think it’s really inspiring and hopefully for people that are listening, they get something out of this too to know that they can do … They can sort of accomplish their dreams and design like you have. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Lisa Cain:
Thank you for having me.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

Adobe MAX Logo

Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills… all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Derrick Fields

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of video games, so when I learned about Derrick Fields and Waking Oni Games from the Wholesome Direct Indie Game Showcase back in June, I had to have him on the show.

We talked about how 2021 has been going so far — a new gig and a new baby! — and he spoke on why he created his own gaming studio and gave some history behind the studio’s first title: Onsen Master. Derrick also shared his inspiration behind getting into game programming, the indie gaming scene for underrepresented designers, and he gave some great advice for anyone looking to start making their own titles. If there’s a video game out there that you would love to see, hopefully Derrick’s story will inspire you to create it!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Derrick Fields:
My name is Derrick Fields. I’m the founder and studio director or game director of Waking Oni Games, also the assistant professor at Northwestern University, teaching 3D modeling and game design.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I’d ask how your 2021 has been so far, but I mean that sounds like a pretty big announcement right there, teaching at Northwestern. Congratulations.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you. 2021 has been a series of transitions. Formerly, before leaping into Northwestern this year, I was the lead artists over at Uplift Games which is responsible for a really popular Roblox game by the name of Adopt Me! And so it was a significant portion of my life being able to create a title that contributed to kids. But now, I get to teach some of those children in an academic setting and all the while working on games and creating projects for myself.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So I guess as you settle in to your new role, do you have any other plans that you might have had for the rest of this year?

Derrick Fields:
One is in the oven or I should say, I’m thinking of a pun that doesn’t sound so morbid. I’m not sure like in the oven. The package is on the way. And my partner and I are expecting a little one in November and so it’s been a lot of at home, nesting and preparation as we invite a small human into our lives or another small human into our lives, I should say.

Maurice Cherry:
Congratulations. Look at you.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
A new job, new human. 2021 sounds like it’s your year.

Derrick Fields:
It has been my year. I am very thankful.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about the Northwestern gig. How did you get that?

Derrick Fields:
Sure. So through some work and prior to working at Uplift, I had always maintained doing some freelance work and working on side projects and other projects. It’s like simultaneously balancing a lot of plates there. The one that came along was through a friend and colleague who was creating a grant-funded project out of Northwestern. And they were, at the time, the assistant professor who held the position. And so I have done some talks with him and his class and met some of the students to discuss aspects of game design and 3D modeling. And a little later on, this individual ended up leaving the position for another university out of state. And so I was very surprised to see an email arrived from Northwestern asking if I would be interested in interviewing for the position.

Derrick Fields:
And that’s when I carried on the discussion with the same individual who was leaving the position. And he was very excited that they ended up reaching out off of this recommendation. And so from there, it was a lot of paperwork. I did a job talk which was new to me, which feels like giving a TED Talk to other teachers, faculty and students and to discuss the aspects of why I would enjoy teaching, what I hope to bring to the space and sharing bits about my past. And everything worked out for the better, so I’d be starting with them in September.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Is this your first foray into academia.

Derrick Fields:
I’ve always been on the periphery of the space doing other conversations. I’ve done some talks over at the University of Chicago in their Media and Arts Design Lab, I believe the name is. So yeah, always tangential to this space, but yeah, this will be the first time that I’ll be responsible for my own class, my own syllabi and a handful of students in that capacity. Prior too, I am a board member of the Japanese Arts Foundation where, before we transitioned to this quarantine and pandemic state, I was teaching how to draw anime classes to people of all ages. And so education has always been a really important component. And so I’ve been very fortunate to be able to provide that in certain spaces and this really just became the crux of it all.

Maurice Cherry:
Very nice. That should be a really good gig. I don’t know, forgive me for saying gig, I used to be a musician years ago, so I call every job a gig.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely. I’d use that too.

Maurice Cherry:
But that should be a really good thing to settle into, especially because I remember just when I was in school 20+ years ago, goodness, this kind of stuff wasn’t really taught. I didn’t go to an art school. I just went to a regular liberal art school. I know now technology has allowed for so many different types of things to be taught. So it’s really good that you’re going to be able to teach this, because I would imagine, this is probably you passing that knowledge on from your own personal experience with 3D design.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely, hopefully, being able to lens an avenue for students who are interested in that space and give them direct feedback based on my experience within the industry, I think is going to be really great and I’m excited to be able to share that.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Let’s talk about Waking Oni Games. How did you decide to start your own studio? Where did that come from?

Derrick Fields:
Right. So I was, I think, definitely mid store at the beginning of some freelance work. And some years after, I’d say, I don’t even know at this point, but definitely some time after, would be a more accurate description, some time after university and not finding the career placement that I wanted in games that I had grown to expect, I started mingling with other friends. And we got to brainstorming about what would it be like to create our own project and what type of experience could we get out of that just with limited resources. And at this time, it was just myself, my friend and a friend of his and so just the three of us, whom is now a very great friend of mine as well.

Derrick Fields:
The three of us, we were brainstorming, we played around and I said, “We should,” so pausing real quick to rewind, just a tad, but Spirited Away, the Ghibli film directed by Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite movies and has left a lasting impression on me. And so I had always imagined what it might be like to play a game that takes place in an onsen or hot spring as what we might know it as. And so that was really the origin of the idea and the motivation to wanting to create something for myself. And so with that came the need to have an LLC formation and go through all the legalities to make sure that we can be eligible to receive various licenses and things like that. And so then Waking Oni Games was invented or generated.

Maurice Cherry:
So how long has it been since you started?

Derrick Fields:
It has existed, I would say, from the signing of legal documents for six or seven years and Onsen Master was a hobby project throughout that time period. And so it wasn’t until two years ago, I believe, two almost three years ago that we decided to take that project and actually pursue it as something of an actual game, a game that we wanted to share with audiences, a game that we wanted to put up on Kickstarter for crowdfunding and see what the interest would be. And so very thankful that in September of the year that we did Kickstarter 2019, that it went successfully.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you. Since then, we continued working, of course, maintaining full time jobs and any other commitments outside of that to get this game out to audiences that were interested in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me a little bit more about Onsen Master for those that might not be familiar with the concept, you mentioned as being hot springs. Talk to me about what the game is about.

Derrick Fields:
Sure. I’ll say I can’t explain it without getting past the elevator pitch part. So it’s a hot spring strategy game about healing. You play as a character who has been tasked with managing their own bath house, their own hot spring. And that managing component comes by way of various customers who will arrive to your hot spring. And they each have a different ingredient that they desire. And so it is your job as the player to sort them into one of four baths that are located in the hot spring, locating the ingredient that matches to their needs and then mixing it up and tossing it in there with them. And so you play this mix and match game while moving through different environments that may change in scale or layout.

Maurice Cherry:
So it sounds like it can also be partially educational as well because I’m assuming this is based off of how onsens actually operate.

Derrick Fields:
In a very broad stroke, some details are true, some details are not. I would say there isn’t the component of somebody procuring an ingredient for you and lofting out into the bath. What is true to reality is that when you go to an onsen, a hot spring is a naturally heated water and there are many towns and prefectures in Japan, across Japan that have onsen and bathhouses that are, I should say, sento. So there’s a difference there. Sento or bathhouse is artificially heated and onsen or hot spring is naturally heated. And so it’s like small detail. So those are the types of things that really what I hope players will get other experiences that when they play Onsen Master, I hope that it will spark interest in wanting to find out what real onsen like or what real sento are like and learn about those.

Derrick Fields:
Another component in the game that I hope will spark interest in players is, as you’re playing through the game, you’re visited by these spirits called yokai. And they are essentially personifications of the unexplainable. If we hear a creek in the night, we might say, “Oh, that is a creek monster that is responsible for making this noise.” And so when you play Onsen Master, not only will various customers be arriving, but these various spirits that take the form of one that looks like a turtle, one that looks like a skeleton and so on will also be visiting the onsen. And they’ll come bearing with a couple antics to them. One might spill water all over the place, for example, or one might try to come after you and grab you as another thing that you have to deal with while managing these different customers.

Maurice Cherry:
It definitely sounds like you put a lot of thought and care into the game and with all of these different mechanics and such. It sounds really cool.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you. It’s definitely my experience in … I’ve spent a lot of my time learning about Japanese history and culture and mythology and so wanting to build a game that can spark that same interest and hopefully lead others to wanting to educate themselves about what yokai are, for example, is really the desire out of that.

Maurice Cherry:
I think anyone that has kids under 15 probably knows what yokai are because they’ve seen Yo-kai Watch or something like that. It’s amazing how much, I don’t even want to call it American shows because they’re just Japanese shows that have been in many cases dubbed over, but there’s so much anime from Japan that gets dumped over that now are, in some cases, cultural staples in this country like Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, etcetera, but then there’s a lot of newer shows like Yo-kai Watch and others that that’s how people tend to find out about Japanese culture through these different shows and through videogames as well. I remember playing videogames as a kid and that’s how I really learned about small things about Japanese culture. I’d probably say I got more from anime, but videogames definitely played a part in that as well, even through localization.

Derrick Fields:
And I really agree with that, we’ve got to say the sort of subtext to Waking Oni Games and Onsen Master and the projects that are to follow that are intended to explore specifically the intersection of Japanese and African American culture because there are many BIPOC individuals that have had their experience in childhood and through their adulthood, tangent to all sorts of pop culture and media. But mine specifically intersects a lot with Japanese culture and continues to even in my adulthood, being a board member at the Japanese Arts Foundation and teaching anime drawing classes. And so wanting to explore that and hopefully articulate that at my age now has led me to learn that there are many Black individuals that also have that sort of intersection.

Derrick Fields:
And wanting to find representation in the media that doesn’t necessarily originate from our culture can be a challenge depending on the circumstance, but it has led to other outcomes. And things like when we watched Dragon Ball Z, this is why we might code Piccolo as Black. Having those shared experiences with other Black individuals is something that’s very specific. And so with Onsen Master and with other projects, I would really like to continue to explore that conversation and build content that is derived of anime and the pop culture that surrounds the medium, but also insert people that look like us and be able to center that conversation a little bit more.

Maurice Cherry:
Right around this time last year on the show, we had Arthell Isom. He’s a Black guy who owns an anime studio actually over in Japan called D’ART Shtajio. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this.

Derrick Fields:
Yes, I’ve heard of this.

Maurice Cherry:
So a lot of what you’re talking about, it’s funny because this interview was literally about a year from now, a year ago from now. And what you’re saying mirrors a lot of what he also said in terms of working within the culture but also working to bridge that gap and tell these stories in a way that is not only, I would say, culturally relevant but also is appealing to customers. So that makes a lot of sense.

Derrick Fields:
I was just going to say hello to Arthell in a year ago. I wish we could cross paths, but I do. I love a lot of the work that he and his studio are doing.

Maurice Cherry:
So what do you think it is that people misunderstand when it comes to being a game designer?

Derrick Fields:
Sure. I think the term game design can be a little bit obfuscated. If you aren’t readily in school and learning about what the role might entail. It isn’t just thinking about all how one might want to create a cool thing and just enacting on it, it can become a lot more granular than that. And there has to be, and I can explain further, but there has to be a willingness to want to pursue getting very nitty gritty about details but also hoping to drive and create certain or, I should say, elicit certain experiences out of the audience that you intend to interact with your media.

Derrick Fields:
And so taking that to a game, let’s say, Mario or Final Fantasy, any of those things, everything that you do in that game that you don’t necessarily notice per se, the reason why the text, the font looks a certain way or the reason why when Mario jumps, a very specific height or just help conveniently placed that height and that distance from when you jump off a ledge and land on a platform is just so far away or just close enough that it creates ease or difficulty. Those types of things are thought about by somebody else and labored over constantly to make sure that you as the player can have ease of access or have experiences in difficulty but not difficulty that’s hard enough that turns you away from the game and makes you not want to play it.

Derrick Fields:
There has to be that balance in wanting to engineer an experience that maybe makes you feel just close enough to a reward that you are now driven to want to achieve it. I will say that that’s one component of game design. There are many ways to create experiences and engineer outcomes in a way that you are trying to impart that on somebody. I’ve been trying to stray away from falling into just spouting off nothing but buzzwords, but it really is. It really is that. You’re thinking about the player. You’re thinking about what type of experience you would like to give them while also wanting to share entertainment and fun and cool things happening.

Derrick Fields:
And maybe it’s swords, maybe it’s horses, or fairies or robots, but also wanting to make sure that your vision for it all is concise among those components that you’re trying to sort out.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like there’s a lot of testing that has to happen with game design. It’s not just as a simple as Mario Maker or something like that. But even that, I think also, I love how Nintendo has really abstracted a big part of the game design process when it comes to a game like Mario Maker or this new game that they have called like Game Garage or something like that. They make it seemed pretty easy because you’re just dragging and dropping sprites onto a canvas, but there’s so much logic and testing that has to go behind that to make sure that it’s playable, it’s enjoyable, hopefully that you’re guiding the player along and you’re making sure that they’re having an enjoyable experience as well.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely. And what I really love about both of those software is that they create accessibility to individuals who may otherwise not have the background in programming or have the background in 3D modeling or 2D art or everything else that comes along with creating a game. There’s so many resources there that they can, as you said, drag and drop and immediately get a reaction on whether or not it works. And I think those types of systems are great because it allows burgeoning creators and players to be able to explore those limitations and hopefully build something out of them and test, test, test away.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, this might be a bit of a easy questions. I think anyone that’s grown up in the United States in the past 30+ years has been exposed to videogames, but tell me about your history with games. Were you always into design in videogames? Tell me about that?

Derrick Fields:
Yeah. My experience in games has definitely been lifelong. I grew up with Nintendo and Sega and Sega Dreamcast and etcetera, leading all the way up to now, but wanting to contribute to games wasn’t always a component that … It wasn’t always something that I had considered. There was a disconnect. You bought games or you receive games as a gift. You loaded them up, you played them to the end of the credits and then you look for the next one. But I, for a long time, never really bridged the gap that somebody else was behind a computer, somebody had labored over this to give the experience that I’m now having in my bedroom or on the couch.

Derrick Fields:
When that happened, I think that’s when things really, really shifted for me and wanting to envision, creating worlds that I could interact and that other people could interact and what that might be like. Prior to that, my background has always been in drawing and illustration. And so I used to always want to create comic books and create cartoons. And so I spent a lot of time drawing and imagining worlds and imagining characters. Getting into high school, I think that’s when things started to transition and I understood that there was a pathway to being able to create these games that I was playing on PlayStation 1 and 2 at the time. And then I started to reengage with these worlds and imagine them as virtual spaces and seek out opportunities as we start getting into university in how I might be able to achieve that.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember, like you said, growing up in Nintendo and Sega, especially if you were a child of the ’80s. I would say even like a child of the early ’90s. It was inescapable. I don’t even know if it’s really so much now because kids have the internet to contend with and social media and stuff. But it’s hard to really understate just how much of a vice grip Nintendo had over your childhood. If you were like a child of the ’80s or the early ’90s, there was television, there were videogames, there was breakfast cereal, there was clothes. You really could not escape it.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say Nintendo probably more so, I’d say probably more so than Sega, but even still, as both of those systems grew in popularity, you really could not avoid the Console Wars, I should say. You really had to be in one camp or another. And games often would come out for one and then come out for the other one later. And it’s just amazing how much of that really is, because of course, the foundation for what we see now in gaming, but also what it’s done is it’s helped to create a whole new generation now of game designers and people that want to work in games and comics and similar fields like that.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely. And I got to ask, you mentioned the Console War, which side did you find yourself on, whether intentional or unintentional growing up?

