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Corey Jones

I love when interviews sometimes bring out unexpected connections. Take this week’s guest, Corey Jones. As creative director at Forum One, Corey specializes in branding, animation, and interactive design. But as you’ll find out from our conversation, he got his start from a Black design studio we featured back in 2016! It’s a small world!

Corey and I talked at length about his work at Forum One, and he shared his story of growing up outside of Pittsburgh and studying design in college. We also talked about his early career, his YouTube channel, creative burnout, and his line of barbecue sauce with his twin brother. Corey is proof that with hard work and determination, you can make a career out of creativity for yourself!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Corey Jones:
Well, hello, I’m Corey Jones. I’m a creative director. I do visual design, and I’m curious creator. At work, I do a little bit of everything, so I’m in motion design industry, but I’m also doing interactive design for web experiences. It runs the gamut. But right now, I’m a creative director at Forum One.

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

Corey Jones:
So far, summer’s good. The past couple days have been really, really, really hot, but I’m actually in the process of moving to a different part of New Jersey and so I’m been doing that. But the summer’s great. I got the chance to spend some time with my family not too long ago. And it’s been a while since I had seen them, and so it was great to get back to Pennsylvania, which is where I’m from.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What do you have coming up these next few months? Aside from the move, I should mention.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, well, aside from the move, I’m doing some work with my brother and thinking about what we’re going to do with the sauce. We’ll talk about that later, but what’s the next stage in Jones’en Barbecue. That’s something I’m looking forward to. But just outside of that, we’ve got a lot of great projects coming up. I’m excited to dive into those.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about Forum One. First of all, what is Forum One? And two, just let me know what your experience has been like there so far.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, so I work at Forum One. I’m the creative director there now. I started out as a senior interaction designer when I started there. But Forum One is a agency, their mission is dedicated to working with mission driven organizations; we have a some government clients there as well. But a lot of our work is centered around working with organizations that are making an impact in the world. And it’s one of the things that intrigued me and drew me to it, it was because it was a place that had a bigger mission. And something like that, as a designer, I found that to be very inspiring.
And so far, I’ve been there for oh a little over… Many years, I’ll say. I can’t even keep track. It might be seven years by now. But I’ve been there, and it’s been a great experience. I’ve been able to progress a lot faster here than I was able to at other places. And I found it to be a very supportive culture where I’ve got the opportunity to work on some really, really big projects.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a regular day look like for you there?

Corey Jones:
I get this question all the time, and people ask me, what’s my routine? “What’s your day like?” And I like to really control my daily routine. And I’ll explain that a little bit more, is I had this routine… And I’ve been actually doing this for years, even before Forum One. I like to come in every morning… Well, when I used to go into the office. I do this at home remote now full time, but I do the same thing. I come into the office or my office space and I don’t check email, I don’t check Slack or any messages first thing in the morning. I like to take that time where it’s the most quiet part of my day and just look at inspiration. I might do a tutorial because you never stopped learning. I dedicated that quiet space to writing positive influences, positive inputs, inspiration. And I just like to spend that time with myself, maybe even meditate. That’s something I’ve been doing more recently just to clear my head. And I found that that’s really made me a much clearer thinker, a much sharper creative. That’s my routine.
Now, as the day progresses, and you might know this as well, when you’re in the thick of it in the agency world, you start to get the pings from the emails later in the day, and so I try to just approach my day very organized. I organize my calendar at the end of the week each week, and then I think about the week ahead.
And the first thing I do after, say, about 10:00, 11:00, I’ll usually have some meetings. We have a pretty big meeting culture at Forum One so you’ve got to really be mindful of that and make sure you’re balancing out your calendar. And all in all, it’s a pretty chill place in terms of some of the other places I’ve been where you’re really in this hustle and grind. There’s a lot more balance, I find, at Forum One.
And so my day is spent either in the thick of it, designing, working, or working with other designers. I spend a lot of time mentoring the younger designers on the team. And I have these check-in times with them two times a week. And anybody can book this time with me, and I’ll review their work, help them with their career. I do a lot of different things as a Forum One mentor at the agency.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk a little bit more about the makeup of your team. You mentioned these younger designers that you’re working with. What does the team look like?

Corey Jones:
At Forum One, we’re split where we have designers that are part of the strategy team, and they’re mostly focused on brand identity brand strategy. And so we have designers there, but we also have a core web team that’s focused on interactive design. And I sit as an in between those two groups. A lot of my work in my career has been branding, brand development, so I work across the different departments.
Our interactive team is really a combination of user experience designers, UX researchers, and visual designers, kind of like product designers who focus mostly on web. And so there’s probably about, I think… Oh, how many of this are there now? Probably maybe 15, so we have a pretty good size team overall. But our divisions, our departments run the gamut from anything from strategy, branding, motion graphics. Animation is something new we’re doing now, and then web and interactive.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like a pretty big team overall.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, it’s pretty big team.

