Matai Parr

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

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

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

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

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

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

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

Rudy Manning

Agencies play a critical role in ensuring that the next generation of creatives reflects the world we live in, and Rudy Manning takes that responsibility very seriously. As the co-founder and chief creative officer of Pastilla Inc., he is dedicated to not only providing services for a diverse range of clients, but also for making opportunities to get more people of color working in the design.

Rudy starts off talking more about Pastilla, and showing the ins and outs of what it takes to operate an agency. He also spoke about growing up in Panama and Germany before coming to the U.S., shared some stories of his early days designing DVD magazines, and how the combination of these experiences brought him to founding his own creative agency. Rudy also talked about teaching the next generation of designers at ArtCenter, being board president at Art Division, and gave some great advice for anyone looking to start their own agency one day. Rudy’s passion for all things design and his drive to help uplift others truly makes him a design leader worth following!

Interview Transcript

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

Rudy Manning:
My name is Rudy Manning and I am a creative director. My title is the Chief Creative Officer for an agency that I started about 18 years ago or 19 years ago now, called Pastilla based out of Pasadena or Los Angeles, California.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that’s pretty good. So you’re coming up on 20 years of that.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, yeah, I know. We’re getting excited. We put a big event together for everybody who’s been a part of this journey. So yeah, it’s a big milestone.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It feels like the milestones sneak up on you. You’re so busy sometimes in the work and doing it that you look up and you’re like, “Wait a minute, I’ve been doing this for 20 years?”

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, I’m telling you, it goes by… When you’re in it, sometimes it feels like it’s treading along, but then you look back and you’re like, wow, awesome. Yeah. Super grateful to still be in business and have it continue to thrive. So super excited.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2023 been going so far?

Rudy Manning:
Really, really good. There was a lot of things shifted in the agency about five years ago. I merged with another agency that was one of our partners. They were doing a lot of development for us and probably for most of the time at the agency, up to that point, they were the main development partner for anything we did that was digital base. We decided after a long relationship to just come together, it just made sense. And that really shifted the trajectory of the agency the past five years. We’ve matured, we’ve grown substantially in that time. Really, really just have a little bit more of a focus.

2023 is, I think, really excited because, although a lot of things in the economy are uncertain, I feel like we’ve done some pretty smart things that have kept us afloat and kept us strong. Definitely the kind of work that we do in those years of the pandemic really ended up helping out for us because we’re a creative branding agency, really branding led, but we do a lot of digital products. So obviously there was a lot of investment in things digital. So that really helped out and now we’re positioned for a very steady growth of 2023. So, so far so good.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, were there any big goals that you wanted to accomplish this year?

Rudy Manning:
Well, last year one of the big goals we had was growth. I’m going to go a little bit into agency talk. This might go a little bit deep, but I think if somebody’s out there listening and has an agency, I think this is really important. Every year is different. Sometimes it’s like revenue, sometimes it’s profit, sometimes it might be people. There’s the goal, growing. And last year it was a lot about refining the team, making sure that the people who we had were working well together. Not only just processes, but the personalities and the right roles and the right balance of folks that really can help continue to lead and build the company and service our clients.

So that was a really huge goal and we owe huge testament to a lot of people in our agency, but definitely our HR team and we really refined a team. At the end we started off the year now knowing that the staff that we have is solid, they’re working together, a really well oiled machine and I feel like we’ve achieved that last year and this year now it’s becoming about really working. I’m calling the title for this year, nurture the details, which is about going a little deeper into the relationships that we have with our clients and not just servicing them, but really understanding their needs from a full 360 to be able to deliver as much value as we can. Not necessarily growth from growing clients, but growing the clients that we have currently.

So that’s really what I’m focused on for this year, and so far so good. We’ve already in the first two months have been able to do that pretty well. So I’m looking to continue to foster that in the team. And from the creative, the same thing. Being able to push the creative further and further, be able to deliver the best at every single thing that the client sees and making sure that they continue to stay with us, continue to come back and continue to see us as a strong partner to be able to service them in other things that maybe they didn’t even think we can help them with.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s jump more into talking about Pastilla. You’re the co-founder and chief creative officer. You’ve already given a little bit of background about the team and the services and stuff. What really sets Pastilla apart from other agencies?

Rudy Manning:
It’s funny, when I was in school, in design school, I graduated and a lot of people during that time were like, “Oh, I’m going to jump into web. I’m going to work in motion. I’m going to work in print.” But really at that time, you had to know a little bit of everything, but I really liked having to cross-discipline position and I was working everything from packaging to environmental to doing film titles, commercials, apps, even back in 2003, 2004. I’ve always been in this cross sector of creative where it didn’t matter what discipline it was.

Now, that’s been really fun. A really, really exciting 20 years. I’ve learned a lot. It wasn’t easy because you do have to, to continue to sell, there is a certain pattern and you want agencies or you want clients to have that one thing that they think about you. And when you’re working and building the agency, it’s really tough to figure that out because you’re just taking things as it comes. And especially if I’m the kind of person that’s excited about a lot of different things, it’s been tough. It was really tough, I would say the first 12, 13 years. We were doing motion one year and the next year we’re doing the launch campaign for Microsoft Surface Tablet in 2012 or ’13. So very, very different projects, but exciting nonetheless. But made it difficult because when you tell the story of who your agency is, you really want to have the repeat factor. Even if it’s a different story and positioning, you do want to have this focus. So that was tough.

Around that time, 2013, I decided what we really do well and what I really like to do the most out of everything we did was branding and really looking at every client that came to us from a branding perspective, whether it was a brand new client where it’s a brand new company where you’re doing strategy, naming, identity system, and then executing that, which makes sense because we had that full service. That was something that finally, I would say at that time, we were able to start really honing down who we are as a branding agency. But at the same time, what made it interesting is we also had a deep understanding of how to put that company or that brand in action. So how it applies in digital, how it applies in motion, how it applies in print, and being able to do the full picture after we do the identity system.

It took a long time to do that and to get to that point, but I feel like that was one huge defining point at refining who we are, that made us stand out, at least let’s say in 2013 to 2016 or so. Then, I would say around that time, 2016, I started feeling like I wanted to do work that mattered a little bit more. Not that any of the work that we did didn’t matter, but something was in me that felt like I want to be able to be a part of the communication and deliver creative to projects and initiatives that had some kind of social impact through some different situations.

