Ed Williams

We’re at an interesting crossroads right now because of this pandemic, and a lot of bleeding edge tech concepts are becoming available for consumers quicker than expected. To that end, data has become an important form of currency, and data governance is of paramount concern. Enter Noble Ackerson: a senior product manager for Ventera with a mission to make sure more Black people enter these new fields of emerging tech.

Noble shared his journey for getting into technology, including how he went from being interested in architecture to founding a startup to working in tech for the National Democratic Institute. From there, we explored Noble’s foray into wearables via Google Glass, talked about the uses of wearables in today’s society, and a lot more. Noble is equipped to help make sure that we are not left behind in this brave new world. How are you using your skills to build a more equitable future?

Next week: episode 350!

Sponsor

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit facebook.design.

It’s time for Revision Path’s annual audience survey! Give us your feedback on the podcast, and you could win a $250 Amazon.com gift card from us! Head over to revisionpath.com/survey today. The survey closes on May 31, 2020. Thank you!
Ed Williams

You might not think of Memphis, Tennessee as a bustling creative city, but folks like Ed Williams are here to show you the truth. By day, he works as a creative manager at the National Civil Rights Museum, helping shape the brand design and strategy for the museum for all its visitors. But by night, he is the founder of Mayke Entertainment, and creates comic stories with culturally-rich superheroes from all walks of life!

We started off with some quick talk about Ed’s museum work, and from there we went into a conversation about Memphis’ design scene and then learned how Ed turned his talent for art into a career in design. He also shared how he’s holding up during this pandemic, and gave a behind-the-scenes look at Mayke Entertainment and what’s coming up in the future. Give this episode a listen and learn about what Ed Williams brings to the creative community!

Sponsor

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit facebook.design.

It’s time for Revision Path’s annual audience survey! Give us your feedback on the podcast, and you could win a $250 Amazon.com gift card from us! Head over to revisionpath.com/survey today. The survey closes on May 31, 2020. Thank you!
Randall Parrish

If your emotions have been up and down for the past few months, trust me…you’re not alone. But I’ve got something to help lift your spirits — this week’s interview with “human glitter bomb” Randall Parrish! We talked at an interesting point in his life too; he’s fresh off of a cross-country move from DC to California and recently started a new job as an art director at Sonos, all during this crazy and unpredictable pandemic.

Randall started off with how he’s holding up while getting used to the triple whammy of a new job, a new city, and working from home. From there, he spoke on his work with Sonos’ design system, and also talked about his previous agency work at Publicis Sapient and WDG. Randall is also big on giving back to the community, and we talked about his volunteer work with AIGA, as well as his work with some past Revision Path guests — Dian Holton and Chanel James!

Randall’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and I hope his story helps get your week off on the right foot!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Randall Parrish:
Hello there, I’m Randall Parrish, I’m an Art Director at Sonos. I work on the interactive experience team, which basically controls the mobile design application for all Sonos speaker systems.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now for starters, I know you’re new there, you’ve been there what, a month, two months now?

Randall Parrish:
I’ve been here about five weeks.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, five weeks.

Randall Parrish:
I took a one way ticket on March 9th, moving 3,000 miles away from everything I’ve ever known. And I was in the office for about four days before the whole city shut down.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Well, first of all, congratulations on the new gig. I know this is probably a very unprecedented time to start a new job. So, how are you holding up?

Randall Parrish:
It’s been really interesting because when I thought about just moving to California, I remember visiting in January and Santa Barbara is just this amazing simulation of just perfection. It’s this beautiful beach town there’s flowers everywhere, there’s wineries and restaurants. And of course the second I get there, all I can do is just unpack really slowly and just take Zoom calls from my couch. So in one sense, it’s amazing because you still know there’s all this amazing potential out there. But the other end, you’re just like, “Oh, why me? Why now?” But still very optimistic [inaudible 00:04:04], I’m still connected with the coworkers, everyone’s been very friendly and everyone just understands that this is not what anyone imagined for themselves this month or this year at all.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Randall Parrish:
So [inaudible 00:04:17] just helped me throw myself into the unpacking and the work and just being acquainted and then I guess to make a bit of an itinerary for later. So now I feel a little less guilt about holding still on the weekends.

Maurice Cherry:
And you were only in the office for four days? Is that even a full work week?

Randall Parrish:
Not even a full week. Technically I was breaking in for another week, but I wasn’t supposed to because I didn’t have wifi at the time. Because all services are a little slower than they used to be, so there was a brief week where I had this just gigantic industrial thunder dome to myself where I was the only person in there, just playing with all the hardware really loudly. But the following week, everything was just straight up shut down. It was starting to become a bit of a risk between security, and delivery people, and regular employees. I was there for four real days before I was just completely shut out and just housebound.

Maurice Cherry:
So you mentioned that you work on the app experience of Sonos. So I know most people know Sonos as the actual physical speakers. You have the little Play:1s, you have the Play:3, which is a larger one, the Play:5 is the huge one. You’ve got, and I say this because I have them in my apartment, but you have the Playbase, and you have the sub, and you’ve got the soundbar, there’s a bunch of different hardware components that go on to it and they’re all tied together with this mobile app. So talk to me about what your day consists of, because it sounds like you would possibly have to interface with a lot of hardware, but unfortunately you can’t because you’re not at the office.

Randall Parrish:
So let me further numerate and what my title means in relation to the rest of the team. So as of right now, I believe we are about 61 designers or so, we’re quite a few. I’ve never worked in a place that was internal, first of all. And I’ve never quite seen just so many different people with different ownerships of different aspects of the product. So as Art Director, I’m in this role where my role is supposed to be about owning the design system symphony. So if you know design systems, that’s a little old hat, but it’s still like a thing that’s a bit new and a bit up and coming and still trying to be just regulated within the context of Santos.

Randall Parrish:
So the idea for my role is to be this very connective tissue between a lot of other teams. So we have a different team that handles setup, or a different team that handles different aspects or sub branches of the app. But people who are also handling some of those sub branches also work on purely hardware or other, maybe non software, angles of the app as well. So my job is to be this person who’s understanding what are the needs that, one, that the app needs to do, two, how are other teams using the core design system so we have consistency across that, three, I’m going to also ask, “What are you all missing? What do you all need me to ingest in the system and also maintain and spit back out? And how can we work together to also have a thing where we can cross between all these 60 designers?” As well as while we’re doing that, I’m also trying to be a connective tissue to marketing. So we’re asking broad questions, like, “How can we make the app feel a bit more like the .com? How can we make the .com feel more like the app? How can you basically find consistency inside a brand voice and tonality across these different sorts of channels?”

Randall Parrish:
Because this is sa new undertaking for Sonos. Right now we’re in this really amazing renaissance where we’ve just been on a great upward hiring tilt. And that’s mostly because I think we’re, a lot of organizations the last four to five years, I would say, really started to just really amp up just how seriously they’re taking design. I think design is starting to really get this seat at the table. People are starting to understand the value and the ROI on design. So we’re seeing all these different companies who you would have thought were very design centric, like Sonos, but hung it’s hat on being this almost like the Apple of speakers. But in terms of software, they were, I think I can easily say that maybe they weren’t kind of as competitive as they should have been at the time-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no. The Sonos app used to be trash, it was really bad.

Randall Parrish:
It was super bad, but the hardware was amazing. So you forgave it, right? You know what I mean?

Randall Parrish:
That’s good that you were like, “I don’t care how bad this app is, it sounds so good.”

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true, that’s true.

Randall Parrish:
I remember, it was funny, I remember when I interviewed, I outright said, I said, “I didn’t think the Play:1 was a good bite until AirPlay was added,” and they gave me a fun stat, turns out significantly less people use AirPlay than you might think. I was very blown away by the metric.

Maurice Cherry:
I can see that. I can see that.

Randall Parrish:
[crosstalk 00:08:26] lee than I thought.

Maurice Cherry:
Right now, I have in the living room, I’ve got to Play:1s and a Playbase and so I have them just connected as a surround sound thing, which is mostly how I use it for gaming. So I can get the really good sound when I’m playing PlayStation or whatever, which is great, I love it for that. And maybe this is just me, I rarely actually play music on my Sonos speakers, but I think it’s because I have them hooked up to the television. Now, before I did that and I connected with the Playbase, I think I had one in the living room, no one in the living room and one in the bedroom, and I would use the app to play music to it. I wish, this was before, well, I think Chromecast was out around this time, but the ability to cast to a speaker or something like that, which Google kind of lets you do, Google Play kind of lets you cast to Sono speakers. I don’t know how that all works out. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. But it didn’t use to be such a great harmonious experience. So that’s interesting to hear that.

Randall Parrish:
I was just thinking about just all these fun little things I know about just relations or [inaudible 00:09:36], all these different things. Sonos right now exists in this Switzerland kind of state, so you’re like the Google doesn’t work that well, oh boy, we got [inaudible 00:09:44].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Randall Parrish:
Yeah, because a lot of what we do is, a lot of what we pride ourselves on is being this amazing connective tissue between hundreds of services. Now some of those are the large partners like Amazon and Google and Apple, but we also have all those like small-time partners. So it’s always interesting when [inaudible 00:10:02] moments where a big time partner has maybe an integration or something that isn’t always working quite the way you would expect. And there are all sorts of just wild hijinks and reasons for why something is, or isn’t a certain way, but it’s not always up to us.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So, how did you first get started at Sonos?

Randall Parrish:
So first week or how’d I get discovered? I guess how I got discovered. So yeah, let me really wind it back a bit. So I want to say it was maybe August of last year I got a ping from a recruiter I had never actually had applied to them. So initially I got a call about a creative director of mobile apps job from them. And I remember when I got the email, they were just like, “Oh, how do you feel about relocation?” And I grew up in Northern Virginia, I’ve lived in the Arlington, DC, Metro area, my entire life. And I remember I was just like, “Well, you caught me out this very interesting apex moment in my life,” I was still very fresh off of a breakup.

Randall Parrish:
It was a very wild, just tumultuous time in my life because I thought I had this plan in my life for what I thought that my following years were going to be and I get this call and I’m just like, “Huh. You’re catching it every time in my life. This is suddenly something that suddenly seems on the table.” If I had gotten this call six months a year ago, I would’ve been like, “Oh, sorry, I can’t do it.” I would have let go straight to voicemail. But the timing was just impeccable for just making me really take it seriously. The other fun part was when I got in the call, I already had four Pla:1s in the house, so I didn’t necessarily need coaxing that the hardware was any good or was like actually worth selling or being engaged in.

Randall Parrish:
And the other part was I was also asking myself, “Okay, what do I really want to work on?” I come from an agency background, I’ve done that for about the last eight years straight. And an agency is, half of the fun was you get to reset your mind pretty often, you get to try a lot of different things, you get to reset pretty frequently. But I asked myself “If I,” you don’t always get to choose the topic and you’re not guaranteed to love whatever project you’re on next and, “What if I could actually choose the thing that I could actually fall in love with? And what if I could do this and this new shiny place just do, not quite a reset, but just like a natural continuation in this very, just amazing, brave, intricate way?”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Randall Parrish:
So yeah. So I got that call in August and just a little upward from there. I can tell you stuff like interview highlights and things like that, but yeah, that’s how the initial seed.

Maurice Cherry:
The fact that they sought you out is amazing, that’s great.

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Clearly you were doing something worth, that was worthy of them seeking you out in that way.

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), I do pride myself because back when I left DC, I was in the top 21 designers there, on the trending metrics I think I had more followers than the Capital One design team. I love you Capital One, I have your cards. So it was just funny because I think it was… Dribble is such a funny, interesting way to generate traffic and just be seen in a city that’s as, I don’t want to say small, but the size that DC is, out in LA, I feel like I would have never gotten half the opportunities because I think that the density is so much higher. But in DC, I think that’s just the right market for just a midsize targeting person, like me, to get picked up.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So you mentioned Symphony, the design system at Sonos. Outside of that, are there other projects that you’re working on or is that the main thing?

Randall Parrish:
Right now that’s the main thing, mostly because there’s still some other things that I might target. There’s a few things have been shifted around, priorities are still being readjusted all the time, but owning Symphony is expected to be a very large, major undertaking, mostly because it touches so many aspects of what other teams are doing. So for example, it’s like we have a team that operates on set or we have other teams that own other areas of the app, anytime that they have a new feature that they want to do, it has to still be ingested somewhere, still has to work within the system, and we still have to make sure that we aren’t creating so much bloat within the system that we just have a million just different unique one off pieces everywhere.

Randall Parrish:
So a lot of that is just about, little bit’s about managing, but it’s also about trying to meet in the middle a little bit. So I see it as this great opportunity to a little bit of a negotiator between people, and another reason why I think I was chosen for the job or why I kind of stuck out was they really like how I don’t ome looking at design system from a pure product design background. A lot of my background is usually about like when I went, when I was at Sapient, what I did was I worked on we’ll call the digital innovation pod. So basically what we do would do is we were often doing either pitch work or much more pie in the sky type, idea generation for these big billion dollar brands.

Randall Parrish:
And what that gave me the ability to do in addition with my time at Davey DG was getting really good at just trying to figure out where do I let go of the break, where to really push something in a kind of visual design type way, well also still being held to like the same rules as something that was still had gone through rigorous UX. So I would still be working on teams to make sure that, “Oh, a financial analyst… [inaudible 00:15:00] agree that this is all sensible. This makes sense. And also like my associate creative director on UX also agreed, okay, this makes sense. This is like a good use case or a good scenario that we would present it if we were trying to ship. But also while doing this instead of a tight bubble about just making it as unique and different as possible as well to be unlike the rest of the other big billion dollar players in the market. So a lot of what I’ve been trying to do is I’m trying to figure out how to basically take marketing design type sensibilities and add them to a very product focused company and kind of meet in the middle to figure out where we can kind find that happy center ground between the two.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), and before Sonos, you were an art director at Publicis Sapient. So you already had this experience of working with these big million, dollar multimillion dollar brands. But talk to me about what your agency experience was like.

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), I initially got started at this, a very small shop in old town Alexandria now Arlington WTG. So I was there for five years. It was my first real adult job out of college while I interned at it became designer, but it was like they just couldn’t.

Randall Parrish:
Out of college while I interned and became a designer it was like I… They just couldn’t shake me off. And I feel like I got there at this very fortuitous time. When I got there, it was just like they were very young, very kind of startup-y. There was less than 20 people. It was like a wear your pajamas to work type place. And I think I got in there at a time where they were still very young and still finding themselves. And year over year, we all found ourselves in this more mature way, year over year. So we were just doing very, very small scale marketing sites. And every single year we had a great way of just having new challenges approach.

Randall Parrish:
So, bigger fish would call. So people like Red Cross were calling or people like the Folger Shakespeare Library were calling or people like the American Enterprise Institute. Just bigger, just names that you might actually see or catch on TV, or are just very notable in the DC area were creeping up. These kind of like AAA for the region type projects came in. And as I started to go from just being in a sort of assistive role to being someone who could kind of take ownership and really run something from conception to deployment.

Randall Parrish:
That’s what I think was the best part about my time at WDG was, I don’t think that I could have done anything that I’m doing today if I hadn’t done my time there. But I think that’s because… I think if you go somewhere small… I was one of three designers, by the way. That’s what I mean when I say small, in terms of this sense, it was a very, very small, tight design team. It was just me, my career director, [Dario Tatish 00:17:22] and my counterpart, [Christina Lakeway 00:01:23].

Randall Parrish:
And it basically meant that just about anything that came through would eventually filter through me. So that meant I had to have a feeling or an answer to so many more just problems in my day to day than I think I would have had if I had gone to a very large established product company or a much bigger agency where I would have done a bit more, just like production type work. After five years or so I think that was kind of what made me decide to open up to the Sapient. They had called me first and that was the first time that I felt like I had gotten a call from a place that was so much more bigger and so much more established.