Maurice Cherry:
So definitely Team Nintendo 100%. I had a Gameboy I had a regular. I remember when the NDS came out in ’80, I think it came out in ’85, I think, ’85, ’86 and I got it me and my brother. I have an older brother, we got it. And the cartridge was like the combination of Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt, so you put it in and then you choose which one you wanted to play and whatever. It was Nintendo for a long time. My cousin, I have a first cousin named Jeff and he had a Genesis. And so I got to go over his house and play a little bit of Sega. I always thought the three button controller was really weird. I didn’t quite understand that like, “I’m going to go back to Nintendo where the buttons have an even amount of numbers. That makes more sense to me.” I’ve been trying to do that. But yeah, mostly Nintendo. I think I’ve had every Nintendo System except the 64 and the Virtual Boy. I don’t think anyone really had the Virtual Boy.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember when the Virtual Boy came out because it was around, I want to say ’94, ’95. And the Walmart in our town had one as a display. So I did get to play it, but I’ve never had one. But yeah, I was firmly, firmly Team Nintendo until probably around college and then I diverted to Dreamcast. Although, well, someone of my friends’ floors had a 64 and we just play GoldenEye all the time.

Derrick Fields:
You got to play GoldenEye. Absolutely. My upbringing did find itself seeded in the Sega route and it was a bit of the opposite for me where my first cousin was the one who had the Super Nintendo and …

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Derrick Fields:
… the Virtual Boy. And I will not spend any time just discussing how VR has been an exploratory tangent to videogames for so long with something like the Virtual Boy and seeing where it is now to a device like the Oculus. But Sega led me to Sega Dreamcast and all of those, unfortunately short-lived experiences on a very cool system. I headed down the path of PlayStation and I got to say it I probably never looked back. I’ve loved PlayStation ever since.

Maurice Cherry:
What was the game that hooked you into gaming?

Derrick Fields:
Final Fantasy IX. I definitely played plenty of games prior to that, but Final Fantasy IX and just the PlayStation 1 console in general, I think, is bookmarked as a significant part of my life. I think I played tons and tons of games on the PlayStation. And there were so many when you think of the time period, this is why I love PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 especially, but when you think of the time period of both of these consoles, there’s so much development and exploration on both of the consoles from the beginning of their release to the end of their cycle when the next generation of that platform is coming out.

Derrick Fields:
And so looking at it a title that released on the beginning of PlayStation and looking at a title that released at the end of PlayStation 1’s time period is significant. There’s really vast differences. You find games that explored with voiceover and games that have walls and walls of text, games with sprites, games with Final Fantasy stuff, blocky 3D bodies and everything else. So it was a time. It was a time that all these different companies were trying out new things. They’re always trying new things. There’s always iteration and development, but something felt really cool about that transition to 3D and everybody trying to figure that out at the same time.

Maurice Cherry:
The game that hooked me into gaming, there’s a few. I think if I think about what was on the regular Nintendo, the game that probably hooked me was, it’s a very rare choice, there was this board game on NES called Anticipation. Have you heard of it?

Derrick Fields:
No, I haven’t.

Maurice Cherry:
Look up Anticipation NES on YouTube. I’m sure there’s probably videos of it, but I remember I would check that game out from what we had a Blockbuster adventure, but we had back home this little place called Movie Gallery. And I would check out Anticipation or I get my mom to check out Anticipation, let me correct that, to check out Anticipation every two weeks or so and keep playing it. And it’s essentially like a, I don’t know, Pictionary-style game …

Derrick Fields:
Got it.

Maurice Cherry:
… where it’s like for players. You’re either a trumpet, an ice cream cone, a pair of pink high-heeled shoes or teddy bear.

Derrick Fields:
I see that now.

Maurice Cherry:
And there’s these different board configurations. And you roll the die and you land on a certain color. And then there’s like this pencil that just starts drawing and you have to guess what it is that it’s drawing. And usually like at the beginning levels, they’ll give you some sort of hints like the number of letters or something. So you get a sense of it or the category, I should say, that’s drawing. But then as you go up to the higher boards, there’s no clues, no category. It just starts drawing and you have to figure it out and you have to get four of the different colors to proceed to the next round. And I loved that game. I think my brother hated it, but I loved that game. And that game sort of hooked me into like, “Oh, this is cool. This is like a board game, but it’s on videogames.” That blew my mind.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I’d say also, was this NES or SNES? So this is SNES. The SNES game that hooked me was also a Final Fantasy title. It’s Final Fantasy II which is Final Fantasy IV in the Japanese line of games. But that game, it’s sunk its fangs into me deep.

Derrick Fields:
Great.

Maurice Cherry:
And it is to this day, I don’t know if it’s my favorite Final Fantasy title, it’s top two. It’s top two definitely. I love that game like no other. Because that game aside from just the story aspect of it and you had the double-crossing character and all this sort of stuff. Also it’s my foray into music. I really liked the music and tried to learn how to play the music. I have little keyboard or whatever. And I would record it on my little tape recorder and then go back and try to play it on my keyboard and stuff like that. But Final Fantasy II and Anticipation. Those were the two games that got me into games, just like, “Oh, man, this is such a great, great medium to tell stories in.” Because Final Fantasy II, I had never run across a story like that before.

Derrick Fields:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s like on this thing and you play as these people, it’s like, “What is this?” It was my first role-playing game too. It was great. Absolutely great.

Derrick Fields:
That’s a really great story in it. I think that’s why Final Fantasy IX sits with me so well. And again, there were plenty of games that I definitely interacted with. Leading up to that, I fondly remember playing Rocket Knight on Sega which was a really cool side scrolling, incredibly difficult game. Wow. I think a lot of us have memories with titles like Aladdin and The Lion King and Animaniacs on that system as well, but it wasn’t until PlayStation and Final Fantasy IX that, again similar to what you said about for the character, the story, the very imaginative world that is being set in front of you. And it just raises the bar on, “Oh, this is what fantasy can be when …” Prior to this, it’s just been Dungeons and Dragons and medieval shows and medieval fantasy, but that presented an entirely new world.

Maurice Cherry:
Or you’re like Mario or Sonic, you’re just playing this linear left to right, up and down sort of thing. And Final Fantasy really came along and just like, I don’t even want to say it shattered expectations, it certainly shattered my perception of what can be done now with the medium. And my God, that was 1992 I think. Wow. It’s amazing what they were able to accomplish with so little back then, just in terms of the technology that tells us the vast story and with such few elements. I think now with computers and with software and everything, there’s no telling what you can create, even just on your own without having to do it through a big studio.

Derrick Fields:
We have so many possibilities now. And I think developers AAA all the way to indie, we continue to share and show reinvention within this space. And I love marveling at it. Every time there’s a new game trailer or game event that is coming with a handful of announcements, I cannot help but tune in because I know it’s going to come up with some indie game or some other studio that’s revealing an experience that you just didn’t imagine could happen with a controller in your hand or with something like an Oculus VR headset.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m trying to get more into Oculus. I got one fairly recently. And I’ve been just playing around with it, sitting on the couch or playing around the living room, but I need to get more into the VR experiences because I know there’s probably some really great stuff there.

Derrick Fields:
I’m trying. I’m trying as well. And I think right now felt like a time that was okay to leap in because the space is starting to hit its stride and starting … It’s hit its stride and it’s definitely developing and creating all these cool experiences now that the devices have so much fidelity to them which was always limitation leading up to what we have nowadays. Now, there’s three, four different pieces of hardware that you can acquire and create that experience for yourself and dedicate an entire room to VR if you wanted to. So I too have an Oculus and I’m dabbling on the store. I got to say, I’m very interested in a title called Demeo, I believe is the name where you are … Essentially, my favorite part of D&D where you have the D&D dungeon, you have your character sheet, but you have a miniature representation of your D&D dungeon in front of you and you’re playing through this campaign with little figurines that are an indication of your character and your party members.

Derrick Fields:
Well, there’s a VR version of that now and I got to say the way I’m passively just recruiting people to want to play that game, some handful of time from now is my side mission, but it looks very interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you went to school for design. You went to Columbus College of Art and Design. You eventually graduated from Kent State. When you think back on your education studying design, how much of that has really helped you out now, as a game designer?

Derrick Fields:
I think some of it came from not getting the experience that I was hoping to have and some of it came from gaining way more than I even thought could come of it. Getting into university at that time, the discoverability of spaces that were teaching games was still new. There was, I think, a lot of advertisements around this time for the art institute and going to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh or whichever state [inaudible 00:36:35] that it had and trying to explore, “Where am I going to get that? Where am I going to get the experience? At the risk of loans and everything else, where will I find my seat in all of that?” And so it’s bizarre. I remember going to the Art Institute of Chicago or sorry the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for a preview. They invited … You could register for a summer preview camp and stay there for, I think it was like three days or three or four days or something like that.

Derrick Fields:
But the idea was it was to introduce students to the campus, their experience, get them hands-on experience and playing around with game engines and tantalizing or giving the movie preview of what game development might be. Instead, what that experience for me was connecting with a bunch of very cool students, but ultimately never getting that experience. I remember distinctly we went into this game lab and the teacher who was supposed to be providing preview of education on Unreal Engine was absent. They were just gone and nobody knew where they were.

Derrick Fields:
And so the entire class just played Unreal Tournament. And that’s what we did. I remember thinking, “This is cool, but this isn’t what I came here for.” So I was so frustrated because I thought I came in, the veil was yanked away in what I was supposed to expect when I got there. So yeah, I ultimately went to Columbus College of Art and Design. I pursued illustration. I said to myself that I’m going to find entry into games, doing concept art. I still was feeling really keen about 3D modeling and wanting to do something with that. And so I remember asking my advisor if I could switch to 3D modeling because I wanted to pursue game development. And they said, “Well, we only have 3D animation. We don’t support game development here.”

Derrick Fields:
And I thought it was another moment that was disillusioned and I’m going, “Oh, man, am I thinking about this wrong? There’s got to be other spaces where people are really driving for this outcome that they too want to create games, that they too want to 3D model and rig characters for videogames. I love Pixar films, but that’s not where I’m trying to land.” And so I transferred to Shawnee State University. That is where I was introduced to this really amazing game development program that was still in its earliest stages, but the community of teachers and students really brought an experience together that continues to thrive today.

Derrick Fields:
I think, if you go to their website, they’re doing all sorts of really cool in-university events to support their students and give them that experience that I think a lot of us were going for at that time. So shout outs to them. I ultimately ended up transferring yet another time and graduating out of Kent State University with a degree and I don’t remember the name, but I graduated there and here we are with some gaps and other stories in between there.

Maurice Cherry:
I would say though, what you’ve mentioned though is actually, at least from my experience with talking with others on this show, it’s pretty common because the technology in the industry changes so quickly that schools aren’t really able to keep up and be able to have curriculum and stuff like that. And then, as you say, because it’s so new, different schools are going to have different just types of programs. It’s not really standardized. You can go to any college in the country and learn English, but you can’t go to any college in the country and learn game design. Different programs are definitely going to be just better suited to what’s currently in the industry. They might have a better alumni program. There could be a whole bunch of other things. There’s a guy I had on the show. This was, I don’t know, maybe 2017 or so. His name is Michael Hollander. Do you remember the ’90s show, VR Troopers?

Derrick Fields:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
He was the Black guy on VR Troopers.

Derrick Fields:
Oh, cool.

Maurice Cherry:
He’s a game designer now.

Derrick Fields:
Oh, wow. What a track record. That show is amazing. And there’s a side note, but the genre of tokusatsu, VR Troopers, Power Rangers, Kamen Rider, all of that stuff, there’s a really cool story, I think I saw it on Netflix, just the whole process of how that gets localized and arrives to us and then this relationship that we have with, I think it’s the … I forgot the company that licensed Power Rangers here, but they have a specific relationship with the original source that they are allowed to take the fight scenes and reedit it to add in actors from the US and-

Maurice Cherry:
That’s Haim Saban, right?

Derrick Fields:
Yes, that’s the one. Thank you. If you end up watching shows like VR Troopers, shows like Kamen Rider or Power Rangers, the original content has a completely different story, but the battles will be the same in a lot of ways or they’ll be … You’ll recognize certain battles or certain confrontations, experience in the US version. And so cool thing there, but that’s amazing. What a life to live to go from VR Troopers to game designer.

Maurice Cherry:
But a lot of what I remember him saying from that interview was about how he had to jump from place to place to really almost cobble together the skills that he knew he was going to need once he got on in the industry because one school maybe didn’t have this or another school had it. So it’s that process of transferring. And for him, it sounded like he just learned more working in the field as opposed to going to school to prepare to be a designer.

Derrick Fields:
I relate to that in a lot of ways that I think in that time period, when you said that there were a lot of universities trying to figure out how to do it correctly, I think similar to who you just mentioned … I’m sorry, what was the name again?

Maurice Cherry:
Michael Hollander.

Derrick Fields:
Michael. Thank you. Similar to Michael’s experience, we weren’t the only ones knowing that. I think we could see that universities were also trying to figure this out and we’re trying to figure out where can we get the best education with limited resources as far as research goes. It’s not like there’s a university out here just being championed by others in the industry saying, “I graduated from here and this is the space that taught me the best.” Everybody was flying by the seat of their pants. Unfortunately, for some people who are seeking education in that space, you flew by the seat at the risk of your wallet, so there’s that aspect there and you landed somewhere and you said, “This is close. So maybe this is the one that I’ll go with because I don’t want to go through registration again.”

Maurice Cherry:
He said the same thing. It can get expensive doing all that transferring from school to school, especially because it’s such a specialized field.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
So you freelanced for a few companies after you graduated from Kent State. And it looked like your first big long-term game design gig, you’re at William Chyr Studio, is that right?

Derrick Fields:
That’s right. And touching back to what we were just talking about, after graduating, it was still trying to find placement in the industry, trying to figure out what to do with my portfolio and learning how it stood up against other candidates that were getting positions in 3D modeling and so on. And so that process led me to having to, again, reevaluate where I was and pursue continued learning, taking to YouTube and books and everything else to continue to make sure that I’m developing content that was on par with what the industry was asking for.

Derrick Fields:
I had a lot of difficulty trying to find career placement. And so this is where I began to seek dabbling in creating my own world, playing around with engines like Unity, but constantly going to events and networking with other individuals whom were already in there and already creating and developing projects, sharing my portfolio and ultimately landing freelance gigs from time to time.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you remember most about working at that studio?

Derrick Fields:
With William Chyr and the other team members, everything was fun and it was great. We mostly communicated digitally because people were across time zones and different locations in the US. It was very just casual, “Hey, can you model this or animate this thing.” And I had a lot of fun being able to contribute to manifold garden, which was the title that ended up releasing. And so my primary role there was creating a lot of environment objects. There are a lot of doors that I did the animations for and some other objects that are throughout that space.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I know we’re recording this right now at the time when there’s a lot of news actually in the videogame industry, particularly around certain company known as Activision Blizzard which people may know from some of the big games that they put out like … Oh, God, I’m blanking. Like Crash Bandicoot and things of that nature. I’m curious, as a Black man that’s in this industry, have you ever been privy to any discrimination just working at studios or showing your portfolio or things like that? What sort of things were you surprised about when you really started to get out in the industry?

Derrick Fields:
I think most of all, that came down to finding an entry level position, trying to weigh the quality of my work against other potential candidates for positions that I was applying for. And as an outcome to that, not finding a lot of opportunities where I felt like I was good enough to apply to a lot of spaces. I received no a lot, a lot when I was at the beginning of trying to become a 3D artist. And I would oftentimes turn to other portfolio websites, spaces like Art Station, what we have today, to look at the quality of my work and again weigh that against what other people were doing, other people in roles that I was trying to apply to.

