Lisa Cain

Striking out on your own can be tough, but I can tell you from personal experience that it can be one of the most rewarding things you do in life. And what better person to talk about this feeling than design strategist Lisa Cain. Lisa has worked in the visual design field for well over 20 years, so she knows a LOT about what it takes to get things done.

We started off talking about how she started her studio, and Lisa gave a peek in to her creative process on some of her projects. Lisa also spoke about her early career in visual merchandising, how that has helped her as a designer, and how her family has helped motivate her drive to succeed. (Also, did you know she was a backup singer?) It’s awesome to have designers like Lisa to show us how to thrive as a creative on your own terms!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Lisa Cain:
I’m Lisa Cain of Lisa Cain Design and I’m a design strategist that helps nonprofits. Some of those nonprofits are healthcare and medical organizations, advocacy organizations and educational institutions. I help their brands stand out and build awareness, raise funds and also build their membership.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, we’re in the second half of 2021. I’m kind of curious to know how has the year been for you so far?

Lisa Cain:
Oh the year has been really good to me. I’ve been very busy this year. This year’s busy. Actually, 2020 was actually pretty busy as well. It was a little bit interesting at first and it slowed down and had to kind of pivot and do business a little bit differently. But for the remainder of 2020 and throughout right now at ’21, it’s been very busy.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have any sort of plans or things that you want to do for your business for the rest of the year?

Lisa Cain:
Just continually working on great ad campaigns, finishing out some of those things, really exciting projects that I’m working on.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you mentioned your focus is on medical, education, advocacy, nonprofits. How did you come to specialize in those particular fields?

Lisa Cain:
Right out of art school, right out of college, I worked for… It was a nonprofit management company and basically they managed hundreds of nonprofits under their umbrella and it was a group of designers that they had to do all of the design work. So I had maybe 10 clients that I managed, design project management, things like that, and just learning how to work with nonprofits. They were called my clients and just doing projects from high tech, medical, healthcare, food manufacturing. I just began to love work for nonprofits. My niche, for me, became healthcare, medical and advocacy because I just really love helping people and making a difference in their lives.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that what sort of really gets you truly excited about your work?

Lisa Cain:
It is. It is. Really seeing that project come to life and then seeing the numbers. For instance, one of my clients is the Organization for Autism Research and we created a brochure years ago to send out to schools and the teachers would present it to the students and teach them about autism acceptance. And to date, this brochure has probably influenced, touched the lives of children, over 125 million children worldwide so –

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Lisa Cain:
To me, that’s really huge. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That is a huge. That’s a big… It’s always good when your work is able to make that kind of a big impact. I think oftentimes … I’ve worked with nonprofits too and I’ve worked one in particular here in Atlanta. It’s the Grady Health Foundation, this was years and years and years ago, but some of the work that I did, I’ve actually seen on billboards and that’s such a… It’s a good feeling. You’re driving along and you’re like, “Wait a minute, I did that.”

Lisa Cain:
It is. Yep, it’s awesome. So yeah, seeing your stuff plastered all over the place and then getting those numbers in that this many people have been touched by it, it’s a wonderful thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What does your creative process look like when you’re starting on a new project? Walk me through that.

Lisa Cain:
Sure. My creative process, I usually like to kick off every project with a meeting, so meeting with the client, listening and gathering information to better understand what the client is working with, then we collaborate and strategize their goals and challenges and expectations. Then from there, I’ll create a scope of the project using a creative brief and a proposal just to make sure we’re on the same page about vision, deliverables, costs, timeframes, things like that, and then once that is agreed upon, we move forward. It could be a mood board or concept development. From that gathered information of the creative brief, find out about the clients, target audience and mission and work on different concepts and different design solutions. From there, present those design solutions and explain my thinking behind that and my recommendations. Usually, we’ll narrow down one direction to go in and there’s the revision, refine process. Usually within my proposals, I’ll include up to three rounds of revisions. Once we go through that, there’s delivery or production.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I hope for people that are listening, they got a sense of like that’s a pretty rock solid way when it comes down to starting the process. I mean, part of it is that creative and strategy work, but then, as you’re mentioning, you’re getting a proposal, you’re making sure that you and the client are really on the same page as you move forward is super important because nonprofits, they can sometimes change on a dime. They want something completely different midway in the project and you have to make sure that you have something that can hold them to what they promised would come from the project.

Lisa Cain:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, do you mostly do print design or do you do a mix of that with other mediums?

Lisa Cain:
I think it’s a mix, but more heavily print, yes. Usually, I’ll create a theme around something, say for… Nonprofits do a lot of event publication, event collateral, things like that and so I’ll create a theme around that and that is printed on everything. If it’s around an event, then it’s their lanyards, their brochures, their signage and then it can go digital where it’s social media, banner ads and even apps.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, aside from Lisa Cain Design, which you’ve done now for what? 20 plus years.

Lisa Cain:
20 plus years. Yep. Officially though, officially it’s 16 years. That’s when I truly got the business license and this is the name that I decided upon. But yeah, before I was freelancing and burning the candle at both ends, working a full-time job and freelancing on the side, kind of making my path to truly going into my own business.

Maurice Cherry:
I think once you make it past 15, you can round up to 20. I think that’s acceptable. But yeah, aside from Lisa Cain Design, you also have a company with your husband. Is that right?

Lisa Cain:
That’s right. It’s called Black Action Tees. Black Action Tees is a pop culture website that offers T-shirts and the T-shirts feature superheroes, music culture, sneaker culture and TV and movie pop culture.

Maurice Cherry:
I think I told you this when we talked earlier, but I actually had ordered something from Black Action Tees way back in… I think it was like maybe 2010, 2011, something like that, I think so.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah, probably about 10 years. Yeah, 10 years ago. First started it, yeah. Yep. Yep. Yep. Well, I hope the experience was really good and you really enjoyed your tees.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Do you and your husband blend business like that a lot? I mean, you have your-

Lisa Cain:
[inaudible 00:10:46].

Maurice Cherry:
Well, you have that business with him with Black Action Tees, but does he end up doing anything with Lisa Cain Design or is that just a separate thing?

Lisa Cain:
You know what, he doesn’t do any of the design, but he’s an IT guy so he does IT as his professional. He’s a IT manager, but he’s my IT guy. That’s as far as it goes within my company.

Maurice Cherry:
I gotcha. Now, we’ve gotten to know a bit about your work and everything and we’ll probably dive more into the specific things later, but tell me about where you’re from. I know you’re located in Chicago. Is that where you’re originally from?

Lisa Cain:
I’m originally from South Side of Chicago. I grew up in South Side and then, yeah, moved to the south suburbs in the mid 70s.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What was it like growing up in Chicago back then?

Lisa Cain:
It was good. I think it was a really good experience. I mean, we had a neighborhood full of kids. I remember playing. You had to come in when the street lights came on, things like that, but it was a really good experience. Lots of great kids to play with. Families intact still in the 70s, I’m dating myself, yes. But it was a wonderful experience growing up in the city.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you get exposed to a lot of design and art growing up?

Lisa Cain:
The only real exposure that I had creatively was sitting at the kitchen table with my grandpa and he would teach me how to draw different things. Then I don’t know if you remember the TV guide, there was this ad on the back and it would say, “Draw this pirate and you can win a scholarship to art school.”

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. It would be like a pirate or like a turtle or something like that, yeah, I remember that.

Lisa Cain:
So I would draw that and I would send it. I was too young but I would draw it and send it in but I would never hear back from them. So that was pretty much the extent of being creative. I also had this set of books, it was kind of a sister set that came with an encyclopedia set, and there was this one particular book called Make and Do and so it was a book full of crafts and I would just do crafts endlessly in that book. So that was pretty much the extent of being creative at a young age.

Maurice Cherry:
Now was your family kind of supportive of you going into design?

Lisa Cain:
Absolutely not.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Lisa Cain:
They came from that generation of thinking that design, you would become a starving artist. I remember back in high school, I had finished all of my graduation requirements as far as credit so I was able to take a lot of electives so I chose to take nothing but art and photography classes and just be totally immersed in my last year and it was absolutely wonderful. I had wonderful art teachers and I think from that experience that’s where I knew and chose that I wanted to be a graphic designer. They had alumni come in and show their portfolios from art schools and it was just so inspiring and exciting.

Maurice Cherry:
Eventually you started out studying in visual communications, even though your parents didn’t really unfortunately support you going into that.

Lisa Cain:
That’s correct. I remember I got a catalog for the Art Institute of Chicago and I was so excited and I showed my dad and he saw one look at the tuition cost and he was like, “Why don’t you take some secretarial classes at the local community college?” Yeah, we’d butt heads on hat. We’d butt heats. But again, he came from that generation where just they couldn’t see it. He meant well and I have to say that years later, when I did go to a different art school, he bought my first Mac. So he was supportive down the line.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So you were at Prairie State College majoring in … Back then it was called visual communications.

Lisa Cain:
Yep. Visual communications. That’s right, and back then, nothing was computerized yet. So I was taking illustration classes and intro to graphic design, things like that. So we used, my supply list at the art store, you had this long list you had to go get all of these supplies for for your classes. It was things like hot press boards, Zipatone, technical pens and Prismacolors with Letraset type that you kind of rub down and using light boxes and making folding dummies for brochures. Everything was really hands-on. I remember walking with those gigantic portfolios and a little tackle box with all your things. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, a lot of the design back then was really … I mean of course it was tactile because the personal computer I think was not fully in homes at that point. I know it was available, but it was really expensive.