Randall Parrish:
I had gotten calls from other small agencies or people that were about our size, but it was my first time seeing a place where they had people like Audi and Marriott and like [inaudible 00:02:05], very large, incredibly established brands were just at the front face of their portfolio. And I also knew that if I stayed at WDG I would never be able to make all these other types of tactile deliverables I wanted to do. I really wanted to be able to ship an app. I really wanted to make much larger, more complex systems. I wanted it to be able to… I also just wanted to try just seeing what it was like to be on a bigger, different kind of team. I loved my team at WDG.

Randall Parrish:
I always credit a lot of my worldly success to just my old boss Dario’s ability just to help me just, one develop my taste, but also help me just figure out what questions to ask when I’m trying to solve for a solution. What I love most about him and just his mentorship was he really taught me how to think for myself. He was never prescriptive whenever he was trying to help you along the way to solve a solution. He would give you just enough of a riddle that you were like, “Okay, I’ll figure this out on my own.” And you could feel proud and feel like it wasn’t given to you, it was still something earned.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice.

Randall Parrish:
Yeah. I get the call for Sapient and they’re a big established brand and I’m just like, “Okay, I’ll make the plunge. I’ll take this risk.” And luckily for me, [inaudible 00:19:09] one Metro stop away. So didn’t have to change my commute much. As far as the transition over, I would say a lot of it was kind of exactly what I hoped I would be able to do. I did some work for Barclays, I did some work for just all these very kind of, incredibly different types of engagements that I just never would have been able to do at WDG. Mostly because like, part of the scale, but also because there’s just a big, large mega consultancy. Right. And I also got to work with just all these other people who are just very different kinds of experts.

Randall Parrish:
So I could meet people who were masters of just finance, but also I guess it might pertain to a mobile app and just all these different types of strategists who would specialize in certain kinds of areas and topics. One of my favorite parts about Sapient was just how it was able to be such a large company, but also just had so many smart people that could just jam into a room. I really love just any kind of moment where we were pitching something or we were on this more sort of discovery type angle for a project, and we were basically just… Essentially kind of this amazing sort of design SWAT team of all these different skillsets, just really coming together in a real tight timeframe.

Maurice Cherry:
Was it a big shift then, going from the agency world at Publicis to working for Sonos, which is like this private company?

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It’s still something that I’m very much adjusting to. I haven’t worked in house, in house since ARP, when I was an intern that was like 2012. That was a full eight years ago. It’s funny because I remember thinking there was a big dramatic shift between agency to agency based on scale because WDG was about 25 or so people when I left and Publicis was about 30,000 or so. They’re in 39 countries, about like 30 States they’re everywhere.

Randall Parrish:
Coming to Sonos was very different because as you might imagine, since we’re all in house, we all worked together because the hardware, the services that is the product. That is how we make money. So what’s interesting is just, there’s a lot more just dependencies between departments, between people and a lot of what I’ve been doing for a lot of my initial onboarding, it was just meeting people, just putting names to faces and understanding what their team does and also what their team’s impact is on other projects.

Randall Parrish:
So a lot of what I’m ramping up is just trying to understand this Game of Thrones type character chart between who is in charge, what do they own and how does what they own affect other parts of different kinds of hardware and software experiences. And that’s the part that’s been most fascinating because there is so much different kind of push and pull when you’re at not just a software company, but also a company that also ships hardware. So there’s so many more moving pieces that can affect one another.

Randall Parrish:
And I guess another fun part is just the total volume of designers, because I’m so used to being this almost sole practitioner type design person on any project I’m on. I’ve almost always been the only visual design hand on most projects I’ve ever done. There’s maybe been like two or three total where I’ve ever had any kind of additional assistance. That’s another thing it’s kind of interesting to see just how other people can keep the thing going. I think I got used to this almost lone wolf aspect and every point in my career, I told myself I was trying to kind of let go of that. And I think this is a place where I finally can actually commit to that.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So let’s switch gears here a little bit because we went through a lot. [inaudible 00:22:14] so far.

Randall Parrish:
I can’t answer things simply.

Maurice Cherry:
And what I want to do is kind of take it back. Because I want to see where this drive and this enthusiasm comes from. So you earlier mentioned growing up in Northern Virginia. Tell me what that was like. Were you exposed to a lot of art and design growing up?

Randall Parrish:
I’ve always thought about just the reason why I got into design, I’ve had all sorts of different answers for myself. I would say I was like an upper average student, I wouldn’t call myself an amazing smart bad-ass or whatever. I got like, decent honor roll when I was trying, but I remember I was always a music themed kid. I liked doing band and orchestra. I liked kind of these creative type things. And I remember I was terrible at math. I could not stand doing math or anything where an answer was very black and white. What I did love was English. I did advanced English basically from like, I don’t know, third grade until 12th. As long as I could I’d always do whatever it was like the absolute most insane version of English.

Randall Parrish:
What I love most about English was I think it was, I love the idea of just doing anything where just answers weren’t ever binary. It was always when you write a paper or an essay, you’re as good as your argument. And I think that was kind of one of the [inaudible 00:23:20] that kind of got me really interested in graphic design later. I saw myself as a kid, as an artist light, like I couldn’t draw at all, but I knew that I loved creativity. I knew I liked music. I knew I liked to engage with art, but I didn’t have the means to express in a way that was good enough to be like, “Oh yeah, I would share this or I think this is actually worth doing.”

Randall Parrish:
So I was very lucky because in high school we had graphic design courses and that kind of got my first taste for a design blood. Because after two years I got to design the course catalog for the school. I think every designer has a moment where they build something and they see it made real. And that’s kind of like this turning point, right? To see something that just came from nothing. It was just some [inaudible 00:23:58] from your brain and suddenly it’s here, it’s everywhere. It’s in everyone’s homes and you’re just, I made that happen.

Randall Parrish:
And that was just such a just amazing, just indescribable moment just to see something, just to know that it was everywhere. Even though other people wouldn’t think of it as this like, they’re like “Oh, it’s just a catalog, whatever it;s going to collect dust, go in the bin.” But to me it was my big gig at the time for 11th grade. Right. That was kind of like the big turning point.

Randall Parrish:
After that, I just went to school for graphic design and the rest is history. As far as other things about growing up. I always like to mention my aunt. She was a fashion designer. She was always a very big, just advocate for creativity. I wouldn’t say anyone in my family ever was not supportive of creativity or a creative pursuit or anything. I think there probably was maybe small moments of hesitation. But my mother has always been my greatest supporter. If I told her I had plans to go to the moon, she’d be the first to give me a helmet so I can always count on her support for everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now you’ve mentioned going to school for graphic design. You went to George Mason University. What was the experience like? Do you feel like it really prepared you once you went out there in the working world as a designer?

Randall Parrish:
The state of design school is fascinating. I think I also went to school at this sort of turning point in the whole planet. Because I remember when I was in school, a lot of programs focus a lot on print and very physical media type things. But, so I went to school from between 09 and 13. And I remember around the tail end there was all this talk about like, “Oh, well, if you want to make any money, you have to be a web designer, you have to learn to [inaudible 00:25:27], you have to learn how to code.”

Randall Parrish:
And I was like, “I will make any decisions in my life to not have to close the div.” And I have stood by that for the last nine years. If you’re like, “[inaudible 00:25:38] this path involves code.” I’ll be, “Next!” I will take door number two every single time. But what’s funny is around the tail end of my time, I think that was when the internet was really changing. I didn’t have to learn flash because around 2012, 2013, [inaudible 00:25:51] was really starting to really kind of kick into full gear. I think the iPhone had been like, it was starting to mature to the point where we weren’t getting mobile dot, whatever with reduced [inaudible 00:26:00] website.

Randall Parrish:
We were starting to get to this point where people are taking smartphones as a very serious platform for growth and money and all sorts of different kinds of business structures. My first internship was at ARP and this kind of coincides with that a little bit because I remember I had this kind of print background, but I knew I still wanted to do more digital. Because I remember print was cool and all, but going to the print shop, going [inaudible 00:10:21], having everything break or not being able to fix things. It was just very frustrating.

Randall Parrish:
And when I was at AARP, it was kind of around when they were really getting into digital magazines. So using things like digital publishing to basically make like an iPad edition of a magazine issue. So when I was an intern, I was kind of the initial explorer. So basically they would have a draft of the magazine and I would try to convert or try to figure out, “Okay, if we want to add some interactive pieces or do a little, some custom treatments for the iPad or make this a bit more specialized, how might we do that? What might that look like? How might that manifest? And also how can we also bring that knowledge to the rest of the team?”

Randall Parrish:
So that’s around 2011, 12 or so. And so this is kind of this turning point, because at this point in my college career, we’ve been very told that, “Okay, you have to make print stuff. You have to make all sorts of kinds of liberals. You have to learn how to make shirts, book covers and posters.” Just all sorts of stuff. Not necessarily unfocused, but just stuff that like, it was fine. But I remember I was in junior and just felt like I was just making something new all the time and not necessarily making a straight line that was going to build my skillset. Every single class just felt like, “Okay, you’re going to make something different, but it’s not going to build off of the prior skill you’ve learned.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Randall Parrish:
AARP kind of gave me just this first taste for building for screens and making a result that was only for a screen. What you saw was what you got in this really just amazing way. There was no more print shops. There was no more lines. There was no more, “Make sure it’s done by 9:00 AM so you can line up at USP to go to Kinko’s.” It was such a different just… I love the immediacy. I love the feeling in my hands of just scrolling through something. Very basic interaction just felt amazing because it was something that I had done. The iPad one and two were so amazing when they were new and to do something on that around that age just felt so different.

Randall Parrish:
I just love the feeling of it and just, I really want to just do more of that. I think part of that was what inspired me to go to my next internship. It was ISL. They were this very cool, full service, digital marketing agency type company in DC. They were known for doing all sorts of just really kind of, very off the wall, intricate work. They would make machines that responded to [inaudible 00:28:30] check-ins, all sorts of other things that were just cool integrations with machinery and hardware and software and apps. I loved the vibe there, but what’s funny is everyone always assumes that ARP would have been like a slower, more boring, whatever job. But I loved AARP. I think it was the best set up I could have had for framing my success for later.

Randall Parrish:
I say it mostly because I felt like.., I don’t mean this as a diss to ISL who no longer exists, but I think it was just… I think they had a better plan there for just what to do with an intern, how to nurture an intern and build their skill set and give them the tools to move to the next thing. Whereas I felt like I was maybe just not quite understood, not having my time being prioritized, or there was no growth path for me at my second internship. And I think that’s a tricky thing.

Randall Parrish:
That’s the thing I always try to remind students is just, sometimes all the super cool sexy companies that look great from the outside looking in are always like, it’s different once you’re in there, right? It still sounds cool, cool stuff is going on. But there’s not always a guarantee that it’s going to help you spread your wings or help you get any smarter or stronger. So don’t discount the things that you think you might not like. Because that might be where you have the greatest opportunity to grow.

Maurice Cherry:
And now also, while you were at AARP, you got to work with the one and only Dian Holton…

Randall Parrish:
I did.

Maurice Cherry:
…who’s a friend to the show here. She’s also been a guest on the show. Did you work really closely with her as an intern?

Randall Parrish:
I did. So there is basically… ARP has two magazines. They have the [inaudible 00:29:55]. I don’t know how it is nowadays, I don’t get a subscription I’m under 50. But at the time… I’m pretty sure they still have this. They had the magazine and the bulletin, they were two sub categories of magazine. The magazine’s the big one, the bulletin is this more I don’t know, almost reader’s digest situation.

Randall Parrish:
And so, but Diana was kind of great because, she would check in regularly, she was asking “Okay, what are you up to? Here’s what we should do this week.” And she would provide feedback week to week. And she’d also give me side products and just check in often. And that’s kind of what I mean, just going back to quality of internship is because I felt like I was actually being, one, cared for but also like I was… That she was trying to actually set me up to succeed for when I was not at ARP. That’s why I always look back at my time at ARP really fondly because I think she cared to see that growth in me over time. And now here we are eight years later and it’s just so funny just how things kind of turn out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So it seemed like you were pretty comfortable, well supported in the DMV area. I mean, you were at AARP, then after that WTG after that Publicis Sapient. I know you also did a little bit of work with AIGA, the DC chapter there as well. This Sonos experience must have really been something that made you stop and re-examine things it sounds like. Because that’s a big jump at the stage you’re at in your career to be comfortable, established in a place that you know, with people that you know. And then this other opportunity comes, it’s across the country and it’s almost like a pie in the sky kind of thing.

Randall Parrish:
Yeah. I will say there’s definitely a bit of idealism that kind of had a feel of the whole thing. There is this perfect brew of just weirdness. I think it was just, one they called me right when I was kind of at this low point mentally. I was still trying to refind myself, trying to figure out what do I care about? What matters to me now? What do I want to do as this person who is suddenly this solo creature here and this agency life was still cool, but I was asking myself, I was like, “What do I really want to work on?” I was on a particular project for about eight months around when I was leaving Sapient. And I’ll say that it was nothing that exactly made me want to get up and go to work every day or feel-

Randall Parrish:
It was not a thing that exactly made me want to get up and go to work every day or feel a great drive or a great energy in my voice. [inaudible 00:32:07] where I was just like, sure. Every client deserves good design, but it’s also hard to truly give that 120% for a thing that you are only doing because you’re in it for the money. And so the [inaudible 00:32:21] cause it was like, I suddenly had this chance on the table to do something that was just as much for me as it was for them. And I think that’s so incredibly hard to pull off in design, to have a topic or a product or just anything you’re working on where you feel just as much drive as whoever the founders might be.

Randall Parrish:
Music is a very near and dear topic to me. I grew up on music. I feel like there’s so many turning points in my life where just access to music or just discovery of different types of artists has just changed my world. It just made me a better, more worldly, more rounded, more interesting person. And I really would just want to just support that kind of mission. I have this feeling that just no matter what kind of amazing design I ever make, I’ll never be able to make something that’s as good as a great song. I’ll never be able to make a design system that makes you cry. But what I can do is help people bridge that gap so they can access things that can give them that feeling of emotion in their heart.

Randall Parrish:
So I feel like it’s my way of being the bassist in the band, just being support and just driving that mission. A lot of that call was just about what do I really want to do? What do I want people to feel? What do I want for me, how do I want to feel about the work that I’m doing? I came from this background where all I wanted to do is just make something that looked cool and just make another thing that looked cool and just keep it moving. But you get to a point now, if you look at my Dribbble, I’ve done over 60 different clients. I’ve worked on a lot of different things and it gets to a point now where it’s cool, it’s fun, but you start to wonder, what do I really care about?

Randall Parrish:
What’s actually emotionally resonant with me? What can I talk about where if no one sees the visual, they still know I care? And that kind of felt like I had this big opportunity for me, cause I was just like, God, I love the idea, just being in a place where a sound experience coming but what I want is just for everyone just to be just a happier person. And this just felt like a job where basically I feel like a lot of what I’m supposed to do is just almost create happiness, which sounds a little dorky. But when you think about just the ability for you to just access your sound, access your music, access your podcast. What I’m trying to do is just give people an objectively better day, whatever it is that they want to engage with. The mission just feels so pure, but also just, it’s so close to the heart, it’s hard to not love.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Designers and music tend to have a very special kind of relationship, anyway, whether it’s us listening to the music for inspiration or for productivity, or even just, I think, the opportunities that it allows us to have, whether that’s designing a flyer or a CD cover or an album cover or a poster or something like that, there’s a lot to be inspired by with music. I’ve always been interested in that connection between music and design, because I feel like it’s a really, really powerful one. I cut my teeth learning design and Photoshop by designing CD covers. This is back in the day. I don’t even know if kids still do this anymore, they probably don’t. But back in the day, there used to be two types of, I guess you can call them contests. One of them was called Layer Tennis.