Derrick Fields:
It just never made sense to me why I wasn’t even getting past the interview phase. I tried going to job fairs and sharing portfolio and receiving very poker-faced feedback on the content that I was sharing. And then would watch peers and other people who had also exited university game positions. And it wasn’t fair to myself or to them to want to go, “Well, now I got to look at their portfolio and see what did they do and what did I not do.” It’s never fun to have to draw those types of comparisons, but I couldn’t help it at that time because I wanted so badly to be able to be in this space and really, really had this dream that I can …

Derrick Fields:
The veil has very, very much been lifted to since then, but I used to dream so much of sitting next to a colleague in a game studio and working on 3D models and discussing which piece of armor should this character have or stuff like that. Back then, it was the labor of videogames, was something that was romanticized. I, not only has that but the space in general, continue to receive their scrutiny that it should to redefine what it means to work within that space, that creating games and creating experiences should not come at the sacrifice of your time in a way that is a detriment to you by way of how individuals used to romanticize overworking themselves in videogames.

Derrick Fields:
And that is still a narrative that we’re trying to separate from and relating to what you said with Activision Blizzard. The constant harassment that women and other marginalized folks experienced within these industries are other things that continue to need the scrutiny that they are receiving in order to hopefully get the change that we’re all asking for.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if this is a good follow up for this, but I’ll just throw it out there. Do you think that that is why we’re starting to see so many indie developers and games out there because they’re just not meshing with this AAA title, big game studio kind of culture, they’re just striking out on their own and doing their own thing?

Derrick Fields:
Yeah, I think there’s many layers to why indie developers create the games that they do. One is absolutely they themselves could not find placement within the industry. One is, we’re not ever fairly represented within the industry. One is the experiences that were being set on store shelves, weren’t the experiences that they wanted to have and that, just the word experience can mean so many different things in terms of gameplay or narrative or style and aesthetic. I think all of those things motivate indie developers to create their own games. And I think, just as you said, that’s absolutely why there’s so many of us out here now creating cool things.

Derrick Fields:
And now there’s so many more avenues to be able to access the experiences that they are delivering with platforms like itch.io for people who just want to create something small or fairly sizable and distribute that out to their own audience. We now have publishers and platforms that vocalize their support for indies and now have a much more visible pipeline for indie developers to be able to release games on spaces like the Switch and so on. So I hope and I always had my fingers crossed that that will continue to grow in the way that it has and that more indie developers will be able to receive the support that they want.

Maurice Cherry:
What games are you currently playing right now?

Derrick Fields:
I was revisiting Final Fantasy VII Remake after purchasing it when it came out and then not touching it for a long, long time. The announcement of the, I think, it’s called Intergrade DLC, was enough for me that it sparked motivation to want to return to the game and I said, “You know what? We’re going to finish this.” So yes, I’ve been casually pursuing that and I think I’m about three quarters of the way complete with it finally. But aside from that, I spend a little bit of my time streaming on Twitch various stealthy games. It’s another genre of games that I just really, really take to and enjoy playing. So titles like Thief … One of my favorite games is Thief Deadly Shadows which is this older medieval fantasy stealth game replays this thief called Garrett. I almost said the main character of The Witcher, Geralt. I mixed them up there, but great game.

Derrick Fields:
Immersive sims is the genre, so other games like Hitman or Dishonored, any of those things where you’re presented with a level and you have to decide how you are going to solve the level and get from point A to point B are some of my favorite types of games to play. So I’ll dabble with one main game and then pursue other ones in the background. And so that’s what I’ve been doing. How about yourself?

Maurice Cherry:
What am I playing now? That’s a good question because, and I said this before we record it, I am really big on buying games and then never playing them. I’m more of a collector at this point. So the games I’m currently playing now? So on PS4, I don’t know, I guess about halfway through Persona 5 Royal, I think. I think I’m halfway through. I’m in July because the game starts out in April and then it like goes to I think January or something, but Royal has a third semester. So I think I’m about maybe not half, I’m probably about a third of the way through that when I think about it because I’m in the summer. So I’m playing Persona 5 Royal.

Maurice Cherry:
And then on my Switch, I have Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I feel like I’m just tending to that, I don’t know, neglected child. I’ve gotten my island to a point where I’m not going to change anything. My villagers are at a point where they’re not moving out. So my island is just in stasis, and because Nintendo’s not really rolling out a whole bunch of new content for it, I just log in every day, speak to people, dig up fossils at the islands. I just bought The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, which I look forward to getting into that this weekend.

Derrick Fields:
Great. I’ve been looking forward to that one.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m looking to get into that pretty soon. And that’s what I have now. I’m a big fan of puzzle games, so I also just recently bought I think it’s Picross S5 I think is the latest one in the series. So I bought that. I haven’t played it yet, but I know eventually I will. Picross is just one of those games you just, I don’t know, you play it in the airport. You play it while you’re waiting for the train or something like that. It’s one of those games you can easily pick up and put down because it’s a puzzle game. Have you heard of Picross before?

Derrick Fields:
I have. I’ve not played it. Honestly, most puzzles I usually keep to something that’s like haptic, though I’m not opposed to them. They’re usually not my go to, but yeah, I’ve heard of Picross, but I didn’t know that they released a new iteration.

Maurice Cherry:
Jupiter cranks these games out every three months.

Derrick Fields:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
And they always have 150 puzzles or more. At least 150 to 200 puzzles, they just crank them out regularly. It’s insane. I think they just recently announced there’s going to be a Picross with, I think Sega and Master Collection. So it’s going to have Sonic sprites and things of that nature, Puyo Puyo, that kind of thing. I saw it and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to buy that,” because also the games are like 10 bucks. So they’re like really cheap, they have a ton of replay value and they’re long games. Each puzzle is maybe anywhere from like a few seconds to maybe an hour, depending on the size of it and putting it all together, but that’s what I’m playing right now.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m looking forward to … What did I preorder? I preordered Metroid Dread. I think I pre ordered No More Heroes III. And I also pre ordered Advance Wars 1 and 2, the remakes that are coming out because I love some Advance Wars. I recently bought, not that I’m showing my age here, but I recently bought a, there’s this guy on Instagram that does these custom Gameboy Advance builds.

Derrick Fields:
That’s very cool.

Maurice Cherry:
They are pristine. I’m not going to say how much I paid for it. I paid too much for it, but they are pristine. And I bought one of those and I bought some games off eBay because I was like, “I love the form factor of it, plus I just love those old games. And now that Advance Wars 1 and 2 is coming out on the Switch, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I’m getting that. Absolutely. No questions asked.” There’s a couple of games that I don’t even have to think about it. My credit card’s already out like magic. I don’t even have to think about it like, “Oh, yeah. I’m getting that.” That’s what I’m playing right now.

Derrick Fields:
Cool. Cool. Those are definitely some exciting things to look forward to. No More Heroes, especially, is one that I am a big fan of that. I’m trying to think if there’s anything that I’ve been looking forward to for some time. It is on the tip of my tongue. Elden Ring, From Software, so the new From Software title has been one that is definitely on my list, definitely looking forward to that. And then Deathloop from Arkane Studios which again talking about how as a fan of immersive sims and games that include the option of stealth. The creators of Dishonored are releasing a new title and this one looks like a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Derrick Fields:
So I’ll be getting that one right away.

Maurice Cherry:
And of course, you’re creating your own game, Onsen Master, but what videogame would you love to see developed one day?

Derrick Fields:
When it comes to the games that we experienced now, I’m just touching on the arc of indie games and how there are so many developers who have taken to their own to create experiences that they aren’t seeing. I would love, love to see a game that centers just like an Afro fantasy or Black fantasy or like Afro futurist game that is at the scale of a Square Enix title. If I could play a game that feels like Final Fantasy XV or any of those titles with that sort of fidelity and story and amount of hours dedicated to creating an original world and high-fantasy narrative, but it centers on Black people and the genre of Afro futurism. I think it would be phenomenal that I would preorder that before.

Derrick Fields:
I would somehow hear about it before the studio made formal announcement and be sitting at their front door just saying, “I’m ready. Just hand me the disc whenever you’re done.”

Maurice Cherry:
Now, say someone’s listening to this, they’re hearing your story and everything and they want to become a game designer themselves. What resources or things would you tell them to check out to try to start that journey?

Derrick Fields:
So we briefly talked about things like Mario Maker and the Nintendo’s, I believe it’s the garage, I don’t remember the full name of it, but resources like that, going back to PlayStation 1, there are games like RPG Maker and stuff like that. There are avenues to be able to create games and use systems that are available now. You may not be able to completely realize the version of the game that you are seeking, but I think it’s important to remember that vision, that lofty vision that we all have for the game we dream of creating is an iterative process. We have to create the small games and the other experiences to get ourselves there. And so use these platforms, use these systems.

Derrick Fields:
Dreams is another one from Media Molecule, creators of Little Big Planet, where you can now create your own assets, your own experiences using their platform. That might be one avenue. Another one is the Unity Engine that we use for Onsen Master is free. And there are a lot of resources not only on YouTube, which I affectionately call YouTube University, but Unity itself offers courses that are available for free for individuals who have no background in either programming or creating or 3D modeling, an avenue to be able to get access to those. One of the most important things that I want to acknowledge in saying all of that is the availability of resources is not equal. It’s not across the board for everybody and not everybody has the computer or the game hardware to be able to leap right into creating those things.

Derrick Fields:
I imagine that if they do, a lot of the times, they’re already exploring those possibilities already, taking to Google and figuring out which one of these might be the application or software for them. And so if pencil and paper are what is available for you, creating tabletop games and board games is game design. And I always think to myself that if it works on paper, it’s going to work digitally, but we just have to trade some of those paper systems for code and some of those cards or drawn assets for 3D models or 2D pictures and etcetera, but practice game design, creating board games between yourself and your family, creating card games.

Derrick Fields:
These are ways that still lead you to becoming a game designer because you’re creating experiences that you’re trying to elicit that from somebody else and have these sorts of fun moments with other people and design those fun moments. Use that. Use that as a platform. And so those are the things that I would say for individuals who are looking to explore game design, looking to leap into it, take one of those things and just try a little bit every day because those moments that you spend in it in doing it, that you’re just getting closer and closer to it every moment and it’s going to take time.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look at the work that you’re doing now and you look back at your career and you think back to a young Derrick who was getting into Final Fantasy IX and was really starting to learn about game design and everything, are you where you want it to be at this stage in your life?

Derrick Fields:
I am. This is like one of those things that a … Very recently, I was all sorts of emotional about it and stuff because I was talking to my mom, whom … She is my number one hero and she has helped create an environment that has allowed me to thrive creatively and watched me evolve into the person that I am now and have the hardships and the hiccups that have led through to that. When it comes to creating games and what I would like to be doing in this space with Onsen Master on the way out and seeking to fund, our next project and most recently stepping into Northwestern University, I’d say I think I hit everything on young Derrick’s checklist.

Derrick Fields:
And so the only other thing left is to make sure that everything that I’ve earned sustains and that I can extend it to another young Derrick or a young individual out there who has their own checklist brewing.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Derrick Fields:
I want to stay in education. I want to be able to continue contributing to Northwestern and hopefully help build a space that is comprehensive. Right now, I’m just one individual within the department who will be providing games education. And I would love to find ways to collaborate with other faculty and student across like interdisciplinary opportunities for faculty and students to be able to share experiences. I’ll be in like the radio, TV, film department. So there’s a lot of creativity that’s across these spaces, but the other thing is wanting to bring in other faculty or hopefully be able to advocate for bringing in other faculty to touch on other experiences and facets of game development.

Derrick Fields:
There’s music, there’s narrative, there’s so many other components to be considered and I think developing a space that feels conducive for all of those is really important to highlight for burgeoning creators or writers or musicians. As far as Waking Oni Games goes, Onsen Master is not the only title that I want to build and I want to develop a studio that can create games and create them sustainably. And when I say sustainably, I mean support every individual at their choice of part time or full time and not have to burden anybody with a decision of balancing life in a part-time job and a freelance gig on top of that.

Derrick Fields:
I hope that this game studio can be a space that somebody can, not only lean on for support, but feel as though they are contributing to the type of games that they want to see represented as well.

Maurice Cherry:
And just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and your work and your studio and your game and everything? Where can they find that online?

Derrick Fields:
So for the games, that is like waking up in the morning, wakingonigames.com. I can be found as WakingOni on Twitter and those are primarily the two main spaces that you can find us interacting between. There’s a Waking Oni Games Twitter as well. And I mentioned earlier that I stream on Twitch, sharing not only gameplay, but game development from time to time under the name Waking Oni.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Derrick Fields, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for, one, sharing the work that you’re already doing through your studio and the game that you’re creating. I just have a soft spot in my heart for indie game designers. I just think it’s so cool that you all get to do this kind of stuff. And even just the Black community around gaming is so good to see. There’s developers, there’s designers, there’s musicians, there’s artists, game artists, voiceover, etcetera. It’s just so good to see all of that, but then also to really hear about your story of getting into it and the type of games that you want to see out there in the world.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope that this interview is a way to introduce what you’re doing to our audience, so more people can discover what it is that you do and hopefully can help support your work. So thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I appreciate it.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure to be here.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

Adobe MAX Logo

Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills… all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Reese Fuller

Whether you like it or not, writing is an integral part of the design process these days, and no one knows this better than this week’s guest, Reese Fuller. As a senior writer for digital agency Work & Co, Reese works with visual designers and strategists to help “make the words sound good.”

Our conversation started off with Reese detailing how he works as a writer in a design agency, talked about his switch from STEM to writing, and cleared up some misconceptions designers may have about including writing in the design process. Reese also spoke about growing up in the DMV area, the difference for him between working in agencies vs. in-house at companies, and gives some great advice and resources for any designers looking to strengthen their writing. Don’t sleep on the written word — with examples like Reese, it’s clear that there’s more than one way to be in the design industry!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Reese Fuller:
I’m Reese Fuller, I’m a writer. I think that sort of manifested as being a brand copywriter in some instances, a verbal designer in other instances. But right now, I’m a senior writer at an agency called Work & Co.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Now, we’re in the second half of the year. By the time this interview airs will be in August, my goodness. How’s 2021 been for you so far?

Reese Fuller:
It’s been good. It’s been a lot better than 2020, I’ll say that much. But yeah, it’s been good. I think, the summer … I mean, I’m based in New York so the city now is sort of reactivating, as I’d like to say, in a lot of ways. It’s just been really good to reconnect with friends, really good to start going out again, just be outside more comfortably. I think work has been going really well, just excited to see what the future holds. Things has just been really positive. I’m trying to maintain that energy.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. And I guess along that vibrational frequency, since we’re talking about energy, do you have any plans or anything? Anything you’re manifesting for the rest of the year?

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. I mean, I’m pretty excited. I got a wedding coming up next month in September, so I’m headed-

Maurice Cherry:
You’re wedding?

Reese Fuller:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Reese Fuller:
A wedding of a friend, wedding of a friend [crosstalk 00:04:49]-

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, okay.

Reese Fuller:
… seen in a while given we’ve all been hunkered down these past several months, 18 months or so. I’m looking forward to going home and reconnect with some friends that I haven’t seen in a while.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, professionally, I think there are a few really interesting opportunities on the horizon. Some work we’ve done with past clients over the past several months manifesting into more work, which we’re all super excited about. So, you’re to get started on those projects as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, yeah, just looking forward.

Maurice Cherry:
Was it kind of a big departure? I know Work & Co. has offices in a lot of different cities. They have one in New York as well. But was it a big shift when the pandemic started, shifting from working in office to now being remote?