I ended up learning a little bit about the government work and how to approach it. It took a very long time, but I really got interested in being able to service the same kind of level of high end creative, the same kind of level of thinking and focus that we give to the private sector clients, but give it to more civic, public or nonprofit clients. And I would say it was specifically public sector. So we won one project, for the city of Pasadena we did a anti-tobacco campaign. That went really, really well and that’s when I got the bug of like, “Wow, I really like this idea of designing for the people directly, designing for communities.”

And now looking at eight years later or so, just last year rebranded… Well, this year, we actually just finished rebranding a city, the identity, the strategy and we’re going to continue to serve them. It was a really amazing experience to be able to put all that we’ve learned this first 18 years into branding a city. One of the reasons they picked us was because we weren’t a typical public sector type of agency. They said it right in the first town hall that they had. They chose us because we were not the typical public agency that spoke government and so forth. They felt like we were a little bit more on the ground and had a fresh perspective. We commend them for that as well because I know that often we lose because there’s other agencies that know how to speak that.

So I would say we have this well-rounded full service agency that’s branding focused, most of our clients come through us for that. And that we’re civic minded, civic social impact minded. We do things in sustainability and so forth. And sometimes some private sector clients come to us because of that. We also have that passion for doing work that matters and that directly affects people and communities.

Maurice Cherry:
I would have to imagine that city branding project was a lot of fun. When you think about the scope of what that entails, it’s not just, “Oh, we’re going to make a logo and a style guide.” There’s so much that has to go into that level of branding because a city is more than just a company, it’s more than just a brand. It’s not a society but I say that to say that the scope of something like that is immense.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, absolutely. We underestimated some parts of it. The discovery and the research that we had to do, especially because we’re not based in the city. It was the city of Corona and we’re maybe about an hour away from them. One of the comments in the beginning when they first introduced us to the city council was like, “Oh, why didn’t you guys go with a company that was in the city of Corona, or from the city?” We had to invest a lot of time into proving that an outsider, an agency that comes can have a fresh perspective, can do just as good if not a better job than somebody who’s really close to the city.

So the discovery and the strategy was a lot of work, a lot of workshops, a lot of meetings, a lot of popups that we had to do to get engagement and really validate the messaging and the final outcome of the identity.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s tough to get right, because so many people that are in a city, it’s not just business, it’s not just commerce, it’s everyday citizens. It’s so so hard to get right. I guess the reason I’m speaking about this so passionately is because I’m in Atlanta and we were known for a spectacularly bad city branding campaign back in the early to mid 2000s. I happened to be working in the city, working in tourism. So I got to see it unfold from the inside about how bad it was. But yeah, we were known for a spectacularly bad branding campaign called Brand Atlanta. I was working in the city in tourism at the time, and just seeing it unfold from the inside was horrible because you could tell that the people that were putting this together, and I think they got a local agency to do it, but what can happen, and I think you probably know this too, is that the client can get so held up in what their vision of it should be, that it’s hard for the agency to do the necessary research and work that needs to happen in order to really provide good work.

And so basically we just had all these suits that were in our tourism board. There were like, “Atlanta is this,” and as someone who… I’m not from Atlanta, but I’ve lived in Atlanta, I’m from the South. I was like, “Atlanta is so much more than these things that you think it is.” They thought Atlanta was the zoo and the baseball team and all the very family friendly, squeaky clean sort of stuff. But I’m like, “Atlanta is also hip hop and strip clubs, it’s all of that. And you’re trying to sanitize this vision of what the city is, because at the time they were trying to get more conferences to come to the city, which was the main point of them doing the rebrand is to make the city seem more appealing.

They did it. They rolled it out. We had, I think it happened at a Falcons game where they did the whole Brand Atlanta rollout. They had the symphony and they wrote this song. They had this song that was written with T.I. and Usher and it was all horrible. People hated it. It was so bad. It was so bad. There are very little, if any traces of it still around in the city because they quickly covered it up after it went out. So city branding is tough. It’s so tough to get right.

Rudy Manning:
That would be our worst nightmare. And actually, there’s one project that we had pitched a couple years ago. I can’t name the university, but we came in very close to winning it. We ended up losing it to another company who had a lot of experience in higher ed. One of the main things I pitched that got us very close is I said, “This is not a logo identity we’re doing. We’re really doing a political campaign in a sense. We have to approach everything we do to get people, the students, the instructors, to believe in the direction before we even go in that direction. So we have to really understand what it is that the students and the faculty need and what do they believe to then be able to communicate an identity system.”

But what happened is at some point it seemed like they jumped the gun. We didn’t get it. Three years later, they end up reaching back to us saying, “This was a horrible experience what happened to us, everybody hated the logo. There was political nightmare, PR nightmare, communication nightmare in the school.” And obviously it was too late at that point, but they’re like, “Definitely we should have gone by you.” There’s literally an email saying, “We regret going with this other agency. We should have gone by you because the direction that you were pitching was exactly what we needed.”

One of the ideas was the students at the school, the graphic design students, they need to be a part of this identity for the school. They need to have their hands in it in some kind of way. All of that just really gets people to feel that this came from within. It has to feel like that with anything like that. If not, it’s really, really hard. So I don’t know. It’s crazy.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rudy Manning:
[inaudible 00:18:34]

Maurice Cherry:
When new projects come in with you sitting at the head of the company, do you get to work hands-on with them?

Rudy Manning:
I do. We’re about 35 or so people with some contractors definitely goes up to maybe even close to 50. The design team, we’re pretty nimble. So I’m the creative director. We have an art director and we have a few graphic designers and UX designers and so forth. But I still am, as the acting creative director, at least maybe for the next couple years, I am potentially looking to bring in a creative director.

So that means that basically I don’t design, but I review. I give critiques. I give from either my art director or my lead designers, senior designers. They will go and do the work themselves and then come back, present to me. I give them feedback, I give my thoughts. They present to me, I give them feedback on how to present, what kinds of things to say. And every now and then I’ll have to present. But seldom, less and less. I think my team’s gotten to the point where they’re pretty good at understanding my vision and so forth.

Sometimes in the beginning I set some parameters, I would say, around the direction of where we should go based off the strategy or whatever it may be. But often they’ll come to me with some ideas and then I’ll take those ideas and give them some feedback on refining them, even if it’s just general higher level concepts.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re not, like you said, working hands on but you’re still pretty close to the project in that you get to see it unfold, kind of step by step.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I do a lot of other things. My partner now rents most of the operations, but I’m still really responsible for a lot of the business development, the relationship of our clients and overseeing all the accounts, not just from the creative, but managing the entire perspective of the direction of that client.

