Omari Souza

February is our anniversary month, and we’re kicking things off with an interview with design educator and researcher Omari Souza. Longtime listeners of the show may remember Omari’s first appearance on Revision Path back in 2017, and let me tell you, a lot has changed in four years!

We start off talking about Omari’s latest venture, the State of Black Design conference, and he went into the ins and outs of organizing it, and even gave a sneak peek on what to expect from this year’s event. He also spoke about teaching at Texas State University, his latest research focus, and the state of design education and how he’s grown as a designer. Revision Path is proud to work with State of Black Design, so you can definitely expect to see more of Omari’s contributions in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Omari Souza:
Hey everybody. My name is Omari Souza. I am a professor of design and design research at Texas State University. And I also organized the State of Black Design conference.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’ve been on the show before the first time you came on the show was back in 2017. How’s the year been going for you so far? This is 2022.

Omari Souza:
Man. To be completely honest with you with being in the middle of COVID these past three years all feel like one extended year. So it doesn’t even feel like I’ve started a new year yet. It just feels like I’m still ending 2019.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I guess it all has blurred together. I was online earlier today and I saw where people were making these comparisons, like January 2020 to January 2022, like how people were first starting to talk about the coronavirus and all that sort of stuff. But it does feel that way. I know a lot of folks now that are just trying to get their bearings so far. At the beginning of the year.

Omari Souza:
Yeah. That’s exactly what it feels like. It’s just being up and down, well, being up and down in terms of figuring out how you’re maneuvering through COVID and educating and working. Whether you’re at home whether you’re allowed to wear a mask or not wear a mask based off of how the population is doing with COVID at the moment, it’s all pretty tough.

Omari Souza:
And granted, I say that living in Texas, I know in some other cities and states that have taken it far more serious in the state that I’m in, things have been a bit more constant in terms of mask wearing and some of those other things, but it’s been a lot to adapt to.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And I know you’ve got a lot on your plate now because you’re also organizing an event while you’re doing all of this. You’re organizing this year’s State of Black Design, which begins next month. Tell me about how this event started and where you got the idea for it from.

Omari Souza:
It started in a lot of places in all honesty. I normally tell people that it started as a response to the George Floyd murder. There was a lot of civil unrest at the time and a lot of people wanted to have these conversations about race and the intersectionality of race with practice, regardless of what that practice was.

Omari Souza:
But also at that same time period and before there were a lot of designers in the BIPOC community that felt that they weren’t being represented at the majority of design related conferences. Whether it be HOW, or HOW Conference or several others, you would look at entire like 20, 30 person lineups, and maybe not see any person of color in that lineup, or maybe one or two, when in reality there was so much talent out there doing so much amazing things.

Omari Souza:
So this moment after George Floyd’s murder ended up being this huge boiling pot of emotion, a lot of the designers feeling like they didn’t have a space to be heard or to be seen, or that their contributions to the industry and to the field weren’t being recognized or appreciated. And there being this overall desire to learn more about how race is impacting these different pockets of society. So initial, I took that as an opportunity to hold something on my campus.

Omari Souza:
So what I thought was going to be on my campus, I created an Eventbrite page, hired a student to do some of the marketing material for us and anticipated we may only get a 100, 200 students that attended our program. Low and behold, we ended up getting roughly 4,000 people who registered for the event. And we’ve just been continuing since after realizing that there was a demand and really a need to have some of these conversations that weren’t happening prior.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting about… Well, one, I guess the timing of all this came about in an interesting way, because one, it did, as you said happen, because you were hearing from so many people that there’s a lack of events around Black designers. And then of course the summer of 2020 was this big racial reckoning, so to speak, which I guess for a lot of people activated them into doing something and for you, this was one of those things.

Omari Souza:
Yeah. And it really felt nerve wracking but gratifying is actually put together. You were one of the folks that actually came out and spoke with the initial one. And wanted to make sure I take my time to thank you for that, because I know that you’re super busy and you sacrificed your time to speak at the events. But one thing that we all spoke about afterwards was the response that we got on Twitter from it.

Omari Souza:
There were studios that tuned in live and actually created visual graphics of what was being discussed. There were people that tweeted and sent personal messages about how they never felt so seen or heard in the field itself. There was just such heartwarming messages that were coming in response to this at a time period where there was so much anger and anguish. So it felt really good to put that together.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I remember seeing, I know Webflow was one company that did these sketch notes right along with it. And for those that are interested the 2020 event, I think it’s on YouTube, right?

Omari Souza:
Yeah. It’s on YouTube.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And it was myself, it was Renee Reed, a couple other folks who had been on the Revision Path Podcast, but that was a really great event. It was just this one day thing that we all came together and spoke and it was a lot of fun. And I’m glad to see that you got that kind of feedback from it.

Omari Souza:
Yeah. I needed that as well. Timothy Brad Levis who’s also been on the show, spoke with me before programming, before I began planning the second event and he said to me planning a conference you typically do it in four stages. The first stage is, oh my God, I’m so excited. I can’t wait to do this second stage. Oh man, this is so much harder than I thought it was going to be.

Omari Souza:
The third stage is I can’t believe I agreed to do this. I’m never doing this again. What was I thinking? Then the fourth stage, once you start getting the response says, “You know what? It wasn’t that bad. I can do that again.” All the positive messages that I got at the time period, put the battery in my back to be able to do it again, the following year.

Maurice Cherry:
So given the popularity of the 2020 event, what can we expect from state of State of Black Design this year? Because you’re putting it on again.

Omari Souza:
So there are a couple of things that I am trying to do differently that I think people can be really excited about. The initial event was really my attempt to give people a space and a platform and not necessarily do so in a manner that felt control or contrived. I really wanted everyone to be able to speak their truth and talk in a way that other conferences haven’t allowed them to.

Omari Souza:
And I think that was a part of the success of the initial event. The sheer rawness of some of the discussions, the second event was really making an attempt to continue that on. But part of the response that I was getting was really from companies that were trying to figure out how do we then create this pipeline for designers of color, into industry that we are struggling to fund. So I used this event as a mechanism to create this pipeline.

Omari Souza:
I was going to use donations and sponsorships to keep the cost of the event free to students, but then leverage that money to pay our speakers as well as make attempts, to offer scholarships to students that are studying design as well. So for this event, the conversation that I had with a number of the sponsors and stakeholders was really along the lines of what are some of the areas that our participants can be best served going forward.

Omari Souza:
And one of the things we talked about is it’s great to have these avenues open up where they can interview then IBM, if they’d like to, or an Argodesign or materials or PayPal, Adobe, and everyone else that sponsored the event. However, especially considering that a lot of these participants are coming from programs that may not have the funding to give the same level of education within design and some other institutions or some folks are participating that are self-taught, it would be amazing to give some professional development opportunities.

Omari Souza:
So this year I’ve been speaking to a lot of folks about hosting workshops in order to teach the people that are tuning in some new skill sets that they can use to improve their portfolios or to add new weapons to their utility belt. When not to make a comic book fund to improve their skill sets on a day to day basis, something else that they can pull on to solve complex problems. Additionally, we’re speaking about hosting projects that can be worked on with particular employers to gain exposure to what particular assignments are like.

Omari Souza:
So not only can you interview, let’s say for example, with an NBC Universal, whom will also be a sponsor of the events, but they will also be giving competitions where you can design a movie poster for a film that doesn’t exist, but it then becomes an opportunity for you to engage with art directors in this particular industry and talk about potential internships or ways that you can improve that work. We’re also making steps to expand our target base.

Omari Souza:
And we’re beginning to invite and have additional programming for high school juniors and seniors. So if you are getting ready to go into a college and your visual creative in your high school, K through 12 education, which you don’t know what a career will look like as a designer. How to begin it, how to start searching for a community on campus or even the right campus or program to go to. We’re beginning this process of attempting to educate some of those students as well, to try to set folks up for the success that they’re looking for.

Maurice Cherry:
So it sounds like this expanding almost into this career fair. I mean, of course there’s going to be the different talks and stuff, but you’re doing also a lot around making sure students are set up with interviews and other opportunities to network with companies.

Omari Souza:
Yeah. I really want… I’m sorry. I’m backtracking. After the initial event, there were a lot of companies that, as I mentioned prior that were looking to find ways to diversify their workforce. And if that’s a discussion that they’re having, I want to be able to bring people to them, especially when a lot of the participants of these events are also saying that they would love to work for some of these fortune 500 companies.

Omari Souza:
However, I also want to make sure that I’m providing an avenue by which they can continue to improve the skillsets that they have in between this, the attending our conferences and in between their potential interviews for one position to the other. So, my hope is if a student who begins to attend from their junior year of high school takes advantage of some of the workshops that are there.

Omari Souza:
If they continues to attend these workshops and listen to these panels and interview with these companies that have been sponsoring their exposure and the connections that they would’ve made by the time they’ve graduated would put them further ahead than it would have if they’ve never attended and never worked on anything outside of what was in their classroom.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of the speakers for this year?

Omari Souza:
Man, we have a ton of great speakers this year. This year, we will be headlined by Nikki Giovanni, which I’m super excited about. We will also have Jelani Cobb who will be speaking. We will also have Anne Barry fellow Kent alum. That will be there. We will have Regina Gilbert, Lacey Jordan will be there.

Omari Souza:
Theresa Moses, Silus Monroe, Maryam Moma, Mike Nichols, Kalina Sales, Roberta Sampson, Raja Shaa, Trey Seals will be giving a workshop on type design. We will have Jennifer White Johnson. That’ll be hosting a panel on disability design. Kelly Waters will be there. Shelby Zinc from Microsoft will also be there as well, and this is just to name a few. The list is really extensive this year.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to say, that’s a lot already.

Omari Souza:
Yeah, it’s an amazing list of people. And I I’m really fortunate that they have all been willing to participate in this.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting, we talked about 2020 just earlier. One thing among many things that stuck out for me that year was just seeing how many Black designers found community online that year. I think because of events like State of Black Design and so many others that started that year. Black designers came around these events and really formed this sense of community. Have you felt that since the State of Black Design?

Omari Souza:
I feel like the year of the State of Black Design, there were so many things happening within the community and people attempting to build their own table. That I think that year in general, when the first State of Black Design happened, we also had Where Are The Black Designers hosted by Mitzi. Black Ignite, which was hosted just a couple months after that, by Heather Lee. Hughe also had their events as well as myself, which I believe was the last event of the year.

Omari Souza:
We were all in communication with one another, especially after our initial events happened. And we’ve all leveraged one another in order to keep everyone going. We each serve a different role, but have each come together as a family, just to keep things going. So for the second events, I know we had Jasmine Kent from HOW, Heather Lee from Black Ignite and Mitzi all sit on a panel together.

Omari Souza:
I’ve consulted with Mitzi and Heather Lee on a number of things that I was doing for Black Ignite Heather Lee brought me on to give a keynote. And I say all of this to say, there’s not only been a community in terms of the following, but the folks that have been attempting to lead these separate initiatives have also been coming together to assist one another. So it’s a fight and champion for the things that they view as important.

Omari Souza:
And I feel like that’s something that’s been extremely beautiful and powerful when considering three, four years ago, a lot of these spaces weren’t available. There was no State of Black Design or Black Ignite or Where Are The Black Designers and the followings for each have been extremely impressive.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. They really have. I mean, of course, for folks that have been following Revision Path around that time, I talked all about Where Are The Black Designers had Mitzi on the show and everything, but yeah, it is interesting seeing how all of that has… And I mean, I have to say it has come together very quickly. Even from my somewhat limited perspective of looking at the landscape of the design industry from 2013 to now and seeing how few events and things there were around black designers.

Maurice Cherry:
Even just media, like when I started Revision Path there was not any other podcast that were talking to Black designers about the work that they’ve done. And now of course, nine years later, there’s several others besides myself. But just to see how things have grown in such a very short period of time, I’m curious to know, why do you think these other events just don’t get it?

Maurice Cherry:
Because what I find interesting aside from the speed of all of this is how I don’t want to say how limited the resources have been, but y’all really pulled all this together from nothing. You put out a webpage or you put out a call on Instagram or something and you have thousands of people flocking to you registering, signing up for your event, spreading the word fostering community. And you see a larger slash other design competitions or events and things like that don’t even come close to that. Why do you think that’s the case?

Omari Souza:
I think it’s a number of reasons. Going back to my thesis research that I know we talked about in the initial interview, they’re a large percentage of Black college students that end up going to these. So they end up going to social serving programs because based off of the research I did in my graduate year of college, there are a lot of students that when choosing a major will choose majors that help them either contextualize things they’ve experienced or choose majors that help them advocate for others. And I think that advocacy piece for a lot of people comes off as being politic. I think with design, while it can be a tool that’s used for advocacy, it’s often communicated solely as a tool of luxury.

Omari Souza:
So even in terms of how conferences typically communicate themselves. So if you go to, not picking at any conference in particular, but if you visit Hughes site, it’s really all about how to learn the latest and greatest in designing for a fortune 500 company or a major firm that’s dealing with a fortune 500 company, but it’s never articulated.

Omari Souza:
It’s never really given any attention to areas that maybe of concern for people of color. And the reason being is that design always wants to come off as being apolitical. In my thesis research, I voted Melissa Harris Perry in her book Citizen.

Omari Souza:
She had the segment where she talks about whenever people think of politics. They’re often thinking about Democrats or Republicans when in reality, the art or of being political is really attempting to pull one person’s attention from one thing to something else. So if I’m trying to get you to look somewhere that you’re not currently looking, that happens to be political.

Omari Souza:
And then she then makes the argument that being Black in America is really a political act within itself because you’re consistently attempting to get people to recognize your humanity, so the discussions that we have at a lot of these events are not just about being a better designer or what you can do in the workspace, but it’s really these difficult discussions around the nuances of being marginalized.

Omari Souza:
How do you exist in a space being a Black person where you might be microagressed or the racism that you experience may not be as subtle all the time. It can be subtle, and sometimes it can be very direct, what can you do to protect yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically? What are the courses? How can other people be there for you to support you through these types of things? And in many cases, these are conversations that aren’t really had in your traditional conferences, but their topics of discussion.

Omari Souza:
And there there’re things that Black signers are speaking about whether or not these conferences are including them and not to mention traditional design programs typically tend to keep things very Eurocentric, and they don’t typically provide much room for cultural relativity or exploration into the cultures that a lot of people of they come from.

Omari Souza:
So if you now have workshops that are being done. So for example, Trace Seals will be giving his workshop. A lot of his work is predicated on designing typefaces of marginalized audiences. That’s not something that would traditionally be taught at a design school currently, but if it’s something that’s being provided at a workshop, it now becomes something that deals in that nuance and becomes interesting to people that have been marginalized.

Omari Souza:
That want to know more about that history but also how do I leverage that history and culture into my professional practice. Black Ignite, HOW Design, Where Are The Black Designers and the State of Black Design each give you an opportunity to have that conversation safely, and also learn to explore visually things that you may not see traditionally in the classroom.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I will say each of those events also are very different. Like State of Black Design is this conference slash career fair Hughe is like a family reunion kind of feel almost Ignite, at least from what I’ve seen from Ignite is just a bunch of straight up short talks, almost like a, I forget the name of it. What’s it called PechaKucha. I might be mispronouncing that I’m…

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s sort of a series of short talks and things like that. And then you may have a conference that’s got more longer, more didactic talks or something. But no, I like that each of these events also has their own flavor. They all feed on each other. They work in concert, at least from what I see with other Black design events that are out there.

Maurice Cherry:
Like, of course the four that you mentioned, which are fairly new, that doesn’t preclude also the existence of Black In Design, which takes place at Harvard University or Creative Control Fest, which takes place in Columbus or it doesn’t shy away from those events. Or try to pit one against the other, it’s all one community, or at least it’s all one shared community. I should say. If you’re a black designer now this is probably the best time in history for you to attend events that specifically speak to you as a Black designer, like it hasn’t ever been, I think this good in terms of variety.

Omari Souza:
Yeah. At least not that I can recall. And yeah, I feel that wholeheartedly. It’s really interesting, the entire idea of these separate organizations that really are in support of one another. And aren’t looking to pit anyone against anybody.

Omari Souza:
Like no, one’s asking attendees of one, not to go to the other. And in fact, we’re usually co-promoting whenever Where Are The Black Designers, HOW or Black Ignite has something if they send it to me, I’m always promoting and pushing people to attend. And they’ve done the same thing for me. And it’s really been appreciated.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’re juggling State of Black Design, of course, with teaching. You’re a design educator. You’re an assistant professor at Texas State University in Austin. When you were back on the show, the first time you were teaching at Laroche College, which is in Pittsburgh, what is it like teaching at Texas State? Tell me about your classes, your students, how is it?

Omari Souza:
Texas state is a really interesting place. It’s about 30, 40 minutes South of Austin, and also about 30, 40 minutes in north of San Antonio. So it’s sandwiched between these two major cities and in terms of diversity, it’s probably the most diverse institution in terms of student base that I’ve ever taught at.

Omari Souza:
And it’s really beautiful to see in terms of things that I I’ve taught there. I typically teach a few design research classes, both at the graduate and undergraduate level, and I’ve also taught foundations and typography, but I consider myself more to be a design researcher. So I’m always happier teaching the former than the latter courses.
Maurice Cherry:
And now, do you have a specific focus of your design research while you’re at Texas State?

Omari Souza:
I would say yes and no. So at the graduate level, in the past, I’ve taught a class called communication seminar, which is an introduction to design research methods that students can use for their thesis. So I begin educating students on research methodologies, like quantitative research methods, literature reviews, so forth and so forth. How do you build your design direction, map out plans, constructing logic models, so forth and so forth. Identifying stakeholders, yada yada yada.

Omari Souza:
I teach a class called design for experience as well, where I typically tend to leverage some of my own graduate based research around using design not only to using design classroom, not only is a space to develop new skill sets, but also expand considerations on what things could be applicable for. So I’ll teach design research methods and some UX techniques, but rather than using them for digital artifact, I ask students to expand their thought process on what an interface is.

Omari Souza:
It doesn’t necessarily have to be strictly digital, but it’s anything that anybody interacts with. So if we’re designing for behavior purposes, how could we use these research methodologies in order to bring about a particular behavioral change versus doing it strictly for additional clicks or site visits or things of that nature? Sometimes we will work in collaboration with other organizations. One summer, I saw the course, we worked in collaboration with Kyahokas Municipality Housing Authority. They were applying for 50 million grant to improve the quality of life for residents in a lower income community.

Omari Souza:
And we asked to be a part of the project. So we jumped in while they were performing the research and began asking questions to identify certain things that were happening in the community that design could be used to leverage as a solution to improve quality of life. One of the problems that we ended up finding was given the conditions that folks are living in.

Omari Souza:
One thing that they definitely were missing was adequate opportunities to build community with one another and communicate with one another while also bottlenecks around communicating with the leasing office and people that managed the property.

Omari Souza:
So we proposed a number of solutions that had nothing to do with digital components, but were more so interfaces that we can build on the community grounds themselves to improve that person to person and person to business interaction on these grounds in order to change some of the cultural issues that were happening within that particular space.

Omari Souza:
This year, there were a few projects that we’re going to be working on as well, that are all about community engagement, interacting with a group of people, but then attempting to solve a problem for behavioral change while using design as the so, and for me, I find this a lot more interesting than working along the lines of an arbitrary design brief, because I feel like the strictly giving students a brief, doesn’t give them an opportunity to meet people and expand their thought processes.

Omari Souza:
And if, as designers we’re supposed to be this empathetic group, but we never get an opportunity to meet or engage with the people that we’re designing for. We’re strictly designing within our own locked in biases. And that can also be very dangerous for marginalized audiences.

Omari Souza:
So putting them in a position where they have to get out of the classroom and interact with an audience, puts them in a space where they’re challenging their own perceptions and what a problem is. And if they’re designing with this audience and as they’re working, as they’re meeting them, as they’re engaging them, it puts them in a, in a process of thinking, my best results or realizing that my best results can come at hand when I’m working directly with the person who the solution is for versus working behind a desk without ever having to engage with them.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious, you’ve been there now for about three years. How would you say things have changed since when you first started there? Because it sounds like what you are doing right now is something you maybe have to work up to getting to.

Omari Souza:
I’m still at a point where I’m attempting to recommend changes and then get buy-in around those changes, which isn’t a slight against Texas State. I think the reality is I’m an extremely young professor. I’m only 35 years old. And many of the professors around me have been teaching for just as long as I’ve been living in some cases.

Omari Souza:
So for me to be this young and come and make attempts to challenge the way that certain things are being done, even if I’m citing that in new research or things of that nature for any program would be a lot to take in because that whether directly indirectly illuminates that for potential changes to come they’ll need structural pedagogical changes as well to make room for some of these changes. So I think, for myself there’s still this need to get buy in or to prove the benefit of particular things that other folks may not be too familiar with.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say you’ve grown as an educator since you first started teaching?

Omari Souza:
I think there’s a number of different things. I think naivete is something that I’ve shed a lot. Have you ever seen the… There was a documentary on charter schools? It was called Waiting On Superman.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I saw that.

Omari Souza:
Yeah. I’ve watched it again recently. There’s a section of the documentary. One of the educators who started a charter school in Harlem was talking about how he went to get his degree at Howard and he’d learnt so much and felt like as soon as he got out, he’d be able to change and improve the entire education system within two years, three years, if he was being lazy, but he had all the information necessary and he was going to get in there and make all those changes. I think that’s where I was when I first started teaching, I was really enthusiastic about the education that I got.

Omari Souza:
I felt super empowered about it, and I immediately felt like I’m going to jump in and make all of these changes. The longer I’ve been teaching, the more I’ve realized that it’s never an immediate change. You can never change the flow of the river that you’re in, but you can disrupt the water.

Omari Souza:
And if you make these minor disruptions over time, you can make an immediate impact. Well, not immediate, but you can make this impact for that immediate space, but you might not be able to change the flow of the water that you’re currently in. And I think that’s something that I’ve had to sit with and I guess be more strategic about what impact can I have and what impact will I be okay with having, if I can’t change the entire flow of the rigor itself?

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think about this state of design education now as it relates to diversity? Because I’d imagine with the years that you’ve put on this conference now and even changing to different schools that maybe you have gathered a bit of a reputation, a good reputation, I mean, but from your perspective, how do you see design education?

Omari Souza:
I think design education is at this really interesting spot. I think there are topics about decolonizing design practice and there are a lot of people that are doing a lot of work on plural versatile approaches professors such as Leslie and Noel that continue to do amazing things and encourage me in a lot of the stuff that I do.

Omari Souza:
I think there are a lot of folks like Cheryl Miller and her collaborations with designers off of the continent of America and working with Afro based designers and attempting to bring their aesthetic and their design language onto the forefront, I think is also something that’s really interesting from an institution standpoint and a university standpoint. I think a lot of the difficulty ends up being in people being threatened by that change or being uncertain, how to handle the new wave of demands that are coming for design institutions and programs, especially as the student populist becomes browner from one generation to the next.

Omari Souza:
I think in a lot of ways, it’s an exciting time to be a student. And it’s an exciting time to be a professor and see universities make room for these things to happen. I would imagine a difficult time for those that have no idea what steps to take next. Like if I’ve never had to consider anything other than Swiss design or anything other than the Bowhouse.

Omari Souza:
And now you’re saying that there are all of these other visual languages or aesthetical approaches or cultures that I should include in my curriculum and give equal amounts of respect to this one thing that I’ve made my bread and butter over the last 30 to 40 years. I can imagine that there’s a lot of anxiety, but still it’s necessary. And anxiety is never a reason to be paralyzed by anything.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you encountered any of that? Like from other educators?

Omari Souza:
Yeah. All the time. It’s usually not as direct as this makes me feel nervous or I don’t necessarily know how I can stack up to attempting to do this, but a lot of times it may come off in passive aggressive terms of we’ve done it this way for so long. And maybe you should just learn how to do it the way that we’ve been doing it before you make re for changes.