Lisa Cain:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
I remember seeing ads for RadioShack for the … I think it was the Tandy?

Lisa Cain:
Tandy.

Maurice Cherry:
The Tandy 1000 I believe? It was like $1,600.00, $1,700.00. It was expensive. I mean –

Lisa Cain:
Definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
For folks that are listening, that’s about the cost now of like maybe a souped-up MacBook Pro or something like that.

Lisa Cain:
Right. Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean you’re talking something that had maybe, maybe 512 megabytes of RAM. Like there’s no way you’re really designing anything on something like that.

Lisa Cain:
Anything.

Maurice Cherry:
It was basically just a very expensive calculator at that point.

Lisa Cain:
Yep, and at Prairie State, they did have a computer lab and they had like a handful of … I think they were Apple [inaudible 00:16:39], the Macs.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh goodness.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah, so you know you couldn’t really do much on it at all. You’d draw a circle and put some color in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, and even if you really drew a circle, it wasn’t like smooth. It was sort of like a jagged kind of … Yeah. I remember those times very fondly. I remember I was learning Basic and I’m dating myself by saying this but I was learning Basic in elementary school and they were … Like little graphic stuff, like you’d make a rocket or something like that. I mean it was very rudimentary stuff compared to certainly what you can do now, but it’s amazing to see how in such a fairly short amount of time, how much design on computers has really kind of taken over and changed and grown. It’s amazing.

Lisa Cain:
It is amazing, it is and you have to stop never learning and keep up with all of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So from Prairie State, you ended up going to the Art Institute. But you studied a different kind of sort of design. Can you talk about that?

Lisa Cain:
Sure. So I decided … I wasn’t sure about graphic design, I was trying to just kind of find my way in, discovered the Art Institute of Illinois which at the time was called Ray-Vogue College of Design, and I decided to go for fashion merchandising but minor in visual merchandising. At the time it was kind of interesting being middle class and it was kind of hard not being able to get a student loan for like your full four years. It’s like you ran of money and your parents needed to get a plus loan, you didn’t qualify for grants. It was kind of hard. That’s exactly what happened. I finished my first year and couldn’t get another loan, my dad couldn’t get another loan. I decided to go ahead and finish out my minor which was in fashion merchandising, finish that, and then I was able to get a job at a big department store in Downtown Chicago. I was already working there as a salesperson so making that move into that position was fairly easy. So it was exciting. I thought once I got that job I thought I had made it. I was a visual display designer down there and it was fun and again it was a lot of physical work. But a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
So when you say it was physical work, like you were … Were you like designing storefronts and stuff like that?

Lisa Cain:
We designed all of the store windows. Then we did interior design and we set up for fashion shows, things like that. So it was like set design and prop building. I remember once we had to spray-paint hundreds of styrofoam trumpets and then glue them to eight foot panels. So we were making like sets and backdrops and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. It’s interesting, it sounds like the design got even more I guess … I don’t want to use the term analog, but it got a lot more physical I would say because you’re now really building the designs that you want to see.

Lisa Cain:
Right, right, and then on top of just the set design, you were dealing with these really heavy, expensive mannequins. Like a rite of passage for being a visual display designer is learning how to strike a mannequin and basically it’s posing, but what you did was you wrapped wire around the mannequin’s waste and then it would be under the clothes and then you would have to attach nails to the end and you would actually … So I’d be walking around with a hammer all day and you were hammering these nails in, striking the mannequin so they’re standing up and styling a wig was a rite of passage and getting burned with a glue gun on a regular basis because you had to do everything, you had to dress this mannequin from head to toe and that meant clothes, shoes, sometimes pantyhose, even the jewelry. It was fun, it was interesting and very physical.

Maurice Cherry:
How often were you kind of doing these displays?

Lisa Cain:
On a weekly basis. So there were –

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Lisa Cain:
Oh yeah. The downtown, that store was eight floors. So yeah, there was a whole team of us. That was interior, windows, everything and then there’s like these little light boxes. You did like the cosmetic displays, you had home furnishing. All the different departments.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds kind of thrilling actually to be able to kind of turn around and do that so quickly every week.

Lisa Cain:
It was. It was fun. It was again a lot of physical work, and at the same time the building that we were in, it’s a Chicago landmark. So a lot of times we would be goofing off and we would go and explore this building. This building was built in 1904, the architect Lou Sullivan did it and it was like this beautiful elaborate rotunda entrance and be exploring and we found like hidden staircases that were absolutely beautiful and beautiful tiled flowers. There was like sub, sub, sub, sub basements, so yeah, we were running around there and just having fun.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. I mean for people that want to look up or have not heard of Louis Sullivan, he was like the father of modern architecture. Like he was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, a lot of what I think people see now in skyscrapers is really thanks to him.

Lisa Cain:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And the building was the Carson Pirie Scott Building.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Wow. That’s amazing, so you were doing that while you were at Art Institutes or was that after you left there?

Lisa Cain:
It was after, it was right after I left there. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Why did you decide to sort of make that shift from visual communications to merchandising like that?

Lisa Cain:
It just seemed more exciting to me at the time and again I’m young and I’m just trying to find myself. So just trying out something new, and that’s something that I do encourage up and coming designers. Don’t be afraid to just take chances and try out new things.

Maurice Cherry:
So aside from doing that kind of storefront set building kind of work, what other kind of career experiences did you have after you graduated from the art institute?

Lisa Cain:
After that, I decided actually … I did kind of a detour and believe it or not, I ended up getting secretary experience. I became an administrative assistant. I guess again trying to find myself and I ended up working for The NutraSweet Company. It was a big company at the time. This is in like the early 90s, mid 90s. They had a Mac there that no one knew how to use. So I volunteered and they decided to send me back to school, and so I ended up at the Illinois Academy of Design and Technology. So there, computers were for the design community and design studios and all of that. They were starting to make that transition from doing everything by hand to going digital and doing everything on the computer, I remember at the time it was a lot of animosity between new people coming in and people like old-school people that just refused. They would not learn, they would not get computer skills. So it was a good time, a good transition to kind of be on that cutting edge of learning. Up there I learned how to do Photoshop, I think it was Photoshop 2.0 and CorelDRAW and some 3-D animation applications. So by the time I finished that, I had three job offers before I graduated.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice. So even then, you have kind of this burgeoning … I guess this burgeoning rise of design on computers and now that you’ve learned these tools or you’re learning these tools, it’s opening up these different opportunities.

Lisa Cain:
Right, right. Because when I graduated, it was a student portfolio but I think they could see the creativity there and the ideas that were sparked. But more importantly they knew how to work within these applications. So that was huge at the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Would you say that your work in fashion merchandising kind of helped with that though?

Lisa Cain:
Oh absolutely. Absolutely. I think just from doing fashion merchandising or visual merchandising, project management, bringing something together like on a set, we had to like plan things out on paper first and decide what was going to go where and then this color scheme, there was always a theme about something so that kind of translated to design, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean I would imagine also just being able to come up with those concepts. I mean that’s creative direction, that’s art direction. Those are things that if you look at a blank Photoshop canvas or something as your stage, like you can kind of bring those same visual elements in with perspective and sizing and all that sort of stuff.

Lisa Cain:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now you’ve said that you came through the back door to become a designer at age 30. Tell me what does that mean? Because it sounds like you were already doing a lot of design.

Lisa Cain:
Well you know what? For me I felt like I truly didn’t arrive until after I graduated from the Illinois Academy of Design and Technology and I was actually doing graphic design on the computer, and that was at age 30 and The NutraSweet Company sent me back to school and yeah, I felt like, “Okay, it’s official now, and I’ll officially have the title graphic designer.”

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I mean aside from I guess getting that title, did that … I’m curious, did your family at that point kind of see like, “Oh, this is something like serious.”

Lisa Cain:
Oh yeah, oh yeah. Even when I was in school, they finally came around. Like I said, my dad, he was the one while I was in school because it was rough. You had all these projects to do and they had a computer lab but you needed something at home to work on and so he bought me my first Mac and that was what, 1996? It wasn’t inexpensive at the time. We’re talking, you had to get the modem and everything else separately and yeah. And speaking of modems, my first job … So out of school was with USRobotics who actually built the modems. That was quite interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
So now you’ve made this shift. I’m looking, kind of trying to follow this. So you’ve made this shift now from visual merchandising to graphic design. How was the work different, I mean aside from obviously physical to digital but how was the work different that you were doing now?

Lisa Cain:
I think with graphic design, this opened up a whole new world. I think I personally felt like the possibilities were endless to be more creative. As a visual display designer, you’re working at this one particular place and you’re doing stuff at one location. But as a graphic designer, it’s like endless possibilities to creativity. There’s always different projects coming up and not only that but it could be different clients, different organizations or companies. So the creativity is endless.