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, totally. I mean, I started at Work & Co. in April of 2020, just as the pandemic was sort of kicking into high gear. So, yeah, it was a really interesting experience, I’d say, getting to know people strictly through a Zoom screen, having not met most of the teams and people I’d be working with in the day-to-day in person yet. But I think, in a number of ways, it was better for me maybe as an individual and also as a writer.

Reese Fuller:
I found that in some places it can be hard to find the headspace or the quiet space to get really down into writing mode, like heads down kind of approach. So I’ve been able to work from home and just have more control over my space and my time, which really is an interesting and positive departure, I’d say. Definitely it had its challenges as well, but in a lot of ways it worked out for the better.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I think with any sort of thing like that, especially if you’ve been used to working in offices and now you start a completely new gig and it’s at the time 100% remote, there is a bit of an adjustment period to just kind of shifting into that different mind frame. Because, yeah, you have the conveniences of home, but you also have to be able to really, I think, compartmentalize the fact that you’re working from home and that you can’t do the same stuff at home that you would do if you weren’t working.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. No, totally. I started to miss the commute in a weird way, just to speak on compartmentalizing. Just like, be able to change from headspace to headspace, work life to home life. A lot of that happens, or at least happened, for me on the train going to and from the office. So, when your commute becomes walking to the kitchen table and taking a seat, it’s not too much of a transition.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So, tell me more about the work that you’re doing at Work & Co.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. Like I said, I’m a senior writer at Work & Co. I think pretty largely that means UX writing, is how I would describe it otherwise, but it feels like it’s more than that. I’ll say, organizationally, we sit as part of the design team but the role itself is super cross functional. I work with designers or strategists or even sometimes the new business team. Generally, I just say what my goal is. The simplest way to put it is that I make the word sound good or as good as they can.

Reese Fuller:
If that’s a product, for example, it’s about making the user experience however we want it to be. That could mean maybe it’s simpler, or more educational, or more inspiring, or engaging or whatever. But ultimately, just having a goal in mind or a vision for how the product feels and sounds and what it’s all about, and trying to communicate that, translate that and express that through writing and shaping a design process. That’s a part of that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, anyone that has, I think, listened to this show for, I don’t know, maybe the last two or three years has definitely heard me really sort of beat the drum as it comes to why designers need to write more or they need to start getting into writing. It’s interesting because, to that end, with this being a design podcast, we haven’t had any writers on. You’re the first writer that we’ve had on the show which, congratulations, making Black history.

Reese Fuller:
Thank you. Truly an honor every day, making Black history.

Maurice Cherry:
As I’ve done this show and I’ve gotten to talk with design managers and product managers at a bunch of different places, I’ve seen design departments now start to include writers more as part of their teams. They may call it something different than writer. They may call it content designer, UX writer, et cetera, but they’re including writing as part of the team. Can you talk to me about the importance of writing in the design process? Because you said that you make the word sound good, but what does that process really entail in the design process?

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. At Work & Co. specifically, I think I’ve had a really great opportunity to be on a few projects almost from end to end, starting in the concepting phase where we’re going broad, I would say. Just figuring out the best expressions, most interesting expressions or whatever.

Reese Fuller:
Sort of problem we’re trying to solve with the product, get it down in a detailed design where we’ve had a number of reviews with a client; or are more settled in on a more specific product vision and getting into the nitty gritty of like, what should this micro copy be? Or, what’s the best articulation of this ETA? Even down to some extent into engineering and development. We actually build and then ship the projects that we’re working on, to just sort of availing myself as a resource for any last-minute edits or thoughts from a writing perspective.

Reese Fuller:
But I think the biggest addition that a writer brings to a project, just a different perspective and a different approach. It’s like coming from other kinds of writing backgrounds. Just thinking about not just the words but the entire message and personality that is expressed through words in a project. It’s just a different approach. You hear so often that projects are often made stronger or the work made better by more diverse teams and a number of ways, whether that’s gender, race or religion. But I think discipline is another degree vector for that type of diversity as well. Just adding a writer to the mix is just a new way of looking at the work.

Reese Fuller:
Today, a lot of the conversations that I’ll have with PMs or designers might fall under the category of content strategy, others may be more brand expression but at the end of the day it’s always about just making the work as strong as it could be and do what it needs to do.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting you brought that up from a diversity standpoint because, yeah, in this case it’s diversity of discipline but also, I would imagine, it is just a diversity of perspective. I mean, if you’ve got a bunch of designers on the team, they may still all be looking at something through a specific design eye or a design lens or a design framework or something. You can come in not being, say, a visual designer and look at it in an entirely different fashion that they wouldn’t have even thought about. That input is super valuable because you don’t want to have homogenous teams that are just cranking out the same stuff without those sorts of considerations into play.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. Yeah, totally.

Maurice Cherry:
Like I say, writing gigs, like I mentioned, they have different titles or content designer, content specialists, content strategies. I think earlier you said verbal designer? You said that? I’ve never heard that one. That’s a new one to me. Do you think that it helps to have all these distinctions when it comes to that?

Reese Fuller:
I think so. I think in the same way people will sort of subdivide visual design, specialty or focus whether you’re a product designer, or a brand designer, or a motion designer. I think, although there’s a lot of overlap in those skill sets and the tools that you use and your approach to the work, you’re still approaching things from the same perspective either visual or verbal.

Reese Fuller:
On the verbal side of the writing side, we begin to make those distinctions as well, like I said, between content strategists or a UX writer, or a verbal designer even. I think those are just other ways of articulating what more specific perspective you might be approaching a project from and what skills you might bring to a conversation. It’s not to say that you can’t in a lot of moments contribute beyond that specific role or a specific title even, but it just helps to set expectations and level set on what you might be able to bring to the project.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, what does your creative process look like when it comes to starting on a project? Where do come in the mix?

Reese Fuller:
Oh, it depends. I think my approach, it’ll vary project to project. But typically, what I want to do is find the person on the project who either is the most senior or is driving the conversation and kind of grab their ear a little bit.

Reese Fuller:
I think a lot of the time, whether you’re a writer or a designer, the experience can be getting brought on to a project in the middle of things. Like, we’ve gotten feedback from a client already and we’re just solving this specific ask or, alternatively, it’s a new project kickoff. It’s a brand-new onboarding experience for everybody.

Reese Fuller:
But typically, just trying to find the person or persons who feel like they’re leading the conversation and sort of getting a sense of place in geography around what the bigger goal of the project is at present and then, after figuring that out, seeing what problems I can be able to solve with words. It can be a very tactical thing like, “We are in our third set of design feedback on this specific purchase flow, and right now the client thinks that the copy is just too long and uninspiring. So, can you make it shorter and simpler and sparkle a little bit more?” That is one approach.

Reese Fuller:
Or it could be, on the other end of that spectrum, maybe there’s a bigger organizational issue almost where the product, or brand even, does not have a distinctive voice, there’s no documented set of brand guidelines for voice and tone, and maybe using that as an opportunity to contribute as a writer and produce an artifact and object that is super useful and helpful, and it can help put guard rails around design decisions for the future.

Reese Fuller:
So, it does vary from project to project, but ultimately it just goes back to trying to solve problems by using words, whatever those problems are.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I would imagine the stuff that you’re writing, it’s a lot of different stuff. It’s copy in terms of … I mean, I don’t know. It would depend on what the type of project is, but I would say like actual paragraphs of copy or you may be doing microcopy like alerts or statuses or things like that. Is that how it generally breaks down with the type of writing that you do on a project?

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. I mean, that’s a pretty big portion of it. I think there are other opportunities as well where we can get in a little bit further upstream and, like I mentioned, be able to define the voice and tone for a brand or product and have that be a little bit more of a high-level output.

Reese Fuller:
But yeah, a lot of the time it is executions like that where it’s, here’s a moment where a user might be frustrated, a pain point. Can we insert a little bit of microcopy or a toast or notification to sort of lift their spirits and usher them in the right direction? And what is the expression of that verbally that feels right for their brand and also doesn’t take up too much time? That is in a lot of instances copy, executions like that.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s a gig that I worked at recently where I was doing some content strategy work. I was in a meeting … I forget who it was; I wasn’t at this gig very long. But I was in a meeting and I remember one of the designers … I don’t know. They just went off talking about how much they hated writing. It was because they had … I think they had started to create some copy and people were giving feedback on the copy. She just burst into this tantrum, like, “I just hate writing. Writing is not my thing. I hate writing. We really need to have someone else to do the writing so I don’t have to think about it. I’m not a writer, I’m a designer. I’m here to design. Why am I writing?” I was like, “Whoa,” especially because I was the content strategist for that particular project that she was writing about.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s interesting how … I mean, I don’t know if this is a sentiment shared by a lot of designers, but I would imagine being a design writer or being a writer on a design team like that. Those, I guess, help in terms of not giving the more visual designers or maybe the more front-end people stuff they have to worry about when it comes to, “Oh, does this sound right?”

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. No, totally. I mean, although I am a writer, there is a part of me that hates writing too. You know it is work, it is a craft. You know it is something you have to try hard to get better at. But also, a lot of the time, I hate trying to design too because I think … Maybe share somewhat of a similar experience to this designer you mentioned where it’s like you’re trying to express yourself or get something out that fulfills a purpose or solves a problem, but you just don’t necessarily have the tools or just doesn’t feel right. Like, when I’m trying to put frames together and move copy around in Figma and I’m just not learning the tool. I’m like, is this deep learning curve? That’s frustrating.

Reese Fuller:
So, definitely, I feel that sometimes too. But I think part of the beauty of, like you mentioned, this sort of shift in the makeup of design teams to include more writers is that recognition of this is balancing the expression a little bit more and making the product feel a little bit more whole and fully considered.

Reese Fuller:
I think about some of my earlier internships as advertising copywriter. I will describe it as those more traditional art director copywriter duos where there is a person who thinks and communicates and expresses themselves visually, that has a dedicated partner who is someone who thinks and communicates and expresses themselves with words, and being the dynamic that hopefully produces more balanced, better work at the end of the day because people, again, approach creativity differently.

Reese Fuller:
So, yeah, I think writing is a lot more, maybe debatably, a more democratic kind of expression. I feel like although a lot of people will say, “I’m not a writer,” everyone writes.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reese Fuller:
Well, not everybody, but most people in professional context have to write to some capacity.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, you got to write an email.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, exactly, right? Or Slack message. So, when it comes to putting words in a product that hopefully millions of people are going to use and it’d be helpful or functional for them, there’s a lot of pressure on those words to be right; let alone, presenting those words in front of a slew of clients and stakeholders.

Reese Fuller:
So, yeah, it can be frustrating in a lot of instances, but I do think having writers on the team, again, just balances that out and gives someone the opportunity to own that part of a project as well and also help shape the design process too.

Maurice Cherry:
You know, it almost sounds like writing is a form of design.

Reese Fuller:
Who would’ve thunk? Yeah. Yeah, I think of … I can’t remember the name of the researcher but there was an experiment where people would see either rounded shapes or more angular shapes and be asked by the research team, “Would you describe this shape as more of a kiki or a bouba?” More often than not, people would name the angular shape a kiki and the rounded shape a bouba because I think there is some inherent connection between processing things visually and processing things verbally that we all just begin to understand in a very similar way.

Reese Fuller:
So I do think, to bring it back to your earlier point, that they’re just two different kinds of expressions, two different kinds of design at the end of the day.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think people misunderstand when it comes to what you do, being a writer in a design process? Is there other things that people just don’t get?

Reese Fuller:
I think one of the things that I’ve had some conversations around in the past just to sort of … I think setting people straight feels like a little bit too intense of a way to describe it but it is a lot more, sometimes it can be, hopefully, than, although I did use this phrase earlier, making the word sound good, that’s part of what we do, yes, as writers on design teams. But to the spirit of thinking of writing as a kind of design, it really is, in a more holistic way, shaping a project or a piece of design through writing in a way that is bigger than just, does this sentence fit on a CTA button and looked good? Does the type laid out on this headline for your welcome email looked too much?

Reese Fuller:
I think there’s a lot of moments where … I’ve experienced several moments where the design feels like it’s already set in place and they just want a writer to come in and line edit the copy. But we can really bring, I think, a lot more to a project than that by being brought on at an earlier phase. So, yeah, I think that’s one of the bigger misconceptions.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I see writing as being super important because good writing engages all your senses. Of course, you read something, you hear it. In a way it also kind of, I don’t know if I might be stretching this in terms of taste, but you know when you’ve read something that is difficult to read or it sounds cumbersome or something like that. It just doesn’t sound right or feel right in your mouth, right?

Maurice Cherry:
But then, even good words that you use can trigger certain memories. Good words can trigger a scent memory, it can trigger a taste memory, it could trigger a touch memory or anything like that. I mean, it’s really important because there’s so many words that you can use, there’s of course slang and jargon. That factors into depending on what kind of project that you have. Writing is just such a really important part of the design process. I’m glad to see that design teams are really starting to embrace that more and keep writers in the design fold because it is a really powerful part of what it is that we do.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, totally. And I think, to your point, it’s also just shaping and communicating the personality of a product or a brand. Like, if you got a welcome email from a new retailer that you just signed up for their newsletter, the difference between, “Yo, what’s up, Maurice?” or “Hello, welcome to,” so and so “Maurice,” feels very distinct, and that’s a writing decision to make at the outset.

Reese Fuller:
So, in every moment, in every screen where there are words, that is an opportunity, potentially, to communicate something about the product that a user is using. Or, I think more functionally, with more utility, what they can get from it and how to do that. So, yeah, I think writing is really important in that process and in a lot of ways.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s switch gears here a little bit.

Reese Fuller:
Sure.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I know we’ve gotten to know a bit about your work and what you do, but I’m curious to just learn more about your origin story, essentially. You say that you are in New York right now. Are you originally from there?

Reese Fuller:
No, I’m not. I’ve been in New York for maybe eight years or so, but I’m originally from Maryland.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Reese Fuller:
I grew up in the suburbs outside of DC. Actually, I went to high school at the same high school as one of your former guest, Ari Melenciano.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. We went to school in Maryland together. There, I was really into STEM. I was really interested in physics and engineering. I interned at NASA my junior year. I was at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reese Fuller:
That was really fun. But that same year, I had a really awesome writing teacher and writing class. I just, all of a sudden, was really interested in writing as this structural craft. She broke down literally the formula, almost, of how to write a good essay. I didn’t know that writing could be so structural and formulaic in a way that I was already thinking about math and science and engineering and physics. I was like, “Oh, now I’m really interested in writing. Let’s pivot super hard.”

Reese Fuller:
So, coming out of high school, I went to school in Baltimore, Maryland, at UMBC. I had some personal life events happen that, in addition to the burgeoning interest in writing, really made me curious about why people behave, act the way they do; why they think what they think. So, I studied psychology and sociology. I did a double major, but I minored in writing and philosophy.

Reese Fuller:
While I was learning about behavior en masse, I was also doing all these extracurriculars. I was tutoring at the writing center on campus. We had a lit mag called the Bartleby, I was the fiction editor of. I was writing for this online magazine that was about fashion and music. It was like streetwear culture. So, always sort of complementing, or at least I thought, my academics into more research-oriented studies with this extracurricular creative thing on the side.

Reese Fuller:
Towards the end of undergrad, I was like, “Okay, I want to be in or around advertising in some capacity.” Maybe I’m a strategist, maybe I’m a copywriter. I’m not quite sure yet, but still really interested in why people think what they think and do what they do, like in groups.