Randall Parrish:
Oh, I know about Layer Tennis.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So you start with one thing and then one designer does, then they pass to the other one and they add onto it and it goes back and forth until it gets to a certain point. And so then that kind of tests your ability to think quickly to work with something that’s unknown to you in a way, but then also somewhat familiar because you did do some work on it. So how do you work around and add to a design without stripping things away? And then the second thing, they were called blends. They’re essentially just fan art, essentially. You would make blends of say, an actress and you wanted to make a computer wallpaper. So you would get three pictures of this actress from, I don’t know, Getty Images or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
And then you would cut the actress out or you would arrange them in a very artful way to make a wallpaper or something. And so then that teaches you about proportion and scale and opacity and color and a number of different things. And you’d enter these contests and you’d see who would get the best contest. Cause they’d see, okay, these are the source pictures and this is what you ended up turning it into. So it’s almost like a recipe, in a way. It’s like Chopped, but for design. You have these raw, basic ingredients that you have to come up with something that’s greater than the sum of the parts. Right?

Randall Parrish:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s funny. Chopped is actually how one of my old bosses, he described design. Cause we would get like a funny collide or just a weird thing, he would just be like, “All right, our job here is to take squid and marshmallow and make this into a nice dish. Good luck.” [crosstalk 00:36:48] It feels like you’re just taking these amazing disparate parts. You’re trying to take a thing that sounds so unglamorous, you’re just like, I’m going to find the jazz. And that was what was so fun about just working at a marketing type place.

Maurice Cherry:
So now you’re in Santa Barbara. I know you haven’t been out much because no one has been out right now. Have you, in any kind of way been able to link up with a design community there or other designers outside of work?

Randall Parrish:
Not just yet. What I want to do is I know that UCSB is nearby and I feel like they probably have an art program or I know we do sometimes send our people to talk there. I’ve always been a really huge proponent of student causes and talking to students and just letting them visit either my office or me coming to them. So that’s something that I really want to be able to, I feel like once I have enough that I feel like I can really go all in on. I would love to be able to start doing that. I care a lot about student causes, cause what I remember, all the misinformation about when I was younger and just having to filter through that and find it on my own.

Randall Parrish:
But too, I think it just helps to have someone come by and just cut through all the noise and tell you straight up as a person who is doing the thing right now, here’s actually what got me here. Every time I tell students that I don’t know how to code, I’ve made websites for years, or I don’t know how to do XYZ, or I did this instead and that helped me get to XYZ, they’re always just like what? They get their minds just routinely blown. So I love to just let them know, the way that you might think that it is or the way your teachers might have told you, there is another way. And I like to just disparage the myths or pull back the curtain anytime that I can.

Maurice Cherry:
Now I have a question here. This is from Chanel James, who has also been on the show. She was episode 325 back in December. She asked this question, you’ve adjusted to big changes a couple of times over the last few years, which it definitely sounds like you have. When taking on new roles and challenges, how do you prepare for the next step? What advice do you have to someone who is looking for the next new thing?

Randall Parrish:
That’s an interesting layer to wind, but my first thought is first I’m going to be a little dorky with you. So you ever seen Spider-Verse?

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative). Into the Spider-Verse? Yeah.

Randall Parrish:
Yep. So for those who don’t know, there’s a great quote in there where he asks, “How will I know I’m ready?” And he says, “You never really know. It’s a leap of faith. That’s all it is.” There is so much truth to that statement because anytime you get an offer for an amazing new job far away or even anything that’s even in your own city, you never feel like you’re going to be adequately prepared for it. I remember thinking, oh, you mean me? You’re talking to me? This email’s for me? [inaudible 00:39:28] turn off the imposter syndrome or assume that, am I even good enough for this kind of thing? So part of it’s also just, first you’ve got to acknowledge, you got the call, you got the response, they’re interested.

Randall Parrish:
First, you have to believe in your heart that you are actually worth the trouble and worth pursuing and worth investing in. And that’s a hard thing to sometimes believe. Cause every time you do anything wrong, all you do is assume everyone else sees it. So one, you got to see yourself in the thing. As far as preparing for it and just mentally getting through it, it’s interesting cause I try and remember, cause every time I’ve transitioned to any of these major new jobs, it’s never a one to ones. I don’t just do what I did two weeks before, just somewhere else. There’s always going to be this amazing learning curve. I think it’s just about just be willing to ask questions, be willing to be wrong, be willing to leave your ego somewhere else for a while or a very long time preferably and just be willing to work with people and just ask questions and just be vulnerable to needing to ask for help or being able to say, oh, I’m not super sure, but I want to be better.

Randall Parrish:
I want to be useful. I want to be in service of something, but I don’t always know the best way to do it. I think my greatest philosophy on my whole career, honestly, is that I think I had a paralyzing fear of asking for help sometimes, probably when I needed it most. I think that I had this worry that if I asked for help, that I would be seen as this person who wasn’t an expert didn’t understand what was going on, maybe shouldn’t have been the person tasked for the thing. But what I found, especially at [inaudible 00:08:53], we had this amazing culture of just being willing to ask for help, being willing to admit that you’re wrong and presuming good intent from people who are asking questions or doing anything. Back when I was at agencies, I often felt that if I asked for help or asked a question that I was going to basically poke a hole in whatever kind of sense of rank or stature that I was trying to prop up for myself.

Randall Parrish:
And I feel like I’m trying to chip away at that, just every single year, every single interaction I’m trying just to be more willing to be wrong, be more willing to let people know that if I am wrong, I want you to let me know and I want us to be able to work on it together so that you don’t think I’m trying to be wrong and loud. I would rather be wrong than right together. So a lot of it’s about just all communication because if you get the call, you are already a good enough designer, but you also have to be a good enough person. That’s usually the thing that we don’t always focus in on.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Randall Parrish:
Oh boy. So many things. I love just all sorts of kinds of me. I’m a big movie nerd, I’m a big music nerd, I love curating my music, I love sneakers, I love games. I love so many just different types of just entertainment, art and media, and just loving to just see all these wild, different, weird aesthetics. One of the hardest parts about moving here is there’s no AMC out here. So it’s really hard to be a movie nerd out here. So hard. So what I love about all these different mediums, if you go outside, if you go to museums, you go to malls, you just look at a lot of stuff, you see so many different kinds of just styles and tastes and just ways that things get done and all these really strange ways that tends to leak its way back into your design sensibilities.

Randall Parrish:
I think that one of the things that’s made me versatile as a designer is just not minding looking at stuff or going places that I feel like I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to. So if someone’s like, oh, let’s go to the mall, let’s just window shop. You’ll see so many different typographic treatments at the mall. If you play games, there are so many ways to deconstruct a UI and think of it for a different application. If you like shoes, there are so many wild color schemes that should not be possible that totally work. Looking at you Yeezy Wave Runners. So a lot of what I’m thinking about is just, how can I just infuse just what I’m seeing daily or what I just like to do for myself and how can I repurpose that in the frame of, okay, if I were trying to work this back into a design, how might this change my approach for something, no matter how small or big this thing is?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What do you like to do in your non work time?

Randall Parrish:
I actually minored in computer game design so originally, I should have mentioned that. It’s always a little thing that just kind of tucks in, cause I never did much with it. So I minored in game design. So every time you ask a recommendation, it has to be a 90 minute conversation. I’m one of those. So I love gaming. I tried to start streaming. I would like to start a podcast mostly because, as you can probably tell, I’m a big talker, I could just go forever. So I tried to figure out how to merge that love of just chitter chatter into something. I got a friend or two who’s like, oh, maybe we’ll start some form of podcast, we’ll just do a little round table kind of thing.

Randall Parrish:
I try to be much more of an outdoorsy person out here, out east, in D.C., it’s not that fun to own a bike cause the only place you’re going to go to Target or is to get hit by a car. But here, it’s very different, cause out here it’s so amazingly picturesque and beautiful out here, you can get to the ocean in like five minutes, there’s flowers and lavender everywhere. Everything smells beautiful so it’s just amazing to hike and bike and just be present and outside. And I’m really looking forward to just being this different, more suntanned version of myself once things settle down.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to talk some more about this gaming because right now I feel like as we’re recording this it’s April 6th. We’re kind of in the middle of a-

Randall Parrish:
Big dry spell?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, no, actually I was going to say we’re kind of in the middle of a good bit of games right now. Well, I guess it depends on what systems you’re playing. What systems do you have?

Randall Parrish:
Everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so you have a Switch?

Randall Parrish:
I have a Switch, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
PS4?

Randall Parrish:
Yep. PC.

Maurice Cherry:
Got a Xbox One? PC?

Randall Parrish:
You don’t even need the Xbox if you’ve got a PC.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Randall Parrish:
Real talk. It is what it is, Windows 10, you know, but I feel like we go with these like amazing, weird ebbs and flows with games. I can get real dorky about this, but…

Maurice Cherry:
But we’re kind of in a good time for games. I hate to say because of the pandemic, but people are at home and they want entertainment. Movies aren’t out because movie theaters are closed and production is shut down. There’s no new television shows unless you use Quibi, which I don’t know if by the time this episode comes out, people will still be using Quibi, but there’s not a lot of new stuff. And so a lot of people, I think right around the time Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out, everyone was like, yes, a distraction from the world.

Randall Parrish:
See, what’s funny is one of my favorite types of games are rhythm games. Once again, just infusing that love of music. I’m the type that generally plays games to be challenged and to almost just have a hard time. I love that feeling of achievement from overcoming. I like relaxing things also. But I think the ones that I look back with my most vivid memories of are usually things that were hard. I think a lot of that also tends to temper your brain too, to being like, if something doesn’t go right your way and you’re used to getting your ass kicked like 80 times in a row, you’re like, oh whatever. I got to make a hot take here, just say that I think Dark Souls has made me a nicer software designer.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Randall Parrish:
You heard it here first, folks. So for all the nerds on the podcast, give it a whirl.

Maurice Cherry:
I saw from looking at your Instagram that you beat Persona 5.

Randall Parrish:
Oh my God, it’s so long. It’s 106 hours. Honestly, real talk, I think Persona 5 has some of the most amazing graphic design ever put into a video game.

Maurice Cherry:
Agreed. I agree.

Randall Parrish:
It’s galaxy brain. Blew my mind. I cannot believe the things that they were able to pull off, the transitions they were able to do. Just the things that they would typography and scale and shape and color. It’s so hard to describe. I’m getting all lit up about this cause it’s just-

Maurice Cherry:
No they really stepped it up from Persona 4. Personas 3 and 4 kept a very similar sort of style, I would say. I think 4 was very, very much more colorful because it was just themed yellow and stuff. But they really stepped it up for 5. 5 is just so kinetic, there’s so much energy in the design.

Randall Parrish:
That’s also part of the reason why I feel like video games are a very underrated place to get UI and design inspiration.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh absolutely.

Randall Parrish:
A lot of people think of games as just Call of Duty or very mainstream ones that are commercial, right? But games, oftentimes have to solve very, really interesting kind of UI problems. And they also have to do it without a mouse. So they have to do all these different things to teach a player things, sometimes really extreme or advanced or multilayered concepts, but also that’s sometimes all these kinds of different items, like how’s the UI for a team look? How are you communicating things to the player? How are you showing data and information on something that’s also very busy on the rest of the screen? There are so many different kinds of UX and UI challenges that are happening in games that I feel like just get totally thrown under the radar. Cause people see it as this hobby, whatever, blah, blah, blah. They don’t understand the level of intricacy that goes with some of these things.

Randall Parrish:
… don’t understand how the level of intricacy that goes with some of these things, but a lot of times, if you were like, man, we need a team page. My first thing to look for inspiration, it wouldn’t just be look at other team pages on Dribbble. It would just be like, okay, how have games solve this? How have they handled different accounts for a certain amount of units that they need to show on screen? If you have a dashboard, like RTSs are strategy games, how are they showing just large chunks of information that needs to be readily viewable? How are… all these very different, just very real challenges that actually impact experience are being handled in games and have been handled for a long time. And as well, some of them are also done in a really, really visually amazing way ala Persona 5. So, I think it’s another part of just finding inspiration in the things that you love and just figuring out how to basically how to pick and choose where to pull them back into the things that you are doing as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you plan on playing Persona 5 Royal?

Randall Parrish:
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s 106 hours and whatever. I mean we’re in the time of Corona. Of course I’m going to. But first I got to be God, I need to beat Doom Eternal first that’s going to be a nice short one. Like what else is in my backlog Astral Chain. Typically I love narrative and very story during games, a lot of things I would like to learn from story during games, this is going to sound like a funny kind of like Agency tangent, but one of the most important things I learned from Agency World was how to tell a compelling story, and if you could play a lot of games with compelling stories that can actually get you to tear up or feel a certain way really quickly that’s what a good pitch deck is all about.

Randall Parrish:
Well, it sounds like a tangent, but roll with me here for a second. So it’s like, when you’re doing a big pitch, someone has got to have, let’s say $40 million to spend, how are you going to convince them, how are you going to make them feel in their hearts that they should feel a certain way and that you were the right choice?

Randall Parrish:
And usually you’re going to tell a very well crafted, but also a convincing story, right? It’s not about just laying out a bunch of facts. You can’t just shovel out a bunch of stats. You got to present them in a way, in an order, and a line where they believe it, but they also feel emotionally resonant with it, and I feel like when you think of kind of the story beats of certain games that are big deals for stories. So you Last of Us, your Shadow of the Colossus, your God of War 2018s, your really big, just ones with narratively strong, what are they doing right? What order are they doing that? And, how might you kind of think about the way those beats are handled, both majorly or softly until like also, how are you to change how you tell a compelling story?

Randall Parrish:
Because half of why I think I got the job at Sonos was I feel like when I interviewed, I told a very compelling story when I interviewed because a little bit about that, I’ll go back to this, but everyone I was interviewing I didn’t even show work for the first 25 minutes. Yeah, I know. Right. So that sounds weird, right? First third whatever of the interview, first I wanted to kind of introduce, I felt it was weird to be basically jump in and just be like, hello, thanks for meeting me. Here’s the work that you probably already saw online now. No, that seemed weird.

Randall Parrish:
So instead what I tried to do was, I was like, how am I going to kind of build this narrative upward? So it’s a little bit about me. Like what motivates me? What do I like? What am I to the company? What is the company’s mission to me? And how can I prove this in a way that makes you also know that I’m not just making it up. So I had a really great slide where in 2017, I bought my mother to Play Ones, and I showed the video of her pulling them open. And that was a muddy moment. That was a narrative moment where they were like, Oh, this guy. Like that was them thinking this guy isn’t just some dude who bought the speaker, just whatever, he’s actually a fan. He believes in the mission.

Randall Parrish:
Things that just kind of unite you to whatever is going on in that moment. Right? And, I could have just jumped in and been like, well, my work looks pretty good. I think don’t you think so? I know I could have just been impersonal about it or just basically just pasted in what I would’ve done for the next agency, but you know, if you tailor it right, storytelling is actually going to be your most powerful argument when you’re doing an interview.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Randall Parrish:
So play video games. Don’t worry about storytelling.

Maurice Cherry:
One question that I’m asking everyone this year, it’s kind of the theme of the year is about the future. You know, we’re in 2020, this is by all intents and purposes when you think about pop culture, when people talk about the future, it tends to be 2020 and above. I don’t know if that’s because of ABC’s news show or whatever, but people tend to think of 2020 as the future. How are you helping to use your design skills to build a more equitable future?

Randall Parrish:
Oh, that’s a great question. I guess that you caught me at a really timely time, because if you had asked me that a year ago, I would’ve been probably not at all, but now I think part of the Sonos mission is our mission is to empower listeners everywhere. And it’s very broad, and that’s kind of on purpose because a lot of what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to basically give people an amazing listening experience no matter where they might be, whether you’re in your bedroom and your living room, whether you’re on your patio or you on the go, we were trying to find a way to basically kind of be with you so that you can enjoy the content that you like, however you like, whenever you like, how you like, with whomever services that you like.

Randall Parrish:
So a lot of what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to empower users. We’re trying to give them choice. We’re trying to give them more freedom, but we’re also trying to provide access to things for them. So a lot about what I see as what the best parts about the job is just Sonos is in this rare position where we can actually really help kind of surface a lot of things to users that they might not have known that they wanted. I mean this in a very non advertising kind of way. Why I say this, because a lot of what, what a Sonos does is we are kind of this amazing hub for a lot of services, right?