Omari Souza:
Yeah. I don’t think people ever come out and say that, “Hey, this makes me feel uncomfortable or insecure about approaching this particular subject matter. Can I work with you on this?” It’s usually this attempt to stopping the clock or slowing down change. And that’s not necessarily me saying a Texas State thing. I think that’s something that that’s happening in a lot of places within the industry.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’ve had a few other design educators on the show particularly last year that spoke to that as well. And also speaking to how, I guess students are looking for more from their design curriculum. They’re looking for more from their design educators in terms of how they see the world now and the work that they’re doing, they want to know how can they be more, I guess, involved in different causes and stuff like that. From your perspective, have you seen a similar kind of change over the years from your students?

Omari Souza:
Yeah, definitely. So my graduate research, when I was at Kent State University, there were a few interviews that I did where I asked students how they ended up choosing their majors. And there were a number of students that ended up choosing a major just because some of the course material was interesting to them. So there was one student in particular, the group in a predominantly white neighborhood, but that a student was Black.

Omari Souza:
So that student felt that there wasn’t enough access that he had to finding out more information about people that looked like him within the city and neighborhood he lived in. So he ended up taking a few African American history courses, and then that ended up becoming his major because he fell in love with the subject matter. I feel like there are a number of visual students that I’ve taught that have been a part of design programs, both at Texas State and Laroche.

Omari Souza:
And Tri-C when I taught there. And also at Kent State when I was a graduate assistant and there’s this interest in exploring visual languages that relate to them culturally, that they can see themselves in. And I think it’s really amazing for them when they find that, but it does create a space of pedagogical opportunities for professors. If we’re willing to bravely lean into it. One conversation I had with a few of my cohorts recently, especially considering that Texas and the university is within the Southwest of the nation.

Omari Souza:
I mentioned, I think it would be a really good idea to start doing research and creating coursework and materials around the influence of San Marcos has a huge Mexican population as is Texas in general, but trying to do this course on the influence of Mexican and Southern American aesthetics on the design language of the Southwest, I feel like you teach a course like that to some of our students that are looking for something different than Swiss and Bowhouse design or your ecentric perspectives on things.

Omari Souza:
I think that’s also another opportunity where you can then teach something that allows a student to have a greater appreciation for a culture outside of themselves. Or give a student an opportunity to further contextualize their own identity and have a greater appreciation for some of the things that they were exposed to without having full knowledge of what the richness of these things were

Maurice Cherry:
Now, along with those kinds of opportunities. You’ve also managed to network with and meet a lot of other Black design educators. Tell me how that’s been.

Omari Souza:
It’s been amazing to be completely honest with you. I’ve been able since the first State of Black Design to meet a number of people and try to find ways to collaborate and or talk about new pedagogical approaches or projects that are being offered in classrooms. I’ve met consistently with Kalina Sales, Dr. Perry sweeper and Dr. Oji in our biweekly DFA meetings and some of the stuff that they’re working on.

Omari Souza:
And some of the insights that they share with me are super invaluable in terms of my growth as a professor, I meet consistently with Teresa Moses, she and I are curating a State of Black Design book. And of course, during these meetings where we’re talking about the book assignments, they’re consistent topics or the discussion points around what’s being done in our classroom, Dr. Leslie Noel and I are working on a book called Restorative Design.

Omari Souza:
I’m learning a lot about her practice, not just through writing with her, but even some of the experiences she shares and what we’ve been writing, all of which enriches me in a lot of ways that I may not say to them consistently, but it’s been an amazing opportunity to see and hear other people that look like me that are dealing with students similar to who I’m dealing with, give me some of their master tips, or even seeing some of them just blow up and shine in their own career. Professors like Jennifer White Johnson, every time I look up, she’s doing something else amazing. And the community that she advocates for and the work that she’s been getting has been amazing to sit back and watch.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want to see this year? Is there anything you want to accomplish outside of course, of State of Black Design, but what do you want to see this year?

Omari Souza:
I think the thing that I want to see this year, that I’m hoping that I can pull off is really this professional development. Well, not really professional development. I’m hoping that these tables that we build, whether it be Where Are The Black Designers, Black Ignite, [HUE] and the State of Black Design, that we find a way to continue to pouring into our collective audiences, outside our annual conferences.

Omari Souza:
I know where the black designers has a really good community. They keep in touch via Slack, but trying to find a way to continue growing people in their own personal endeavors, not just through professional development methods, but also just through personal artistic explorations.

Omari Souza:
I think having a space where we allow other creatives to learn more about what it is that they want to do, but make it give room for people to explore new avenues and develop aesthetics and techniques in their own visual approaches would be something that I would love. And I think it’s something that we need currently as well.

Maurice Cherry:
And also you teased this book idea a little bit earlier. Tell me about that.

Omari Souza:
Yeah. So after the first State of Black Design, we did a CFP called proposal for essays, from anybody who was interested in contributing. We’ve gotten the number so far and a commitment to print from Intellect Publishing. So currently Theresa and I are reading through it and making attempts to decide what changes need to be made if there are essays that need to be lengthened and things of that nature, but we’re hoping that’ll be published by next year.
Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Congratulations on that.

Omari Souza:
Thank you kindly.

Maurice Cherry:
So overall, and this may be a tall order from where you’re at now, but aside from this year where do you see yourself in the future five years from now? What sort of work do you want to be doing?

Omari Souza:
Five years from now. I’m hoping I have tenure, but the work I’d like to do, I think it’s similar to what I was hoping to do in my initial interview. I would to begin a design for social good innovation practice that I do alongside my teaching. I’m hoping that the traditional classes that I’m allowed to teach that over time, I’m given room to change them slightly.

Omari Souza:
So it’s not just commercial focus, but we’re giving them techniques and tools that they can use for commercial entities if they choose to, but also allowing them to advocate or contextualize their own experiences through these methodologies as well. I’m hoping that I can continue to write these books. I’m hoping that yeah, five years down line, all of these books that I’m working on currently are published, that I can continue to evolve the State of Black Design to meet the needs of its audience.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you, about State of Black Design, about everything you’re working on? Where can they find that information?

Omari Souza:
You guys can find me on LinkedIn. I’m pretty active there. I do have a site omarisouza.com, and finally, I’m, I’m pretty active on Instagram, which is just Omari.Souza.

Maurice Cherry:
And the event?

Omari Souza:
The event is stateofblackdesign.com.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. And by the time this comes out, tickets will be available so people can register to sign up, correct?

Omari Souza:
Yes, sir. Please register. We’d love to see you guys there.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Omari Souza, I want to thank you so much for coming back on show. We’ve kept in touch since we have done that interview back in 2017. So it’s been amazing to just see your growth as an educator, as a researcher, and really getting more involved in doing community work with what you’re doing with State of Black Design. So I’m excited to see what is going to come next for you in the future. And of course, I’ll definitely be tuned in for this year’s event. Hopefully, People that are listen will tune in as well. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Omari Souza:
No problem at all. I appreciate you as well for having me and all the advice that you’ve given me as well since 2017.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Sponsored by The State of Black Design Conference

The State of Black Design

Texas State University’s Communication Design Program is excited to announce The State of Black Design Conference, a three day virtual event March 4-6, 2022.

This year’s theme is “family reunion”, and there will be over 50 amazing speakers, including author and educator Jelani Cobb, and world-renowned poet, activist, and educator Nikki Giovanni.

This year debuts the State of Black Design’s Resume Book initiative, so if you’re a Black design student, or you’re a Black designer looking for your next role, then listen up!

You will be able to submit your resume and your portfolio to the Resume Book, along with your institution of study and major if you’re a student, and recruiters and employers will have access to it before the event. If you’re interested and you want to be included in the Resume Book, send your info to blackdesign@txstate.edu with the subject line “Resume Book”. You have until March 3, 2022 to submit.

The State of Black Design Conference is brought to you with the support of the University of Texas at Austin, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Microsoft, General Motors, Design for America, Civilla, IDSA, AIGA, and Revision Path.

Visit The State of Black Design Conference website for tickets. Hope to see you there!

The Mailbag Episode

After years of asking questions to designers and developers all over the world, now I’m in the hot seat! For this special mailbag episode, I answer your questions about Revision Path that you sent in from our website and via social media. (And I have to say, you all definitely asked me some hard questions!)

How long does it take to put together a podcast episode, and have I ever had to take an episode down? What happened to our design anthology RECOGNIZE? Why did we have Facebook as a sponsor? What are my thoughts on AIGA? And why do we charge for job listings? Listen to this episode for the answers to these questions, and several others. Keep sending us your questions, and I may do another one of these episodes in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So this first question is from Jarvis J., and he asks, “how far are you from where you thought Revision Path would be right now?” That’s a great question. I promise not to say that before every question, although these are some great questions that I got in. I would say very far, but also not far at all.

Maurice Cherry:
When I started Revision Path back in 2013, I really wanted it to be kind of an online magazine. And then, I’d say probably within the first year or so of doing Revision Path and trying to keep it on a fairly regular schedule of it being an online magazine, I discovered it was just easier to make it a podcast. I could turn it around much quicker and stay on a schedule. I would say just that first transition was more than what I thought it would be when I started doing this whole project.

Maurice Cherry:
But as far as like where we are right now, and if we’re far from where I think I wanted to be, I would say yes. I mean, we’ve been doing this podcast now for almost nine years. I think it’s been a good, steady resource in the industry. Like people are always coming to Revision Path for one reason or another, whether it’s finding out about black designers or placing a job or something like that, and I think that’s been good. However, there are bigger things I would love to do with the show. And we’ve sort of over the years had opportunities to do some of those things, but just not on a consistent basis. For example, live shows.

Maurice Cherry:
We did our first live show in 2017. That was here in Atlanta. We did it with Facebook Design, and that was a great show. We did our 300th episode in New York City at The Greene Space back in 2019. That was good. And in 2020, actually we were planning to do a live tour across the U.S., in conjunction with different chapters of AIGA. So we were going to start in Los Angeles, and then do, and not necessarily in this order, but I’m going from west to east, but doing Seattle, Houston, Little Rock, Chicago, Atlanta, D.C., New York. That was the plan, because I had talked to people from each of these chapters. We had talked about doing some kind of programming. I was going to just basically pay out pocket to go to each of these places, and schedule and do live shows.

Maurice Cherry:
And so we did the first live show in 2020 in Los Angeles. That was with Roland A. Wiley. We recorded that at Leimert Park in Los Angeles, and then the coronavirus happened. And then once that happened, the flights got canceled, plans got changed. There was talk of me trying to take these same instances, this tour, I should say, take it online and do digital things. But if you remember spring of 2020, we didn’t know what was happening. The pandemic was just beginning and people were still trying to figure out what all this was and what we were going to do.

Maurice Cherry:
So the thought of sitting at home and doing a live event on Zoom didn’t really vibe well with me. Like I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know if I want to do that.” And then also I lost my job because of the pandemic in May of 2020. So I was like, “Yeah, I really don’t want to do it now.” There are bigger goals I have. For a while in the past, Revision Path had a blog. We had a blog with fairly regular entries from guest writers. I would love to continue to do that. I would love to do live shows again, once it’s safe for us to congregate in that way. And I’ve even thought of ways that Revision Path could maybe branch out more and do more video things.

Maurice Cherry:
I can tell you this, last year there was…or there are plans, I should say, because they’re still on the table, to do some sort of a live video show with Revision Path, like on Twitch or something like that. I think at one point we were talking about doing it with Facebook, and doing it on their Facebook Watch platform. But now Facebook book is Meta, and they’re doing stuff with the metaverse. And so that kind of fell through a little bit. So I would say right now my goal is just to keep hitting these milestones with the podcast.

Maurice Cherry:
We’ll hit episode 450 this year. We’ll hit episode 475 this year. We’ll hit episode 500 next year. And then of course next year will also be Revision Path’s 10th anniversary. Do I have plans for those things yet? No. I should probably start thinking about that since it’s going to be coming up sooner rather than later. I’d say just in terms of the initial idea of Revision Path with it being this online magazine, and now to it being this sort of steady staple in the design industry for us to have the respect of design organizations, tech startups, tech companies, et cetera, for it to be in the Smithsonian, I would say, is very far from where I thought Revision Path would be. I hope that answers your question.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Our next question here is from K.B. who asks, “how long does it take to put together an episode of the podcast?” How long does it take? It varies, because putting together the episode, if we’re just talking about postproduction from when I finished the interview up to when I get it back from RJ, who is our editor, I would say it roughly takes a week. But the thing is, I record so far in advance that RJ just kind of gets to them week by week by week. And so we have a regular production schedule. I record the intro and outro every week. So we record that in the beginning of the week, I pass it on to him. He already has the raw interview file. He does his edits, gets it back to me. I get a transcript done, upload everything, and it’s good to go.

Maurice Cherry:
So usually in the postproduction stage, takes about a week. If we’re talking about everything before that, also kind of adding into it, I would say that also will vary, because when the guest books on the show, that’s usually everything that I need to go ahead and get started with the actual interview for the episode. So I’ll do my research. I’ll put together a few bullet points. Then I have the guest on the show. We do the interview.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’ll put it like this, the time that we book for the interview is roughly 90 minutes. 90 minutes doesn’t mean that we use everything in that 90 minute. We may use probably only about an hour or so of that audio, but I do 90 minutes, one, to handle any sort of technical difficulties that might arise on my end or on their end. Sometimes maybe they’re not in a super quiet space, or there’s like mic issues or headphone issues. We work those out before we start recording.

Maurice Cherry:
And then when the guest is ready, I let them know I’m about to start recording. We do the recording, we do it all the way through, hopefully, fingers crossed. I’d say now it’s much better. Sometimes we would have issues with the recorder that I use or with Skype or with the guest internet connection or with my internet connection. There can always be things that go wrong. But within that 90 minute timeframe, I’ve got everything I need to go ahead and send off to RJ to start to get the episode together.

Maurice Cherry:
While I’m doing the interview, I also will take notes, like edit notes to say like, here’s a timestamp where I coughed, or here’s a timestamp where the guest dropped something or something like that. And he edits through all of those and it’s good to go. Roughly the interview portion, including everything else, I would say it takes about like a week or so to put an episode together. I try to do them in advance because I’m also scheduling them around different events that might be happening, or trying to see which episode can I place in this spot for maximum reach or that sort of thing. So it kind of varies, but roughly about a week, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
I’d say the quickest turnaround I’ve done on an interview has been maybe a couple of days. Like we record, I get it to RJ, he gets it back to me, and then we have everything together. But if I’ve got everything that I need to get started, and we request with the guests, we get that going, we record it, I send it off to RJ, get the transcripts, all that stuff, roughly about a week to put an episode together. And then it’s out for the world to hear.

Maurice Cherry:
Ryan B. asks, “have you ever had to take down an episode for any reason?” So luckily within the 430+ archive of Revision Path episodes, I have never had to take down an episode; knock on wood about that. I’d say 99% of what I record with the guests ends up in the final episode. We’ll edit out a cough or a sneeze or something like that, but there’s very few episodes that I’ve had to really aggressively edit.

Maurice Cherry:
And to that end, because everything that we talk about goes in the show, and the guest has reviewed it and everything, we have not had to take any of those down. Now, what has happened, I’d say in recent years is that we will get people who will write to the show leaving, I would say the equivalent of a negative Yelp review about the guests, but not about what the guests said on the show.

Maurice Cherry:
So it’s never about what they said on the show or what I said on the show or our conversation or our topics, but they will leave a negative review about their personal interaction with the guest, and using that as justification for why I should remove the interview, which I never do. If you had a negative run-in with this guest for one reason or another, that’s on you. That has nothing to do with the episode that I’ve done.

Maurice Cherry:
And usually these are for like old episodes too. Like ones I’ve done maybe 3, 4, 5 years ago. There’s someone that sort of comes out the woodwork and is like, “Hey, this person said this thing to me or did this thing to me. I don’t know why you have them featured on your website. You should take it down.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not going to take it down. That’s a problem you had with them. That has nothing to do with what I talked about with them, or anything like that.” So I don’t take those down.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, it’s a different story with 28 Days of the Web. 28 Days of the Web is our sister site, 28daysoftheweb.com. We do these profiles for every day in Black history month in February, where we profile a different Black designer or developer or something. I have had to take quite a few of those down for different reasons. The biggest reason being that the person just doesn’t want to be recognized.

Maurice Cherry:
None of the information that I have when I put those profiles together is coming from like some secret private place. Like it comes from their public LinkedIn, their public website. I’m getting that information from there, so I’m not creating anything myself. Like it’s all from them. And so they’ll see it and they’ll say, “Oh, well thank you for the honor, but I want you to take this down.” And so I’ll take it down in that instance, because it is something that I’m doing to recognize people that I may, for one reason or another, not have on the show, because I haven’t reached out to them, or…I have a long list of people, like potential folks that I could have on the show. I think it’s maybe about 2,500 people at this point.

Maurice Cherry:
So everyone that I have on the show that I could talk to, I can’t have because we just do it every week. And so some of those people will end up becoming 28 Days of the Web profiles. I mean, even if you go back all the way to 2014 when we started that, you’ll see some of those people have been guests on the show eventually. Have not had to take down a podcast episode, but I have had to take down a 28 Days of the Web profile here and there.

Maurice Cherry:
This next message is from Jordana T. who asks, “what’s the biggest blessing in disguise you’ve gotten from Revision Path?” I’d say the biggest blessing in disguise is probably the rooms that Revision Path is mentioned in that I’m not a part of. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. I’ve done this now for a long time. I’ve interviewed a lot of people, and those people will talk to other people who talk to other people.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s oftentimes I’ll be researching something for work or anything like that, and I run across someone who’s like, “Oh yeah, I know you. You’re from such and such.” I think that’s probably been the biggest blessing in disguise is knowing that the work that I’ve done is being mentioned in other rooms and other places without me necessarily having to be in them. That’s probably the biggest thing.

Maurice Cherry:
I think the other biggest blessing in disguise for me is the network that I’ve been able to build, just personally and professionally. Interviewing all these people has gotten me an in with different companies in different ways, whether that’s for sponsorship purposes, whether that’s for consulting or any number of other things. I’ve been able to get my foot in the door so I can say, oh yeah, I know someone at Microsoft. I know someone at Dropbox. I know someone at Meta, or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
And that’s not to say it in a braggy sort of name-droppy sort of way, but it is a blessing in disguise to be able to have that one-on-one access to someone who could possibly get me access to someone else. I think that’s been the biggest kind of a blessing from the show. Doing this interview-based show is always good.

Maurice Cherry:
Another big blessing in disguise is honestly just the fact that so many people are appreciative of hearing these conversations. Like I will get messages from people who are just glad that they found this as a resource, whether it’s through their own research, or a friend or a colleague of theirs is on it. Like hearing back from people, what they thought about the show or what they thought about the interviews, and how much of a help it’s been to them has been a real blessing. Knowing that I’m putting something out there in the world that, yes, is educational, and that you’re learning about these people, but is also inspirational.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad that people are finding that inspiration from listening to these stories and listening to people and learning about what they do and being able to expand their own kind of personal knowledge of black designers and the work that black designers can do. Yeah. That’s kind of been the biggest blessing in disguise from doing this whole thing.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Next up is this question from Rosie. Rosie asks, “how come some of the podcasts have transcripts and others don’t? When will that be fixed?” The simple question is that some podcasts don’t have transcripts because I don’t have the money to pay to get them transcribed. That’s the easiest way to answer that question.

Maurice Cherry:
We do have an accessibility sponsor that we’ve had now probably for the past year, which is this great studio in D.C. called Brevity & Wit. When we were part of the Glitch Media Network back in 2019, we had podcasts for a couple of episodes, well, not a couple, for a lot of episodes. And those are the ones I think in the like 250 to maybe 340 range of episodes, those have transcripts. But no, all of the podcasts do not have transcripts.

Maurice Cherry:
We use a service called Rev, R-E-V, to do our transcripts. And they’re roughly, I think it’s like a $1.25 a word or something like that. So you can imagine with 400 plus episodes, that’s a lot of money to transcribe all of those episodes. Now, if you are a company out there who would love to sponsor us so we can get all of our episodes transcribed, I would love that. Like please hit me up. I would love to make that happen.

Maurice Cherry:
But no, because of that, that’s why some of the podcasts do have transcripts, some of them don’t. One of the goals I would love to have is to have the entire archive transcribed, but that is probably going to happen way off in the future. That’s something that we have to have the funds to be able to do. I do know that now there are these sorts of automated services where you can send them a MP3 or an audio file of some sort and they’ll spit out a transcript. They sort of do this speech to text kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
But what I find with those is that the transcripts that you get back, unless you’re speaking in absolute like perfect English, they are always going to be messed up. Like with Rev, I know that there are real people that are transcribing them. So there are certain words and things that they’ll pick up on and spell correctly.

Maurice Cherry:
If I use one of these automated services, by the time I get all those transcripts back, I’d have to then probably go through all of them individually to make sure the words that were said were right, especially if we’re talking about interviews that have slang terms in them, or the names of companies or things like that, that will be hard to spell out. I guess that would be hard for an AI to kind of figure out, but a human could figure it out. That’s why not all the episodes have transcripts, but that is something in the future I would love to do. And if you’re a company that’s listening and wants to sponsor us to make that happen, I am all ears. Hit me up.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, this is a really good question. This one is from Cole M. Cole asks, “what are your thoughts now about AIGA? In early episodes, it seems like you didn’t like the organization, but you’ve also worked with them in the past. And now you have the new president of AIGA as a guest on the show, which is it?” Okay. Fair enough. I would say I probably still continue to have a complicated relationship with AIGA. Part of that complication, I’d say it comes in waves.

Maurice Cherry:
Back when I was starting out as a designer in the like mid-2000s, and trying to really become a part of the design community in Atlanta, I did reach out to AIGA Atlanta several times, and never really heard anything back. They never responded to my emails. I would go to events. I would feel out of place at events and things like that. And so it wasn’t until, one, I started this podcast. And two, they saw that I was doing work with AIGA National, that the local chapter here started to pay attention to me.

Maurice Cherry:
I’d say probably the most egregious example of that is when I spoke at HOW Design Live here in 2016, and the president of AIGA Atlanta at the time had reached out to me, and was like, “Oh my God, I feel like I should know who you are. I don’t know who you are. You’re one of two Atlanta people that are speaking in this conference. We should get to know each other.” Which I was like, “Whatever.” Super transparent. We didn’t know who you were before, but now that you’re hot, we kind of want to know more about you, that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Like Cole said, I have volunteered with AIGA. I was on their national diversity and inclusion task force for three years. Did a lot of work there. Ended up making my exit from the organization. And then a few years after that decided to cancel my membership with AIGA. I do have a complicated relationship in that respect. I’d say within the past, what…almost 10 years now? I’ve seen AIGA go through now three executive directors. Like I knew Ric Grefé back when I started the show. I knew Julie Anixter, who was the executive director, and I still keep in contact with. And I know Bennie, Bennie F. Johnson, who was our 375th episode guest, who was the new executive director of AIGA, not the president.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve had relationships with each of them. Bennie and I actually talk fairly regularly outside of podcast stuff. I would say Bennie, and this is to the organization as a whole, I mean, it’s over a hundred years old, and they have not done a great job with keeping up with the times. I think anyone that is a modern designer, particularly if you’re a product designer or a UX designer that came about in the past 10 years, like AIGA doesn’t really have any relevance for you.

Maurice Cherry:
And that’s partially the organization’s fault with not really keeping up, in that respect, with the trends of where the design community has gone. I think they are starting to make those changes now, and starting to become more of a professional organization that offers services and access and information of things that are of importance to current working designers. I can say they did not offer that before.