Maurice Cherry:
If you’ve got all these separate teams and they’re doing this different work, when a new project comes in, what does your creative process look like? Walk me through that.

Corey Jones:
We have a centralized resourcing department that really works closely with the managers and the department leads, and so I work very closely with that team to figure out who is working on what. And a lot of this stuff is actually handled by our VP of design because my role is a unique role in the sense it’s not like a traditional creative director role where I have to oversee everything. Each of our designers gets assigned a project, and it’s usually based on their interest and… their role and interest. And so my creative process is, really, I get assigned projects where I’m either the lead as far as design, maybe I might be leading some of the design or I might be working with another designer where I’m an art director, creative director working with another designer. Are you thinking walking through the actual process for our project? I can do that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah. Say there’s a new client that you get or there’s a new campaign that you have to work on. What does the process look like when you’re talking about it with your team and everything?

Corey Jones:
Yeah, so a lot of times we’ll start off with having a creative brief. A lot of times, there’s a lot of key discovery that happens before we even get assigned a project. Usually when a project comes through, we’ll have a big team meeting. All the key players who are assigned to the project will be in that first initial meeting. And this is an internal meeting. You would have your developer who might be on the project. And this could be front end and back end developer. You’ve got your project lead. You might have somebody from the strategy team. You’ll have a user experience designer, a visual designer, and then sometimes myself in addition to those, as well as a team lead or a creative director. And when that comes in, we really go through the scope of work. We look at all of the things that the client is looking for, and then we start planning when we’re going to have key discovery workshops where we go in and work with the client.
And the outcome of a discovery workshop really is where we actually… That’s where it really starts. We then would put together a creative brief. And this is really just a guiding document that we all follow that really highlights some of the things we learned in discovery, the goals of the project. And really, at that stage, we’re all figuring out how we’re going to work together, what areas that I’m going to focus on versus others.
And then we we all go our separate ways for a little while, and then we set up key review check-ins where we all come back together. Because there’s a lot of different things in the beginning that are happening, that could be happening. Say it’s a web project, for example. We’re going to have user experience that’s going to be doing interviews. They’re going to be learning all about the project from the client, but they’re also going to be interviewing the potential users, really gathering all that data that visual designers would then use to design to.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the hardest part about what you do?

Corey Jones:
There’s a lot of pressure in being a designer to always have ideas. And you’re working on so many different things at any given time, and there’s a pressure, there’s a pressure to always deliver, always be original, always have a new idea. And I think the biggest challenge is really making sure that you’re able to stay inspired and stay motivated to keep generating these ideas sometimes really fast timelines. That’s probably the biggest challenge, but I think that I’ve developed ways to overcome that, ways to work through it so that it hasn’t been as a big of a challenge in the last few years as it has been in the past. But I think that’s a big one.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you normally have pretty fast deadlines for projects?

Corey Jones:
We’ve actually gotten a lot better. It’s not as much now. We have fast turnaround. And I say fast turnaround, typical project at Forum One is going to be a couple months. We’re working on large web builds. But those review cycles might be faster depending on… It really depends on the client, so if it’s for a conference or something big coming up, then we got faster timelines. Overall, I would say that it’s not completely chaotic.

Maurice Cherry:
Like you said, you’ve been at Forum One now for about seven years, so you’ve really come up through the ranks and seen how, not just the business have grown, but probably how you’ve grown within the business, right?

Corey Jones:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that when you spend a significant amount of time at one place, you start to learn a lot about how that place works, how… You learn more. You learn the business side, you learn how contracts are acquired. And I’ve found that I’ve learned so much more about business just by playing a role in business development, pitching work to clients. And it’s been a great experience in the sense that I get to learn more than just visual design. And I get to learn the different areas of how to run a business and how money is generated and what’s important to companies to grow, and so that’s exciting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, let’s switch gears here a little bit, because you’ve talked a good bit about work, but let’s learn more about you, about your origin story. And we are going to get to the sauce, in case anybody’s listening and want to find out more about that. We’ll get to that, but tell me more about where you grew up. You mentioned Pennsylvania.

