Julian Williams

It’s a new month, and I am beyond excited to share with you my interview with Julian Williams. He may be young in age, but his impressive body of work rivals those of designers with years more experience. We talked a few months after he completed work on the Biden for American campaign as their lead opposition brand designer. Pretty cool!

We spoke about how he landed on the campaign, and Julian shared the differences between working with clients in the U.S. versus clients in Europe. From there, Julian took me through his history as a designer, including working for fashion designers Tommy Hilfiger and Karl Lagerfeld, a stint as an intern at &Walsh, and being a designer at Nike while in The Netherlands. Julian also shared how his passion for voguing and the ballroom scene helps influence his work, and he gives some great advice for graphic designers out there looking to find their own style. Julian’s motto is about making good work with good people — something we can all take to heart!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Julian Williams:
Hi. My name is Julian Williams, and I am a graphic designer and art director based in Amsterdam.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Before we get more into what you do, and your background, and everything, tell me how are you feeling right now? I know it’s late. For folks that are listening, we’re recording it’s 5:00 PM ish my time, but it’s several hours ahead where Julian is.

Julian Williams:
No. I’m feeling wonderful. We’ve had a lot of really good, sunny weather here in the Netherlands after the canals froze over about two or three weeks ago. And I think that’s been keeping my mood very, very high. I’ve been having some good work lately too. So I’m feeling quite happy and quite good.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How has the year gone so far for you?

Julian Williams:
It’s been great, actually. I think now that kind of … in the Netherlands, we’ve been in our own lockdown. And we also have had for the majority of this year 2021, a curfew. But I think we’ve all kind of acclimated to that and are just kind of used to it. We can’t go out past a certain times and I’m just like I’ll get some projects done at home. I’ve been playing guitar a lot and writing some music when I’m not designing, or working for clients, or doing some personal work. So yeah, I’m doing pretty good. I think the year’s been going great so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What would you say the general, I guess feeling is like in the city? I know that might be a little difficult to gauge.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. It’s interesting here. I’m in Amsterdam, which some people really look towards I think when they think of the Netherlands. And there’s a lot of controversy going on right now with the pandemic. There’ve been a lot of protests centered in Amsterdam of people who don’t agree with lockdown measures. And it is creating quite a bit of tension. There’s even been small instances of violence around the country based around lockdowns and stuff. So I think things feel a little tense. And also, people have kind of been doing what they want for a while and not being as careful I think, as other European countries. Like it took us longer to have a mask mandate than a lot of other countries. So yeah, I think there’s a little bit of tension in the air. But mainly, people are just kind of sticking to themselves and going about their days. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. I figured America would have a monopoly on people acting in public around-

Julian Williams:
I thought the same actually. I was like oh man. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was like, “I’m in Europe. We have everything together. We got it going.” And lately in the last few months, the Netherlands has also not been doing so great with their vaccine rollout. And I’ve been talking to friends in the U.S. who have gotten their shots and stuff already. And I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to be August or something by the time I get vaccinated.”

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like it might be that way here as well. I mean, I’m in Georgia. Which is I think as of our recording, the state that is the worst in terms of vaccine rollout. If it’s not the worst, it’s one of the worst. It’s circling the bottom, 49 or 50, something like that. So we’re not doing too great either. But I can wait. Really, I was concerned about whether or not my folks got the shots and my grandparents got the shots, which they did. So I’m like I can wait. I work from home. I’ve already had to do this for a year. I can wait-

Julian Williams:
That’s the feeling I have too. I’m very fortunate with the kind of work that I have as well. So I’m quite good being at home. A lot of the stuff that I like to do, I can enjoy in my living room. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Talk to me about what kind of projects you’re working on now.

Julian Williams:
Right now, it’s quite interesting because … so I have entered into the world of freelancing, which is not something that I’ve been crazy used to before, but it’s something I’m loving a lot right now. And I am actually working with a company called Meow Wolf that was started in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I went to university. And they have acquired some spaces in Las Vegas and Denver. And they make these kinds of insane, it’s so difficult to describe what I’m working on now. These insane interactive, almost museum spaces that are also story-based. Each place that they acquire kind of has its own narrative. And I’m doing work for their space that’s going to be opening later in the year in Denver, Colorado. And I’m really excited to be working on this because a lot of my colleagues are former professors and classmates of mine, who I saw all the time in Santa Fe. So it’s really been great to kind of reconnect with those people after so many years and make cool stuff like we used to.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So you still kind of keep in touch with folks, and friends, and everything from back home?

Julian Williams:
Yeah. I definitely make a point to have conversations with former classmates, and friends, and teachers about things I think are interesting and design. Because when I was in university, I really believe that those were the people and the parts of studying that gave me the most. Just talking to people about things that they were interested in. And yeah, I make an effort to keep that going, even though we’re not in school anymore. And I think people feel really engaged by that sometimes.

Maurice Cherry:
How is the design scene for you in Amsterdam?

Julian Williams:
I love it. And I feel really happy that I had the opportunity to study American design in the United States, and then just kind of get thrust into this other design world. It’s interesting because I started my career in Europe, but I was studying in the United States. I feel like there’s kind of a seriousness to design in Europe that obviously in some parts of the United States exists as well. But there’s just something about the way that people approach the execution of design that I think is quite rooted in history and design movements from the past. I mean, in the Netherlands, you can see the influences of Mondrian and quite prolific artists and designers all the time in repeated and interesting ways. So yeah, it’s interesting. It’s quite cultural here. It’s quite serious.

Julian Williams:
And then I think I’m also fortunate because I’m in Amsterdam, and it’s such a multicultural city, that it’s great to see outsiders like me come in and have a play with that kind of design language, and kind of bring our own taste into that.

Maurice Cherry:
Now I know that you just came off of a pretty big design gig. You were working for the Biden for President campaign.

Julian Williams:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about that.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. Coming onto it was rather random. So pandemic is happening. I’m in my apartment in the Netherlands. I was sitting on my couch. And this person I had never met before in my life named Robyn Kanner sends me an email saying, “Hi, I’m creative advisor for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. And we’d like to talk to you about potentially coming on and working for the campaign.” And it was quite a process from that first email to signing the contract and being like okay, I’m part of the team now. But gosh, it was a fantastic, exciting, fiery, wild, interesting design experience that I feel so fortunate to have been part of. And I met incredible people working on that team on something that we all felt was so important.

Maurice Cherry:
Was it difficult working with, I would imagine the team is mostly U.S. based, but was it difficult trying to kind of acclimate to that?

Julian Williams:
Well yes, you are correct that it was U.S. based. I was actually the only person on the campaign based outside the United States. It was not difficult for me though, because I am quite used to adjusting my life to other time zones. My mom is German, and my dad is American, and we’ve always moved around the world as a family and had to talk to family in the states when we live in Germany, and talked to family in Germany when we’re living somewhere else. And I also told them I’m willing to adjust my entire life to work on this. If I need to sleep a few hours in the daylight and then be up all night, I will. It’s funny that’s what I thought it would be. And then it actually just ended up being I was just awake as often as possible to work on stuff. Because you never know what’s going to happen when the president gets COVID and then you have to make content based on that or not make content based on that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And you were working specifically with opposition research, right?

Julian Williams:
Yes. So in my interview, it was funny. I remember Robyn Kanner asking me, “How would you feel about designing content that I don’t know, maybe attacks the president of the United States?” I was just laughing. I was just like, “I feel amazing about doing that. And I also have a bunch of content that I’ve been making for years on my personal platforms showing that not only can I do it, but I can do it quickly, and I can do it in interesting ways. So let’s get to it.”

Julian Williams:
And yeah, then I was hired as a middleweight designer on the campaign, and then I was quickly promoted to lead opposition brand designer. And I developed with Robyn the art direction for how the Biden campaign talked about the Trump administration and the things that the president had and mainly hadn’t done.