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

Rudy Manning:
Lot of calls. I think these days, we’ve had an office for probably the first 15 years of our company and just after we merged with Kremsa, is the name of the company that we merged with. Just after that, we decided, you know what? Let’s go remote for a little bit. We were trying to figure out how the two companies were going to come together. We did that for about a year, year and a half. We started looking for an office. Then the pandemic hit. So it was frustrating for me working remote, but I literally learned to adapt. We all have adapted pretty well for it. Sometimes we obviously meet, and I say that because one of the drawbacks now is on a lot of meetings because we have to force those kind of interactions between people. So that means my days are pretty booked up with calls.

I would probably say I spend about at least five to six hours a day on calls. I would say half of it is internal things, whether it be operational meetings or looking at something we’re doing internally to market ourselves or project stuff, account managers presenting to me where we’re at with the client, the margins, what new projects are coming along and so forth. So I do that and then probably 10, 20% of the day might be some creative meeting that I have with the team where they’re presenting some ideas or so forth. But most of it’s operational business meetings. Yeah, I would say that’s basically my whole entire day.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Business development’s important though, because you got to bring them in, you got to bring the client work in.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s always been something I’ve done forever, just naturally, it’s been something that I’ve always just somehow understood. So it’s the thing that probably, from a financial point of view, that’s the biggest value right now that I bring to the company is the business development. Most of the projects come through something of my relationship or some doing of our content or so forth. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Is it tough balancing the creative and the business sides of running an agency?

Rudy Manning:
It is, and it’s getting harder and harder because I talk about how we’re now remote and how many hours I’m on calls, because so much of it is that higher level strategic thinking of the business, the client, operations, who do we need to hire? What’s happening with this hire? Do we need to bring in another person for this? Hey, there’s an issue with this client, this is what we need to do, or here’s some cool things that we can do or new projects, pitches, proposals. All of that really takes up most of my time.

So staying creative is really, really important for me. I try to do that as much as I can. I sort of time box it. So one of the things, we just moved into a new house a year and a half ago, two years ago. So I’ve had a lot of fun just doing interior design and designing the space and just remodeling the house and not just hands on, but the actual design part of it. So I’ve had a lot of fun doing that and bringing my design into that. It’s been something I’ve been enjoying. At least right now, that’s definitely a way I’m getting my creative output. Also teaching is really great as well. Hearing students work and giving feedback at that level as well, that also feeds me tremendously.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want to talk more about your teaching later, but before we get to that, I want to learn more about you. I want to learn about how you got to where you are now, where you’re running an agency and you’ve got it staffed with all these designers and things like that. So tell me about where you grew up. Are you originally from California?

Rudy Manning:
No, actually I’m Panameno. I was born in Panama. Yeah, I came here. We immigrated with my parents here when I was seven or eight years old. We came here. My dad joined the Army. He thought this is probably the best way for us to make a living for him and provide for us. Immediately after that, I would say about a year after we moved here, he got shipped to Germany. So I was basically, that’s where I learned English was in Germany.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Rudy Manning:
I only spoke Spanish, so I was there for about almost four years, I think. Then we came back to United States when I was 11. We were basically in Los Angeles, and then we moved to Rialto. So basically from 11, 12 up, I’ve been in Southern California area. I went to high school in Redlands. After my mom and dad divorced, my mom moved towards that area and that’s where actually I ended up meeting somebody who gave me a little bit of a hint about me wanting to maybe study graphic design at the high school. So I went to Redlands High School and then from there I graduated, went to Cal Poly Pomona for a couple years, and then ended up transferring to ArtCenter, which is what brought me to Pasadena.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, back before you went to Cal Poly Pomona and everything, as you were traveling between these different countries as a kid and then eventually settling in California, did you always have an interest in design and creativity and stuff like that?

Rudy Manning:
I think it was mainly just drawing. I loved to draw since I was a little kid. My brother as well. We both used to just draw together, and he’s a graphic designer too. My dad studied architecture for a little bit in Panama, but he’s always drawn and painted his whole life. We have a pretty artistic family. So my dad, since we were little, always was drawing and we’d copy his drawings and he’d go one by one and then we’d follow what he was doing. We’d do that all the time, in front of the TV. We’d sit down and he’d be talking, he’d be showing us what to do. Did that for many years and my mom, a little bit after, my mom and dad divorced, my mom started a business. So then got to see that part of it. She’s been really successful at it.

So got to see the benefits of owning your own company and your own business and what kind of freedom that gives you, and the satisfaction and seeing her in it, that drove that part of it as well. So I think those two things combined is what got me the framework of thinking of building an agency.

I would say, I remember I stopped drawing at 11 or 12 years old. I don’t know why.I think I just ended up playing baseball. My focus was different and I was just playing baseball all the time. And then one day, I don’t know why, I just remember, I was 14 and I was just like, “You know what? Let me draw a baseball player.” That’s what I loved. And I remember I drew Orel Hershiser. I had it in my art class and I took it to school. I remember that feeling of everybody like, “Oh my gosh, you drew this? How did you…” That reaction, you kind of had a similar background as an artist, you’re like, man, there’s this feedback that you get that’s a little bit of this high. I’ll never forget that. So I just kept on drawing and then that went to painting, and then I was just taking art and painting classes. And eventually that took over my passion for baseball, and that’s all I wanted to do, was draw on paint sports figures.

I wanted to be like Leroy Neiman, who’s a very famous sports fine artist painter. And then until I was in one of my art classes, I think I was a junior or something, it was a student in there who was a really good artist who was going to graduate. And I asked him, “Hey, what are you going to do after school?” And he’s like, “Oh, I’m going to go to PCC, Pasadena City College, and then I’m going to transfer to ArtCenter and study graphic design.” I’m like, “Oh, what’s that?” And he’s like, “It’s like doing things for MTV.” And I remember going, “Dang.” That was the days of MTV, MTV, the real MTV. And I was like, “That is amazing. Graphics for MTV.” I didn’t even know the word graphics actually. I just thought art for TV that people could see. So I remember that, and that always stuck with me.

So when I graduated, I was just looking for a school that had graphic design, which wasn’t that many. And Cal Poly ended up being one of those schools. So that’s where I dove into graphic design for the first time there.

Maurice Cherry:
How was your time at Cal Poly Pomona?

Rudy Manning:
It was interesting because I think in high school I was pretty kept in. I didn’t do a lot of stuff. I feel like when I got to Cal Poly, I was in the dorms and I just got this freedom of like, “Oh my gosh, I’m on myself.” So I went down that, it was a lot of fun, but it was like I probably didn’t know what to do with all of that energy. So one thing is I would say my focus wasn’t there as it should be those first couple years. I want to say, despite that, I struggled a bit with graphic design there. For whatever reason, I didn’t make the connection.