Maurice Cherry:
So like there’s different conferences and webinars. There’s like continuing education courses and things you can get now through AIGA. They’re really trying to turn things around. I’ll say from the time that I have worked with AIGA, I’ve even been to the headquarters in New York. Recorded, not an episode there, but I did record an interview there. Got to sit in the AIGA boardroom, and talk to people. They’re a small organization. I’ll say that they’re may be about 25 to 30 people. So they’re not this like massive group. They’re a small organization that happens to have these different chapters across the country. And each chapter kind of operates independently, for the most part, of AIGA headquarters.

Maurice Cherry:
And so a lot of people’s, I think experience with AIGA, particularly through their chapter, is what colors their perception about the organization as a whole. Certainly that was the case with me. Now that I’ve worked both with local and with national, yeah, I have kind of a conflicted relationship. Am I an AIGA member now? No, I’m not. But I do think that they are starting to become an organization that is doing what needs to be done for the modern designer now, which is really be not just an educational resource, but I think also becoming a resource that is important to the design business community.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ll give you an example. In Canada, there is a organization called RGD, which is kind of, I don’t want to say Canada’s answer to AIGA, but it is a professional organization for graphic designers in Canada. And a lot of employers in Canada really look at your RGD membership as a good thing to have on your resume, or something like that. So if you take the skills tests and things that RGD has, and you are able to put those on your resume, then it means you’re a designer of a certain caliber.

Maurice Cherry:
Whereas I think if you’re an AIGA member and you put that on your resume, it probably doesn’t mean anything to most companies. They probably have never even heard of AIGA, or know why it’s important, or why hiring an AIGA member is a benefit over hiring someone who is not an AIGA member. Those are things that I think the organization still is trying to work out for itself. Those are kind of my thoughts on AIGA.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s still an organization that is doing great things. Like many other companies and organizations, they’re trying to find a way through this pandemic, because AIGA does and continues to do a good number of in-person events and things like that. It’s just different when you can’t congregate like you used to. Like how do you have the big AIGA design conference, for example, that’s like a four or five day event, how do you have that when everyone’s at home? You bring it online. And so they’ve managed to bring it online and make it more accessible to more people.

Maurice Cherry:
And now that they’re using online as kind of that event space, they’re able to have other types of events that they can spin up for different sort of niche parts of the design community. They’re doing what they can. I am still not a member, like I said before, but I think they are taking steps in the right direction to make the organization more of what it needs to be for the modern designer.

Maurice Cherry:
Sarah Z. asks, “why are you charging for job postings? The job board on Where Are The Black Designers is free, so I don’t understand why I should post a job here instead of there.” Okay. So I debated on whether or not I was going to include this question in the episode, because it’s a question, but it’s also actually a very common gripe that I get from companies that write to the show. So I figured this would be a good public way to say what I’m already saying privately to many companies.

Maurice Cherry:
I understand that companies are trying to diversify where they post their listings. It’s something certainly I think that has been a thing that’s been present in the industry, but especially after the kind of “summer of racial reckoning” in 2020, a lot of companies were like, oh, we need to seek out the black voices and where the black people are and blah, blah, blah, and all this all kind of stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
So, I get that. And people will look at Revision Path, they’ll look at other black/POC focused job boards, like Where Are The Black Designers, or People of Color in Tech…there’s a number of them. There’s actually a lot of them now more than there used to be. Some of them do allow you to post for free. Some do have a charge that’s associated with it.

Maurice Cherry:
When I started the job board, which I think was back in maybe 2015, 2016, I think, the price was $99. So it has not changed the entire time that I’ve had the job board. Actually, what we did, I want to say around 2016, 2017, was we started to offer lower priced job to your listings based on the type of job that you were posting. So, full-time and part-time jobs were $99, but if it was say an internship or a contract gig or a freelance gig, it would be $49. So we would make it half price.

Maurice Cherry:
And what I found was that people didn’t even want to pay the $49. They expected it to be free. A lot of people expect some kind of discounts. Like I will have multi-billion dollar organizations that will contact me and want a discount on a $99 job posting. Usually they want it for free. But when I say it’s $99, they want to know if there’s any discounts. I don’t offer discounts. Like I keep the price low to make it accessible. I know that if I were to have it for free, everyone would post jobs here, which is not to say that’s a bad thing. But then on the back end, I would have to spend so much extra time trying to filter out what’s quality from what’s not. And what I find to be the differentiator for that is putting a cost on the listing.

Maurice Cherry:
The cost is $99. We mention it on the podcast, like three or four times when you post it, depending on when it falls within our production cycle. So it’s getting out to thousands of people worldwide, which I think is a pretty big reach, aside from it just being on our job board. We also used to do a newsletter. We found the newsletter was not very active in terms of people finding out about stuff. So we would just put them right there on the podcast. And actually, if you go to the job board, I think it’s still there. But if you subscribe to RSS feeds, I don’t know if people are still doing RSS feeds in 2022, but you can get a RSS feed to the job board. And then you can get the jobs as they’re posted, like with no delay. So, it’s a big reach.

Maurice Cherry:
And the reason that I have that cost is to make it so I can differentiate between that. There’s this comparison thing in this question that I also wanted to address, which is, why is this black job board free, but this black job board isn’t? Don’t do that. Don’t do that. If you’re a company that’s doing that, don’t do that. Like, one, black people are not a monolith. But two, we’re catering to different, I want to say we are catering to fairly different communities with Where Are The Black Designers does, with Mitzi Okou and what I’m doing with Revision Path.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m sure in the Venn diagram of our two communities, there is some overlap, but it’s not a perfect circle. So to try to compare and say, well, their job board is free, and your job board is $99. What’s the deal with that? I mean, it’s $99 because it’s $99. Also all the proceeds from the job board go right back of the show. Like the money from that pays RJ. It pays our transcripts. It pays for advertising. So it’s not like I’m just pocketing the money. I don’t see any of that money. It’s a direct loop right back into the show.

Maurice Cherry:
So every job listing that we get, yes, it makes sure that it goes out there, but then also it keeps the show alive. I mean, for several years we had a Patreon, and we still have a PayPal where you can donate either on a one time basis or on a monthly basis. But I found those weren’t ways to really keep the show going. The job board really keeps the podcast alive. And so those listings go directly back into the show. So that’s why I charge that much.

Maurice Cherry:
One is quality control. And two, because it’s a source of revenue to keep Revision Path open. Well, I mean, not like it’s closed like a business, but you know what I mean. It keeps the show going. But I will say, the jobs that we get are from all over. There’s educational jobs, there’s private sector, jobs, there’s small businesses, et cetera. We just did this thing last year, where we created kind of like an enterprise type job board sponsorship. So if you wanted to sponsor for like the entire year for one flat price, which is, to be completely transparent, is $2,000. You can post as many jobs as you want to the job board, no problem. You get a code. You can post them all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
One of the current job board sponsors we have is Work & Co, and they post all the time. I’m sure if you’ve listened to this show within the past, what? Maybe like five or six months, there’s been several Work & Co positions that we’ve put up. And they’re a pretty well known reputable agency. As to why we charge for job postings, like I said, one, it’s quality control. Two, it actually keeps the show going. Like it goes directly back into the production of Revision Path. That’s why I do it.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Next. Y’all are giving me some really spicy questions here. I’ll answer them. Anyway. This question is from R.G. who says, or who asks, I should say, “why is Facebook a sponsor of Revision Path? It feels hypocritical given all the harm Facebook has done to this country and this democracy that you would cape for them so hard on this show. Why is that?” Y’all are a trip. Okay. I’ll answer it. I’ll answer it completely honestly.

Maurice Cherry:
Revision Path first came on Facebook’s radar in 2015 back at South by Southwest, when I did the Where are the Black Designers presentation. I did it there. Some people from Facebook were there. They invited me to their Facebook house. For those that don’t know for South by Southwest, it’s this big interactive, film, and music festival that takes place in Austin every year. And so companies, particularly for the interactive part, will rent out spaces like restaurants and things like that, and basically turn it into their base of operations, also known as their house. So you’ll to have like a Facebook house, a Microsoft house, an eBay house, whatever.

Maurice Cherry:
So Facebook had a house there, and I got to meet folks. That is how, from doing that, I ended up not only speaking at Facebook to close out their design lecture series in 2016, but also got to visit the campus, be on the headquarters, record a number of interviews while I was out there. And yes, Facebook has, in the past, financially sponsored Revision Path. Facebook has not been a sponsor of Revision Path since 2018, I think, 2018.

Maurice Cherry:
When we joined the Glitch Media Network, again, I’m trying to be as truthful here. I’m just trying to think of the best way to put it. When we joined that network, the CEO of Glitch, who is Anil Dash, has said a number of very kind of inflammatory things about Mark Zuckerberg, who is of course the CEO of Facebook. And so let’s just say that that didn’t really mesh well, the fact that we were joining this network, and Facebook is like, yeah, you know what? They kind of just gave me the silent treatment.

Maurice Cherry:
So for the year that we were on the Glitch Media Network, Facebook was no longer sponsoring. I think there was conversations and opportunities around re-upping that sponsorship in 2020, but then with the pandemic and everything, it all just kind of fell through. We were even at one point, and this is kind of leading up to our 300th episode, we were going to do that episode at Facebook’s headquarters in New York, and had been talking about it.

Maurice Cherry:
The team that I had at the time — shout out to TK and Deanna and Britt — yhe team I had at the time had even went to Facebook’s campus in New York to scout it out for the event, but it ended up falling through. We ended up getting The Greene Space. The rest is history. I’ve had conversations with folks from Facebook since then. Facebook is now Meta, but Meta is a huge organization. Even the people who I talk to back in 2015 have moved on from the company, or they’re in other parts of the company. So I have to speak to like a whole new person about what Revision Path is and why it’s important. So I often have to like plead my case to them several times.

Maurice Cherry:
And after a while it’s just like, well, why even bother? Especially once we joined the Glitch Media Network in 2019, and that wasn’t a fit in terms of being on the network of a company that has openly disparaged the sponsor. Kind of not the best thing to do. I’ve had conversations with folks from Facebook. I mean, of course we’ve had still people from Facebook on the show, but they have not been a sponsor for a minute, Facebook/Meta. I mean, even at the top of the year, we had Charlene Atlas, who was a researcher at Meta Labs, their Reality Labs. Yeah, that went fine, but that was not a sponsored thing. We haven’t spent Facebook’s money on this show in years, but I appreciate that people are, I guess, calling me out in a way, or calling the show out for that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
I do appreciate that because it keeps me honest. It makes sure that the audience knows like this is where we stand in terms of like certain issues and things of that nature. But no, Facebook/Meta has not been a sponsor for a long time. I could see how, that sort of hypocritical remark, I could see where that would come from, particularly because we were taking their money during the time of like Cambridge Analytica and all that sort of stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
So I get that, but a lot of that information came out after we had already took and spent the money. So like, I can’t unspent the money and give it back to them. But I also never told them like, we are no longer sponsoring. They just sort of moved on, especially once Facebook themselves got into podcasting. I think, and I’m speculating here, so if you work for Facebook and this is the case, don’t come after me, but I’m speculating that once they got into podcasting themselves, they’re like, “well, why are we sponsoring shows?” That kind of fell through. And to be honest, I haven’t pursued it since then.

Maurice Cherry:
Rob asks, “I have a question, but it’s about something related to Revision Path, RECOGNIZE. What happened to it? And is it coming back this year?” I’ll answer that second question first, which it is not coming back this year. I’m not sure when RECOGNIZE is coming back. I do want it to come back, but it’s not coming back this year. As far as what happened to it, tail as old as time, we don’t have the money to put RECOGNIZE on. That’s kind of the biggest reason behind it.

Maurice Cherry:
The first year that we did RECOGNIZE, we received a grant from InVision from their Design Forward Fund, and that allowed us, one, the opportunity to pay the illustrator and to pay the writers for their finished edited submissions. But then it also meant that it would have the audience of InVision on their blog, which I think is called Design Together, I believe is what it’s called. So we had that big kind of megaphone and platform for the first year of doing RECOGNIZE.

Maurice Cherry:
The second year, we started it in 2019. The theme in 2019 was Space. And then we started in 2020, and the year, the theme for 2020 was Fresh, I believe. The pandemic kind of put just a big rain cloud over the entire kind of, I don’t even want to call it a competition, because it’s not a competition, but it put big rain cloud over the entire process, because people aren’t thinking about trying to submit to a design anthology when they’re just learning about this virus and how it’s spreading and what they can do to try to protect themselves from it.

Maurice Cherry:
We did receive a fair number of submissions, but what happened was we got, I think we got down to six, that were kind of good ones that I wanted to move forward with. And then four of them completely just dropped out of the process. They were like, “I don’t have time for this. I’m too stressed. I’m too this.” Which I completely understand. And we ended up just proceeding that year with two authors, Regine Gilbert and Kahlil Crawford, I believe is his last name. And we published those. Those two ended up also getting republished in A List Apart. Shout out to Aaron Gustafson, who’s the editor-in-chief over at A List Apart for helping to make that happen.

Maurice Cherry:
But the interest, because of the pandemic kind of died out. Plus I had just lost my job. I was paying for all of this out of pocket, like out of savings and everything. So it just got to the point where it’s like, oh, this is a lot. And even as I thought about the third year, I wanted the theme for 2021 to be Reboot. And we had made graphics for it and did a campaign. I think the open time was like three months, which is the largest submission period that RECOGNIZE has ever had, to give people enough time.

Maurice Cherry:
And we got a number of submissions. And then after reading through all the submissions we got, I didn’t feel any of them were good enough to kind of move forward on. There were like three or four that I’m like, well, maybe if we shifted this and changed this. But then just kind of stepping back and looking at the entire process with how much it was going to cost and how much time it was going to take to work with these authors. And the fact that these submissions were just not really up to the quality that we used to get. The quality really decreased from year to year of the submissions.

Maurice Cherry:
So I made the executive decision in 2021 to just put the hiatus on RECOGNIZE. One, because, like I said, the quality just wasn’t that great. I mean, it’s hard to put out a design anthology of essays when the essay prompts that you’re getting, or the essay submissions you’re getting have nothing to do with the theme that we put forward. Like the theme was reboot, and we were getting just basically things that people wrote about whatever they wanted to. They wrote about nothing that had to do with design. They just wrote stuff. Some people sent in designs, which… it’s a literary anthology, so you don’t need to send me something visual. So the quality just was really not that great.

Maurice Cherry:
And then looking at how much it was going to cost in terms of editing, paying the illustrator, paying the writers, I was like, “Yeah, I just don’t have the money for this.” So we didn’t have a sponsor or anything lined up for it. And so that’s why I ended up putting it kind of on hold. One of the things I would love to do in the future is bring it back, but bring it back in like an actual printed form. I’m working on a project right now, at the job where I’m at, where we’re making an actual magazine, like a print magazine. And so I’m able to work with printers and see how much it costs and all the kind of behind the scenes stuff that goes into making a print magazine.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’m like, I think RECOGNIZE would be great as like an annual digest of some sort, but that would require, I think, many more submissions, many more quality submissions, in order to make that happen. Not to mention the price to print and ship, which was much less than I thought it would be once I really started doing research. That’s what happened with RECOGNIZE.

Maurice Cherry:
The quality of the submissions greatly decreased. The pandemic I think just took a lot of wind out of people’s sales for wanting to contribute to something like this. And I didn’t have the funds to really keep it going on my own. If we get a sponsor that’s able to make it happen, then maybe we’ll bring it back. To answer that second part of your question, again, it is the not coming back this year, and I don’t know when it will come back in the future, but it will come back. I do want to bring it back, I just don’t know when.

Maurice Cherry:
Medina D. asks, “I recommended a friend of mine to be a guest on the podcast. When are you going to interview them?” So this particular guest that Medina is talking about, I’m not going to say who the guest is, but I have already reached out to them, just waiting for them to hopefully respond, and we can make that happen. But I do want to sort of pull the curtain a little bit back on how we have guests on the show and how this process works. Because I would say within the past maybe year, maybe the past two years, I’ve gotten a lot of people who want to come on the show who it’s very clear they’ve never heard the show before at all. And the only reason that they want to be on the show is because it’s a black podcast.

Maurice Cherry:
I will get any number of people in a number of different fields. Many of them not even designers. I’ll get nonprofit CEOs. I’ll get marketing people. I’ll get authors of business books, all want to come on the show and talk about my book. Oh, I want to come on the show and talk about this project that I’m doing, and it doesn’t fit with the tenor of the show. They’ll say they’re a big fan. And I’m like, well, clearly you’re not a big fan because you would know that we don’t cover this sort of stuff on the show.

Maurice Cherry:
I’d also say probably the interesting thing is that many of these people who do this are also not black. Is it a black show? Yes. Because I’m a black host and I talk to black guests, and that’s the thing about the show. Like I talk to black designers and black tech people too, but I try to be very deliberate in that, because what will happen sometimes is that I think, one, because Revision Path has been around a long time. And because we do kind of straddle between design and tech, Revision Path is often miscategorized as a show for people that it’s not even about.

Maurice Cherry:
So like for example, people will say, oh, well, Revision Path is a show about black designers in Silicon Valley. It’s not. It’s not. It’s not geographically specific in that way. Or people will say, well, Revision Path is a show that talks to BIPOC creatives. We don’t talk to BIPOC creatives. We talk to Black designers, creatives, artists, that sort of thing. So I have to be very deliberate in that, because oftentimes Revision Path just gets lumped into the overall “diversity in tech,” or, I guess diversity in design conversations too, but in a way that makes people think that they can just come on the show for whatever reason, even if they don’t fit sort of what the guest roster is, or what the theme of the show is about.

Maurice Cherry:
When I do have guests on, I try to let them know that even if there is a particular project that they want to plug, the interview is not just about the thing you want to plug. Like we’re not that kind of show. First of all, because I record in advance, like up to a month in advance. Like by the time you hear the interview, it’s been at least a month or so since we’ve had that conversation. It’s hard for me to do really timely things. And I do that on purpose to keep our production schedule pretty lean in that respect.

Maurice Cherry:
But secondly, if you just come on the show and it’s all about, here’s the one thing that I’ve done, that doesn’t make sense in the entire archive of the whole show, because it’s about people’s individual journeys as designers, as developers, et cetera, et cetera, not about this one thing they did this one time with this one company that they worked with. It doesn’t become this sort of evergreen sort of thing, if you just want to come on and talk about one particular thing.

Maurice Cherry:
But I don’t know. I think Revision Path has ended up in some PR database, because I get all kinds of folks that are like, “Oh, I want this person to be on my show. And they’ve done this, this and this.” And it’s like, this is a white man. Why would I have them on the show? You looked at the guests, do you see that I have white men on the show? What’s not clicking? I don’t know. They’re clearly not paying attention in that respect.

Maurice Cherry:
But to put a finer point on Medina’s question about the friend that she had said wants to be on the show, oftentimes people will recommend like friends of theirs, colleagues of theirs, et cetera, to be on the show. And I like that. I love to get that sort of warm referral. What I will ask is that if you do that, please supply enough information to me, so I don’t have to hunt down who this person is. Like for example, someone will say, “Oh, I’ve got a really good friend who should be a guest on the show. Respond back and I’ll tell you who it is.” I’m not going to do that. Why don’t you just tell me who it is instead of having to play this kind of back and forth game.

Maurice Cherry:
Or they’ll give very little information like, oh my friend Alan would be a great designer. Okay. Alan who? Does Alan have a last name? Do you have a link to Alan’s website or LinkedIn, so I can find out more information about this person whom you’re recommending? Make my job a little easier by giving me the information, especially if this is like a friend or a colleague of yours that you want on the show. Like, help them out. Like help me out, but help them out too, to make sure that that information is correct.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when I do outreach, and I guess this is sort of branching out from your question a little bit, Medina, but when I do outreach, I try to make sure that I connect via email. One, because I just have my one inbox, and it’s just easier for me to manage it that way. If you’re a designer that’s got a contact form or something like that, just make sure that it works. I can’t tell you how many times I go to a person that I would love to interview, and I go to their website, and there’s absolutely no way to contact them. There’s no social media links. The contact form doesn’t work. There’s no email address listed. It’s like, how am I supposed to reach out to you?

Maurice Cherry:
And maybe they don’t want to be reached out to, which is fine. That is totally something that you can do, that people can do. I don’t feel any sort of negative way about that, because for a while in my career I was very much the same way. I’m like, “Don’t talk to me, just let me do my work.” But it becomes harder when there’s not really an easy way to contact the person, or I don’t have enough information for me to do even preliminary research to see if this person would be a good fit.

Maurice Cherry:
Also because I do record very far in advance. Just because you send me this person’s name, I may not get to them for months, because I already have other people whom I’ve reached out to, or there’s just other folks in the queue. So it may take me a while to finally get around to that person, but I’ll get onto them eventually. I have a long list of about, I think I mentioned this earlier, maybe about 2000 to 2,500 people, that I could reach out to. Like I go through that list pretty regularly when it comes to reaching out to folks because I’ve been keeping the list now for nine years, and I’m continually adding to it and such. And so I make sure that when people recommend folks, I do move them to the top of the list.

Maurice Cherry:
I’d also say, let that person know that you are recommending them. So that way if I reach out to them, it’s not this, well, who are you? And what is this show? And blah, blah, blah, that kind of thing, because then it’s weird. It’s like, okay, well your friend recommended me, or your colleague recommended you to come on the show, and they often don’t even know. So like, let your friend know, copy them on the email or something. Help them out as well. But yes, to Medina, I did reach out to your friend. If they happen to get back to me, I would love to have them on the show. Let them know that I reached out to them, and then they can respond, and we can make that happen.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. We’ve got time for one last question, and this comes from Maya W. who asks, “you always ask a guest where they see themselves in the next five years, where do you want Revision Path to be in the next five years?” My overall aspiration for Revision Path is to grow this into becoming a multimedia network. The biggest reason I think is to grow beyond being typecast. I mentioned before about how Revision Path is often kind of misnamed or mislabeled as all these other things that it’s not. Being able to grow Revision Path into a network allows or would allow me more places to really say, this is what this is about.

Maurice Cherry:
What I’m envisioning with this kind of multimedia network is we still continue the podcast, because that’s the main keystone of all of this. I’d want to keep that. Maybe expand out to do other types of shows. There are other shows I would love to do. I would love to bring on other hosts on this platform. Maybe acquire some shows, have like a Revision Path network. That would be great. I would love to do something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
I would want to have an editorial arm at Revision Path, where we bring back the blog and have a regular staff of writers. We bring back RECOGNIZE, and make that a printed annual design anthology. And I would even lump 28 Days of the Web into that as well. Like bring that under the whole editorial arm. And then branch out and do video as well. I sort of teased that a little bit, about the possibility of doing some sort of a weekly live show, maybe on Twitch or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
But I also want to do short documentaries or licensed short documentaries, licensed web series, things like that. Basically really build this out so Revision Path becomes kind of a staple in the Black community that deals with design. When I started Revision Path, I’d say probably one of the thing that I really wanted to do was make sure to inform people about who Black designers are. Like why are we doing this? What’s the reasoning behind all of this?

Maurice Cherry:
Part of this also even stems from research that Cheryl Miller, who, AIGA medalist. We’ve had her on the show before. Has talked about her 1985 thesis around basically why is it that there aren’t more Black designers in the industry? And part of that being that a lot of Black parents don’t really understand like what design is, or they think of it as a hobby and not an actual profession.

Maurice Cherry:
And so one of my hopes with expanding Revision Path into being this multimedia network is to provide enough information so people know like what design is. Like the black community knows like this is what design is. These are all the different sorts of things that you can do. And it’s as viable of an option to go into as if you were to go into medicine or to go into sports or to go into engineering or whatever. You just have more information.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, granted there’s been a lot of talk and initiatives and things around STEM. Arts kind of gets lost in that. Sometimes it’s lumped in as STEAM as opposed to STEM, so the A gets thrown in there. But I want Revision Path to be this multimedia network that really lets people know that creativity in the Black design industry of course is something that we’re known for. These are the types of people that are doing it. These are the positions that are available. These are career paths that you can take. Basically just provide more information.