Julian Williams:
It was a really interesting opportunity for me because I have a large background in really graphic design, a little bit of art direction. But I loved this because I have quite a political background. Before I just decided to study graphic design, I actually wanted to go to West Point and study political science, serve in the military, and then go into politics. That was my plan. And I had been talking to my parents about it for a lot of time up until my last semester of high school when I did a complete 180 and I was like, “No, I’m going to be working with something visual for sure. Or I’ll go crazy.” But I’m so happy I got to do this because a large part I feel of what I was doing was strategy-based. Stuff would happen and we had to react to it quite quickly, especially around debate time. And I actually really loved the engagement and almost weirdly thrill of having to quickly concepts visualize and then execute designs based on things happening in real time. I loved it. It was quite interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s quite a shift. And I’ll ask you what it was just growing up and everything. But yeah, that’s a go from wanting to be in the military and politics to switching over to graphic design, that feels very sort of left brain, right brain in a way.

Julian Williams:
In high school, actually I did a lot of things in high school. I was in theater, I was running cross country. I was in choir. I was like, “Let me do everything.” But my actual kind of baby was speech and debate. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the NFL, the National Forensics League.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Julian Williams:
So the National Forensics League is this thing in universities and high schools. It’s an institution in the United States that is the main program for public speaking debates and extemporaneous speaking in the United States. And when I was in high school, I participated in debate tournaments around Texas. And in my last year, I forgot if I represented El Paso or Texas in the national competition in Birmingham, Alabama. I loved to debate. And my specific category was CX debate, which is evidence based debate. And I loved it. And I’m really happy that I did that when I did, because I think that has made me quite comfortable going from verbal communication to visual communication. And then talking about that visual communication when I need to.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting that you were able to kind of transfer those skills over like that.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. Yeah. It really worked out like that.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your time on the campaign, what do you remember most?

Julian Williams:
I remember working with really strong women and a really diverse team of people. A lot of colors on our team. A lot of gender identities, a lot of sexual identities. My bosses Robyn Kanner and Carahna Magwood are two amazing, intelligent women. Also just really inspiring. Carahna is a mom. She was deputy design director of our team. And now she’s working at the White House I believe as creative director. She’s running creative at the White House. I forgot what the official title is. But she’s raising a five-year-old and guiding an entire team of designers, reacting to content, driving her kid to school while on meetings with us. And I remember just thinking, “Gosh, this woman is Wonder Woman. Wow, I’m so inspired by this.” And it really became this little family. And it was also so interesting because no presidential campaign has ever been like this, and hopefully no one ever will be.

Julian Williams:
A bunch of us never met. I was on the other side of the world getting on phone calls with people who are just waking up. We had a morning meeting every day. We had an evening meeting every day, every single day. Every single day for four months that I worked on the campaign. And I’m so happy we worked the way … for something that serious, I feel like we didn’t have a choice but to work as a family. And I think the thing that I just remember is just how diverse, and engaging, and interesting, and fun, and exciting this family was.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Folks that have listened to the show knows that I’ve worked on a political campaign before. It was just a mayoral campaign. And I was on there for I think from February to November. So 10 months-ish doing design, and new media, and everything. And this was back in, I’m dating myself. This was 2009. So this was right after Obama got elected. And this was the first set of real municipal races in the country that saw what Obama did with social media, and with great graphic design, and everything. And they wanted that. I’d say every candidate that I had run across including the one that I worked for, they wanted that Obama sort of shine and everything. And it was so interesting trying to navigate that time because there was no handbook.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, the people that did that first campaign, some of them of course went off to the White House. But nobody really knew how to do any of this stuff. I mean, now it’s common. Now if you’re running, you have to have all these things kind of in your toolbox, in your campaign toolbox. But back then, I had found some girl on BlackPlanet that did custom MySpace pages. Again, dating myself. We had a custom MySpace page. We had a Flickr page and a Meetup page. We tried to get on every sort of social network that we thought we could find constituents on or at least try to connect with people on. And it was just such a different time from then and now.

Maurice Cherry:
But I know what you mean about those daily meetings. And you really get close with those people in a very short amount of time. I mean, I feel like any campaign, it’s like a little mini company in a way. And then of course once the campaign ends, everyone kind of goes their separate ways. Some go with the candidates, some don’t. For me, I was at that time also starting out with my own studio. And it was so beneficial to me afterwards. Because I had now this Rolodex of contacts that I could reach out to.

Julian Williams:
I do feel like that as well. It’s also interesting that you mentioned people wanting what Obama had on his campaign in their campaigns. Because I think in the world of design that happens, and it did happen for our campaign, with really simple things. Like after Obama’s campaign, everyone wanted to use the font Gotham. A bunch of people were using Gotham. And it’s interesting something that we did. So before I entered the Biden campaign, I hated gradients. Just gradients. I was like, “I’m not putting gradients on anything that I make. They’re hideous, no place for them.” And freaking Robyn Kanner made me fall in love with gradients, made our entire team fall in love with gradients. And she was constantly talking about how gradients were so she used the word luscious. It’s actually kind of an inside joke within our campaign, this thing of luscious gradients or something that we applied to a lot of the visuals that we made. And then kind of towards the end of the campaign and after our campaign, a bunch of other campaigns like the runoff election in Georgia, they were using gradients as well. Which is not something that’s very common to I think a lot of political campaigns before. So it’s interesting how this stuff becomes cyclical and these influences kind of trickle down. They wrote the book. So let’s work in the way that they worked.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. No, I think we’re starting to see a lot more … I mean, this is probably a weird observation, but we’re starting to see a lot more design in politics in several different ways. I think one, of course in the way that we’re talking about, which is for advertising a candidate or particular cause. Usually a candidate is using some combination of red, white, and blue in a very sort of discrete fashion where you don’t see things like different topography, or gradients, or halftones, or any of that other sort of stuff. But I think also what we can see from just what’s happened in this country over the past few years is how design can be used in a negative fashion to disinform people to have wrong information out there, all that sort of stuff. So I think it’s kind of always around, but it feels like it’s certainly become a lot more prevalent and known to more people over the past few years just how much design has been kind of a double-edged sword in politics.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. That was something that I had to, I feel I applied a lot of that kind of research into the way I went about creating the art direction for the opposition of the campaign. And it comes directly back to the debate world that I was talking about before. In CX debates, often there’s a topic every year. And at the time when I was a senior, it was transportation infrastructure. And the main topic for the entire country or all schools the entire year was should the United States increase investment in its transportation infrastructure? And you actually have to learn to both affirm and negate that statement. You have to play both sides. And I always feel like understanding that is so vital in getting your message across.

Julian Williams:
Often now, I find myself telling younger designers when they’re making something, like if they’re making a poster, don’t go to designers asking for the opinions. Obviously you should, you should get as much help as you can. But in a way, the people who aren’t designers are the ones who you’re communicating to. And that was something I tried to always keep in the back of my mind to think about it’s best if we get as many votes from everyone so it’s good to understand the viewpoint of everyone and the way that people view the current president, if I’m trying to create content that is attacking him, and decreasing his power, and making him look smaller than he is. That was something that my team and I felt maybe hadn’t been explored as much in previous campaigns.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And also, I have to say of course you all did a fantastic job. After the campaign ended, did you have an opportunity to work for the administration, or did you just decide to sort of stay freelance?

Julian Williams:
Yeah. So I actually did a little bit of work for the inauguration just for a hot second. That was really nice. And everyone had the opportunity to kind of apply to positions at the White House. I kind of wanted to get back to making more connections. And I think that’s kind of the way that I’m approaching the work that I look for right now. I say that my biggest dream is to make good work with good people. And I think this last year, that’s really become a reality, and I’ve had a taste of how amazing that is. And I want to just keep meeting more people and working on diverse things. And I do definitely see myself coming back to the political world in the future. Although, I think the thing that drove me to do it this year, with this last year was just the urgency of this campaign had to go the way that it did, or so much would have gone wrong.