Maurice Cherry:
One thing that I really remember from those like early days of kind of digital graphic design. It really was like … You could do anything you wanted. It was like … I don’t want to say it was like the wild, wild west because that implies some level of lawlessness but like you really could get away with anything because the tools were so accessible. Like everyone can point and click, but not everyone’s going to do the same combination of filters or colors or even settings on certain things. So you end up coming up with just the wildest kind of designs just by playing around. I felt like there was a lot more play back then to get to kind of what the end result could be.

Lisa Cain:
It was, and then at the same time … I actually started creating websites with my husband at the time we were dating and we were doing webs, I created my first, my website, my portfolio website like in ’98 and I thought it was like the coolest thing because it was like this crocodile on the front. Remember it was like landing pages and it was like maybe a little bit of animation. I thought it was so cool because my crocodile’s eye was like winking at you.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, those early animated GIFs. I love those.

Lisa Cain:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Now as you kind of continued on in your career, you worked in-house as a designer for SmithBucklin and then you were an associate creative director at Urban Ministries Inc. When you look back at those particular experiences, what did they teach you?

Lisa Cain:
I think most importantly they taught me how to work with my clients, how to project manage everything, stay on timelines, stay within budgets and be creative at the same time. They were invaluable experiences.

Maurice Cherry:
Were they like different? Because I mean I’m imagining in Urban Ministries, that’s kind of more religious whereas SmithBucklin I guess you could say is secular. I don’t know. Was it a big difference in just like the type of work that you were doing?

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. SmithBucklin was very, very fast-paced and they had to account for every 15 minutes of our time so they could build a client and if you had to go to the bathroom, you had to figure out a way to pad that in there.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Lisa Cain:
It was rough but at the same time it was such a good learning experience and truly taught me everything about working with non-profits. Urban Ministries definitely. It’s a publications company and way more laid back. I designed the Vacation Bible School curriculum there, so they were much more laid back and actually even just the attitude, they were way more appreciative of your work. You felt valued there.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that where the seed was kind of planted for starting your own studio?

Lisa Cain:
It was. It was because at that time I decided to go part-time. They allowed me to work part-time and I started again burning the candle at both ends and I would work like till 3:00 a.m. on my freelance projects and then get up and go to work and yeah. But it was definitely the stepping stone to build Lisa Cain Design.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from it sort of being that stepping stone of seeing how your work impacted people, did you just kind of feel at this point like you were just ready to strike out on your own?

Lisa Cain:
Absolutely. Because at the time, I had small kids that I desperately wanted to be here for. My son at the time, we had found out, he was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum and he was put in a special pre-K class and I really needed to be there for him. So I was driven to be here, be home, and run my own business.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, interesting. What do you wish you would have been told about the design industry when you first started?

Lisa Cain:
I think the number one thing, and it’s something that I’m truly still working on to this day and that’s boundaries. Healthy boundaries. So what I mean by that is it’s okay to say no to some things. Being selective in the type of projects that you want to work on, the type of budgets you want to work on. That’s super important to determine and work within.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of the mentors and people that have really kind of helped you out along the way as you sort of rose as a designer?

Lisa Cain:
Besides my high school teachers, there was one particular person that actually I grew up with. I’ve known him since first grade and I remember, he could draw really, really well in grammar school. So I was kind of drawn to him and we remained friends over the years. He is a graphic designer and at the time he was working for Frankel, it’s an ad agency in Chicago. But he was also freelancing for Burrell Communications. So I would go to his design studio and he’d let me just kind of hang out and work on some of the stuff he was working on here and there and kind of built my skills but then there was one particular project that stood out and it was a media kit for the Sprite Voltron ad campaign and it featured rap artists like Fat Joe, Goodie Mob, Common and Mack 10. So it was really cool to work on that project, and at that time, we made stock art. Stock art was really, really expensive at that time, so I remember they wanted like a sky created for like a Voltron thing and with stars, and instead of buying that stock art that was like $300.00, I like hand-placed each star in the background.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. It’s on my Instagram page if you want to take a look at it but yeah. I’m super proud of that project. That was in ’98 actually, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s where that visual merchandising muscle kicked in. You’re like, “I just got to go and do it.” That was a really … God, I remember that campaign too. That was dope. They had two of them, there was one that had male rappers with Voltron and then I remember there was one with women rappers that was more like … I think like kung-fu based?

Lisa Cain:
I don’t remember. I didn’t work on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
I think they both might have been kung … Okay, there was one I remember that had … Oh god, who was on it? I think it was Eve, Angie Martinez. I don’t remember who else was part of the fighting squad but the last person they fought against was Roxanne Shante. Like they unmasked the villain and it’s like, “Oh.” I remember those, those were really good.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there any advice about like design or about your career that’s really stuck with you over the years?

Lisa Cain:
I would say … You know what? My teacher back in art school, she said, “Don’t work for free to get a deposit.” You know what? It’s advice, don’t work for free, don’t give your work away. However at the same time, like currently, there is a project that I’m working on and it’s a newly created non-profit organization and it’s a school, they’re teaching kids with disabilities how to do automotive and carpentry and stuff like that. So I think it’s okay to do a pro bono project every once in a while for a good cause that means something to you.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What is it that you’re obsessed with these days?

Lisa Cain:
Sleep. Sorry.

Maurice Cherry:
See, I thought you were going to say the dog. No, sleep … I mean look sleep I think is great, don’t get me wrong. I’m probably going to take a nap after this interview but sleep, I totally, totally understand that.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. Actually my dog, my dog, I’m not obsessed with him but he is my inspiration. There is this quote that says, “To grow creatively, you must give yourself time to play.” So my dog is my hobby. He’s my play. It’s humorous dog photography and it’s kind of my inspiration and kind of way to get away from things and have some fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Now speaking of having fun, there’s one thing that you had shared with me before we recorded. I have to bring it up because I think it’s just so dope. You were a house music backup singer once upon a time.

Lisa Cain:
In another lifetime.

Maurice Cherry:
In another lifetime. Please tell me about that because you sent a YouTube video and I can put it in the show notes if people want to check it out but like I noticed it was like, oh it was like Frankie Knuckles Productions? I have to know how did this happen.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually I was dating Jamie Principle at the time. I was right out of high school, so it [inaudible 00:37:57] era. Yeah. Yeah, and so he needed a backup singer and at the time he was making music actually out of his home and we went to the studio and I did my part and at that time there was no sampling. So that part that you hear? I’m saying over and over and I had to say it perfectly, all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. That time was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun. We performed in a lot of Chicago clubs and went to New York and performed. That was a whole nother lifetime.

Maurice Cherry:
Now were you just on this one record or id you do others?

Lisa Cain:
Just that one.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I mean that’s quite a claim to fame though. That’s really dope.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it was really cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there anything that you would like to do in your career that you haven’t done yet?

Lisa Cain:
Yes. Actually I want to do kind of a pivot. I guess this would be kind of a career/hobby thing but I would love to get into doing newborn photography. [inaudible 00:39:03] kind of my hobby and I absolutely love newborn photography, so I’m kind of working on really perfecting my craft in that and that’s something that I see myself doing somewhere down the road.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel creatively satisfied now?

Lisa Cain:
I do. I do. I actually absolutely love what I do. I absolutely love campaigns, the ad campaigns that I’m working on currently and doing some really exciting projects with a Chicago PR firm. Yes, I love what I do.

Maurice Cherry:
Now after … I mean I know you’ve had a storied history as a designer, both with your studio as well as this kind of physical design work with visual merchandising, but when you look back over all of that, especially with being in the game as long as you have, what’s next? Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Lisa Cain:
I think I want to focus more on … I guess I love the ad campaigns. I’m not sure if I’ll get away from non-profits. Right now I’m working on some things like the Chicago Department of Public Health and we’re also creating like a food bank app. So I want to do more things like that. It’s advocacy but not so much non-profit. Like you said earlier, just seeing stuff come to life and seeing it kind of plastered all over the place is really exciting. I want to get more into that.

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

Lisa Cain:
My website is Lisa Cain Design, that’s L-I-S-A C-A-I-N Design, or on Instagram at Lisa Cain Design.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well Lisa Cain, I want to thank you so much, so, so much for coming on the show. When I reached out to you initially, I really wanted to have you on to talk about just the fact that you’ve had your studio for 20 years and the work that you’ve done. Because I think that’s something that’s so rare that we really hear about from black women. I don’t know if I mentioned this when I initially reached out to you but I had saw you in I think it was a Graphic Design USA like people to watch for one year.

Lisa Cain:
Yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I was like … I had put your name down on my outreach list, like I’m going to get around back, I’m going to come back to Lisa one day, and I’m glad now to have been able to do so and to talk with you and learn more about you and of course share your story of how you have come up in the design industry throughout the years. I think it’s really inspiring and hopefully for people that are listening, they get something out of this too to know that they can do … They can sort of accomplish their dreams and design like you have. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Lisa Cain:
Thank you for having me.

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

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Derrick Fields

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of video games, so when I learned about Derrick Fields and Waking Oni Games from the Wholesome Direct Indie Game Showcase back in June, I had to have him on the show.

