Sam Bass

If you’ve been thinking about striking out on our own as a new year’s resolution, then this week’s episode might be a good one to check out as I speak with freelance animator and art director Sam Bass. Sam is a creative problem solver at heart, and for the past ten years, he’s worked on illustrative images and animating unique graphics with silky smooth results.

Sam talked about his work and delved deep into his creative process, including some of the unique challenges of sustaining a freelance career. He also spoke about growing up in the DMV area, his time at ICF before moving to Atlanta, and gave a sneak peek into his latest project — a short film called “The Exchange.”

Big thanks to Ricardo Roberts of BIEN for the introduction!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Anne H. Berry

“The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection” is one of the most important contributions to the corpus of design history, and I’m so glad this week to have the book’s managing editor, Anne H. Berry, on Revision Path to talk about it. I caught up with her while she’s on sabbatical from Cleveland State University, where she’s an associate professor in the department of art and design.

Our conversation began with a discussion about the state of education and teaching over the past few years, and what it means for students and the general culture. Of course, we also talked about the book, and Anne shared how the super team of editors and contributors came together through the power of a shared vision. Anne also spoke on her 2021 exhibit, Ongoing Matter: Democracy, Design and the Mueller Report.

Thank you to Anne for helping push the conversations around Black design forward!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Matai Parr

Happy new year! We’re kicking off 2024 with Matai Parr, a designer with a unique approach to his work and his career. Matai just finished the Masters program in interaction design from ArtCenter College of Design, and our conversation was full of fresh insights into the evolving nature of human connections in the digital age, particularly with freelancing, gaming, and social media.

Matai talked about his love for computer science in high school which eventually led him to ArtCenter, and he spoke at length about the significance of gaming communities as modern-day social hubs, the importance of advocacy in the design industry, and what he’s got planned for this year — writing about design!

Matai is all about appreciating the now and making projects that matter to him, and I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future. Thanks to Breon Waters II for the introduction!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Salih Abdul-Karim

For our final episode of Revision Path for 2023, I talked with the amazingly brilliant Salih Abdul-Karim. If you’re a motion designer, then there’s a good chance you’ve used Lottie, which Salih co-created during his time at Airbnb and is the new industry standard when it comes to animation on mobile apps and the Web.

Salih talked about his current work at Cōlab, exploring their non-traditional approach which eschews agency hierarchies to maintain a hands-on, skill-diverse team that seamlessly fills in the gaps for startups and other companies. Salih also shared his personal journey of how he found his passion for combining tech and creativity, and we even gave our thoughts on Andre 3000’s debut solo album, New Black Sun.

Even with such a seasoned career, Salih’s humility and mindset of constant learning is truly inspiring. From all of us here at Revision Path, consider this episode our holiday gift to you! Merry Christmas!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

Salih Abdul-Karim:

So my name is Salih Abdul-Karim, and I am a creative director [and] motion designer.

Maurice Cherry:

So, Salih, we’re recording this at the end of the year. When you look back at 2023, if you could pick three words that would describe how this year has been for you, what would those words be?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I would say…confusing. What’s the word to say that something went fast, like…

Maurice Cherry:

Swift?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Swift. Okay, so I got confusing. I got swift. And maybe lastly, I would say family is what I would say would be maybe the third word when I think about this. And that has to do with both my literal family, but also, like, where I’m working right now has a lot of family vibes. We all take care of each other, so it always comes up.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you have any goals that you’d like to accomplish in 2024?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah, I think that I don’t have any kind of specific goals, and I never really been the kind of person to sit down and set goals. I’ve tried to do it before, but if anything, maybe my number one goal is to really try to foster even more relationships. I think that’s probably the thing I think about the most right now, is I got a lot of great relationships based on the 20 years I’ve been doing this. And I kind of have been riding the waves of those relationships for a while. And I just know that there’s more out there, especially as new industries like AI come out. There’s people working in it. I want to meet those people. I want to talk to them. I want to foster just some more relationships in some different areas.

Maurice Cherry:

Isn’t it wild to say that you’ve been in this industry for 20 years? Doesn’t that feel wild when you look at the grand scheme of things?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

It’s wild. And I feel hella old, man. And then what has happened in those 20 years? It’s just been such a whirlwind. It’s interesting, I think about where that 20 years started, and it started in such a kind of ambiguous place where I’m getting out of school and I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m trying to figure my way around it. And again, I still kind of feel like that. Today I’m at a company where we’re working with startups and I’m trying to find their way. And the feeling almost has not changed from when I got some experience and I have some skills I can lean on, but the feeling when I got out of school, I kind of still feel like that today, 20 years later. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you feel like the guru at the top of the mountain? A little bit?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Definitely not. I definitely do not feel like the guru at the top of the mountain. And again, I can’t say that I don’t have knowledge or tricks that I lean on or experiences that I lean on, but more often than not, I definitely still feel like I really don’t know what the heck I’m doing and I’m trying to make the best decision I can with the information I have every day. It’s worked out. I still got a job, I’m still working, and I got a lot of great colleagues that I’ve built over the years, but I definitely still don’t feel like the wise guru or feel like I know what I’m doing at all.

Maurice Cherry:

Let’s talk about Cōlab, which is where you’re currently at. It’s this creative studio that’s based out of San Francisco. Tell me more about it. Like how did you get started there?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

So Cōlab is like you mentioned, it’s a creative studio focused in on marketing, brand design and product design. And Cōlab kind of sits within a growth equity company called Westcap. And so you imagine Westcap invests in mostly tech startups. They invest in the startup. They say, okay, we’re going to give you x amount of money, but we’re also going to have our creative team Cōlab parachute in and help you with various things. And when I say various things, I mean it could be almost anything. We got 22 people on the Cōlab team. We have brand designers, product designers, growth marketers, insights.

People do insights and research to better understand companies’ customers. We got me as motion design and creative director. We have brand strategists, we have content strategists, writers, we have pr. So we have a lot of various skill sets. And most of the skill sets we have are exactly the kind of skill sets that a startup shouldn’t quite have yet. There’s no reason for a startup to have a motion design, but there is a reason for me to, like I mentioned, parachute in and help out with various things. There are times where we have startups where they don’t have a CMO, but we have these two VPs of growth marketing. Maria and Diane. Sometimes they’ll parachute in very well what a CEO does and how to work with one based on all their experience.

They’ll be a temporary CMO for a minute. Cōlab is really about helping startups reach another level, and sometimes you can only reach that level when there’s a certain set of skills that you may not need yet. And that’s what we fill that gap for.

Maurice Cherry:

So you mentioned the team, and it has all these sort of different components. I mean, it sounds like almost kind of like a full-fledged agency.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah. And the only reason why we don’t call ourselves an agency, and this has been a debate between us since I started, the only reason why we don’t call ourselves an agency is because, number one, we don’t have all the layers that an agency has. Account director, senior account director, and all of the, I would say, account services of an agency. What we have are pretty much a couple dozen people who can, again, direct projects and lead projects, but also those people also design. So we don’t have people who are just managers for managers sake or salespeople or anything like that, that maybe a kind of traditional agency would have. Okay.

Maurice Cherry:

And I guess, like you said, it’s coming in from the bigger partner. So everything that comes in is basically like a fully qualified lead. You don’t have to hunt down work.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

That’s true. And one of the things I do like about Colack is we do have a group of companies that we work with on a regular basis that come in through who Westcap invests in. But we also do take external work as well. So we do sometimes reach out to companies that we’re interested in doing work for, or it might be a contact that we’ve known that has decided to start their own company and we’ll help them. So we do have external companies. Again, the main difference is when you work with us, you’re not really getting the same kind of, I don’t know, full fledged, layered agency experience. You oftentimes are working with a smaller group, four or five people. Each of those people is senior enough to do the work, but also to run the project as well.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay, I got you. So when new work comes in the door, what does the process look like? By the time it comes to you, I should say, what does the process look like?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah, when new work comes in the door, usually, obviously there’s kind of a meeting with me. I serve as a creative director, executive creative director. We also have Brian Wakabayashi, who’s our head of strategy. He’s also kind of like our creative studio managing director. And then we have Michelle Ha, who’s our operations director. So the three of us usually will meet with whoever the company is that is interested in collaborating. And really we start a conversation about what they think they need, what we think we can do, and begin to kind of formulate a plan on how we think we might be able to help them. And from there, depending on what it is, sometimes I fade away altogether and they don’t see me anymore, because what they need is something that’s more like strategy.

And then we’ll bring our other brand strategists in, they’ll do a strategy process, and that might be the end of the project. Sometimes a thing will come in, like as an example, we had an AI startup approach us to do an explainer video for them that explains their product. That was an instance where I took that project on. I brought on a designer, brought on a writer, and then Brian, our head of strategy, he disappears. Depending on what the project is, you’re going to get a different combination of people from the team that really focus on the thing that you need.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, it’s funny you mentioned AI. That’s been a regular theme that we’ve had on the show probably for the past two years now. We mentioned it at least in every episode in some capacity. Like, how are you using AI or any of this other new tech, like virtual reality, mixed reality, et cetera. Do you use any AI tools in your work, or do you have any just kind of general thoughts about AI with motion design?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah, I love it. I use them, but honestly, I more or less play with them. I haven’t yet figured out an exact way of how to integrate it into my day to day workflow. I imagine how I hope to be able to integrate it. Like as an example, if I have a video that I’ve made that’s 60 seconds long and it’s in a 16:9 kind of TV format, I’d love to just tell AI, :hey, make this into a square format for Instagram. Hey, cut this down to 30 seconds.” I’d love to be able to do that and have it just do it. But as of now, more or less any AI tool that I see come out, I try it, I play with it.