Julian Williams:
And I’m really happy that they hired me because I brought a whole different perspective anyone else who was working on the campaign I feel, in the sense that I was telling my coworkers, “This affects the whole world. If this man remains president, there are people in the Middle East who are going to have a lot of problems.” My two countries had a fantastic relationship with each other before Donald Trump was president. And it actually really pains me to see the two leaders of the countries that I’m from having the conflict that they do.

Julian Williams:
So there was a whole lot of other things kind of riding on this election for me. And to have an opportunity to be a direct part of effecting that in any way was really important to me. So I feel myself being drawn towards working in politics in the future. I kind of hope that I don’t feel such a drive and need to be involved in politics in the way that I did last.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s probably for the best. I’m sort of speaking from experience. Again, not at the level that you have. But yeah, it’s good to have that experience to be able to work in that sort of crucible of creating work, but it’s so much better to be outside of it. You just gain a different perspective. So yeah. You mentioned Santa Fe. Is that where you grew up?

Julian Williams:
Where I grew up is a loaded question. Okay. How much time do you have? So I was born in the Southwest of Germany in a place called Kaiserslautern. My mom and I’s hometown is Ramstein-Miesenbach, which is right next to Kaiserslautern. And I lived there for five years. And then my family moved to El Paso, Texas. And El Paso has always kind of been what I consider to be my American hometown. We spent a lot of time in Germany and El Paso because my dad was in the army for 30 years.

Julian Williams:
So we were in Germany. Then we went to Texas. We were in Virginia a bit, we went back to Germany. And then high school time, ended up back in El Paso, Texas. So I was in the Southwest. And that’s kind of what got my eye towards Santa Fe. And Santa Fe, New Mexico one is my favorite place that I’ve been to in the United States. And I think it’s the most beautiful place. And it definitely was where I needed to be.

Julian Williams:
I have a special connection to Santa Fe, Mexico City, And Amsterdam. I also spent a lot of university time traveling to Mexico City. My school had a sister school in Mexico. And a lot of my friends live in Mexico City and got quite close to that city. But those three places, I just had this feeling. Whenever I was there, I was like, “I’m meant to be here right now.” And it’s not a feeling I’ve had about anywhere else that I’ve lived or been. And yeah, I feel really fortunate to have been in Santa Fe when I was there. It’s such an amazing place. And Santa Fe University of Art and Design, I kind of describe it as a lovely experiment gone wrong. Because unfortunately, the school closed down the year after I graduated. But for the time that I was there, it was fantastic. That such talented engaging students and teachers, we were kind of like this little artist colony. Just making stuff, just wiling out on some art. It was great.

Maurice Cherry:
How many people have asked you if you know the way to Santa Fe?

Julian Williams:
I feel like actually only people in New Mexico ask me that question.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. Okay. So with all of this kind of moving around and this really sort of melding and meshing of cultures, I would imagine that you were exposed to a lot of design probably just through all of these different stimuli.

Julian Williams:
Oh yeah. Yeah. And I think I’m really, really fortunate for that to be the case. I mean, I do kind of feel like I have to acknowledge that there’s a little bit of privilege that is associated with that. In the sense that me being a citizen of two countries has a lot of privilege behind it. I can work anywhere in the EU. I can work anywhere in the United States. So now in the last year, I’ve been giving a lot of talks to university students. And I always make sure that I mention that, because it’s not always so easy I feel for people to have some of the experiences that I’ve had. I mean, I definitely have things going against me like working as a Black person in the creative world obviously has its drawbacks around the world. But being a citizen of these places does give me some advantages of having lots of different cultural influence in my work, opportunities to meet people, and work with people, which I feel very fortunate to be a part of. And I hope the stuff that I’m doing is giving back to people around the world in some way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I was curious about kind of your influences. Because when I look at your work, like the work that you have on Instagram, the work that you have on your website, it’s so strongly topography based.

Julian Williams:
That’s very funny to hear. Sorry, go ahead.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you heard that before?

Julian Williams:
No, it’s so interesting. When I was in university, everyone was afraid of topography. We had a wonderful topography instructor named Arlyn Nathan. Bless her. A fantastic, fantastic teacher. I believe she attended Yale. And all of us were always so scared of typography. Topography is like the most difficult part of graphic design. And I think I still feel some of that. I still feel quite intimidated by typography. But I often find myself engaging with things that intimidate me. So maybe that’s what you’re seeing is me being a bit of a masochist maybe.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean there’s that. I think the way that you approach it certainly is in a very kind of I don’t know if I want to say brutalist. First of all, I didn’t go to design school, so I don’t know these terms. But when I see it, it’s in your face. You don’t miss it. There’s no subtlety about it. Which I like. I like that.

Julian Williams:
My actual introduction to design and typography, when I went to university in Santa Fe, I barely actually knew how to navigate the internet. A home computer wasn’t something that … my parents were a little strict. So they were like, “Yeah, do something that’s not on the computer.” So when I got to university, I was quite intimidated because it seemed like everyone knew Photoshop, and people knew their way around the internet. And I definitely didn’t and didn’t even know how to hold a Wacom pen.

Julian Williams:
And actually when I got to university, the thing that I gravitated towards was graffiti and spray paint. My dad was in the military. I wasn’t running around at home with cans of paint, getting into trouble. Because I would have problems when I come home. But when I got to university, it was something I was really interested in. And I think that is kind of my first jump into the world of typography, and communication specifically. I was meeting graffiti writers in Santa Fe. I was spray painting legally, sometimes not so legally, and doing quite in your face messaging things. And I think that is maybe what I see in my work now. My relationship with typography is quite loud and informative, I think. And it’s been quite an evolution from those freshmen days of messing around with some cheap spray paint cans. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Graffiti. That’s interesting. I don’t know why I’m not thinking that there would be graffiti in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But-

Julian Williams:
It’s great. It’s great. And also, New Mexico has a large native population. and that comes into the work a lot as well. I’ve met quite a few native graffiti writers around Santa Fe. Really awesome stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, one of the first design gigs that you scored right out of college was actually pretty big. You worked for Nike, or you interned for Nike, and then you later worked for Nike. Is that right?

Julian Williams:
Correct. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
How was your experience?

Julian Williams:
It was really fantastic, interesting, challenging at times. I think definitely the hardest point in my career. I got interested in Nike as a student because Bijan Berahimi, a designer who runs a studio in Portland called FISK, fantastic design studio, came to my university and gave a workshop with his friend Chris Burnett based around Nike because they had both worked at Nike previously. And we made all this interesting work. I remember being really stressed out about the work for some reason. I was just thinking I have to make the most amazing thing. Because this is based on Nike, and they’re such a big place. And I stayed up until 4:00 AM working on this little poster I was making. And I left the lab crying because I just hated what I made. And I went back to my dorm room, and actually someone had set off like the water sprinkler in the dorm. And all me and my friends had to sleep in this brightly lit storage shed off the side of our dorm for an entire night. It was just the worst night of university ever.

Julian Williams:
But I talked to Bijan a lot at that workshop, and he actually reached out to me a little bit later to work on some freelance work for Nike. And my mind was just like, “Man, Nike. I really feel good when I work on this stuff. And I’m so interested in it.” And I saw that they were hiring a design intern in Europe. And I applied, I had an interview, and I got the job. It was so funny. When I got the phone call, it was 4:00 AM in New Mexico. And some number I didn’t recognize called me, and the person on the phone was like, “Hi, are you Julian? You’re going to come to Amsterdam and work for Nike.” And out loud on the phone I said, “Fuck.” It was the first thing out of my mouth. I was just like I’m in New Mexico right now. I’m about to get on a plane to a place I know nothing about.

Julian Williams:
But I did it. And I came to the Netherlands. Nike’s European headquarters is in a village called Hilversum a few minutes away from Amsterdam. And it was really challenging. I think I was still working on my thesis. I was halfway through my last year of university at the time. So that was another thing. I was still working on schoolwork while working for one of the biggest companies in the world as my first career thing ever. But I also feel like in that time, I was kind of relearning how to be European and how to engage with Europeans on a creative level, on just conversational level as well. I feel like I kind of in a way, had a little bit of an American handicap when I started working at Nike.

Julian Williams:
But there was a point where I just kind of pushed through and stopped worrying so much about this stuff, and was just making work in the way that I had learned to in university. My design professor David Grey, who he was kind of a mentor of mine in university. He really had us just kind of sit down and make things without worrying. Obviously we have to think about the process at some point. But our really early design practices revolved around making. And that was also something that we did in our workshop with Bijan. And I started working in that way and also bringing a bit of analog stuff in. And stuff just started clicking, and I stopped worrying about stuff. And all the things that you learn about how to present decks, and how to talk to clients and stuff just kind of came naturally.

Julian Williams:
It is difficult though, working in that kind of world. So I finished my internship, and then I was hired as a brand designer at Nike. I do feel that Nike has a very large hierarchy problem. I think that titles matter to people a lot. And I don’t think I realized it at the time that it was actually quite toxic. I think it still is quite toxic, which is unfortunate because Nike is my favorite brand. They produce some of my favorite design work in the world. However, yeah, just this kind of ranking stuff was not something I was aware of until I later left Nike and worked at other places and realized it’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not supposed to feel my opinion maybe doesn’t matter as much as this person because they have a higher salary than me.

Julian Williams:
I also feel like sometimes if you’re a minority working in creative at Nike, sometimes your expertise in certain cultural things might not get taken advantage of in a correct way. I mean, I was 21 and 22 when I was at Nike. I was the target audience. Young, male, interested in street wear and sports. And I don’t know, I wasn’t trying to go around being this loud intern like, “Listen to me. I know.” But I feel like maybe it’s just the thing of missed opportunities.

Julian Williams:
I also feel like, and just to be quite candid, I think it would be difficult to work as a creative at Nike if I were a woman. Without getting too into that, just Nike is a boys club. It’s a straight, cisgender white boys club. I mean I worked in the European headquarters. I witnessed it there. But I actually heard it echoed heavily in Portland where the global headquarters is. And I think it’s a big problem. And I think it’s come to light a lot in recent years. And I hope that things are being done to change that.

Julian Williams:
And also interestingly enough, I lost my job at Nike. I was fired actually. Which at the time was really devastating. And now, I’m actually very thankful for it, and thankful for the opportunity to talk to young designers about this. And the reason I was fired interestingly enough, I had been about 10 months into working as a brand designer. And I was asked to give a design talk to a university in the United States. And my Instagram at the time was all personal design work. I was making a lot of posters based around political things that were happening in the world, stuff that Donald Trump was tweeting. Or just poems songs, honestly whatever I felt like. It’s just a typical design Instagram. And I gave this talk, and the talk was about me studying in Santa Fe, getting my job at Nike, the way that happened. I actually made a poster based on that phone call I mentioned earlier where I was like, “Fuck.” And I took the word fuck, and I put it on top of the Nike swoosh. And I posted it to Instagram. And the caption I wrote was, “Just finished wrapping up a wonderful talk with my former professor and his new students at university of so-and-so about my wild life at Nike.” And I tagged Nike.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no. I think I see where this is going.

Julian Williams:
So I think I gave the talk on the Thursday, posted that on Friday, came into work on Monday, worked all day, got asked to come into the back Nike office, and was just told, “Yeah, we have a zero tolerance social media policy. We have to take your laptop. We have to take your hard drive. We have to escort you off campus, and we’re terminating your contract.” And I was 22. Yeah. In hindsight, I do sometimes kind of wonder. Because at the time, it was wintertime, things were really busy, and the environment was quite tumultuous. And I wonder if there were other things that maybe influenced a decision. Because my team was devastated. They were actually talking to our leadership basically saying, “This is ridiculous. There’s no reason why you can’t give this person a warning. They obviously love this brand.”

Maurice Cherry:
Did they even give you a chance to explain the context?

Julian Williams:
I was shocked and I said, “You can read this caption right there. It’s very obvious that I have no malicious intent with this design.” At the time, it really sucked. I asked a random person to take a photo of me standing, at the time, Nike was having their just do it campaign with Colin Kaepernick where he says, “Stand for something. Even if,” I forget the phrase of the campaign. It won a bunch of awards, it was brilliant. But there was a big poster of Colin Kaepernick. And I was being escorted to the main office to be taken off campus. And I asked some random lady to take a photo of me in front of that for some reason. And I actually show that photo when I give talks. Now it’s just me looking devastated in front of Colin Kaepernick because I just lost my dream job.

Julian Williams:
Now though I have to say, I am extremely thankful that that happened. Because I think when you’re a student, sometimes people look at Nike as the end all to the design world. It’s the top of what you can be. And then when I got into it, I realized no. The thing that I love is working with cool people. And I’ve met some cool people at Nike, and I’ve met some not so cool people at Nike. So I want to see where the other cool people are. And I think if I hadn’t been fired actually, I would probably still be in that world because I didn’t know any better at the time. And yeah, nowadays I feel really thankful that that happened, because some amazing stuff happened after that. [inaudible 00:43:44] first though.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I told you kind of before we started recording that I’ve had a few other black designers that worked at Nike on the show before. And they’ve all kind of pretty much said the same thing about just how the work culture is and everything. So it’s sad that that’s the case from such a prolific brand. But I have to say, you said you were 22 when that happened?

Julian Williams:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s the best time for that kind of stuff to happen in your career is. No seriously, at the beginning, that is the best time. And I don’t know what it is, and I guess I’m sort of looking at my own story here too. I also got fired from a job for it wasn’t a social media post. It was a blog. Actually, it was several blog posts. I’ll tell you after we stop recording. But yeah, I got fired in a very similar fashion from a job. And I wasn’t a designer. I was doing customer service or something like that. But it was after I got fired from that job that I got my first real design gig that then sort of kick-started my career. So I mean sometimes, you have to have a setback to have a comeback.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. And I also really established my own personal design practice at that time. Because to be honest, after I got fired from Nike, for a few months, life got quite hard. It just so happened that the time I lost my job was also the time the contract for the apartment I was living in was ending. So I wasn’t job secure. So then I became not house secure as well. And I ended up couch hopping for a few months. And I hated being a burden to other people. My friends were quite helpful. And to them, it wasn’t a big deal at all to have me on their couch for a week or so. But I just felt so bad.

Julian Williams:
But what I will say is in this time, I was making design work like crazy. And just for no reason at all. And the kind of mindset that I had, I was giving myself ridiculous design briefs. I was like I’m going to design a passport for the moon for the future when we colonize the moon, and I’m going to create a rave poster for the planet Venus in a made up language. And the kind of mindset that I had, because I had only worked for Nike. So all the work I had to show was from Nike. And I didn’t like that. I was like if I’m going to interviews and stuff, I need to be able to show some different kind of stuff. I mean, I can make a bunch of different things for Nike, but I don’t want to just have swooshes all over my portfolio.

Julian Williams:
And going into interviews, I was showing this personal work actually as if it were real work. I wasn’t even mentioning, “I just made this one.” I just showed the things. And I was like, “Obviously, no one’s asked me to make this. But I’m showing you that if someone did ask me insanely to design a passport for the moon, I would be able to do that. And if I can do that, I can do whatever you want me to do for your brand. I can design a website for you. I can design a clothing line. Let’s get to work.” And I was making stuff like every single day. I was like if I’m not going to be working, I’m going to be working for myself. And I’m going to have some tools in my back pocket to show people what I love to do. And yeah, I’m really happy that I did.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good that you kept on kind of designing and sort of honing your craft at this time, even when you sort of had this other insecurity, just in terms of where you’re going to stay and where money is coming from. That didn’t deter you from still creating.

Julian Williams:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you also have worked as a graphic designer in the fashion industry for a few well-known designers. Was it different doing design work for a fashion brand versus more of a sports brand like Nike was?

Julian Williams:
Definitely. Actually, the first job I did after losing my job at Nike, I worked as a freelance designer for Karl Lagerfeld for quite some months. I have an interesting story about that as well. I got the interview with Karl Lagerfeld. I had actually used the last of my money to move everything I own into a storage unit. And I was staying at a friend’s place. I ran back to the storage unit, got whatever the nicest outfit was that I could put together, which was quite nice if I do say so myself. I had some Nike shoes and some things. They were just in storage. I went to Karl Lagerfeld office, had my interview.

Julian Williams:
A few days later, I get a phone call. “Hi, we loved you. We’re looking forward to work with you. We’d love for you to come in and start on Monday.” I said, “Fantastic.” This is not a lie. I put my phone down. I went to use the bathroom. I came back, I picked my phone up. I opened Instagram. The first thing that pops up, Complex News, Karl Lagerfeld has died. And I was like, “Is it me? Am I cursed?” That is not a lie. It happened exactly like that. A few minutes later, I got a phone call back from the project manager saying, “Hey, don’t worry. We still want to work with you. Can we move your booking by one week? Because everything is on fire.” And I was like, “Yep, completely understand. Let’s do it.”

Julian Williams:
I loved working for Karl Lagerfeld. I got to do a lot of things that I hadn’t been introduced to before, like art directing some product photo shoots. They gave me a lot of creative freedom because they at the time wanted to revamp a lot of digital and social content. And I think that’s one of the reasons that they went with me. I think that like you said, it’s a fashion brand. It’s not sportswear. They might have some sportswear items every now and then. But I think they were looking for someone like me who had had a different kind of experience to bring a bit more interesting content.

Julian Williams:
And then I went on to work for Tommy Hilfiger, which I felt kind of walked the line of the two worlds that I had worked. Sportswear, and then a bit more fashion-y stuff. And I really loved working for Tommy Hilfiger. I think they did the opposite of what I was missing at Nike. They appreciated who I was as a person, the interests that I had. And thought how can we apply this to our work? An important part of my life actually outside of design. So I Vogue. And maybe some people don’t know what that means when I say that I Vogue.

Julian Williams:
But voguing is a community and a culture of people that was started by people of color in New York, in the United States. And these people gather to have kind of these competitions/performances called balls that incorporate a bunch of different things like fashion, and dancing, and creating outfits, and sometimes drag. And at the time, I had been voguing for about a year or so, maybe a year and a half. I had started voguing because voguers have things called houses, which are basically groups of people who compete together at these competitions, at these balls. And the main house of the Netherlands is called the House of Vineyard. It was started by Ms. Amber Vineyard who came to give a voguing workshop at Nike, spotted me. And she came up to me. And when you participate in these balls, it’s called walking. And you walk different categories. There are categories like face, and you have to show your beautiful face. Or there’s body. And you have to show that you have a luscious or muscular body. And there are performance categories like Vogue femme, which is a fantastic expressive dance and performance style.

Julian Williams:
And Ms. Amber Vineyard spotted me at her workshop and in the crowd. And she came up to me and she said, “You need to come to my balls. You need to come to my classes and meet my ballroom children. I see you walking this category and this category.” And gosh, it just thrust me into this insane, fantastic, beautiful world of queer Black arts. And I met so many talented people, and it became such an important part of my life. I really see a lot of these people as family who I see all the time, we confide in each other. We actually have we call them mothers and fathers. They’re the ones who kind of like lead the houses and the ballroom children. And that is something that I became quite comfortable talking about in my work.

Julian Williams:
And when I have interviews with people, when I went to interview at Tommy Hilfiger, my eventual bosses who I was interviewing with asked me, “What do you do?” When I worked at Nike, it had also kind of become known that I Vogue. And at the time I was a little like I maybe don’t like so much that everyone knows that I do this. So I was going to try to kind of keep it a little on the down well when I started working at a new place. But I was like, “It’s an interview, whatever. It’s fine. I can tell them.” And I told them, “I Vogue. And I vogued around Europe and around North America.” And on my first day of work, a bunch of people came by my desk and they’re like, “You’re the voguer, right? You do this and this.”

Julian Williams:
And Tommy Hilfiger head of influencer marketing actually came to my desk and was, “I need you to tell me who the interesting people are in Amsterdam right now. Because we want to work with these people in the correct way.” Which I appreciated so much. Because I feel like in the world of fashion and these brands and stuff, ballroom is becoming quite popular right now. .It’s becoming quite marketable. And a lot of times, people do it the incorrect way. So it makes me quite comfortable when people approach people within the scene, so that they make sure that they’re doing it the correct way.

Julian Williams:
And when I worked at Tommy Hilfiger, I managed to get some really close friends of mine booked as models for campaigns. Because they actually came up to me and they were like, “We want you in the campaign.” And I was like, “No, no, no, no. I’ve been voguing for about a year and a half. I know people in the scene who this has been their life for years. And if you want them to turn the party, I have some dancers set up for you, and some performers, and some beautiful, fantastic people. Let’s go.” And I can’t describe how amazing it feels to go to a fitting and see your friend who is perhaps queer like you and maybe a person of color like you. And we don’t always get these opportunities that other people have. And see them smiling back at you in full head to toe gear from this world famous brand. And then the next day, they’re on a photo-shoot voguing doing the thing that they love. And they’re getting paid for it. That to me was, I was just like this is what this is all about. When stuff like this happens, I’m so happy about the field that I went into.

Maurice Cherry:
Look at you putting on the homeys and everything.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. I keep people booked and busy.

Maurice Cherry:
So basically, season three or Pose is going to be about you.

Julian Williams:
Can we talk about it? Can we talk about how Pose is ending and it’s just so sad? Actually, Tommy Hilfiger, right before I left Tommy Hilfiger … gosh, I really feel thankful for my team at Tommy Hilfiger because they wanted to hear what I had to say about things. And it feels so good when you’ve come from somewhere where maybe that hasn’t always been the opportunity. And we were doing a campaign when I was there that was honestly based around working with underrepresented voices and amplifying those voices. And we ended up working with people in the ballroom scene. We worked with Indya Moore. The campaign is live right now actually at Tommy Hilfiger. We worked with Indya Moore who plays Angel on pose. They’re a fantastic part of the ballroom scene and a queer icon. And we worked with [Kittie Smile 00:55:26] who is also in the ballroom scene in Paris and throughout Europe. And my team was asking me the correct way to reference things that they didn’t know about. Spent a lot of time talking to my team about the correct use of people’s pronouns. It’s just great when people, and it always felt authentic and genuine. It never felt like a cash grab. Because the stuff we were making was cool too at the end of the day. And I think people appreciated that as well. It was really an experience that I enjoyed.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s awesome to hear because oftentimes when you see, I think probably from the consumer standpoint, when you see brands start to venture into, I don’t even necessarily want to say venture into what’s cool. But I think certainly when they end up venturing into ethnic or queer content or something like that, people always sort of wince like, “What is this going to be?” One, because I think they’re just protective of their individual communities. And two, they just want to make sure that it’s done right and with respect and homage. And it’s not a cheap knockoff or something like that.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. One thing that was interesting in one meeting, and I’m really happy that people listened to me on this. So we were doing this project to amplify certain people’s voices. And it was kind of brought up. Someone was like, “Yeah. And if we work with Indya, maybe they will want us to put on a ball. And we have all these ballroom performance.” And I told them, “You know what? You need to ask this person what they want to do. Because in your head, what you’re doing right now is projecting. You may have a projection of what you imagine this person will want to do. And you may think Indya wants to put on a ball for this community. And then you go and talk to Indya and they say, ‘I want to have a talk show where I bring on queer people and talk to them about what they think needs to be changed in the world around us to make their lives better.'”

Julian Williams:
I was like, “You never know.” And that was another thing that I felt comfortable voicing. And people were comfortable receiving that feedback, and applying it, and making the work better. And I’ve been gay and Black my whole life. I think I know this world. So it’s great that people recognize that and understand that maybe, I have something to offer. It also feels good that the fact that being a queer Black person in Europe and the United States has not always been easy or fun. And it’s great when it is. And it’s something awesome. I mean to me, being queer and Black is fun and great all the time. Maybe not to other people, but that’s their problem.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I should also mention that while you were doing this at Tommy Hilfiger during the day, you were also interning somewhere else at night. Is that right?

Julian Williams:
Yeah. Sorry. So I was working for Tommy Hilfiger. And then around February of 2020, I was contacted by Jessica Walsh of the studio &Walsh and formerly a part of the studio Sagmeister & Walsh. And Jessica Walsh and Stefan Sagmeister have honestly just been huge inspirations to me since I started studying design. I feel like when I was a student, I was like, “These two are pushing communication to where I want it to go. They’re doing interesting things.” Also a thing that I really respected and that inspired me was that they would make projects just because. They would make projects not to get paid for anything, just because they want to do stuff. And I always felt that that’s so important to just make things because you love design. I hope if you’re in the world of design, you’re doing it because you enjoy doing that.

Julian Williams:
So I was sitting on my couch. I had been working at Tommy Hilfiger for quite a long time actually. And I got an email from Jessica Walsh asking me if I wanted to intern remotely for &Walsh. And I jumped about 10 feet in the air and emailed yes back immediately. So for about three months, I would work during the day for Tommy Hilfiger. And I would come home and remotely work for &Walsh as an intern. And it was fantastic. It was just like wow, what an amazing team. what an intelligent team. What a diverse team, which I already knew this before working for Walsh. But working there really cemented in me that diversity breeds better creative work. It just makes sense just to have that many cultural, and intelligent, and visual backgrounds coming together to make awesome stuff. Yeah, it works.

Maurice Cherry:
Your inbox must be the place to be. You’re getting all of these amazing offers and stuff. This is wild. And then of course after you’re working with &Walsh, that’s when you started with the Biden campaign.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. Yeah. And it was another one of those kinds of, I was on my couch and I get this email that changes your life. I actually later found out that Robyn Kanner my boss at Biden approached Jessica Walsh asking for a designer. Because I interned for about three months. And then I freelanced for a little bit of time for &Walsh as well. And Robyn approached Jessica asking about a designer, and my name came up. And I think that’s what led to me interviewing for the position of designer with Biden for America. And I feel very thankful for people who just kind of put my name out there and stuff. I really love designing so much. And I love getting to make work with great people for great causes whenever I can. It’s not always possible, but I try to strive to be a part of that stuff as often as I can.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at the entirety of your career so far from interning at Nike, to Lagerfeld, and Hilfiger, &Walsh and everything, and even the Biden campaign, what did those experiences teach you as well?

Julian Williams:
Again, I get to talk to students now. And I’ve been having … oh God, I really love these talks because the questions that these students have just get more and more interesting and more and more personal and engaging. And I think that it would be so crappy of me to give a talk and then not give someone something that they can work with. I’ve had this in the past where I’ve been to a talk with a creative, and it just kind of feels like them talking about themselves the entire time.

Julian Williams:
I actually have three things that I tell people. One is to make things. And I feel like maybe the three things I have to say are quite obvious things. But I’ve met so many older designers who are just like, “You’re going to get older and you’re just going to get tired of design.” Because they see me making all this personal work and they just … and I just do not accept that. I love what I do. And I feel that just because I work, doesn’t mean that I can’t also make things just for the hell of it. Make stuff for no reason. Make stuff not to sell something. So I tell people to make things as often as I can, as often as they’re able to. Something else I say is to, and this is something I … I always was able to do this even before getting into the professional world.

Julian Williams:
But it’s worth it to invest in learning how to talk about yourself and your work. And I also, I always add onto that, I know that it’s not easy for everyone to get on a soap box, and talk about themselves, and things that they’ve done. But what I think is maybe a little more within reach for a lot of us is talking to our colleagues, and our friends, and our classmates about the things that we’re interested in, the things that we’re not interested in. And then that facilitates language about the way we think about work and maybe kind of guides us towards talking about our work. Because you can be the best designer, the most creative, innovative designer in the world. But if you aren’t able to kind of put yourself out there and talk about yourself and work, I think sometimes that may lead to problems.

Julian Williams:
And the last thing, which has honestly become my design manifesto in recent years is people matter. So don’t be an asshole. That also may seem quite simple. But I think one of the most important things I realized is that lots of the time, I feel the people matter more than the work in multiple ways.

Julian Williams:
One thing I tell students is, “When you go in to an interview, the people have seen your work. They know it. They’ve seen your Instagram, they’ve seen your website. The thing that they’re looking for is who you are. Because you’re essentially making a contract with them to be with them for a long period of time. So they want to see if you’re going to get along, if your values align.” And I think understanding that is important, and also just understanding that we should always carry ourselves with empathy. And I don’t know, just not being a jerk. That seems really simple.

Julian Williams:
But this isn’t related to the question that you just asked, but I do want to mention it. Something I end with is another kind of fortune cookie kind of lame thing to say. But it’s never too late to do anything. And I actually usually end my talks with students talking about my dad. Because my dad, he served in the Army for 30 years. He retired from the Army two years ago at the rank of command sergeant major. And I really feel appreciative of my dad. I mean, he supported his family for years. And I really think that my dad is an example of what a soldier should be.

Julian Williams:
I’m not a very pro military person, not a very pro United States military person. I think that my dad embodies what a soldier should strive to be. My dad was like, “My country is a world superpower. I’m here for my country if I’m needed. And I’m here to educate young soldiers about the ways that they should carry themselves with respect and treat other people with respect around the world.” And my dad has been so helpful to women within his ranks, and people of color, and queer people. And I feel so happy that people like my dad are there, because they often aren’t in the United States.

Julian Williams:
But my dad originally joined the Army to get money to go to art school. When I grew up, he was always drawing in sketchbooks and stuff. Well now that he’s retired, my dad has started studying graphic design at the age of 50. And I can’t begin to talk about how amazing this is. I was actually invited, so my dad is studying right now at community college. I think he may transfer to university later. But I was invited to give a talk to his class. And it was just the most incredible thing ever. And having conversations with my dad about what I do and giving him advice on work is … I think he tells me he’s inspired by me, and I’m just incredibly inspired by him doing what he wants because he loves to and understanding that it’s never too late. And he doesn’t care if he’s in a class with 19 and 20 year olds learning about design. He’s so excited about everything. And he’s learning some stuff that I don’t know about. My dad knows more about after effects than I do now. I need to catch up to Command Sergeant Major Williams.

Maurice Cherry:
Look at that. So you even had an opportunity to speak to your dad’s class?

Julian Williams:
Yes. And it was fantastic. And the questions they asked were really great. They were asking, because we’re living in this Zoom call world right now. And they were really asking me ways to kind of stay inspired and what I make content about. It was just wild to having my dad be my student for an hour.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious, have there been any kind of particular challenges that you’ve had to face, I would say as a black designer in Europe. But aside from that, you’re working between Europe, between the United States. I would imagine even just the volume and the quality of work might be different. Have you run into any challenges thus far? I don’t want to say thus far in your design career, because you have, because you’ve mentioned them. But I guess as it sort of breaks down among certain identities, like you mentioned you’re Black, you’re queer, you’re American, you’re German. Have there been particular challenges that have come with that for you as a designer?

Julian Williams:
Yeah. I think I’ll kind of just start talking about from racial, nationality view. So I always grew up between United States and Europe. And the way that racism exists in those places, their origins and the way it exists now is different in different ways. I feel that more outright directly racist in your face, things happen in the United States. And I’m actually nowadays quite fearful of those things, because they’re amplified by things like people being able to purchase weapons. So in a sense, if someone’s racist to me in the United States, I may hold my tongue about it because my mind is kind of like, “Well, they may have a gun if I say something.” Really, I fear for my life.

Julian Williams:
And I also tell people, because people in Europe ask me about my experience as a person of color in the U.S. And I tell them I feel like I think about my race every single day that I’m in the United States. In Europe, I don’t think about it every day, but I do think about it often. And also, the ways that racism happens to me, especially in the Netherlands is different. Do you know what Black Pete is?

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. And that’s such a weird thing that is always a conversation here in the Netherlands. So yeah, just in case people may not know, there is a caricature here in the Netherlands. In Dutch, he’s called Zwarte Piet. And he is basically a Golliwog. He is a Black person who kind of accompanies the Dutch version of Santa Claus. I’m mixing languages. Santa Claus is called Sinterklaas. And it’s tied to the origins of slavery. And people here in the Netherlands will cover themselves in blackface, draw on red lips. White Dutch people will draw on red lips, put on an afro, and gold hoop earrings. And it’s really ingrained in the culture here and is a conversation every single year. And black people in the Netherlands and decent people are explaining, “No, this isn’t okay.” There’s a whole campaign called Zwarte Piet Is Racisme, which is Black Pete is racism, that comes up every year. And there are people who say, “It’s part of our culture.”

Julian Williams:
So here, it’s funny. That is not life-threatening racism to me. But in a sense when stuff like that happens, often the excuse that people use is, “It’s not so bad. We’re not the United States. Our police aren’t killing Black people,” even though they are in lots of places in Europe. So I’m kind of told to silence myself a little bit.

Julian Williams:
I’ve also in the professional world have had experiences here. I mean, I’ve always physically worked as a designer in Europe. I had a little bit of freelance work when I was a student in the U.S. But for example, something that I really vividly remember, I went to have an interview for a little freelance gig in Amsterdam. And I was waiting in kind of the main lobby of the office building. And I could see the person who was going to interview me come down, but she didn’t know what I looked like. And it was raining outside. And a man came into the building, and you needed a key card to come in. And he buzzed himself in. And he was a white man. He had an umbrella, he had just gotten into the building. And the woman who was interviewing me came down and she stopped. She looked at me and then she looked at the man who came in and she said, “Julian?” So I was already like well, I’m obviously not her visual representation of what she thinks someone who would fill this position is. And I’m pretty sure it’s because of my physical appearance, because I am a Black man with dreadlocks. And somehow, that means that I can’t accomplish my job.

Julian Williams:
Which now I’m kind of like, “Well, that’s their loss.” But it’s unfortunate when you realize that kind of stuff. When you realize that that is the way that people go about … and it’s rancid to me because I definitely don’t ever think like that. I don’t think that someone’s physical appearance is going to affect how they can accomplish work.

Julian Williams:
So it’s interesting my kind of experience and relationship with racism in the countries that I’ve lived in and am a citizen of throughout my life, and the kind of give and take that I have to deal with personally and professionally. But one thing that I refuse to do is silence myself anywhere.

Julian Williams:
So actually, it was interesting this last year, Black Lives Matter protests obviously, I won’t even say erupted because I was in Black Lives Matter protests in Santa Fe when I was a student. But I feel like they were on quite a global kind of stage last year. And we had Black Lives Matters demonstrations in Amsterdam and in Belgium. And I made sure that I was a part of those because I felt that it’s important. Especially here where the kind of relationship with racism is, “It’s not as bad as in other places. So deal with it.” And the POC communities here are fed up and we’re like, “No, we need to have these same conversations.”

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned earlier when you were talking about your work with Tommy Hilfiger being into voguing, being in the ballroom community. How has that influenced your work?

Julian Williams:
So ballroom has a lot of interesting language that has kind of shifted through various communities. I feel like a lot of terms that maybe people, adopt or appropriate, different people might say different things, come from ballroom language. Like for example, the phrase reading. If you read someone, you’re kind of insulting them maybe in a roundabout way. That’s something that comes from ballroom. There actually used to be a category called reading where two people would stand apart from each other and they would just say vicious things to each other. And whoever said the most vicious things won. That’s a kind of like mainstream phrase now. I hear more people saying things like reading, what’s the tea, oh girl. And this kind of language, it’s very important to ballroom. But it’s also vital to queer people. Throughout the world, queer people and Black people have created coded language to survive. That is a fact dating back to the days of slavery. It’s a fact dating back to the ’80s in England and the United States for people to survive.

Julian Williams:
My relationship with the ballroom world and what I’m really thankful for about the ballroom world is that the seniors, the teachers of ballroom who are older, who lived through that nonsense, who lived through the AIDS epidemic, are doing a fantastic job of making sure that the young people entering into the ballroom scene understand where they’re coming from. That this is not just a competition. It’s not just us dancing. This is about us being alive and living our truth.

Julian Williams:
And I try to reflect that language and that communication in my work. Something else I’ll say that’s important about ballroom is the entire idea of ballroom. I maybe mentioned this a bit earlier, is that minority communities don’t often have the same opportunities that straight, white, cisgender male dominated people enjoy. And ballroom is kind of a play on that.

Julian Williams:
For example, there’s a category called executive realness. And there are categories called realness, which are about … realness is kind of like, a category called male figure realness is about a maybe gay, effeminate man who goes up and portrays himself as his straight counterpart. And that is a direct commentary on the fact that gay people in the real world outside of the ballroom very often have to do this to stay alive. They have to pretend to be heterosexual to be alive. So ballroom is always kind of about embodying the lives that we don’t have the opportunities to have as queer people of color. Executive realness is a category where you walk up to the judges dressed in a suit. Maybe you have a briefcase. You’re trying to show yourself as an executive, as an owner of a company. Which I mean we can see what the owners of companies and CEOs look like. They don’t very often look like people like me. And ballroom kind of challenges that, and gives us an opportunity to show that if we have the same opportunities as you, I could be an executive. Because I can dress like this, and I can walk the walk, and I can talk the talk, and I can present myself that way.

Julian Williams:
And it’s made me have some interesting thoughts about how I apply language to my work, how I apply typography. It’s also given me an interesting relationship with fashion. I’m very interested in fashion. My interest in fashion has evolved through my life. When I was living in Texas and stuff, I did not know anything about Jean Paul Gaultier or Saint Laurent. And it was actually kind of a joke when I joined Nike and other fashion brands that I didn’t know this. But I came from this world that kind of wanted to touch that. And ballroom people also are people who want to touch that fashion world, but maybe can’t because the lives that they live. So we’re driven to create stuff ourselves, to create amazing outfits that could be on the runways in Paris. And now we’re seeing with things like Pose and a lot of ballroom people are walking fashion shows in Paris and New York and stuff, that now it’s coming back. Now people want us. Now they’re seeing they’ve had it right the whole time. And we’re like, “Yeah, we’ve known this. It’s nice that you’re catching up.”

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best advice that you’ve been given about design?

Julian Williams:
It’s funny. Something I think about often kind of contradicts some of my own advice. But I think there’s kind of give or take with both of them. One of the piece of advice I was given is you can stand next to your poster. Basically saying once you make something as a visual communicator, ideally, someone will look at the thing that you’ve made and understand the message that you’re trying to convey. So you can’t stand next to something you’ve made and explain it. Which maybe goes a little bit against how I’m saying you should be able to talk about your work. But that’s, I think can apply to different things like the process and stuff. But that is an idea that I often come back to that you can’t stand next to your poster. You can’t stand next to your work and explain it to someone. So create always keeping in the back of your mind that this is for someone who knows nothing about what you’re making.

Julian Williams:
And kind of an offshoot of that, another good piece of advice I got at Nike actually was sometimes we would be in meetings. And when you work at Nike, you drink the Nike Kool-Aid. Everyone knows the brands. We all have our little acronyms for different stuff when we work there and stuff. Something one of my bosses said in a meeting that I found to be quite profound and I ended up saying it in other companies I worked for was, “Guys, let’s take the Nike glasses off. Let’s look at this as if we weren’t working here and we knew nothing about this.” And I think that is super powerful. And I’ve actually found myself in meetings with places I worked on in the future saying this. And I think it has a power to change a room, to have people look at projects differently. And understand at the end of the day, we are visual communicators. We have a job to accomplish. We have messages to communicate. And if we don’t do that successfully, we aren’t doing our job.

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

Julian Williams:
These days? I already talked about my dad. And that is something that lately I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.” But I think talking to younger people and seeing the way that they engage with social … oh my God. I’m saying younger people and I’m 25. Just to put that on there. Oh my God. Am I saying younger people already? Oh man. No, I am a millennial though. And the way that Generation Z interacts with technology, the fact that they have access to so much information so early is, I think other people are afraid of it. I’m like, “Hell yes, let’s turn the party. Make some cool stuff when you’re five years old.” That’s awesome.

Julian Williams:
But also the way that they’re involved with social things. Like after working in politics and stuff, I do wish that it would speed up a bit. But I don’t feel so much worry for when I’m 40. Because I know that the people behind me have their heads in the right place. They know what’s wrong and what’s right. And they understand how the world should be. And I think that they’re really making an effort to educate one another about what’s right and wrong, and the barriers that they need to break once they kind of get to the ages that we are at, where we’re more able to make some of that change. And some of them are saying screw that, we’re going to start making change now even though we’re 10, 12 years old. Because the internet and technology allows us to do that kind of stuff, to communicate with like-minded people. That’s what keeps me inspired. Maybe that’s not so much on a design level. But on a social change level and maybe creating content in the future, that’s what inspires me.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s what, 2026. You’ll be 30 years old. What kind of work do you, I didn’t mean to scare you there. But what kind of work do you see yourself doing?

Julian Williams:
I react to whatever is happening. When I finished the Biden campaign, I didn’t know what the next step was. I think there’s two things I’m interested in. One of them will definitely happen I know for sure. The other one I’m not so sure. The one I’m not so sure about is I would like to have a design studio of my own with other people. I’m also quite curious in that studio being a remote worldly design studio working with people all over. I’ve seen in the last year how common that’s become now because of the world that we’re living in right now. And it works. And I think it’s creating some interesting work. So having design studio might be interested.

Julian Williams:
The other thing that I definitely will do at some point in the future is I want to be an educator. I want to be a teacher in the field of graphic design. I actually feel like I have an ethical obligation to do so. I think it would be incorrect, I can say I’m quite happy with the career that I’ve had so far. I think that I’ve gotten to do some amazing things. I’ve definitely done some things that have been dreams of mine. And I feel so humbled, and fortunate, and privileged to have been able to do those things. And I think it would be incorrect for me to not pass on what I learned or the ways that I came to do that kind of stuff to other people. I actually feel like I need to be teaching at some point.

Julian Williams:
Even though I feel like it is an obligation, I also am very, very, very excited to do that. Especially after talking to students. I’ve never really given a proper design talk until this last year after I finished with Biden. I talked to my dad, I talked to some schools in New Mexico. I just spoke to the University of Arkansas who have some wonderful students who ask some really engaging questions. And it’s making me so excited. Because the best way to learn from people is to have conversations about what interests them and stuff they’re working on. That was the way that I learned about design when I was at university. No syllabus, no lesson plan is ever going to be more valuable than talking to your mates I think.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know what you mean there. I mean, I’ve got this podcast where I get to talk to people from all over the world, which is great. So I definitely get a chance to … I have to say that’s the one thing that really kind of helped me get through even just this whole pandemic is being able to still connect with other creatives and talk about their work, and what they’re doing, and things like that. So, yeah. Well just to wrap things up here Julian, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Julian Williams:
So my website, which maybe it’s due for an update is J-O-O-F-W-O-O-F .com. That’s where you can find my kind of portfolio stuff. If you want to see the really fun stuff, follow me on Instagram @joofwoof. That’s @ J-O-O-F-W-O-O-F. You can find some voguing there, mainly design. I post a lot of my personal work on there. I talk about Phoebe Bridgers a lot who is a musician that I love and am a bit obsessed with. And I often find myself talking about her in these talks I give to students, and there’s always some students who feel the same way I do. So that’s really exciting. And you can follow me on Twitter @joofwoof J-O-O-F-W-O-O-F as well for some fun, maybe weird wild content.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well Julian Williams, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Even just as the time that I spent just researching and finding out about what you do and about your story and everything, I’m like, “This young man is so talented.” I cannot wait to see what kind of work you are doing in the next five, 10 years, whatever. I mean, even just the work that you’ve done so far, the fact that you have all these cultural references and experiences that you can pull from. I mean, I’m captivated by your story. I hope that people listening to this are captivated as well. So just keep on doing what you’re doing. Because it’s working, man. But again, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Julian Williams:
Oh gosh. Thank you so much. [German 01:25:51].

Sponsored by State of Black Design Conference

State of Black Design Conference

Texas State University’s Communication Design Program and the Common Experience are excited to announce the State of Black Design Conference, presented by IBM, April 9-10.

The theme of the conference is “Black Design: Past. Present. Future,” and the event will bring together aspiring designers with academic and industry professionals for networking opportunities, career development workshops, and important panel discussions with leaders in the field.

If you are a company looking to diversify your workforce, or a designer of color looking for your next role, be sure to attend the State of Black Design Conference. Recruiters have until April 5 to register.

Get your ticket today at https://txstate.edu/blackdesign, and follow the event online on Instagram or Twitter.

The State of Black Design Conference is presented by IBM, with additional sponsorship from Adobe, Civilla, AIGA, Texas State’s College of Fine Arts and Communication, and the School of Art and Design.

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.

Malika Reid

As we slide into the final month of this year, I caught up with the dynamic Malika Reid, art director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners. While her stomping grounds are usually in the Bay Area, Malika was down in Tulum, Mexico for a much-needed respite from the U.S. (I know that’s right.)

Malika talked about her day-to-day work at GS&P, and shared how her background growing up in south Florida among Caribbean family members and community helped shape her creative approach. She also spoke about how she first became interested in advertising, working with nonprofits, and and growing into her own unique voice. According to Malika, anyone can chart their own path, and her life and career are living proof of that!

Hank Washington

Meet Hank Washington, the owner of Hank Design Studios. His studio’s mission is to help brands turn strangers into friends, and Hank does this through the design and illustration. I was glad to catch up with him recently, not too long after his move to Atlanta.

We spoke about weathering the pandemic, and Hank shared how the first few months of business has went for his studio. He also talked about growing up in a small Southern town and being exposed to design as a kid, moving to Alabama to consider pursuing his dream, and gave some great advice for any designers out there looking to hone their unique style.

Hank’s illustration style is a good indicator of what kind of designer he is — creative, playful, and willing to think outside the box. And now that he’s struck out on his own, there’s no telling where his skills will take him!

Sponsor

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

Arthell Isom

This week’s episode will be a real treat for anime fans out there! I had the opportunity to talk with Arthell Isom, co-founder of Japanese animation studio D’ART Shtajio. You’ve probably seen his studio’s work on The Weeknd’s video “Snowchild”, or as part of the hip-hop inspired indie anime Tephlon Funk, but how did he come to be the first Black man to own an animation studio in Japan?

We talked about his current road to success, and Arthell shared how he runs the studio from day to day. He also gave his thoughts on representation in animation, what he loves about Japan, and he discussed why he started a studio there instead of the U.S. Arthell is making history and I love that he is blazing a trail for others to show that it can be done!

Sponsor

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, five weeks.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

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

Randall Parrish:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
I can’t answer things simply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
Oh, I know about Layer Tennis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
Big dry spell?

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

Randall Parrish:
Everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so you have a Switch?

Randall Parrish:
I have a Switch, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
PS4?

Randall Parrish:
Yep. PC.

Maurice Cherry:
Got a Xbox One? PC?

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Agreed. I agree.

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Parrish:
That’s correct.

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

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

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