Randall Parrish:
So you can use Amazon, Apple Music, and Spotify, and Deezer, and Pandora, and you can use so many different services on our platform. But what’s great about that is that lets you also surface things that maybe are adjacent to things that you didn’t know you had, for example, like if you love Fleetwood Mac, there is a potential future where if you search a podcast, maybe you’ll see the Song Exploder Episode about a Fleetwood Mac song. Maybe you’ll see a book about the artist, maybe you’ll be able to catch more content related.

Randall Parrish:
What I love is this idea of just being able to kind of enrich people’s experiences with the artists that they love, and with the content that they like, what I love is just this idea of how can we just kind of give people greater access to art, and entertainment, and just media, in these ways that are just going to make them want to do what it did for me to make them just more enriched, more well rounded, more engaged people with all sorts of different types of media.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025. What kind of work do you want to be doing? What sort of projects do you want to be working on, that sort of stuff?

Randall Parrish:
You know, my five year plan for right now is, well, if I compare what I would have said a year ago, I’m just amazed at just how much these can change. So right now my plan is I really want to be in California for a good while. Mostly because moving cross country very much sucks, do not do it. Oh my God actually it’s worth it, do it. So, moving is a pain in the ass. I think I’m trying to stay in California for as long as I can, for as long as it’s reasonable. [crosstalk 00:55:00] retention is amazing in the company. I have met people who have been here for 11, 8, 16 years. Those are numbers that are unfathomable at an agency. Like can not be. It was a constant going away party there.

Randall Parrish:
And I’m very excited about just the path ahead at Sonos just in terms of just the roadmap features, products, everything that we want to do and kind of that core mission, but five years now, just career wise, I would love to figure out, just, what’s kind of that path towards creative director, or trying to be towards a bit more of this person who essentially empowers the team because right now, I come from this background where what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to be this kind of individual power user. I’m trying to be this amazing individual contributor. But what I love about my new boss, he is just so, what’s the word, he’s just so empathetic and so caring, and I just love that about him. He just has this amazing concern and care for people.

Randall Parrish:
I really want to be able to get some of that into myself as well, and just be able to just take that kind of energy and concern and care for people. And to use that to expand a team, and also while taking what I’ve learned from design over all the years to make them better designers, but also just make them just better, more impassioned people as well. So I’d love to figure out how to just get work my way up to that stage. Now, if at this house or somewhere else who knows.

Randall Parrish:
My rule to myself was if I was going to make any kind of large shifts, it had to be for something that I really, really, really gave a damn about. And I’m really glad that I landed at this one.

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

Randall Parrish:
Sure. You can catch me on Dribbble at Dribbble.com/rparrish. You can see just about everything reasonable I’ve ever done. Half of why I keep so much stuff up there is so you can just track my development and just see that, you’ve got to… It’s an uphill battle. If you are new and you don’t like what you did. You can see the stuff that I wasn’t great at too. It’s a process. So, go from bottom to top. It’s a little journey. I don’t do any writing, but I do tweet about design sometimes @randallallday, but it’s mostly goofy, goofy, gobbledy garbage so you’ve been warned. You’re welcome to follow me on Apple music. I listen to a lot of what Pitchfork likes, but except I weed out all the nonsense so, you can check what I’m listening to. So that’s probably the core of it. I should get into some writing, but maybe we’ll have a podcast soon, but that’s all for now.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Randall Parrish, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. You know, I mentioned this before we started recording that I had spoken with Diana. She gave me this really long description about the work that you’ve done. I think it actually was a post or something that you wrote. I want to say it was a post that you wrote about how you were just getting things together to go to Sonos. You were about to start out there, and one thing that I saw as I was doing all of my research was that you refer to yourself as a human glitter bomb.

Randall Parrish:
That’s correct.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say that, just based off of this conversation, it’s very clear like you have this enthusiasm inside and out, not just for the work that you do, but also being able to make a difference in people’s lives, so I can see how that would stick. Once this whole COVID-19, coronavirus, quarantine, self isolation lifts, I am really excited to see you get back to work and see what you can do with Sonos because I think this is just the beginning for you, and I’m really going to be excited to see what you do from here. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Randall Parrish:
Thank you so much for having me. I’ve had a total blast with you. Believe me, stay in touch and you know, Sonos discounts for everyone. Send me an email.

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Samuel Adaramola

“Blackness is multifaceted.” When Samuel Adaramola told me that before we started recording, I knew we were going to have a great conversation. Samuel is a talented multimedia creative, who most recently used his skills as a media producer on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. We talked a good bit about what it’s like to work on a political campaign of that magnitude, how he first got involved, and how he worked to get the campaign’s message out during this time of physical/social distancing.

Samuel also spoke on growing up in the USA and attending school, spoke on how journalism impacts his creative process, and gave me a peek into his visual storytelling process. Samuel’s energy and drive really come through in this interview, so I hope you take a listen and get inspired!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, let’s start the show. All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Samuel Adaramola:
Hi, my name is Samuel Adaramola. I am a multimedia professional currently working as a media producer for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign.

Maurice Cherry:
What is a regular day like for you on the campaign? And I’m asking this considering for people that are listening, we’re recording this on April 2nd. We are in the midst of this coronavirus outbreak. As much as that has impacted nearly every industry in every sector, I’m just curious, what’s it like working on the campaign right now?

Samuel Adaramola:
Well, let me start by answering what it was like before the unfortunate pandemic. And yesterday made it a year since I’ve been in a campaign, and this is my first time working on a presidential campaign.

Samuel Adaramola:
And every day is different, and what we’re trying to do in the campaign and what we’re able to accomplish somewhat was, do everything internally in terms of our production, all of our design is in-house, all of our ads that we do on video and all of our social media videos was done in-house.

Samuel Adaramola:
So it’s a constant churning of production, and this means that we have to put on multiple hats. We have to be producers, we have to be editors, we have to be filmmakers as well. So every day kind of brought something different.

Samuel Adaramola:
So sometimes it’ll kind of give you a newsroom vibe where we meet regularly and try to determine what ideas do we have for today or this week based on certain policies that have been released or certain things that are in a new cycle. We want to meet regularly to determine what that is.

Samuel Adaramola:
And sometimes these ideas are short term, like quick turnarounds based on new cycles, and other times they are long form projects. If we want to go to a certain community and for example, I had the privilege and honor of going to North Carolina, Durham, North Carolina to McDougald Terrace, which is a public housing facility that was unfortunately been neglected. And as a result, the tenants there have been living in inhumane conditions.

Samuel Adaramola:
So finding stories like that or having those stories come our way where we will have to fly out to certain locations and do some location scoutings and set up interviews and things like that. So it really depends. But I would, it’ll be most likely kind of like a newsroom setting where we’re just meeting together and trying to figure out what’s the best idea to put out there.

Samuel Adaramola:
And I’m part of the digital team and we would, this is comprised of film editors, graphic designers, the social media team as well. So we will just come together and kind of discuss different ideas.

Samuel Adaramola:
Now in the face of this pandemic, we have had to pivot like most people in America, and the world right now. We’ve had to pivot to a fully remote operation and we’ve tried to and what we’ve done and shout out to our team, we have kind of pivoted to focusing a live stream and doing content that way.

Samuel Adaramola:
But, however we have regular meetings online and we are coming together kind of keep that vibe to brainstorm ideas of how we can do it in the midst of this pandemic. One idea I wanted, I pitched in the middle of producing is, how does this pandemic exacerbate the disparities that exist in Black communities and low income communities?

Samuel Adaramola:
So I was able to reach out to some doctors who serve low income and Black communities and do a Skype or a Zoom call and have it recorded and conduct interviews that way.

Samuel Adaramola:
So I think you know this Maurice, and I’m sure your listeners do know this as well, it’s like creativity really comes when there’s constraint and I think right now, we are in a deep constraint where we are forced to kind of think outside the box and try to find ways to really get our messaging out there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How did you first get involved with the campaign? You’ve been there now for a year. That’s a long time in a political campaign. I don’t know if people that are listening really realize that, but given the intensity and the frequency of work that you have to do, a year is a long time.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. A year is a long time and how I did get involved in the campaign was prior to joining the campaign, I was working as a multimedia specialist for Our Revolution, which is a nonprofit that came out of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign.

Samuel Adaramola:
I wasn’t involved in the 2016 campaign. Honestly, I wasn’t really, I wouldn’t call myself a very politically active person, but I think that the opportunity came at a time. I was a freelancer prior to that and it came at a time where I was kind of, for lack of better words, fed up with the working on projects and doing things that I didn’t really care for.

Samuel Adaramola:
I call myself an idealist, I believe in a better world and I wanted to work in that capacity. Use my creativity for good and this opportunity came as sheer luck, saw it online and applied and I was liked enough to be asked to join.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. I was there for three years. Initially started as the lead designer there and we weren’t doing any type of video production and anybody will tell you, the landscape of social media, you kind of want to be producing videos, whether it be short term or long term. And I saw it as an opportunity to kind of pitch that idea of hey, we should do videos.

Samuel Adaramola:
I have a little bit of a background in it. I minored in film in my undergrad at Towson University, so I was comfortable doing it and also did a little bit of video work while I was freelancing as well.

Samuel Adaramola:
So I pitched it, put up a budget of what it would cost to get all the gear and shout out to Senator Nina Turner, who’s also a part of the Bernie campaign. But when she came into be the president of Our Revolution, she sat all the staff down one-on-one and one of the things that we talked about in my one-on-one with her was that it is my desire to kind of rebrand the campaign.

Samuel Adaramola:
And she gave me that opportunity and I was able to do that as the lead designer. This was before I switched roles, but I just wanted to kind of throw that out there as that being an experience that really allowed me to kind of flex my muscles a bit in a creative capacity and actually take on the task of rebranding of an organization.

Samuel Adaramola:
Since Our Revolution was so closely tied to Senator Sanders, it was kind of a no brainer that people who are involved in Our Revolution take on the opportunity to join the campaign. So it was just like an easy transition, and Senator Turner who was the president of Our Revolution, joined the campaign and we were given the opportunity to join the campaign as well.

Samuel Adaramola:
And that’s how it happened. Luck being at the right place at the right time and rising to the occasion and stepping up to those opportunities.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like it’s a little more than luck though. I mean you put in the work too.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. I want to maintain humility here, but I definitely worked hard. Being in Our Revolution, which was a new organization and we were always trying to, as the term goes, we were always trying to build the plane while flying it. And I’m very proud of the work we were able to do there. And a lot of people who were part of Our Revolution are on the campaign currently and we’re still doing great work.

Samuel Adaramola:
And it was kind of like we graduated college together and we all started the same job together because it was such an experience that, how can I say this, that constituted growth and being on a campaign allowed us to grow even further in our respective areas.

Samuel Adaramola:
I can speak for myself that joining the campaign as a media producing, producing some of these social media videos and being a part of some, creating some ads. I did some voiceover work for one ad, but just being a part of that process and kind of see how things that have been made in my year definitely allowed me to grow in my creative capacity.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean it sounds like you have the opportunity to involve yourself in a lot of different projects within the campaign. Like you just said, there’s a little film, there’s some voiceover, you’re doing design work and for those who don’t know, I mean I’ve mentioned this on the show before. I used to work in a campaign, not a presidential campaign. I want to be clear about that. That was a mayoral campaign.

Maurice Cherry:
So I at least understand to a degree the level of intensity that has to go into it. Of course, running for mayor and running for president are two entirely different things in terms of scope and scale and everything, but I know what it’s like, like being in the campaign office. Late hours, everyone’s working together. It’s such a, it becomes a very tight knit group of people and you’ve all went through this experience together.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting, like even from past administrations. How you hear like say the Obama administration, you hear about people that are working together or they’ve partnered up with someone else who worked with the campaign or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Going through that kind of crucible of an experience, it does spark growth because there’s just so much that’s, it’s a really like a microcosm almost of what it’s like to work for a business or to run a business. There’s so many different things you have to do.

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely. I would say that it does kind of feel like a startup. I do want to backtrack. I didn’t do, or I haven’t done much design work if at all during the campaign. My task was mainly video production, so that’s where my lane was.

Samuel Adaramola:
But some of the designers who came from Our Revolution are the designers in the campaign and I’m able to collaborate with them with certain pieces and see what they’re working on and put our heads together for creating dope content.

Samuel Adaramola:
But yeah, you’re absolutely right. It is a microcosm, so to speak. You don’t know how much you’ve grown until you sit and look back. And with my one year being yesterday, I’m like wow. I don’t think I would have created this many videos or pushed myself this far. Some things that I was kind of a little apprehensive about doing initially, April 2019. I have no fears in doing that right now.

Samuel Adaramola:
So definitely appreciative of this experience and how grueling it is. I mean, I have no reference. I mean you’ve worked in a gubernatorial campaign and I had no prior campaign experience. So it’s funny because a colleague who was at Our Revolution who didn’t want to join the campaign, she had her experiences in campaign. She’s like, my experience is enough.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s one thing about campaigns. You either will only do it once or it’s the only thing you will ever do.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah, and I haven’t…

Maurice Cherry:
Or it’s the only thing you will ever do.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah. I haven’t done it at all, so I said, “Let me see what this is about, at least.” I believe, and again, like I mentioned before, I’m an idealist. I believe in a better world. That’s part of why I support Senator Sanders and have been a part of his network of policy and social change. Because, in him, what initially drew me to him, because I’ve never seen someone run for president who is a documented, I guess, activist for the civil rights movement. I’m referring to the picture of him getting arrested for protesting housing segregation in Chicago. Seeing that picture and be like, “Huh, he’s running for president?” And knowing that he wasn’t aware that that picture even existed. You know what they say that, show me who you are when nobody’s looking? That’s your true stuff, so that’s why I’ve taken a liking to him so much initially and just grown to believing in equitable world for everybody. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I want to continue to fight.

Maurice Cherry:
When I worked with campaigns, it’s funny you mentioned that about the point of reference. There was no point of reference when I did it either because I was working on the first set of municipal races after Obama got elected for his first term. Obama’s first term, that team did so much around design and social media and getting the word out that was really unprecedented for-

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
… not even just a political campaign for president, but any type of campaign like that.

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Those first sets of municipal races afterwards, I will tell you every politician that I spoke with wanted to copy that Obama playbook. They were like, “How do we get votes through social media? How can we do what Obama did? I’m trying to get some of that Obama magic.” It’s like, “Hire someone from Obama’s team?” I don’t know, but it was a lot of trial and error and at the time when I was working in the campaign, I mean, I had my own studio. I had just started actually my own studio in late 2008 after Obama got elected.

Samuel Adaramola:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
The first big client I had was the political campaign that I worked on, and so it was a lot to come up to speed with what they were trying to do and the message they were trying to get out. I mean, it was a totally … Now that I think about it, that was over 10 years ago. It was a totally different landscape. We had a MySpace page.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh wow. That’s a throwback.

Maurice Cherry:
We had a customized MySpace page. We had a Flickr page. We had a Meetup page. Twitter was around. We had Twitter. We had Facebook. We had LinkedIn, most of the big social media places that are out now was there. But we legit had a MySpace page. It seems like ages ago, but that was over 10 years ago. I’m curious because technology has continued to change since then, I would say most notably how much more people are using smartphones. There’s a lot of push towards mobile, a lot more things going on mobile. I’m curious from your standpoint, how do you plan for mobile given that more people are used to receiving text messages and doing stuff with apps and things than they were, I’d say, even four years ago in 2016?

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah. I mean, some things that I observed whether directly or indirectly played a part of during the time of the campaign is that our ground game is strong in terms of our organizing efforts and our fundraising efforts. One of the ways we prepared for mobile is we actually developed an app for mobile. This app, you can see all of the policies there. You can see some of the graphics that our design team has created. You could see some of the videos that pertain to some of the policies that we’ve created all on the app. Not only that, we’ve made it an engaging experience where people can sign people up to help register people to vote. If you have a network as friends, you could share all the videos and share all the graphics and stuff.

Samuel Adaramola:
That’s something we definitely kept in mind. Like I mentioned, we did everything in-house. We had an in-house product team that developed the technology and the apps to create it, so that’s definitely something we’ve always kept in mind. Even on the video sense is, we always create our videos to be optimized for a mobile experience. So we’re cutting things in square. We’re making sure that captions are always present and legible, so whether you have a disability or not or whether you just don’t have the volume of your phone on, we want to make sure that people are able to see or at least read what the video is about. These are things that we’ve always kept in mind when we’re constantly creating, whether it’s something that is as direct as having an app created or in the way we create videos and create content.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have to do any internationalization, because just given the coalition of people that you’re trying to reach as a president, I’m wondering if you have to do a lot of translation or things of that-

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… nature too. Yeah.

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely. I think one of the things that we started to do was we started to translate all of our graphics to several languages; Spanish, Arabic, a slew of others, where we started to have that in mind. With our videos as well, we will always do Spanish translations, especially if it’s a video that pertain to a specific policy or issue that affected that community. That’s always something that we kept in mind, and I’m proud to say that we did a pretty good job with it, especially on the graphic side.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you end up reaching supporters or voters who are probably not traditionally online in like this current pandemic climate we’re in right now?

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. I mean, one of the ways we did it, and I guess pre-pandemic is that we had a lot of volunteers who would make calls. That was probably one of our largest efforts in organizing. We made millions and millions of calls to organize people to vote or volunteer or get active in this political campaign. Again, going back to the app, the app was like a device that is used for you to go out and talk to people and engage with people and share what you’re seeing and share why you support the campaign. Those are the little ways that we attempted to reach people who aren’t online.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So the app then I guess has talking points, you are able to use that almost as a guide to talk-

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
… to the other folks that aren’t online. Okay.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Now, you’re working in media, you’re a media producer, as you know, and as I’m sure our audience knows, between 2016 and now we have seen a proliferation of, what’s the best way to call it? Can I call it the smear campaign? I don’t know. But we’ve seen this proliferation of “fake news” and distrust in the media and we’ve seen lots of altered media, whether it’s Photoshopped images or even deep fake videos and stuff like that. What are your thoughts on the challenges of truth and veracity and media when it relates to that sort of stuff? With the public service sector because, I mean, now we see social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, trying to fight those kind of claims of misinformation. How does that stuff work in a campaign?

Samuel Adaramola:
I mean, fortunately, we haven’t had to deal with deep fakes of Senator Sanders out there. I think the onus is on people to be as media literate as possible. I think we can’t only rely on big social media companies, Twitter or Facebook or what have you, to take it upon themselves to do it. I mean, they should do it, absolutely, but we also have to make sure that we are as media literate as possible. Having the ability to identify a deep fake or to question and to evaluate and analyze the content that we’re consuming. But that’s a tall task, honestly, because as human beings we’re just predisposed to do what’s easiest and most convenient. And so, I think as in the campaign, I’m not sure how it manifests itself, but I think what we try to keep in mind is that we, to the best of our abilities, are sourcing material and sourcing facts. We constantly cross-reference with our policy team to make sure that everything that we are using and putting out is legitimate.

Samuel Adaramola:
I think that’s part of the process of tackling the misinformation. I think if we have presidential candidates running, that should be something that is constantly at a top of mind, just making sure that they’re not falling victim to these false claims and false facts that we see online. Hopefully, in the future, and I think we’re not too far away from this is, in future presidential campaigns that there are platforms, specific things that deal with disinformation and fake news, for lack of a better word. Because it’s been abundantly clear, like you mentioned, since 2016 that facts and reality is being under attack. Journalistic institutes are being under attack, so I think it’s something that we do need a leader with a vision to fully understand that, “Hey, these places, at least some of these sources, are our friends. Their job is to inform the public in a true manner.” So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Before we started recording, you asked me how I found out about you.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, I said I was going to wait till we got on the show before I mentioned this. Last year in September, which seems like 20 years ago at this point, just to be hones with you. It was like late September last year. I will tell the story. I was on Twitter under the Revision Path handle and I asked, “Are there any black designers or developers on any of the campaigns of the current candidates running to become the next U.S. president from either party? If this is you, let us know.” Because I was like, we’re going into January, 2020. I want to be able to talk to some black creatives that are on these individual staffs. I mean, September 2019, there were like 30 people running. It was like a bingo card on the Democratic side.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There was a ton of folks that were running, and so I was like, I reached out to every candidate multiple times or the candidate’s campaigns at least, reached out multiple times and we heard back from only one campaign. It wasn’t Bernie, I’m just going to be honest with you.

Samuel Adaramola:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
It was Beto O’Rourke. We heard back from Beto O’Rourke’s campaign and he was like, “Oh yeah, we’ll pass it on to the team.” Other than that, I couldn’t find anyone. And so, I said, “Well, let me just go on LinkedIn and just start searching for designer with the candidates name.” And so, I’m doing that for all of the … Had a spreadsheet, doing it for all the candidates. The only one, the only person I found was you with the Sanders campaign. This was back in September of 2019 when I said there were a lot of people running on both parties. That’s how I found out about you.

Samuel Adaramola:
Well, all right.

Maurice Cherry:
I say that to lead into my next question though. What is it like for you being a black creative working in politics with progressive organizations?

Samuel Adaramola:
I’m not the only one, fortunately, in the Bernie Sanders campaign. As far as the black creatives go, on my team in the videos, is a talented motion graphics designer. Her name is Bria, she’s on the team. A young black lady. There’s another on the design team, her name is Laura as well. There’s also Chris and [Sumarias 00:12:09]. We’re represented within the Bernie Sanders campaign in terms of black creatives. But as far as what it’s like to be a creative on the campaign, honestly I would say it’s like any other job but my more intense and a lot more is on the line. But, obviously, we are privileged in a sense to be there and serve as a voice to our communities. All black people aren’t the same, but when you have representation even from the top on down, it’s very important because it allows you to voice your opinion and perspectives that may not have been considered or of thought of before.

Samuel Adaramola:
So as it relates to what I’ve been doing on the campaign is that, when I am thinking of a video idea or creating some work in whatever capacity, I’m always thinking about, “Okay, how does this affect my community, black community and the black immigrant community too. Because I’m a first-generation Nigerian American, so I’m always thinking of these things in this way. How I create and how I birth ideas always has that frame of reference. I’m fortunate that there hasn’t been a lot of hurdles for me to be able to voice my ideas and my opinions and they have always been met with respect and consideration, so there isn’t really anything I could point to that’s much different from what anybody else would experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned being first-generation. Where did you grow up?

Samuel Adaramola:
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and was immigrated to America when I was two, so I was basically raised in America. But I was undocumented all of my life. Well, most of my adult life too. So I’ve been raised as American as Apple pies, people say, but not having documentation until I graduated from undergrad. So a lot of my time in America was living in the shadows, not really getting the opportunities that one would normally get as a citizen of the country. So yeah, it was particularly difficult. That’s how I actually got to becoming a designer. I’ve always had an interest in being creative. In high school and even middle school I would like … It’s funny when I think about this, I had a head start in creating for a political campaign because one of my best friends in elementary school ran for student president. I drew his campaign posters and I would always draw on clothing with fabric paint and I developed an affinity for creating. I didn’t find out my undocumented status until I was-

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh, I didn’t find out my undocumented status until I was graduating high school and wanted to go to college, but I didn’t have a social security number and I didn’t find out until I was applying. That’s how my world got flipped, turned upside down: not to quote Fresh Prince.

Samuel Adaramola:
But I was still able to go to school undergrad because of two things. One, my late mother, who was a permanent resident and she was on disability at the time, she was giving me some of her disability checks to go towards paying tuition. I’m not saying it like it was a lot, but it meant a lot to her because it was her only source of income. But I was taxed of doing is completing the rest of it and I did that with a group of my friends.

Samuel Adaramola:
I was deejaying in college and we would throw parties and one of my friends, he made a flyer for one of our first parties that we were going to go to throw, and it looked like something that came out of Coral Paint. It was just a terrible looking flyer. And I knew, like I mentioned, I was creative up to that point and I just knew I had a taste of what looked good and what didn’t. And literally, when I saw him do the flyer, I was like, “Nah, we could do better than this.” I went in our school library and I looked at YouTube tutorials of how to make flyers in Photoshop and nine hours later I had a Halloween party flyer that I was really proud of and stuck with it. That morphed into figuring out how to make logos and figuring out how to create different brand assets. I just hacked my way into learning design.

Samuel Adaramola:
When I graduated, because I got my undergrad in mass communications with a concentration in advertising and public relations, I graduated college without a portfolio like somebody who would have traditionally gone to school for design. But I had a portfolio of several party flyers and some logos that I made for student body organizations, so I thought I had a little something. I thought I was working with something. You couldn’t tell me nothing back then, but then you get humbled when you apply for jobs and you’re like, “Oh, so that’s what real design looks like.”

Samuel Adaramola:
But I eventually ended up working at an advertising agency in DC and my role wasn’t designed. My role wasn’t digital, my role was being a digital producer for the social media department. That’s just basically someone who project manages different projects for different clients. What that enabled me to discover was the process of creating with multiple creatives. Got to work with developers. I got to work with other designers. I got to work with copywriters. And I got to be someone who was tasked with managing the resources and the billable hours for everyone who was working on a specific client project.

Samuel Adaramola:
So, being able to sit in their room and meet with clients and have the ideation process of what they seek and desire, and actually see it through fruition by observing the creatives on the team there, it opened my eyes to, “Okay, I know I was doing all this stuff, making party flyers and doing all this knockoff stuff, but I’m in a room with people who have gone to school and did this stuff and super talented.” I knew then that, “Okay, I didn’t want to be the project manager of this stuff, I actually wanted to create. I wanted to be a designer.” There was only a few black people there at the time. Maybe still is, who knows? But it was myself and I think one other person. But the person that I want to bring up, her name is Kim Williams.

Samuel Adaramola:
I bring her up because she gave me the opportunity to go for it. I remember one day I came into work and she pulled me aside. We went into the room and she was like, “Hey, I noticed that you don’t seem like yourself or something slacking. What’s going on? There’s not too many black people here and I just want to make sure that we are holding each other up and doing what we can do to survive here.” I just opened up to her and said, “Hey Kim, I want to do what you’re doing.” She was the art director there at the time. I said, “I want to design. I want to be a part of the producing this creative stuff.” She said, “Then why don’t you do it?” And I was like, “Huh. I can, right?” But she was like, “You can do this. You can really do this. I have books. I have stuff that I can give you. You can just dedicate your time to learning this stuff and being creative and you can find yourself doing this work.” She bought me a Wacom tablet-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow!

Samuel Adaramola:
And she gave me some books and she just patted me on the back and sent me on my way. And I was like, “Wow!” And to this day, I can’t talk to anybody without mentioning her because that put me in a trajectory of where I am today. If I did not have that conversation with her, if she did not pull me aside as have that, “Come to Jesus black person to black person conversation,” I wouldn’t be here speaking with you right now and my career to that conversation and I appreciate her wisdom back then.

Samuel Adaramola:
So, I ended up leaving because of personal reasons that I had with my family, but I worked part-time at a nonprofit organization and then a dedicated the rest of my time to going ham with designing and figuring it out, taking on freelance gigs here and there just to get better. As a result, the portfolio I was able to put together from that time was what landed me at Our Revolution and being at Our Revolution is what landed me at being a part of a presidential campaign.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Samuel Adaramola:
So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s quite a path.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, it is.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned Kim Williams, you were at Ogilvy when this happened, right?

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I think we’ve had that same Kim Williams on the show. She for a while was design director at Indeed?

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, she was.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah! We had Kim on the show last year. Look at that, small world.

Samuel Adaramola:
Small world, big world.

Maurice Cherry:
Small world.

Maurice Cherry:
Was your family supportive of you going into this creative route? I can only imagine first-generation, they want you to go into something that’s more lucrative and more secure.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, absolutely. I’m blessed because my parents were… My dad is a hippie, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Samuel Adaramola:
I call him a Nigerian hippie because he’s traditional. He’s a traditional patriarchy type of figurehead, but he’s also into meditation and juicing and metaphysical stuff. He’s not your typical Nigerian man. I think for some immigrants, their experience are different. I think some people come in here with the idea of I’m coming to America to be the best XYZ. Other people say, “I’m coming to America to survive.” So, my parents were the survivors, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Samuel Adaramola:
My dad had many odd jobs. He was an ice-cream man at one point. He was an insurance salesman. He was a taxi driver. He was everything. So, his idea of success wasn’t really tied to being a doctor or a lawyer or engineer, which is what the stereotypical expectation is of a black immigrant child. His idea was just being happy. My mother, on the other hand, she was just more or less the same, just the idea of being happy.

Samuel Adaramola:
When I was in elementary school and in high school drawing on shirts and ruining my clothes and making new clothes out of old clothes, my mother says, “Yo, this looks good. Can you write some Bible scriptures on the shirt for me?” So they’ve been supportive in that sense. And I think because of… Another thing is that some people come to America with the understanding of how to navigate the immigration system and other people don’t because they’re just on survival mode. Again, my parents were under survival mode and that, unfortunately and somewhat fortunately, resulted in me being undocumented for most of my life. So, I don’t think my parents quite had time to worry about what I’m going to do with my life, but they always made sure that they provided for me.

Samuel Adaramola:
I always felt like I was a good kid. I knew I wanted to be creative or do something in some creative capacity, but I think I am a product of my environment. So having relatives and friends who belong to the black immigrant community and seeing that most people are in those traditional doctor, lawyer, engineer paths because of what their parents want for them, you do find that quite often. I do feel, at an earlier point in my life, felt pressured to fall in line. At one point I thought I was going to be an entertainment lawyer because that was my way of working in media and still having a respectable position. But I think what most immigrant parents and elders who come here, they just aren’t educated on how lucrative some of these careers can be.

Samuel Adaramola:
They may not know that you’re a developer or they may not know that you’re a designer or a media producer. They’re just not accustomed to it because all they know is that being a doctor is distinguishable and can earn you a high income. But also, somebody, even if it’s a doctor, someone had to design the tools that they’re using, somebody had to create the software that they’re inputting their patient information in. These positions are very valuable and I think it just takes people like me and other people who are in similar career paths or those untraditional paths to educate them on that. I think some people are coming around to that now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, well said, man. First of all, it’s great to know that your parents were really supportive of you being behind it. But I feel like that’s something that… and I’ve had hundreds of black designers on the show… I don’t think this is unique to black designers. But I think it is unique probably to people of color that are going into a creative field, is that unless there’s an example that they can see their parents or guardians can see of some type of financial success, then they’re like, “Okay, I’m good with this.” Because our parents grew up in a totally different environment, totally different.

Samuel Adaramola:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
They had to go through a lot more struggles than we had to and they sacrificed to make sure that our generation wouldn’t have to have those sacrifices. And so, maybe being seen as going into a creative field like that, because they don’t see examples of success, they probably think the opposite right off the bat. Like, “Oh, you’re just going to be spray painting, airbrushing shirts at the fair,” or something like that. You know?

Samuel Adaramola:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I see how that could turn into something much more… necessarily say much more lucrative, but that you can take that creative skill and use it in a number of different applications.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, everybody’s needed. I think everybody can’t be a doctor. Everybody can’t be a lawyer. Everybody can’t be an engineer, but I think what you said is exactly right. I think when they have a hard time seeing the success of those untraditional paths, so it is like a trial by fire where you just got to do what you want until you just are successful and you’re like, “Hey mom and dad, I did it.” If you watch that Netflix movie Uncorked, it has that same feeling to it.

Maurice Cherry:
Don’t ruin it for me because I haven’t seen it yet.

Samuel Adaramola:
It’s really good.

Maurice Cherry:
I do want to see it.

Samuel Adaramola:
You got to watch it.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to watch it. I’m going to watch it.

Samuel Adaramola:
That’s also what I wanted to talk about, the dualities of the black identity. I think sometimes the black immigrants and black Americans or descendants of slaves were sometimes pitted against each other. And I think we can realize that we have similar experiences and we can learn to celebrate our differences, and that’s all I want to do with my life.

Samuel Adaramola:
Being raised in America and just being an immigrant, I always felt like I’m not quite American enough, but I’m also not quite Nigerian enough, so I’m just in this little box. And I’m like, “But I experience both things,” and I just wanted to mention that. It’s good to share our stories and be able to celebrate each other, whether it be a creative pursuit or not. It’s just good to know that we exist. I think our communities and the black community in general is that much better by having our stories told.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely. So later on you mentioned going to Twoson? Am I saying that right?

Samuel Adaramola:
Towson, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Towson. Sorry. I’m looking at it like, “Is it Towson?” Okay, no. So, you mentioned going to Towson for undergrad, but then later on you went to Syracuse and you got your Master’s Degree in Communication and in Journalism. How does your journalism experience impact your design process?

Samuel Adaramola:
Well that…it’s new. I only graduated last fall.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Samuel Adaramola:
But in saying that is, I wanted to go to Syracuse and to do that program in particular to be a better storyteller. I think what my experience there has taught me is just how important it is to do your research right and to consider other things, like how data comes into play with how you tell your story, or how different technology and the media landscape changing can affect how you’re telling a story, and thoroughly understanding media law will affect how you tell your story.

Samuel Adaramola:
So unfortunately, I haven’t experienced enough in my current career that can inform what I do with my creative path. But I do, in going through the course and finishing it, it did open my eyes to just how deep storytelling can go, especially when you’re creating from a journalistic landscape. Because a fun project I did during my master’s was looking at the data of the black filmmakers, black directors, and black casting, looking at how they fared the last 30 years in terms of reaching the top 10 status. And how, although it may seem that we are represented in terms of the film industry, we are still having quite far some ways to go, especially with the fact that there has not been a female director who is black, who has reached top 10 highest grossing films. And there’s only…

Samuel Adaramola:
10 highest grossing films, and there’s only been one black filmmaker to do that, which was Ryan Coogler with Black Panther. So I think doing those projects, they helped me be curious about where are we now as a community and how much further do we have to go. As I think about projects and things that I want to do in the future, I know that having this education at Syracuse has given me a solid foundation in terms of understanding and learning how to navigate storytelling better in any aspects of creativity, whether it’s a film or or creating different designs or developing a website.

Maurice Cherry:
So when it comes to the visual storytelling, where do you typically try to begin the story?>

Samuel Adaramola:
I’m trying to pull from my experience at the campaign. For me is understanding the issues that are affecting the community. And I want to pull this North Carolina video again as an example because it’s probably one of the videos that I’m most proudest of that I was able to do in terms of visual storytelling. When I found out that this was what this community was going through, the first thing you want to do is research. And when you research it allows you to think of some pointed questions that you can ask the subject you’re interviewing. And that’s just the set up, because when you are going to film and interview someone, what they say could be completely different from what you expected. What you go in there thinking it’s going to be, the story ends up being something completely different. You may experience this doing the podcast, but I think when you are able to have all those elements come together, your research, the questions and the interview and the response, and you’re able to transcribe that and find a story, you can then find supplemental materials there. So I think it all begins with just doing enough research on the issue that you have at hand, and I think doing enough research, whether it’s even a video or a design, can steadily inform which way you go about creating.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re in the DC area, you mentioned being in Silver Springs, Maryland, but in the DMV area, outside of the work you’re doing with the campaign, what is the design scene or the creative scene like there for you?

Samuel Adaramola:
For me it’s everybody’s… I think DC is unsung, man. DC doesn’t get the love that it should. It’s a very, very creative town, a creative city, this DMV area, especially within the black community. I think people, if you go on IG, there is a sense of community. There is a sense of people actively creating. And this is another thing and I wanted to bring that up as it related to the conversation about career paths and what’s distinguished and what isn’t. You still find that people who are engineers, their side hustle is that they paint or that they bake cookies or that day design shoes or have a fashion brand and you find a lot of that in the DMV area, especially within the black community that they have.

Samuel Adaramola:
It’s like they live a double life. They have their nine to five, I’m going to clock in and clock out at my engineer job. But as soon as they’re out, they’re out being creative and hustling and bustling. So I think you do find a lot of that in DC where people have that dual identity in terms of being a creative and being someone who’s has, I guess, a distinguished career in engineering or so. And you also have like… I think me being here, this is a very rich African immigrant community, and being raised in that environment, I’ve always felt comfortable being around here and… From churches to little grocery shops to even now venues and clubs that are owned by Africans. You see that community also as well.

Maurice Cherry:
What keeps you motivated and inspired these days? These are some interesting times that we’re in right now. You’re also working for a political campaign, which is always full of ups and downs in the campaign. I don’t care where you’re at in terms of rankings or whatnot. What keeps you inspired, motivated these days?

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh man, it’s tough these days, man. Things just seem so dreary and we don’t see a way out right now, but I just look back at my past and the nature of how I got to this country and how I am able to be where I am now despite the obstacles that faced me with my immigration status or what have you. And I look at my father and my late mother and the things that they were able to do to provide for me with the little that they have. What keeps me inspired is knowing that I have the opportunity to build generational wealth, and I’m not just talking about wealth financially. I’m talking about wealth with knowledge, the first one with my Adaramola last name, to have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. So that is legacy. That is wealth to me.

Samuel Adaramola:
And when I think about the future that I want to have for my future kids and my future wife, I think about that and to be able to say, “Hey, I’ve had these experiences while taking a path that wasn’t traditional or or easy,” is what keeps me motivated. I want to do so much and I’m grateful to have this experience in the campaign because I’ve learned so much and what I’m going to be able to take in the future is exciting and what I want to build for my legacy and the community for black people in general, to share the stories and to have more people, to be able to say, “Hey, that’s somebody that looks like me that’s representing a different sector or telling stories that are nuanced in a way that haven’t been told enough because people think all black people are the same.”

Samuel Adaramola:
So when I think about all of those things together, my history, my path, and what I want to create for the community, that definitely keeps me motivated, especially in these down times where everyone’s just sitting at home and it just seems it’s Groundhog’s Day, the movie, where you’re just repeating the day over and over and over and over and over again. I look at the books on my bookshelf and say, “Hey, I haven’t read that book. Maybe I can learn something about it.” You know what I’m saying? And have that experience of reading the book inform how I want to create in the future. So little things like that will keep me motivated. And just honestly, people like you, Maurice, people who are out there creating and seeking out the stories even when people weren’t trying to tell you what black designers are in the campaign, you went and saw it yourself.

Samuel Adaramola:
I mean honestly just knowing that people are creating their own platforms. And when I see people who are doing things that I want to do or are somewhat adjacent, I don’t get jealous. I get inspired. Man, that was tight. Let me see if I can do it better. So just the creative community, the black creative community as a whole just always motivates me, and I just want to always see us win no matter if you’re a black immigrant or you’re born and raised in the South or wherever you’re from. I think black people, when we learn that we can create more and create together, I think it’ll be a phenomenal thing and definitely something to keep me motivated and inspired.

Maurice Cherry:
Amen to that. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025, hopefully all of his pandemic mess is a faint memory behind us, but what kind of work do you see yourself doing in the next five years?

Samuel Adaramola:
Honestly, man, I’m working towards this right now, I want to have my own media company and I want to be able to use that media company to tell black stories in new and unique ways that are informed by my experiences of being raised in America as a black immigrant and bridging the gap between black identities. I want to do that work, whether it’s through video or audio storytelling with podcasts, but just continue to contribute to the zeitgeist of black creatives and continue to offer something new and to create more room at the table for different kinds of black creativity. So in the next five years, I want to spread that good juju to the world and be working for myself and employing other black creatives, other creatives of color to lead that legacy of telling unique nuanced stories of the black community.

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

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah, I’m fairly active on Twitter. My handle is samoriginals, one word, S-A-M-O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L-S, and it’s the same with Instagram. I’m not as active on Instagram, but you’ll see me there, and you know my website, samadaramola.com. Just look out, I’m working on some things in the future and yeah, if you are politically activated, vote, make sure you vote, make sure your voice is heard and make sure you’re registered because we don’t want another pandemic that is mishandled.

Maurice Cherry:
Listen, I know this is a design podcast and I don’t mean to get political, but for y’all that are listening, if the last three months have not shown you how important it is to get out and have your voice heard in terms of the future of this country, I don’t know what will. I don’t know what celebrity needs to dance a jig in the streets or whatever to get you to get out there and vote, but it is necessary. Just look at what the last three months have been like in this country, and you should go vote. That’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying.

Samuel Adaramola:
Not just in 2020, too. Every two years you got to put that in action. Just vote, be active in your communities. The situations have always been worse for for black people even before the pandemic, and this pandemic is just going to further exasperate the disparities that we have in this country. So get active. Like Bernie says, never lose your sense of outrage. Don’t lose it. All we have is our life on the line, so just get active, get informed. Still create, but don’t lose your sense of outrage.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well Samuel Adaramola, thank you so much for coming on the show. Again, I know we are recording this during very trying times right now that we’re all going through in this country, but I think just your message and your drive and really just your enthusiasm for making sure that you’re telling stories is something that we need now more than ever, whether it’s on a political campaign or not, just people that are out there that can show, not just how different we are, but also how we’re very much the same in many ways is really important, and I’m really going to be excited to see what you do next. I feel this is just the start for you, for whatever next is going to be coming big.

Samuel Adaramola:
Oh man, thanks so much.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Samuel Adaramola:
Yeah. Thank you for having me, Maurice, and I look forward to hearing myself. All right, take care.

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Arielle Wiltz

The COVID-19 public health crisis is affecting us all, taking us out of the lives we led before and forcing us to move forward through a fog of uncertainty as we try to find our way back to some semblance of normalcy. Such is the case with this week’s guest, Arielle Wiltz. While she is typically based in NYC, she was sheltered in place in New Orleans when we spoke. We started off discussing her work at frog design, including how she’s taking the current relocation in stride with everything else happening at the moment.

Arielle also shared how she transitioned from being a dancer to being a designer, talked about her volunteer work with ADCOLOR, and she shared some of the new things she’s learning to help keep her focused and motivated during this time of transition. Arielle may say she just fell into design, but it sounds to me like that’s just the kind of inspiration others need to hear in order to see themselves in this industry as well!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Arielle Wiltz:
My name is Arielle Wiltz and I am an interaction designer currently at frog Design. It’s a design consulting firm, one of the largest ones globally actually.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now, what’s a regular day like for you there? And I know that this is probably a odd question to ask given what we’re going through right now with this pandemic, but talk to me kind of like what your regular day-to-day is like.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. My regular day-to-day before the pandemic, well it’s usually, typically within frog, we’re in teams. So the teams are filled with like strategists, depending on a project, industrial designers, VD designers, interaction designers like myself.

Arielle Wiltz:
And we usually really coming together to brainstorm on whatever the project that we’re currently working on. So sometimes there’s a lot of white boarding the day and sometimes it’s a lot of heads down. It’s like executing the project. Other times you may be, for myself, especially being an interaction designer, we’re doing user testing, trying to understand how the users feel about the experience that we’re creating.

Arielle Wiltz:
So it really varies every day how we work and function. But usually when you’re on a project at frog and you’re with your team, you’re with your team for months. So you’re with that team the whole entire time. So it’s usually like you in your little corner with your team working, brainstorming, ideating.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like there’s a lot of just heads down work that you get to do to focus on a project.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, it is a lot of heads down. So one of the things I’ve found is like me working by myself, a lot of times frog is really big with collaboration. They believe in a lot of bringing ideas together especially from different disciplines. It’s rare that I’m just working with people who are interaction designers. I’m usually working with people who are in all different types of disciplines.

Arielle Wiltz:
I haven’t had the luxury to work with industrial designers but I have worked with strategists before and VD designers of course and design technologists. So a lot of times we’re really working together. And then once we come with an idea or concept, we’re go into like execution heads down.

Arielle Wiltz:
But I think it’s so beautiful. One thing I learned from frog that I absolutely love, it’s creative process. When I was in school studying, I used to feel like it just came from thin air. How do you go from A to B? What is happening?

Arielle Wiltz:
But with frog and working collaboratively and frog is really big on design research and pulling from all the research to really conceptualize and coming out with these amazing ideas. Because one thing about frog is we push for the next big thing. So I think that’s really phenomenal that I had the opportunity to learn this there.

Maurice Cherry:
How did you get started at frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
Actually it’s very interesting. I just really applied more so. So my journey to user experience interaction design is really a fluke. One thing about the career that I’m in or the discipline I’m in, people go to the top schools. Right. People go to School of Visual Arts, schools in Europe, school in Asia. They really work vigorously on their portfolio. They attend a lot of internships.

Arielle Wiltz:
Me, I just studied graphic design at Loyola and I didn’t even want to do it anymore. So I was really big into art nonprofits, helping out my community, decided to move to New York because that’s what I always wanted to do. So I moved without a job or a place to live. And with my first job just doing digital project management, I just fell into it. So I fell into it and I just build my way into becoming a designer. A lot of ups, a lot of downs because I didn’t have a lot of the resources like people at those types of schools.

Arielle Wiltz:
But in 2016, when I found that I was able to build my foundation regularly at a full time job, I worked really hard at it. So when it came time for when I applied at frog and I learned how to present how to articulate my story, I think that’s what really won them over.

Maurice Cherry:
What kind of projects are you working on right now at frog? As much of that as you can mention.

Arielle Wiltz:
So, I can’t mention much but frog… I could tell you about the type of projects. So a lot of projects within frog, which is different from other companies that I work with. Because, like I said, frog is not one of the largest but one of the top design consulting firms in the world.

Arielle Wiltz:
But what they do is people come to us and really want us to reinvent and reimagine. So think of any type of healthcare. How can we reimagine healthcare for the 21st century? Frog is known for building one of the first Macintosh and working with Steve Jobs. So that’s the history of frog really from industrial design to now into the digital age.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so a lot of projects when companies come to us and, whether it’s finance or entertainment or like I said, healthcare is really just reimagining the experience. Reimagining how it can be done, coming up with completely new concepts that hadn’t ever been done before. So that’s why I say the creative process is just so unique to me and so amazing on how do you actually get there.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you’re also the lead of frog’s Diversity and Inclusion group there in New York. As much of that as you can talk about, I’m really curious because I don’t hear about this a lot at design agencies. How did that group begin? And as you’re sort of leading it up, what sorts of things does the group do?

Arielle Wiltz:
So frog initially did start having a D&I, this amazing creative director in Austin, who I had the pleasure to work with, Alexa, she used to own it. But I feel like in New York we didn’t really have anything. So one day, again, one of my mentors at frog, John Wasserman, he was like, “Who wants to lead D&I?” Because we had a Slack channel.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so at the time I was on a bench and I was like, “Sure, I’ll lead it.” And so we started to have just workshops with people there. Frog, they’re diverse in a sense but when it comes to the numbers, as far as blacks, Latinos, is very low. So we were just like, everyone in it, no matter if you’re a designer or not. We all came together and we were just discussing what does diversity mean to us and et cetera.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so from those conversations I started two programs. One was breaking barriers, which is just a talk series open to the public where we invited people, but we for sure had people speaking, people of color. Because one thing in design, I didn’t believe 20% of it is people of color. And as far as blacks, there’s only 5%.

Arielle Wiltz:
So my goal was for us to actually see it because I think that’s the big thing a lot of times is I don’t see it so I don’t think I can do it. I really pushed for that to just have all different types of people of color to sit in those chairs and actually speak about their story.

Arielle Wiltz:
So, that was very successful and my baby. My favorite thing is for our mentors where it was a selective program where we reached out to, again, like I said, when it comes to these companies, a lot of times they hire from the top schools and I was like, “You know what? Let’s look at the state schools. Let’s look at the local community college schools, because the truth of the matter is there’s talent and innovators everywhere.”

Arielle Wiltz:
So we found, I believe, 28 people apply and we narrowed down to two amazing mentors, shout out to Sarah and Lisa. And they worked vigorously with two creative directors and came up with amazing portfolios who are now working at amazing companies. So on Buzzfeed and I believe Grey Advertising.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. Yeah. And that was the first time doing it. It was really prototype. I just hit the ground running as we were going up, I created it and made it. I did have help for, like I said, the mentors, the mentorship program was a lot of work. And we all have design jobs as well. People have like departments just to do that.

Arielle Wiltz:
But we worked really hard at it and I’m just so proud of my mentees and the difference that they’re making. Just being their authentic selves in these spaces. And I think that’s brings me joy, honestly. Seeing other people coming through the doors who look like me or represent another culture. That’s what design needs because it could be very Eurocentric.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, it totally is Eurocentric, in the United States absolutely.

Arielle Wiltz:
Totally, totally Eurocentric.

Maurice Cherry:
Now these kinds of D&I groups, I mean I feel like I hear about them a lot from tech companies. Tech companies will have some type of a group. Actually we had, back in December, Kendall Howse who works for Red Hat and he heads up their D&I group. But there’s something that I kind of hear from tech companies. I don’t really hear it from like agencies or design consultancies like what frog is. Why do you think it’s important to have this kind of group at a company like frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, it’s so important because us as designers, especially in today’s age, everything that you do, everything that you experience has been designed out for you. Where it’s like urban design, industrial design, the product that you’re using, the experience that you’re having.

Arielle Wiltz:
For example, tele-health that everyone’s using right now, especially with the pandemic. It’s like everything’s been designed for you. And if the majority of people who are designing are white male, consciously or unconsciously, you don’t know, it becomes bias. Correct.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I think it’s so important to have a diverse representation, not only just of as race, as ability, is of anything just to diversify it so other people can feel included and an experience and don’t feel left out. And especially since technology has taken such a hold with our society, people are being left out, which is so unfortunate.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like one of my missions, especially as a designer is to make sure I do my part in bridging a gap. And so to me that was what the mentorship was as a part, to bridge the gap as far as what product design and brand design. Even with brand design and making sure that images of different types of people from different cultures are included.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I definitely feel like it’s important. Especially when you’re working at a company, that whole goal is to innovate. One thing I love to say is diversity is innovation. Just imagine having a group of designers, engineers, industrial designers, strategists, all in a room from all different types of backgrounds, including economical backgrounds. Because that’s a issue too. Really thinking and brainstorming and strategizing a problem. Imagine the solutions that can come out of it. So that’s why I feel like it’s just extremely important, especially now to diversify the industry.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best thing about what you do at frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
You know what? I have to say, I work with extremely, extremely amazing creative people. I have been blessed that I have worked with people who really… I had two for sure managers or creative directors that have really pushed me to think at levels that I couldn’t even imagine. Also just, like I said we worked collaboratively, working very closely with the visual designer-

Arielle Wiltz:
… collaboratively working very closely with the visual designers, because that’s who I often work with. I learn so much from them. So I think that the thing that I really enjoy working with is, I feel like I’m blessed to have worked with, for example, I said Alexis from Austin, a creative director that’s no longer there, Jared, my manager, Henry. To work with people like that who really push me and just really, I feel like I’m being taken to another level from that. Then working with my coworkers, too. My VD coworkers for the most part.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
That’s the ones who I usually would work with. I think that’s what’s really cool about it, because you’re working with the top people there, so…

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So given that collaboration is such a big part of not just the work that you do at Frog, but also it sounds like just the culture of working at Frog, how have things been different now with this pandemic? Because now, I’m assuming, you’re working from home. Probably everyone is working from home, I’m assuming, right?

Arielle Wiltz:
Right. Everyone’s working from home right now. Yes. Yes. Oh man, it’s been so different working from home. I feel like I’m working more working from home than… I’m not really having a lot of downtime. I’m on a screen the whole entire time, and we have a lot of meetings. This project I’m working on now, we have a lot of meetings just to make sure everyone’s in the loop, and like I said, with agencies it’s usually a lot of fast paced work as well.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I won’t say difficult, I would say new, you know? It’s different. It’s different in a sense. I feel like say this pandemic lasts until June, July, people would get used to it, but it’s definitely new. I know the company did set up parameters of how to work from home and they leased out different softwares in order to do it, which is all cool, but just really adjusting yourself to do it.

Arielle Wiltz:
I usually would wake up early, have breakfast, do this, do that. Now I’m so tired because I feel like I go, go, go, go, go the whole entire time. It’s not like I’m leaving work then coming home, my work is at home. So that’s been really new for me, but yeah. We still have meetings. Every [inaudible 00:17:17] is basically running the same way as it was running before, it’s just the adjustment of working from home that I feel like everybody at my company, or everybody everywhere if they don’t really work from home, is kind of struggling with.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Does it feel like Frog is extending some kind of, I don’t know, grace during this time? Because this is a big shift for everyone, I’m assuming. It’s not just the change in working from in an office to working at home, but having the right set-up in terms of your desk or chair or laptop or monitor, or even now you live in New York but you’re currently in New Orleans. So now you’re not even at your place, you’re at a different place, trying to adjust to this. So hopefully Frog is extending some grace with how you all are working from home, and not expecting right away the same level of creative output, I guess. I don’t know.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, well you know what? When you work at, like I said, a company like Frog, they’re always going to expect top notch creative output, you know? That’s just how it is. But I think what’s beautiful is my creative director right now, every single time we check in, she really does a check in. Like, “How are you?” It’s not just like a regular, “Oh, how are you doing today?” It’s like, “Seriously, how are you?” If you’re feeling stressed or whatever, “Okay, maybe you need to take a walk. Maybe you need to step away.”

Arielle Wiltz:
So I think it’s really the creative directors who really taking in and up to account different things, like, “How are you doing right now? What’s going on with you?” If you don’t feel well… Really checking in. Checking in way more than before. That’s what I love about the creative director now. Every day she’s really just checking in and saying like, “How are you?” And really having a conversation about it.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like that’s really important right now because not only at Frog, I feel like any company or most companies, it’s still work. People are still going, people still trying to make deadlines, and it’s really hard right now because… I’m fortunate right now that I don’t know anyone who’s sick or anything like that, but for people who do, or people who are going through it, are sick themselves, or… Man, I can’t imagine. Even the health system, like we were saying earlier, being so overwhelmed right now. So I think everybody at some level is feeling it, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
But yeah, like I said, the creative directors, they’re aware of it and I think that’s what’s good about it. We’re human-centered design. We’re making sure things are human-centered within the teams too, so that’s really needed right now, and it’s happening.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s what I was saying. I hope that companies are extending just that grace because it’s… I don’t know. We know who people are at work in an office, but people’s home lives and their work lives are completely different. Some people use work as, I won’t say as an escape but that kind of feels like the best way to put it. They may not have the best home life, and going to work is the thing that’s sort of their brief respite from whatever they might have to deal with. Whether that’s, I don’t know, kids or a spouse or dealing with aging parents or anything like that. There’s a lot of things that can go into play, and working from home, it’s the option that we have to take right now-

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s just, it’s a lot. And then on top of all of that, just the overall impending news of the pandemic and what’s happening.

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
It wears on you.

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, definitely. It definitely wears on you. I remember one day before I came to New Orleans I was in New York. It was right before I started on a project so I was reading through files and getting prepped for it, and I was watching MSNBC the whole entire day. It created so much anxiety for me. It was when people were still trying to figure everything out, and that’s something that’s a big concern. Like I said, I’m fortunate, but 100% there are mothers who are working from home now, dads, and people who have a ton of different businesses that they are running right now, and now to work from home and do everything plus manage your kids, managing like you say, your aging parents, or possibly even if someone is sick right now.

Arielle Wiltz:
So that definitely goes into play with everything, but like I said, being the design nerd, I think it’s the time where people should, like I said, start mobilizing more. So utilize your skills to help others right now. There’s right now [inaudible 00:22:00] going on with UX for Change, and they’re working, partnering, with data center, I believe, that’s really heavy hands on what’s going on right now. And actually all these designers, data scientists, engineers are coming together to actually help solve a problem.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like this is the time, now, where people should start doing this. I know a ton of fashion designers right now within the health system that things are going on, just making face masks right now. So I feel like this is the time for us to really hone in and come together and help solve these issues, like you said, because I can’t even… Like I said, I’m not dealing with that but I can’t even imagine for someone who is dealing with something like that right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The last time I went out was the 14th of March. I remember this because I was already a bit skeptical about going out because I had just come back from LA a few weeks before that and I was sick when I came back. Now, when I came back, the sickness that I had, I sort of chalked it up to allergies because we have terrible pollen in Atlanta. But I chalked it up to allergies, just the fact that I was in and out of planes, I had switched hotels during the trip, I was at a conference. I figured all of these things just came into play with, “Oh, I’m feeling kind of sick.” Not flu-like at all, but just more annoying than anything else, right?

Maurice Cherry:
So I had been getting better leading up to the 14th, and I remember this because I was going to go vote. They had early voting then because our primary is on the… Or was, I should say, on the 24th. They’ve now pushed it back. So I went to go vote early in the morning. It took me, I don’t know, maybe five or 10 minutes, and I remember walking into the voting area in the library and the women there were like in hazmat suits.

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
These are the poll workers. Gloves, huge jugs of hand sanitizer, masks, hazmat suits. I’m like, “Is this ground zero?” It felt like I walked into an emergency room or something. But I remember going to vote, came home, and if I would have known that would have been the last time that I really could have left the house I would have, I don’t know, made a liquor store run or something, but I would have done something else.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s just that all the news about all this is happening so quickly with shelter in place and what’s going to happen in terms of financial stimulus. This has affected so many other businesses out there. I mean, I feel very fortunate in tech that the company I work for hasn’t been affected by it in terms of furloughing employees or anything like that, but depending on how long this goes on, there’s no telling what this looks like. There’s no end in sight.

Maurice Cherry:
Now hopefully, knock on wood, by the time this podcast comes out we’ll be outside chilling. Hopefully.

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
But right now, I’m on day 17 and I’m just like, one day at a time, I’ll just see how it goes.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, for sure. I spoke about how with design we could provide tools with healthcare workers or the government, but even just simple pleasures like… Not being able to have a human connection, you didn’t even realize how good it feels to go by your friend’s house and just chill, hang out, give them a hug. These little things you really miss doing. But one thing I love is how technology right now… With Instagram Live and D-Nice and the Quarantine Club, having a club at your house, feeling human, having some type of connection again with someone other than the same people you see all the time in your house. That feels warm to me. Really needed right now, you know? To still feel like you’re human, not just really just stuck in the house and I can’t go anywhere except just get groceries [crosstalk 00:25:57] if that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. If that, yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
So…

Maurice Cherry:
So, I haven’t been going out to the grocery store, only because I’ve been trying to heed the advice of stay in, order, because that’s the best way. They can drop it off. So, but even doing ordering through Instacart or something, they’re like “There’s nothing here. Half the stuff that you wanted to get is not here.” I don’t know, it’s just a lot going on right now that can make it tough to focus on work because there’s so much other stuff that’s happening and you’re just at home. It’s all like that’s the epicenter of everything, because you can’t really go out and do anything.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. I think another thing that this hasn’t… When I speak with my friends right now it’s really helping us focus on self care tools and what to do right now to really just not increase your anxiety with everything. My theory, like I told you, I was fine until yesterday when I really started thinking, “How long is this going to last?” I started freaking out because I was like, “Wait, how long is this going to last and I’m going to have to be here and do this and that. What about my normal life? What about what I was doing all the goals that I had summer? What I’m trying to do?” So it’s a adjustment, but I feel like I am learning more self care tools that I probably needed while I was in New York, because New York itself can be hectic.

Maurice Cherry:
Well yeah, that’s true. That’s true.

Arielle Wiltz:
So yeah, so really readjusting it and when we come out of this we’ll definitely continue doing those things because even, this is so basic but even like eating. I noticed that when I’m New York, waking up and then going on the subway, then work, then sometimes I’m working past normal hours depending on the project, I just forget to eat. That’s so crazy and insane, but it really does happen. So since I’ve been working from home I make sure to have my meals and do things [inaudible 00:27:58] and really just take care of myself, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
And I think that’s, no matter what we do or what you’re doing, make sure you take care of yourself. Especially in this because your immune system is what’s going to help you if you do get sick and you don’t want to, by any way, shape, or form, have it down.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, and you’re in New Orleans, which as of the time that we’re recording this is one of the big hotspots for the virus now.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yes. Yes, New Orleans is because people are assuming, I don’t know for sure, but people are saying because of Mardi Gras with so many people here it was able to spread it rapidly. Yeah, so it is one of the hot spots. New Orleans, I think the difference is New Orleans is more spaced out. So for example, my mom, she works out every morning so she might do a little run, but no one’s outside. We live in little subdivision and it’s spaced out.

Arielle Wiltz:
Unfortunately people are not staying at home like they should, but yeah, it’s pretty bad in New Orleans, actually. Really bad, actually. I know a couple of friends of mine who know someone who has it right now, or even died from it. My mom mentioned one or two people, so it’s really bad here now. Especially when you’re in a city. What I love about New Orleans, it’s so warm here, so hospitable, and for you not to be able to do something that’s so natural down here, it’s been very difficult and hard.

Arielle Wiltz:
Or even for example, I know, which is so hard, but people can’t even see the grandparents right now. New Orleans is very family knit community, and so people can’t even see the grandparents or even take care of their grandparents. I know when my grandparents were alive my mom used to go and take care of my grandmother, so I couldn’t even imagine being in something like this and we can’t even take care of my grandmother who was differently able. She was in a wheelchair. So I can’t even imagine people who are dealing with that right now and how difficult it can be.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been able to at least keep in touch with her, like call or anything?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh no, she’s not here any more but I’m just saying.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, oh. I’m sorry. Oh.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, no-

Arielle Wiltz:
More.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh. Oh, I’m sorry. Oh.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. No, no, no. She lived a long, beautiful life though. But I’m just saying, I’m just thinking about the times when my mom did do that. That I know so many people are probably doing that now and can’t. That’s difficult because you don’t want to go there because you don’t want to get her sick sick in any way. But at the same time she needs to be able to do certain things because she’s differently able. She’s unable to move because of the wheelchair. I think that’s really difficult right now. Because not everybody can afford to put their loved ones in nursing homes or can do certain things or provide assistance. A lot of people are doing it themselves. To even be in a situation like this right now, it has to be very difficult.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. To kind of switch gears here a little bit, I know we really ended up talking about this for a good bit of time, but you mentioned New Orleans, you’re from New Orleans, you grew up there. What was it like growing up there as a kid interested in design?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. Oh, so it wasn’t so much that I was interested in design. I was just a very creative kid. One thing I do is write. I write Medium articles. I used to write a lot of stories. I was in dance in school. I thought I wanted to become a professional dancer, even studying in college. I was a dancer. Also I was part of different activities within church. I feel like that all kind of brought in my skills to become a good designer. That’s one thing that I’m really big on is STEM to STEAM and including the arts because I feel like that all contributes to innovation. Even if the person decides to become a scientist or technologist or engineer, having the arts really help push your creativity. Because that definitely helped me because, oh man, I used to dance. There’s this program in New Orleans. New Orleans have a lot of free dance programs and it’s NOLA NOBA.

Arielle Wiltz:
Man, I used to dance every single day. Go to dancing school, dance, dance. Very disciplined. Studied ballet, studied modern, studied jazz, and just that discipline, that creativity, I really felt brought into my skills as an interaction designer more so innovating different ideas within technology.

Maurice Cherry:
I was just going to ask, how did you go from dancing to design?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. When I was in college and I was studying dance, I became injured in one of the programs and so when I was injured they was saying, “Oh, you’re going to have to like…” How this program went was fall, you take this course. Spring, you take this course. Back and forth. They was like, “Oh, you’re going to have to sit out for a year.” And I’m like, “A year?” I was so focused on graduating on time, which still did not happen, but I was like, “A year? I don’t want to wait a year.” I was so upset and I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to change my major.” I didn’t even really know what I wanted to do but I knew I still wanted to be somewhat creative. So little that I knew because I didn’t know really much about all the different types of designs and I was like, “Oh I heard of graphic design before. I guess I’ll get into that.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Again, like the story of how I got into anything was all a fluke really. I was like, “Okay I’m just going to get into this. I’m going to become a graphic designer I guess.” I wind up, because I transferred schools and I was at Loyola studying graphic design and I wound up not being so into it because I guess I didn’t get the full grasp of it at the time being so young. But once again I fell into interaction design. I was like, “Oh wow.” Using my analytical skills because I am quite a nerd when it comes to research and analyzing and then being creative and combining both together. I thought it was just like the perfect job for me. Like, “Oh my God, this is like everything that I’ve been wanting to do.” Because I’m very analytical and I like a process. It was like this is the process to get to point A to B. It doesn’t come from thin air. It’s very rigorous. But it’s some type of silver lining to it.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, that was my experience more so. But yeah, New Orleans definitely helped me out, especially when we were speaking earlier about my involvement with diversity inclusion because I attended NOLA NOBA. Again, design is again very elite. I mean not design, dance. Dance is very elite. For NOLA NOBA to have programs in the inner city with top design dance teachers who taught in New York, Europe, et cetera, teaching us. That was just everything. It felt like things were possible that you probably thought you couldn’t even do. That’s one thing that I really admire and really grateful for having that background as being a dancer.

Maurice Cherry:
What did your parents say when you kind of switched it up like that? I mean from dancing to design. Did they have anything to say?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh no. My dad wanted me to be a doctor. He had his heart set on it, so my parents, they weren’t into it. They weren’t into it at all. They weren’t into me studying dance. They weren’t into me… They really didn’t get into it until… They weren’t into me moving to New York at all. I think they really didn’t realize my journey, my path that I chosen until like I started becoming successful into it and now they go bragging. Like, “Arielle, what do you do again.” I’m like, “I’m a designer.” “What is that again?” I have to explain it over like, “I’m an interaction designer.” “What does that do?” “Oh, it’s computers.” I’m like, “It’s more than computers.” “Well, we’ll just say computers.” They’re very proud but my parents have been supportive. But I feel like most parents of people of color, especially like black parents, they want you to be a doctor, engineer, think that they know you should do. When I was like, “Oh, I’m going to become a designer,” it was like, “What is that? We don’t get that.”

Maurice Cherry:
I think also part of it probably is them just… I think it might be less about wanting to be a doctor or engineer and more about being in a successful role where you can take care of yourself and hopefully them too.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s more about the possibility or the probability of that because I mean we know that there are working artists and designers out there, but when we think about jobs that have some level of respect or prestige or make money, it does end up being those kinds of doctor, lawyer, engineer kind of things. It’s less about being a designer or an artist or an illustrator or a musician or anything like that, you know?

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, 100%. But that’s the thing that I love about what I do is because yes, I am a designer. I’m an interaction designer. But the reason why I truly decided to go this path and with my career is because I always loved helping people. That was one of my passions because in the beginning I was working at art nonprofit and making sure I was bringing the arts into the cities where people weren’t exposed to or kids aren’t exposed to it more so. So I was thinking about going… I was working at campus at the time, a digital project manager. I already started assisting the UX design, so I already was kind of doing it. So I just wanted to learn more about it. Like I said, I’m a researcher so I was on a computer. I found this company and they created this really, really amazing technology that allow patients with, I believe ALS, be able to communicate their needs in control. Things like for example, turning the lights on or off or turn on the TV or not using technology.

Arielle Wiltz:
When I saw that I was like, “Oh my God, I’m still contributing in some way.” I may not be the doctor in the hospital, but I’m creating the technology for the doctor in the hospital. That’s when I was like, “This is what I need to do. This is what I want to do in my life.” That’s when I rigorously pursued it. I feel like really letting people know the different opportunities in me in choosing to become a designer is one of the big things. Or even being in the creative field because I feel like sometimes people just think we just color and draw all day, but that is not the case at all. Like no. No, I definitely do not do that.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you decide to make the move to New York? Because it sounds like you kind of had your roots there in New Orleans with your family and going to school there. Why the move to New York?

Arielle Wiltz:
Again, like I said, this has been my journey. This is probably the beam of my journey. A fluke. I was just like, you know what? I was working at amazing nonprofit called Young Audience of Louisiana, amazing nonprofits. I was working there and I was making decent amount of money to be in New Orleans. Moved from office manager to marketing associate. Because one thing you realize is when you have any type of degree in design, the first thing they make you do, no matter what you want to do, you could definitely step out of design, they’re like, “Oh, you studied graphic design? We need help with this.” They pull you back in. It was just like I was working one day and I always wanted to move to New York since I was a child. I just went to my mom because I was still at home. I believe I was 24, 25 and I was like, “I’m moving to New York.” My mom was like, “With what money?” I was like, “I don’t know. I’m just going to start saving and I’m going to move.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Then I went and I picked the day in the calendar I was like September 6. That’s when I’m moving. My mom was like, “Why is it set for 6th?” I was like, “I don’t know. This is just the plan.” I did it. It was just so crazy. I tell my friends, I can imagine now my best friend Tracy, it’s like, “Where are you going to live?” It was just, I didn’t have a place to live. I didn’t have a job at the time. Everything kind of fell into place because of course I wasn’t homeless. But yeah, I was working in restaurants for a good time when I first moved to New York. Shout out to the restaurant industry. Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
What I did know is I did know that I wanted to be in digital so I did have some type of plan. I was like, I want to work in digital, but I didn’t know about all the different types of disciplines. All I knew was I studied graphic design. I don’t like graphic design. So those were the two things I knew. I knew I wanted to work in digital and knew I didn’t want to be a graphic designer anymore. From my research I was like, “Oh, I want to become a project manager.” But I thought that was being a product manager. I didn’t know the difference. So I just started applying for those jobs.

Arielle Wiltz:
That’s really how it all happened. Basically just fluked. It was just like something in my spirit. I’m very intuitive so I try to listen to my spirit and just go forward with that. But go forward with a plan though. I do have plans in place when I do things. When I decide I’m going to do something, I go forward with a plan and make a schedule and really sketch it out moving forward. But yeah, that’s really how it happened.

Maurice Cherry:
I saw from looking at your LinkedIn, you worked at a company called Tigerspike for over two years as a UX designer. What did you take away from that experience?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. Tigerspike really gave me my foundation because when I was a canvas at the other companies too, it was really me just trying to find myself. Like how do I fit in in this world? I was studying at general assembly part-time because I couldn’t afford the full time program. Working full time. Trying to become a UX designer at the time. Then finally doing just some freelance gigs or contract gigs. But once I got to Tigerspike, that really set my whole foundation of being a designer. One thing I had to say about Tigerspike. Tigerspike, it’s now smaller in the US, but it was the first time I met another black designer. I know that may sound crazy but that was… I remember it like yesterday.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to say, not for this show that doesn’t sound crazy.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. I know. No, no. It was definitely not. I remember I was… So the recruiter at Tigerspike, She helped me get a contract job and so my contract was ending. She’s like, “Oh Tigerspike…” She now worked at Tigerspike and she was like, “Oh now we’re hiring for this project. It’s going to be contract to full time. I’ll let you know if you qualify.” So we were talking back and forth because they needed someone more senior. I knew I did not have anything for a portfolio. I had one general assembly project and I made up projects.

Arielle Wiltz:
She told me, say it was Monday, she told me Monday I had an interview. Then so on Tuesday, I stayed up all day and night creating a project because I know I didn’t have a portfolio and I know I didn’t have anything. I just stayed up all day night working on it. Right. No sleep. I go in the next day delirious but determined to do well. I was so shaky and nervous because when you go into the space, it’s predominantly [inaudible 00:13:21]. It’s not me. I don’t see myself. I walked in and I see this black woman, her name Rachel Robbins, automatically just like relief came through me. It was my first time seeing a black designer and she was high up too as well.

Arielle Wiltz:
I presented her my work, her and two other designers my work, and it was just such a calming relief to see someone so familiar in that space that I think that’s one of the reasons why I did so well because I was no longer nervous and scared. I felt like, “Okay, she’s there. I don’t know how her experience, I don’t know her background, but this woman looks like me, so if I don’t get in here, I could make it within this industry.” I think that really helped me get my foot in the door. Like I said, it was like the foundation of design for me. Very rigorous but amazing team, amazing company. I was even able to travel to London. It was my first time in Europe and I worked there for three months. So just the opportunities were endless working there.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Sounds like you came out of that with a lot then.

Arielle Wiltz:
A lot. Yeah. I was, like I said again, just very blessed on his journey. The journey has up and downs, but the highs be really high sometimes. You’re like, “Wow, I can’t believe I just moved here when I didn’t have a place to live and now I’m in London.” That was just really amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s funny you mentioned that. The place where I work at now, Glitch, the first week was split between me being in New York and being in London. The first day at work was they flew me up there, did paperwork and everything in New York that Monday. Flew overnight to London, was in London. That was my first time in London. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday-

Maurice Cherry:
And that was my first time in London, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That Wednesday actually was a conference that my CEO was at and my boss was attending. So it’s my first time meeting these people and it’s at a conference where I’m expected to represent the company on day three of working at the place. And then flew back on the Thursday, Thursday afternoon/evening. And then, was in New York on Friday. And then back in Atlanta on Saturday. I was like, “This is wild.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Wow, I know. And for you, you hear about… I know being from the South and being from New Orleans, you hear about people who live like that, traveling all the time for work.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
And going to big cities, but actually for you to experience that, it’s like wow. Especially how old was I? Probably 27, 28 experienced, something like that first time. And no one in my family ever did anything like that. So for me to do it, it was just a surreal experience.

Maurice Cherry:
So I also saw that you do some work with ADCOLOR, you’re on their advisory board. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Arielle Wiltz:
Sure, yeah. So on the ADCOLOR advisory board, what we focus on is the Futures. So Futures are junior level people who are in their careers and we focus more so on building skills for them to develop so they could carry on throughout their professional career. Especially, another big thing is diversifying the industry, not just what people call it, but also different genders as well as different abilities. And the list can go on and on. And so what we do is, our goal is to create these programs for them. So when the conference come in, we have the Futures come a little early and create these programs to help them develop these skills, as well as we help out really voicing and speaking out for ADCOLOR and what it’s about. Isn’t it amazing? I’ve only been in it one year so far. This is my second year.

Arielle Wiltz:
And it’s been a really amazing experience because we’re working with people in all different industry because you’re also… It’s primarily ad, but now especially technology people in tech companies like Google and Facebook on the board, as well as people in different marketing industries as well, people with different backgrounds. But we all have the same mission and goal and that’s just to diversify an industry and the importance of diversifying industry. So I think it’s an amazing experience because it’s again, holds on to what I really believe in. What we say in ADCOLOR is rise up and reach back. And that’s one thing that I feel like I just been doing before ADCOLOR. Now and probably after ADCOLOR, I’ve been doing that with my life, just really trying to rise up to the best that I can, but always trying to reach back to others to make sure they can come on as well and try to really narrow the gap. So that’s what ADCOLOR is about and it’s been a dope, dope experience.

Maurice Cherry:
When you kind of look back over your career, I know you’ve been mentioning getting into design and the opportunities that you’ve had as a fluke, but when you look back over your career, what are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned about yourself?

Arielle Wiltz:
Biggest lessons I learned about myself, resiliency for sure. Because as I’m telling a story, there were a lot of lows. There was a lot of times, especially when I first moved to New York, I was really struggling financially and trying to make it. And there were times where I just really thought maybe I need to go back home, maybe I can’t do it. But I’m telling you hard times really help you. You know how they say hard times help build character and you’re like, “Yeah, whatever.” Because you’re going through the hard time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
But when you look back you’re like, “Yeah, I know.” It really did help me built my resiliency. I feel like everything that I went through, no matter it was like the harshest of making it into New York or it was very heartbreaking for me because I did wanted to go to one of the top design schools. And when I was speaking with my mom at the time, it was like, “Well, we can’t afford it right now.” You can’t really afford it yourself, with how you’re trying to pay for things. So how it’s going to happen? So really me trying to strategize and figure out ways on, okay, I want to become this use experiences. I want become this interaction designer. I want to work at these companies. How do I get there?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
So really building that skill of becoming strategic. And I feel like also the skill of being a fighter, man. Really being a fighter in a sense of standing on what I believe in. As far as, like I said, diversifying the industry, making sure more of us are in a space and not just talking about it but actually being about it. Actually trying to create these programs. Like I said, the mentorship program for our mentors was very prototype. It was not a refined program by any means, but I just created it. And now we have one Latina and one Middle Eastern, amazing women working in the industry now.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Arielle Wiltz:
So you got to start somewhere. So one thing I will say is you learn to just go for it. This is what I want, okay, kind of like about to get into design thinking. But this blue sky, this is I want. Now okay, how do you get from point A to point B? How are we going to get there? Kind of like the creative process that I’ve been speaking about. How are we going to get there? What are you going to do? And those are the things that I really learned from my experience.

Maurice Cherry:
What keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Arielle Wiltz:
Especially these days, oh man, man, man. Yeah, you’re able to think a lot now. So now I feel I’m really honing on what’s my Northern star and that is diversity and inclusion. And how do I do that? Kind of like go to parks, that’s my choice of weapon. My choice of weapon is design and innovation and technology. So how I’m utilizing it is, I’m trying to focus on product inclusion now. That’s one of my main goals. I’m actually now that I have so much free time, I’m starting to take courses in algorithm design, AI, and machine learning because that’s the latest revolution that’s happening right now for us.

Arielle Wiltz:
And again, we as a people are being left out in a lot of things. There’s a lot of biasness happening when things are being built. So I’m trying or not trying, I am learning these skills and learning how to apply them as a designer and how I can utilize my human centered thinking into it. So that’s what keeps me motivated right now. And I now know what I love to do. I now know who I am and how can I play a part of it. So now it’s just honing in all these different skills to make things happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025 hopefully, we are well past this pandemic by then. Where do you see yourself? What do you want to be doing in 2025?

Arielle Wiltz:
Ooh, I would love to become a director at some level. That would be a big goal of mine. I also would definitely want to start probably creating a more formal program with the mentorship program. Whereas kind of like, you could say a school, but more on the free end for us and really provide all the professional resources that the top schools will have.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
That would be something that I want to do. And also like I said, I have all these amazing skills that I have learned from Tigerspike and from frog of how to innovate and come up with ideas and concepts. And there are so many amazing people who come up with these dope, dope, dope ideas in tech or just services. But then they need help with the creative process of how to go about really executing it or how to really solve this problem like what products need it.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so I want to start offering a service to more so focusing on us and focusing on us as black people, focus on us as brown people as well, and really providing those services because we need all of us in those entrepreneurial spaces as well. So providing those types of services. I’m actually kind of starting on that with a friend of mine. She’s investment banking, so she’s more so knowing how investor relations and how that work and I’m more on the creative side. So hopefully by 2025 we are fully established and functioning and really one of the top companies doing it.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, look at that.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah.

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Sure, so I’m on LinkedIn, my name is Arielle Wiltz. Also Medium have me writing articles. And right now they’re in pandemic, but I’m definitely going to start back up writing more articles on diversity inclusion within design and the workspace and now product inclusion. So on Medium, my name is Arielle Wiltz. And as well as I’m finalizing my website, it will be www.ariellewiltz.com

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Arielle Wiltz, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I know that we’re recording this during a very tumultuous time right now just in terms of our society and everything. But I mean, I have to say talking to you has been so refreshing today. Your enthusiasm and your drive for really just kind of carving your own path to becoming a designer is something that I think I needed to hear today. And hopefully for people that are listening, they can hear that too. Hopefully, they can pick up on just how excited you are about the work that you’re doing and I really think that you’re going to go far if you keep that attitude, that positive attitude, it’ll take you far. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Arielle Wiltz:
Thank you so much, Maurice. This was a pleasure.

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