Maurice Cherry:
Like I’ve been very fortunate that I know that the show is even taught in some schools. Current designers are learning about this show and learning about the people on this show to help inform them as designers when they get out there in the world and create new things. Imagine the kind of reach that Revision Path can have if we’re able to do that through more ways than just this podcast.

Maurice Cherry:
Podcasting is great, don’t get me wrong, but I also realize that the platform is the barrier to getting out to more people, because everyone’s not going to listen to a podcast. They may watch a YouTube video. They may read an article or something like that, and so to allow Revision Path the space to grow into those particular types of media would be great. Next five years I’d want to do that.

Maurice Cherry:
And of course be able to do Revision Path full time. Like right now Revision Path is very much still my nights and weekends project, because I work a nine-to-five job. I would love to do Revision Path full time, and have the sustainable revenue from patrons and from companies and from sponsorships to be able to really do this full time and really crank out a bunch of great stuff. It’s not still just me, because I do have a small team, but to even be able to expand that team out to do more would be great.

Maurice Cherry:
Next five years, I hope to be there. I am putting things in place to make that happen. I just brought on a sponsorship director to help with getting more funds in for the show. And turn that revenue into these things that I want Revision Path to eventually become. I’ve got a plan for it, I just have to try to work the plan, and hopefully within the next five years we will be there, and you will be there too.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Emmanuel Nwogbo

We’re headed to the Great White North this week to meet someone that I learned about while doing a deep dive on Nigerian artists. Emmanuel Nwogbo is a visual artist based out of Montréal, and to me, his work reminds me so much of the creativity and fun that design can create.

We chatted right around his first anniversary of moving to Canada, and we discussed his day job as a graphic designer, and how his passion for the arts inspired him to leave Lagos. We also talked about his 365 James Bond Characters project — a series of designs and compositions paying homage to characters in the 007 Universe. Emmanuel’s quiet confidence is one of his biggest strengths, so don’t be surprised if you see his work in a gallery near you one day!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My name is Emmanuel Nwogbo. I am from Nigeria. I am a graphic designer, so I work full-time as a graphic designer. I also do freelance graphic design, and I also do some visual arts. At the moment, I do the visual arts on the side.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So how has 2021 been for you? Did you learn anything new about yourself? How has the year been?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, its probably one of my best years so far. So I moved to Montréal at the end of 2019, and then 2020 happened, so 2020 was a very strange year. So 2021 was like my first full year in Montréal. Honestly, it went really well. It went really well, I pretty much hit all my goals, so that was a very exciting. It was also my first summer in Montréal, which everyone was … People really hype up the summers here. I can see why. So this was my first real experience of the summer in Montréal. It was a little restricted still because of COVID, but honestly, I think I had a pretty good year.

Maurice Cherry:
What makes the summer so nice in Montréal?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s so much to do. There’s so much going on here, event wise. There’s always something happening. You never run out of stuff to do. Typically, without any COVID or anything like that, there’s a ton of festivals that come in town and all that. It wasn’t as much as it typically would be, but there was still a lot of things to do here. There’s a lot of sports, a lot of physical activity, parties. There’s a lot. Honestly, I was a little bit overwhelmed at some point. It was a lot of things happening. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds like Atlanta in the summertime.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Really?

Maurice Cherry:
Or really in the late spring, going into summer, because that’s sort of our festival season, and where there’s usually a festival, a neighborhood festival or something every weekend or something. I say that’s usually the best time to come because it’s not too hot, the pollen is usually not too bad around that time. It’s maybe a two or three week period where it’s like, “Oh, this is perfect.” We have that in the spring, going into the summer, and we have it in the early fall. Because it never really gets super cold here, so early fall, I don’t know, like back to school, September, October, is usually a really nice time.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that’s good to know about Montréal though. Maybe when the world starts to open back up, people can experience some of those summers.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, but you only want to come here in the summer, honestly, because winter is just miserable.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s no fall. It’s summer, then all of a sudden it is just winter.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man. So for 2022, do you have any goals or resolutions that you want to share?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So usually I try to set goals and plans. The only thing on my list for next year right now is to get my citizenship, become a Canadian. That’s the only thing on my list right now. I started the process this year, I submitted an application, so now I’m just playing the waiting game, but that’s the number one thing on my list.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Second … I would say this is kind of the second thing on the list, but I’m not really sure how it’s going to go. I decided I was going to try to do some exhibitions in Montréal, because I haven’t done any since I moved here. So, try to break into the art scene a little bit. Honestly, I’m a little bit overwhelmed by it, because it’s a big city, and there’s a lot of art here, there’s a lot of competition. So there’s that little fear there. So I am going to attempt to see if I can do some exhibitions next year. If not next year, then maybe 2023. It’s a little difficult given that I have my full-time job and I have my own personal practice. Yeah, but those are the two main things that I have planned for next year.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of the full-time job, you work for MTL Développement. You work there as a graphic designer. Tell me about that entails. What’s a regular day look like for you?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the company is a real estate development company, so they build condos, they sell condos. So essentially my job there is to make promotional materials for the marketing department, essentially materials that help sell these condos. And so for each condo project, we create an entire brand around that project, and then we then try to create ads, and our design is based on that brand that we created. So the company itself has its own brand and then each of the projects has a brand that comes with it. So my job essentially is to create those brands and to design for those brands, and to make sure that everyone that is doing anything for the brands is adhering to the brand identity.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So you’re doing this for, let’s say, like condominium complexes or subdivisions?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It’s mostly condominiums.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. All right. I got you. Sounds like Montréal is probably a pretty booming real estate market then?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, it’s pretty booming, despite the fact that there was a pandemic. It’s still booming.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been working during the pandemic?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I wasn’t really affected too much. I think there was maybe a one or two month period where my hours were reduced. So we had to go on this program that the government would … I think you work out pay … You say about maybe 20%, and the government would pay the rest, so I had to cut down to like 20 hours for about a month or two, but I pretty much worked all through the pandemic. So, worked from home, worked in the office, worked from home again, and then now we are back in the office since the beginning of the year.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the job was pretty much not affected, but obviously there was a reduced … The real estate market suffered a little bit, so there was reduced sales. So the marketing was totally … It was a little bit different than what it is right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Also, with the work that you are doing as a designer, you work with another design agency called Queer-IT. Is that right?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about that.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So that job, that’s actually the first job that I got in Montréal. So I came in October and then I got a job in November of 2019. And essentially, I saw this ad where they were hiring, looking for a graphic designer, because I was just applying for every graphic designer job I could see. So I saw the ad and had an interview with the person that runs the place, and then they just hired me.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But essentially, what the job we is, is you give them your hours and then they send proposals to you based on your hours, or sometimes they just reach out to you and ask you to send the quote for a certain job. And then if the client accepts your quote, then they give you the job. Or sometimes they just tell you, “Well, this client wants to rebrand. Their budget is $2,000. Can you work with that?” That kind of thing. That’s basically how the system works.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But essentially, it’s basically still like every graphic design job, except that I would say the company is maybe targeted more towards queer people. So that’s one thing that I was a little confused about when I got hired, or when I applied for the job. When I applied for the job, I said, “Well, I’m not queer, so are you only hiring queer people?” And they said, “Oh no, you can apply.” So yeah, I applied and I got the job.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. It sounds like a collective model, where you’re not necessarily working full time, but as work comes in, if you have the time to work on it, they pull you into the project, they include you on the proposal. You’re sort of part of the working team for whatever that project might be, if they happen to land it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Exactly, that’s how it goes. And then there’s some projects that I did with them where the client was doing a full business plan, so there was like a strategist there, there was a copywriter, and we work as a team to deliver the project.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I want to switch gears here a little bit as you’ve been talking about your work, because I’m curious to know more about you growing up. Because you’re really a prolific artist, and I think that’s something that I really want to explore more as we go on in the interview.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
That’s a big one.

Maurice Cherry:
So tell me about where you grew up.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. So Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world, over 200 million people. And Lagos probably has a [inaudible 00:11:51] 30 million people. Nobody knows the real number, because the census is very funny, very corrupt. But Lagos is huge. I grew up in Lagos.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Lagos, I would say, it’s pretty much … It’s a crazy city. There’s so much going on there, there’s so much crime, so much corruption. But again, even besides all that stuff, there’s a lot of art, there’s a lot of, I would say, heritage that comes with it. Lagos is an old city. It’s probably one of the oldest modern cities in Nigeria. So there’s always something going on.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So growing up, I wasn’t exposed to too much arts in a sense, but I’ve always had the talent to draw. I always knew how to draw, so I was always in the fine art class. And even when I went to high school, which is secondary school in Nigeria, you had to pick certain subjects. A lot of people were not doing fine arts, we were very few doing fine arts. Maybe 20 in the class. When I say 20 … This school was a big … I went to public secondary school, so it was a government public secondary school. It was huge. My graduating class had 506 people in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah. So it was a big school. Out of that 506, there was probably maybe 15 or 20 people that were doing fine arts. So that was my main exposure to arts. And honestly, the arts are not really supported in Nigeria. I think it’s a miracle that even my parents allowed me to go do arts at university. A lot of people were not happy about that. Because the general belief is that if you’re not a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, you’re not making money. So there was always that to battle with, but I would say that … Honestly, the truth is a lot of artists are not making money in Nigeria. I also think it’s the way they present themselves. Art is not really respected, but then there’s also people making a lot of money it from it too. So I think it’s all about positioning and how you market yourself.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so interesting, because I was going to ask about whether or not your parents supported you in this, but it sounds like you really got that encouragement from school to focus on arts and everything. When you decided that you wanted to go to college for the arts and for design, were your parents okay with that?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So they were totally okay with it. I didn’t know anything about design growing up. I was an artist in traditional media, so drawing, painting. So when I wanted to go to school, I wanted to do fine arts. And then I got the admission, and then I got to the school and then I did one year in fine arts. And then I had this friend that was doing graphic design and he would just make cool stuff on Photoshop. So I decided, “You know what? I want to make cool stuff.” So I just switched. That’s how I ended up in graphic design.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the program that I did was kind of an interdisciplinary program, in the sense that there was no real focus. We did a lot of things like art history or cover the art movements. We also did 3D … I did a full year in of 3D in design. I also did web design, I did regular graphic design, logos branding. We did everything, but there was no real focus. So even when I came out of college, I didn’t exactly know what I was because then it’s like you know how to do a little bit of everything, but you’re not really good at one thing.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the one thing that lacked in that whole school was research, because there was more focus on the finished product. But then as I’ve come to learn, a lot of design relies heavily on the actual process, not as much as the finished product. So when I came to Canada, to NSCAD, to do the Masters, it was a totally different experience. Because then at NSCAD, they were focused on research. That’s when I learned how to do research.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And so they wanted me to do something … Because the Masters program has a thesis, like a final project. So they wanted me to do something Nigerian based. So I ended up doing this … I decided to tackle a social problem, so I decided to focus on the oil industry in Nigeria. So oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956, and Nigeria is divided into four parts. There is a North, which is pretty much half of the country, and then there’s the South South, Southeast, and then the Southwest. I’m from the Southeast. So Nigeria has three tribes: Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa. So the Hausas are predominantly in the north, the Yorubas are predominantly in the Southwest, the Igbos are predominantly in the Southeast. And then the South, Southeast covers a lot of minorities.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But at the time, when oil was discovered, oil was only discovered in the South South. So what that meant was that oil exploration, all the illegal practices that companies like Shell and all this other big oil companies, all the illegal practices and everything, all the nonsense that comes with oil exploration, only happen in the South South. But the Nigerian economy is pretty much only reliant on oil. So what that means is that that part of the country produces pretty much most of Nigeria’s revenue and sustains Nigeria’s economy. But then the people are suffering because Shell has so much influence in the Nigerian government. And so what that means is that they’re pretty much allowed to get away with whatever they want.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the oil industry is regulated, but it’s regulated to a point. Like I remember when I was doing the projects, around 2015, then there was an average of 1,000 oil spills in Nigeria every year. And that’s the reported ones. But in Europe they only had like seven in the last 10 years. So that’s how much oil spillage happened in Nigeria, and that’s because of illegal practices of mostly Shell. So my whole project was focused around how can we create awareness, because usually the only time you can get the Nigerian government to do something about it is when there’s pressure from the international community.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the Nigerian government does a really good job at hiding this whole problem. There’s a good 30 million people in this part of Nigeria, in this South South region of Nigeria, but even when I was growing up in Lagos, you only heard about this problem when the people in the area got upset. And then they created rebel gangs, and then they started kidnapping white oil workers, and asking for ransom. That’s when you started hearing about it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But on a regular basis, you wouldn’t … Like people would die all the time there, there was huge respiration problems, there was huge pollution issues, nothing was ever covered in the news. Or if it was covered, it wouldn’t be highlighted upon.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the whole focus was how can I create awareness to this problem? And then that awareness would force the Nigerian government to treat the people of that region well. And one major issue that Nigeria has, and even till now, is that even though Nigeria runs a federal government, the government is more unitary. Because I know, for example in the US, and even in Canada here, each province or state has control of its resources and everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, pretty much.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, in Nigeria it’s the opposite. Even though we also have a federal government, all the states … We have 36 states, and each state, everything each state generates or makes goes to the center, and then it gets divided at the center to all 36 states based on some metric they come up with. So what that means is that the region or the country that was responsible for, say, 90% of the economy, by the time everything gets split based on population and other metrics they have, they get 15% back. But they are the ones taking all the damage, and so their whole protest has always been we want hundred percent control of our resources. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So initially when the rebels started, it started up as a small operation, and then it became a big time operation. They were kidnapping oil workers, they were killing government officials. 2006 was the peak of the rebels in that area. And they were getting their money from oil bunkering, which is also contributing to the problem. Oil bunkering is when you break a section of the crude oil pipeline, and then you take crude oil from it and then go refine it and then sell it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So they were doing that and they were making money to fund their operations, but that was also contributing to the problems, because that was causing oil spills and all the same environmental damage that the region was facing. And that region is right by the Atlantic ocean and then River Niger, which is the second largest river in Africa, and also runs through that region. So most people there are predominantly fishermen, and the water and the ecosystem is totally messed up. I think it’s going to take like a hundred years of no oil exploration for the environment to return back to its natural state. That’s how bad they’ve wrecked it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So that’s what I spent almost two years doing in the Masters. And it honestly was a very successful project. It taught me lots about Nigeria that I didn’t even know about. And it was an interesting research in the sense that me being Nigerian, and knowing all the nonsense that goes on in Nigeria, and then me now being outside Nigeria and trying to do all this research, and then reading research papers and materials from people that have been to Nigeria and seeing their take on Nigeria was pretty hilarious. There’s some American articles that I read about the same problem in Nigeria, and there are some claims they made and they said, “Well, this doesn’t happen.” Or, “This never happens.” Or the way they tried to exaggerate certain things was … Yeah. It was actually interesting to see that from a different perspective.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, that’s a lot that you just described around Nigeria and corruption in the country, and I definitely want to go back and touch on that, but I want to bring it back a little bit, because you took us all the way from college, to going to grad school, to going to Canada. It sounds like, back when you were mentioning this program, that it didn’t really prepare you for the working world. Was that the impetus to move to Canada? Did you just want to get out from another country? Because it sounds like you moved from Nigeria to Cypress, which is where this university was located. And then what spurred the move, of all places, to go to Canada?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
What spurred the move was I’ve always wanted to come to the west, so it was either Canada or US or maybe the UK. I left school in 2014 February. That’s college. But I was already applying to several schools. So I got to teach university in Arkansas, and good thing I didn’t go there because I don’t know who lives in Arkansas but … Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You would not have liked it. You would not have liked it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the reason I ended up Nova Scotia was because the school has a little bit of reputation. I heard about the school and the founder of the school is Anna Leonowens. So I just wanted to go to the school, because the school had a reputation in the art community. I didn’t know anything about Nova Scotia, I didn’t know anything about the school. I just did some quick research. It’s the smallest place I’ve ever lived in. I think it’s like 300,000 people in Halifax. So that was a complete shocker to me. It was a totally different experience. I just wanted to come to Canada, right? I wanted to come to Canada or US, but Canada just seemed to work out better. And my dad has always preferred Canada, because he doesn’t like America because of the guns, and the fact that most people are just a little bit crazy in America.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s fair. That’s a fair assessment. But Halifax also has a pretty big black population too. We’ve had, back on the show … Oh God, this might have been a hundred or so episodes ago, we had Duane Jones back on the show. I think that was episode 203, if I recall, so it was a while ago.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s a huge black population, but you have to go look for them.

Maurice Cherry:
He said the same thing. He said that too. Yeah.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I used to work at a hotel in Halifax, at the front desk, and there are some times where a gal was having her birthday party, and all these black people would come. And every time I’m always confused. I’m like, “I have never seen this many black people before.” You actually have to go look for them. You have to go to specific places to find them.

Maurice Cherry:
How was it adjusting to Canada? I mean, outside from the fact that it’s a totally different country and different weather and everything, how was it adjusting?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It wasn’t too bad because when I came I was so busy with school that I didn’t really have time to do anything else. The weather was a huge shocker to me. So I came in August and there was a slow transition. And then, all of a sudden, on January first, that was the first time I ever saw snow in my life, there was a snow storm. January first of 2015, I woke up and there was a huge snowstorm, the snow was like four feet high. So yeah, that was an [crosstalk 00:25:38].

Maurice Cherry:
Whoo!

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So yeah, I had to shovel snow. So that was my first experience with snow.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Adjusting wise, in terms of … The thing with NSCAD is at the time I was there, there was about 1,000 students roughly, maybe five black people.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, interesting.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There was no real advocacy. Again, it’s an art school, there’s not enough black people going to art schools. But I’m used to always being the only black person in most places that I go. Most classes or most things that I’ve done, I’m always the only black person there. That was not a problem for me. That’s something that I was already used to. But I never really had any issues, honestly, because Halifax is a very small and very laid back city. And also because it’s Canada too, there’s not a lot of overtly racist problems. People are very low key about their racism, because Canada … People here are supposed to be nice, so they always hide everything,

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s still there though.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Oh, it’s a hundred percent still there. Like I had a lot of experiences when I worked at the hotel for about three years. There was a lot of incidents that I thought were pretty much very racist. But in general, there was nothing to the face. Plus I’ve also noticed this, I noticed this even from working at the hotel. Because I’m a very tall black guy, a lot of people just don’t mess with me, just in general. People just don’t mess with me even though … That’s just something I noticed. So I never had any issues, overtly.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
The first house that I stayed in … I don’t know if they have this in the US, but here in Canada, when you come to university for the first time they have this arrangement where you stay with a family. Yeah, so when I first came, I was about 20 years old. I came in August and I already arranged to stay with this family, and I only ended up staying there for three months because I don’t think that family has ever hosted a black person before, an African in general. So it was a very strange situation. It was this old woman and her husband, they were maybe in their 60s, 70s. And it was just weird living with them. They just didn’t know how to interact with an African. It was really odd. So I ended up moving out because I was just not comfortable.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And so even that area they lived in, they lived on Gottingen Street in Halifax, which is a predominantly black neighborhood. So typically, because of the way Halifax has been, I say, constructed, that’s a hugely black populated area so there’s all these cops and all this sort of stuff. But at the end of Gottingen, it turns into a super white neighborhood, so that’s where I lived at that point. And so the woman, when I first moved there, she said, “Well, you have to be very careful because you’re going to be a person of interest.” I still don’t what that means till today. I just remember her saying that to me. And I still know what it means.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, it just means … Honestly, it’s just you’re a black guy in a white neighborhood or something like that. So if something were to go down then you’re the first one that they’re going to suspect.

Maurice Cherry:
So where I live now in Atlanta is a pretty black neighborhood. It’s called the West End. But before that I stayed in Buckhead, which is kind of the richer, whiter part of town. I stayed there for a couple of years in college and then afterwards. And I remember I would go to the grocery store and get groceries, and then even on the walk home, which was not that far, because the grocery store was on the same street, maybe about a half a mile, I’d say three out of four times I would make that walk the police would just roll up slowly. You hear the siren and I’m like, “What’s going on?” “Well, we heard about some things going on in this area.” I’m like, “Well I’m walking with groceries, so I don’t know what you think I’m doing.” So it’s like, yeah, you’re a person of interest. They just want to, I don’t know, intimidate you I guess.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
In Halifax, there’s something they call DWB. It’s Driving While Black.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a lot that everywhere, it seems like.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s a lot of racial profiling, people just getting stopped randomly.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Driving while black, walking while black, shopping while black. Unfortunately, that is all still a thing that we have to contend with even this far into the future. But I want to talk about this project that you did in 2018. So you did this … I guess you could call it a creative project where you designed or you did these photo manipulations, adding yourself in with James Bond characters. You did 365 of these. Can you tell me a little bit about that project?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so the project was not about me adding myself. I think maybe I added myself in two out of 365.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But basically what the project was … The planning started in 2017. I decided I was going to do a 365 project. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Because every year I try to set a goal at the beginning of the year and say, “Okay, this is my new year resolution and this is how I want to accomplish it.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I started working at the hotel in 2016, and the only reason I started working at the hotel was because I needed to get my permanent residence, which is kind of like the Green Card. It’s similar to the Green Card in US. And part of the requirement was that I was required to work there for a year, and the hotel was helping with it, so I pretty much got stuck there. But I was fresh out of school, this was a year after I got out of school. But then I’m also thinking, “Well, I’m going to be stuck here for a good year at least, maybe two years. I’m not really practicing design. I need practice.” Because you need to practice or you’re going to forget. So I was thinking, how do I go about this? But I also have the issue where I was always working at the hotel and I had very little time.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So in the summer I did this 26 day creative project where I did something with the alphabet every single day. I did ABCD. Something based on A, something based on B. Just like that. And then I did all 26 days. I didn’t miss a day. So I’m like, “Okay, so this is actually doable.” So I decided, okay, starting first of January of 2018, I’m going to do a 365 project, but I had no idea what I was going to do.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I did a lot of research, came across this lady, she said she didn’t know how to cook, so she went and bought the recipe book and she would make something from the recipe book every single of the year. And then there’s this guy in New York, he would go around New York and paint historic windows. So every day of the year he painted one historic window. A lot of projects like that, that I started following. So I was thinking, what am I going to do? And then I found this guy on Tumblr, when Tumblr was still a thing back then. He was doing a 365 project where he just remade one movie poster. And I was like, that’s actually interesting. I would like to do something that is movie related. And I’m a huge James Bond fan.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I saw this, then I remembered that there was this article that I saw about top 103 James Bond villains. I’m like, okay, so if there are 103 villains, it means that there’s more people. So I started looking up on the James Bond Wiki, I found [inaudible 00:33:17] characters. So I made a list of all the characters, did some research on each one to make sure that I had enough content that I could use. And so I did that, took me almost three months to compile. And then January first, the goal of the project was to make one poster that pays tribute to a different James Bond character every day. Just from the movies, not the books. So that was the goal of the project. And the only objective that I had was that every day just had to look different. That was just it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And at the beginning of the project, I wasn’t focused on the actual design itself. I was more focused on … The main challenge for me was … Because I knew I could do the design already, but can I do this for 365 days straight and not miss a single day? That was the most important thing to me. But I also didn’t want to cheat. I didn’t want to pre-make stuff. I have to make something every day. So for me that’s the challenge that was going on. Till today, some people don’t believe that I actually made one every single day. Some people are like, “So did you make three in advance and just wait and post it every day?” I’m like, “No.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Considering how much time it took, because I was averaging about 3.5 hours every day by the end of the year. And some days I had four hours, some days I had one hour, some days I had three hours. Well, basically I had about 3.5 hours every day to … I knew the character already, come up with a concept, and execute that concept. So that totally changed my whole design process, because there’s one problem that I had that that project fixed. The problem was when I get an idea and I think that this idea is a good idea, then I’m going to stick with it. It’s hard for me to leave that idea alone. But this project made me unintentionally grow out of the habit. Because there’s some days where I’m looking at the time, I’m like, “Well, I’ve been stuck on this one idea for three hours now. I have only two hours left. I have to do something else.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So then at first I would discard ideas. But then somebody told me, “Well, instead of discarding it, then you can just have a folder where you just put in all the stuff that you haven’t used, and then in the future you can use them again.” Which is what I started doing, I would just put the ideas there. But at first, the first month started off as more of an abstract deal, because I was afraid of copyrights and stuff. But then when I read up on copyrights and all this sort of stuff, I was able to move towards more using the photos. And honestly, when I started, I wasn’t delusional, thinking I was going to go all the way. I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to do this and see how it goes.” And then when I actually did the first 30 days and I didn’t miss a single day, I was so much confidence. So that’s how went that project went.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to ask, what did you learn about yourself throughout that process?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I am kind of a perfectionist, but then I also learned that I have to be okay. Because usually when you post your work online, you’re usually posting what you think is the best. Like, “Okay, this is really, really good and I’m going to post it.” But then I realized, well, I either have to make really good stuff and post it every day or I have to be fine with posting stuff that are not very good.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So, at first I really struggled with that because I’m like, “If I have to post this, this has to be good on some level. It has to be good on some scale.” And so it started off like that, but then I met a lot of people that were doing projects too, and I talked to a lot of people. And a lot of people told me that you have to be fine with the days that are not good. You have 365 days, so if this day is not so great, you had a bad day. The next day you can knock it out of the park.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then I also figured out how to take breaks without missing a day. So some days, because I was working morning shifts or evening shifts or night shifts. So some days I would make something at nine o’clock in the morning, and the next day I’d make something at 8:00 PM. So that’s a good, what, 30 hours of rest? So it’s like I missed a day, but I didn’t really miss a day. And I made a lot of sacrifices. There were parties or places I couldn’t go to because I’m like, “Well I haven’t done today’s work.” So everything is in the back burner until I do today’s work. Once I do the work and post it, it’s like a sense of accomplishment, a sense of relief, that came with that.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I have to give it to you for really finding a way to do it every day. I did a similar type of a 365 project. Not a visual project, I did a podcast where I recorded an episode every day for 365 days called The Year of Tea. And I did these short, five minute episodes just reviewing a different tea every day. And I didn’t get to it every day. There were definitely some days that I batched about a week together, especially if I was traveling or something like that. So I have to give it to you for carving out … I mean, one, carving out time to do it each day, but then the fact that you carved out so much time, like you said you were averaging around like three and a half hours a day for these designs. That’s a lot of time.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, there’s a few days where I spent a good eight hours on this. I’m like, “Well today is Saturday, I’m home, sure.” I would sit in front of my computer for eight hours. Because then, the days that I have so much time, I feel like those days that’s where I put in way too much time and I try too hard. Because I’m like, “Well I have a lot of time today, so I’m just going to spend as much time as possible in this.” But there’s a day that I only have 30 minutes and I managed to do something also.