Reese Fuller:
I found this really interesting grad program at NYU in social and consumer psychology, and that’s what brought me to New York. So, it was really research centric. We did psychology of branding, cognitive behavioral research, just very scientific. Through a lot of those classes my teachers would tell me, it seems like you really are most excited for the essays and those assignments versus the practice research.

Reese Fuller:
So, I did a couple internships, consulting and copywriting, just to start dabbling, I think, and trying to make it more professionally as a writer, so to speak. I interned at this digital first political strategy consultancy as a consultant one summer, and then the following summer switched gears to this full service creative digital agency as a copywriter. That was when things started to pick up.

Reese Fuller:
I was working on campaigns, digital campaigns and commercials. We’re doing a lot of scripts. It was just fun. I remember we did an ad for a quick service food chain where I, I don’t know, for whatever reason got super inspired and wrote almost like a rap song for their summer promo. Basically, the lyrics were like how to sign up for this promo and get a whole bunch of free burritos. It was just kind of quirky and funny and cool. I had a really good time doing it, and that’s what kind of let me know, like, okay, this is what I want to be doing, writing with a group of creative people and trying to put a visual expression around it or with it.

Reese Fuller:
After that internship, I was able to find a job on WeWork’s brand team. I was the second copywriter they hired. That was a really great experience because WeWork was just an already rapidly growing company with a whole bunch of different kinds of creatives. There were architectural designers, interior designers, product designers, illustrators. Everybody just making stuff to make these spaces and make the spaces really engaging and fun and cool to be in, so I just ran with that for a while. But then, there’s pretty big org shifts at the company and I started to feel I don’t really fit in as much as I would have liked to and wasn’t really getting as fulfilled by the work as I would have liked.

Reese Fuller:
I found an article online about this burgeoning discipline called verbal design at an agency called RGA and send a cold note to the head of verbal design there. We got to talk and I was really interested in this more strategic high-level approach to writing where, instead of writing the tagline or the script for the commercial, it’s we’re going to name the brand. We’re going to think very strategically about what this new sub brand or new product should be called and why, and build a visual brand around that. Or, we’re going to put together 50 pages of voice and tone guidelines with a really clear articulation of what you should always be trying to do when you’re writing for this brand, how to do that. Some voice principles, things you can incorporate into your writing to live up to that. I was just really interested in that approach to writing, that kind of writing. Yeah.

Reese Fuller:
And then, after that, I want to start working on more digital things. I want to start making websites and apps and chat bots. That’s what brought me to Work & Co. It feels like it’s been kind of a windy road and lots of different kinds of writing along the way, but I do, in some way, use all of my past experiences in the work that I do now, so it feels all worth it.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I mean, when you summed it all up, we can wrap this interview up. No, I’m kidding.

Reese Fuller:
All right, see you later. This has been great.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s go back because you covered a lot of ground there. We’re going to go back a little bit here.

Reese Fuller:
Sure.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like college was kind of where you first got the sense that you sort of wanted to be a writer for a living. It was interesting how you mentioned that you first were on the STEM track and then you got introduced to this writing teacher, and that showed you how writing can be very structural and that sort of way.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s very interesting because I also was on the … Well, I mean I was on the STEM track. My degree is in math but I’ve been writing, oh my god, since a little kid, maybe since four or five, all the way up to now at my big age. I wrote all through middle school, all through high school, all through college, et cetera and people always thought it was weird. It’s like, “Well, how was it that you’re studying math but then you’re also a writer. How does that make any sense?”

Maurice Cherry:
What I would tell people is that structuring a mathematical proof is very similar to structuring an essay. It’s also very similar to structuring a proposal for design services or web services. The certain aspects might be called different things, like what may be called, I don’t know, the brief inside of a proposal is the same thing as kind of setting up all of your assumptions and corollaries and such for a proof. It’s very much kind of the same thing.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting that you really sort of picked up on that structural building of writing. Because I think, probably when most folks think of writing, they think Shakespeare or, you know. They think flower prose or creative writing. I think even that has some elements of structure into it, but it sounds like you were able to really make that distinction between the structure of making something sound good and how that is very similar to a, I don’t know, maybe like an algorithm or something to that effect.

Maurice Cherry:
I also interned in NASA. Not in high school like you-

Reese Fuller:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
… genius. I interned in college. I worked at Ames Research Center for a summer, and I worked at-

Reese Fuller:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
… Marshall Space Flight Center down in Huntsville.

Reese Fuller:
Oh, wow. I feel like the more we talk, the more we realize we have so much in common.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reese Fuller:
That’s so funny. No, yeah, totally. I just felt like there was this lightbulb moment where I hadn’t been thinking of writing at all a structured kind of expression. I think that I’m hooked on phonics. You know, like in elementary school or pre K even, I don’t remember how old I was, just learn how to read and write. The basics, the grammar of it all. But even with those simple nuts and bolts, I hadn’t taken the next step of thinking about how to write at length with form and structure and some sort of, I don’t know, cohesive, sort of bodily shape to it or behind it even.

Reese Fuller:
So, yeah, when I realized that most, if not all, good pieces of writing follow similar tropes and patterns given that genre, whether it’s a novel or the different kinds of expressions of poems or even the product work that I do now, it’s like there are best practices, I would say, to use, I guess, a little bit of professional jargon. There are approaches that work. So, yeah, that was just a really big light bulb moment for me. And now, I’m just so interested in learning more of them and using them to make good work with writing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now you mentioned also you interned at these agencies. You interned at, I think the first agency you’re referring to was [inaudible 00:35:48] and then after that you were at KARATs, I believe?

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, yeah, KARAT Creative.

Maurice Cherry:
At KARAT Creative, but you also had the shift from working in these agencies to working in house, particularly once you worked at WeWork. And I would probably say, “Well, I don’t know, I guess working at Work & Co. was kind of …” Do you consider that more agency or more in-house?

Reese Fuller:
I think, I mean, we are a product design and development agency, so I think of it as an agency although it’s very different than, at least, my other agency experiences-

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Reese Fuller:
… have been.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there a big difference for you being a writer in an agency environment versus in an in-house environment?

Reese Fuller:
From my experience, yes. The biggest has been in an agency setting, being able, and encouraged to touch a much wider variety of types of businesses, types of projects. I just feel like, especially at this stage in my career, I just want to soak up as much information and experience as possible, and that’s why I feel more interested in working at an agency right now.

Reese Fuller:
I’ve worked on projects in industries like genomics or healthcare or retail or the nonprofit space. There’s such an array of exciting opportunities when you’re working at an agency. Versus when you’re in-house, you’re really dedicated to that one brand, that one set of products, that one mission. I mean, you really get to focus in, in a very specific way especially as a writer. Very deeply understand and appreciate the voice and tone behind the brand of the company that you’re working with and also mold it and shape and evolve it in a unique way too.

Reese Fuller:
But I think the biggest distinction, at least that I’ve experienced, has been choosing between breadth and depth. In my time at WeWork, I think I was there for almost two years, like I mentioned, the org shifted. The focus of the brand shifted more from small businesses and entrepreneurs to midsize businesses, and enterprise clients even.

Reese Fuller:
That was a big shift, I think, in the kinds of work that we were doing, the ways that we were articulating ourselves and the marketing materials and advertising and even the core product, the website and the coworking spaces themselves. To watch that happen from within was a really unique experience, but I also just wanted to change it up a little bit too, and I think you get that change of pace, which is great, at an agency.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, with Revision Path being the show that it is and the environment, we talk to black designers and developers and creatives and such. And so, I may never implicitly ask them what’s it like being a black blank or something like that in terms of what they do, but I’m curious for you since you are the first writer on the show. Being black in the industry, what have your experiences been like as you’ve furthered on in your career?

Reese Fuller:
I do feel blessed and highly favored. I think I’m very lucky to have a lot of positive experiences, but it certainly hasn’t been wholly positive either. I think part of what I’ve felt in various roles and moments throughout my career is this, like, Reese is here to make the word sound cool, like give it a little bit of flavor. Almost as kind of like the energy I’ve gotten in some context. Sometimes, and this is just me sort of trying to be honest about my own perceptions of those moments, sometimes that, I think, might be me interpreting that coming from people or just generally what they’re giving me, or sometimes even what the project needs. So, I think there’s that layer of like, “Are you just asking me to do this because I’m a black writer or is this really what needs to happen?”

Maurice Cherry:
Do people come to you expecting you to slang something up a bit or like, you know-

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… “Can you blacken this up a little bit?” Something like that?

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. People might say, “Oh, I don’t have the cultural permission to do this, so can you do this for me?”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. [inaudible 00:40:08] on it.

Reese Fuller:
Right. Exactly, [inaudible 00:40:10]. That has been something I felt at moments throughout my career. But I also think too, though, even other more senior black writers or other black professionals even in the design industry I’ve seen who, I think in some instances, very clearly have demonstrated a level of performance and excellence that is ridiculous. It’s like they’re just so good at what they do, they’re sort of being passed over for promotions or raises or even more junior people are making more money than them sometimes.

Reese Fuller:
I do think that there is a sort of, maybe not an under appreciation of black talent everywhere, but it’s definitely an issue that I’ve felt and also talked, I think, very freely and openly frequently about with some of my friends who also work in the industry. But even with that in mind, I think, especially after last year, it feels almost to be like a turning point or a reckoning moment where the powers that be are at least more aware of, if not eager, to create a healthier culture and dynamic for all kinds of black professionals. That is something I’m really excited for and glad to be living through, anyway.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now, say we’ve got someone that’s listening to this and they want to follow what you do or they want to maybe become a writer in the design industry. Now, this might be a lofty question but I’m curious, what advice would you tell them? Are there any particular resources or anything they should check out? Anything like that?

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. I mean, I’d say, I guess sort of related to some of the points we chatted about earlier. Like, there’s so many different kinds of writing and ways to be a writer in design and technology and make a living. I know people who just do naming, I know people who are really interested and focused on brand copywriting. They just want to do voice and tone guidelines or just want to do commercials, or just want to work in product. There are so many ways that writing becomes a part of the creative or design process.

Reese Fuller:
So, I think having as clear a vision of what sort of subdivision of writing you’re most interested in and building a portfolio around that or making connections with people who do that kind of work, seeing the kinds of projects that they work on and are excited by so you just get a better sense of what really jazz you up. Because I think that’s really like, the secret sauce is to, as often as possible, just do the things that get you the most excited even if that changes from month to month, quarter to quarter, year to year. Just follow.

Reese Fuller:
It’s going to be cliché, follow your passions. But I think that ultimately is what encourages anyone to show up more fully to a professional conversation. So, yeah, just figuring out what that looks like for you I think is the best advice I could give. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You said there are some people that just do naming and these are design writers, or there are some people that just do voice and tone work as it relates to style guides and thing like that. Okay, I’m curious for myself. I just wanted to know how do those work? I mean, I feel like that’s such a specific … I almost feel like that’s hyper specific to be a writer and only be able to focus on those small things like voice and tone or naming as opposed to what you have been doing with microcopy and things of that nature.

Reese Fuller:
I think when you’re that specialized, especially if you’re freelancing, you can command a little bit more compensation for the value that you would bring. There are examples, great examples of voice and tone guidelines. I think Adobe has a great one online I think MailChimp has online as well. There are examples online of great pieces of work like that, articles.

Reese Fuller:
There’s a brand blog. I think it’s like how to build a brand that has a series of great articles about different kinds of names, different approaches to naming, just like having your toolkit and your arsenal. But, yeah, there are ways to figure it out in a way. It doesn’t necessarily work or look the same for everybody, but just trying it out and figuring out what your own process could look like and how you might approach making something like that, if you’re interested in it, is an interesting way to go about it too. Because I think in a lot of those moments you get to make the rules, really.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reese Fuller:
It’s like you get to brief yourself sometimes because a team typically who would be asking for help with naming might not know how that process really works. So, you get to leave the conversation. Although they’ll obviously be giving you feedback, you can sort of steer them in the way that you want to go.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. You and I are going to talk more about that after this interview because that really-

Reese Fuller:
All right.

Maurice Cherry:
… that extremely piqued my interest right now, so we may have to go more into that. Given where you are in your career, who were some of the mentors and people that have really helped you out along the way?

Reese Fuller:
You know, I think of all my old managers, really. When I was at WeWork [inaudible 00:45:40] I was the second copywriter that was hired to the brand team, but the first had come from Etsy prior.

Reese Fuller:
She kind of took me under her wing, showed me so much about product writing in that moment too because we’re building new micro sites and web activations for the company at the time. But I think really just taught me not only how to show up as a writer and collaborate with different kinds of designers, but how to navigate a company of that size, like a professional setting in a way that was really authentic and special. So, I appreciate that.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah, even moving on throughout my career. A number of great thoughtful managers and team leaders even, that I think overall did a great job of being themselves in a way and having their own creative process. Inviting people to become a part of that and sharing what they knew to work for getting work approved or producing good work, like different prompts or writing techniques to generate ideas even. All of those experiences have just been helpful for me in some capacity throughout my career.

Reese Fuller:
So, yeah, literally everybody. Literally everybody. And, again, I say blessed and highly favored, because literally everybody I’ve worked with has helped me in some way. It’s just been so great to have that experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Is this where you saw your career going when you first started out as a writer? Or rather, when you first got into writing, this teacher introduced you to the mechanics of it, is this where you thought your career would end up?

Reese Fuller:
Not at all. I’ve veered off course. I’m somewhere in the middle of the woods and just eaten berries, I guess. I don’t know. Weird analogy.

Reese Fuller:
But, no. When I first had that teacher in high school who broke down how to write a good essay for me, I was like, “I’m going to go to New York and be a music journalist. I’m going to be on the tour bus with backstage writing down all these really hot takes and his experiences into a really interesting story for The FADER or SPIN Magazine.” That was the kind of approach that I had.

Reese Fuller:
But the more, I think, different kinds of writing that I started reading and the more that I started to see writing appear in advertising, or at least think more deeply about the writing that appears in advertising and marketing and on the apps that I was using, in the websites I was reading, I was like, “Oh, writing words are everywhere,” so I have so much jurisdiction. It’s such a wider playground, a magazine or a book.

Reese Fuller:
That was the turning point for me where I was just like, “Okay, if I’m interested in this medium and there are words there, let’s try and figure out how to be a part of that.” That was the journey for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there any advice about writing or about your career that is really stuck with you over the years?

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. Read your work out loud is a big one, I think. It’s a lot easier for things to sound good in your head or look good on paper, but when you read it aloud in your voice, you might hear things that you wouldn’t otherwise.

Reese Fuller:
I think another one is to not be precious or not be a perfectionist. Again, writing is such a democratic, even, type of expression that I feel like when you’re a designer, you’re trying to solve a problem, produce the “right answer.” But a lot of times there is way more than one right answer, so be really open to other ideas and suggestions from the people that you’re collaborating with. Just don’t be precious about your work and your words because it could be better and it could be different. A lot of the time it’s better, even in a collaborative setting, to invite people into that process and let their voices be heard in a medium that they’re trying to express themselves in writing as well.

Reese Fuller:
So, yeah, don’t be precious and read your work. Yeah, I think those are the top two pieces of advice I would give.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there anything that you’d like to do in your career yet that you haven’t done?

Reese Fuller:
I have been thinking a lot more recently about submitting more creative writing to periodicals, lit mags, journals. I think that’s something I’ve kind of gotten away from. When I was in undergrad I was writing for this online magazine. I’m the fiction editor of the lit mag at school, so a lot of the writing that I do now is more solution oriented, just like making a project or product as whatever it needs to be as it can be. But I do want to get more into, or more back into, I should say to just more creative writing.