Corey Jones:
Yeah. Yeah, we’ll definitely get to the sauce. My origin story leads to the sauce, so this is going to be good. I grew up in a town called Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Not too many people know of Johnstown, but it’s a small town and probably about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I always say that because people seem to know Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Steelers, football. I grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
My early days in Johnstown were typical. I had a really good childhood growing up. It really did shape who I was able to become. I spent most of my childhood in my own head. I was always a creative person. I always loved to draw. That was one of the things that I… If you didn’t find me on a basketball court, you found me… I’d be drawing, because art was always an outlet for me. I have two siblings. I have a younger sister and then I also have a twin brother who is my partner in the barbecue sauce. Growing up was typical childhood. I had a really good upbringing, family life. I had some good influences.
But I always like to say that it wasn’t all sunshine growing up. There were some negative influences coming up. And I’ve had family members struggle with alcoholism, drugs, and those things shaped me. Because I didn’t have a lot growing up, we were shielded from the fact of what the circumstances were in our home life. My parents worked really hard, and I always just think back. And I think about my mother, who cleaned houses. And when I look back and I think about my childhood, I was really shielded from what was really going on.
And we had nice things. We had Christmases and we had all these things, but I just know my mother had to work really hard, so that’s always been something that stuck with me and really played a major role into who I am as a person and what I’ve been able to become and where I got this drive to just really work hard. And I look at that and I think about that as something that really shaped who I’ve become.
And the other side is I grew up in a very foody family. Family dinners, big meals we’re a big part of our life, so food has always been a constant thing: barbecue, cookouts, all these different things. And my brother and I just would… We’d love to cook. We were very entrepreneurial growing up. But we would sell candy at school or sell pizza season. Me and my brother would make our own season blends with whatever we had in the cabinet, we would take it to school and we would sell to the other kids because we ate school lunch, and school lunch isn’t always that good. I always remember us making things. We were different, but we were always creative in that way, and so that guided me into this self-discovery about what I really wanted to do, which I can get into too, if you want to dive into that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s get into it.

Corey Jones:
I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course, I played sports growing up. I played football for a little while, and then I really latched onto basketball. I’m not a very tall person, but I had these dreams of playing in the NBA, and that quickly faded. I realized I’m not getting any taller, but also, it wasn’t something that was… I wasn’t a breakout star in my town or anything like that. But I enjoyed the game, the team, camaraderie, and I always enjoyed sports in that way.
Growing up, as I got older, got into high school, I really started to think about what the heck I wanted to do. I’ve always had this drawing ability, had a deep passion for food, and so my brother, he actually was thinking about becoming a chef, and he did become a chef. And so we would talk about together, was like, “Well, maybe we should go to school together and we’d be a chef, and you could be a chef too. We’d be twin chefs.”
And so while I thought that was a cool idea, I never saw myself working in a kitchen or anything like that. And so I figured, well, what’s the next thing? What else could I do? And so I’ve always grew up, like I said, spent a lot of time drawing and really was into art. I excelled really well in art. And so I had this drawing ability, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. It’s one of those things where nobody says, “Oh, be an artist. You should be an artist,” or, “You should go to school and be an artist.” It just wasn’t something that you ever talked about. It’s usually like, “Oh, you could go to the military.” I had some family members who went into the military and had successful careers doing that. But I just didn’t feel like that was for me.
There was this moment where in my high school art class where a older gentleman came to speak, and he was a commercial artist and he did animation. And I was like, oh, really intrigued by animation and this idea of making cartoons. And I figured, well, I could draw, maybe I should go to school for animation, thinking that, well, that could be a great career, making cartoons. I like to watch cartoons.
That’s actually what I did. I went to school initially for animation. My brother went off to culinary school. And last minute we were trying to figure out what schools we were going to go to, and we were looking at areas. We looked at Pittsburgh as a neighboring town. And we ended up going to the same school, which is the Art Institute in Pittsburgh. That by chance they had a two year old culinary program, and so we ended up going from being roommates at home to being roommates in college. And he went for culinary and business management, and then I went into their animation program.

Maurice Cherry:
You both went to the same school, both went to Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Corey Jones:
We did, we did.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What was your time like there?