We talked about how 2021 has been going so far — a new gig and a new baby! — and he spoke on why he created his own gaming studio and gave some history behind the studio’s first title: Onsen Master. Derrick also shared his inspiration behind getting into game programming, the indie gaming scene for underrepresented designers, and he gave some great advice for anyone looking to start making their own titles. If there’s a video game out there that you would love to see, hopefully Derrick’s story will inspire you to create it!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Derrick Fields:
My name is Derrick Fields. I’m the founder and studio director or game director of Waking Oni Games, also the assistant professor at Northwestern University, teaching 3D modeling and game design.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I’d ask how your 2021 has been so far, but I mean that sounds like a pretty big announcement right there, teaching at Northwestern. Congratulations.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you. 2021 has been a series of transitions. Formerly, before leaping into Northwestern this year, I was the lead artists over at Uplift Games which is responsible for a really popular Roblox game by the name of Adopt Me! And so it was a significant portion of my life being able to create a title that contributed to kids. But now, I get to teach some of those children in an academic setting and all the while working on games and creating projects for myself.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So I guess as you settle in to your new role, do you have any other plans that you might have had for the rest of this year?

Derrick Fields:
One is in the oven or I should say, I’m thinking of a pun that doesn’t sound so morbid. I’m not sure like in the oven. The package is on the way. And my partner and I are expecting a little one in November and so it’s been a lot of at home, nesting and preparation as we invite a small human into our lives or another small human into our lives, I should say.

Maurice Cherry:
Congratulations. Look at you.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
A new job, new human. 2021 sounds like it’s your year.

Derrick Fields:
It has been my year. I am very thankful.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about the Northwestern gig. How did you get that?

Derrick Fields:
Sure. So through some work and prior to working at Uplift, I had always maintained doing some freelance work and working on side projects and other projects. It’s like simultaneously balancing a lot of plates there. The one that came along was through a friend and colleague who was creating a grant-funded project out of Northwestern. And they were, at the time, the assistant professor who held the position. And so I have done some talks with him and his class and met some of the students to discuss aspects of game design and 3D modeling. And a little later on, this individual ended up leaving the position for another university out of state. And so I was very surprised to see an email arrived from Northwestern asking if I would be interested in interviewing for the position.

Derrick Fields:
And that’s when I carried on the discussion with the same individual who was leaving the position. And he was very excited that they ended up reaching out off of this recommendation. And so from there, it was a lot of paperwork. I did a job talk which was new to me, which feels like giving a TED Talk to other teachers, faculty and students and to discuss the aspects of why I would enjoy teaching, what I hope to bring to the space and sharing bits about my past. And everything worked out for the better, so I’d be starting with them in September.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Is this your first foray into academia.

Derrick Fields:
I’ve always been on the periphery of the space doing other conversations. I’ve done some talks over at the University of Chicago in their Media and Arts Design Lab, I believe the name is. So yeah, always tangential to this space, but yeah, this will be the first time that I’ll be responsible for my own class, my own syllabi and a handful of students in that capacity. Prior too, I am a board member of the Japanese Arts Foundation where, before we transitioned to this quarantine and pandemic state, I was teaching how to draw anime classes to people of all ages. And so education has always been a really important component. And so I’ve been very fortunate to be able to provide that in certain spaces and this really just became the crux of it all.

Maurice Cherry:
Very nice. That should be a really good gig. I don’t know, forgive me for saying gig, I used to be a musician years ago, so I call every job a gig.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely. I’d use that too.

Maurice Cherry:
But that should be a really good thing to settle into, especially because I remember just when I was in school 20+ years ago, goodness, this kind of stuff wasn’t really taught. I didn’t go to an art school. I just went to a regular liberal art school. I know now technology has allowed for so many different types of things to be taught. So it’s really good that you’re going to be able to teach this, because I would imagine, this is probably you passing that knowledge on from your own personal experience with 3D design.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely, hopefully, being able to lens an avenue for students who are interested in that space and give them direct feedback based on my experience within the industry, I think is going to be really great and I’m excited to be able to share that.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Let’s talk about Waking Oni Games. How did you decide to start your own studio? Where did that come from?

Derrick Fields:
Right. So I was, I think, definitely mid store at the beginning of some freelance work. And some years after, I’d say, I don’t even know at this point, but definitely some time after, would be a more accurate description, some time after university and not finding the career placement that I wanted in games that I had grown to expect, I started mingling with other friends. And we got to brainstorming about what would it be like to create our own project and what type of experience could we get out of that just with limited resources. And at this time, it was just myself, my friend and a friend of his and so just the three of us, whom is now a very great friend of mine as well.

Derrick Fields:
The three of us, we were brainstorming, we played around and I said, “We should,” so pausing real quick to rewind, just a tad, but Spirited Away, the Ghibli film directed by Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite movies and has left a lasting impression on me. And so I had always imagined what it might be like to play a game that takes place in an onsen or hot spring as what we might know it as. And so that was really the origin of the idea and the motivation to wanting to create something for myself. And so with that came the need to have an LLC formation and go through all the legalities to make sure that we can be eligible to receive various licenses and things like that. And so then Waking Oni Games was invented or generated.

Maurice Cherry:
So how long has it been since you started?

Derrick Fields:
It has existed, I would say, from the signing of legal documents for six or seven years and Onsen Master was a hobby project throughout that time period. And so it wasn’t until two years ago, I believe, two almost three years ago that we decided to take that project and actually pursue it as something of an actual game, a game that we wanted to share with audiences, a game that we wanted to put up on Kickstarter for crowdfunding and see what the interest would be. And so very thankful that in September of the year that we did Kickstarter 2019, that it went successfully.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you. Since then, we continued working, of course, maintaining full time jobs and any other commitments outside of that to get this game out to audiences that were interested in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me a little bit more about Onsen Master for those that might not be familiar with the concept, you mentioned as being hot springs. Talk to me about what the game is about.

Derrick Fields:
Sure. I’ll say I can’t explain it without getting past the elevator pitch part. So it’s a hot spring strategy game about healing. You play as a character who has been tasked with managing their own bath house, their own hot spring. And that managing component comes by way of various customers who will arrive to your hot spring. And they each have a different ingredient that they desire. And so it is your job as the player to sort them into one of four baths that are located in the hot spring, locating the ingredient that matches to their needs and then mixing it up and tossing it in there with them. And so you play this mix and match game while moving through different environments that may change in scale or layout.

Maurice Cherry:
So it sounds like it can also be partially educational as well because I’m assuming this is based off of how onsens actually operate.

Derrick Fields:
In a very broad stroke, some details are true, some details are not. I would say there isn’t the component of somebody procuring an ingredient for you and lofting out into the bath. What is true to reality is that when you go to an onsen, a hot spring is a naturally heated water and there are many towns and prefectures in Japan, across Japan that have onsen and bathhouses that are, I should say, sento. So there’s a difference there. Sento or bathhouse is artificially heated and onsen or hot spring is naturally heated. And so it’s like small detail. So those are the types of things that really what I hope players will get other experiences that when they play Onsen Master, I hope that it will spark interest in wanting to find out what real onsen like or what real sento are like and learn about those.

Derrick Fields:
Another component in the game that I hope will spark interest in players is, as you’re playing through the game, you’re visited by these spirits called yokai. And they are essentially personifications of the unexplainable. If we hear a creek in the night, we might say, “Oh, that is a creek monster that is responsible for making this noise.” And so when you play Onsen Master, not only will various customers be arriving, but these various spirits that take the form of one that looks like a turtle, one that looks like a skeleton and so on will also be visiting the onsen. And they’ll come bearing with a couple antics to them. One might spill water all over the place, for example, or one might try to come after you and grab you as another thing that you have to deal with while managing these different customers.

Maurice Cherry:
It definitely sounds like you put a lot of thought and care into the game and with all of these different mechanics and such. It sounds really cool.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you. It’s definitely my experience in … I’ve spent a lot of my time learning about Japanese history and culture and mythology and so wanting to build a game that can spark that same interest and hopefully lead others to wanting to educate themselves about what yokai are, for example, is really the desire out of that.

Maurice Cherry:
I think anyone that has kids under 15 probably knows what yokai are because they’ve seen Yo-kai Watch or something like that. It’s amazing how much, I don’t even want to call it American shows because they’re just Japanese shows that have been in many cases dubbed over, but there’s so much anime from Japan that gets dumped over that now are, in some cases, cultural staples in this country like Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, etcetera, but then there’s a lot of newer shows like Yo-kai Watch and others that that’s how people tend to find out about Japanese culture through these different shows and through videogames as well. I remember playing videogames as a kid and that’s how I really learned about small things about Japanese culture. I’d probably say I got more from anime, but videogames definitely played a part in that as well, even through localization.

Derrick Fields:
And I really agree with that, we’ve got to say the sort of subtext to Waking Oni Games and Onsen Master and the projects that are to follow that are intended to explore specifically the intersection of Japanese and African American culture because there are many BIPOC individuals that have had their experience in childhood and through their adulthood, tangent to all sorts of pop culture and media. But mine specifically intersects a lot with Japanese culture and continues to even in my adulthood, being a board member at the Japanese Arts Foundation and teaching anime drawing classes. And so wanting to explore that and hopefully articulate that at my age now has led me to learn that there are many Black individuals that also have that sort of intersection.

Derrick Fields:
And wanting to find representation in the media that doesn’t necessarily originate from our culture can be a challenge depending on the circumstance, but it has led to other outcomes. And things like when we watched Dragon Ball Z, this is why we might code Piccolo as Black. Having those shared experiences with other Black individuals is something that’s very specific. And so with Onsen Master and with other projects, I would really like to continue to explore that conversation and build content that is derived of anime and the pop culture that surrounds the medium, but also insert people that look like us and be able to center that conversation a little bit more.