Maurice Cherry:
And you told me before we had started recording that there’s hundreds of characters to choose from. Because initially I was like, “There’s over 365 James Bond characters?” I was like, there’s James Bond, there’s probably every bond girl, every bond villain, and I feel it sort of tops off right there.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I mean there were some people that have one scene you know? There was a few people that showed up for one scene, so you have to do something for this one person. Maybe they said something funny. But so what I did was, when I was setting up the list, I spread out the characters. Because there’s a lot of characters that I wanted to get to, so I spread them out. So it was those characters that I wanted to get to that kept me going the whole time. I kind of put them strategically. So at the beginning of every month I have one major character, so one big villain or something like that. Day 200, I have one big character I have to work on. I strategically positioned each one.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the way I started the project … So all James Bond movies, and even the recent ones, there’s this organization called [Spectre 00:40:13]?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So each person at that time, especially from the movies in the ’60s, they had a number. So there’s a number one, number two, number three. So that’s how I started. And then on day seven, I did James Bond, which is Double O Seven. So that’s how I started the first few days. But there were little things like that. And so, I unintentionally populated the James Bond internet space. Like when you just look up random things about James Bond, you see my stuff popping up. So that that’s something that I’m really happy about.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean the thing with James Bond movies is that they come out every few years or so, so there’s a lot of time between movies to really fill that space with stuff, because there’s not a lot of active talk. I don’t even know if there’s a James Bond comic book or something. You would think with all the superhero movies and stuff, there’s always some kind of media that fills the gap between movies. It’s a television show, there’s a comic book, there’s something. James Bond, it feels like exists only in fiction and in movies. Of course it’s from the books, but there’s not really that other media around it to fill the gap.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I think a few people not named Ian Fleming have written books recently. But I think it’s because Barbara Broccoli that owns the IP, and MGM, they have a really, really strict hold on the IP, so it’s very difficult for you to be able … Now that Amazon bought MGM, maybe Amazon might want to produce a TV show or something. Who knows? But I also think it’s because the IP is so old and it’s right from the ’60s, so it’s one of those things where there’s so much content already, so maybe they don’t think they’re going to make money. Who knows? I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
Could be. Oh God, you mention that … I feel like there was a cartoon series for James Bond. I don’t know if you remember. Well, I don’t know if they even showed it outside the US. It was called James Bond Junior. I’m showing my age by saying this, but it was like in the early ’90s. They had a TV show called James Bond Junior. I think it probably only lasted a season, but it was James Bond’s nephew who was also named James Bond, which I guess kind of makes sense for the show. But yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s on YouTube or something.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I’ll tell you one anecdote about Africans in general. So, if you say … Say I’m 27 right now and say you’re 37, all the things that you experienced as a 37 year old, when you say you were 10, I probably experienced the same thing. Now, because of the internet, everything gets everywhere quickly, but as I’d say, the late ’90s, early 2000s, we were a good 10 years behind everything. The first computer I used was Windows 98. I also used dial up internet, I had a Walkman, I had the CD player, all the stuff, VHS. All the stuff that people my age here didn’t experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Out of all of the characters that you did, was there a favorite one?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My favorite one was … What was it? Day 124, which is May Day.

Maurice Cherry:
Grace Jones.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, Grace Jones. So I did that on May first, which is May Day. So, that’s my absolute favorite. That’s the one that I’ve sold the most, that’s the one that people love the most.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to have to check that one out. I don’t know if I saw that one on your site, but I definitely have to go check that one out.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
You know the famous We Can Do It poster, with the woman flexing her biceps?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so I did one with Grace Jones, where the background is yellow.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice. Nice, nice. So you alluded to this when you mentioned this piece, but you’ve even managed to exhibit designs from this project, you’ve done a number of different exhibitions with it. How have those went?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
They went really well. So at the beginning of 2019, I did the exhibition … Actually, no, in May of 2019, I did an exhibition in a small gallery called Corridor Gallery in Halifax. It’s at Visual Arts, Nova Scotia. So that was the first exhibition that I’ve ever done. So I would consider myself a digital artist, so having to print out my stuff, put it in a frame, hanging it on a wall, totally new to me. But that was a great experience, so that’s the first time that I felt like an artist. That was amazing.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then I got to exhibit at the Halifax Public Library last year, despite the pandemic. I was there for about two months. The gallery there is a very lovely space. Huge. And they only accept, I think six artists a year, because each person stays for two months. So I applied and they accepted almost immediately. So I was beyond overjoyed. So that was the big exhibition that I had done. It was very good. I made a few sales from that.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But like I said, the exhibitions, those were the things that made me feel like a real artist. So I really like exhibitions, that’s why I want to do some in Montréal, like a bigger city. Because I’ve always considered myself like a Nigerian artist. So the James Bond thing, I got a little popular from that because the James Bond IP was world renowned. Some people have never seen a James Bond movie, but when you say James Bond, everyone pretty much has an idea what you’re talking about. But I kind of want to stray away from that in a sense. I want to do more African themed exhibitions, so that’s what I’m working on right now. I’m trying to see if I can do something for next year.

Maurice Cherry:
So what prompted the move from Halifax to Montréal?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Like I was saying earlier on, Halifax is a very small city. Honestly, I was looking at it and … Because I did that job at the hotel where I was pretty much stuck for three years … I stayed in Halifax for five years. Two years in school, three years at the hotel. And I was at that hotel, stuck. I couldn’t leave because of the whole immigration thing, so I was not happy in general. And my last year at the hotel, there was a lot of racially motivated shit that went on. So every time that I think of Halifax, I associate it with the hotel.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My plan was always get my permanent residence and move to some other city in Canada. That was always my plan. But I got my permanent residence in 2018 October, and then I decided, okay, in the new year, I’m moving to a new city. That was my resolution for 2019. I’m leaving Halifax in 2019. But the thing is because I made so many friends there, I knew so many people, I knew the city well, I was so comfortable, I just relaxed a little bit. So 2019 came around, and I applied for this artist residency in Banff. Banff is in Alberta. So I applied for the artist residency and made it to like the final three, but I didn’t get it. But that was my plan. I was like, okay. I had assumed that I was getting it for sure. That was how much faith I had in this. I was like, “Okay, once I get this, I’m just going to move to Banff.” The program was a two year program, do it for two years and make connections, and see what happens from there.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I didn’t get the program, so I decided, okay … So that was in May of 2019. I was like, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” I wasn’t sure. So my sister had a wedding coming up in August, so I went to Nigeria for the first time in six years for the wedding. And I decided, you know what? Once I come back from this wedding, I’m moving. But where to? I wasn’t sure. So I wanted to move to Vancouver because my sister was coming to BC for school, but then I started looking up Montréal because I knew somebody that lived here. I started looking up Montréal. So I went on Indeed, checked to see graphic design jobs. I was like, “Oh, there’s a lot of graphic design jobs here.” And I can learn French. So I decided, you know what? I’m moving to Montréal.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I decided, okay, I’m moving. So I went to Nigeria, I came back, I gave them my two weeks notice at the hotel, and then I moved in October first. Luckily for me, I was able to get an apartment right from Halifax. So I got the apartment, but then I started getting cold feet, because then I didn’t have a job, no real concrete plan. So to make sure that I moved, I shipped all my bags.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s one way to make it happen.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I left just one bag. So after I shipped my bag, I bought my plane ticket. I was like, “Okay, I have to move now.” But then I discovered something. There’s so many people that discouraged me from moving. There was a few people that were like, “You know what, this is a good move. You’re probably going to make big advancements from moving.” But there are so many people that were projecting their fears and telling me, “Well, if you move then it doesn’t work out, what are you going to do?” People were saying all this stuff to me. But then I talked to my parents and they were in support of it, and I just moved.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so I got to Montréal and I decided, well, I already did the job, worked at restaurants, walk at hotels, I think it’s time for me to get a design job now. So I decided, you know what? I’m only going to get a design job. So that’s how I ended up in Montréal.

Maurice Cherry:
So now you’ve been in Montréal for what? A little over, you said two years now, something like that pretty much?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
About two years, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you gotten a chance to kind of see what the design community has been like outside of work?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Not really, because last year it happened, so that was kind of a write off. And then this year has been super busy trying to balance both jobs and also trying to have a semblance of a practice outside of work. So I haven’t actually had the chance, but recently I’ve been going to art galleries, checking out a few stuff and seeing what people are up to. But as for the design community here, the truth is in Montréal, if you don’t speak French, then you’re very limited in a way. Even though Montréal is super bilingual, most people you meet speak both languages, but if you speak French it’s like a new world opens up to you there. So that’s what I’m trying to do by learning French.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s your French going so far?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Pretty good. All of 2020, I didn’t learn French, even though one of my goals was to learn French. So I moved here, but then I got cold feet, because I got a job even without speaking French. But then I was thinking if I try to learn French what happens if I forget words? What if I can’t learn? What if I can’t do it? Because usually I do things that I know that a hundred percent I’m going to succeed at this, that’s the kind of things I like to do. So I was a little afraid, but then at the beginning of this year, I was like, you know what? This is my New Year resolution. I’m a hundred percent committed to learning French, despite work and everything. So then I got Duolingo and then I got a private tutor. And honestly, the progress that I made this year, it leaves me thinking, why didn’t I even start last year?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, I actually made good progress. Speaking is very difficult because the pronunciations … The pronunciations are especially difficult for me because the sounds don’t sound like Igbo, and a lot of them don’t sound like English either. So there’s some sounds in French that my brain cannot just wrap around. It’s a fun challenge, so I’m not complaining.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I feel like the Nigerian accent is, and this is kind of this way with some African languages, it’s very throat based. The accent is very much deep in the throat, whereas with French, everything is nasally. There’s a lot of nasal stuff to it. So I know when you’re learning French, a good phrase when you get stuck with something and you don’t know, and your tutor probably told you this too, but just say, “[French 00:52:44].” Which is, “How do you say?” Yeah, so you can be speaking and you say-

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, that’s a good one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, you can [inaudible 00:52:50], you’re like, “Eh, [French 00:52:51]”]. And you kind of roll your way through it. And most people … I mean, I’ve not been in a lot of immersive situations. When I have been, it’s mostly been France French, not Montréal French or Quebec French or Quebecois or whatever, it hasn’t been that sort of regional-

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It’s a totally different bag, but the thing is my teacher is from France, and Duolingo I’m also doing is French, so that’s what I’m focused on.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Yeah, once you really start immersing yourself in it … And I would say now it’s probably a lot easier to do, especially you got a smartphone or stuff like that, because you can set the language to French. And then you learn just from picking up context clues and stuff like that. You can watch movies with the subtitles and get the sense of what they’re saying, things like that. It’s a lot easier now than it used to be.

Maurice Cherry:
When I learned French, I was a kid. I mean, I started in second grade and then studied it all through high school and all through college. So I know enough to speak it and read it, but it’s a different thing to be immersed in it, when it’s the only thing you hear. My French is very situational. If I’m in a situation where I need to know French, like it’s a French restaurant, I’m like, okay, I know all the things to get around. Like where’s the bathroom, I will order this, I need this. I know that stuff. But then if it were something where I’m plopped into Paris, I’m like, oh, okay. That’s the real test is how do you use it from day to day.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But that’s the really amazing part about living in Montréal, because all the signs, everything is in French. It’s kind of a rule they have in Quebec. If you have any sign or anything you see outside is usually in French. That’s the rule they have. So everywhere you go, you’re exposed to French. People will say bonjour to you first, and then if you respond in English, then they speak in English to you. So my favorite game to play now is whenever I go out, I bullshit my way with French until the person realizes that I don’t speak very good French. I want to see how long I can play the game.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good way to do it, that’s a good way to do it. What are you most excited about at the moment?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s one thing that really, really excites me. Oh one thing that I did this year that I can’t believe I did was I learned how to ride a bike. Yeah, I never knew how to ride a bike because when I was growing up, I didn’t have a bike. So I just never learned how to ride a bike. So when I moved to Canada, it’s one of those things where I’m like, I don’t know if this is something that I can do, so I just never did it. But then I tell people I can’t ride a bike and people can’t believe it, because most people can ride a bike. So I decided, you know what? This summer, this is what I’m doing this summer. This is my summer project.

Maurice Cherry:
So did you buy a bike? Did you use one of those rent a bikes or something like that?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It was more like a rental one or a friend’s bike or something like that. I’m going to buy a bike, but that’s going to be next summer, because you can’t bike here in the winter. There’s people doing it, but those people, I think they have issues.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But yeah, so that was the one thing that I did this year. It seems very small, but it’s one thing that just gives me great joy. Because I did a 30 minute lesson, and I could balance myself already by the end of the 30 minutes. And then I did another 30 minute lesson, and the next time after that, I was able to do eight kilometers. And then I was able to do 16, 20. And at the end of the summer I did 35 kilometers, so that was pretty amazing for me. All the while I never fell, until the last time I biked this summer, before it became cold. I was coming down on the bridge, one of these bridges in Montréal here, the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. I was coming down really fast, and they have these barricades that you have to wiggle yourself around. For some reason I got carried away. Next thing I know, I saw myself flying over one of these barricades. Yeah, that’s the first time that I’ve fallen in a really long time. Yeah, it was bad.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would’ve went to if you didn’t become an artist and a designer?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Probably an engineer, because my dad is an engineer. So even though he was very supportive, and even my mom was very supportive too, I feel like if I didn’t go into design, they probably would have steered me in the direction of doing engineering.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you have an interest in it or do you think they would’ve just pushed you towards that because of societal expectations?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I never had an interest in it. Honestly, I’ve never had interest in science in general. I can’t think of one profession in science that I have any interest in, honestly. I’ve never had an interest at all. I think I’ve always been an artist at heart. And so even my uncles were really against this. Like, “How can you make money from art?” I was never really worried about money, because I always tell people it doesn’t matter what you read in university. There’s people on YouTube now making funny faces and making millions. I’m like, they didn’t go to school for that. So I honestly think that what you go to study in university is not relevant to how much money you would make or how successful you’re going to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean now the whole thing that I see with some artists that are making money, they’re making it off of NFTs. I was reading this … It was some article I read maybe a couple of weeks ago about this artist. She’s a Canadian artist. I forget where, but she just started learning about NFTs in about a month or so. And then using that, she made, I think 50 something NFTs, and has made like $300,000 or something like that. If you’re able to get that much just off of a month’s worth of learning, you can do anything.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I’ve looked into NFTs a little bit, but I haven’t … I have a two week vacation at the end of the year, so I want to use the two weeks to really educate myself and see what I can do. Because so many people have been telling me, “You have to look into NFTs.” So I’m like, okay, maybe this is something I’m going to look into. Who knows? Maybe that’s where I’m going to make it big. Because my goal in art is to make that one piece of art that’s going to pay me for the rest of my life. That’s my goal.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey, if you find a way to make it happen, let us know, share the knowledge so we can get in on it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I want to be that guy that just sticks a banana on the wall and people just pay $200,000 for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then everyone can cry about it [inaudible 00:59:57].

Maurice Cherry:
If there’s somebody that’s out here that’s listened to your story and they want to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I would say, honestly speaking, I’m probably one of the most fortunate persons that I know. I would say that because pretty much most things that I do, I succeed. I don’t know if there’s something special that I’m really doing that is leading me to succeed in most things that I do, but I don’t know, somehow I usually just pull it off. But I’m also someone that if I decide I’m doing something I’m going all in. And if I start something and if I realize that, you know what? Maybe this is not going to work out. I usually back out early. Once I get deep into it, then I’m seeing it all the way.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Like for example, the 365 project. By July, I was getting really, really tired, exhausted. Coming up with a new idea every day is not easy. Plus I have to make these all through artist blocks, like creative blocks. I had to find a way to make stuff. But I was also thinking, if I’ve made it this far, there’s no way I’m stopping now, because then if I stop, I’m going to regret this for a long time. So that’s usually how I approach most things. Once I start, I’m going all the way.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
This is a problem that I realized that a lot of Nigerians have, and I used to have this problem. People are afraid to fail. Nigerians are afraid to fail in general, because the culture does not really encourage failure in a way where I feel sometimes failure is very important for you to get to the next level. Like you hear about these scientists where, oh, this inventor made 800 different versions before the final one worked. That’s not encouraged in Nigerian culture. If you do something, you have to succeed at it. This idea that nine out of 10 new businesses fail, if you start a business in Nigeria and you fail, a lot of people are going to make fun of you, even though it’s perfectly normal for businesses to start and fail.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So it took me a while to get comfortable with the fact that not everything I do is going to go the way I want it. And so since I’ve learned to accept that fact, I think my life has gotten a lot better.

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

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I’m not really a five year planning kind of person. I like to take things as they come, so okay, I plan for the next year. At end of the year, I’m going to sit down and think and see, and write down my goals and see if I have things that I want to accomplish next year. But usually, I take it year by year. So every year I have a big new year resolution that I want to hit, and I have very little ones that I … Because I like checklists, so I like to check, check, check. So I have very little things that I want to do, and I have a big one that I want to do for the year. And so I don’t really have five year plans.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Ideally, at the end of the day, I want to own my own design agency. I think, even before that, I want to become full-time freelance, but I still need to gain the confidence, because right now it’s really nice when you expect two paychecks every month. But then when you become full-time freelance, then you know that you have to do as much as possible, maybe at the beginning, to get money. Because I was looking into Upwork, and I realized that a lot of people in Upwork, they’re very, very talented and they’re probably very experienced. But if you’re starting an Upwork, you have to start like you’re starting all over. Because you have to beef up your reputation and your cred for you to be able to make money from it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So, I still need to gain a little bit of confidence, but eventually I think that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to go full-time freelance, because I think that, like my dad always says to me, “You can’t get rich from counting on other people’s money.”

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

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
You talked about my website. I have to update the website because I made that website as a portfolio website when I was looking for a job, so I never really went back to go update it, but I think I’m going to go update it. But my website is mister365.ca, so Mister, M-I-S-T-E-R dot C-A. I’m very active on Instagram. My Instagram is nigerianexpert, E-X-P-E-R-T. You can find me on Instagram, that’s usually the best place to reach me. Or Facebook by my name, Emmanuel Nwogbo, N-W-O-G-B-O. I’m very active online.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Emmanuel Nwogbo, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think from hearing you tell your story and even you talking about moving here from Nigeria, I get this sense that you have this very quiet, maybe not so quiet, confidence about you. I mean, I feel like you’re downplaying it maybe a little bit, but I definitely get this quiet confidence from you when it comes to pursuing the work that you want to do. Because it takes a lot of guts to move from Nigeria to Cypress, to Nova Scotia, now to Canada. You’re still in your 20s, you’re still trying to figure it out, you’re taking on these creative projects. That takes a lot of confidence to be able to do all of that and still push forward and succeed, so I’m going to be excited to see what else you accomplish moving forward with your entire creative career. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Oh, thank you very much for having me. I had a good time talking to you.

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Xalavier Nelson, Jr.

In the early 90s, there was this show on ABC called Phenom about a tennis prodigy. If Hollywood were to reboot that for the digital age, Xalavier Nelson Jr. would no doubt be the star of the show. His body of work rivals those of people in the gaming industry for decades!