Corey Jones:
Well, I learned very quickly that I’m not sure that I want to be an animator. How it went down is I got into the program really based on my ability to draw. That program, you have to do some tests to see how well you can draw and make sure you’re able to handle the demands of the program.
And I got in there, and I really enjoyed a lot of my courses. I had some great instructors when it came to animation. But really, part of me just couldn’t shake the fact that I wasn’t sure that animation was a career that would really allow me to excel in. It just seemed like I didn’t fit into animation. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel like it was a field that was very inviting, certainly to a person of color. I didn’t see any Black animators or anything like that, and that was important to me. And it is like that in a lot of fields, but I just was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make a career out of that.
And so I think it was maybe six quarters in, I decided to change majors to graphic design, and so that’s what I ended up getting my Bachelor’s degree in, graphic design. And that’s when my world opened up. When I learned about graphic design… And knowing myself, I’ve always been super curious about all forms of design, just different things, even just going into a store and looking at packaging and seeing the type on it. I never really thought until I got to school and learned what graphic design was that somebody had to make those things. And that really, really inspired me. And I was like, in graphic design, it’s so broad. You can do logos, you can do packaging design, you can design billboards, but you can also do clothing and apparel design. There’s so many different things you can do.
My brother and I have always been very entrepreneurial and we’re always looking at can we make money? Can we really grow? And so I saw the broadness of graphic design as something that I can really dive into that allowed me to really move and be flexible. And I just saw it as the right career move. And it turned out that it was the right move.
And I think that what I love most about my time at the Art Institute is I got a strong foundation in graphic design and visual design, but there’s also a lot of courses that you can take that were elective like traditional illustration, editorial illustration, and also things like learning Web and Flash; all of those things were a part of that program. And I was able to learn so many different things, but still also hold on to the fact that I’m an artist. I really wanted to be an illustrator for a long time, really go to illustration, or more of the illustration side of graphic design, but ended up really falling in love with logo design and branding. I steered my career towards doing identity design, and I spent a lot of time really focused on that.
But overall, my time at the art Institute was good. I learned a lot there. The school is actually closed now, and so that’s unfortunate. And I know a few of the Art Institutes actually closed. I learned a lot. There are some challenges that I can dig into that I encountered towards the end when I was like, okay, it’s time to find a job. It’s time to get out there.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, yeah. Talk about those, because I think we have a lot of students that listen to this show, and some of them are in design schools, some of them aren’t, but I know that I often will get letters from rising juniors or rising seniors that are trying to figure out what’s their next step, especially I think in this current climate that we’re in. But no, talk about that. What were some of those difficulties you ran into?

Corey Jones:
In Pittsburgh, there was a lot of agencies in the Pittsburgh area. And when I was getting to the point where it was time to find an internship, I really felt like I struggled to land an internship. For one reason or the other, I just couldn’t find an internship. And I watched a lot of designers around me get internships at some of these places.
And so it was random, but I did my own work. I asked around. And sometimes if you’re not given a opportunity but you always have the power to go find your own opportunity. I took my career, I would say at that time, in my own hands and I started asking around other agencies, other students and peers. And the funny thing is I worked at Office Max at that time. And it was a office supply store, kind of like a Staples. There was a coworker there, and he mentioned that he had a gentleman that he went to church with who had his own marketing agency. And it was called Bynum’s Marketing and Communications. And shout out to Russell Bynum, who’s the founder and owner of that agency. They gave me an opportunity to be an intern, and that experience really was the foundation that shaped my understanding of how an agency worked, how work comes in, how work gets assigned. That was really, really important moment in my career.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so interesting you mention Bynum. Gosh, this is back in maybe 2016 or so, back when Revision Path had a blog and we had writers. And I know we did this series called Black Love by Design. And it was focusing on studios run by Black, married couples, and one of them was Bynum Marketing, Russell and Kathy Bynum.

Corey Jones:
No way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, out of Philly.

Corey Jones:
Oh man, I know Russell and Kathy very well. They gave me an opportunity. It’s sad that the world works the way it does. And I watched all these students landing these internships, and I’m like, what’s the problem here? And that was of those moments that you’re starting to realize how the world works.
And you can take that to two ways. You can be discouraged by it or you can use it as fuel to really push you through moments. And I used that as fuel for me. It was like, I landed this internship, they gave me the opportunity, and I seized every moment of it. Made sure that when I came in, I really gave them some value. I was bringing a lot of the things that I know to their agency. They were learning from me, I was learning from them.
I haven’t chatted with Russell in a while, but Russell and Kathy really gave me a springboard to really start that journey off and really give me some real agency experience, because to find a job when you’re first starting out it’s like chicken and a egg. You don’t have enough experience. And then those internships are really, really crucial in helping you land that first job and really being able to get out there and show that you can do the work, because the portfolio is important, but a lot of times it’s like, well, have you worked at a studio? It could be really tough. But that is such a coincidence.

Maurice Cherry:
It is. And shout out to them for, one, being a Black, married couple that… They’ve both been working in the industry for well over 30 years, and then them extending the opportunity to you as a Black designer as a place where you can start out your career, that’s powerful.

Corey Jones:
I remember being so inspired and so amazed because all these agencies are the same; it’s a couple white dudes who start an agency. And those organizations are just not diverse. And a lot of that, it’s by design.
And I just remember just being so impressed with what Russell and Kathy were doing, and seeing that really, really made me proud. And so I just wanted to add as much value as I could to that agency. I learned a lot from Russell in that time and be forever grateful for that experience.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing, that’s really amazing to hear. And from there, you went on to other roles. I think one of your first really big major roles was senior art director position at GA-1. Tell me about that.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, so there’s a couple series of events that led to a little bit before that. There’s another backstory here that I do want to bring up is I also used to do some freelance for… Around the time that I did the internship and right after that, a teacher of mine has his own studio called Old Creations in the Pittsburgh area. And he was looking for some freelancers, and so I was able to gain some real world experience there. And at that time, that was something that, along with the internship, I was able to use to land what was my first gig as a designer for a studio called Three PC Media. At the time, it was called Kisco. And they’re just right on the outside of the Pittsburgh area.
I’ll tell you the story. What happened was is I got this job. One of the founders actually used to be an alumni of the Art Institute, and he was looking for designers, and so I was one of those designers on the list in working with the departments there to try to help me find a job. And so this is about six months outside of school. And I remember being so excited to just have my first job. I didn’t even care about the salary. I didn’t even think about what they were paying me or anything, I was just happy to have a job and learn.
And so I get into that job, and overall it was a great experience. I learned a lot. I spent a good bit of time working for them. And I forget when exactly it was or how long I actually spent there, but I remember one day they came into my office and they were like, “Hey Corey, we’re going to have to let you go. We’re getting a lot of web work, and we’re not really able to keep you busy. And we could probably afford to give you maybe one more paycheck.”
And so I was done that day. I was done the day that they came into my office and said that. And it really made me just not upset, but it made me just question myself and my worth. And I remember thinking I did well at every task they’ve given me. I did really well. And what the thing was is what I didn’t realize is their business was changing. I didn’t really recognize it. I did mostly print at the time, branding work, and they were starting to move into web design and interactive stuff and I just didn’t have those skills.
And it taught me a really, really important lesson. What it taught me is that wherever you go, whatever agency you work for, you have to be very aware of how that business makes its money, the things that they’re working on, and making sure that you’re always able to add value. And I learned very importantly from that moment that you have to be consistently adding value, because I never wanted to be in a position where I was replaceable.
And so that moment was actually the thing that really lit a fire in me and really opened my eyes that I could have a solid portfolio, I can deliver, I can come in and do the job that I’m asked to do and still lose my job. Really, that was the spark that I needed to really set my career on fire. I never wanted to give anybody a reason to say that they can get rid of me. I wanted to make myself irreplaceable, and so I really just used that as the fuel, as I was saying earlier, to really just constantly add value, make sure I’m learning and growing my skills. I just never wanted to be in that position again. That’s what I did with my career is just I started to really make sure that I’m always looking at not just the thing that I’m good at right now, but the things that I could do that would be above and beyond, that would add more value.
And so I went from that experience. They wrote me a really great recommendation, and so I ended up with landing another job shortly after, and I worked that job for a while. And I saw this opportunity in the DC area for GA-1. And I remember thinking again, I worked with Russell and Kathy, and this agency was a multicultural agency, Black owned, husband and wife, and so it reminded me of that experience that I had. And I thought that, wow, this is great. I felt a sense of a belonging, I felt like you’re going to work with people who are like you.
And I went into that role as a senior art director. And all of the roles that I’ve had in my career, the roles were a little bit… the titles were bigger than you normally seeing somebody starting a career out. My first job was kind like they gave me the title lead designer because it was really just two other people in me. I’ve always had a higher title, but I never really had true mentorship at any of these organizations. When I talk to a lot of designers and who really think that they need to have a mentor and that they need that to grow, and I always tell them, “You’re not always going to have access to mentorship in the organizations, but through the web and the network, your mentor could be anybody. You can make up your own mentor through pulling in aspects of people you admire.”
And it’s funny, people ask me, “Well, who are your mentors? And who were some of your mentors coming up?” And I always say, “I don’t really have any mentors. I never really had somebody who was willing to give me their time,” so I would look at key attributes of people admired. And it could be somebody like Michael Jordan. You look at Michael Jordan, the way he played the game, his dedication, and then you take some of those skills. Or Anthony Bourdain, I was a big food person and I was introduced to the world of food and cooking through him. Rest in peace. And I learned a lot about storytelling and how food is the ultimate connector. And so you pull all these little aspects from people you really admire and you can mold yourself in those images and add those things to who you are and who you want to be.

Maurice Cherry:
I wanted to talk about some of these larger roles that you ended up taking later. You worked at the Borenstein Group for a while. What do you remember from that? What did you learn from those?

Corey Jones:
GA-1 was really the springboard for me understanding a lot more details about how an agency works, how business comes in. I was really heavily relied on in those roles. And I remember just feeling so insecure and a lot of self-doubt in that moment, feeling like I don’t know if I should be the one leading these meetings. But I felt like I was, as I say, was just dropped into the fire. And it was a lot of responsibility to be an active person in business development.
And mind you, this is early on in my career and I’m in these meetings talking to stakeholders and running client meetings, and at the same time I’m just figuring it out and trying to become a better designer. It was a lot of pressure to be able to come in, make sure that I’m adding value, but at the same time still growing and following my interest in different areas of design. And I’ve always been really, really curious, I’ve always been self-motivated, and I love to learn. I just love to try to do new things, and so it’s balancing that with the needs of the agency and the day-to-day grind of the agency life. GA-1 was that foundation of really understanding how an agency works.
And a little bit later, then I end up going to work at the Borenstein Group where I held similar director titles, but it’s where I first started really changing from this print first designer to this web first designer and web and interactive. Because a lot of the work we did at the Borenstein Group, it was branding work, but it was branding and website work.
Later on, more towards the end of that, working at the Borenstein Group, we hired a new director who really was a big time mentor, one of my first design mentors who taught me all about the web industries. His name is Joe DePalma. And he actually runs a creative studio called Punch that’s in the DC area. I think you’re in Arlington. But that was the first person to really spend some time really showing me how things worked, how web works, how to work with code, and all these different things that just was completely new to me.
But that was a crucial thing that I needed to learn because everything around me was changing. We were moving out of print first, we were moving into more interactive. And user experience was starting to become a really big thing. I learned a lot about how to design for a wider range of medium types.
At Borenstein Group, I was able to dive into a lot of different things. I was able to not only do print and branding work but interactive websites, and also, I got to work on an actual game for the iPhone. And it was like me going into the vaults of my background and animation classes. It was an agency promotional thing. The game was called Turtle Soup. I don’t think it exists on iTunes anymore, but the game was centered around this turtle was the mascot, and he would be racing through the DC area, and along the way… It’s like a racing game. And along the way, there’s these little icons like social media. And really, what it was was a self-promotional tool for the agency to use to promote itself to say, “Hey, you can use these other forms of media to really grow your impact and grow your brand using social media.”
Every day was different. You got to do so many different things. But I was also able to really refine my skills in working with clients. The funny thing is when I started that experience, I went from GA-1 where I’m leading client presentations and meetings, and then I go to this Borenstein Group where, for a while I wasn’t pitching, I wasn’t even talking to clients, I was behind the scenes for a little bit. I just remember really thinking about that and wondering, okay, no problem leading these client presentations. And why wasn’t I given the opportunity? I thought a lot about that.
And one day, I was able to do a presentation. It was a large board meeting and we were presenting some branding work. The gentleman was like, “I’d love to hear what Corey has to say.” And that was the first time I got what I called a speaking role. At that time, I really knew branding in and out. I love branding. I could talk about it all day. I really sold the project. I remember the guy saying, “I don’t know where you got him from, but keep him forever.” Then all of a sudden, now I’m in every meeting, I’m in every presentation. Once again, I had to prove myself.
And I just feel like I’ve been in all of these agencies and I’ve always felt this pressure, like I’ve got to prove my worth and prove myself, prove that I deserve to be in the room. And it’s a stressful place to be in to always feel like you’ve got to really show your worth, because going from being laid off, there was already some insecurity starting to brew up. I can’t give anybody a reason to lay me off again. I can’t get fired. And so I took that everywhere I went, and I tried to keep making sure I was making a dent, making value. And so finally being able to do a presentation, it was like, okay, I don’t have to worry about that one thing anymore, I can now continue to keep adding value.
And this is one of the things I always tell young designers is you want to get in these organizations, try to make yourself irreplaceable. When you see a gap, try to fill that gap, always looking for ways to show that you deserve to be in the room. And you do deserve to be in the room, and I think that you just got to always make sure you’re mindful of the business and how you’re adding value to that business. Yeah, great experience, learned a lot, ups and downs, but I was able to really, really start to hone my abilities as a creative director, really learning how to better communicate and better collaborate with those around me. That all came in my time, working at the Borenstein Group.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you still feel that way now?

Corey Jones:
I don’t feel it as much. I can’t shake the feeling that somebody’s always watching. I still feel it to an extent, and I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always had this lingering feeling no matter where I went that I just have to prove myself. I always feel like everybody’s watching me, that they’re just waiting for me to fall or waited for me to fail or do something wrong. This is really just of a me. And that burnt me out for a while, too.
I should say through all that advice of really making sure you’re showcasing your value, make sure you’re really feeling, you got to be careful not to burn yourself out. And I did do that a few years back. Just I’ve had this mentality of always being on, always being available. And really, it’s just not healthy, and really, that’s born out of toxic environments where there’s this expectation for you to always be on. And a good bit of my career, it was like that. The places I was in, they were go, go, go, and you always had to feel like you needed to be available, you needed to be on, on call, working on the weekends and those things. And I remember just doing it, just going with the flow and just taking it as it is. And just thinking that, okay, this is normal. And I realized, and now looking back in retrospect that those environments aren’t normal. It isn’t normal to work that way.
Now at Forum One, it’s different. There wasn’t that expectation to always be on and always be available. And I found that here, people are working the standard shift, they’re 9:00 to 5:00. And that was so foreign to me. I just didn’t understand that. I had never seen that before, and so I found it just great to be able to take a step back from this way I was used to working that was really ultimately leading me to be burnt out. And so I just feel so much more balanced. Now I’m really enjoying the work. And I don’t know how it was for you coming up. I do feel like balance is really, really key. And I think that I’m in a much better place now.

Maurice Cherry:
Certainly, I think trying to find a good balance between work and just trying to live your life is certainly important. I think it was different for me because I had my own studio for a number of years, for roughly nine years. From 2008 to 2017, I was running my own studio. And I didn’t have any business mentorship or anything, at least at the beginning during that time to let me know what the balance could look like. It was the running joke that I used to say is, “Oh, as an entrepreneur, you can work half days, any 12 hours you like.” I would work just day in, day out, wouldn’t stop. And I did it because, yes, I had the freedom to make my own schedule, but it wasn’t something that became sustainable, especially once I started growing in business, and certainly not once I started building a team. It’s like, why am I running myself ragged trying to do this? And I need to try to find a way to make that balance.
Now, for the past five years, I’ve been working for startups, and I’ve really found a way to compartmentalize my work hours are between this hour and this hour. And anything after that, I don’t even think about it. I’m moving on to whatever other stuff that I have to do. Some of it is just really staking those boundaries and really sticking to them.
But yeah, it’s a struggle. I think everyone has to find a way to come to that balance. There’s no one true way to do it, because everyone’s circumstances are different, everyone’s situation is different. You just have to find what works best for you. But I think what we can all know is that working too much in that respect will lead to burnout. Absolutely.

Corey Jones:
Yeah, absolutely. These are just things that you learn along the way. And I’ve learned a lot along the way. And I talk a lot about understanding and knowing the businesses that you work within. Like I talked about, me and my brother, we were always entrepreneurial. And so the barbecue stories, we bypassed the barbecue story, but I’ll jump back to it real quick.
What happened was my brother ended up going into this culinary program. And I’m in the graphic design program, or switching from animation to graphic design. He starts really learning a lot of different sauces and different things. And he had this idea, he was like… One day he comes to me, he’s like, “You know what would be really good? Is a barbecue sauce with coffee. If you think about it, coffee has this roasted smokey flavor. Barbecue has that same character. You know what’d be cool is if we made a coffee infused barbecue sauce.” And he’s like, “You’re in graphic design, you can make the label.”
And that’s literally how it went down. And he was like, “You can make the label.” And so he did all the groundwork. He did all the research into how to get it packaged, how to get the label, the nutritional facts, UPC bar coding, how all this stuff works. He just went out and started researching it, and then we collaborated together. The bottle we have now is a few iterations from what it was. I can’t even look at the first label. I was just like, “Oh, did I design that?” I can’t believe I designed that.”
We’ve been doing the sauce for, oh man, I want to say almost 20 years now. It’s so funny because it was back in college. We started this back in college. And jonesenbbq.com for those who are interested. This is something we did together. And having your own brand and your own business is really… that was the after hours learning. I’m at work and I’m looking at agencies, I’m seeing how agencies work and the business side of agencies, but at home I’m starting a sauce business, a product business, and I’m learning all about how to sell products and building my own website in my free time trying to figure out how to build my own website.
And so I’m after hour is really working on this has been our passion project. And we do well with it. It’s one of those things, if you want things to do well, you have to put more energy into it. But he and I are both career focused. My brother, he’s a chef. And now he actually is transitioning to… He just moved to the Atlanta area. He’s working on some things with a partner down there and really trying to do some interesting concepts, food trucks, and all that.
He was also on the Food Network four times, and won I think three times, he won three times. That’s his of claim the fame there. And so he and I, we’re always running in different circles, but we’re still similar in the sense that we both are really grinding in our own respective areas. And so the barbecue sauce is that one common ground where we come together and work on stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, very cool, very cool. I want to talk about your YouTube channel. This is something I think you started maybe a couple of years ago called Creative Director Studio. Talk to me about that.

Corey Jones:
Well, yeah. And I’ll tell you how that came to be. I always had this mentality for a long time that nobody really cares what I have to say, that nobody was listening. And I realized that that’s just not true. And the reality is there are people watching, there are people listening. And no matter what stage you are in your career, there’s always going to be somebody who is a couple steps below you willing to look at… looking up at you as a mentor, inspired by you. And so I think too many designers out there, or creatives out there often feel self-doubt, but also feel like people aren’t listening to the things that they have that because they haven’t won a major award or whatever it might be. Oh, I haven’t won a major award or an Emmy or anything like that so nobody’s going to care about what I have to say.
But I realized that in mentoring… And I mentor a lot of younger designers now. And then also working at Forum One, I’m a mentor to other designers, and they’re all looking up at me and they’re all taking my advice. And really, I found that that might be my passion. I’ve always been looking for a purpose and passion in this hunger to learn and grow and always adding on new skills to my tool belt.
I’m a creative director, but I went through extensive training in motion graphics and animation a few years back. And I kept asking myself, I was like, what is this new thing going to do for me in my career? What value am I going to leave? What dent can I make in my career? And is it learning the next new thing? And I realized that it’s mentorship. I’ve been so excited to learn that I can really add value to somebody else’s career. And I just found that to be super inspiring.
And so a coworker or colleague of mine, we’ve always talked about this for a long time, about starting some channel dedicated to mentorship. And so we decided to partner up to expand our reach and really make sure that we’re pulling in different perspectives. And so we decided to start the channel, Creative Director Studio, on YouTube. And it’s been a couple months here now, and we’re growing. And it’s a way for me to share what I know, what I’ve learned along the way. And then hopefully, we can inspire the next generation of leaders, of creative leaders, really by sharing what we’ve learned just as a way to give back to the community.
And we’ve got a lot of great plans for the show and thinking about how we’re going to evolve, if we’re going to… What guests we’re bringing in to speak, and really make sure we’re broadening in the voices that happen within creative director studio. And so it’s something we’re working towards. It’s really just a live version of what value I’m giving in my private mentoring sessions when I do those.

Maurice Cherry:
What does success look like for you at this stage in your career?

Corey Jones:
I think for a long time, I was focused on winning awards and doing these different things. And I’ve won someone along the way. I spent a lot of time working with the Smithsonian African American museum. I led to visual design of that. We won some Webby Awards for that. And I was able to win some really good awards in my career. And for a long time, I thought that that was the thing that I wanted as my success metric, and I realized that that’s not it.
For me, success is what I’m doing to give back and who I’m lifting up along the way. I am now focused more on mentoring, other designers, mentoring designers, who are like me, look like me. I believe that success is how many people I bring along the ride with me. What can I do with this position I’m in to lift up those around me and make sure that I’m giving back to the creative community, giving back to those of color in design and showing them that they have somebody there to support them and there’s people out there willing to dedicate that time to mentor you?
I didn’t have a lot of mentors, as I said, and so I can be of the mentor that I didn’t have. And so I used the channel, but I also used mentorship as an opportunity to do that. And I think, honestly, I would be happy with my career if I was just able to be that spark in somebody’s career. If I could just do that, if I could just keep doing that, inspire one person, go to the next person, then to the next person and really, really make sure that I’m just giving back to the community. To me, that’s success enough.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want your next chapter to look like?

Corey Jones:
I am enjoying being a creative director in and leading projects. I’m seeing myself diving into just new forms of design. I’m really excited by the new tech coming out. And there’s all this buzz around AI generated creative. I always live and thrive in that area of curiosity, so anything new that’s coming out, I’m on it. I’m willing to dive in and learn. It’s hard to say; five years is a long time from now, so I see myself diving into some new tech and really diving into just really bigger and better or more… I should say more innovative ideas. I see myself heading in that direction.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work, about the sauce? Where can they find all that online?

Corey Jones:
On social media, I’m on Twitter. I use Twitter most for the most part. I’m @coreycreative. You can find me at Corey Creative also on LinkedIn. The barbecue sauce is jonesenbbq.com. Try it out. The best sauce you never tried. And you can also check me out on my YouTube channel at Creative Director Studio. Yeah, that’s where you can find me. I’m always willing to work with people, mentor people, so if those of you out there are looking for mentorship and you need somebody to help you with your career, you can also find me on LinkedIn. Feel free to reach out, happy to connect with anybody.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Corey Jones, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think probably what stands out the most to me from hearing your story and hearing about all of the things that you’re working on is that you’re someone that has drive. And I think that’s rare nowadays because there’s so much that’s available to… For a designer that wants to start out now, you’ve got classes, you’ve got LinkedIn, you’ve got YouTube, you have so much stuff that you may not even have the passion to really become a great designer unless you really have that drive. And it sounds like you’re someone that has just always had that motivation to strive and do more and be better. And I think that’s something that we can all really get inspired by. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Corey Jones:
Thank you. It was all my pleasure. I was happy to be here and add to the series. Thanks a lot.

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