There was a lettering class I remember. The lettering class that we had, it was all about craftsmanship. You had to draw, let’s say the letter E with Prisma color, and it was like a five-inch height type and you have to draw it so it literally looks like it’s printed. It was very difficult that class for me, not because I couldn’t do it, I could do it, but I didn’t have the patience. I wanted to design. I wanted to draw. I remember the instructor saying, “If you get a C or under in this class, I highly suggest you don’t continue in graphic design, ’cause graphic design is really tough.” And I remember as, not to say fine artist, tough as well, but in terms of, I think what he was saying is, “You really have to love this to really continue in this direction.” It was one of the first classes in graphic design you were suppose to take.

So towards the whole class, I was just like, I’m struggling. I think I’m going to get a C. The final project was you get to draw something and use letter form and typography and visuals together. So I got to do this book cover. I remember I did a Malcolm X book cover and you put it up to class, the final, and everybody was just looking at this project, looking at my project, and the teacher was like, “Who did this?” It was the first time out of the whole entire term that I felt any kind of positivity in that class. All the time, it was just like… I remember going, “What’s happening?” And so I walked out of class and the instructor, said, “Hey, I know I said you shouldn’t be in graphic design, or if you get a C or lower, I think you’re going to get a C.” I’m like, “Yeah, I know.” And he’s like, “Well, I think you should stay in graphic design though.” So I was like, “Oh, huh, okay.” I walked away, still struggled, still was a tough time in the other classes.

Somebody had told me, “Hey, you got to take a class at ArtCenter. You’d be really good at it.” I’m like, “I don’t know what you see, because I’m struggling in every graphic design.” I did great in the painting classes. Those are the ones I really loved. So I took a night class. She ended up just convincing me, and I was nervous because I thought, man, back then I thought ArtCenter’s this sort of mecca. I took a night class, like an extension class while I was still at Cal Poly.

The first day you go and you present your ideas for a logo. I was just drawing and sketching and concepting stuff, put it up. I knew the moment the teacher started talking, the first, not even to my project, another student, I thought this, I’m in love. I literally felt like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I just never took another class at Cal Poly. Again, Cal Poly, this was early on in Cal Poly for their graphic design. So they really were working things and some amazing designers came out of this. So that was just me at that time. But I just fell in love with graphic design at ArtCenter. I eventually finished my foundation at Cal Poly. Then I got a full scholarship actually after a couple classes I took at ArtCenter. I built my portfolio, some from Cal Poly, some from the ArtCenter, and I got a full scholarship, a James Irvine scholarship.

That was it. Kind of changed my life. The only hiccup during that time is a girl that I had been dating ended up getting pregnant. So I ended up having a child pretty early on. So I was starting ArtCenter while learning to be a father at the same time. So that’s another story.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Rudy Manning:
Definitely all came all at once, but definitely matured me and I think eventually was all for the good, of course.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’ve heard from a lot of folks on this show that sometimes when they go into school having a lot of this artistic ability and love, sometimes the school can almost effectively snuff it out of them through the professors or the courses or anything like that. So it’s good that you still had that spark and decided to continue it by going somewhere else that was probably more focused in the direction that you needed to go, which of course now, based on where you’re at right now, that was a good direction to take.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s crazy. You never know. Those little moments. I remember thinking like, “Oh gosh, the classes are at night and this and that.” But yeah, I loved those classes. I wanted to spend all my time in the ArtCenter at night classes then. So, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve graduated, you’re out there as a working designer. What was your early career before you started Pastilla?

Rudy Manning:
As I mentioned during school, I definitely like to get my hands in everything that was design. I think it’s one of the reasons I mentioned earlier, I like even just interior design. I have a passion for anything that is where you’re taking these elements of your artistic being and putting into some physical space or visual space or designing a city. So I definitely can see how all those things combining works together. And I did the same thing at school. And so when I graduated, I wanted to work somewhere that didn’t want to push me into one direction. I didn’t want to work in an agency that only had me do print, only doing web, or only doing motion. So the best place was a company then called… I had a couple different companies, but I think towards the end it was called Quick Band Networks or DVD Mags, which was you basically are designing a DVD magazine is what they call it.

So every month you would get a subscription of a DVD. One of them was short films. You get one DVD of short films, another one was music. So you get to have these music videos and all this content on these DVDs. I got to design basically the editorial, but the interactive part. So I got to do the identity of each of the magazines. I got to do the interactive part of the DVD. I got to do the animation of the DVD. I got to do the ads. So that to me was perfect. I got to get my hands in all of that. That’s really where I started for the first couple of years. I started freelancing a little bit after that. And that took me to Nokia for about four years. I worked there really as a freelancer.

I had a feeling at that time that at some point I’m going to start my own company just because I really enjoyed working with my own clients. So in between that, I took freelance projects at night and weekends, and I really enjoyed having full control of like, I’m presenting to the client, I’m giving them my vision, and I’m able to directly connect with them to be able to persuade them of the concept that I think is right. Rather than, here’s a bunch of ideas, now you have somebody else pitching it for you. So I really love that. So I thought, I’m going to start my own studio. But I needed to build up enough momentum as a freelancer.

So I really freelanced for about six years. Then when I was at Nokia, I said it was a time of my life, I got divorced in my late 20s and I thought might be a good time for me to do this now for a lot of different reasons. So I told Nokia, “I’m going to start my own company. If you guys would like to hire more of me, I’d be happy to take the work and continue as my own company.” And so Nokia was my first client. So I’m super thankful for that. For the first couple years, a lot of the work we did was Nokia. And so that was the first momentum of Pastilla, which was then called Pastilla Studio.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. You must have made some really great relationships at Nokia in order for them to entrust you with that. Say, I’m going to go out on my own. And they’re like, “Okay, great. We’ll still toss some work your way.”

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, definitely. I worked really hard for them, was really great people, a lot of them, some of them I knew from ArtCenter. I got to meet people from all over the world there and really was a time where technology was in a bit of transition. Imagine that was like 2000, a couple years before that. The iPhone definitely hadn’t come out. But before that, Google had just come out a couple years before that. It’s really early on. So I think I came with that diverse background of motion, interactive and print, and being able to cross-discipline. I think that really, the design director, Gerardo, liked that so I was able to really use my diverse background and experiences to Nokia and help the team out for those four years. So yeah, we did some great work.

Maurice Cherry:
Honestly, coming with those skills at a time when as soon as you said DVD magazines, I was like, oh, I already know when this happened. This is turn of the century or turn the millennium, whatever, like ’99, 2000. I remember those DVD magazines vividly. But yeah, coming with all those skills at a time when technology and design and the web were growing at this rapid pace, the stuff that you were doing didn’t really even exist 10 years ago. The advent of the personal computer and the internet becoming something that was no longer bound to DVDs or CDs that you get in the mail. The fact that things were growing at this rapid pace and you’re coming in with all these skills, especially at a time when companies are trying to decide, “How do I become a part of this new thing? How do I have a website? How do I take orders online or do all this stuff?” And you show up to the scene well-equipped like, “Hey, I’ve got the skills if you got the work.” Sounds good.

Rudy Manning:
Yep, exactly. Exactly, exactly. It was a really fun time.

Maurice Cherry:
And now while you were building Pastilla, it sounds like there were other ventures that you were doing as well, right? You did some work with an app, you founded a film company, I guess. Tell me about those other ventures.

Rudy Manning:
Obviously from let’s say 2004, those first 10 years were extremely busy for me. Continues to be anytime you’re a business owner. But those first 10 years I was basically raising my kids. I have a boy and a girl from my first marriage. And so I was raising the kids while starting this company essentially. We have 50-50 custody. So they got to share that experience. So those first 10 years was extremely busy. I would say around 2014 maybe, 2013, a friend came to me about an idea that he had for a startup, and he wanted me to look at it and see if I was interested in being his partner. He presented to me, did this whole pitch. And basically what it was is, to be honest, it’s not that different than what Instagram Reels is, what TikTok is now. The only company that was doing something sort of similar was musically that ended up becoming TikTok back then.

But even then it was very different, the UX. So basically at the end, what it was is you select video clips from your phone and it strings a video edited to music together. The thing that it did a little different was it took the music patterns and did the edit based on the pattern of the music, the rhythm, the beats per minute. There were 5 second ones, 15, 20, 30 I think it was. And so we built the app, we started it, we got some funding.

I learned a lot. Number one, I was able to use all of the tools and experience that I have learned, not just from owning an agency, but also working with clients as well. So it was really great. But it was tough. It was tough because it was at a time where we saw Instagram really starting to, I hate to say it, but just copy what everybody else was doing, so see what’s happening. And so like, “Oh, I like discovery. I like how Snapchat’s doing. Okay. Yeah. All right, let’s do this.” And then they bought the music catalog of Universal then.

And that’s where, okay, this is going to be really tough to… Even though the technology was different and interesting, it was not going to be able to compete because it had to be a platform. So it was more like a tool and a feature. So after I would say couple years, we got some awards and things out of it and definitely some really good recognition. But we decided to close that. Around that time, I got married in 2014, so we’ve been married about nine years. And my wife is actually a filmmaker. She has always wanted to be a director. And during that time, she was building her career. So she started making brand films. She’s an amazing storyteller. It was perfect because obviously I had done motion, I had been part of doing BFX for films and so forth.

So we started… It’s her thing. This is what she runs to this day now. It’s been maybe five years, but we took some of the experience that I had in motion and put it into what now it’s actually called Fe Films, Fe Brand Films or Fe Films. So she does brand films, she does motion graphics work, but really the thrust is she’s looking to have it be a full-fledged feature film company. So she’s doing some short films and some narrative work on that. She’s got a couple scripts that have been optioned and she’s been working with. So that’s, when you saw Fe Brand Films, that’s what it is. All of the motion parts that were Pastilla or most of it got diverted into Fe Films now.

Maurice Cherry:
And now also you’re board president of Art Division. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Rudy Manning:
Yeah. About two, three years ago, let me back up a little bit from that because, say about 10 years ago I had this thought and I had mentioned to my wife, “Wow, our studios are empty on Saturdays and Sundays. Wouldn’t be amazing to go out and bus students from the different areas in Los Angeles and different groups and be able to teach kids graphic design?” I’ve always had a passion for kids. And at that point I had just started teaching as well. So I thought, yeah, this could be really interesting to do. And so I had it in the back of my head, but with everything else, this was really busy and I never really was able to put the gas on that.

And then about two, three years ago, somebody recommended me, introduced me to Art Division, which was a school in Rampart District of Los Angeles that was teaching fine arts, visual arts to kids specifically in that area, primarily of Latino immigrants. Me speaking Spanish, being Latino, I felt like, I wanted to get to know a little bit more about the school. So went in, heard a little bit about it. Definitely saw some potential for me from my background coming from teaching at ArtCenter. Also, some of the things I have been thinking about in the past and learning from what they’re doing, seeing if that could be something I can learn from and be a part of something that was really giving kids who have graduated high school, have amazing art talent, be able to give them the ability for another chance to develop a career in arts. And then me maybe be a part of introducing design to their curriculum.

So after six months of being on the board, I was selected as the board president. And for the past year and a half, that’s been my role. What I’ve been doing is slowly trying to find ways to include graphic design into the curriculum. And we hope, hopefully by this fall, we have at least a couple classes that we start to teach. We’re developing that right now. We’ve done some graphic design workshops where kids have come in to hear a little bit about who I am. I’m also looking to introduce some of the designers from Pastilla also potentially to even go there and do some teaching and so forth and be able to give back to these kids. Because some of them, they’re artists, they have a passion for art and design, but who knows? That art background could end up becoming a design passion and graphic design passion and can end up having a career. It’s really tough and really expensive to go to school these days, especially art school. So giving them some of these opportunities I think could be really interesting. So I’m looking forward to how this develops.

Maurice Cherry:
Now along with this community work, which by the way sounds amazing. I would love to have been a part of a program like that when I was a kid. But you’re also an instructor at ArtCenter College of Design where you went to college. You’ve taught there now for almost nine years. Tell me a bit about what you teach.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah. I started teaching in the product design department, which is industrial design, we call industrial design, product design at ArtCenter. I was brought in to teach graphic design to the product design students essentially. And then that turned into me teaching the students, there was a class that helped the product design students or industrial design students how to brand themselves as they get ready to graduate, how do they position who they are and so forth. Those first classes, I would say that first year, year and a half, which for me to just get my feet wet and see do I like teaching period, how can I fit into my schedule? Does it work for me? And what are we getting out of it myself personally? And also am I being able to deliver and be good at it?