Maurice Cherry:
Man, we just had a design anthology called Recognize that we started back in 2019, where basically I would give a theme and then people can write essays, basically design essays or design-focused essays around that particular theme.

Maurice Cherry:
For example, this year’s theme was reboot. People would write essays to that, 3000 words or less. We publish them, we pay them. We stopped doing it this year because, honestly, there was a woeful lack of interest among designers.

Reese Fuller:
That’s the stick [inaudible 00:51:18], I feel like. At least my experience has been, and I think it’s why I’m trying to get the pendulum to swing back the other way is thinking of writing so much so as like a tool to solve a problem. It’s kind of hard to switch gears back into I’m just going to write more creatively, write in response to this prompt, write to express an idea that I just had. So yeah, I feel that pain. But, yeah, it’s a muscle that I haven’t used in a while and want to use more of. I would imagine, a lot of other design writers might feel the same too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, we did it for three years. We had … And honestly, the pandemic also kind of killed it. I don’t want to make it seem like it was totally just lack of interest from people. But once the pandemic happened, people were really more focused on surviving, which is fair. Like, please try to live. Don’t worry about trying to get 3,000 words [inaudible 00:52:13]. Don’t worry about that.

Maurice Cherry:
I would say even to this end, probably because things are still … I don’t know, information is still changing every day around this, it’s just not something that folks are super interested in.

Maurice Cherry:
I initially wanted to do the anthology because back in 2018, I had won the Steven Heller Prize for Cultural Commentary from AIGA. It’s usually awarded to writers, and I received it as a podcaster. But it got me to thinking about just the power of writing as a designer because it’s something that I’ve always kind of proselytized to designers for years. I’m like, it makes your proposals better, it makes your case studies better, et cetera.

Maurice Cherry:
But the more that I started doing this podcast, and especially once I started really getting recognized for it, which is why we call the anthology Recognize, is that black designers writing ensures that we are in the design history too.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s very easy to go into a bookstore, to go on Amazon or something and you can go to the design section. There’s a lot of design books and very few are by people of color, let alone black people. It’s not to say that the writing that black designer should do should always be in a novel or in book form, but it could be writing on medium, it could be something where people can see your thoughts long form and get a sense of how you think and what’s your process is and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to see that because we’re the next generation, I feel, of design writers out there, and we need to cultivate that. There needs to be a way to let people know that, hey, the only writing you do doesn’t have to be an email. You can also write about a project, or a thought process or things like that. I’ve been fortunate to have a few designers on here who are pretty good writers. I don’t know if they would really consider continually doing the writing, but …

Maurice Cherry:
Most recently I had Jeffrey Henderson on, who is a footwear designer in New York, and he owns an agency called AndThem. He’s been writing on medium probably for a few years now. Just such great writing. I would read an entire book of Jeffrey’s writing because it’s about projects, it’s about his thought process. He weaves his own personal story into coming from Cleveland and everything. It’s just so good, and it’s not writing that you see from black designers, but it is ostensibly design writing.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. I mean, that’s so important. I mean, like I said earlier, so much of great work comes from passion and so much of writing becomes better when it’s grounded in intention.

Reese Fuller:
Those things overlap, right? It’s like if you have an idea that you just feel so jazzed up about, getting that out through writing is what, in my opinion, produces better writing.

Reese Fuller:
I mean, to your credit with having that won award, for me to think about writing as it extends from a novel or a poem to the writing in an ad or in a product even. I think of even podcasting as an auditory, a verbal expression, a kind of writing too. So, I don’t think that that’s too far off base. Maybe a departure from the people who’ve won the award previously, but it’s definitely all connected. It’s like that kiki and that bouba, to go back to what it’s like. These kinds of expression are all intertwined at the end of the day. So, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want your legacy to be?

Reese Fuller:
Oh, wow. Hopefully, I think … I’ll have to say, doing what I’m doing now but on a bigger level, continuing to work on projects that I’m passionate about.

Reese Fuller:
I think one of the things I’ve been able to do more recently through Work & Co. actually is begin to work with a number of clients who are in the nonprofit space. We have the Work & Co. Fund, which is this allotment of a million dollars’ worth of work essentially invested in nonprofits that advance the Black community. It’s really the agency working to leverage this ability, that the agency has to build and design and develop and ship these digital products to enact positive social change.

Reese Fuller:
Those are the projects that I’ve worked on more recently that feel the most fulfilling and rewarding to me. I’m trying to think more about how I can do more stuff like that not only through Work & Co. but extracurricularly as well. I think in five years, hopefully, I’ll have more of my day-to-day time devoted to projects that fall in line with that.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Reese Fuller:
I’m on LinkedIn. Just Reese Fuller. It’s Reese, like the peanut butter filled chocolate cups; Fuller, F-U-L-L-E-R. I’m also on Instagram, which is @reesefuller with an underscore at the end, but I don’t really post all that much there. But, yeah, I try to keep a pretty quaint, minimal digital presence, but I am very responsive. If you shoot me a message on LinkedIn or Instagram, I’ll definitely hit you back.

Maurice Cherry:
A writer that’s not on Twitter? Wow.

Reese Fuller:
Yeah. I have Twitter back in the day. We could talk about Twitter. I had a Twitter back in the day. I still will lurk on Twitter every so often. I still get my [inaudible 00:58:01] my info but, yeah, just trying to be a little bit more intentional and conscious, minimalize the web presence a little bit. I think only so much output to give and trying to focus it in different places.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good strategy to have, yeah. Wow, Reese Fuller, thank you so much for coming on the show, for being Revision Path’s first writer on the show.

Maurice Cherry:
I think a lot of what you said about your process and how you work on projects at Work & Co. I think is super important for designers and even developers and other creatives that are listening to hear, to kind of get a sense of what it’s like to be on … I almost want to say, the other side of the process. You know, there’s left brain, right brain, and writing seems to be different from maybe more visual type of work.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s also good to note that it’s clear that you’ve put a lot of thought into the work that you’re doing. I really get the sense you have a strong work ethic, and even just a strong ethical core as it relates to the type of work that you do. I’m glad that you’re able to just share that with us so other people who may be interested in becoming writers can do that as well. So, thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Reese Fuller:
No, thank you for having me, Maurice. You know, I’ve listened to this podcast for so long when I was getting ready and interested in getting into the industry. I listen to you and your guests chat about their experience. It taught me so much as well. So, yeah, it feels amazing to have that all come full circle and hopefully give some of that back to folks today. So, yeah, thank you for having me on. It’s really been an honor, and I’ve enjoyed it.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

Adobe MAX Logo

Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills… all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Cedric Wilson

Sometimes you cross paths with people, and you never know if or how you will reconnect in the future. I have wanted to have a sound designer on the podcast for years, and through a series of conversations, now I have one — one that I’ve worked with in the past!

Meet Cedric Wilson, lead producer at Lantigua Williams & Co. We talk about some of Cedric’s most well-known audio projects, and he shared how he got into music theory in high school, which evolved into studying sound design and becoming a producer. Cedric also gives some basics on sound design, and shares why it’s such an important part of the world now. There are a lot of avenues for getting into sound design, and I’m glad Cedric is here to help introduce some of them to the Revision Path audience!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Cedric Wilson:
Hi, I’m Cedric Wilson. I am the lead producer at Lantigua Williams & Co. What I mainly do is sound design.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going for you so far?

Cedric Wilson:
Lot of iPhone recordings. It’s been good. It’s been interesting. My current position actually was remote, and I started like a month right before the pandemic started. It’s been a wild ride for sure but a good year. Good year.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I’m curious, how has it been working in audio since the pandemic started? You mentioned those iPhone recordings, but has it changed in any other ways?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say that a lot of the projects that we work on definitely have sort of expanded in geography. A lot of the projects we work on would be, “Okay everyone, come to the studio,” or, “Hey everyone, come to this one spot where we’re going to record.” Now, because everything has to be remote anyway, it’s given us a great opportunity to be like, “All right, let’s just record this person in LA,” that we wouldn’t have access to beforehand. So a lot more just open. Yeah. Open, I’ll say open.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I would imagine when you’re recording you’re doing all this digitally. I know for some shows, for some podcasts that I’ve talked to for example, some producers, it actually has been pretty easy to kind switch to a more mobile type of a platform in terms of recording and stuff and not having to be in a physical studio. They say it’s been a lot easier because you can record over Zoom, or you can do like you mentioned, record on an iPhone or something like that. Have you found that to be the case?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah. I was really nervous at first, because a lot of the stuff we were doing in person I’d be running around, putting microphones in people’s faces. I think the biggest thing I was worried about was that people can understand, “Oh, I’m going to take a selfie video,” and understand, “Okay, I have to be in the frame, and I have to have good lighting.” But I don’t think we have, culturally, that sort of same education around sound, so I was very, very nervous being like, “All right.” So for the remote recordings, the power is in your hands completely, so like, “Ahh!”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s definitely turned around. At first, it was a bit bumpy, but it’s worked out. Quite honestly, when all of this is eventually said and done, I think a lot of it’s going to stick.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I can see that being the case. Earlier this year, I actually recorded two podcasts, I produced two podcasts, and we did it… I mean, it was completely remote, but the main producer we worked in was in Los Angeles. I was in Atlanta, and then the host of the show was in Berlin. So we were working across like a huge timezone, and the majority of the guests were in Europe, so we were working across these timezones to try to get things working. There’s no way that would’ve been able to work if we had to do it in person. You know what I mean, it would’ve been impossible.

Cedric Wilson:
Lot of transatlantic flights on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it’s been great. Like I said, I was really nervous about it at first and was trying to build a system of like, “All right, let’s have this recording. Let’s have this backup so just in case something happens, we have this.” We still had weird things happen throughout the course of all of our productions, but it’s worked out, which is great. I guess it’s the staying power of audio.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Flexible.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about sort what a typical day has been for you recently. You mentioned being at Lantigua Williams & Co. What’s a regular day for Cedric?

Cedric Wilson:
So I started that right at the beginning of the pandemic, January of 2020. And it varies, some days are pretty mix heavy, where I’m still leading all the technical, audio engineer-y type of things on certain projects. Let’s see, sometimes I do just more listening and note-giving on a technical and production level for other projects. Way more emails than what I was doing when I was a freelancer. That was definitely an adjustment.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Sort of like a lot of systems building, figuring out what tech needs we have as the year goes along and as things change. Moral support for producers on their projects, sort of workshopping and figuring out what sort of techniques they should be using or can use when they’re putting the pie together. So yeah, I would say about 50% of my day is hardcore in the Pro Tools sessions, making things sound good, and then the other 50% is just working with producers and other engineers and sound designers to make sure they have what they need to get their shows made.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is a big misconception around production like that, that you think most people just don’t know?

Cedric Wilson:
Mainly that it’s low-lift or easy. I always make the joke that making media and audio is not rocket science, but there is a certain skillset that you have to have, or should have, and I know it gets a little bit tricky because some of the tools can sort of be a barrier to creating the things we want to create, working with the people you want to with, but work goes into this kind of stuff. I usually say that as much time as people use and need in the video world probably is a comparable amount of time in the audio world too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s a good thing for people to note, sort of going back to that show, those two shows that I mentioned earlier. We would record maybe for about an hour or so, like for each episode, but then there’s so much time behind the scenes of listening back through it and editing and everything like that. Even then, the final result ended up being maybe like 10 or 15 minutes long.

Cedric Wilson:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
That can happen sometimes. It’s not as simple as just sitting down, pressing record, and then that goes right out. Hopefully, there’s something, some level of finesse that you do to the audio.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
One of the big projects that you’ve done over the past year is this audio series called Driving the Green Book. Can you talk to me about that?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, so that was one of the first big projects that I got involved with as soon as I started the job. So yeah, I would go in and record our host, Alvin Hall, at Macmillan Studios. At Macmillan, like the publishing, and they had a little studio for us to record in. He and Juleyka did all the editing for all this tape that they gathered in the field, and so then it just all got to me. Parsed it all out, made the edits they wanted, and just put it all together, just a lot of cutting in Pro Tools and picking out the music. I wrote some original music for that one too, so that was definitely like a big project to start off with, but I’m really proud with how that one came out.

Maurice Cherry:
When did that come out? That was some time last year, right?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it started publishing August, September.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
So it’s almost a year old now.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so it ran… Now that I’m thinking about what was going on at the time of year, it sort of ran concurrently with Lovecraft Country, that debuted on HBO.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh you know what, yeah I think so.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m guessing that wasn’t on purpose.

Cedric Wilson:
No. No. Oh man, it was just funny, I didn’t watch the full season. I did watch the first few episodes. It wasn’t for me. Yeah, that’s kind of… They were going on around the same time. Geez. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, if you’ve seen it or any of the listeners have seen it, it’s on HBO Max, go check it out. They did get a second season, so you can watch the whole thing. There’s an element of it that sort of deals with… I think it sort of deals either with the actual Green Book or a Green-Book-like publication that one of the main characters is writing, and that sort of ends up being sort of the vehicle that moves the plot along, at least in the early part of the season.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, now I’m thinking back on it, I remember one of the first conflicts that they got into was because they were out on the road super late in a sundown town, and I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s why the Green Book existed.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting, I mean, there’s sort of the case now where you’ll have these shows come out and then they also have a companion audio podcast or something that goes along with it. I think that’s both a blessing and a curse, in a way. I think it’s a blessing because sometimes, especially for more shall we say niche kind of shows, i.e. not for white people, but like more niche kind of shows. That sort of extra explanation that would come through a podcast can be helpful to understand the source material. But then I also feel like it’s too much. It’s too much. Let folks watch the show and gain their opinions about the show from the show. Like does the show need to also have a corresponding podcast and a syllabus and, “Oh yeah, read this before the next episode.” Then it becomes homework.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It feels like there’s a fine line to draw.

Cedric Wilson:
I think for TV, I feel similarly, where I just kind of like want to watch it and not critically think about it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Sometimes, depending on what the show is. But then I think I love sitting down and watching mix breakdowns. A lot of my music production is hip-hop-based, and it’s sort of frowned upon, but when people break down the samples that people use and how they flip them.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It’s a little bit like sample snitching. It’s just something you don’t really do, but I enjoy it because I’m like, “Oh, cool, I would’ve never thought to break up a sample like that in that way.” So yeah, I’m kind of half-and-half on them.

Maurice Cherry:
Sample snitching. I’ve never heard of that, but as you’ve articulated it, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve started seeing some videos on TikTok where people do that.

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Like they’ll have a song, then they’ll sort of break it down and show how the sample ended up becoming a part of this more popular song.

Cedric Wilson:
What was it, it was a Rihanna song… I can’t remember the song, but they broke down the… And I was like, “Oh my God, who would’ve thought of that? I would’ve never thought of that. That’s so cool.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Like just watch someone’s train of thought when they’re making music. I think it’s just so interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean, I think you have to be listening to something almost in like a multidimensional sort of way to be able to pick and isolate that part and think, “Well, what if I change the tempo, or I change the pitch in how I could possibly use it in something else.” But a lot of older music, particularly from the ’80s and before, is ripe for sampling, which of course is what a lot of people end up using it for. There’s this, I don’t know if it’s a fairly new genre, but I certainly discovered it fairly recently, but there’s this genre called future funk that is basically just re-sampled music from like the ’70s and ’80s, but they’ve maybe changed the tempo or sped it up or they added a beat to it or something like that. It’s interesting, because it has that nostalgic sound, but it’s clearly been transformed into something completely new.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I love it. I mean, I think the art of sampling is just top-tier, honestly. Just even thinking about how it started, like with scratching and someone just accidentally did that, and people were like, “Oh wait, but what if you do this instead? What if you take that recording and make new music with it?” And it’s just an infinite amount of possibilities, I think it’s so cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Speaking of taking older stuff and kind of breathing new life into it, there’s a project that you did a few years ago called The Weeksville Project. You and I actually had first… Well, we “met,” I’m using air quotes here. We “met” through one of that shows producers, TK Dutes, who is a brilliant audio producer in New York City. She and I worked together at Glitch for a good little while. How did you-

Cedric Wilson:
Keisha.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, how did you get involved with The Weeksville Project?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, well, let’s see at that point I was already doing some stuff in the podcast space and actually already had met Keisha through, I’ll call my music mentor, Willie Green, Paul “Willie Green” Womack. And we met at the Audio Engineering Society Convention. I think it was 2015. I think, it was a while ago. So I met her through all the music stuff, and then once I started doing more podcasts and radio things, I was like, “Oh wait, TK does this stuff, let’s talk.” So she’s definitely been a mentor in that space for me. She knew that I was really interested in sort of expanding the work that I was doing and wanting to do more podcasts, radio things. She’s like, “Hey, you want to sound design this project for us,” and I was like, “Sure, why not? This sounds dope.”