Maurice Cherry:
Right around this time last year on the show, we had Arthell Isom. He’s a Black guy who owns an anime studio actually over in Japan called D’ART Shtajio. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this.

Derrick Fields:
Yes, I’ve heard of this.

Maurice Cherry:
So a lot of what you’re talking about, it’s funny because this interview was literally about a year from now, a year ago from now. And what you’re saying mirrors a lot of what he also said in terms of working within the culture but also working to bridge that gap and tell these stories in a way that is not only, I would say, culturally relevant but also is appealing to customers. So that makes a lot of sense.

Derrick Fields:
I was just going to say hello to Arthell in a year ago. I wish we could cross paths, but I do. I love a lot of the work that he and his studio are doing.

Maurice Cherry:
So what do you think it is that people misunderstand when it comes to being a game designer?

Derrick Fields:
Sure. I think the term game design can be a little bit obfuscated. If you aren’t readily in school and learning about what the role might entail. It isn’t just thinking about all how one might want to create a cool thing and just enacting on it, it can become a lot more granular than that. And there has to be, and I can explain further, but there has to be a willingness to want to pursue getting very nitty gritty about details but also hoping to drive and create certain or, I should say, elicit certain experiences out of the audience that you intend to interact with your media.

Derrick Fields:
And so taking that to a game, let’s say, Mario or Final Fantasy, any of those things, everything that you do in that game that you don’t necessarily notice per se, the reason why the text, the font looks a certain way or the reason why when Mario jumps, a very specific height or just help conveniently placed that height and that distance from when you jump off a ledge and land on a platform is just so far away or just close enough that it creates ease or difficulty. Those types of things are thought about by somebody else and labored over constantly to make sure that you as the player can have ease of access or have experiences in difficulty but not difficulty that’s hard enough that turns you away from the game and makes you not want to play it.

Derrick Fields:
There has to be that balance in wanting to engineer an experience that maybe makes you feel just close enough to a reward that you are now driven to want to achieve it. I will say that that’s one component of game design. There are many ways to create experiences and engineer outcomes in a way that you are trying to impart that on somebody. I’ve been trying to stray away from falling into just spouting off nothing but buzzwords, but it really is. It really is that. You’re thinking about the player. You’re thinking about what type of experience you would like to give them while also wanting to share entertainment and fun and cool things happening.

Derrick Fields:
And maybe it’s swords, maybe it’s horses, or fairies or robots, but also wanting to make sure that your vision for it all is concise among those components that you’re trying to sort out.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like there’s a lot of testing that has to happen with game design. It’s not just as a simple as Mario Maker or something like that. But even that, I think also, I love how Nintendo has really abstracted a big part of the game design process when it comes to a game like Mario Maker or this new game that they have called like Game Garage or something like that. They make it seemed pretty easy because you’re just dragging and dropping sprites onto a canvas, but there’s so much logic and testing that has to go behind that to make sure that it’s playable, it’s enjoyable, hopefully that you’re guiding the player along and you’re making sure that they’re having an enjoyable experience as well.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely. And what I really love about both of those software is that they create accessibility to individuals who may otherwise not have the background in programming or have the background in 3D modeling or 2D art or everything else that comes along with creating a game. There’s so many resources there that they can, as you said, drag and drop and immediately get a reaction on whether or not it works. And I think those types of systems are great because it allows burgeoning creators and players to be able to explore those limitations and hopefully build something out of them and test, test, test away.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, this might be a bit of a easy questions. I think anyone that’s grown up in the United States in the past 30+ years has been exposed to videogames, but tell me about your history with games. Were you always into design in videogames? Tell me about that?

Derrick Fields:
Yeah. My experience in games has definitely been lifelong. I grew up with Nintendo and Sega and Sega Dreamcast and etcetera, leading all the way up to now, but wanting to contribute to games wasn’t always a component that … It wasn’t always something that I had considered. There was a disconnect. You bought games or you receive games as a gift. You loaded them up, you played them to the end of the credits and then you look for the next one. But I, for a long time, never really bridged the gap that somebody else was behind a computer, somebody had labored over this to give the experience that I’m now having in my bedroom or on the couch.

Derrick Fields:
When that happened, I think that’s when things really, really shifted for me and wanting to envision, creating worlds that I could interact and that other people could interact and what that might be like. Prior to that, my background has always been in drawing and illustration. And so I used to always want to create comic books and create cartoons. And so I spent a lot of time drawing and imagining worlds and imagining characters. Getting into high school, I think that’s when things started to transition and I understood that there was a pathway to being able to create these games that I was playing on PlayStation 1 and 2 at the time. And then I started to reengage with these worlds and imagine them as virtual spaces and seek out opportunities as we start getting into university in how I might be able to achieve that.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember, like you said, growing up in Nintendo and Sega, especially if you were a child of the ’80s. I would say even like a child of the early ’90s. It was inescapable. I don’t even know if it’s really so much now because kids have the internet to contend with and social media and stuff. But it’s hard to really understate just how much of a vice grip Nintendo had over your childhood. If you were like a child of the ’80s or the early ’90s, there was television, there were videogames, there was breakfast cereal, there was clothes. You really could not escape it.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say Nintendo probably more so, I’d say probably more so than Sega, but even still, as both of those systems grew in popularity, you really could not avoid the Console Wars, I should say. You really had to be in one camp or another. And games often would come out for one and then come out for the other one later. And it’s just amazing how much of that really is, because of course, the foundation for what we see now in gaming, but also what it’s done is it’s helped to create a whole new generation now of game designers and people that want to work in games and comics and similar fields like that.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely. And I got to ask, you mentioned the Console War, which side did you find yourself on, whether intentional or unintentional growing up?

Maurice Cherry:
So definitely Team Nintendo 100%. I had a Gameboy I had a regular. I remember when the NDS came out in ’80, I think it came out in ’85, I think, ’85, ’86 and I got it me and my brother. I have an older brother, we got it. And the cartridge was like the combination of Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt, so you put it in and then you choose which one you wanted to play and whatever. It was Nintendo for a long time. My cousin, I have a first cousin named Jeff and he had a Genesis. And so I got to go over his house and play a little bit of Sega. I always thought the three button controller was really weird. I didn’t quite understand that like, “I’m going to go back to Nintendo where the buttons have an even amount of numbers. That makes more sense to me.” I’ve been trying to do that. But yeah, mostly Nintendo. I think I’ve had every Nintendo System except the 64 and the Virtual Boy. I don’t think anyone really had the Virtual Boy.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember when the Virtual Boy came out because it was around, I want to say ’94, ’95. And the Walmart in our town had one as a display. So I did get to play it, but I’ve never had one. But yeah, I was firmly, firmly Team Nintendo until probably around college and then I diverted to Dreamcast. Although, well, someone of my friends’ floors had a 64 and we just play GoldenEye all the time.

Derrick Fields:
You got to play GoldenEye. Absolutely. My upbringing did find itself seeded in the Sega route and it was a bit of the opposite for me where my first cousin was the one who had the Super Nintendo and …

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Derrick Fields:
… the Virtual Boy. And I will not spend any time just discussing how VR has been an exploratory tangent to videogames for so long with something like the Virtual Boy and seeing where it is now to a device like the Oculus. But Sega led me to Sega Dreamcast and all of those, unfortunately short-lived experiences on a very cool system. I headed down the path of PlayStation and I got to say it I probably never looked back. I’ve loved PlayStation ever since.

Maurice Cherry:
What was the game that hooked you into gaming?

Derrick Fields:
Final Fantasy IX. I definitely played plenty of games prior to that, but Final Fantasy IX and just the PlayStation 1 console in general, I think, is bookmarked as a significant part of my life. I think I played tons and tons of games on the PlayStation. And there were so many when you think of the time period, this is why I love PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 especially, but when you think of the time period of both of these consoles, there’s so much development and exploration on both of the consoles from the beginning of their release to the end of their cycle when the next generation of that platform is coming out.

Derrick Fields:
And so looking at it a title that released on the beginning of PlayStation and looking at a title that released at the end of PlayStation 1’s time period is significant. There’s really vast differences. You find games that explored with voiceover and games that have walls and walls of text, games with sprites, games with Final Fantasy stuff, blocky 3D bodies and everything else. So it was a time. It was a time that all these different companies were trying out new things. They’re always trying new things. There’s always iteration and development, but something felt really cool about that transition to 3D and everybody trying to figure that out at the same time.

Maurice Cherry:
The game that hooked me into gaming, there’s a few. I think if I think about what was on the regular Nintendo, the game that probably hooked me was, it’s a very rare choice, there was this board game on NES called Anticipation. Have you heard of it?

Derrick Fields:
No, I haven’t.

Maurice Cherry:
Look up Anticipation NES on YouTube. I’m sure there’s probably videos of it, but I remember I would check that game out from what we had a Blockbuster adventure, but we had back home this little place called Movie Gallery. And I would check out Anticipation or I get my mom to check out Anticipation, let me correct that, to check out Anticipation every two weeks or so and keep playing it. And it’s essentially like a, I don’t know, Pictionary-style game …

Derrick Fields:
Got it.