I loved it. I really, really liked doing it. I got as much out of the students as they get as much out of me. It’s definitely a very symbiotic relationship and I think that really helps my perspective in how I teach. And so I taught in that department and immediately obviously, I wanted to teach in the graphic design department. I was a natural inkling. It’s kind of tough to jump into teaching, especially ArtCenter because you have some of the top designers in the world and artists in the world teaching there and everybody wants to teach there. So I ended up getting asked to teach a branding class. They knew the work and stuff that I did. So I started teaching what now, the bulk of those years, up until maybe last year, I was teaching what was called Transmedia, which is basically a branding class that looks at what I mentioned, the cross sector of how branding and identity systems get implemented into and go into action when it comes to digital, motion, space, environmental.

So that was my class and I absolutely loved teaching, it was called Communication Design Five, Branding for Trans Media, I think. I did that for about six, seven years. I took a pause on that class. I was teaching two classes a week while I was still running the agency, still with this transition of the two new companies. Well, last summer I took a pause for two terms because teaching remotely and being remote as an agency was taking a toll on me. The classes at ArtCenter are about five hours. So if I was teaching two classes, that’s two days that I’m on class for five hours on screen. And then as I mentioned, my work is screen time stuff. So I ended up feeling after six, seven years, I don’t know if I have enough bandwidth.

Things started opening up obviously in the fall, but I started now with Art Division and my focus on there, I’m started to rethink a little bit of my long-term strategy in teaching and am I going to continue teaching at ArtCenter? So currently, I’m still teaching now. I’m back to teaching in the masters program, a branding futures class, which is I’m teaching with another instructor about strategies of future casting, how brands could future cast either their audience, either the business models, any kind of future strategic thinking of a brand. So I’m teaching that class now and I’m going to be teaching one more during the summer. But I think that after that I’ll be taking a pause for a while to do some art work and thinking with Art Division and put my time into that.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, you got to fill up your own cup first. It sounds like with everything you’re doing with Pastilla of course, and then also with teaching, you can get depleted very quickly.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. It all kind of works together in a way. So it is definitely a lot to juggle, but it all works for the greater good, really, ultimately also of Pastilla because when I do things for Art Division, not only am I helping feed ourselves, but we also tell that story of how we’re involved in Art Division when we work with some of our other clients. So that’s really a important part, shows that our agency isn’t just working directly with clients that have social impact, but we are actually volunteering our time as well.

And then for ArtCenter, the same thing. I’ve learned so much from teaching, communicating your thoughts of visuals. I’m sure you know this, it’s very, very underestimated how difficult it is to be able to say, communicate in words what something should be visually. I don’t think we think too much about that, but it’s extremely hard and it’s definitely an art to that. I learned a lot of that through teaching and different personalities of creatives and designers and so forth that I think has also helped Pastilla. And also just teaching at ArtCenter as my brand, my personal brand has definitely just validates the agency, validates me and so forth. So it all works together in my head for a bigger vision.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, no, it makes sense. It all feeds into each other. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but the work you’re doing teaching, of course, that informs how you talk to clients or how you present the business to clients. But then you also say, “We’re not just an agency, we also give back to the community.” And so that is where Art Division comes in, where you’re saying, “I’m doing this to help out students that are interested in design or kids that are interested in design.” So it does all feed into each other, but I think what it does overall is it shows just how passionate you are about design, just outside of a client-vendor relationship. This is your lifeblood. You live and breathe this stuff.

Rudy Manning:
Exactly. Love that. That’s exactly it. Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
What do your students teach you?

Rudy Manning:
Patience. I think, number one, it absolutely keeps me on the cusp of the, I hate to say design trends, but how culture is affecting design. How each generation takes what we’ve done and reinvents it, takes what they see in their environment and mixes it up to have this new creative aesthetic and how that continues to evolve. Absolutely, I always want to make sure that I am not blinded by my past or my history of what I always thought the design aesthetic was. I always want to feel like I’m at the edge of what’s happening, if not what’s also how things are changing and looking even ahead of that. So the students definitely keep me on my toes when it comes to that.

Second is understanding different design, creative mindsets or personalities. Different students take feedback completely different. And how you have to be very agile and nimble in how you communicate things. It could be how direct you are. It could be how open you are about a direction. Some students are really great at giving, they need very prescriptive directions on something and they need to develop that. They need to know things aren’t going to be so prescriptive. You need to connect the dots yourself, but you still have to be somewhat prescriptive. And then other students, if you’re too prescriptive, they literally will get stuck and confused because they don’t really understand exactly what you’re saying. And there’s everything in between.

So being able to read, pick up on how a student is reading you quickly, that’s really important, and being able to adjust your communication style. And that’s the same for our design team in-house and also clients as well. Communicating to clients, like you mentioned, we’re all creative to some point and when we’re communicating visuals, I take those little tools that I’ve learned in communicating to the students and I borrow those things to communicate to clients as well when I need to.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you are at a really unique vantage point, I feel. One, you’re an agency owner with Pastilla, you’re also an instructor, so you’re teaching the next generation of designers. How has being a design instructor informed how you approach Pastilla?

Rudy Manning:
It’s funny because we ended up changing the name of Pastilla from Pastilla Studio and in 2012 to Pasta Institute. It was supposed to be this sort of cheeky way to institutionalize something that isn’t really institutional and formalize it when it really isn’t formal. It was a very small studio then still. But there was something that made it feel like it’s established, but then at the end you’re kind of like, no, they’re a very buttoned down agency. So the one thing is that it was funny because the kind of person that I was and the designers that I would get, was naturally sort of a mentor and people would say, it’s kind of like a school where I saw designers really grow when they came to work at Pastilla and go and do amazing things, even after Pastilla.

And so that teaching part, I think was a part of Pastilla from the beginning, just naturally, I guess, maybe it just came from me or maybe just because I had to. Because I needed help and I needed freelancing and I had different people from different points of view, and that’s just my communication style. So that institute, I remember that now, it’s just Pastilla, obviously. We simplified it, but that part is still there. And for I would say a good eight years, every quarter at least, we had a different intern. I wanted to make sure that the designers that we have respect the interns and part of the work is that they do have to mentor. I’m mentoring as a creative director, the student, and also our design team that’s also working with the mentors is also teaching.

Teaching, it’s absolutely critical to any leadership. You can’t have a leader, not be a good teacher. You have to have somebody that can have that empathy of understanding that how to communicate to do something is an important part of being a leader and that not everybody takes or understands the same words or receives the same kind of communication the same way. And I think that’s an important part of being a good leader. And I felt like that’s an important part of Pastilla. And the creative team, the account team, the management team, and I try to continue to infuse that. Sometimes probably, I would say maybe the designers are like, “Oh my gosh, there’s too much work. I’m teaching and designing.” But I think in the long run, they’re going to see that this is some important tools that they learned.

So in short, before I was teaching at ArtCenter, I think we had that part embedded into our culture, that teaching impact or that element. Then I started teaching, that just got elevated, and then I just literally created with Pastilla, I would just have internship programs. So the students would come from ArtCenter. They’d intern at Pastilla for three months, continue getting taught there.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned with the education work you’re doing with ArtCenter, that part of what you’re teaching is about future strategic thinking. From your perspective, what do you think agencies can do moving forward to ensure that the future of creatives reflect this world that we’re in right now? Of course we hear a lot about diversity and inclusion. There’s always going to be some new bleeding edge tech, which right now is what AI, Chat GPT, et cetera. How can agencies start to move forward, making sure that this next generation of designers, creators, et cetera, really reflect the world that we’re communicating and creating for?

Rudy Manning:
I think one of the things, along the line of teaching, I feel like at least that was a feeling when I was in school, was that if you don’t come with a absolutely impeccable portfolio, you cannot work at some of these big larger agencies. This was the case. Thankfully, I went to ArtCenter, I had that experience, I had that portfolio at that time. But not everybody gets those opportunities. Not everybody finds those paths. Maybe they might have the opportunity, but they somehow didn’t have that one person that said, “Hey, take a class here,” or whatever. There’s lots of amazing schools in the world, in the country. But I feel that a lot of it starts in looking, when you’re interviewing somebody, agencies and design companies need to look farther deep into who that person is that they’re interviewing, way past their physical, where they’re at, at that moment with their portfolio.

Because for us to start developing or having the agencies and creative agencies, digital agencies, every kind of agency, reflect the real world, the designers that we have, the copywriters, the creative directors, the animators, the programmers reflect the world that we actually live in. We have to know that not everybody is getting the opportunities that everybody who’s working currently in the agency’s got, period. And to do that, we have to take some risk and we have to take initiative. I think the number one thing is to open our eyes to giving opportunities to people who are not at that moment fully polished to be working at that company. And there’s portfolio schools, there’s lots of different ways that somebody can advance themselves, but most of it is about the work. But you can get that experience sometimes working at an agency. If you have just a little bit of the excitement, the passion, the energy, and that natural creative tendency, even without having a finished portfolio, if you’re given the opportunity at an agency, you can develop that portfolio quick.

I know it’s not easy. It is not easy, and it’s expensive because the design teams, everything we do is labor. So things will take longer, the people. But I think in the long run, we have to give people the opportunities to, especially underserved, people of color when they come knocking at our doors as an agency and you see their work, you see where they’re at, not turn them down or away just because their portfolio isn’t fully finished. There is space for them to grow. And those, sadly, a lot of the opportunities that come are because of that network. And I understand, you get portfolios come at you 24-7, but every now and then I’ll get one and I’m like, huh. Their portfolio is not fully fleshed out. And they don’t have the ArtCenter, art school, art design, design portfolio, but there’s something in their personality, something in their CV, something in their work, one project, it could be that can show some kind of interesting perspective that you could look at. And if we’re looking closer, we’re able to maybe find some talent that just hasn’t had the opportunity.

I’ve seen that with Pastilla. One of our top designers that we have, I would say one of the top designers we’ve ever had at Pastilla didn’t go to art school like that. He went to a two-year school, it wasn’t a really fully flushed out program, didn’t have that kind of portfolio at all. We gave him that opportunity and he’s an amazing designer. So I think agencies need to be open to giving more experiences like that. That’s what I hope to do with Art Division is take that with the designers that go there, is find those ones that have that passion, be able to connect them. If the student wants to be connected, connect them to some of these other agencies. Just a simple, “Hey, check out this person’s work. I thought this. I thought this was interesting.” And giving them an opportunity.

Maurice Cherry:
I highly agree with what you’re saying. I was just talking to a colleague of mine, Ricardo Roberts. He has a agency in New York called Bien, B-I-E-N. They do an apprenticeship type program where they bring in designers, maybe they’re junior designers or maybe they don’t have a fully polished portfolio, but they help to give them that experience that they need in order to then get out there and really work, whether that’s with agencies, whether that’s directly with brands in house, more of those types of opportunities need to be available.

I agree with you, as I’ve talked to folks here on the show that have worked in advertising and such, agencies can be pretty stuck in their ways about the type of people that they want and the type of experience that they have to have. They have to have followed almost a particular script in order to just get in the door. This is even at smaller boutique agencies. So it definitely sounds like that whole world needs a bit of a paradigm shift, I think.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah, no, absolutely. I love that. I would love to hear more about his program. I think formalizing something like that is awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
I will connect the two of you after this interview. I will most certainly do that.

Rudy Manning:
Yeah. That’s awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you stay creative and inspired in your work? With everything that you’re doing, I feel like you have a lot of input coming at you.

Rudy Manning:
I’ve always been a pretty curious person and I hope that I continue to be until my last days because I feel like that is the thing that hopefully will keep me up to speed on everything that is design at that moment. I would say design’s going to be completely different the next 30, 40 years. And I hope to know what’s happening and not be like, I would always say when I was in school with some of the older instructors, everything that we were doing was like, “Ah, everything looks the same.” And it’s like now I see some designers say the same thing to people in their early 20s. We have to understand things evolve, things change, and I want to be able to have that understanding. So staying curious and questioning and being, like I mentioned earlier, teaching and having young designers is a really important part of understanding that, how things evolve.

And so that definitely always keeps me fresh. I always have that curiosity of what is new, what is next, definitely keeps me fresh and excited. Right now obviously, everything happening with AI is really, really interesting to me. It’s something that we’ve always known is coming and we’ve seen it coming. And now tools are just more in front of us and the potential to be now in design where we’re going to see a total evolution of, and even fast forward of how we think and how we can be more hyper-focused in the creative and not so much of the doing. How we create is going to change as well. Even how to take simple things like a logo, what does that mean now in AI? Can a logo be so dynamic that it’s absolutely never static? Can a company have a logo where every customer has their own version because it’s that dynamic? Asking these questions I think are going to be super interesting. So always being on top of what’s happening, combining that with my experiences in the past, taking that in, I think that excites me.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give for aspiring creative professionals out there? They’re heard your story in this interview. They see everything that you’re doing in the community. What advice would you have for them?

Rudy Manning:
Wanting to be, let’s say, own a design agency or just jumping into graphic design?

Maurice Cherry:
We’ll say wanting to own an agency because I feel like a lot of folks that I speak with now are definitely leaning towards more entrepreneurial efforts. Even folks in-house are trying to strike out on their own. So yeah, approach it that way.