We kicked off our conversation talking about his studio, Strange Scaffold, and he spoke about several of the games he’s either worked on or created, including An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs and the popular 90s Internet nostalgia title Hypnospace Outlaw. Xalavier also talked about his newest game, Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator, and he shared how his work as a pre-teen game journalist helped him become a narrative designer. Xalavier’s prudent vision for finding better, faster, cheaper and healthier ways to make video games is so important, and I think that if he’s making waves like this now, just imagine what he’ll do in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Hello. I’m Xalavier Nelson Jr., I’m a studio director at Strange Scaffold, a frequent writer, narrative designer, collaborator, working on dozens of things. I’ve worked on over 60 games in the past five years. And now my current mission is not just finding new and exciting ways to collaborate with people at my own studio and at the studios and projects of others, but also finding ways to advocate for making games better, faster, cheaper, and healthier than they are currently assumed to be made.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2021 been for you? Have you learned anything about yourself over the past year?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
I think one of the primary things I learned over the past year is just how much I cared about production. I do love telling stories. I do love of putting things into a video game. I love creative content production. Writing a killer page or scene is a thrilling experience, but when I look at the things that consistently get me out of bed in the morning, that make me passionate about waking up and getting to work and collaborating with other people, it’s getting into the nitty gritty of how something comes together.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
The scope of a project, defining, reducing, and defining that vision of a project and how it’s accomplished in very calculated ways. The exercise of finding new and interesting formats and arrangements for artists coming together to build things together, that makes me feel alive. And so exploring those paths myself, sharing what I find along the way, and as much as I can, opening those doors for others is something that I’ve discovered I love. Now my mission is finding ways to do that again and again and again, as consistently and healthily as possible.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you thought about what you want to accomplish for this year coming up for 2022?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
I think the big thing I want to accomplish is, we’ve talked about this in a few forums thus far, but Strange Scaffold is moving into publishing and to have at least one of our published signed projects come out. And the exact thing that the developer wanted to bring into being hopefully substantially de-risked and shipped at a scope and form that made the project better while also making it something that they could accomplish without destroying themselves in the process. That’s something I’m really excited to do.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
If we establish ourselves by the end of 2022, as having a perspective that allows us to not just develop intriguing things in unexpectedly small or efficient packages, but provide those resources and that perspective to others on a consistent scale and timeline, I’ll be very happy. And it’s by all indications that were well on our way to already accomplishing those goals.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good. Congratulations on that.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk more about your studio, Strange Scaffold. First, I want to know how you came up with the name, but like, I just want to hear more about how you started it, how it’s going, things like that.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
I started Strange Scaffold primarily as an engine for exploring what happens when your explicit goal for a studio is not to build a dream project, but instead to bring as many things into the world as possible in a healthy, consistent and efficient manner. So exploring how, defining the structure of your game ahead of time and considering that to be set in stone and improvising within those lines and constraints that you’ve set, essentially putting a strange scaffold in place. And then making an interesting thing in between that foundation, that was the starting point.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And it pretty quickly evolved from bringing that perspective to the projects of my clients, to bringing that into projects that I originated and directed, and now sharing those resources that we built to make games in that very specific way with other developers who also want to make incredible things, but not ruin their lives in the process. Because we have so many examples of the desire or dream of what a thing could be running someone into the ground as they pursue a path towards it.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And I feel like game creators and really creative professionals of all forms deserve the right to pursue and contain the same joy in their working processes that they seek to deliver to their player, users and audiences on the other side of that creative process.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I’m looking here at the Strange Scaffold website. I see you’ve got three games that are showing here.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
[crosstalk 00:08:31] finished by the by.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. All right. I see you’ve got El Paso Elsewhere, you have An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs. I think I heard about that also on Kotaku. And then Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator. Those are some pretty interesting names for titles. And I like that each one of them is very different. You’re definitely trying to, I guess, tell different stories with each of these games, it looks like.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Yeah, the idea is, again, nothing that we bring in into the world will be perfect. We are flawed human beings doing the best we can to bring encapsulations of our souls into being, that process is going to get a little messy. So coming from the starting point of none of these things is going to be perfect, but how can they be interesting? How can they be built in a way that is itself joyful? And how can they deliver and experience you couldn’t get anywhere else, is something that we want to explore in as many ways as possible.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
So sometimes that takes the form of an inherently joyful universe, a first person open world comedy adventure game like An Airport For Aliens Currently Run by Dogs. Sometimes it’s a sci-fi body horror market tycoon like a Space Warlord, which at the time of this publication will have come out pretty recently on Xbox Game Pass and Steam. There’s a lot of ideas pinging around our heads and finding the shortest point from A to B to express those things and move on to the next project that allows us to deliver the next piece of our souls is my priority.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, the first time that I heard about your work was through a game that currently out. I played it on the Switch called Hypnospace Outlaw. And that is such a unique… I’ll put it like this, the Switch often has very unique games. That’s one reason why I really like the Switch over say PlayStation or Xbox. But Hypnospace Outlaw really for me, just hit that sweet spots for early internet nostalgia, like the late ’90s, early 2000s Web 1.0 aesthetic, just like, “Oh, I loved it. Love it so much.” How did you get involved with that game

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
As a teenager actually. I met Jay, as in Jay Thole, the creative director of the game when I was a teenager playing an early version of one of his previous games. Dropsy. Dropsy is a game about a misunderstood, horrific-looking clown who wants nothing more than to bring joy and love into the lives of the people he meets, no matter how much they despise and/or fear his initial appearance. And playing that game, delivering feedback that he took into consideration, and I saw coming to being in the next versions.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And coming to understand how myself and Jay Thole are both Christians. I’ve been raised around a lot of Christian media, which tends to have mixed results, and finding something that was such a perfect encapsulation of what is intended to be the spirit of the faith, sacrifice and deep unconditional transformative love. And how that could be conveyed in a game about something else entirely different, when all I’ve been raised around was for the most part art, where the only thing that justified its existence was that it had a Christian label or would uphold dogma.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
That changed my life, changed my perspective, had a huge impact on me. And we stayed in touch, continued to bounce off each other creatively. And when he revealed Hypnospace Outlaw and continued to go down the path of developing it, eventually he was kind enough to bring me aboard and I got to directly collaborate with him and the rest of the team as a narrative director to serve a double purpose. The first being, writing a whole lot of stuff and doing a lot of narrative design to convey the themes and stories that they wanted to tell in that world.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
But also how to structure those stories in the game flow and progression such that it delivered those themes and made a game of infinite scope. Because when you’re simulating the internet, you can just keep going forever, finding a way of taking existing material and material yet to be created in creating a flow that made it to where we could make all of these things within a human lifetime, in a way that was faster, cheaper, healthier, and more efficient than we originally considered in my it even be possible to do so. We ended up pulling it off.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
It got rave reviews, it got nominated for a lot of awards. I’m still friends with the team and we still talk about potential collaborations in the future. So as much as you can judge a collaboration be successful, I certainly am happy with what happened coming out the other side of that.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad that you unpacked a bit about what narrative design is, because that’s what I was about to ask. But as you put it, it’s not just, “Oh, we’re writing the dialogue,” but you’re also looking at how that fits into the overall structure. So it’s like writing and almost producing and directing all wrapped up in the one, it sounds like.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
It depends on the role, when you’re a narrative lead, it certainly gets more into the structure and vision of the overall project as well as potentially managing elements to accomplish that. But narrative design, being the practice of looking at all aspects of a games experience to tell a story. And then collaborating with people to bring that into being as opposed to a writer, which in many teams can also hold narrative design duties, but their primary job is to write dialogue, write things that will be depicted as text on the screen.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
It’s a big part of the ambiguity here, because there is a lot of overlap, but there’s very distinct ways in which if you have a killer writer or a out of this world narrative designer, and you put them in a position to focus on their particular intersection, it can genuinely transform the way in which a game comes to life.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, the game that you’ve been working on that just came out recently, Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator. I love have to hear the inspiration behind that. Just from the title alone, it sounds a lot to digest at once perhaps. No pun intended.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
The pun is very much appreciated though. The inspiration point, it’s twofold and there’s a lot of different rabbit holes that can be taken. But at its basis for warm, I was sitting in a doctor’s office, a man not wearing doctor’s clothes walked in, closed the door behind him and said, “Well, I’d like to see my insides.” And in that moment I had one of two decisions. The first was, do I run and get out of here and start screaming? Or two, do I keep going along these lines because whatever happens, I’m going to get an interesting story out of it?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And I ended up going the story direction and I didn’t end up getting murdered. Turns out this was a nurse practitioner, someone who was in process of doing their rounds and I guess accomplishing their residency and they needed practice with ultrasound machine. So I got to watch my heartbeat, my lungs breathe in and out, my liver function, and being connected to the tangible reality of the invisible processes that made up my life. Every moment of every day was such a point of perspective, of being exposed to something bigger than yourself.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
It sounds odd, but looking inward can be as perspective-broadening as looking outwards. So looking at this marvelous, complicated fleshy machine that we are and seeing it working had a big impact on my perspective. So, years later, that ends up culminating in a game about buying, selling, and trading the one thing everyone has and needs in a strange and evolving universe, organs. Because if there’s anything that is as large as space or the universal language of commerce, it is how much our equations of value or inherent value change as soon as you slap a dollar sign on something.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
It can be a plush beanie baby, it can be a green piece of paper that says one on it, or it can be a human heart. But as soon as you assign and agree upon a shared belief and value, the world changes in some small and inexplicable way that is very hard to reverse once it happens. And exploring those implications has been a very fun and hopefully compelling… Has been a very fun process that I hope has resulted in the compelling result.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know why for some reason, when I first heard the name and then I saw it on Steam, and we’ll have a link to it down in the show notes so people can check it out. I saw that and the first thing I thought of was Spaceballs. Have you seen Spaceballs before?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
I am familiar with Spaceballs, but I’ve never properly seen it.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. That’s your homework, you have to see Spaceballs. I want to see what you think about it-

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Got it.

Maurice Cherry:
… after you watched it, but-

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Putting it on the list.

Maurice Cherry:
… I don’t know. I saw it and for some reason it got me to thinking about that movie for some reason, even though I’m sure the game is not… Spaceballs is clearly a parody of Star Wars, but your game is not a parody of anything, but for some reason my minds made that connection. I guess, because it’s space and it’s trading and all this sort of stuff. But what does your process look like when you’re creating a game? Because as you’re explaining both this game, as well as the games that are currently on the Strange Scaffold website.

Maurice Cherry:
It seems like you put a whole lot of thought into like the ethos and the soul of what the game is about and less about maybe the final product with graphics and all that sort of stuff.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Yeah. Going into the process of how a game or any creative production comes into being is potentially very complicated, but I do try to think of any creative work, which I embark upon. I’ve worked in comics, I’ve worked in other mediums, sometimes in forms that I can’t talk about because of NDA. But I’ve worked in a lot of different mediums, communication styles, genres, and the thing that binds my approach to all of them together is a sense of what brings this to the finish line? And how does every piece of this experience reflect the perspective which birthed it?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
So the term I like to use for this idea is a prism. Ideally, at least when you’re working on tightly scoped projects, filtering every element of the game through a central prism or perspective. Following those logical conclusions, those leaps of perspective that are grounded because they remain in the same foundation. That drives everything in terms of how I at least approach the directing process. So in An Airport for Aliens Currently Run By Dogs, the question emerged inside of the team at the beginning of the project, how do we handle currency?”

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
How does the player get more money? How do they spend money? How is money and currency represented? And at that moment, I took a step back and I thought about it for a moment and I said, “There is no money in this game,” because the prism, the perspective of the game world is what does it look like for a truly utopian society run by stock photo dog? A universe that is inherently joyful and cares about you specifically. A game that’s playing with you as much as you’re playing with it. How does it communicate with its players?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
What are the elements of its world? What is the logic it runs upon? There’s a lot of interesting things you can do with currency or money in that world, but for me in that moment, the truest reflection of the world we wanted to create was one where dogs don’t care about money. A dog isn’t going to not give you a ticket to a FOBO just because you’re $1 short. If anything, they’re just going to give you the ticket or they’ll give you 50 tickets, just because you asked for it. Because they want to be helpful, because they want to see you happy.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Because your joyful existence is more important than exchange of goods and services. Following decision processes like that, of what is this world attempting to express and how is it communicated through every layer and element of the game has become an essential piece of any of my work whether I join as a director or as a contractor. So I really value at this point, the idea of cohesion and how much agency I’ve been allowed in my different assignments to bring that perspective to bear, because sometimes you don’t have that ability.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
You can run into a project or string of projects or a career of projects where not only are the products disjointed, but your ability to bring any unity to them is nearly absent. So there’s a mixture of skill and execution here, but I’m also just deeply thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity and specific scenarios in which my skill in this area has been allowed to shine.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting when you say that about the dogs not needing money, because I guess, yeah, that makes sense. But to have no currency, what about treats? I don’t know. I guess it’s your game, but I’m curious when you said that about the money, that does make sense now that you’ve pulled back and really explained it in that way. Because what are they going to spend it on? Is there also a supermarket run by dogs? How does that all work? So I get that.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And the dogs would just give each other stuff at the supermarket if they have it [crosstalk 00:23:27]-

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
There’s different tree treatments you could do of this definitely. There is a world where there’s much harsher dogs. There are dogs who do demand things in the game. A lot of it is a straight up barter in the project as opposed to using an abstract concept like money. But all in all, yeah, at every single step we ask, “How would this work in a joyful universe? How would this work if dogs were deciding how this should function?” And in many cases, the solution was one that was more kind and more interesting than anything that existed in the real world.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And that caused a moment of reflection, at least for myself, whenever that occurred in the project for even how rarely we get the opportunity to imagine a better world. It can be very cathartic to create work that allows you the opportunities to explore that because Lord knows with the 24-hour news cycle, it can be difficult to bring yourself to that point when you’re scrolling through Instagram and it feels like the world is on fire.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that makes sense. So I want to switch it up here, but of course we’re hearing about you as a game developer, studio owner, narrative designer, but I want to know where this all originated from. So tell me more about like where you grew up.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
I grew up all over the place. I was a military brat and that perspective in itself traveling so many different places seems so many different perspectives and cultures, has been in a massive contributor to me becoming who I am.

Maurice Cherry:
Can you talk about some of the places where you grew up?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Yeah, I was in South Korea, I was in Italy, I was in Germany, I was all over the United States. And I’m now based in the Southwest, El Paso, Texas, so been a lot of places.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now I guess while you’re of course traveling all about with your family because of being a military brat, did you get to experience just a lot of different design and tech and all that sort of stuff growing up?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Yeah. And to top it all off the fact that my dad was so interested in tech when I was growing up, had no doubt a massive impact. One of the earliest photos that exists of me is I am an extremely chubby baby sitting on my dad’s lap with a unplugged controller in my hand, wrapped attention towards a screen that isn’t in the frame while my dad is looking towards the exact same thing, because I thought in that moment that I was playing the game right with him. And in a sense I was, and now, I send him free video games. So, it all works out.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you know what game it was that your dad was playing?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
No, but I do remember certain games for my childhood in a lot of different contexts.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, like what are some of those games?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
One of the big ones was Morrowind.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
My dad played it on the original Xbox, the first console with a built-in memory. And he played hundreds of hours of that thing. And I would watch him be enthralled by this world and I, of course wanted to be like my dad. I was like, “Can I play? Can I play? Can I play?” He finally let me do it. And I was like, “Yes, I’m in the world of Morrow ind. I have read this manual from cover to cover dozens of times.”

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And I make a little bit of head way through the game, not really understanding it because it’s a more classic RPG and still having a good time with it, but not really understanding what I’m seeing. I save my game and I log off, a few hours later, I hear this on earthly moan. I walk into the front room and there’s my dad just staring at the screen, because I have overwritten his hundreds of RSAs with all the armor and all the weapons and [crosstalk 00:27:36]-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, no.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
… with almost half of his own everything with my misspelled main character in his underwear in the middle of the town square that you first get to. And he was like, “Did you do this?” And I was like, “I do what?” And he explained to me, “You deleted my save.” I was like, “Oh, oh no.” So he went back to it, and if anything, he went back to it harder than last time, it was like the Rocky training sequence, I was so proud of him. He put a blanket over his head, he put a blanket over the TV, he went for it.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
He’d work, he’d come home, he’d get it in because he is a good dad. At some point he says, “Yes. Okay. You can play again.” And I start a new game and I get a little bit of weigh in, and I meet an elf who I really hate. He’s just a real son of a bitch. I close the game and I come back out, and it’s very rarely that I’ve seen my dad look defeated, just deflated as a human being nothing inside of the husk, that is his body. But he was sitting, he didn’t even, there was not even the sound or really a conversation, he says, “Was this gone?” And he just like Sisyphus was rolling the boulder up the hill again. And he-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, what, you saved over it again.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Yes. I believe [crosstalk 00:29:03].

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, my God.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
The third time he didn’t go for it as hard, I think he knew what was coming. Eventually, I asked him, “Hey, can I play the game?” And he is like, “Are you going to delete my save?” I was like, “No, I know how to do it this time. I’ve seen you save, I’ve been watching. I know how to do it.” I didn’t know how to do it. I deleted his save again. And when he stopped playing it in defeat, he’s never turned to that game ever since. I lost interest because it was cool because my dad was doing it. So lesson of the story here is, one, this is on him because he shouldn’t have kept letting me play it. And two, it’s even more on him because he never showed me how the save menu worked. You can tell a five-year-old how games saves work.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
You can explain the concept. I’ve thought through this for years now, there is a way five-year-old me could have been told about how save games worked. But that process was not undergone, and so consequences were followed and I do feel very bad about it. Every time I can’t log onto my Xbox because he is using the console profile in a different location to have access to my game pass. I’m doing my little bit to pay back the horrible price I incurred by destroying his dreams early on.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good son, that’s what a good son should do. That’s good to hear.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Although now I feel completely old now that you mentioned Morrowind. I was like, “Jesus.” I was in college when Morrow ind came out. I remember the game though, I probably didn’t get as far as you did though. When did I start playing? Not in 2002 certainly. Probably like in maybe ’05, I think I had an Xbox then. And I don’t know, I could never get out the first town. I kept getting killed by rats and I was like, “Eh, forget it.”

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Yeah. Because it had a D and D chance to hit. So you would hit it and you wouldn’t know, you’d have to look in the bottom left corner of the screen to be like, “You missed. You missed, it’s before.”

Maurice Cherry:
Exactly. That’s not all my fault. So no, I.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
What we’re learning in this episode is that abdication and responsibility is good actually. It was my dad’s fault, it wasn’t your fault. It was Morrowind’s fault. We can always find someone to blame and that’s the real takeaway of today’s show.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. And speaking of that, when it comes to games, you first got into, well, it sounds like you first got into the gaming industry as a games’ journalist as a 12-year-old. Is that right?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Yeah. Pretended to be an adult.

Maurice Cherry:
You got to tell me how that happened.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
That’s the story in a nutshell, I was 12 years old. I found out that games journalists get games for free. I thought, “Oh wow, there it is. It’s the perfect job, free video games.” And I, as a very driven and precocious young man, pretended to be an adult and somehow I got away with it, and that started what has now been a… Oh, it’s been over a decade in the industry. And people I met back then I have since worked with, and I’m now colleagues with, and everyday I am thankful for not just that journey, but how clearly I can see the journey at every step in my life. I can see the impact that God has had in directing that path, whether it was good or bad, everything came together to produce the person I am now, and the perspective I have.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And so much of what I’m trying to do is without having to go through similar pain in part, any of the things that I’ve learned or discovered along the way to the people that I meet, if I manage to… I think it’s really important to put on your own air mask before you assist other passengers to use an airline reference or metaphor. But I also think none of this stuff really matters if it only goes to benefit me. If I just, even if I make hits, if these games come into the world and all they do is make money.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Money is important, it pays bills, it allows for agency and freedom and a quality of living that’s important and aspirational. But if I work with someone and they don’t come away having learned something, if I come away from working with someone and haven’t learned something, if I am not through my working processes, enabling the people around me to do their best work in the healthiest environment possible, it doesn’t matter what we’ve produced, because the purpose of making that thing has already been lost. What point is a perfect game, If you lose your soul along the way? Or if you never make another thing again.

Maurice Cherry:
I was curious to know, as you started out so early in this industry writing about it, reviewing games and such, did any of your colleagues know that you were that young?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
From what I understand, most didn’t and I don’t know what that says about either my skills for disguise or about my industry in terms of maturity level, but yeah, I somehow skated by.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you think that your work as a journalist really helped you out as a narrative designer?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
I think the work I did as a journalist helped me as a narrative designer in a few ways. The first is, I did all of my professional bad writing very early. I got all the bad words out, hopefully, so now I can write good stuff. But the second major thing that I think about in terms of journalism is, when I got older and really leaned into attempting to understand artistic intents and artistic processes and how and why things came to be, or when the creator intended something, why that didn’t emerge onto the screen. And the things that led to that course of events, that gave me an inherent empathy for the people I would come to work with as well as an ability to examine, what was something trying to communicate?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Like reverse engineering, what was something trying to communicate and how, and what pieces of an experience didn’t contribute to that process, led to me now attempting to bring those things to life myself in as cohesive a manner as possible. And I certainly won’t claim to get it right 100% at the time, but I can see how my history as a journalist coming to treasure these things and learning how to form these opinions and thoughts in such a way that I could share them with others and have them be disagreed with or agreed with or spark interesting discussion. It was an incredible training ground, and I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to come up through that direction.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you ultimately want to accomplish as a game developer? It certainly sounds like, one, your faith factors a lot into your work, just in terms of how you approach the games and it sounds like even the mechanics and the whole ethos behind it, but then also you’ve mentioned earlier about wanting to provide just a more holistic game development experience. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I’m using a bunch of different metaphors here, but what do you want to accomplish as a game developer? Is there like a bigger goal or message at play here?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
The average game developer career lasts about three years. If there’s anything I accomplish in my lifetime as a commercial artist, as a creative professional, I want to see the average career length for someone working in games to be 20 years, 30 years just like Martin Scorsese, says he can be 70, 80 years old, still making interesting films. I want to see games professionals have the same ability to discover what their next story is going to be, what the stories they could deliver if their careers just lasted a little bit longer.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
If they had that ability to hit that next rung in the ladder, if they had that ability to fashion their craft that much more. The fact that we get the games of creative potency that we have now, given the relative lack of seniority, we have the ability to crew in, in the industry because our mentors, our elders are few and far between. I treasure and look forward to a future where we find out what breathtaking things can come into being when people have been making these for 30 years instead of three.

Maurice Cherry:
So overall, what are you excited about at the moment? Of course, you got a new game that just came out. Of course, congratulations to you on that, but what are you really the most excited about right now?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
I think the thing is I’m most excited about are honestly the projects. This sounds corny, but it’s the projects made by my friends and colleagues and peers in the industry right now. Games is legitimately a more vibrant, diverse, creatively executed and broad communicator of artistic intent than it’s ever been. The golden age of games is happening right now. And it’s because of the people I often find myself having the ability to work with, no major end point to that other than, “Dang I’m thankful.” And wow, I can’t imagine what it’s going to look like 10, 20 years from now, especially if we can create working conditions to where the folks who are doing this amazing stuff now can continue to evolve their craft and be making things that far into the future.

Maurice Cherry:
Now for people that are listening to this that want to also get into developing games, what would you recommend to them? Any resources or any kind of course of action that they should take?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
The most important thing I would recommend is make games or make anything really with the resources you have right now. If you don’t have money, find out what kind of game you can make with no money. It’s possible. That’s to where I started. If you are a fantastic artist, look at how a game can uniquely leverage your art. If you’re a musician, look at how within the resources you have, you can express things that no one else would think to do.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Or frankly could if only because they have more resources, we tend to forget how sometimes having more resources can be a limitation in itself because it forces the solutions you are finding to take pretty similar forms to things that are successful right now, or that have been done in the past, depending on the environment and which you’re working. So yeah, wherever you are, whatever you have, look for how you can be making something right now, because not only will that advance your portfolio, but whenever you bring something into the world, finish and release it, you learn something about yourself, you learn and what to do, you learn what to not to do, you learn something about who you are. I say you deserve to learn as fully as possible who you are, wouldn’t you?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, sure. Why not? What do you think you would’ve done if you hadn’t gone into game development? It sounds like you had such an early start. Was there anything else that you had in mind even?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
My very, very first job was doing landscaping for a cult. Do not recommend it.

Maurice Cherry:
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, landscaping for a cult?

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
We’re going to move on from that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
But after that, what I got into and what I loved was librarianship. Library science, the practice of serving customers in a community through libraries. I found opportunities with the resources I had and the place that I had in the communities that I was in to end up being a children’s librarian, not just one time, but multiple times. And I loved it. I love what libraries represents. I practically grew up in libraries. The role libraries have in society, the continuing relevance they have, as well as the impact you have on patrons in that environment.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Sorry, I’m getting a little bit emotional in this end, but I loved every single one of those kids who walked in through the door. I loved every single person who came in and didn’t know what they were looking for and came out with a book that ended up changing their lives. I loved every single one of those ridiculous ass romance novels that ended up being, this is a fun fact. Romance novels are the most checked out thing in a library, at least in my experience. Romance readers read voraciously, they’re constantly cycling through those books, same books going in and out, in and out. They’re the secret lifeblood of any library circulation.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And yeah, every single one of those books and the joy that they brought the people who read them. I loved those books and I loved every single one of those people, and I loved everything about that profession. If it didn’t require that master’s in library science to become a quote unquote proper librarian, I might have still even having started my career in games so early, I might have still done librarianship anyway, because if it’s not creative production, if it’s not making games or comics or something in linear media, like film or television. I’ll tell you what feels like home to me, it’s the walls of a library.

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

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Aside from in a library?

Maurice Cherry:
Sure. Why not? I’m sure there’re more games out down the horizon. I’m sure.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
Yeah. In five years I see Strange Scaffold as a vibrant constellation of projects and people that are sustainable, healthy, and unexpectedly ambitious and well positioned to remain so for the foreseeable future. If I could do exactly what I’m doing now for the next five years and the rest of my life, I would be very happy indeed.

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

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
You can find my ridiculous Twitter at twitter.com/WritNelson. When I’m not posting puns, I am talking about our projects and how and why we bring them into the world. We have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangescaffold where you can get early access to our work, as well as do things like get pictures of your dog, into the games that we’re bringing out now and get custom content into some of the projects we’re still developing, such as Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
And lastly, I work on a lot of games. So if you look on a PlayStation or an Xbox or a Nintendo platform or on Steam, running into something that I’m working on is, or have worked on, there’s a better chance than not that you’ll find it pretty quickly. So Strange Scaffold is the name for a lot of my collaborations, but for a step outside of that, like Skate Bird or Hypnospace Outlaw, if you like one thing we’re doing, there’s a vibrant thread of work to be followed.

Maurice Cherry:
Xalavier Nelson Jr, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show, one, thank you for sharing your really unique look into game development and your very, I think honestly inspiring story about how you even just got involved into games. I love that you really are thinking about not just the stories that you want to tell throughout games, but also how you can make the industry better as a whole. I think that’s something that probably, I don’t know if many other game developers are doing that, but it seems like that’s something that you really tapped into and are trying to put forth. And the games that you’re creating are fun and unique, and I just want to see more of what you’re going to accomplish in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Xalavier Nelson Jr.:
The kind of words mean an immense amount. Thank you.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Harrison Wheeler

If you’ve been a longtime listener of Revision Path, then you probably already recognize this week’s guest, Harrison Wheeler. Along with being a senior design manager at LinkedIn, he’s also a podcaster with his own show called Technically Speaking. (And I’ve been a guest twice!)

Our conversation started off with a peek into life at LinkedIn, and he talked about working and managing remotely, as well as about how he’s changed as a manager over the years. We also talked shop about podcasting, the metaverse, the future of design in business, and Harrison shared some of the best career advice he’s received. I love checking back in with guests and seeing just how they’ve grown over their career, and Harrison is proof that hard work and dedication pays off in the long run!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Harrison Wheeler:
Hey, Maurice. My name is Harrison Wheeler. I am a senior prog design manager at LinkedIn, and I’m going on four and a half, five years. Time flies.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Welcome back to the show, man. It’s good to have you back.

Harrison Wheeler:
I know. Yeah, we were just chatting beforehand. It’s been what, almost four or five years since I … No, it’s been longer than that. What I’m talking about, I’ve been at LinkedIn for, like I said, almost five years. So it’s almost been like seven years.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You were at Base when we last talked, which is now part of Zendesk, I believe.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But yeah, it’s been a while. So we definitely got a lot to catch up on in terms of your career and everything.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. It’s funny. I’m trying to think. I think I might have been in Chicago or had just moved to California back when that was recorded.

Maurice Cherry:
You had just moved to California.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, man.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2021 been for you? What did you learn about yourself over this past year?

Harrison Wheeler:
Look, if 2020 was rough, so I think I’m a glass half full kind of person. So I will say that 2021 definitely felt like a bit of emergence out of that. Just looking back, I mean, a few things. And so I think really being unapologetic in terms of just turning things off and making time for myself. I think making time in the space for yourself is super important for that. I think, additionally, we all know this, but your voice matters. And I think probably it’s a bit of a reflection in terms of where I’ve grown and the position and the role that I have within my organization, within the design community. It’s important to have that voice and then also give back. Perspective is very important. And I will say many things have also accelerated within the last couple of years.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so when you think about how a lot of the workforce is now, like tele commuting, what sort of constraints does that create? Are we creating opportunities for people to get in? Are we also conscious of some of the effects of the work that we do? And so how can we bring more consciousness to the work that we’re doing, to the decisions that we’re making on a day to day basis?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think really also with this past year, because … and I want to say this partially because of the vaccine in a way. It’s really thrown workplaces in general into a bit of a learning moment in a way. Because of course in 2020, when we didn’t have the vaccine, everything was like, we’re going to move to remote work, we’re going to do this. And then the vaccine comes and then offices are like, well, I guess maybe we can start going back. And then the variants come through and they’re like, well, maybe you should stay at home. There’s been this weird push, pull. Of course there’s been the creation of these hybrid schedules, but I still think companies are trying to figure out what they’re going to do next and they’re not doing well at that. But I think that’s to be expected because this is so unprecedented.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I mean, I’ve had a few thoughts on that. I’ve had an opportunity to at least exercise what the hybrid concept is like. And just reflecting, again, over the past couple of years, I think we’ve seen a lot of evolution, at least from a design perspective, the tools that we use. You have the online multiplayer, you’ve got tools like Loom where you can do asynchronous video recordings. Obviously Slack is a big part of it. Having soundboards or sound rooms as a way of communicating without necessarily needing to be on camera. I think the list really goes on in terms of how remote work has been optimized. But the moment that you step into an office, it is a relic of where we left off. And so there is a gap there.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, one of the things that actually I’ve been thinking about is, how does this play a role in the design rituals that we have. Not necessarily from a remote perspective, but when we have folks in an office and then we have folks on camera. Because there are some really interesting nuances. Like, we’ve all had pretty good high fidelity cameras at home, but the moment you’re in an office, you now see someone in three dimensions. So maybe their voice sounds different, maybe the audio is a little bit distorted. Folks might not see what’s going on in the chat. Folks might be having side conversations. Some of these things aren’t new per se, but now we’ve got a more equitable type of situation that we need to be considerate of. And so, how can we build in process, practice? How can we ingrain it? I think for me, how do you think about that at scale? And so, there’s a software component, there’s a hardware component and then there’s also just the general human to human communication component. So yeah, it’s really interesting, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s funny now that I think about that, because when the pandemic really started, I was working for a company that was very much remote first. And they had an office and I had been to the office. I don’t even remember the last time I was in their office, maybe 2019 I think. But that was three or four jobs ago. Since then, now I’ve worked at a number of different companies in remote positions with people who I’ve never met, who I’ve had to work with oftentimes across very wide time zone births to try to get creative work done. And yeah, it’s a change, it’s a big change. And just trying to adjust to it, making sure you’re getting the best work out of people. Of course, I think, one, with being sensitive to just the general overall global issue that we’re going through with the pandemic. But also, it’s going to be a different kind of thing when you meet them in person. At the other places, I’ve not met a single one of my coworkers in person in over a year.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I think it’s truly fascinating, that social component. I think on the show, I don’t know if I had gone to this point yet, but a lot of the engineering team that I was working with was based in Poland. And so I think we hadn’t developed ways to communicate. Technology wasn’t there, so the ways to communicate were extremely difficult. So then you really had to see and visit somebody to understand their body language. But I think now, we’re so good at communicating with each other. I think seeing each other in the flesh it sort of like, oh, how do we compute this now?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m running into that a bit now because the place where I currently work, we’re split between San Francisco and Paris. And so I’m working with Europeans in the morning, working with the US folks in the afternoon trying to … And it is all very much a sync. I mean, I’m right in the middle. So when I start my day at 9:00 AM, it’s the afternoon already in Paris and it’s still early morning in San Francisco. So I have to try to juggle how I work now based on that, because we’re not all on that same eight-hour block.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When you think about 2022, are there any certain resolutions or goals that you have that you want to try to accomplish?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, resolutions or goals. I would probably say I need to do a better job at taking a vacation. I’ve been saying that for a long time, but I think this past couple of years, I think from a mental health perspective, haven’t been easy. And I don’t think it’s been easy for most folks. And so again, I think be able to create that time and space where you can reflect. You don’t need to, you can also be in the moment. You don’t have to necessarily reflect. But I think we need to just create the space. That’s how I recharge. I’m doing a lot of really awesome stuff with my podcast, Technically Speaking. So I’m looking forward to really expanding that. I know we’re going to get into that a little bit later. But I would also say like, move a little bit more. Really be conscious about getting movement in. I mean, I’m in meetings all day. And so going for that. Walk around the block, heading on the bike, lifting some weights. In some way, shape or form, committing to that every day.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want a vacation. Well, I think I need one certainly, because the last time I was really out on a plane somewhere was February 2020. I just haven’t went anywhere because of the pandemic. But now it’s, I’m feeling it now. I need to disconnect on a beach in another country somewhere like nobody’s business.

Harrison Wheeler:
You’re in the hub, man. I think you can fly anywhere in the world from Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s true. I’ve just been wary of it because … I mean, you’ve been seeing all this stuff with people fighting on planes and stuff. I’m like, I’m not trying [crosstalk 00:12:33]. I’m not trying to get caught up somewhere having to try to go somewhere. But we can’t because back in 25B, they’re [dooking 00:12:41] it out. Like, come on, you’re holding up everybody. We are all trying to get somewhere.

Harrison Wheeler:
I mean, this is a sad state of affairs. But it’s sad when airlines have to take away the alcohol because folks can’t handle themselves in the air.

Maurice Cherry:
Wait, have they taken away the alcohol on planes for real?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, yeah. I think now, probably around mid-December, early January, I think some airlines are looking at bringing it back. But yeah. Folks were getting lit.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh my God. Wow. I didn’t know it was that bad. Geez.

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Hopefully we can get it together, but I don’t know. Humanity has been … it’s been a very interesting experiment of humanity over this past year or so. Just seeing how folks have acted, especially with these vaccines. We’re not going to make this political, getting into it, but it’s been a lot. So yeah. When you were last on the show, which as we talked about was way back on episode 140, you were at Base, which is now part of Zendesk. And since then, you’ve went on to LinkedIn where now you are a senior design manager. What has your time at LinkedIn been like.

Harrison Wheeler:
Wow. Yeah, this is great. I love reflecting on this. So I mean, look, I want to maybe touch on … maybe we can give a brief overview of what Base was. Because I think a lot of times I get a lot of questions in terms of, what attracted you to LinkedIn? And I also get questioned around, yo, it’s been five years. And tech speak, five years, man, you’re an OG at that point because the average length of folks is usually around two years at a job. And that number is probably going down over time. I mean, we see that there are so many opportunities out in the market these days. But when I started at Base, I was a manager for basically a 300-person startup. And so my design team at the time was around five directs on the product side, one on marketing. And then I reported up directly into the CEO and then eventually the chief of product.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so I think for me, that was an amazing experience. I got to really build something from zero to one. I got to experience what growth looked like. Had some really amazing experiences being able to go to Europe and create lasting connections with folks back on that project. I think for me when I was looking … And I wasn’t even looking, to be honest, Maurice. I think I’d probably taken a moment to sit down and understand, what is the general experience that I want to have? And I think for me, I was pretty simple. I want to be able to have impact in the organization on the product and eventually grow a team. But most importantly, I wanted to have the support to grow as a manager. I didn’t really have the tools, in my opinion, to lead with confidence. And I will say that what attracted me was the fact that there was a good amount of folks that were experienced and seasoned from a managerial perspective. The company had a lot of amazing programs to help foster that connection.

Harrison Wheeler:
And on top of that, there were folks that I’ve been able to meet that have also played a big role in my development. And of course, I’ve had some awesome coworkers. I think in terms of the opportunity, so right now the team I’m on is called LinkedIn marketing solutions. And so if you aren’t familiar with our enterprise products, there’s obviously the flagship product that most folks on LinkedIn are on. It’s where you post, that’s where you see jobs, you’ve got the feed. And then we have really four different product areas. Sales navigator, so that’s usually for sales folks. We have LinkedIn talent solutions for our recruiters. And sometimes you might get those inboxes from recruiters trying to hit you up for a new gig. We’ve got LinkedIn learning and then we got LinkedIn marketing solutions. And so LinkedIn marketing solutions is really our ad platform and one of the fastest growing lines of … actually, I think it is the fastest growing line of business at LinkedIn.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so for me, I have had an experience very similar to a startup because we’ve seen a lot of growth in terms of folks using our product. A lot of growth in terms of the team growing. And also, the acceleration of our experiences from a maturity perspective. I think going in, LinkedIn was around 15 years old. So I think most people would be like, oh, man, that company is old, 15 years. But over the past four years that I’ve been there, we’ve invested a lot. And honestly, it’s evolved like night and day. It’s been really fun to be a part of that ride, because I know that I’ve had some part in doing that. Being able to have that impact for me and seeing that growth was really core to my decision-making there.

Harrison Wheeler:
And look, I mean, when you’re in the tech game, I think it’s important to understand really … on top of the work, understand what are the things that are going to help bring value to your life. We all know that over the past two years, if you’re working in tech, going into the office, not having benefits, not being able to focus on your physical and mental health as a part of that package, you know there’s somebody out there offering better. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
That’s the beauty of the situation right now. And for me, I can confidently say there’s not really too many companies that would offer support in that way any better than LinkedIn. And so honestly, that’s really kept me around.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, you came on at the time … I think it might have been right around the time that LinkedIn was bought by Microsoft.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So I came in actually a little bit after that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I believe the acquisition had happened earlier that year.

Maurice Cherry:
So even with that, I mean, you’ve got that big tech juggernaut behind LinkedIn. So I’m sure that in terms of just like, I think one job security, but two also just the … Like you said, if you’re in the Bay, probably just if you’re in tech in general, you’re always looking to try to level up. I mean, that’s a great place to do so.

Harrison Wheeler:
100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Can you talk a bit about what you do as a senior design manager?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I get a lot of questions around, what does IC growth look like? What does a manager growth look like? And so, as I mentioned before on my team, I have eight designers … excuse me, seven designers, one manager. And then soon I’ve got two roles opening up. So for folks listening and you’re interested, definitely check out the job listings. But it’s really interesting because I think a lot of times when you think about managers, the people side of things. But honestly, for me, I think about, how can we create an organization that is really based on outcomes around how we approach design? And so a lot of that is making sure that my team has a time and space to thoroughly think through their problem space. I’ll give you an example of a few initiatives that I generally work on.

Harrison Wheeler:
So number one, we’re working really hard in terms of trying to really double down and protect our design rituals. And that’s from our weekly standups to our feedback. How can we give better feedback? How can we provide even safer spaces for feedback? How can we make sure the process is inclusive for everyone on the team to have a voice and be able to scale that in different areas? How are we thinking about what growth paths on the team look like? How can we be consistent in terms of creating expectations? How can we create different opportunities and modules for designers to have a better understanding about the situations that they’re in? So as they have the autonomy to really start to lead projects, they’re equipped with the proper tools to have the right conversations to be able to say no, and also understand when to prioritize.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so those are just a few of them. Obviously, there’s the planning side of things, there’s the performance review side of things. But ultimately, how can we also think about having more of a thoughtfulness in terms of thinking horizontally? So as I mentioned before, we’ve got the flagship experience, we’ve got these four other enterprise experiences. How can we bring some of that goodness or how can we bring in some of the initiatives that they’re working on into some of the things that we’re trying to achieve. And so a lot of that is honestly, I think, fairly similar regardless of the size, the organization that you’re at. I will say, LinkedIn, being that it is about an 18-year-old company now, there’s around 13,000 employees globally. There’s a little bit more conversations that you’ll have to have, but I don’t think that’s any different from most organizations this size.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, with the team make up like it is, I mean, do you get a chance to really work one-on-one with designers or are you mostly working more with upper management and leadership?

Harrison Wheeler:
Honestly, it really is a mix. At least for my designers that are my reports, we do have our one-on-ones. So we do have an opportunity to go through individual designs. We do have opportunities to really think about what growth looks like. As I mentioned before, we have rituals that I always attend. So if I can, at least. And so that is our design reviews, our standups. Those are the things that I really try to do. I try my best to make sure that our team is equipped, like I said, to be autonomous, to be able to work with their teams. Because I am not able to be in every single situation. Also, my manager isn’t available to be in every single situation all the time as well.

Harrison Wheeler:
So there’s a bit of that. There’s a lot of back and forth at least from a leadership perspective as well. And so, we have a growing design organization. We need to also understand at least as a manager too, that whether it’s coming from product or inch, that we’re not only managing down to the team, but also managing up and giving our executive team visibility. We might be working on vision work and so I might be a little bit more involved there working with other VPs or directors involved in that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, speaking of design management, when we had you on the show back in 2016, you were a design manager at Base.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say you’ve grown as a design manager since then? I mean, is it different in this larger organization or what’s changed?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I mean, 1000%, I’m a totally different manager than I was back then. There are times where I’m like, if I could take situations back in the day and pair it with what I know now, I guarantee you the outcomes would be totally different. And so I think a lot of times when I started out is like, you’d read all the books or you have this idea of what a manager is supposed to do and you try to be like. Or at least for me, I can’t speak for other folks. I had this misnomer that I had to be right. That I had to know what I was doing. That it was important that people knew that I knew what I was doing, when that was not the case.

Harrison Wheeler:
And I think really coming to terms with like, hey, I have no idea how this is going to turn out, I think for me became pretty transformational. And then I had a moment too where I had an opportunity to have a professional coach, shout out to Brooks. He was actually on one of my episodes on Technically Speaking. But the sessions that I had with him really changed, honestly, my mindset on being a manager. And a lot of it really came down to understanding when to have conversations and how to have those conversations. A lot of what we do as designers really comes down to communication. And sometimes it might not be comfortable, it might be uncomfortable. But usually when you do feel that, you’re usually at a crossroad. There is a decision that needs to be made. And on the other side of it, it’s going to be beneficial no matter what.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I would say, it sounds like you at least had that … and I’m not saying you didn’t have this at Base, but it certainly sounds like you’ve had support to grow at as a manager while you’ve been at LinkedIn. You haven’t just been winging it. I say that to say, I’ve been in design management situations where it was very clear I was winging it. The company was not really trying to offer any support in that area. But these were startups, it’s not an established company like LinkedIn. But it sounds like they are invested in your growth as a design manager.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Yeah, 100%. And I think one thing, you asked what I do on the day to day. But there are definitely things that I look at in terms of, how can we evolve as an organization? And so those are things that we’re constantly chipping away. And I think having that north star and being able to have your team align on that, I think does help quite a bit in terms of making sound and constructive conversations and decisions as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, have you encountered any other black design managers while you’ve been … not necessarily at LinkedIn, but just in your career in general?

Harrison Wheeler:
You mean as far as being my manager, or?

Maurice Cherry:
Just in general.

Harrison Wheeler:
In general. Honestly, I will probably say, not since I’ve been at LinkedIn. How should I phrase this? I will say that there are a few that I’ve known and heard of from afar, but I will say I haven’t been able to personally meet any until I was at LinkedIn. And we’ve seen really a lot of growth in terms of representation as far as black folks go at the manager level. And so I think that’s been really, really special. Because I think for me, it just felt really inaccessible in terms of meeting other black design managers. And so now to have that presence where I work, I think is extremely special to me. Because I always think about, the first manager that I’ve had technically was my mom because my mom had hired me to do web design at the elementary school that she worked with. And so I always tell people, my mom was the first black manager that I directly had. And I think what was really interesting, the lesson in that for me was, I was able to reflect on this.

Harrison Wheeler:
I was like, my mom literally advocated for me in terms of making a budget. And then on top of that, she gave me the space to grow. It’s funny when you think about the lessons in some of these areas in your life that you don’t really think of until you are a lot older. And so I don’t know. That for me was really groundbreaking. Because I think in the discussion that we had in terms of that growth piece, you mentioned something around black designers need to have the opportunity to fail. And I think it’s so important to have representation as a black designer, as a black design manager, because now you can actually discuss these things. You can fail, you can have mentorship within your organization. And we all know this, that the representation numbers are extremely low. I think it’s really special when you can have a community like that to support along the way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting. Even as I’ve done this show over the years and I’ve talked to people from other organizations and such, it’s still pretty fragmented when you think about other black design managers or even just … Someone had asked me, oh, is there a professional group of black designers that I can join? And I was like, well, not really. I mean, you could join the organization. And I have to preface this because I don’t want anyone from OBD coming after me. But look, I’m not saying the Organization of Black Designers is not doing great things. What I am saying is that for current black designers that are in the industry, they do not know that you exists. So I can mention, like for example, I can say AIGA. Or if you are regional, I can say, well, there’s Bay Area Black Designers or there’s I think Black Design Seattle, I think is what it’s called or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
There are some regional groups, but a national organization kind of thing. It’s still pretty fragmented. I mean, there are shows like mine and shows like yours, which of course we’ll get into, that I think do a good job of highlighting who we are and what we’re doing out here. But it’s still, for I think the average designer, it still is pretty hard to find that community.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah, it is. It is. Yeah. And I will say it’s probably even more complex given how fragmented it is. It’s actually even harder to find, as you mentioned, because consistency is key. And so even over the past couple of years, I’ve seen things pop up, but then really quiet down. And so it’s not only finding the group, but it’s making sure that it’s active. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. I’ve certainly run into a few that have been in that same fashion. They start up one way and then it just dies out. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. It takes a lot to keep those things going. So then just in terms of initiatives and things, are there any particular initiatives that you’re involved in at LinkedIn?

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s real funny because I go back to … I was thinking or reflecting on the first episode that we had. I think for me being a black designer in tech, it felt like a sense of accomplishment. I mean, it definitely was. Coming from the Midwest, really trudging along and just taking risks, not knowing what’s on the other side and not necessarily having those perspectives. I think it was definitely something to celebrate and to be able to do this. But I think that quickly went away because at the end of the day you’re still one of, who knows? Hundreds, thousands in an organization.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so in the moments around Trayvon Martin. And it was tough, it was very isolating. And I think not having a community to be able to go to or at least just talk it out, I thought was, I don’t know, it was very isolating. And so I think moving into LinkedIn, I didn’t want to go through that again. I’ll put it like that. You know who Renee Reid is? Shout out to Renee Reid.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah. Tech Wrap Queen, of course.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Tech Wrap Queen, check it out. So we actually joined LinkedIn actually the same year. So myself, her and George Hay, shout out to George, we actually got together and we were like, we should put something on. We should try and create some representation within the organization. We should also have some external representation to let folks know that we’re here. And so we started with a lot of small things. I remember Renee was really passionate about having a week during Black History where the cafeteria served food from all over the African diaspora. And by the way, LinkedIn, I mean, we don’t have cafeterias right now because it’s kind of … Well, we do, but it’s not operating in the same capacity. LinkedIn has some bomb food. I think if you’re ever in the Bay Area, if you ask somebody which tech company has the best food, LinkedIn is definitely up there nine times out of 10.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so what they cook tastes pretty good. We got together and designed the LinkedIn [nberg 00:33:15], that’s the LinkedIn logo. I designed that with the kente pattern and we got those printed. And so whenever LinkedIn showed up, we showed up for sure. AfroTech, we came in deep with the kente cloth pattern and people were like, this is what LinkedIn is about. And one of the most amazing things about it is that it resonated with black folks all over the country. But LinkedIn has global offices around the world. So we had folks down in Brazil repping the LinkedIn kente nberg. So I think it was really great to see that movement. And then we had a little bit of a coming out party about three years ago during the week of AfroTech, the second week of AfroTech, where we had designers come to LinkedIn. And we just chuffed it out.

Harrison Wheeler:
We had a panel with research and design and we basically called that black by design. That was really a big moment for us. And it was great because we got to show people what design was like. Inside LinkedIn, people had an opportunity to see what we look like and what we were talking about. And there was a relational piece to it. And then we also eventually made hires from some of the folks that attended. And so here we are, we’re strong. I think 15 plus folks, it might be even more, but we started out being only three of us. And so it’s been really great to see that evolve over time. And over the past year, we’ve been doing a lot to really organize and really keep it growing. Because obviously we want this to keep growing, whether we’re at LinkedIn or when we move on. They call that the next play.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so we have really three pillars that we focus on. So we got a set of folks working on growth and retention. And so that’s really around, how can we keep folks in? How can we provide opportunities for people to grow outside of their traditional day to day job? We have another pillar called brand building and community. So that’s when we go out and we have these happy hours. So when we show up to events like AfroTech, this is when we have an opportunity to really be able to not only push some of the amazing initiatives that LinkedIn is doing, but also elevate the folks within the group to the community. And then we have a third pillar called product experience.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so actually a couple of weeks ago, we had a presentation around company pages that we invited black creative businesses to join. And so how can we elevate our products to benefit the black community and also learn about how people are using them, and bring that feedback directly into the product. So it’s been really fun to see that evolve. Really be able to create a space for our members to be able to kick back, talk about anything and everything, and go live in the Slack channel. So it’s been really great to see that evolution over time.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say this is a testament probably to the longevity and the structure of LinkedIn, that you are able to have such a robust employee resource group like that, that will allow you to do things that directly touch the brand. A different version of the logo. I mean, that’s a lot just in and of itself because that’s something that goes out globally, like you said, across LinkedIn in a number of different countries.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Look, I will say, I mean, it’s been a journey, but definitely shout out to the exec team that supports us. We have two executive sponsors. I’ve had an opportunity to talk with other folks within the company that have been super supportive and be willing to work with us and iterate as we go. And I think with that kind of mentality, that’s extremely empowering in allowing really that expression to be able to happen. And so it’s really been, honestly for me, I’m humbled. I’m honored to really be able to be a part of creating that platform where … I was thinking of this. To some folks, this is their first experience in tech. I mean, that’s mind blowing.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, switching gears here. Of course, we’ve mentioned before about your podcast, Technically Speaking. Which is one big thing that’s changed since you were last on the show, is you do podcasting now too. So why don’t you tell the folks here about your show and what it’s about?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Well, look, man, I mean, I kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, I think. We both touched on this. I think the representation in the industry for black folks is fairly small. Still small. Very small. I shouldn’t even say fairly small. And I think what’s important is like, I think a lot of times when we tend to see each other, we always ask, what’s your story? How did you get to where you are? I think at least in the product design space, I thought that was extremely important to really be able to provide a platform for. I’ve been considering this for a while, but I honestly think a lot of the events from last year really was a bit of a catalyst to move that forward.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so to be honest with you, I didn’t think I could do a podcast. I think I’d asked people so many questions on how to do it and I for sure was procrastinating much of the time. But yeah, I went ahead and did it. And honestly, it’s been a game changer for me to be able to meet so many people and have many different perspectives. As much of a tool as it is for folks that are listening for them to learn, it’s been a tool for me to also learn about their stories. I think the production element of the podcast is also another area that I’m always striving to improve and learn on and iterate. But yeah, I think … let’s see, I mean, we’re about a year and a half in, almost 10,000 downloads throughout the lifetime, within a year and a half, which I think is a huge milestone. And I think we’ve recorded around 38 episodes.

Harrison Wheeler:
So yeah, man, it’s been fun. And look, you’ve been an inspiration along that journey as well. I think we’ve mentioned this on the episodes, but it really meant a lot to have you on the show, especially during San Francisco Design Week. Because I can remember when we were chopping up before the show, I was like, man, we got to get you out here and do something. So we still need to do something live at some point, but that’ll be post pandemic.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What has podcasting really taught you? I mean, you mentioned the thing about people being able to tell their own stories, but have you gained any personal insight from doing this?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I think some of the personal insight, again, it’s like this weird perfectionism thing. Some of it I’ll also go into where I was coming in the Base. When I was going in my last job, it was definitely a career pivot for me. Moving from a more graphic design oriented web design career into product design. And so I didn’t really have the vernacular to be able to express design concepts, research concepts, et cetera. And I think for me, I have this idea of what an archetype of a designer was. And honestly, that could really go to hell at this point in time because there isn’t an ideal archetype for a designer. And I think a lot of the folks that are on the show are at a point where they’re having the same kind of realizations.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I think you’re seeing this evolution where people are really starting to prioritize their own ideals and beliefs, which I think has really been … I think to be able to have folks that have been in the industry for a while, but then on top of that to see that as the starting point for the younger generation, I think is an amazing learning. And I’m super hopeful that that can transform a lot of how we think about the folks in the industry who we’re solving for. And understanding that some of the things that we’ve perpetuated for years and years are extremely toxic and we need to move past that. But we also need to evolve in a way. We need to have these discussions, whether it be to tear it all down, whether it be to reform some of these things. But we need to be having these discussions followed up by action. And I think a lot of these storylines can really help people understand what that angle is in terms of moving in that direction.

Maurice Cherry:
Well said. Well said. I mean, podcasting for me, I think, has been something really which has given me a deep level of, not just introspection into people’s processes, but also how they come to the decisions that they do in terms of their career and the work that they do and everything like that. Have you found that there’s been a bit of a common thread among your guests?

Harrison Wheeler:
No. I think there are some folks that have definitely done the linear approach. I think there are some folks that have figured it out along the way and had a very meandering path. And so I think that’s what’s important. There’s not one way to do things. Did that answer your question?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, absolutely. It did. Now, you talked about LinkedIn and even venturing onto these different spaces, like you’ve mentioned with black and design. And one thing that LinkedIn did recently was that they participated in AfroTech world, which was like a metaverse essentially. It’s like a conference in the metaverse. Now, I know you told me that you didn’t get a chance to attend that, but what did you hear back from how that experience was?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. This was the second year that AfroTech had done the metaverse thing. So for folks that aren’t familiar, AfroTech world is a conference. I think they had 10,000 folks buy tickets, I think 7,000 showed up. But it’s a global conference where folks talk about a lot of different topics around technology, design, engineering, product management, venture capital, all that. And so the experience is in a virtual world and so you could basically dress up your avatar, you could network with folks, you could have one-on-one meetings on a beach, in a jet ski, on a boat. It’s whatever you want to make it. And so I think a lot of folks were excited at the concept because you could have folks have an experience together without physically being in the same place. I think definitely it is just novel. It’s great to see it at a very large scale. I don’t know, I’m super curious to see how it’s going to evolve over time. Were there some other conferences doing something in the metaverse as well?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I went to one last week. And for people that are recording, we’re recording this early December. But I went to one at the beginning of December from this company called Tech Circus that was called Enter the Metaverse. And they had an online component, but you could also, I think, attend inside the metaverse that they set up for the conference. And so there were all these panels about just all the different things dealing with the metaverse. The economy, virtual wellbeing, real estate. The founder for Second Life was there and he gave a really great presentation. There was this guy, I think he works for Microsoft in Berlin, and he gave this really just overarching talk about, these are the things we need to think about when we talk about the metaverse. And it’s given me so much to think about with like, there’s all this talk about how the metaverse is going to be the future of the internet and the future of the workplace. But then hearing people talk about it in this conference, seeing the reality that the current metaverse is. First of all, there’s no one metaverse, there’s multiple metaverses. And-

Harrison Wheeler:
Metaverses. I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Metaverses. The multi-metaverse, I guess. But there’s dozens to hundreds of them and that we’ve actually already experienced some versions of metaverses, even though they haven’t been called that. And the one that they pointed to most that got me was Foursquare. So Foursquare circa 2010. Because what it was is that you had this information layer of data layered on top of real world maps and things like that. You could get these badges that were not really NFTs but were because they could really only belong to one person or certain people. And it’s interesting when you think about the concept of Foursquare badges.

Maurice Cherry:
They’re kind of like these prototypes of what NFTs are in a way. Because for this metaverse conference I went to, they were like, oh, everyone gets a free NFT. And I was like, what do I do with that? They sent me an email like, here is how you claim your NFT. Okay, and do what with it? But the NFT was issued. They issued it through something called a POAP, P-O-A-P, proof of attendance protocol. And so it essentially was a badge that said you attended this conference at this time. And I’m like, oh, I can’t do anything with this.

Harrison Wheeler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s, I guess, good to have. They were like, oh, well, you can connect it to your blockchain wall. And then they just lost me after that. I was like, I don’t know what to do with it after that. But-

Harrison Wheeler:
Look, I will say this, I’ve been dabbling into it. So I think what’s really interesting about this is, for one, the Foursquare thing really blows my mind, but it totally makes sense in a way. And I think if you’re going to learn about the metaverse, you should understand how the blockchain plays a role in it, where the NFT plays a role in terms of maybe something that you get to keep that identifies that you were there or not. I think it’s all extremely fascinating and it seems like even I haven’t heard of it, like the proof of attendance. But even that is super fascinating. Because now you can think of, I always think about it like this. It’s like when we were growing up, if we went to a basketball game or we went to a concert, we had a paper ticket, we might frame it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
And now everything is like a digital thing on your iPhone or your Android device, and you can’t really do anything with that. And so I think nowadays it’s like, huh, if I go to a concert, I have a token or I have an NFT from it. And maybe if that’s tied to Ethereum or whatever digital coin, then that can be valued over time. I think it’s really interesting that you’ve got this economy. It really adds another layer to like, hey, who are you? Oh, I’m famous on the internet. Because yeah, we were talking about this before, you got people that can make $300,000 in a week, millions in a month just selling NFTs online. Never do a gallery show. Not in a museum. I think it’s super fascinating.

Maurice Cherry:
The other part that’s super fascinating too is, for many people, the entry point into the metaverse are NFTs, like we’ve mentioned. But what I saw from this conference with there being these multiple metaverses is that there’s a huge problem with interoperability. So there’s all these metaverses. But if you buy NFT, for example, and it’s locked to a particular metaverse, you can’t necessarily … Or it’s minted with a certain metaverse, I guess that’s the terminology. But you can’t use it with another metaverse. And they were like, oh yeah, it’s like if you go to Foot Locker and buy shoes, but you can only wear them in the store. And so they’re thinking of like, well, what are ways that we can tie some intrinsic, real world value to an NFT to make it more of a lucrative thing?

Maurice Cherry:
But I mean, this conference touched on land ownership in the metaverse, it touched on things about digital wellbeing, cultural appropriation. Because one thing with being in the metaverse is that you’re represented by an avatar. But these avatars, well, of course we’ll, I think just like regular avatars that we see in terms of profile pictures and things, are not wholly representative of the diversity of body size and gender expression and race and ethnicity. You know what I’m saying?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And what I saw from looking at all this was like, oh, this is a huge opportunity for POC designers or particularly black designers to really try to get in on the ground floor of this and find a way to carve a niche in. Because I could easily see how we could get left behind in some digital divide sort of way. I mean, the fact that Facebook has renamed itself to meta, to subconsciously … And that was the other thing that I thought was great. Is that everyone on the entire conference was just shitting on Facebook. They were just like, what meta is doing is insidious. Because people are going to think metaverse and think that Facebook is the-

Harrison Wheeler:
Brand association.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Brand association. They’re going to think that they are the company that is the underpinning of the entire metaverse, when that is not the case. And the other thing about how even experiencing the metaverse is not something that you necessarily have to do through a $300 VR headset or something like that. So it was such an interesting conference. I’m going to have to go back and listen to some of the different talks from it. Because it really got me to thinking about, well, what is our place going to be in this new internet or whatever that they’re trying to call it. Because another portion of this was, how do we make sure we don’t carry over the issues from the current internet into the metaverse in terms of trolling and all of that sort of stuff. People don’t have any of this stuff figured out.

Harrison Wheeler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
By a long shot. And the actual infrastructure for it can’t even support everyone like the internet can largely support people. Maybe hundreds of users per server. Some workplace metaverse situations can maybe only support about two dozen people. It’s not a revolutionary thing, by far.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But people are throwing enough money at it that it almost feels like it’s a possibility. It reminded me a bit of the Million Dollar Homepage during this one particular talk. And for people that are listing that don’t know, back in the day, there was … Actually, I think the Million Dollar Homepage is still up. You went to this site and people basically bought pixels to be represented on the page. I think it was like a dollar per pixel. And so the goal, I guess, of it was to have a webpage that was worth a million dollars. But there were people in one of the talks that were buying up plots of land in a metaverse for thousands of dollars. This one person bought a 300 square meter plot of land for $10,000 in one of the talks. And I was just like, what are you going to do with that?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You just had $10,000 sitting around one afternoon in the metaverse like, you know what? I’m just going to buy this plot of land. What are you going to put on it?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Who can visit it? It’s abstract in that way where you’re like, this doesn’t make any sense. But there are so many smaller companies that are trying to get in on this before the “brands” get in on it. I.E, a Facebook/meta.

Harrison Wheeler:
Well, I think Nike or Adidas actually, they’re launching their own concept of a metaverse. So it’s already starting to happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s already starting to happen. And it’s definitely at a point where, like I said, I can feel like we could be left behind in that. So I don’t know. One thing that I’m going to try to do this year on the show is bring on some designers that are doing NFTs, just to try to get the audience that listens to the show up on like, what is it and how can we get involved? Because I see it. I was in this conference and I was just like, I can see the future and we could very easily be left behind. Because the fervor around the metaverse reminded me so much of late ’90s, early 2000s internet. Before internet advertising really became a big thing and companies trying to figure out, well, how can I conduct business on the internet?

Maurice Cherry:
Now it’s like, how can I conduct business on the metaverse? The same conversations, you just swap out internet for metaverse. How are we going to work on the internet? Email, what is that? Now it’s like, how are we going to work on the metaverse? It’s the same conversation, different times. And I’m just like …

Harrison Wheeler:
I don’t know if anyone’s seen it, but there’s this old clip of Bryant Gumbel talk from the Today Show.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know the exactly one you’re talking. It’s Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric pontificating about email or something.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. That’s going to be this episode. What is web 3.0 in NFTs, in blockchain, and all of that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I hope there are entry points where the barriers aren’t as expensive as it is right now. Because I think for me, I’ve been dabbling.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I’ve been trying to explore, how do you get an NFT project off the ground? I’ve bought a few NFTs myself. And for anybody that has bought an NFT, having to do the wallet thing and then the gas fees, it’s not cheap. And so-

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
… to even get in the game to play, I think it still requires a decent amount of capital to really participate. So I hope there’s a bit more development, like you said, and ways for folks to get involved before the massive wave that folks are talking about actually happens.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think it will happen. Because honestly, again, thinking back to early 2000s, one of the things about, well, how are people really going to get onto the internet? Oh, well, you can use a personal computer. So people were thinking about things like that. But then there were also any different number of web enabled. Like smartphone devices, you had BlackBerries, you had Treos, you had Palm. I’m really dating myself now. But you had all these personal things that were like, oh, we can get on the internet. And on this little device that’s in the palm of my hand. Things like that. So, oh, man.

Harrison Wheeler:
The World Wide Web. I think we were still calling it the World Wide Web back then.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. We very much were still calling it the World Wide Web. So it’s happening. It’s happening, but-

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s the meta wide verse.

Maurice Cherry:
And speaking of web 3, I think that’s another thing. Because back then, this conversation was happening around the time prior to web 2.0, because web 1.0 hadn’t really been named as such. But web 2.0 really came about with the advent of social media and user generated content. And now with web 3, it’s decentralized, it’s the blockchain. And I’m actually going to a web 3 conference in January. I think it may have passed by the time this episode airs, but people can definitely look it up. I’m pretty sure there’ll be more web 3 conferences in the future. Because I’m like, I want to know where we are going to get in on this.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So much of what we’ve done now has been steeped in web 2.0. Like, where do we get in on this next thing?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. It’s real interesting that you talk about that. You mentioned Second Life and Second Life was around before web 2.0. And this is the same story. We are now at a point where the ideas and technology are now at a crossroads. They are finally intersecting. And so I always think of, we were talking about the Palms and the Treos, but then once we got processors and graphic interface that were fast enough, then that’s when we got the iPhone. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yep.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, this is another one of those moments where the price of headsets are significantly cheaper than they were before. Now we’ve got this blockchain technology, we now have these different currencies that you can use in these different worlds. And so it feels like everything is there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. With metaverse and cryptocurrency and all of this starting to mesh together, I can see where it confuses a lot of people. But also, this is happening. It’s not a, oh well, maybe. No, it’s happening and it’s happening right under our noses. I mean, this sounds almost apocalyptic in a way, but it’s happening. It’s happening and it’s either you need to figure out where you fit in in this or you get left behind.

Harrison Wheeler:
Or you’re going to be the 50-year-old on TikTok.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Or you’re going to be like my mom who is completely tech averse. And it’s like, I give her a cell phone and she turns it off until I have to tell her when I’m calling. Like that sort of thing. Because, I don’t want to get tracked, I don’t want them tracking me. I’m like, okay. But it’s getting to that. I see it getting there. And yeah, I could even see smart phones starting to do more with VR and AR and mixed reality, which we’re even starting to see with Google. Google has their maps that layer their own way. Finding on top of what you view out in the camera. It’s happening.

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s happening.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s happening.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. No, it’s definitely happening. I think in the tech sense, it feels like that moment when the iPhone came out, if folks can remember. People see what the possibilities are, people are doing a lot of experimentation. People are okay if it works and if it doesn’t, and I think that’s the way to do it. It doesn’t necessarily have to work. I think it’s good to see folks really doubling down to really push the boundaries. And so I will say, for anybody listening that is well versed in all of this, definitely tweet myself and Maurice and let us know if we are getting the solid good grasp on it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Please do. I don’t want to be sounding crazy out here, but I also want to make sure we’re informed because we both have our respective audiences too. We want to make sure that people are being informed about what this next thing is because it’s coming. And we either need to find a way to become a part of it, or once again, just get left behind with it.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
To that end, we’ve discussed all of this. What do you see as the future of design and business?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, that is a million dollar webpage right there. I have many thoughts on this. We’ve been working from home for the past couple of years, so I’ve had an opportunity to really do a bit of introspection and really thinking about the conversations that we’re having. If we reflect, again, when I first started working in tech, when I first started doing web design, when I first started doing graphic design, I think the foundations and the way that we approach the craft, I think those foundations really still exists. But I think in terms of what we need to be conscious of to create inclusive environments, whether it be around make ups of team, we had talked about the different working spaces that people are in, thinking about what the consequences of design decisions are. Shout out to Ron, he actually just did a talk on consequence design. I think he was also a guest on your show, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. Ron Bronson. He is cool. Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So I can keep going. We talk about equity, we talk about bias and whatnot. The list of things that we have to be conscious of, even on the business sense of things, research. I mean, I could keep going. I personally do not think a single designer is going to be able to comprehend all of that. But it is also very important to the work and central to the work that we do. And so moving forward, the industry itself, and that’s not just design, but we’ve got to say, hey, look, some of these things are not just in the discipline of design. We should be having design. We should be thinking and all encompassing about the elements that play a role in design across different business areas. This means your CEO should understand it. This means your product managers, engineers, they should understand it.

Harrison Wheeler:
How can we bring these types of things into the schools that they’re working at, into the conferences that they’re going into, because it’s a lot to put on the shoulders of design. And I think that if folks can really understand what the value is, we’re seeing a lot of growth now, I think the growth of the industry could honestly double. Most people you talk to, they’re always like, man, we need more designers. I’ve never heard of a situation where it’s like, we got too many designers.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so I think it’s really important for our industry to start really transforming the discussion there and thinking about design as an afterthought. If we’re still talking about design getting a seat at the table, I mean, that’s some web 2.0 stuff. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
We got to have organizations that are design centric. And so that’s where I see it going. I mean, I think whether it’s on the metaverse, whether it’s on web 3, virtual reality, augmented reality, the way that we operationalize still to this certain point needs to be the responsibility of everybody. And so I think that is where I see design going. I know that’s not a super trendy answer, but I think organizations really do have to do a better job of just thinking design is a service. I think there are some companies that are doing really great things, but I don’t want that to necessarily think that the industry as a whole is evolving. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say has been the best career advice that you’ve gotten?

Harrison Wheeler:
I don’t know. This is tough. Because I think some of the best career advice I’ve had is super simple, it’s the matter of me executing. But yeah. I mean, I think honestly, it really comes down to asking questions. Being curious, asking questions. And I think the question piece is not necessarily in a place where you are not in a normal onboarding sense, but questioning why things are the way that they are. Why are they the way that they are? Because I think we’ve operated so long in a world where we don’t question those things and we have to deal with the consequences. And the consequences may directly, indirectly affect us. Or we are around a bunch of folks that don’t care. And that in itself is already destructive in its nature.

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

Harrison Wheeler:
You’re bringing out all the hard questions. To be honest, I have not thought about that. So we have the former CEO or co-founder of LinkedIn coin this term called tour duty. I’m not one for military terms in a workplace environment. I think that’s extremely unhealthy and anxiety inducing, especially just given, again, just how crazy the past few years have been. People are definitely feeling it.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I think the idea around is really being on a path of, I don’t know, learning, a journey. And I think for me, I mean, I talked about this before. I think being able to transform an organization to be able to think about design, kind of like how I had mentioned in the question earlier. For me, that’s the mission that I’m on right now. And it’s great to really see the progress of it. In that sense, I don’t know what’s on the docket five years from now. I would love to lead the team. But I will say that I also get super excited about Technically Speaking. Moving into technically the third calendar year of the project, I will say that I’m looking forward to just iterating on it. So definitely more guests, more episodes. I’ll be introducing some writing, a lot of really cool mini project on that. So definitely stay tuned. That’s on technicallyspeakinghw.com.

Harrison Wheeler:
I’ve really started to look back at some of my older work. I think for so long I had this thought that my writing wasn’t good enough. And so I’ve been bringing back a lot of things that I’ve written down in notebooks or in notes or in slide decks that I never presented because I didn’t think it was there or somebody told me it wasn’t all the way there. I was like, man, this stuff is really good. And so I might have a book that comes out. I love talking about management. I love talking about how it can be more conscious around the things that we’re doing. I love having discussions around different tactics you can have. Because in my journey, I didn’t really have much of that.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, I would really love to have something that the next generation of managers can have in their toolkit. And they don’t have to use it, but at least it helps them start to think about ways they can do things that are authentically them, that represents their nature and really helps build a healthy community around what they’re doing.

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

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So you can look at my random tweets on Twitter, twitter.com/H-M-W-H-E-E-L-E. And then for the show, it’s called Technically Speaking, so that’s available wherever. Technically Speaking with Harrison Wheeler. So that’s available wherever you listen to podcast. And then on social media, if you follow Technically Speaking HW on Instagram and LinkedIn you should be able to find us there and at technicallyspeakinghw.com. So just remember Technically Speaking HW and you should be able to figure it out. And of course, you can find me on LinkedIn @harrisonwheeler. So feel free to connect. As I mentioned before, I’ll be looking at hiring a couple of roles. They should be up by the time this episode is live. So feel free to reach out if you’re interested. And of course, we’re always hiring designers, design managers, researchers, project managers, product operations, all that. So definitely check out the job listings on LinkedIn.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, like you said, companies are always looking for designers. Right?

Harrison Wheeler:
100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Harrison Wheeler, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been, I just have to say from a personal standpoint, it’s been so great seeing your growth and your progression since we first met back in 2016 up to now, and just how much you’ve managed to do. I mean, in your personal career and especially what you’re doing at LinkedIn, but also now branching out into podcasting and really putting that message forward and opening up more opportunities for other people to tell their stories. I think it’s such a natural extension of just the amount of patience and I think thoughtfulness that you bring to your work. So I’m excited to see what you do certainly for the next five years. And again, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Harrison Wheeler:
Appreciate you, Maurice. Have a good one.

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