Maurice Cherry:
… where it’s like for players. You’re either a trumpet, an ice cream cone, a pair of pink high-heeled shoes or teddy bear.

Derrick Fields:
I see that now.

Maurice Cherry:
And there’s these different board configurations. And you roll the die and you land on a certain color. And then there’s like this pencil that just starts drawing and you have to guess what it is that it’s drawing. And usually like at the beginning levels, they’ll give you some sort of hints like the number of letters or something. So you get a sense of it or the category, I should say, that’s drawing. But then as you go up to the higher boards, there’s no clues, no category. It just starts drawing and you have to figure it out and you have to get four of the different colors to proceed to the next round. And I loved that game. I think my brother hated it, but I loved that game. And that game sort of hooked me into like, “Oh, this is cool. This is like a board game, but it’s on videogames.” That blew my mind.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I’d say also, was this NES or SNES? So this is SNES. The SNES game that hooked me was also a Final Fantasy title. It’s Final Fantasy II which is Final Fantasy IV in the Japanese line of games. But that game, it’s sunk its fangs into me deep.

Derrick Fields:
Great.

Maurice Cherry:
And it is to this day, I don’t know if it’s my favorite Final Fantasy title, it’s top two. It’s top two definitely. I love that game like no other. Because that game aside from just the story aspect of it and you had the double-crossing character and all this sort of stuff. Also it’s my foray into music. I really liked the music and tried to learn how to play the music. I have little keyboard or whatever. And I would record it on my little tape recorder and then go back and try to play it on my keyboard and stuff like that. But Final Fantasy II and Anticipation. Those were the two games that got me into games, just like, “Oh, man, this is such a great, great medium to tell stories in.” Because Final Fantasy II, I had never run across a story like that before.

Derrick Fields:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s like on this thing and you play as these people, it’s like, “What is this?” It was my first role-playing game too. It was great. Absolutely great.

Derrick Fields:
That’s a really great story in it. I think that’s why Final Fantasy IX sits with me so well. And again, there were plenty of games that I definitely interacted with. Leading up to that, I fondly remember playing Rocket Knight on Sega which was a really cool side scrolling, incredibly difficult game. Wow. I think a lot of us have memories with titles like Aladdin and The Lion King and Animaniacs on that system as well, but it wasn’t until PlayStation and Final Fantasy IX that, again similar to what you said about for the character, the story, the very imaginative world that is being set in front of you. And it just raises the bar on, “Oh, this is what fantasy can be when …” Prior to this, it’s just been Dungeons and Dragons and medieval shows and medieval fantasy, but that presented an entirely new world.

Maurice Cherry:
Or you’re like Mario or Sonic, you’re just playing this linear left to right, up and down sort of thing. And Final Fantasy really came along and just like, I don’t even want to say it shattered expectations, it certainly shattered my perception of what can be done now with the medium. And my God, that was 1992 I think. Wow. It’s amazing what they were able to accomplish with so little back then, just in terms of the technology that tells us the vast story and with such few elements. I think now with computers and with software and everything, there’s no telling what you can create, even just on your own without having to do it through a big studio.

Derrick Fields:
We have so many possibilities now. And I think developers AAA all the way to indie, we continue to share and show reinvention within this space. And I love marveling at it. Every time there’s a new game trailer or game event that is coming with a handful of announcements, I cannot help but tune in because I know it’s going to come up with some indie game or some other studio that’s revealing an experience that you just didn’t imagine could happen with a controller in your hand or with something like an Oculus VR headset.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m trying to get more into Oculus. I got one fairly recently. And I’ve been just playing around with it, sitting on the couch or playing around the living room, but I need to get more into the VR experiences because I know there’s probably some really great stuff there.

Derrick Fields:
I’m trying. I’m trying as well. And I think right now felt like a time that was okay to leap in because the space is starting to hit its stride and starting … It’s hit its stride and it’s definitely developing and creating all these cool experiences now that the devices have so much fidelity to them which was always limitation leading up to what we have nowadays. Now, there’s three, four different pieces of hardware that you can acquire and create that experience for yourself and dedicate an entire room to VR if you wanted to. So I too have an Oculus and I’m dabbling on the store. I got to say, I’m very interested in a title called Demeo, I believe is the name where you are … Essentially, my favorite part of D&D where you have the D&D dungeon, you have your character sheet, but you have a miniature representation of your D&D dungeon in front of you and you’re playing through this campaign with little figurines that are an indication of your character and your party members.

Derrick Fields:
Well, there’s a VR version of that now and I got to say the way I’m passively just recruiting people to want to play that game, some handful of time from now is my side mission, but it looks very interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you went to school for design. You went to Columbus College of Art and Design. You eventually graduated from Kent State. When you think back on your education studying design, how much of that has really helped you out now, as a game designer?

Derrick Fields:
I think some of it came from not getting the experience that I was hoping to have and some of it came from gaining way more than I even thought could come of it. Getting into university at that time, the discoverability of spaces that were teaching games was still new. There was, I think, a lot of advertisements around this time for the art institute and going to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh or whichever state [inaudible 00:36:35] that it had and trying to explore, “Where am I going to get that? Where am I going to get the experience? At the risk of loans and everything else, where will I find my seat in all of that?” And so it’s bizarre. I remember going to the Art Institute of Chicago or sorry the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for a preview. They invited … You could register for a summer preview camp and stay there for, I think it was like three days or three or four days or something like that.

Derrick Fields:
But the idea was it was to introduce students to the campus, their experience, get them hands-on experience and playing around with game engines and tantalizing or giving the movie preview of what game development might be. Instead, what that experience for me was connecting with a bunch of very cool students, but ultimately never getting that experience. I remember distinctly we went into this game lab and the teacher who was supposed to be providing preview of education on Unreal Engine was absent. They were just gone and nobody knew where they were.

Derrick Fields:
And so the entire class just played Unreal Tournament. And that’s what we did. I remember thinking, “This is cool, but this isn’t what I came here for.” So I was so frustrated because I thought I came in, the veil was yanked away in what I was supposed to expect when I got there. So yeah, I ultimately went to Columbus College of Art and Design. I pursued illustration. I said to myself that I’m going to find entry into games, doing concept art. I still was feeling really keen about 3D modeling and wanting to do something with that. And so I remember asking my advisor if I could switch to 3D modeling because I wanted to pursue game development. And they said, “Well, we only have 3D animation. We don’t support game development here.”

Derrick Fields:
And I thought it was another moment that was disillusioned and I’m going, “Oh, man, am I thinking about this wrong? There’s got to be other spaces where people are really driving for this outcome that they too want to create games, that they too want to 3D model and rig characters for videogames. I love Pixar films, but that’s not where I’m trying to land.” And so I transferred to Shawnee State University. That is where I was introduced to this really amazing game development program that was still in its earliest stages, but the community of teachers and students really brought an experience together that continues to thrive today.

Derrick Fields:
I think, if you go to their website, they’re doing all sorts of really cool in-university events to support their students and give them that experience that I think a lot of us were going for at that time. So shout outs to them. I ultimately ended up transferring yet another time and graduating out of Kent State University with a degree and I don’t remember the name, but I graduated there and here we are with some gaps and other stories in between there.

Maurice Cherry:
I would say though, what you’ve mentioned though is actually, at least from my experience with talking with others on this show, it’s pretty common because the technology in the industry changes so quickly that schools aren’t really able to keep up and be able to have curriculum and stuff like that. And then, as you say, because it’s so new, different schools are going to have different just types of programs. It’s not really standardized. You can go to any college in the country and learn English, but you can’t go to any college in the country and learn game design. Different programs are definitely going to be just better suited to what’s currently in the industry. They might have a better alumni program. There could be a whole bunch of other things. There’s a guy I had on the show. This was, I don’t know, maybe 2017 or so. His name is Michael Hollander. Do you remember the ’90s show, VR Troopers?

Derrick Fields:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
He was the Black guy on VR Troopers.

Derrick Fields:
Oh, cool.

Maurice Cherry:
He’s a game designer now.

Derrick Fields:
Oh, wow. What a track record. That show is amazing. And there’s a side note, but the genre of tokusatsu, VR Troopers, Power Rangers, Kamen Rider, all of that stuff, there’s a really cool story, I think I saw it on Netflix, just the whole process of how that gets localized and arrives to us and then this relationship that we have with, I think it’s the … I forgot the company that licensed Power Rangers here, but they have a specific relationship with the original source that they are allowed to take the fight scenes and reedit it to add in actors from the US and-

Maurice Cherry:
That’s Haim Saban, right?

Derrick Fields:
Yes, that’s the one. Thank you. If you end up watching shows like VR Troopers, shows like Kamen Rider or Power Rangers, the original content has a completely different story, but the battles will be the same in a lot of ways or they’ll be … You’ll recognize certain battles or certain confrontations, experience in the US version. And so cool thing there, but that’s amazing. What a life to live to go from VR Troopers to game designer.

Maurice Cherry:
But a lot of what I remember him saying from that interview was about how he had to jump from place to place to really almost cobble together the skills that he knew he was going to need once he got on in the industry because one school maybe didn’t have this or another school had it. So it’s that process of transferring. And for him, it sounded like he just learned more working in the field as opposed to going to school to prepare to be a designer.