Rudy Manning:
I would say, number one, you need to be extremely patient. We hear that. We know like, “Oh yeah, you got to be patient. Things come to those who wait.” But it really does. In that patience, you’re going to have a lot of times where you feel like you can’t continue. I remember the first 10 years when I started Pastilla, there was about three moments that I thought… Okay, I remember the first time was in the financial crisis. I thought, “Okay, crap, this really sucks. I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like this uncertainty. I don’t like this weight that’s on me.” And I thought, “If I make it through this and something like this happens again, I can’t continue.” And then four or five years later, boom, another blip and you’re like, “Crap. Dang it. No, I’m going to continue, but you know what? This is it. After this one, that’s it.” Then you get one more, boom.

And what’s crazy is that over time, you learn that those blips, those bumps, you just learn how to deal with them. You’re smarter behind dealing with them. It’s not that the blips go away, you just aren’t scared of them at all. You’ve faced everything and every single time you’re a better entrepreneur, you’re a better planner, you’re more strategic. You know how to handle the downturns. That tends to scare away people. I know because I had those thoughts and I thought like, “That’s it.” But every single time you have to have that faith of, “You know what? I’ve got to believe in myself. I think I can do it. I love this.” You have to love this design industry. You got to love what you do. You got to love your clients and who you work with, and being creative, that definitely has to drive everything because if not, you could just be a banker or investment banker or something because there’s other ways to make money.

But this definitely is a combination of a lifestyle. And yeah, obviously there’s financial reward with it as well, but it definitely isn’t easy. Then I would say consistency. It’s not a sprint, it’s definitely a marathon. And there’s I would say in that marathon, there’s a bunch of small sprints. It’s one sprint and then you go into one phase and you got a marathon, marathon, marathon, another sprint. But it’s the consistency, the compounding effect of all of those moments of sprinting and marathoning and sitting and waiting and moving that all compile together for the good.

I would say in terms of, I think probably the biggest thing is people always ask, “How do you get clients?” And things like that. I think for me, one of the things that I learned early on, and I learned this as a freelancer, and this might seem super simple, but to this day, it’s probably the main thing that continues to feed our business, which is show people the work that you do. You finish a project, show it to people, tell the story. In the beginning, one on ones. I remember I was freelancing. I’d finish a project and then I’d have seven or people that I wanted to share that work with. And I’d say, “Hey John, how’s it going? I haven’t seen you for a while. We should have lunch, da da da. Are you still working at blah, blah, blah? I just finished this project. It’s down around where you live. It’s a new identity. It was a lot of fun, da da da.” That’s it. It was like a PDF or jpg in the email.

That was the first five, seven years of that I continued to freelance work that then got to start the company. And to this day, that’s exactly what I do. Now, it’s more formalized. And we do more of them. It’s not just projects, it’s articles, it’s stories. It’s the same thing everybody does. But I was doing it very early on where I didn’t really have anything to say other than sharing my work. And it was very intentional and very sincere as well. Because this business is about relationships. It’s a lot about relationships.

So you treat people good, you do really good work. You do everything you can to make sure the client’s happy and that will pay for itself. And from there, you share the work with those people, they’re going to tell other people about that, about you. And that continues to build more and more and more.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want that next chapter of your story to be?

Rudy Manning:
The past five years, we’ve grown exponentially. I feel that things are a lot more, I would say self-running, automated. The agency and the team is much more structured than it ever was. There’s some positive and negatives to that. The positive part is that it’s less weight on me. The positive part is that we can grow necessarily, not directly with me having to be on the ground every single second. There’s things that are built that can continue to feed the company on its own even without me. So those are the good things.

The downside is that there’s a lot of weight, or the downside I would say is that I do less creative than I did before, and I do more strategic thinking of the company. There’s been great things and I have to continue doing that. And I know in the next five years with that growth that’s happened, we have had some interest in people acquiring us, purchasing us. But I think we’ve contemplated a lot of those things in the past, especially last year and we continue to. But I think this kind of growth in the next, I would say five to seven years, is probably going to continue.

But what we’re going to do is, it’s a hard question because I think we’re in the middle of pivoting a little bit, but I would say potentially doubling or tripling in size to then have a bigger creative team, to serve more of the same kind of clients that we do, that we have right now. And where I feel, and that by note means we’re going to be a hundred million dollar agency or anything like that, but that’s going to be able to scale us to the point where I don’t have to do the kind of operationalizing, the strategic business work that I do on a day-to-day. I think that’s the goal. Where I then focus my time is on more of the relationship parts of the company, my relationships and how to continue to foster that and less being on the ground for the business right now.

To do that, we’re probably going to find maybe more partners to do that growth or maybe do some larger hires. We have to see. There’s some different strategies we have and options we have to do that. But I think double, triple in size than where we are now and me being less of those… Let’s say if we had another talk, Maurice, like in five, six years, I’m not telling you that I’m on a call six, seven hours a day, maybe three. And then the rest of the time I’m maybe meeting people or maybe more involved in Art Division or have some other nonprofit that’s maybe a part of not Pastilla or part of Art Division that is involved in the same kind of topics that we’re talking about, bringing art and design to youth to create more opportunities. Something like that.

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

Rudy Manning:
Our agency’s website is pastilla.co, so pastilla.co, P-A-S-T-I-L-L-A .co. You can also find our agency on Instagram. And our Instagram is, it’s Pastilla, P-A-S-T-I-L-L-A, Agency, A-G-E-N-C-Y. That’s her Instagram. And my Instagram also is Rudy, R-U-D-Y, M, V, so upside down A, V-N-N-I-N-G. So again, Rudy, R-U-D-Y, M-V-N-N-I-N-G. You can find me there as well. Yeah, those are my main channels. I’m also on LinkedIn. You probably just search me there. I don’t know what the exact profile name is there, but probably search Rudy Manning, you could find me on LinkedIn as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, we’ll find it. We’ll link it all down in the show notes. Rudy Manning, thank you so much for coming on the show. I think it’s definitely evident from your story, from the work you do out in the community, your education work, Pastilla, like I alluded to earlier in the interview, it’s clear you live and breathe design, but outside of that you have this sort of fiery passion to give back to the community and to also push the industry forward.

I think you’re doing it at a pace and a rate and a breadth that is inspiring for me to see. I hope it’s inspiring for our audience as well, for them to see what more can they do to try to really advance and push things forward. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Rudy Manning:
That’s awesome, Maurice. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate it. Awesome podcast. So thank you so much for having me again.

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