I play with mid journey, creating images, sometimes for fun, I definitely play with ChatGPT in terms of asking questions, or sometimes I’m doing writing for blog posts and I’ll have a proofread, stuff like that. But I feel a little bit like I’m just playing. I haven’t really found a way of integrating it into my work in a real way.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, has the AI gotten sophisticated enough to do motion work? I mean, I’ve seen like, chat, GPT will do text and mid journey and Dolly and things like that, can do images, but has it gotten sophisticated enough to do motion?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

There are some programs that do it. There’s one called Runway ML.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

They have a whole suite of tools. So sometimes one of the kind of projects that I work on sometimes is like screen replacement, right? So you imagine you have this app, and they need a video to show off what the app does. So obviously you need people walking around using the app, and you’re showing footage of someone using that app. And usually what happens is I go in and I put in a new screen on top, and I track it, and I do what’s called rotoscoping, kind of painting out the frames, the fingers in front or whatever, and making a new screen look like it’s integrated into the shot. And so this thing, Runway ML, they have a bunch of tools that can help you do that. For example, you can click on something and have it track. So if it’s a footage of like a surfer on a wave, you can click on the surfer’s body, and it’ll give you a tracking point as they move along. Then you can use that as you want to put a hat on the surfer or whatever you want to do.

So it has some stuff that are really kind of cool or fun to play with. But again, I’ve been using certain methods for a pretty long time, and occasionally I’ll try to use it to replace one of my methods, but it’s not quite at a place where I feel like it’s going to take it over quite yet.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. I was curious if it had the capability to do that, because I had a motion designer on the show a couple of weeks ago, Andre Foster. He co-founded a motion graphics design studio and production house called First Fight. And he talked about how he uses it sort of as like a Pinterest board. Like, he uses it for just kind of like inspiration and stuff. But then he said it inspired him enough to actually put together almost like opening credits to a show, not a real show, but just like, oh, let’s see how far I can sort of push the technology. And honestly, it looked like something I would see on, like FX or something. It looked really good.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Oh, that’s dope. Yeah. See, I’ll talk to you when we’re done on what that is. And play with it.

Maurice Cherry:

You mentioned this in a past interview that you’ve done. You said that motion design is so crucial to making high quality digital products on any platform. Why is that the case?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

The case is just because the way, and this is maybe too deep and existential, right? But the way we experience all of our lives is through time, right? You walk outside, you walk down the block. That took 10 seconds. You experience time. You saw a dog, you saw a tree, you saw the sun. The way we experience life is through time. And I know that for years people were reading books and you using your imagination, people reading magazines. There’s a very static kind of experience. It lives as that thing, like a rock, just lives like that forever.

But now that we have technology, and smartphones are just ubiquitous, they’re everywhere, and you’re able to actually interact with them. You put your finger on it and you move it. You’re adding motion, you’re adding time to the equation. And the reason why motion is so important is because it helps you do something that feels more natural to what humans should be doing, if that makes any sense. So just as an example, right, if you’re on a website and you click on a button that’s going to take you to another page, the old school way is it’s just going to slam you right to the next page. Now you have to reorient yourself and figure out where you are now. And the way I think about it is motion can actually help you bridge those two things. It can help you understand where you were, it can help you understand where you went, where you’re going, and it just creates a more natural experience than just kind of blinking.

And now you appear somewhere else.

Maurice Cherry:

That makes sense. Now that you put it that way, it is something that I think humans are used to, that they’re used to motion. And also, so many things now are skewing towards video, and that’s nothing but motion. So it kind of makes sense to still put those sorts of animations and interactions in most types of applications because that’s just what we expect now.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Totally. And it’s not a surprise that TikTok is as popular as it is with videos. Right. We love to look at things that move. It feels good. In addition, to help you understand how Ui might work, motion just helps you add emotion. We are all emotional. You feel happy, you feel sad.

And the things you interact with, you want them to give you that same thing. So when something you interact with has a little bounce to it, it gives you a feeling. Oh, this is supposed to be fun when something you interact with has a smoother nature to it. Elegant. Oh, this is supposed to be classy, right? So it helps you give emotion to digital products, no matter what the devices are, whether it’s on a phone or AR or VR or whatever.

Maurice Cherry:

Motion adds emotion. I like that. That’s good.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

100%.

Maurice Cherry:

Let’s kind of switch gears here a little bit and learn more about you. I’m curious on where this sort of spark for design and animation sort of came from. So tell me more about where you grew up.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I grew up in the DC area. Kind of moved back and forth between DC and Philadelphia. And growing up, we always had the latest game thing. I’m dating myself here. I’m an old man. But we used to have the Texas instruments, we used to have the Atari 500, or we used to have all these old game systems when I was like a little kid, and I loved playing with them. But I also had this curious mind where I would try to take it apart. I would say, what’s in here? So I would get a screwdriver.

I would open up the back. My mom would come in a room a week later. She’d be like, “why is the cover off of the Nintendo?” And I’d be like, “well, I just wanted to see what was in there”, right? So I actually had a Nintendo that did not have a cover that I played for years because I couldn’t figure out how to put the thing back on. I just have a love of technology, like a lot of people. And I used to build my own computers when I was in middle school and high school, I’d buy the RAM, I’d buy the motherboard. I’d build them from scratch. It was just a fun thing. And when it’s time for me to go to college, I thought, okay, let me try to do computer science.

I’m going to learn how to program. I’m going to build. Make games, something like that. And my first year, at the end of my first year, I had a 1.2 GPA, and that was because the math was destroying me. We had, like, this Calculus, or Calculus 2, and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. And not only that, at the time, I just didn’t know how to learn. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t know how to sit down and study. I didn’t necessarily have the discipline yet to really push through.

I didn’t know how to tell my homeboys, like, I can’t go out with you all; I got to get this computer science work in, you know what I’m saying? So I just ended up almost kind of flunking out of school. And this is a story I’ve told before. That one evening, my dad came…I used to live in my parents basement. During college, my dad comes downstairs, he’s like, “bro, we saw your grades. Like, look, we don’t care what you’re going to do, but either do this right or don’t do it at all.” And then he closed the door and walked upstairs.

Maurice Cherry:

Damn.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

And it was just a note. We don’t care what you do. We’re going to support you. But don’t just do something and be flunking and failing out. So I had a moment where I had to really say, am I going to really try to do this, or am I going to look for something else? And the school I went to, George Mason, they had a digital arts degree. It was basically a degree to help people make art using computers. So I thought, oh, well, let me do that. That seems kind of cool.

They have class in Photoshop. They had a class in after effects, which is wild that I still use after effects today. And then they have a class in 3D program that doesn’t exist anymore. And I took those classes. I was in the art department. I was learning about our history, critical theory, critical thinking, and I was really kind of enveloped in the art world through a technology lens. And from there, I got straight in. So that shift enabled me to kind of see how I could bring some of my creative mind and technology together.

So my senior year, I started to find these motion design companies all around the country that were doing these awesome commercials, and commercials will be animated with all these awesome graphics and characters. And I said, you know what? I want to do that after school. So after college, I packed up my little car, a little Acura, and I drove up to New York, and I moved up there, and I was knocking on doors. I had a little dvd. So funny. My kids, they saw some of my old DVDs in the garage. They were like, what’s going to use them no more? But I had my old DVD that I made. I burned it and had my reel of student work.

And I’m, like, walking into these shops trying to get work. And luckily, I had this. He kind of became my first mentor. He’s a creative director at BET right now, Kendrick Reed, and walked into his office, and it was amazing again to see somebody like me, six foot something, Black man, bald head, and he’s a super fashionable guy, wearing cool clothes. I was like, okay, I see. So I walk in his office, and he’s like, “so tell me, what do you want to do?” And I was like, “well, I love design. I love animation.” At the time, he was the creative director at Comedy Central, and so they had a department at Comedy Central that made commercials for Comedy Central that aired on Comedy Central.

So that was the department that he ran. He’s like, “well, what do you want to do?” I was like, “well, eventually, I want, you know, like, I want to be creative director at some place with a team like this.” So he kind of laughed, and he gave me my first job out of college. I was there for a couple of years, built some good relationships with some folks. I ended up going freelance after he left. I was kind of sad when he left. So then I left after he left, and I ended up going freelance for about eight or nine years after that. And I was just designing and animating wherever I could get in the door.

Design shops, ad agencies, TV networks like HBO, Showtime. I just would get in wherever I could. And it was an amazing experience. And some of the people I met back then, I’m still in contact with today, even though I’m kind of on the other side of the country, I’m doing something a little bit different. That was a really important part of kind of what led me to what I’m doing today.