Derrick Fields:
I relate to that in a lot of ways that I think in that time period, when you said that there were a lot of universities trying to figure out how to do it correctly, I think similar to who you just mentioned … I’m sorry, what was the name again?

Maurice Cherry:
Michael Hollander.

Derrick Fields:
Michael. Thank you. Similar to Michael’s experience, we weren’t the only ones knowing that. I think we could see that universities were also trying to figure this out and we’re trying to figure out where can we get the best education with limited resources as far as research goes. It’s not like there’s a university out here just being championed by others in the industry saying, “I graduated from here and this is the space that taught me the best.” Everybody was flying by the seat of their pants. Unfortunately, for some people who are seeking education in that space, you flew by the seat at the risk of your wallet, so there’s that aspect there and you landed somewhere and you said, “This is close. So maybe this is the one that I’ll go with because I don’t want to go through registration again.”

Maurice Cherry:
He said the same thing. It can get expensive doing all that transferring from school to school, especially because it’s such a specialized field.

Derrick Fields:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
So you freelanced for a few companies after you graduated from Kent State. And it looked like your first big long-term game design gig, you’re at William Chyr Studio, is that right?

Derrick Fields:
That’s right. And touching back to what we were just talking about, after graduating, it was still trying to find placement in the industry, trying to figure out what to do with my portfolio and learning how it stood up against other candidates that were getting positions in 3D modeling and so on. And so that process led me to having to, again, reevaluate where I was and pursue continued learning, taking to YouTube and books and everything else to continue to make sure that I’m developing content that was on par with what the industry was asking for.

Derrick Fields:
I had a lot of difficulty trying to find career placement. And so this is where I began to seek dabbling in creating my own world, playing around with engines like Unity, but constantly going to events and networking with other individuals whom were already in there and already creating and developing projects, sharing my portfolio and ultimately landing freelance gigs from time to time.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you remember most about working at that studio?

Derrick Fields:
With William Chyr and the other team members, everything was fun and it was great. We mostly communicated digitally because people were across time zones and different locations in the US. It was very just casual, “Hey, can you model this or animate this thing.” And I had a lot of fun being able to contribute to manifold garden, which was the title that ended up releasing. And so my primary role there was creating a lot of environment objects. There are a lot of doors that I did the animations for and some other objects that are throughout that space.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I know we’re recording this right now at the time when there’s a lot of news actually in the videogame industry, particularly around certain company known as Activision Blizzard which people may know from some of the big games that they put out like … Oh, God, I’m blanking. Like Crash Bandicoot and things of that nature. I’m curious, as a Black man that’s in this industry, have you ever been privy to any discrimination just working at studios or showing your portfolio or things like that? What sort of things were you surprised about when you really started to get out in the industry?

Derrick Fields:
I think most of all, that came down to finding an entry level position, trying to weigh the quality of my work against other potential candidates for positions that I was applying for. And as an outcome to that, not finding a lot of opportunities where I felt like I was good enough to apply to a lot of spaces. I received no a lot, a lot when I was at the beginning of trying to become a 3D artist. And I would oftentimes turn to other portfolio websites, spaces like Art Station, what we have today, to look at the quality of my work and again weigh that against what other people were doing, other people in roles that I was trying to apply to.

Derrick Fields:
It just never made sense to me why I wasn’t even getting past the interview phase. I tried going to job fairs and sharing portfolio and receiving very poker-faced feedback on the content that I was sharing. And then would watch peers and other people who had also exited university game positions. And it wasn’t fair to myself or to them to want to go, “Well, now I got to look at their portfolio and see what did they do and what did I not do.” It’s never fun to have to draw those types of comparisons, but I couldn’t help it at that time because I wanted so badly to be able to be in this space and really, really had this dream that I can …

Derrick Fields:
The veil has very, very much been lifted to since then, but I used to dream so much of sitting next to a colleague in a game studio and working on 3D models and discussing which piece of armor should this character have or stuff like that. Back then, it was the labor of videogames, was something that was romanticized. I, not only has that but the space in general, continue to receive their scrutiny that it should to redefine what it means to work within that space, that creating games and creating experiences should not come at the sacrifice of your time in a way that is a detriment to you by way of how individuals used to romanticize overworking themselves in videogames.

Derrick Fields:
And that is still a narrative that we’re trying to separate from and relating to what you said with Activision Blizzard. The constant harassment that women and other marginalized folks experienced within these industries are other things that continue to need the scrutiny that they are receiving in order to hopefully get the change that we’re all asking for.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if this is a good follow up for this, but I’ll just throw it out there. Do you think that that is why we’re starting to see so many indie developers and games out there because they’re just not meshing with this AAA title, big game studio kind of culture, they’re just striking out on their own and doing their own thing?

Derrick Fields:
Yeah, I think there’s many layers to why indie developers create the games that they do. One is absolutely they themselves could not find placement within the industry. One is, we’re not ever fairly represented within the industry. One is the experiences that were being set on store shelves, weren’t the experiences that they wanted to have and that, just the word experience can mean so many different things in terms of gameplay or narrative or style and aesthetic. I think all of those things motivate indie developers to create their own games. And I think, just as you said, that’s absolutely why there’s so many of us out here now creating cool things.

Derrick Fields:
And now there’s so many more avenues to be able to access the experiences that they are delivering with platforms like itch.io for people who just want to create something small or fairly sizable and distribute that out to their own audience. We now have publishers and platforms that vocalize their support for indies and now have a much more visible pipeline for indie developers to be able to release games on spaces like the Switch and so on. So I hope and I always had my fingers crossed that that will continue to grow in the way that it has and that more indie developers will be able to receive the support that they want.

Maurice Cherry:
What games are you currently playing right now?

Derrick Fields:
I was revisiting Final Fantasy VII Remake after purchasing it when it came out and then not touching it for a long, long time. The announcement of the, I think, it’s called Intergrade DLC, was enough for me that it sparked motivation to want to return to the game and I said, “You know what? We’re going to finish this.” So yes, I’ve been casually pursuing that and I think I’m about three quarters of the way complete with it finally. But aside from that, I spend a little bit of my time streaming on Twitch various stealthy games. It’s another genre of games that I just really, really take to and enjoy playing. So titles like Thief … One of my favorite games is Thief Deadly Shadows which is this older medieval fantasy stealth game replays this thief called Garrett. I almost said the main character of The Witcher, Geralt. I mixed them up there, but great game.

Derrick Fields:
Immersive sims is the genre, so other games like Hitman or Dishonored, any of those things where you’re presented with a level and you have to decide how you are going to solve the level and get from point A to point B are some of my favorite types of games to play. So I’ll dabble with one main game and then pursue other ones in the background. And so that’s what I’ve been doing. How about yourself?

Maurice Cherry:
What am I playing now? That’s a good question because, and I said this before we record it, I am really big on buying games and then never playing them. I’m more of a collector at this point. So the games I’m currently playing now? So on PS4, I don’t know, I guess about halfway through Persona 5 Royal, I think. I think I’m halfway through. I’m in July because the game starts out in April and then it like goes to I think January or something, but Royal has a third semester. So I think I’m about maybe not half, I’m probably about a third of the way through that when I think about it because I’m in the summer. So I’m playing Persona 5 Royal.

Maurice Cherry:
And then on my Switch, I have Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I feel like I’m just tending to that, I don’t know, neglected child. I’ve gotten my island to a point where I’m not going to change anything. My villagers are at a point where they’re not moving out. So my island is just in stasis, and because Nintendo’s not really rolling out a whole bunch of new content for it, I just log in every day, speak to people, dig up fossils at the islands. I just bought The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, which I look forward to getting into that this weekend.

Derrick Fields:
Great. I’ve been looking forward to that one.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m looking to get into that pretty soon. And that’s what I have now. I’m a big fan of puzzle games, so I also just recently bought I think it’s Picross S5 I think is the latest one in the series. So I bought that. I haven’t played it yet, but I know eventually I will. Picross is just one of those games you just, I don’t know, you play it in the airport. You play it while you’re waiting for the train or something like that. It’s one of those games you can easily pick up and put down because it’s a puzzle game. Have you heard of Picross before?

Derrick Fields:
I have. I’ve not played it. Honestly, most puzzles I usually keep to something that’s like haptic, though I’m not opposed to them. They’re usually not my go to, but yeah, I’ve heard of Picross, but I didn’t know that they released a new iteration.

Maurice Cherry:
Jupiter cranks these games out every three months.

Derrick Fields:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
And they always have 150 puzzles or more. At least 150 to 200 puzzles, they just crank them out regularly. It’s insane. I think they just recently announced there’s going to be a Picross with, I think Sega and Master Collection. So it’s going to have Sonic sprites and things of that nature, Puyo Puyo, that kind of thing. I saw it and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to buy that,” because also the games are like 10 bucks. So they’re like really cheap, they have a ton of replay value and they’re long games. Each puzzle is maybe anywhere from like a few seconds to maybe an hour, depending on the size of it and putting it all together, but that’s what I’m playing right now.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m looking forward to … What did I preorder? I preordered Metroid Dread. I think I pre ordered No More Heroes III. And I also pre ordered Advance Wars 1 and 2, the remakes that are coming out because I love some Advance Wars. I recently bought, not that I’m showing my age here, but I recently bought a, there’s this guy on Instagram that does these custom Gameboy Advance builds.