Maurice Cherry:
And now that was also… I mean not like Driving the Green Book, but it was sort of a similar project that’s kind of talking about history, right? Like talking about the Weeks… I forget the name of the neighborhood, but it’s like right around, or what the old neighborhood of Brooklyn used to be. Is that what it is?

Cedric Wilson:
Right. So it used to… Oh man, I can’t remember the location where it exists now. But yeah, it was the first free black community in New York, and it existed in Brooklyn. Yeah, it was like a fictionalized version, so the writer’s elements are from history. Historical fiction, oh my God, that’s what it’s called. And I actually never connected the two like that, but yeah, they both did have that historical element to it. That was kind of fun, too, because a lot of picking the music for it we’re like, “All right, what would exist during this time? What would a car sound like at this time?” But then also it wasn’t the type of project where it was like, “Oh, we’re in the past.” We wanted it to sound like it was actually happening, and it’s happening around you.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
So yeah, that was a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to say that show came out right around the time there was another show. Bronzeville, that’s the name of it. There was a podcast called Bronzeville, and I think it was based off of fictionalized… Not a fictionalized, it was a fiction-based podcast, but it was based around, I think, a neighborhood in Chicago, if I’m not mistaken.

Cedric Wilson:
I’ll have to check that out. I had not heard of it.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s called Bronzeville, and it was all celebrity actors, Larenz Tate, Tika Sumpter was in it, Laurence Fishburne. Pretty good show, I think they only had two seasons, and then they kind of faded away. But I like those kind of period piece sort of shows, because I always love how they do the sound design, especially when they sort of switch to the radio and it has that old-timey radio voice that I love how with audio you can make subtle tweaks like that, and it kind of takes you… It mentally takes you back to a certain time like that.

Cedric Wilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Now, right now you’re the lead producer, as you mentioned earlier, at Lantigua Williams & Co. But prior to that, how do you end up working on projects? Is it mostly like a word-of-mouth kind of thing?

Cedric Wilson:
Towards the end of me freelancing it was, but at first, it was just a lot of trying to figure out who needed things to get mixed and could I mix them.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
At the time, so really what started it was working on The Nod. I was freelancing for Gimlet. I actually found out about that job through Twitter. I’m only laughing because I was supposed to be working at the time that I saw this tweet, but I was at my old campus job. They had a media production company, and I was like helping out with lectures and guest speakers, and I was like, “Oh great, no one recorded this correctly, now I have to fix this audio,” so that was the job that I had over the summer. I didn’t have a lot of hours, and I kind of was like, “I need to be making more money.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I just happened to stumble upon, it was James T. Green’s tweet, and it was like “Hey, we’re looking for an engineer for this project for a podcast. Bonus points for any person that’s black and queer, this and that.” I was like, “All right, I fill a couple of those boxes, let me see. I’m an engineer. I’m black, let’s go.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
So I applied, or emailed. I emailed him and then was in touch with Gimlet’s head engineer to do a mix test, and it was very funny. I started the mix test for what would become The Nod, and then I was on a trip back… So I was taking a trip, and we were listening to For Colored Nerds. My partner was For Colored Nerds, and I was like, “Oh wait, I know these people, how do you know these people?” He was like, “Oh well, I listen to this podcast, I’m a big fan.” I was like, “Oh.” I couldn’t say, “Oh, that mix test that I’ve been talking about, this is actually their thing, so don’t tell anybody.” But that was really cool.

Cedric Wilson:
And yeah, I think once after doing that show for two-and-a-half years, then I just started to meet people and gigs would… Not like role in, like I wasn’t turning people away. I was still pretty new to the industry, but that’s when I got to meet really great people and got to work on other really cool projects, like that’s how I met CC Paschal and I did a project with them in Endeavor, and Mass Appeal. Let’s see, I’m trying to think of what other… There was a lot of just small things I did for Gimlet while I was still freelancing for them. And yeah, it just was a lot of just getting out there and meeting people, different On Air Fests, podcast meets, people’s houses. Yeah, it just was a lot of just doing really good work and figuring out where the people were to be like, “Hey, do you need me to mix something?”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. As you go from project to project in that way, do you find that they tend to be wholly different as you go to each one?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say so. I think people’s techniques sort of vary and sort of like where the engineer or sound designer or composer would sort of fit into the equation. So for a lot of projects, I was like the last person to touch the things, like the last line of defense to a really great sounding show. There were also certain instances of Nod or Weeksville where I was super involved a lot sooner, so that way I had a really good idea of what needed to be done and what direction I wanted to go into as the thing was being put together. So it was not, I don’t want to say projects that have the engineer come in at the end as an afterthought, but it is definitely a much different experience to be involved mid-production as opposed to like at the end.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to kind of switch gears here a little bit. We talked about, now, the work that you’re doing, but I’m curious to kind of learn about sort of like your origin story, like how you first got into all of this now. So you’re originally from New York City, right?

Cedric Wilson:
No, I’m from Long Island, so close enough.

Maurice Cherry:
Is Long Island not?

Cedric Wilson:
I wouldn’t.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, look. Okay, I’m from the south. I’m from Alabama, so forgive my geography faux pas, because I was just fixing to be like, “Is Long Island not New York?” But that’s Staten Island, my bad. Sorry.

Cedric Wilson:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
Sorry, don’t kill me New York folks, don’t kill me.

Cedric Wilson:
Queens and Brooklyn do exist on the tip of the other end of Long Island, but it’s different and I grew up in Long Island proper. I do not ever claim that I was born in or grew up in the city. I just want to put that.

Maurice Cherry:
Got you, got you. My bad. Sorry, sorry. So you grew up in Long Island?

Cedric Wilson:
Grew up on Long Island.

Maurice Cherry:
Grew up on Long Island.

Cedric Wilson:
Based here in New York, and what really got me into the sound stuff was music. I’m a saxophonist.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
It was my first instrument. I started in fourth grade and stuck with it all the way up until college.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
And started learning music production through music theory in high school, so that was a new program that the school was piloting. Based on the zip code I was in, I had got afforded a really good education, and a really good music education with really great music educators, which I know is not the norm. Looking back at all that stuff now, it’s like something that I’m immensely lucky to have experienced and grateful for.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But yeah, so like when they were piloting music theory in my high school, my teacher, Ed Schaefer shout-out, taught it through composition. That’s when I started learning how to use a DAW and this is how a microphone gets plugged in and all that stuff, so like we were producing music but then learning the terms of the music as we were making it. That’s probably what definitely got me started into all this. So I did that a lot of times in the lab after school, it was great. It was like my second home.

Cedric Wilson:
And then that led to me going to Fredonia for their Sound Recording Technology program. It’s actually kind of funny, I was going to do music education for a very long time. I made the decision, I think it was senior year. Yeah, like before I stared applying, I was like, “You know what, actually I think I just want to do music production.” Not that I don’t like teaching. I love to teach, and it’s something that I still do. But I was like, “You know what, I want to make some music.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
So Fredonia was the school that I ended up going to for undergrad, and it was on the list because my high school teacher went there and was like, “Hey, you should go. They have a really great program for education.” And then when I swapped, it stayed on the list, because they had really good sound recording program, which actually I didn’t get in at first. Their program was like a music/science recording hybrid. You had to get into school academically, which was fine. You also had to get into the music program, and my audition was okay. I was a good musician in high school, but it’s like when you leave… Big fish, small pond kind of thing. You leave the pond, you’re like, “Oh wow, these people are GOOD good.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I remember, so the first day… Oh, I went to still try to get into an ensemble, because I was like, “All right, I’m not going to be able to start the sound recording program or the music program, I’ll try again in the spring, but I still want to play in an ensemble.” So I went through that process, and it was also a mess because I didn’t realize that you had to get material weeks ahead. That’s neither here nor there, that audition was terrible. But the saxophone professor knew who I was, and apparently a seat opened up in the studio on the very first day. So I get this email from him, he’s like, “Hey, so I remember you from the blah, blah, blah. Here’s the thing. We had a seat open up, do you still want to do the sound recording thing?” Because I learned later that I got into the sound recording program fine, it was that my music audition wasn’t good enough to get in.

Cedric Wilson:
I was like, “Oh, well, yes.” He’s like, “Go email this person and run around and do all these things and figure it out, because I’m not going to help you do that.” I was like, “That’s fine.” So yeah, it was a hectic first day of class.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like it.

Cedric Wilson:
Ten hours away from home. But yeah, so I did that for four years. It was a really cool program. Got to work on musicianship skills and learned how to record, mix and edit, all that kind of stuff. And then I left spring of 2015.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
Went back home and was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” At that point, I already had met my music mentor and was coming in and assisting on sessions, just watching him work, but it just was hard. It was just going back-and-forth from his place in Brooklyn to my place in Long Island. And then I was like, “Well, I kind of want to get down to the city. How am I going to do it?” I still don’t know if this was the right choice, but I was like, “All right, I guess it’s time for grad school.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I decided, I was like, “Well, I could go continue and do more of what I’ve been doing in music,” and I was like, “Nah.” Not that I was like, “Oh, I’m great at what I do. I’m the best,” but I just was like, “I kind of want to learn a couple of different other applications for sound or get into something new.” So then I stumbled on the New School’s Media Studies program. It was like, “Cool, I can work on sound, and they have like a really cool film program.” I was really interested, at the time, in making documentary stuff.

Cedric Wilson:
So I started that program, and I remember there was a media design course where they walked you through all the different things that you could do in the program, so it was like video, sound, graphic design, all of that kind of stuff. It was like a sample course, and at the end of the semester, we had to make an EPK for an artist. We had the artist in, and all the video people are hovering over a camera talking about apertures and lighting and this, that and the third. I’m sitting here like, “Oh man, no.” I was like, “But I can put that microphone in the right spot and make sure that this guy’s going to sound real crispy.” At that point, I was like, “Oh, there’s so many other things I could do with sound instead.”

Cedric Wilson:
So for a long time, it was a lot of video work, helping on friends’ films, doing stuff like that for the school, and just took more classes in that vein instead of doing video stuff, and that’s how I started really learning about, “Okay, this is what sound design is, and this is what sound designers do. This is how music gets incorporated into things like this.” I took a very beginner radio course, too, and learned a bit about that world specifically. But yeah, so it was a lot of just being like, “Look, I need to work, and I want to get out of my house.” So I had to figure it out, what other things are people doing in sound, and it worked out I guess. But you know, that’s how I got to here.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it sounds like you just sort of had this momentum that just kept going, and you just kept along with it. I mean, that’s what I’m sort of getting from your story here is that it was sort of one thing. You went to SUNY Fredonia, and then you… Did you have some audio jobs between there and going to grad school?

Cedric Wilson:
Just with my mentor. I would come home from breaks, or be home for the summer, and just help out with either sessions, like recording sessions, or building mix sessions for him, watching him work. That was really the main thing. I got really plugged into the indie, pop scene down in Brooklyn for a while. I mean, just doing music has sort of always been the connective tissue between everything that I’ve done. Yeah, it actually wasn’t all audio either. I mean, in that six to nine months that I was home, I was also working at Forever 21 for a little bit.

Cedric Wilson:
And then I got an internship through a friend of mine from the same Fredonia program that was a manager at a post house in Manhattan, Big Yellow Duck. Interned there for a while, and then it eventually turned into a job that I started… It turned into a job that eventually conflicted with school, so I ended up… That post house was the first place I was like, “Okay, this is what sound designers do.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
They were doing a lot of stuff for animated projects, and I was like, “Okay.” When I was doing that job, it was like a lot of studio management, but then it was like, “Hey, we’re working on this show, can you put all the footsteps in for this cartoon?” So yeah, someone has to like-

Maurice Cherry:
So kind of like some Foley work, too, it sounds like.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, a lot of Foley work. It was really cool. One of the shows that, while I was there, they were working on was Doc McStuffins, so the lead engineer over there would just have a three, four, five crates of toys to add the sounds in. It was really cool to watch him work. It was dope.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice. Why is sound design important? And I’m asking this because I’m assuming that we have, for people that are listening to this show, a large amount of visual designers, probably coders or technologists, et cetera. Why is sound design an important thing to know?

Cedric Wilson:
It’s important because when the sound is off, you know it. You might not know why, or you might even watch something and be like, “Wow, something’s off,” and might not even realize that it is the sound. But it just carries the whole… I don’t want to say carries everything. That’s a little grandiose. But if you have this amazing film, and it’s shot so beautifully and the actors are doing their thing and everything’s great, but it sounds like garbage, you’re going to know. You’re going to be like, “Oh wow, something was not great about that.” And I think that permeates so much of what we interact with, be it like film, video games, YouTube videos, all kinds of stuff. It’s literally everywhere.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I tell people that will tell me or they’ll tell other people how they’re not creative, for example, or they don’t have any sort of design language or whatever. I tell folks that everything that we’ve been using since birth has passed through some lens of design, and so because of that we may have intrinsic knowledge about what good design and bad design is. We may not always be able to articulate it, and I feel like sound design kind of fills that gap a little bit, because we tend to associate sounds with memories, sounds with objects, sounds with other types of things, so being able to design something with sound to elicit that response. I feel like that’s a powerful bit of sorcery to be able to do something like that.

Cedric Wilson:
It is. I’m only laughing because you said the word sorcery. I get called a magician all the time. But yeah, I mean doing a little bit of like even studying sound art or just those certain projects that just hit you. You’re just like, “Wow.” Sound is a really powerful medium, almost taps into a base part of the human brain, or something, to me. It’s just like when something gives you goosebumps, but you don’t know why, it’s because it just is.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It’s so cool. It’s really cool.

Maurice Cherry:
What specifically do you enjoy about sound design? Like I know you’re kind of working as a producer now, but you still do sound design on the side.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I would say I like the challenge of sort of figuring out how to really immerse someone in something. Because sometimes it’s like not apparent or easy to figure that out, and it can be a real challenge to be like, “Wait, something is off, but what is it?” I remember for The Nod, they did an episode for a homegoing for Madea, so we made it sound like it was in a church the whole time. I mixed it, and we did a first pass, and I was like, “There’s something off, and I can’t figure it out.” People were like, “Yeah, everyone kind of sounds almost empty or they’re speaking ghost-ish.” I put all this reverb and things like that to make it sound like they’re in this big church space, but something was just off.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
And so I finally sat down with the head engineer, I’m like, “I don’t know, I can’t figure this one out.” And so we’re going back-and-forth, and he just… We had like this church room tone recording just playing underneath the whole thing, and he turns it up, like way up. And I was like, “Oh, that’s it.” That’s it, it just needed more of that room tone recording.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It was just like, “Oh yeah, duh.” I don’t make that mistake anymore, but I couldn’t figure it out at first, I was like, “Oh.” So I like that, I like that sort of like, “Here’s this weird thing we’re going to do,” or, “Here’s just this thing we’re going to do, how do we best convey it in sound?” Just the challenge of figuring that kind of stuff out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I was thinking of a show… What’s a show that I heard recently that had really good sound design? Two shows, actually, one is a bit of a shameless plug, because I… I didn’t help work on it, but I did greenlight the idea initially when we worked at Glitch, but there was this speculative fiction podcast called Open World that has really great, phenomenal sound design. And there’s another show, it’s actually a historical kind of a documentary series, but it’s called In Vogue, like the magazine, I-N-V-O-G-U-E, the 1990s. It’s talking about basically fashion in the ’90s and all that sort of stuff. They get the ’90s so right. I would imagine it’s because they have access to the licenses for music and stuff, but they’ve got the music down and the sounds, and it’s so immersive.

Maurice Cherry:
And also, I think part of it, when we talk about sound design, we talk about the created sound, but the other part of it is the authenticity of the host. So like, for this particular podcast, they have this sort of like haggard British guy named Hamish Bowles, who’s a well-known fashion stylist. And so his sort of kind of posh British accent kind of lends credence to that time. It all sort of flows together very well. I have to actually give it to a lot of limited edition… Not limited edition, but limited series podcasts. They do such a great job with sound design.

Cedric Wilson:
They really do.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s some others. There’s Anime in America from Crunchyroll, did a great job with it. There’s a series on Freaknik that did a really great job with sound design and just like encapsulating that time period or that moment with sound. That’s a really sort of powerful thing, because sound is… We talk about, or I’ve heard the notion about how things can’t be created or destroyed, but sound is literally something that we can make ourselves, and to be able to manipulate that sound and use that sound to bring about memories or immerse someone in a particular time period. I don’t know, it’s really powerful. That sort of is what interests me about sound design, is how you’re able to kind of do that sort of stuff.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it’s great. If I had to guess why I love it so much, I could’ve just stayed in music, but I think there’s just something about just getting the right waves to come out of the right speaker at the right time that just does something. I don’t know, it’s just endlessly fascinating and cool to work with.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m curious were you in marching band in high school?

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
I hated marching band.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Why did you hate it?

Cedric Wilson:
I was the type of music kid to like… I wanted to be in the ensemble room, air-conditioned.

Maurice Cherry:
Ah, okay.

Cedric Wilson:
Making music that way. I had a lot of fun in marching band, don’t get me wrong. I just never really… It just wasn’t for me.

Maurice Cherry:
I was bringing up marching band largely because of talking about sort of timing and everything. Like I was in marching band in high school too, and I played trombone. I had the opportunity through my… And I have to give it to my band director in high school, shout-out to Mr. McDonald, who like really introduced me to a lot of ’70s music that I didn’t know about, that I might’ve heard, like I might’ve heard my parents playing it or something like that, or heard my grandmother playing it or something.

Maurice Cherry:
But once I joined the marching band, he was a big Earth, Wind and Fire fan. And so I got immersed, really, in like a lot of their discography, because we would arrange that music and end up playing it on the field. That’s sort of how I sort of taught myself piano, at least I know my way around a piano. I’m not a virtuoso by any means, but I know my way around a piano to listen to something and arrange it for different instruments. I learned that in marching band, that we take that out and take it onto the field.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, would they always be perfect, one-to-one, note-for-note transpositions? Not in the slightest, especially when we tried to remix popular music. God. If I never hear Montell Jordan’s This is How We Do It ever again in life, I will be perfectly fine, because we played that song to death in marching band. It wasn’t even a great transposition either, or a great arrangement I should say. But then we’d get some of those… And I think the reason that we used Earth, Wind and Fire was because they had their band kind of mapped over to what you would have in a marching band. It has a strong brass section, and you could take the vocals and use that with woodwinds, or something like that, so it made sense in that way.

Cedric Wilson:
I loved Earth, Wind and Fire. Oh my God. I remember, my dad… When I was young, I was big on taking the CDs and getting them on the computer or the iPod and burning them. I’d be like, “All right, I have to burn them. I have to burn them with these settings and this is the best.” And I remember it was like this huge three-CD collection of all of Earth, Wind and Fire.

Maurice Cherry:
I had that. It was like this tall, brown like with Egyptian.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I got that for my 16th birthday. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh, man. So I used to listen to that all the time. Oh, man. Whew. Yeah no, that kind of stuff, my dad loves Earth, Wind and Fire. He was like the Motown, that kind of stuff, the funk, the soul, R&B. And then my mom was like the Anita Baker, Rachelle Ferrell, India Arie person.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Actually, no, it’s funny. They definitely instilled a love of music, and I remember it was… I actually don’t remember which song it was, but it was off India Arie’s, I think, second… One of hers, the second album?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I don’t remember, but I remember like that deciding to be like, “Oh, okay, I think I want to make music with my life.” In making that decision, I remember she was just playing one of her CDs in the car, and I was listening to one of the songs and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to make some music.”

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh yeah, it was always stuff playing in the house. Not on Sundays, when it was time to clean, it was always music playing in the house.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so funny. This was years ago, but I had her graphic designer on the show, India Arie’s graphic designer.

Cedric Wilson:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
Denise Francis. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
That’s dope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The one that I remember distinctly that we would play from Earth, Wind and Fire is Star, because it had a solo at the beginning, and it would be a trombone solo that I would write in for myself, naturally. But it would have a solo in the beginning, and then like once it broke out into the verse, it was very easy for marching, because it was like, “Dun dun, dun dun, dun dun dun-dun-dun!”

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so we would play like a mix… I’ll say it like this, on the field, we would play a mix of like oldies and then stuff that’s on the radio. So like we would play My Boo, this is ’96, I’m old. We would play that on the field and get people hype, but then like when you were in stands and you were in your sections, your sections could do whatever you wanted to, as long as you were the section leader. And so I was the section leader for the trombones, and my nerdy, video game-playing ass had taught my section how to play the winning battle fanfare from Final Fantasy.

Maurice Cherry:
So when the team would score a touchdown, you’d hear, “Bum-bum-bum-bum, bum bum, bum-bum-bum! Dun dun dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun!” And people thought it was just like some John Philip Sousa, all-American kind of fanfare thing. I’m like, “No, no.” Listen, because I played Final Fantasy Two to death, Final Fantasy Four in Japan, but I recorded that and then I had a keyboard at home, and I would translate… Yeah, that’s what I would do. I would do dirty shit like that. I can’t imagine songs now, like modern songs, being done… I mean, not to say that it’s not done, because marching bands do it, but I don’t know if today’s music lends to that level of instrumentality.

Cedric Wilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
I think the latest song that I heard that actually think would do really good in a marching band is Silk Sonic’s Leave the Door Open.

Cedric Wilson:
Actually, Anderson .Paak is where my mind first went.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Just generally, but yeah, ooh that’s a good… What are the kids playing in marching band these days? That’s a good question.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know, because I can’t imagine any of this mumble rap stuff going over well on the field. “Nana, nana, nanananananana.” I can’t, I don’t know what that would sound like, probably would sound like a swarm of bees or something. I don’t know.

Cedric Wilson:
Some of that stuff hits, I’m sure the drummers really enjoy that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s honestly probably the stuff that has old school samples in it.

Cedric Wilson:
Probably. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I’m curious.

Maurice Cherry:
So like, what’s the difference between a sound designer and an audio engineer, like in your eyes? Is there a difference between those two?

Cedric Wilson:
There is. I think you’ll probably get a different answer from different people, but for me, I would say an audio engineer is someone who is just doing the technical stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Like record this well, clean this up, put this thing here. Even to like a certain extent, editing, for quality not necessarily for content. And I would say a sound designer is someone who may or may not have those technical skills. I always try to say that you don’t have to get into sound design through engineering. There are a lot of great people who came in as “producers,” quote-unquote, and just do really great sound design. But I would say a sound designer is someone who is able to make those creative choices and say, “Okay, we want this to sound like it’s in a church or in a cave or in space or wherever,” and then has the tools at their disposal to make that happen.

Maurice Cherry:
So one kind of is more creative, and the other’s more technical, I guess, just kind of broadly saying.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, super broadly, because I’ve definitely seen some engineers, especially in the music world, who can just mix their butts off and do things that I’m just like, “Why in God’s name would you ever think to do something like that?” But it sounds amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
It’s like that thing where at any job, when you’re at a really high level, is creative. But yeah, I would say the distinction there is I would say more technical to like more production-y.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I’d imagine there’s probably even… Well, I know for a fact that there’s business/branding elements that go to it, because you did some sound design work back when both TK and I worked at Glitch, you came on and worked as a sound designer for a project that we had, where you sort of made an audio jingle, or like an audio brand, for the company.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I think they’re called audio identities.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, audio identity. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, that was really cool. That was the first time I did something like that, because TK was like, “Hey, we have this thing, can you do this?” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” So I did some research, and then listened to all the episodes of Twenty Thousand Hertz that dealt with the specific topic, and I was like, “All right, let’s go make some audio IDs.” Yeah, that was super fun. That was cool. I mean, that one was cool because the way that I just had to do it was I came at the group with three very different ideas for it. I sat down with everyone and was like, “This is what I think you all want, here’s what I think my interpretation would be, like if I were to personally do it, this is how I would do it.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
And then I did one that was really abstract and just weird, because you’ve got to have one like that just to be like, “Maybe there’s something there, I don’t know.” And yeah, that was a really cool process, just kind of like going back and forth and figuring out, “Okay, this is the sound that we want, and how do we get to work?” There was like a visual element that it needed to sync up with too. Yeah, that was a lot of fun, and definitely was the first time I ever did it. I think it worked out well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I would say for people that probably… I think a lot of folks have heard audio identities but may not necessarily really know what it is, but like just to kind of give a broad example. For when you watch a new movie on Netflix, and you hear that sort of opening, “Dun dun!” Or Intel has “Bum bum, bum bum!”

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Or something like that. Those little types of, I don’t know what they’re called, like zingers or whatever. I’m just making up words, but those little audio blurbs can often be indicative of an entire brand, and what I think we’re starting to see now is a lot more companies are leaning into that, with the advent of smart speakers and things of that nature, you’re starting to hear a lot more audio identities. One that surprised me recently was YouTube.

Cedric Wilson:
They have one now?

Maurice Cherry:
YouTube is completely visual, but YouTube has an audio identity if you’re watching… If I cast YouTube to television, or like if I watch YouTube on Apple TV or Chromecast TV or something, there’s like an opening whoosh sound or something with YouTube, like it goes, “Shhhhwuummm, shwum!” Like it’s new, and I just recently started paying attention to it. I would imagine it’s probably to get people’s attention if they’re not looking at the screen, but it also is to just sort of signify like, “Hey, if you’re across the room and you hear this, you already know exactly what it is.” Like when you hear the Netflix sound, you know that’s Netflix. Or like if you hear a certain app or something chime or chirp, you know that’s that app, because the app has a specific sound to it or something like that.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s a lot more tech companies and design companies, or at least design-focused tech companies, that are leaning into audio identities as ways to kind of brand themselves, which I think is pretty cool.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I mean, it’s a powerful, powerful tool. I get it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, as I sort of alluded to earlier, I’m pretty sure most of our audience are probably visual designers in practice, or they’re software designers or something like that. What would you tell someone that wants to know about sound design, like what should they know when it comes to sound design?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say it’s bigger than you think it is. So like when I was doing a lot of the indie film stuff in school, and would work with filmmakers, people just didn’t fully know how much goes into it. If you’re making something that’s like a huge budget, I don’t think people realize the actors don’t just say their lines on set, or in front of a green screen. They go back into a studio afterwards and dub everything afterwards.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But you know, depending on the budget, not everyone can do that. But it just is to say that the work that goes into the sound is about the same that you’ll have to put into a visual thing, so like if you have the means, a really good friend, or the budget, get you a sound person. Get you someone who can really do that work.

Maurice Cherry:
Are there certain resources or tools that you would recommend for someone that wants to get into sound design, like they’ve listened to this episode, they think this is cool, this is something that I want to maybe pick up as a skill or something like that. What resources would you recommend?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say YouTube is your best friend. I learned probably too many things on that site, which is a little annoying to say to someone that also went to grad school. There are so many people just doing the work of just being like, “Hey, this is what we do, and this is how it works.” It’s always been a great resource. A lot of plugin companies are now also really into the content creation game. So like usually like with waves… If you find the good tools, usually there’s good videos and things like that to go along with it. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What haven’t you done yet that you want to do?

Cedric Wilson:
I would love to start getting into the more experimental stuff. I would love to do more fiction stuff. I think for a while I was afraid of fiction, just because I knew how much work needs to go into it, just like time-wise. And maybe some of the first sound design experiences I had… Not scared me off from it, but I just was like, “Uh, how do people actually do this all the time for work?” But I would love to do that kind of stuff more. I guess get less into the literal space and more in the metaphoric stuff and how does this weird sound or experience or whatever represent something, as opposed to this quote-unquote “interview.” I’m not trying to place a value judgment on narrative audio and things like that, but I would love to start getting into making more weirder things and just figuring out what, I guess, being an artist might look like more in the sound design realm. I know who I am as an artist from music, but for sound design it’s just like, “Oh, what do I really want to be making here?”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I’m just like sort of figuring that kind of stuff out.

Maurice Cherry:
So I’d say to that end, where do you see yourself in the next five years or so? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Cedric Wilson:
I would love to be doing more things in collaboration with musicians and things like that. Song Exploder is a huge inspiration for me. I absolutely love that podcast, like listening to shows like Twenty Thousand Hertz is amazing, and even podcasts that are narrative but use music in really interesting ways.

Maurice Cherry:
Like Dissect?

Cedric Wilson:
Like Dissect. I need to listen to the new season of Mogul. They’re doing a season on chopped and screwed.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Cedric Wilson:
I mean, there’s so much really, really cool storytelling that can happen just around the realm of sound, and not just because you can use sound in cool ways, but just because it’s also just genuinely interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But yeah, it’s just like more immersion, more risk-taking, that kind of stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, just to wrap things up here, Cedric, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Cedric Wilson:
You can find out more about me on my website is probably the best spot, cedricwilsonmedia.com. I am also on Twitter, @cedricwilson64, but I will give the warning that I don’t tweet very often. But like, if anyone ever had a question, you can feel free to hit up the DMs, but I’m not a big social media person. I’m sorry for that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, no. Hey look, you’re in the studio, you’re mixing audio and stuff. That makes sense, I get it. I get it.

Cedric Wilson:
I host a gaming podcast. I really love video games. We should talk more about video games after this, but I do that. It’s called Gamer Friends. You can find that on any podcast platform.

Maurice Cherry:
I was about to say, you work a podcast and you’re like, “I have a podcast, it’s on… Oh man, I can’t think of the name.”

Cedric Wilson:
I just can’t remember the… I think the phrase that I like is whatever platform you’re listening to this on, you can find it there as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
But you know, I’m not behind the mic that often.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s all good. It’s all good. Cedric Wilson, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really kind of demystifying sound design, not just for me, but I think for the audience as well. Being able to hear is one of our five vital senses. And as designers, of course, we look at visual things, we touch things, so the work that we do is mostly around those two senses. But sound is something I think, for those of us that have hearing, we sort of take it for granted in terms of how important it is and how useful it is. And so, it’s good to have someone on the show to talk about how they got into sound design, how it’s important, and you’ve been able to use it to be a creative person. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This was great. I had a very good time.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.