Maurice Cherry:

During that time that you were doing all this freelancing, I mean, yeah, you were at a bunch of different studios, a bunch of different places. Do you feel like there was something that you were trying to attain? Like, were you trying to get to Kendrick? Were you trying to get to his position in terms of moving up the ladder or moving up in your skills?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I think the thing at the time, those ten years, what I really wanted to do was learn how to make my work good. Like, I would make something, and then I would go see someone else’s project. And it was very clear to me that mine wasn’t as good. My whole thing for that ten years was, I need to figure out how to make something good, because I see this person over here is crushing it, and mine doesn’t look like theirs. Why doesn’t mine look like theirs? And in the industry at that time, there’s a lot of late nights, and everybody worked from, like, ten to eight. We went out afterwards and come back to work the next day and deal with it. So it was a lot of hard work, but that was really the thing I thought about the most. Just like, why isn’t mine as good as that other person? It was more of a creative pursuit to make something that I felt was equal to the people I admired at the time.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I’m kind of trying to also place this just like, chronologically. So this was really during the time, I’m guessing this is like the early 2000s. Like early 2000s to 2010s, pretty much?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah. 2002 to 2011.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. I mean, during that time, even if you just step back and look at the web, think about how much the web had changed from 2002 to 2011. And of course that would end up invariably being reflected in media and advertising and publishing, because computers are now taking over as, like, the primary way that you do design, and the technology is getting better and the browsers are getting better, and all of a sudden now we’re using CSS, and now we have to change what we thought we did before with tables into something new. So there was always something new, I think back at that time, and it felt like there were new discoveries or new ways of doing things. Like every month it felt like it was something new and you had to keep going, you had to keep making stuff just to catch up. Like, you couldn’t really rest on your laurels during that time because of just how fast things were progressing in the industry.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Oh, yeah, that’s 100% true.

Maurice Cherry:

So after you were doing all of this freelancing and everything, you ended up as a motion graphics artist at square, and you were there for, I think, roughly about three years, is that right?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah, that’s correct. And square was the first place that I ever worked. Number one, that was a startup, but number two, that had, like, a physical product. All the things I had done for the ten years before were all advertising and marketing for tv shows. And the shows have people and Dave Chappelle’s show. It was interesting to be at a place that they had this little square card reader. And not only that, they had a whole team that worked on it. They had a team that worked on the box.

They had a team that worked on logistics of where the parts come from. They had a team that worked on every aspect of this little physical device. And so it was the first time where I worked at a company like that that I could actually get a peek inside the technology. I mentioned earlier. I was taking apart my Nintendo because I was curious what’s in there. And so it was really fun for me to be around people who were kind of making things, sending inside out. I think that it was mostly, again, like I mentioned, a little bit scary and daunting. It was comforting that I was on the video team at this company.

So I was still making videos. But when I would go into a meeting with the group who was responsible for the launch of the new Square Reader, and they’re talking about engineering challenges. I don’t know what they’re talking about. You know what I mean? I feel a little bit lost and confused, but the only thing I could rest on was like, okay, I’m still here to do the thing I came here to do. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn about what they’re doing. But that became my challenge at square was like, how much can I learn about what they’re doing, what they’re talking about that can help me do my job better?

Maurice Cherry:

And then after that, you ended up at Airbnb, where you started off as the company’s only motion designer. I bet that had to be pretty daunting, especially at that time when Airbnb was really starting to take off.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah, definitely. And so when I was at Square, like I mentioned, I was in the room with all these other functions, physical engineering, but also product designers. Yeah. And there were a couple of times when I was at Square where I collaborated with the product designers. Oh, I would do an animation for the square’s website. One of those product designers, Jason Mamro, who I still work with today, he left Square and went to Airbnb. He’s on Airbnb’s product design team. And at the time, their head of design, Katie Dill, she was, you know thinking, we probably should get a motion designer.

And everybody’s, all the product designers like, yes, let’s get a motion designer. And Jason luckily threw my name out and I ended up kind of coming in, interviewing for the role. And it was funny, my first week, I’m sitting with my manager, and since I’m the first motion designer, it’s not exactly clear how I’m going to plug in. So he asked me, he said, well, what should you work on? I was like, what do you mean, what should I work on? You should tell me what I should work on. Right? He’s like, well, no. Since we never had a motion designer, you have to help us understand what you can do as well as us telling you what would need you on. So it kind of opened my mind up to like, oh, this is a kind of a role where I kind of get to help create it and it’s not so cut and dry exactly what I’m going to be doing all the time. If I see an opportunity, I can pursue it.

If I see something I think I can help out with, I can go help; and likewise, people who think I can help can contact me for help.

Maurice Cherry:

What were some of those early things that you were doing?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

So I remember when I first joined, they were about to launch the Airbnb Apple Watch app. And you mentioned earlier how everything was always changing. So I was very much used to working on animations that were for TV. And the Apple Watch screen is tiny. And so I think the first project I ever worked on was the animation for the onboarding for the Airbnb’s Apple Watch app. We had these little characters and we had the little character, like, tap their watch and then we had a little Airbnb logo. It was very cute. I think that was the first project I ever worked on.

And then from there, I remember working on, they launched the Apple TV app and I worked on an onboarding video for that, or onboarding animation for the Apple TV app for Airbnb. And then from there, really honestly, it spread out to so many different things. Sometimes I was doing the animation for either the website or the app, but other times it was prototyping UI. Okay, we need a prototype. We got a meeting with Brian Chesky in three weeks. We need to put together a prototype to articulate how we want this flow to go. Or it was. Brian Chesky has a presentation about this new feature and he needs an animation for his presentation that shows what the UI is going to do.

And they still do this today. When you see Airbnb’s launches, they have a couple of motion designers now that they do this all the time where they’re making prototypes for presentations. So I used to kind of do, there were probably like a dozen different things, ways that I would help out just depending on the time and what was going on at the company.

Maurice Cherry:

Man, I mean, it sounds like you really had your hands full, because I know that as Airbnb was growing, and I said, like you said, the tech was also changing. Mean, did you feel like you were stretched thin? I mean, did they eventually hire more motion graphics designers?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah, eventually we hired another one. Maybe on my third year we hired another one. Then he kind of subsequently left. So then it was just me again. But I used to tell everybody there were 60 product designers on the team with 60 product designers to one motion designer. I used to tell everybody, like, I’m just one person, so I’m going to do what I can and everything else is not going to happen. And everybody again, everybody who’s very understanding the culture that we had at Airbnb at the time it was real friends and family vibes. It wasn’t like people were like, oh, man, he’s not doing his job right.

Everybody knew that there’s no way that one person could do, you know, for a lot of teams, it was like even me helping a little bit was going to be better than not helping at all. So they would accept any level of engagement that I could give. Everybody’s really understanding.

Maurice Cherry:

That’s good, because I’ve definitely worked at some places that are not that. Definitely the opposite, where you’re the person that does it, they expect you to always be the one to do it. No matter how many times you’re like, I need help. No matter how many times you’re throwing out a life preserver, they’re like, oh, you got it, you’re good. No, I’m drowning over here. Can you help me? So while you were at Airbnb, and like you said, they ended up eventually building out the team some more, you were on a team that launched Lottie, which is an open source tool that adds animations to like, iOS, Android, native apps, et cetera. How did the idea for Lottie come about?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

So I mentioned earlier that one of the first things I worked on was the Apple Watch app. I had these little characters animating, and the way I delivered it that delivered the animation to the engineering team was, I’m pretty sure it was a sequence of PNGs. My engineering partner, an iOS engineer, he had to build a way for the app to play those PNGs in sequence. I think it was like 30 PNGs per animation. And for me, coming from tv, I was like, there has to be a better way for us to do this. The png sequence to do all our animations. The file sizes were pretty big and I think everybody hoped for a better way, but there just wasn’t anything out at the time. And I developed a really good relationship with an iOS engineer named Brandon Withrow.

He was an iOS engineer, but he went to school for animation. So we clicked right off the bat. And Airbnb used to have these things called Hack Weeks, where during the whole week you could work on anything you wanted. And I remember I approached Brandon, I say, maybe let’s try to find a way for us to get some data out of after effects, the thing I animated, and get it into iOS playing somehow. So he’s, I mean, let’s try it. What do you got? We ended up finding this tool called Bodymovin. It was this engineer named Hernan Torrisi created this tool that could export data out of after effects into a file, JSON file. It just has all the raw data of the animation.

So I send this file to Brandon. I’m like, what do you think? Bodymovin is open source? Take a look at it. So he said, all right. A couple of days, he came back, and he had a blue square show up on the screen. It wasn’t moving, wasn’t animating, just a blue square. And I think that kind of spurred the next step, which was, okay, now he has the square going left to right. Okay, next. Now he has a triangle and a circle.

And he, Brandon himself, just worked on features in his own time, and he got it to a point where we could do some small animations similar to the ones I did on the Apple Watch, and we could actually put know, I could export it from after effects, get the data out, put it into the iOS app, and the file size was much smaller, and it was way more performant. And so we had a little thing for iOS that was working, and we thought, well, we have an Android app. Kind of a bummer to have animations on iOS. Let’s find an Android engineer that could help us. And we brought in another engineer, Gabriel Peal. He was an Android engineer at the time. And we said, well, look what. Here’s what Brandon has on iOS.

Maybe we could do something similar on Android. And Gabe was the funniest one because he was like, I don’t know. He’s like, if we could do this, somebody would already name it. We gave him the same files, but he did the same thing. First he had a box, then he had a circle, then he had it moving left to right. And the next thing you knew, we had an iOS and Android framework that could play these really small animations in our apps. So we had that for a handful of months. And I think it was February, or I think it was like December of 2017, Facebook open sourced their version of what we had.

It was called Facebook Keyframes. It was exactly the same thing you export from after effects. Your data comes out. It works on iOS and Android. So when we saw that, we said, oh, they made it, too. It wasn’t open source at the time, so I thought, oh, well, let me try theirs. And I remember exporting one of the animations that worked on ours. I remember exporting it in their format, and there was a whole bunch of stuff broken.

So it was very clear to us that, oh, the thing we have is a little bit better than the thing they have. So we should open source as well. So Brandon came up with the name Lottie. It’s named after an animation pioneer named Charlotte Reiniger, who’s German. In the 1920s, she created full length feature movies and we got the name, we open sourced it, we made a little landing page and it just kind of took off from there.

Maurice Cherry:

Wow. It sounds like it was a pretty organic thing, though. It didn’t just sort of come. I mean, it came in a way out of necessity. But the way that it managed to sort of build out and really become a framework was really organic.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Absolutely. It was really organic. And it was just lucky. It feels a little bit like the right place at the right time. It was lucky that Airbnb had a motion designer at the time. It was lucky that Brandon was an iOS engineer who kind of knew about animation. It’s lucky that we were friends and he would work on it in his free time. It was lucky that Gabe was so talented that he could jump in and create.

And at the know, we all had other stuff to work on. Our managers really didn’t care if we worked on Lottie in our free time as long as we got our other stuff done. And so that was the vibe for about a year. It was really a side project.

Maurice Cherry:

And now Lottie is used all over the place. It’s used in hundreds of thousands of different applications and stuff. What does it feel like knowing that something you’ve created has really caught on like that and made such an impact?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

It blows my mind. It really blows my mind because again, it could have easily not happened or it could have easily been Facebook keyframes that have been the thing that really caught on. So, yeah, it blows my mind. And it’s just humbling to be a part of something that people like and they use it and all. Full disclosure, I’m sure someone’s going to come out with something better than Lottie and then Lottie will disappear. That’s just the nature of software. That’s just the nature of creativity. I’m cool with that.

But to have had a hand in something that people like and use and have been using for the last handful of years is really humbling and amazing.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I can imagine. Just seeing your work make such an impact and then to know that you were really kind of behind it in the beginning is amazing. And it’s not something that is, I would say, hidden to history. People know that you did it. It’s not like Lottie just sprung forth anonymously. They know that you’re one of the people behind.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Really, the thing that I really like now is, like I was saying, at Cōlab, I’m working with startups all the time, so I’ll be working with a startup and they’ll be like, hey, can we put this animation we do? Can we put this on our app? And they’ll be like, I heard of this thing. It’s called Lottie. Maybe we could use that. They don’t know how. You’re like talking about my child, you know what I’m saying? I know this thing so well. I helped build it. I was there from the beginning. But people don’t know and oftentimes I don’t say anything.

I’m not that kind of guy to be like, well, that’s my thing. But it’s just kind of cute and funny to me that it’s now coming back to me through other channels I can imagine.

Maurice Cherry:

Like, you have to sort of keep yourself in check, like, “oh, like, I can’t…I don’t want to blow my cover here.”

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Oh, 100%. But also, you know, design, motion design, this is a small industry of many. And what I did, while it’s maybe important to a couple hundred thousand people, there’s probably a ton of other people that don’t even know about it. So it’s not that big a deal. It’s not brain surgery. I’m not saving lives here. It makes me laugh when that happens, and it does happen every couple of months, which is great to me.

Maurice Cherry:

Is there still active development on it?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

There is some. So Gabriel Peal, the Android engineer; he still works on it. He still works on it. He gets requests through and I think that’s probably the benefit of being open source. You have other people in the community who contribute, you have other people who change the code and submit it. So yeah, it’s still being not, I think that for a little while, while I was at Airbnb, after Brandon and Gabe left, it wasn’t really worked on internally, but there were a couple pushes internally to help develop. So we, I remember it got changed from one language into Swift, and then I think more recently since I’ve left, they’ve done a couple small things on the iOS side, but it’s really honestly mostly being pushed outside of Airbnb. So there’s a company called Lottie Files.

They’re based in Malaysia and they’re doing a ton of development on themselves, bidding on top of it, building state machines on top of it, which is a complicated term. People can google it and they’re kind of doing all kinds of things with the format and helping develop it outside, mostly because it is open source.

Maurice Cherry:

When you look, sort of, back at the early parts of your career to now, what would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned about yourself?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Maybe the biggest lesson I learned about myself is that I really do enjoy being in an environment that I don’t know what’s going on. Okay. That there’s things that are new, there are things to learn, there are things I can be curious about. So, for example, like I mentioned, when I joined Airbnb, I was the only motion designer on a team full of product designers and engineers, none of which I had worked with before. I’d never worked with an engineer before. But it was so interesting to me. I ended up taking an eight week coding class because, again, we were in meetings where I didn’t know what they’re talking about. So that part of trying to help myself understand someone else’s industry to better do my job is fascinating to me.

And now it’s a similar thing at Cōlab. I’m working with startups, I’m working with ceos, cmos, and founders. I’m understanding what they care about. I’m understanding that they care about their business goals, so they don’t care about how the thing moves or what it looks like. Is this having an impact on the business?

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

So now I’m having a whole different set. And I think every few years in my career, when I start to feel like I’m pretty competent at the thing I’m doing, I usually end up moving to something else that puts me a little bit off balance.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that because I think that that is a practice that is something that more creatives, I think particularly more Black creatives are starting to embrace. I’m tying this into something, I promise you. So we’re recording this right now on the day that Andre 3000 just released his new album, his debut album, debut solo album, New Blue Sun.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

We’ve been talking about it at work all day.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, really?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I listened to it this morning, actually. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

What do you think about it?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I think it’s…

Maurice Cherry:

You can be honest! Yeah, be honest. Think about it.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I mean, I’m such a big Andre 3000 Outkast fan. Like, I’ll listen to whatever they put out.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

You know what I’m saying? They could put out themselves beating a bucket and I’ll listen to it. But the interesting thing, I saw that they had an interview with them last night at GQ, and he was talking about, like, they were at the top of their game, and it loses some of its magic when you feel like you really know what you’re doing. And I think he was looking for something different where he could feel like a beginner again.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

You know what I’m saying? But, yeah, I listened to it this morning. I think it’s cool. I put it on while I was writing something. And honestly, for about 40 minutes – the album is like 90 minutes long. For about 40 minutes. I totally forgot it was on.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

And I think that’s the point.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I think that’s the point, too. And the reason that I was asking about this is because I think sometimes, especially when people know you for a specific thing that you’ve accomplished in your career, that tends to be a box that they put you in. So anything else that you do is, like, compared to that thing, or they expect that the next thing that you do is going to be the same box-shaped thing that you’ve done before. So, of course, everyone knows 3000 for his lyrics. They’re expecting it’s going to be a fire rap album. Right? Instead, he comes out with some Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, Yusef Lateef-like flautist sound bath 90 minute journey that’s like the product of an Ayahuasca trip, right?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Oh, he definitely was.

Maurice Cherry:

And I’ve been seeing some of the reviews. I mean, it just came out. By the time this airs, people will have known about it or. But. But I was thinking, like, man, I bet people are going to clown this album like they did when Solange’s last album came out. Like, When I Came Home came out and people were like, what is this? Because they expected her to be in this, Beyoncé’s’ little sister, kind of like, T.O.N.Y.-shaped, Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dream- shaped box. And she comes out with this…I mean, that’s one of my favorite albums of all time, her last album.

So I really like what you said about you, like, being in these spaces where you don’t know kind of what to do or what’s next. And I think that’s something that creatives in general, particularly Black creatives, should embrace, because it locks you in a box when you’re always doing the same type of thing over and over and over in a way. And as creatives, there’s more things that we want to do. There’s more ways we can sort of express ourselves. I think that’s a really good practice to have as a creative.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

And it’s scary.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

You know what I’m saying? It’s scary. But I think that’s part of the point. That’s the reason why people like roller coasters. It’s kind of scary.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

But that’s kind of what’s fun about it.

Maurice Cherry:

What would you say are, like, your next steps of growth for you as a creative? Like, where do you want to grow into?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Yeah, I think I have some knowledge from television. I have some knowledge from kind of the product design engineering side at Cōlab. I’m kind of putting those two things together. So I get to help startups with brand campaigns that have tv commercials, but also animations within their app. I think after talking with you about it for a little bit, it definitely feels like the thing that I butt up against most that I’m not always really sure about is really about business goals, how a business runs, how a startup runs, how do you actually make business impact, how do I use my skills in order to actually fundamentally change the direction of a business? You know what I’m saying? And I think that learning more about things like customer acquisition costs. Right. Learning more about measurement and research and strategy, I think will just help me put my work through a slightly different lens. And these are all things that at the moment, I would say I’m like a child at, but I think those are the things I’m starting to butt up against right now, especially when you’re talking to founders or people running companies.

These are things they care about and probably some things I need to learn there.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, and that’s a good point. I mean, the best designers, I think, eventually end up finding out how to meld the creativity with the business and the strategy to really take it to the next level, because there’ll be a certain point in your career, and I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but I certainly have, where you just feel like you’re the hired hand, like you just come in to do this part of the work and that’s it. And you may or may not see what the impact of it is. It may not be privy to you or you may not be exposed to it, but you know that you can do more. Like, you can feel yourself kind of growing out of that constraint that you have. And so I think that’s a good place to be, is to try to learn more about the business end. And I think with Cōlab, you’re at a great place to do it. You’re interfacing with startups.

Plus Cōlab is sort of this creative arm of a larger business entity. I think you’re in a great place to make that happen.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I think you’re right.

Maurice Cherry:

Where do you pull strength from?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Most of my strength comes from probably just my curiosity, like when I think about, what am I doing? So sometimes it’ll be like 11:00 and my whole family, my kids, my wife, everybody’s sleeping, and I’m just up, can’t sleep. And I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about some project that I’m involved in. It might be some explainer video where we have a script, but I think the script is not that good. So I’m really curious about looking up other scripts and good ones and seeing what they did. I’m really curious about doing, like, let me do, like, ten different versions of this thing and see what they look like. That curiosity, that creative itch. The part of the creative process where you’re really exploring this blue sky, it could be anything. I think that’s probably where I draw my strength from, is I’ll stay up late for those reasons.

And again, when I’m staying up late and I’m working hard on something, it does tend to be better.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. If you wouldn’t have gone into motion design and animation, what do you think you would have ended up doing?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I have no idea, really. I’ve been doing this so long, I don’t know what I would have done. And it all happened so kind of happenstance, you know what I mean? It was like, I rolled the dice, okay, now I’m in New York. Roll the dice again. Now I’m in San Francisco. Roll the dice again. I couldn’t have guessed that I would be where I am today, doing what I’m doing today. I don’t know if it’s like a question I have a really good answer for.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I guess, to that end, what do you want the next chapter of your story to look like?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I think I want to continue doing the things I came to Cōlab to do, wherever it is. I want to keep bringing these two halves of my career together. So how can I use design and animation to entertain people? And also, how can I use design and animation to make people’s experience better, to make their experience of a product better? And I want to keep kind of jamming those two things together and then put a layer on top of. I want to use design and animation to help businesses achieve their goals. Right? So all three of those things. I want to just get much better at doing those three things.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work and everything? Where can they find that online?

Salih Abdul-Karim:

I’m the worst with social media, so I’m not really on Instagram or Twitter or X or whatever. Our work is at colabgroup.com. That’s where our work is. We’re actually probably going to start releasing some thought leadership pieces, just some things we talk about internally that we want to put out there so you’ll be able to hear my voice through that. I used to have a website. I used to have a portfolio on a rewl. I took it down because it got kind of old. I was like, man, I don’t like this work anymore. So I don’t really have a personal site.

But, yeah, I would say colabgroup[.com]. And the work that’s there, the things that you see on that site, is probably the best representation of me on the Internet right now.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Well, Salih Abdul-Karim, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, the work that you’ve done with creating Lottie, like I said, it’s had such a huge reach, just in terms of how many people use it. I think there are people that are sort of the benefactors of your work that have no idea that you were sort of the person behind it. But I really love what you had to say about the big takeaway, because I asked you this before we recorded, is like, what do you want the takeaway to be? And it’s like, you don’t have to know what you’re doing. And I think the cosmic happenstance of this episode happening at the end of this year, potentially the end of this podcast, is such a profound way to sort of close things out, because the main thing that I’ve always wanted to accomplish through Revision Path is that there’s more than one way to get to be a creative. There’s more than one way to do this, and you may not know what that is. And so maybe the stories of all these people can give you some insight as to what that thing might know.

So I really like that. That has been sort of a guiding force throughout your career and throughout your life, and I’ll be excited to see you bring those two halves of your career together in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

No, thank you, Maurice. And thank you for doing all these episodes and putting this together. I think you’re doing something really special.

Maurice Cherry:

And we’re releasing this episode on Christmas, so it’s my gift to everybody. That was kind of corny, but, okay.

Salih Abdul-Karim:

Pour a little rum in it for me.

Maurice Cherry:

Hey, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I’m talking about.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Jonathan Patterson

If you’re a product designer that’s been thinking about striking out on your own in 2024, then Jonathan Patterson is a name that you need to know. As a freelance senior product design generalist, he knows all about rolling with the changes in the industry, and about what it takes to stay competitive.

Jonathan and I spoke not too long after his presentation at AIGA Detroit’s IXD2 event, and he talked about the various projects he’s worked on in the fields of healthcare, education, and AI. He also shared his personal journey growing up with a passion for drawing, transitioning from traditional print design to digital products, and explained why he made the switch to full-time freelancing (and what he’s learned along the way).

Hopefully Jonathan’s story and his work inspires you to carve out your own path for your career!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

Jonathan Patterson:

All right, so I guess I’ll give you the elevator pitch. I’m the invisible hand that crafts the products you rely on daily. Often we don’t know who’s behind the things we touch and interact with. And I mean that in the virtual and the physical, you know, whether it’s the buttons you click to play your favorite podcast or the home screen of a service that you subscribe to, I design and make sure everything is where you expect it to be and make it look good in the process. So I’ve got a BSA in visual communications from Kendall College of Art and Design, which is essentially graphic design. And over the years, I’ve slowly morphed my interest and my focus to kind of like pace or sometimes exceed where the industry is headed so I can stay competitive. But these days, I’ve moved completely into product design generalization. So instead of having one focus like user experience design, I do all of the skills that are closely related to design that launching a product or service usually requires.

As a full time freelance product design generalist, my goal is to really have a variety of skills that when you total them up, they make what I have to offer kind of more comprehensive and fine tuned than anyone who’s just doing one part of the product design stack. So, Jonathan Patterson, two decades of experience, first podcast interview. Let’s go.

Maurice Cherry:

Looking back at this year, what are three words that you’d use to describe how 2023 has been for you?

Jonathan Patterson:

I would say revolutionary, difficult. Well, this is not a word or more of a phrase. Kind of par for the course.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. How has it been “par for the course”?

Jonathan Patterson:

Par for the course. Meaning there’s always something changing. Nothing stays the same, which is especially true in technology. Right. And I think any business owner, which as a freelancer, full time freelancer, I certainly look at myself as a business owner. But there’s always a challenge to contend with. So par for the horse means while we have certain types of challenges this year, there’s always a challenge to contend with.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Well, the only thing constant in the world is change, as the saying goes. And I think those three words are a really good way to sum up 2023. I think for a lot of people.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. Everywhere you look online, it’s people posting about the tech layoffs and their job being downsized or eliminated or can you help me get a job? That’s what I’m seeing a lot of.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Do you have any goals that you’d like to accomplish for next year, like any resolutions for next year?

Jonathan Patterson:

I think one of the things that I’ve been sort of indexing on is just starting something, I suppose, of my own on the side. Now, while I have a lot of different fun side projects that I’ve done here and there, I think that’s probably one of my objectives for the upcoming year, is to start something maybe that is more official outside of the full time freelance product design work that I do. It could be a product or service. I have many ideas about what those could be. I keep a running list of things that I’m considering and just ideas that I’m vetting. I think that’s probably one of the focuses that I will put some thought around soon.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you just did a talk recently. There was an event in Detroit called IXD2 put on by AIGA Detroit. Shout out to Carlos and the folks there. Tell me about the event. How did it go?

Jonathan Patterson:

It went well. That was a first annual, we’ll call it…it’s called IXD2, which is the interaction design Detroit conference, and it will be held annually. So I actually talked about how to stop ghosting your side projects and basically I gave five tips that I’ve used to kind of see my projects from start to finish. So it was actually a whole day of different speakers and panelists and workshops. So mine was towards the end of a twelve hour, probably around their day. But it went good. It was well received. It will continue into the coming years, as far as I understand.

So I’d be excited to go back or I was a speaker this time, but if I’m not a speaker next time, or if not involved next time, I’ll certainly be happy to attend it.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, was this a new talk that you created?

Jonathan Patterson:

It was, and it was relatively in short order too. I think that between the time that I came to understand that they were interested in perhaps putting on some type of event like this, and the time the event actually occurred was just a matter of a couple of months. So I kind of last minute put together some ideas and the presentation ended up coming together. I probably would have talked about something else besides how to stop ghosting a side project. But again, due to the time constraints, it’s just like, okay, well, let me see what I can do that will perhaps resonate with people. And as I also come to understand, I tend to try to get feedback from people after I do a presentation or a talk or something like that, just because it’s always good to be sharpening your skills wherever you can. One of the things I heard was that people liked the variety that my presentation provided. There was a lot of, as you might expect from the title interaction design.

There were a lot of presentations and talks about processes and user experience specifically into the weeds of those types of things. Mine was a bit more general and sort of lighter. So I heard that people like that kind of component of my presentation. And I’ll also say for anybody who perhaps is listening to this and who saw that presentation, that I did put a lot of emphasis on the design of the presentation itself, because so often I find that, and this is just an easy thing for us designers to fall into for some reason, that when you’re doing a presentation, you don’t necessarily design it to your best ability. Rather, you’re just so focused on the content that you sort of let the design go by the wayside. And I’m like, okay, I can’t let that happen this time. This is specifically a design conference, so I’m definitely going to make sure that I put equal focus on what I’m saying, what I’m presenting, as well as what it looks like. So the design, it’s kind of contemporary.

It’s of the times. Lots of interesting typography and visuals to look at us designers are a fairly fickle bunch. We like things to look pretty. So I’m like, okay, this is going to look pretty cool.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you do a lot of public speaking at conferences?

Jonathan Patterson:

I wouldn’t say a lot. I’ve probably presented just a handful of times. Really. I can count in one hand probably the number of times I presented, but I’ve had some local colleges who will ask, like accelerators or programs that colleges have that are related to product design or design will ask me to come and talk to one of their classes or something like that. So I’ve done that a few times. I was part of another AIGA event a few years ago before COVID where I talked about or I presented a case study that was the theme of the event, was like, case studies and case studies projects that you’ve worked on. So I presented then, which was a few years ago, and then, like I mentioned just a few weeks ago, with this most recent one. So not a lot, but I was happy to hear that.

Some of the feedback that I also got recently was that someone said that my presentation flowed very smoothly and they got the impression that I did it all the time. I’m like, well, thank you very much. That’s probably the best, most flattering compliment that I feel like I got this evening. So I was happy to hear that.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. I mean, I hope you get a chance to give that talk at other conferences. I mean, you put that much time into designing it and you’re getting this great feedback, like take it out on the road.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, you know what? Somebody else mentioned that. I think if the opportunity presents itself, I might do that.

Maurice Cherry:

So let’s talk more about you being a freelance senior product design generalist. You had mentioned that before. I was like, that’s a mouthful. That’s a lot. And according to your website, as well as what you just said, you are the invisible hand that crafts the products that you rely on daily. And you’ve been doing it for such a long time. I mean, almost 13 years. That is super impressive.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, thanks. Yeah, I’ve worked in all sorts of industries on all types of projects. Early in my career I worked with on a bunch of apps in the education space that taught kids how to write or do math. I also worked on a project for the brand pull ups where I did a lot of UX and UI for an app that parents use to potty train their kids. Let’s see. Some other memorable projects that come to mind are product designed for a healthcare startup. This is akin to like Angie’s list for healthcare workers. I did iconography for OkCupid, where I created dozens of icons that reflect the interest and the characteristics that people show on their dating profile.

I did data visualizations for Brighthouse Networks, which was bought by charter Communications or Spectrum Charter, I believe. But more recently I’ve done work for this company called the Standard, which is this wellness and social networking app. They’re kind of still in this amorphous phase where they’re establishing their value proposition. I’ve helped this company called True Anthem. They’re out of California and they have this AI powered social publishing tool. And basically the gist of it is that large scale content publishers like the Associated Press or Reuters or NBC News give their social teams access to this dashboard where they can automate their social media posts and understand all of the analytics around what content performs the best and when to post it and where to post it to. So it’s this dashboard that integrates with all the popular social networking platforms. You know, Facebook, X, Instagram, et cetera.

Last, I guess I won’t forget to mention Ford. I’ve helped them on and off over the years. I’ve worked on their website, helping to think through different visual concepts to present features and promotions. I’ve also done a lot of work on what they call the build in price section of their website, which is the part where you customize a vehicle that you’re interested in buying. And that area of the site in particular is in constant flux, and they go through many iterations to push out even the smallest of changes. So I’ve helped with the UX and the UI there, as well as, again, lots of iconography for that section of their website. Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of the overview.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you’ve mentioned a lot of different clients here and a lot of different sort of types of product design work that you’ve done. What are the best types of clients for you to work with?

Jonathan Patterson:

You know, I work on B2B and B2C types of projects. I tend to find the B2C ones a bit more, I guess, compelling to work on because the tone that you take in terms of the writing, the UX writing that you do for it, any kind of light copywriting that I might do, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a copywriter, but any of the. I think just the way that you approach a consumer is very different than the way you approach, like, a business product or service. Now, I definitely do both, but I think I probably get a little bit more fun out of the B2C ones. They’re just more room to, kind of…I feel like those apps and services are a bit, just more entertaining, if you know what I mean.

Maurice Cherry:

Is there any type of work that you want to do in the future? Like dream projects, anything like that?

Jonathan Patterson:

You know what, I have always been of this mindset too. I’m like, okay, it could be fun to work on in the entertainment industry specifically, maybe for some type of celebrity website or something like that. But then the more I think about it and the more I see how other industries work with certain types of media, I would imagine that it’s probably a more difficult ask to do some of that work quicker turnarounds, probably projects that you imagine might go a certain way, maybe don’t, because you’re answering to maybe people who have. Maybe my idea of what it’s like is totally different than what it’s actually like. I’m starting to think that that might be the case. So in the past, I’ve always thought that maybe I’ll work on entertainment stuff, but maybe not. I think what I have going for me now, which is a variety of types of work that come my way, is a great kind of mix because at times I’m working on very UX heavy work. Then, at other times, I’m working on very UI heavy work, and I think just the mix of projects is what keeps me most interested. It’s almost like you never get bored.

Maurice Cherry:

So you like to have that variety, it sounds like.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. I think that’s one of the main draws to freelancing, is that you get to pick the types of projects that you work on in the mix. So if you’re ever feeling too much of something, you can say, okay, well, this next inquiry that comes in, I won’t take that, I’ll take this other thing, because my plate’s full in that other area. So, yeah, that’s definitely a plus.

Maurice Cherry:

One thing that we’ve been talking about on the show pretty regularly over the past two years is kind of how a lot of this new tech is encroaching upon the creative industry. Maybe encroach is not the right word, but it’s starting to infiltrate into the tools that we use, the way that certain businesses now offer new services, et cetera. I’m curious…with what you do, have you seen any trends or changes in the industry, particularly as it relates to AI or generative AI or something like that?

Jonathan Patterson:

Generative AI pretty much seems like it’s working its way into everything. ChatGPT has all of the, like, DALL-E and all of those types of services. Photoshop, just typing in something and generating it on the spot. It is totally changing the way that we work, the way that I work. Like many People, I think that we’re in this phase where we’re just trying to understand how do we make our businesses kind of bulletproof against some of these new technologies. I think at times people have this idea about, or this feeling that, okay, I can’t wait till things get back to how they were. They’re not going back. This is kind of like we’re here now. It’s just going to kind of keep on happening, and I don’t want to say get worse, but there’s going to be kind of more of this need to reinvent yourself, to come up with ways to stay marketable and relevant.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, have you been using it any in your wor, or…

Jonathan Patterson:

No, I use ChatGPT for sure now. I tend to have it refine my work. So if I’m writing something, whether it be some text for a website or for anything, I like to use ChatGPT to refine my work instead of just be the kind of creator of it. I’ll say that one phenomenon that I do notice is that I tend not to recognize my writing. If chat GPT kind of manipulates it too much, and I think that might be, like, a phenomenon that people may start to realize. I’ve experimented with it, for example, commenting on a blog post or some type of medium article that I saw, where I’ve experimented with using ChatGPT to write my response haphazardly, type something out, pop it in a ChatGPT, have it, rewrite it, make it sound good, and then post it. Then go back and read it. Like a month, two months later, I’m like, okay, did I actually write that? I don’t remember writing that.

So that’s this phenomenon that I’m noticing with ChatGPT. So I use it, and I’ve learned to. Obviously, it’s still fairly new, or I’m new to it, but I try to use it more sparingly so that the work is my work, and I recognize it as such. But in terms of design work, not as much there. I’d say more in the lines of text. Right. I don’t feel like the image generators are exactly up to kind of the level that I would want them to be at. They’re helpful if you want to maybe change something small in an image, but they all had this overly smooth look.

If you try to generate an image from scratch, I’m sure that’s going to change in the future. But for right now, I don’t use it extensively in the kind of visual work that I do. It’s just not capable.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, we’ve had folks that have come on the show before that say they use it kind of like as a mood board or as inspiration. Like, it’s a great way to help spin up ideas. If you have maybe some ambiguity on where to start, it can kind of give you a nudge in that direction. But there still has to be discernment from humans, of course, the ones that are going to be using that stuff to decide how it should be used, if it should be used at all, if it should be changed, et cetera. So it seems like you have a pretty kind of discerning nature about how you use it.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, most definitely. It’s going to change quickly, I might add, too. I think that there’s always this kind of impression that, like, oh, this is far off. Well, technology is kind of exponential in many ways, so while it’s not there yet, it’s probably going to be there faster than I expect. So I guess fingers crossed. I’ve got a little bit more time to be employed.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, let’s kind of switch it up a little bit here. We’ve talked a lot about the work that you’re doing. But let’s learn more about you, about the person behind the invisible hand, so to speak. You mentioned before we started recording you’re in the metro Detroit area. Is that where you’re from originally?

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, I’ve always been in this area. Went to school in Westland. I had a class in graphic design. I was, I guess, early on, though, I was kind of always interested in drawing by hand. That’s kind of where it all started, drawing on paper. Mortal Kombat characters. I remember when the Lion King came out, I got a computer. Then I started drawing in, like, Microsoft paint.

Lion King characters. Yeah. So I grew up in Westland or which school in Westland, rather. Then I went over to the Grand Rapids area for school for my degree, and after I graduated, came back and started working at this. I worked at J. Walter Thompson, which is this worldwide advertising agency. They have offices all over. So I was working on regional advertising campaigns.

That was technically an internship, but it was after I’d graduated and I was actually making money and working on projects. So it’s kind of strange, but that was an internship. It was after I graduated. So I did that for a year and then I started working. Once that internship ended, I worked at this full service ad agency, which is again, in the metro Detroit area, and I was doing all types of things. Any creative task that came through the agency, I had my hand in it. So they were full service. They did out of home, digital, print, radio, TV.

So I was the senior art director there, and I did that for about six years, and I decided to kind of break off and do my own thing.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, before we kind of get into that, I want to just kind of step back a little bit to talk about your time at Kendall, because I’m sure if you sort of had this sort of talent as a child where you really were drawing and into this sort of stuff, and then you wanted to pursue it enough where you went to school. Do you feel like your time at Kendall kind of prepared you for getting out there in the world as a designer?

Jonathan Patterson:

I do think it did. Again, things are constantly in flux. Right. Stuff that you learn. I was in college in 2004, so obviously things that I learned back then are not necessarily relevant today. But for the time. At the time, yes, it did prepare me. Now, that said, I did find that I had to, or I’m the type to push myself to learn new things.

So even though I did feel like some of the courses and things like that, I learned a lot, but I didn’t think that they were challenging me as much as I could challenge myself. So I would take it upon myself to kind of just do whatever I could to be learning new things and challenging myself. It’s a great program. I learned a lot there, but learning is never done. You have to constantly learn new software. Things that the programs that we were using back then practically don’t exist now, just things that you were doing then, just not relevant. So for the time, it was great. But I know much more now than I did back then.

Maurice Cherry:

No, I mean, that makes sense. I mean, if you were in college in 2004, I’m just thinking, sort of, what design tools were out there. I mean, I think everything was pretty much Macromedia or Adobe. This is before they, I want to say 2004 is before they merged, because I distinctly remember using fireworks, like right around that time. And I remember Dreamweaver first being Macromedia, Dreamweaver before it became Adobe Dreamweaver. But just in terms of like, I’m thinking, yeah, software and things like that, there’s so much changing in visual communications during that time period. I think also because, and maybe you saw this when you went out into the world after graduating, but companies were then starting to realize how to have a visual presence online. Prior to this, companies were still sort of trying to figure out, well, how do I get on the Internet? Should I be on the Internet? What should that look like? And by this time, like mid-2000s, companies are starting to figure it out.

They’re starting to sort of see how they can represent themselves or represent their brand or their product or their service online in a visual way.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. So when I was in college, it was technically graphic design, so I only had, if memory serves one, maybe two. Two classes. Honestly, I think it was one class on web design or anything like that. So all of my other things were print focused.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, wow.

Jonathan Patterson:

I did learn Quark, but I actually never used Quark outside of school, at least not to any degree. It was always indesign. Indesign was like coming on the scene right when I was going to school and graduating and things like that. So all of my education was really centered around print design. I had a couple of typography classes and Photoshop classes and of course all of your core studies, design fundamentals and all of those art history classes and things like that. So I used GoLive, which doesn’t exist anymore.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, man, I remember GoLive. Oh, you just took me back with that.

Jonathan Patterson:

You know what? Their program was nice work, though. I loved the fact that it was like designing in Photoshop or Illustrator in the sense that you could lay something out on the canvas, then it turns it into the design. Honestly, I only had one Web design class, and it wasn’t until after I started working at that agency, after my internship, after college, where I really started doing more digital work and web work, everything else was like, up until that point was very traditional, advertising based. And that’s actually one of the reasons I did kind of make the switch to full time freelance, is because I’m like, okay, I want to specifically work on digital products, websites, apps, experiences, things like that.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. During that time, as you mentioned, you were kind of studying a lot of stuff with print. That’s another thing, is that the web was sort of changing from, I say, in the early days, it felt like a lot of the web was just taking whatever was in print and directly putting it on the web, whether that was a scan or whether that was a table based layout or something. And so it sort of limited, I think, a lot of expression that brands or companies could have. But then I’d say right around, not even too long after you graduated college, like 2005, 2006, things switched over to CSS, and then you could now float things across the page and change alignment in these ways that broke you out of this grid based kind of print format that I think a lot of early design was in. And it allowed you to sort of really kind of go outside the box with different types of design and things of that nature. So to me, it does make sense to freelance during that time, because if you’re working at a company, and I just know this because I did work at a company, when that happened, it is so much hassle to change things internally after you already have one set of processes, whether this is how it’s always been done or this is how we want to do it, as opposed to when you’re a freelancer, you can change on a dime if you need to. You can just focus on a specific type of product or a different type of service, but you can adopt and change, do things much quicker than larger companies or larger firms or agencies can.

Jonathan Patterson:

Oh, yeah, most definitely. And I think that you need to be able to do that. Right. I’ve had the kind of luxury of being able to experiment with. All right, so what interests me? What are people asking for? What are people reaching out to me for? And I have a lot of interest in terms of the design space. So while that may not work for everybody, it worked for me because back in the day, I had people, independent app developers, for example, making their first app for the iPhone and they need somebody to design it. That was kind of how I got my intro into designing for iOS was app developers reaching out to me saying they needed some design help. I’m like, this is fun.

Let me try this. So I did that. So my degree is in graphic design, but due to my wide range of interests, I have been able to kind of explore working in all aspects. And one of the things I’ve done is transition some of the skills that I’ve learned that apply to other design mediums into more marketable skills. So, for example, an ability to use Adobe illustrator very well and make cool looking icons, well, how that looks today for me is I use this program called Blender 3D. I wouldn’t call myself like a 3D artist. Rather, I’ll call them illustrations because I’m not focusing on how to make something technically accurate for 3D printing or for the architecture space,.right?

It’s more like, how can I add on this medium to enhance the product design work that I do, right. So if I’m creating a website or something like that, or an app, and it needs some cool animation or content to be designed that we want to manipulate, when the user hovers their cursor over it or taps it or something like that, that’s kind of where my skills come into play. So I try to develop this skill set of deliverables that can all work together.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, when you look back at your time at Quill, I know that was sort of what you mentioned prior, before we talked about Kendall a little bit. You wa ere there for almost six years. You were their senior art director. What sort of was the impetus for you to start your own business?

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, well, and to be clear, too, so I was the senior art director, but they were, we’ll say, a small to medium sized company. So it’s not that we had a ton of people there. So the reason that I decided to leave is what you were asking, is that right?

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I guess you could say that. I mean, unless that was sort of part of the reason for you wanted to start your own business, was that you wanted to leave.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I’ll say that I was just maybe starting to Plateau at the company. Maybe there wasn’t enough kind of upward opportunity. And again, I also wanted to focus exclusively on digital products and services versus having to work on prints and radio and broadcast. Also, I feel like I was capable of executing the types of experiences myself that the firm’s clients were looking for. So as is so often the case, pay was also starting to become an issue. And in the end, I felt like I wasn’t making enough as I could make, and I didn’t see much evidence that that would change. So that said, I did learn a great deal about the ins and outs of how to run a business. One of the most important lessons I got to see firsthand was how clients don’t hire you simply because you’re good at what you do.

They hire you because you’re capable of doing the work and you’re a likable person. You seem like you’ll be fun to work with. But the agency was, again, small to mid sized. So in a sense, I kind of, like, shadowed the owners, and I was able to learn how to talk to prospective clients and write proposals and run meetings and all of the other things they don’t teach you in college.

Maurice Cherry:

I think that’s fair. You get to a point where you feel like you could do this yourself or you could maybe do it better and you strike out on your own, and that’s what you did.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. Well, again, too, people were. It made it easy because people were reaching out to me in my personal email and saying, hey, can you help me with this? Can you help me with that? I’m like, okay, well, maybe I should try this.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I completely understand that because that’s the same way that I started my business. I was working at, at T and honestly hated it and just really felt like I could do better. I felt like I did reach that plateau where it’s like, I don’t know if this is going to get any better for me anywhere else. There were other issues there, too, just in terms of the staff, but in terms of just your personal fulfillment as a designer, I knew that I could be doing better work than this and could possibly be getting paid better, but this can’t be. The high point of my career is having a 15 minutes lunch break on a twelve hour shift. I can’t do this. Right.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I will say, though, too, at the time, it was in college, I was working at retail jobs, and that’s never fun, especially as a design person. You want to be doing work, that’s like, what you’re going to school for. So when I got that job, for the time that I was there, it was generally like, okay, this is where I need to be. I worked hard. It wasn’t that I wasn’t making any money, I was making good money. But I’m like, okay, I can make better money.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, totally. I get it. I 100% get that. How were those early years?

Jonathan Patterson:

Of business freelancing, early years of business. They were good. I would say that back then, I found myself working on a lot of smaller projects. Right. Projects that can be completed in a couple of days or a few hours versus these days. It’s like, okay, it requires a week minimum, or several weeks or several months. So back in the day, it was a lot of like…there were times where I’d be working for seven days a week.

I’m like, okay. I’d start getting stressed out because I’m like, okay, too many small projects, constantly working. I was making enough money, but the problem I had back then was too many small projects. Once you start running out of time to work on them, then you get stressed. So as the years have ticked by, I’ve slowly kind of expanded the scale of projects that I work on. And sometimes there’s some ebb and flow there, right? It can be very busy. Sometimes it can be a little bit slower. But I would say in general, the scale of the projects have changed over the years.

Maurice Cherry:

How do you approach a new project? Like, say you’re working with a client or something comes across in your inbox? What does that intake process look like?

Jonathan Patterson:

I think probably the more interesting part would be like, maybe my creative process. So it kind of starts with just asking a bunch of questions and understanding the problem to make sure I’m solving for the right thing. Suffice to say, there’s this extensive fact finding, goal setting, and planning process. But maybe the creative process is a bit more, I’d say, unique or just my own. It starts with taking inspiration from everywhere I watch movies. I think that medium inspires my creative process a lot. I think it’s so different from product design that it makes it easy to come up with an original idea based on a narrative that I saw. I think probably the most compelling creative ideas come from the mixing of unexpected connections that you can make between topics that are not already connected.

It’s almost like the magic comes from bringing those two concepts together in a novel way. But I try to take inspiration from everywhere and bring that work into the product design work that I do. In addition to that, I think, of course, surfing the web daily, you just come across things that naturally will someday work their way into inspiration for a project that I’ll work on. So I keep like, boulders of interfaces and websites and illustrations and animations on my desktop to kind of just refer to. I do consider myself in the business of selling ideas, so I’ll say this. Too often clients are eager to spend a budget if you hit them with something that kind of strikes their imagination, and having my go to folders that I can inspire myself from is a good starting point. So, actually, one of the things I’ll do to jump start a creative process or get a project off the ground and up and running is kind of like, after I have a meeting or a phone call with a prospective client, I will send them this preliminary or kind of like cursory email with some creative ideas, and that’ll get their wheels turning. And then the next thing I know, I’ve got them asking me to send a full proposal.

And then we’re often working on a new project.

Maurice Cherry:

When you look back over, I don’t know, let’s say, like the past, we’ll say five years, we’ll roll the pandemic into this. What would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned about yourself?

Jonathan Patterson:

Biggest lesson I’ve learned about myself. I don’t know that I’d learned anything new. And maybe that’s because I’ve been freelancing for way before the pandemic started. Everybody was kind of like, clamoring when it all went down, getting their office set up, trying to understand how to freelance or work remotely. I’m like, I’ve been doing this for ten years at the point that the pandemic started. So that was easy for me. I felt like…I’m like…I’ve been social distancing for ten years now. I already had everything set up, my billing software, my processes were in place.

I was able to experiment with different ways of working with clients. Do I work with them on a retainer? Do I work with them on a fixed price? What’s my rate? Do I sign NDAs ahead of time? Or do I never sign NDAs? That was one of the things that I’m getting a little off track, but I think maybe a little bit relevant. I think that I very much enjoy the. Am thankful for the fact that I was able to see what works and what doesn’t work, which is different than working for somebody else. Right. When you work for somebody else, they tell you what you can say in your email to the client. They tell you how to Bill, they tell you the process that you have to structure your files through. Those are all things that I got to do my way or just trial and error.

I think there’s something to be said for the ability to see what works and what doesn’t work for yourself.

Maurice Cherry:

Right?

Jonathan Patterson:

Again, I guess that wasn’t new to me, but that was something that I imagine a lot of people probably started to get wind of when the pandemic hit. And what they learned about themselves is probably some of those things that I had learned up to that point.

Maurice Cherry:

But you’ve been good. You’re good.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, I’ve made all the mistakes. I think that one of the things that I have learned over the years was that not everybody communicates the same way. I think that I have a very. In the past, I probably was much more direct than people that people tend to be like, if I have a question about something or if I just legitimately think that the client needs to hear some particular feedback, I would just say it. But I learned that, okay, sometimes you can’t just say it. You have to ease them into it. And that’s something that you can’t if you’re working for. I guess to bring my sharp point to this idea, it’s like when you’re working for somebody, they tell you that you can’t say this when you’re working for yourself.

You can try it and see what happens. And I certainly did that. So I made all the mistakes, but I think I’m better for it.

Maurice Cherry:

I got you. I feel you. Okay, so what are sort of the next steps of growth for your business? Like, where do you want to take it?

Jonathan Patterson:

I want to take it. I think that I have always wanted to remain in, I guess, a small business. Like, I don’t have any employees, and that’s by design. I think with employees comes other headaches. Right. You have to make sure that, well, I don’t know. I don’t have any employees, but I’m just guessing. It’s like you have to pay for insurance and all of those other things.

Many more expenses, overhead. It’s just a much different, kind of, like a ballgame. I feel like I would be managing people more than I am doing work, which is what I do now. When clients reach out to me, they’re looking for something to get done. I think my business is, I’m happy with kind of where it’s at. I’ve helped other clients of mine who say they’re like, oh, I wish I would have gone your route and not hired employees and just stayed small. So many fewer headaches to contend with. I had an attorney who I did work for who told me that.

So, yeah, I think just based on my experience and things that I’ve heard, I think it’s just as easy to stay small.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Where do you kind of pull strength from? Like, what motivates you to keep doing this work?

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I’ve always been a creative person. I think creativity can manifest itself in many ways. Right? So while I don’t think I’ll do product design forever, I will always be in the creative space. So, for example, I used to play the piano for many years. I took classes in school. I took them outside of school. My mom hired somebody to take me to get lessons from. So I’ve done music oriented endeavors.

I’ve, like I mentioned, had an interest in drawing by hand. I then kind of transformed that into graphic design. Now I’m in product design. So I will always be in the creative space, in the digital space. I think there’s so many foundations to design that are transferable, right? So all of the foundations, color, scale, contrast, repetition, light, texture, those things can apply to interior design, print design, furniture design. So I very much see that I will be in some creative space now. Which one? That is in the future. I’m not sure for the time being it will be.

It’s going to definitely be product design. But I think in the long term, I could see myself going into something probably in the fine art space, right. I think my career, for the most part, up until this point, has been commercial design. Right? It’s about how to sell a product or a service or get somebody to take an action based on. It’s less art. Granted, there are a lot of visual components to the work that I do, but at the end of the day, it’s not art because we’re selling something or making something or convincing people or educating people on why they want to buy a service or a product versus art or a personal expression that is more about self expression. Right. So you think of sculptures or paintings or woodwork or something like that.

So I think in the future, my interest will probably be more in the focus on things that are not, like, consumer focused.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. Where do you see yourself in general in the next five years? I mean, I know we kind of talked a little bit about where you want to take the business, but when you look in the future, based on where you are now, what kind of things do you want to be doing, especially with.

Jonathan Patterson:

I’m very interested to see all of our AR and VR experiences start coming into play. I know that there are a lot of mixed reviews on how that’s going to look in the future of the metaverse and all of that. Personally, I’m interested in working in that space. I think it’s just going to be so new. Right. A lot of the work that we do in UX and UI design today for screens is there are many design patterns and tried and true methods to pull from. I’m interested in establishing and working in and setting up kind of new paradigms and principles and patterns for devices that are upcoming.

So I’m very excited about the Vision Pro. When that comes out, I’ll probably start to tinker around in that space. I’ll have to give me one of those when it comes out, start designing. And I do imagine maybe a similar kind of pattern as to what I experienced before, where if I’m offering services that are tailored toward developers who are creating products for vision Pro, they probably need some design assistance with it. So that’s kind of me keeping up with the times. It’s how can I tailor my services to be in demand and where the market is going? Which is one of the reasons I actually had an interest in three D. One of many reasons I’ve had an interest in 3D in the last few years is because I saw or I read that these types of experiences are coming and I want to be able to be able to create assets and just work in this space. So yeah, that’s an area I’m very excited about is VR, aR, that type of work.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work? Where can they hire you? Where can they find all of that information? Online?

Jonathan Patterson:

Definitely at my website, which is jonathanpatterson.com. I am on X – @jonpatterson_. That’s J-O-N underscore Patterson, of course. Linkedin.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Jonathan Patterson, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you really, for kind of diving deep into your business and kind of exploring why you do what you do what you do in terms of services and things of that nature. I think it’s important, especially now at this time, when people, for one reason or another, might be out there trying to find their next path or like what the next thing is that they’re going to do to really sort of see what someone who has been out here doing this for a long time is doing. So they can maybe look at how they structure their work or their business. But I think what you’re doing is great. I know you mentioned something about sort of having the work speak for itself and being the invisible hand. I’ll tell you that once you start speaking, that kind of goes a little bit out the window.

Yeah, I know, because the work doesn’t have a mouth, you do. So it’s like, as you start getting out there and speaking more. And I think certainly as people really see more of you, as well as the work, you’ll take off for sure. I mean, certainly what you’re doing now is really great work, but I’m excited to see where you go in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, well, thanks for having me.

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