Derrick Fields:
That’s very cool.

Maurice Cherry:
They are pristine. I’m not going to say how much I paid for it. I paid too much for it, but they are pristine. And I bought one of those and I bought some games off eBay because I was like, “I love the form factor of it, plus I just love those old games. And now that Advance Wars 1 and 2 is coming out on the Switch, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I’m getting that. Absolutely. No questions asked.” There’s a couple of games that I don’t even have to think about it. My credit card’s already out like magic. I don’t even have to think about it like, “Oh, yeah. I’m getting that.” That’s what I’m playing right now.

Derrick Fields:
Cool. Cool. Those are definitely some exciting things to look forward to. No More Heroes, especially, is one that I am a big fan of that. I’m trying to think if there’s anything that I’ve been looking forward to for some time. It is on the tip of my tongue. Elden Ring, From Software, so the new From Software title has been one that is definitely on my list, definitely looking forward to that. And then Deathloop from Arkane Studios which again talking about how as a fan of immersive sims and games that include the option of stealth. The creators of Dishonored are releasing a new title and this one looks like a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Derrick Fields:
So I’ll be getting that one right away.

Maurice Cherry:
And of course, you’re creating your own game, Onsen Master, but what videogame would you love to see developed one day?

Derrick Fields:
When it comes to the games that we experienced now, I’m just touching on the arc of indie games and how there are so many developers who have taken to their own to create experiences that they aren’t seeing. I would love, love to see a game that centers just like an Afro fantasy or Black fantasy or like Afro futurist game that is at the scale of a Square Enix title. If I could play a game that feels like Final Fantasy XV or any of those titles with that sort of fidelity and story and amount of hours dedicated to creating an original world and high-fantasy narrative, but it centers on Black people and the genre of Afro futurism. I think it would be phenomenal that I would preorder that before.

Derrick Fields:
I would somehow hear about it before the studio made formal announcement and be sitting at their front door just saying, “I’m ready. Just hand me the disc whenever you’re done.”

Maurice Cherry:
Now, say someone’s listening to this, they’re hearing your story and everything and they want to become a game designer themselves. What resources or things would you tell them to check out to try to start that journey?

Derrick Fields:
So we briefly talked about things like Mario Maker and the Nintendo’s, I believe it’s the garage, I don’t remember the full name of it, but resources like that, going back to PlayStation 1, there are games like RPG Maker and stuff like that. There are avenues to be able to create games and use systems that are available now. You may not be able to completely realize the version of the game that you are seeking, but I think it’s important to remember that vision, that lofty vision that we all have for the game we dream of creating is an iterative process. We have to create the small games and the other experiences to get ourselves there. And so use these platforms, use these systems.

Derrick Fields:
Dreams is another one from Media Molecule, creators of Little Big Planet, where you can now create your own assets, your own experiences using their platform. That might be one avenue. Another one is the Unity Engine that we use for Onsen Master is free. And there are a lot of resources not only on YouTube, which I affectionately call YouTube University, but Unity itself offers courses that are available for free for individuals who have no background in either programming or creating or 3D modeling, an avenue to be able to get access to those. One of the most important things that I want to acknowledge in saying all of that is the availability of resources is not equal. It’s not across the board for everybody and not everybody has the computer or the game hardware to be able to leap right into creating those things.

Derrick Fields:
I imagine that if they do, a lot of the times, they’re already exploring those possibilities already, taking to Google and figuring out which one of these might be the application or software for them. And so if pencil and paper are what is available for you, creating tabletop games and board games is game design. And I always think to myself that if it works on paper, it’s going to work digitally, but we just have to trade some of those paper systems for code and some of those cards or drawn assets for 3D models or 2D pictures and etcetera, but practice game design, creating board games between yourself and your family, creating card games.

Derrick Fields:
These are ways that still lead you to becoming a game designer because you’re creating experiences that you’re trying to elicit that from somebody else and have these sorts of fun moments with other people and design those fun moments. Use that. Use that as a platform. And so those are the things that I would say for individuals who are looking to explore game design, looking to leap into it, take one of those things and just try a little bit every day because those moments that you spend in it in doing it, that you’re just getting closer and closer to it every moment and it’s going to take time.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look at the work that you’re doing now and you look back at your career and you think back to a young Derrick who was getting into Final Fantasy IX and was really starting to learn about game design and everything, are you where you want it to be at this stage in your life?

Derrick Fields:
I am. This is like one of those things that a … Very recently, I was all sorts of emotional about it and stuff because I was talking to my mom, whom … She is my number one hero and she has helped create an environment that has allowed me to thrive creatively and watched me evolve into the person that I am now and have the hardships and the hiccups that have led through to that. When it comes to creating games and what I would like to be doing in this space with Onsen Master on the way out and seeking to fund, our next project and most recently stepping into Northwestern University, I’d say I think I hit everything on young Derrick’s checklist.

Derrick Fields:
And so the only other thing left is to make sure that everything that I’ve earned sustains and that I can extend it to another young Derrick or a young individual out there who has their own checklist brewing.

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

Derrick Fields:
I want to stay in education. I want to be able to continue contributing to Northwestern and hopefully help build a space that is comprehensive. Right now, I’m just one individual within the department who will be providing games education. And I would love to find ways to collaborate with other faculty and student across like interdisciplinary opportunities for faculty and students to be able to share experiences. I’ll be in like the radio, TV, film department. So there’s a lot of creativity that’s across these spaces, but the other thing is wanting to bring in other faculty or hopefully be able to advocate for bringing in other faculty to touch on other experiences and facets of game development.

Derrick Fields:
There’s music, there’s narrative, there’s so many other components to be considered and I think developing a space that feels conducive for all of those is really important to highlight for burgeoning creators or writers or musicians. As far as Waking Oni Games goes, Onsen Master is not the only title that I want to build and I want to develop a studio that can create games and create them sustainably. And when I say sustainably, I mean support every individual at their choice of part time or full time and not have to burden anybody with a decision of balancing life in a part-time job and a freelance gig on top of that.

Derrick Fields:
I hope that this game studio can be a space that somebody can, not only lean on for support, but feel as though they are contributing to the type of games that they want to see represented as well.

Maurice Cherry:
And just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and your work and your studio and your game and everything? Where can they find that online?

Derrick Fields:
So for the games, that is like waking up in the morning, wakingonigames.com. I can be found as WakingOni on Twitter and those are primarily the two main spaces that you can find us interacting between. There’s a Waking Oni Games Twitter as well. And I mentioned earlier that I stream on Twitch, sharing not only gameplay, but game development from time to time under the name Waking Oni.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Derrick Fields, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for, one, sharing the work that you’re already doing through your studio and the game that you’re creating. I just have a soft spot in my heart for indie game designers. I just think it’s so cool that you all get to do this kind of stuff. And even just the Black community around gaming is so good to see. There’s developers, there’s designers, there’s musicians, there’s artists, game artists, voiceover, etcetera. It’s just so good to see all of that, but then also to really hear about your story of getting into it and the type of games that you want to see out there in the world.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope that this interview is a way to introduce what you’re doing to our audience, so more people can discover what it is that you do and hopefully can help support your work. So thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I appreciate it.

Derrick Fields:
Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure to be here.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

Adobe MAX Logo

Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills… all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

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.

Brandi Davis

Lately, I have been doing a deep dive into the magazine archives of EBONY and JET. While skimming the masthead of one of the old issues, I stumbled across this week’s guest — Brandi Davis! Brandi served as Johnson Publishing Company’s web designer from 2004-2012, and was front and center at the company’s shift from print to web. Wait until you hear her anecdotes about working there!

While we do spend a good bit of time talking about that portion of her career, we also talked about the importance of Black media online, how she has expanded into doing art therapy, and we dive into Brandi’s latest creative project — her own line of custom apparel inspired by her faith, her life, the culture, and her love for the city of Chicago. Brandi’s drive and tenacity are the keys to her success, and I think after this interview, you will be motivated to conquer your own fears as well!

Vernon Lockhart

Have you picked up on the connection between this month’s guests? It can be easy to look at the advocacy work and projects around diversity in design and think it’s a new movement, but the reality is that the work is built on the shoulders and legacy of Black designers like Vernon Lockhart. As an artist, creative therapist, and the executive director of Project Osmosis, Vernon has worked hard to empower the next generation of designers through education for at least the past 20 years.

We spoke about Vernon’s creative therapy practice, Art on the Loose, and he shared how his time growing up in Chicago, attending SAIC, and becoming involved with the Organization of Black Designers helped build the foundation for Project Osmosis. We also talked about respectability politics, the trap of “diversity”, and his plans for bringing more design education to the south side of Chicago. Vernon Lockhart and his work are a testament to the fact that we all have the human right to be creative!

As designers, we are uniquely equipped with the skills to tackle any number of problems. Randy Ellis knows this, and our conversation really reflects just how much of his career and creative energy goes towards this very goal.

We talked about his work through his consultancy, 5ivehat UX Agency, and then went into a spirited discussion on diversity in the design community. We also touched on design education and the for-profit university model, teaching at General Assembly, and even cryptocurrency! It’s a great big world out there, and it’s clear that Randy has what it takes to make an impact!


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Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown.