Alexandria Batchelor

The thrilling part about entrepreneurship is following your dreams while pursuing your passions. That’s definitely the case for illustrator and creative director Alexandria Batchelor. As the head of her own company, Foxee Design, Alexandria uses her skills in graphic design, branding and illustration to not only provide killer work for her clients, but to also redefine standards in the industry within art and design that represents minorities (primarily Black women). Now that’s change worth supporting!

We kicked off our conversation talking about plans for the summer, and Alexandria talked about how she named her company, some of her notable clientele and collaborators, and the best kinds of clients for her to work with on projects. She also spoke about an upcoming book she worked on with noted authors Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes, and shared some secrets and advice on creativity and self-motivation.

If you’re looking to get a dose of inspiration, then this episode is the one for you. Enjoy!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Alexandria Batchelor:
Hi, everyone. My name is Alexandria Batchelor, AKA Foxee Design. I am currently the CEO and creative director of Foxee Design. Completely self employed right now, and I am a designer, but I specialize in branding illustration and comic production specifically. That’s me in a nutshell.

Maurice Cherry:
How is the year going for you so far?

Alexandria Batchelor:
It’s going really well actually. Lots of good projects are coming in. I’ve actually started subcontracting. That’s where I’ve started leveling up where I have acknowledged that I can’t do it all by myself. One of my mentors taught me that he kind of taught or ingrained this mentality of looking out for your community and your network and taking on all the talented people that you know and spreading the wealth, because I am tired. This year I am focusing on self care and that’s why I bring it in like, oh, you have some time? All right, I’ve got two projects for you here, and I’ve got this much money and I’ve got this for you and this for you. That’s kind of how I started managing my business this year. It’s already working quite well, so good start so far.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a great start so far. I’m telling you, and for people that are out there listening that might be running one person shops, the minute that you get into subcontracting, you will feel like you have unlocked the cheat code. Wait a minute. I can do this self employment thing. Once you build that network or that collective, you’re like, oh, I got this.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I know. That’s not sustainable. Not if you want to be happy and be a real person, because I like reality. Let’s stay rooted in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, and also with subcontracting, it can also help you to even just expand your services. If there’s something that a client may want that you know someone in your network has the capacity to handle, it just kind of makes you appear more well rounded, so good for you. That’s good.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Right. Thank you. I can’t wait to continue to build. I just actually recruited one of my old design confidants from college as well as one of my old interns who are both my friends still to be my right and my left hand for my company, so that was a big move where I’m like, I told one of them, I’m like, you’re my successor. The other one is just stepping up to the plate, so it’s just really nice to have people I really trust my business with and I could only be thrilled to imagine how they would run my company one day when I have to go expand to new horizons. Still come back to Foxee because that’s where my heart is.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. I guess with that, do you have any plans for the summer?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes. I’m going on vacation. I don’t vacation often, so yes. Actually summer, well starting off with my birthday, my birthday’s next month. May babies, Tauruses. Any Tauruses in the house? I’m going to Alabama because you were talking about the south, but my family’s from Alabama and I’m visiting my grandma for my birthday. We’re going to hang out in Atlanta for a bit, so that’s going to be really fun. Then in June, I’m spending the month in California because I’m also going to be speaking at VidCon, which is exciting, but most of it I’m going to be relaxing, but yes. I’ll have my first major speaking engagement in person. I don’t think I’ve nervous yet, but as we get closer, I’m going to be a ball of nerves.

Maurice Cherry:
You’ll be fine. VidCon is one of those conferences that everyone’s going to have a camera, of course. It’s a video conference, VidCon, but you’ll be fine. I think there’s enough energy at that kind of event where everyone wants to see you do well.

Alexandria Batchelor:
That’s true. It’ll be good vibes. As long as there are good vibes, I’ll thrive.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I’m curious, where in Alabama will you be visiting?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Nobody knows where this is, so I’ll be surprised if you know. It’s called Elba. Elba, Alabama in Coffee County.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I too am from Alabama.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Really?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Oh my goodness. I.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m from Selma in Dallas County. I’ve heard of Elba though.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Oh, really?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Oh my gosh. You’re the first person who’s ever heard of where my family’s from. That’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
People will come to me and name random cities in Alabama, like Utah or Boaz or something. I was like, yeah. I’ve heard of that. Really? I’m like, yeah. I grew up in Selma, from Alabama, south central Alabama. Yeah. Nice. Alabama in the summer is hot.

Alexandria Batchelor:
It’s going to be brutal, yeah. Well, May, so that’s not too bad.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s not too bad. Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yeah. My grandma wants us back later in the summer in August, so I think I might die. I don’t know if I could do that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. August is Alabama is brutal, but the thing about visiting small towns in Alabama like that is it just strips everything away, like technology, wifi, cable. Selma is not a big city. Even when I go back home to visit my mom, she’s got cable and she has internet, but like it’s not the cable and internet I have at home. In terms of the entire environment, it just kind of strips everything away and forces you to be still for a while.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Nice. Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m looking for to unplug, kind of reconvene with nature. My grandma’s got this cute little vegetable garden that I want to see and just kind of learn about the land, because we own land too. It’s low key our inheritance eventually, so I just want to get back to my roots and what better time to do it than for my birthday? I’m really excited.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Let’s talk about Foxee Design. I know you’ve been freelancing for a long time now, but tell the people more about Foxee Design.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Foxee Design, I wanted to figure out a nice alias that really represented me, and we started branding ourselves in college, but everybody was kind of doing… no shade to people who just use their name. That’s a very legitimate brand because your name actually holds a lot of meaning. I’m big into name etymology, so I love learning the meaning behind everything, but I just wanted something more than just like A and B.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I just realized my hair became a really big signifier and symbol in my life because I used to have chemically straightened hair up until I was like 18. Right when I was in college, I did a big chop and I went natural and that was the first time I had had natural hair in my life. That’s why the hair kind of became a big thing. I have a beauty mark, like the Marilyn Monroe beauty mark and the lips and I’m like, you know what? Maybe this is the visual I want to represent my brand.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Then Foxee, the name, kind of came about because… actually, it’s from Foxy Brown, the Pam Grier movie from the 70s, but I learned about that from Quentin Tarantino’s iteration of it, Jackie Brown and Pam Grier again. I was like, oh, I’m in love with this movie. It was my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie. It just really resonated with me, so I was like, well, this character is so cool because she’s re-contextualizing black female sexuality and she’s kind of making the black woman a very powerful force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. I’m like, I want to do that in the design industry. This was before where are the black designers, which we were just talking about too, where I’m just like, I just want to be myself and be this very strong black woman without any consequence and have it resonate with my work. It doesn’t always need to be about my work, but it’s always rooted in it because it’s a part of me.

Alexandria Batchelor:
That’s why it kind of was a little sexy. At times I would ask my friends like, should I have done something a little more palatable, but I just kind of leaned into it and I really want to embody this persona where… if you see me, I’m very naturalista, like Tom boy, but I can have those moments where I step out. It feels like an alter ego to an extent as well, but I like stepping into this alter ego because I’m this authority in the brand space and the design space and the illustration space and I get to know what I’m talking about and feel really empowered behind the knowledge that I’ve accrued over time. That’s kind of how Foxee came about and the meaning behind my whole business.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that. I love that there’s so much intention behind it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes. Always have intention behind the work I do.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you specialize in, you mentioned, graphic design, you mentioned illustration or comics and branding. What specifically drew you to branding? I’ve been finding, I’d say probably on the show within the past year or so, a lot more designers getting into branding, but what draws you to it?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I look at branding as storytelling. I realize illustration, comics and branding are all storytelling mediums for me that are my favorite mediums. I also write a little bit and my mom is a writer, so I have that in my blood. There’s something about branding that I feel like can be missed where you just think it’s a logo, but it’s much more than that. You’re telling someone’s story. I think it’s more of the owner. You go back to the owner, you find out even more about the business, and that actually influences a lot of decisions, like what colors. Is this based on your favorite colors? Is this just tied to how that color represents the specialty that we’re trying to brand? What is this interest, this hobby? Did you like skiing? Is that why you wanted to make something related to skiing?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I think brands always go back to the first person who came with that idea, and I love learning about people and understanding the attention behind all of the things that we are drawn to. That’s why I really like branding, because it’s kind of like decoding and getting to know someone. It’s kind of personal, because I know recent years people are trying to separate the personal brand and the business brand. I actually think it can be both. It’s one logo. One brand can, I believe, represent both personal and business. That’s how I do it. I don’t have a separate page. It’s all at one.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I am a person, I am my business, but I can also be just the person that can just be the business. I can be like, okay, I’m taking a mental health day and I go to the spa. I feel like when you try to split, it’s hard to navigate, so I love creating this space where you can feel like your work isn’t necessarily your life, but it is an important part of your life and it can still be a representation of you, your will, your passion. That’s why I love branding.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that. That’s a great way to put it. I see now branding and storytelling and it’s something I’ve definitely seen with a lot of small companies are trying to get into it, or I think they’re trying to get into branding because they’re starting to see it now as more than just a logo. They’ll come to a designer, I need a logo, but the logo should hopefully tell the story of your business or why you’re doing your business or something. It’s not just something generic that you just slap together and say, this is what my business is. It’s this logo.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Right. It’s Papyrus type. No, I’m just kidding. I’m literally always walking around like, I don’t like that, I love that. My dad’s like, stop working. I’m like, I can’t help it, dad. The whole world is design. Oh, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about how you approach a new project that comes into Foxee Design.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I’m a big process person, like process junkie over here. I love how you got from point A to point B. I learned that a lot of clients and even designers are only about the final product. When I was getting introduced to this culture of design, I would notice that designers would hoard their designs until they were ready to share it and it would be more finalized and clients would just be like, I don’t get what this concept is. Just give me the final product. This was in college I reached this theory. I was like, I think there’s a gap in understanding, because actually my college major, it’s not graphic design. It’s communication design, so I quite literally can design communication, and I realized there was a gap in communication between the designer and the client.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I made my process very transparent. I start with a sketch. I’ll give a couple rounds of sketches and I’ll share it with the client. I’m like, what do you think? This isn’t obviously what it’s going to look like in the final stage, but these are just some ideas to get from point A to point B. Do you like this? What do you like about that? What do you like about this? We can combine those ideas and see if they work. I can tell you why they might not work. Let’s try this instead. When you bring the client in and involve them, you just get a much more successful design.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I’ve definitely had projects that have fallen through, obviously. No one’s perfect, but when the projects really go to the finish line, I’ve always had very high success rates. People are like, I didn’t even know this is what I wanted. I’m like, exactly, because the client always wants to be like, hey, I trust you. Just do whatever you want. I’m like, no. This is your business. You have to do work too, so I give them homework. I’m like, fill out this brand brief, answer all these questions. Some people are like, I never thought to answer all these questions about my business. I’m like, well, you’ve got to think about some extra stuff before maybe we even start your logo, because I always start with the logo if we’re doing a big brand project, because it’s an easy starting point but there’s way more to that. Especially if you want to be a musician or if you want to be on YouTube.

Alexandria Batchelor:
There’s a lot of other deliverables that go around the logo. I’ll give you colors and type bases to work with, even if that’s what you lead me with, but there’s always more than just a logo. Yes. I make my clients work just as hard as me, and that’s why I think I work really well with people and now they appreciate the process. They’ll always walk away like, I learned something about design today, and I’m like, that’s amazing. I’ve got teaching in my blood.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s a good way to approach it. Back when I started my studio, which was… what year is this? 2022. Back when I started in my studio in the olden days of the inter… no, I’m kidding, but back in the late 2000s or so, there was this really big push and maybe it’s still this way now, I don’t know, but there was almost this dichotomy that was set up between designer/entrepreneurs and clients where the designer is always right and the client is always wrong and there was this whole thing about clients from hell. Clients from hell.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I remember that blog.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Not to say that they don’t exist. They do exist. But also I think it’s up to the designer to vet the people that are coming in.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I think if you’re doing a good job of that and they know that you’re educating them along with doing the work that you don’t run into many clients from hell after a while. They know to kind of stay away, but that education portion is super important. I think clients want to know sort of what they’re paying for, of course. They’re not just paying for hopefully a set of hands. They want someone that can illustrate, especially if it’s for their business and its brand. I would hope that they would want to be involved in it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Me too. Yeah. Someone, I can’t remember who, but there was four types of clients. You have the smart involved client, you have the smart, lazy client, you have the… sorry to say dumb, but the dumb involved client and the dumb and lazy client. I think the worst one they said was the dumb involved one because they want to be all up in your business but aren’t listening or anything. It’s interesting that there are types of clients out there, but you have to know how to deal with them. If someone is more the uneducated one who wants to be involved, that’s great. You shouldn’t see that as a loss. You should be like, no, this is a learning moment. You want to be involved, but you’re not listening to me and I’m the authority. You paid for this.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Also, sometimes that’s where I take an L. If you don’t want to listen to me, then we’ll go with what you want. It might not be the right decision, but because you don’t want to listen to the specialists that you hired, then we’ll just go and do what you want to do. I think as I got older I started to be less precious with my work because yes, I’m here to guide you. I’m here to be like a salesperson. I’m here to persuade you, but sometimes if they just don’t want to listen, then that’s fine. I paid you to do what you want me to do and that’s that. I think a lot of younger designers get really hellbent on like, well, they’re not doing this. They’re not do it. I’m like yeah, I know that stinks, but put all that energy in your own work then.

Maurice Cherry:
Design, at the end of the day, for what it’s worth, especially as an entrepreneur, it’s a service industry, so you are serving the client in that way. Honestly, just because you did the work doesn’t mean you have to put it on your portfolio. There is a lot of work that I’ve done for horrible clients that will never see the light of day for me.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Right. I get you there, or I’ll put the one that they should have picked in my portfolio. I’m like, this is the nice version that we just left from ground zero, and it’s a dream, but this is the reality it should have been, so I get that.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned earlier about subcontracting and having people as you’re left and right hand. What does a typical day look like for you?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Oh my goodness. I’m in a decompression mode right now, so it’s a little different. Sometimes I’ll be gaming all day while also working, so I balance it out, which is kind of hilarious, but other days… I’m a Switch girl, so I’m playing the new Kirby game. Nobody’s paying me to promote this, but it’s really good. It’s beautiful. That’s been nice to feel restorative, especially if I have a stacked day, but I go through my emails. Also, email anxiety is so real. Some days I just put them off, but I try to have admin days where I can focus and respond as I go so they don’t build up, because if I’m away from my email for at least a week, I will have at least 200 emails and that is not fun to go through. Yes. That’s real. Email, admin stuff, I’ll go through any contracts that I have and get them signed and sent over, because I always collect deposits or I have regular income where I’ll have to give bills and stuff. So I’ll send in my invoices then. That’s the business side of things.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Then some days I like to blog in the mornings, especially if I worked too much the past day. I’ll just be writing my memoir, which is a little passion project I have going on, so I’ll spend time either doing that. This morning I spent embroidering, so I’ve been trying to get back to traditional art because I want to spend less time on my computer. Yes. I’ve been wanting to paint more, so in the coming days I’ll get back to painting. I like to play as much as I work with even my art because it’s my passion and my job, but traditional is where I’m steering, so I like being able to balance that throughout the day. Then I’ll work on a project here or there. I’ve usually got several going on.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Some days I’m like, I’m not working on this project or I’ll have to prioritize which one, like they need this one urgently or this deadline or this sub-task deadline is due this day, so that’s how I organize my tasks. Then I try to not work into the evening. Then I unwind with some anime and food. That’s what a day looks like for me.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that you said I like to play as much as I work and that you kind of weave that into your work day. That’s pretty cool. I like that. I think it’s a good way, one, to just get through the day, but then as an entrepreneur, I think it can be so easy to fall into that trap of just work, work, work, work, work, because everything has to depend on you. Incorporating those moments of play like that into the work is a good strategy.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes. This is very new too, because I was work, work, work, work, work, and then I crash, crash, crash, crash, crash. Now I’m like, okay. I have to make sure I am relaxing. I want to bring back yoga and meditation into my routine, because I also was doing that because self-care is just so important. That’s what I’m trying to stress as much as I’m trying to make money. I’m good. I think that’s also important to have financial literacy when you’re in these spaces and to be able to save and not worry about going check to check. That’s where I’m like, you know what? I’ve worked hard enough to be like, I can relax. It’s going to be okay.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good place to be.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yeah. It takes time. I think everyone can get there, but even if you are living check to check, still put a few bucks aside to get a facial from Walgreens. One of those things to just do the mini. I love doing like those really home care days. I’ll put my feet in like some Epsom salt or whatever and soak, so you can do it in a very affordable way too. I suggest that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that. I first heard about you about a year or so ago from YouTube. I think I told you this before we started recording. I was randomly watching videos. I was letting the YouTube algorithm guide what I watch next and I ended up on this… I guess the best way to describe it would be maybe an anime discussion channel. Not necessarily review, but more like discussion. This anime discussion channel called Beyond The Bot. Can you talk about how you became a part of that?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Sure. Actually it goes back to my history at Frederator. We actually got laid off during the pandemic too. It happened to a bunch of different companies. I have no disclaimer. There’s no shade. I wouldn’t be the designer I am today without that company. I have much respect for Frederator, but we just couldn’t afford to keep all of us on after the pandemic hit. If it didn’t hit, we probably would still be there, to be honest with you. That crew wanted to keep a channel that we started at Frederator called, Get in the Robot. That had to pause production because we had lost our jobs, so we evolved it.

Maurice Cherry:
I watched Get in the Robot. I didn’t know that was the succession. Look at that.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Right. Here we go. Full circle.

Maurice Cherry:
Full circle.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I knew we’d get there. Yes. We just evolved it to the next stage with Beyond the Bot. We did it completely independent. We were crowd funded. We had a lot of really great opportunities to us. Then they were like, all right. Come on board, because we literally took the whole old team from Frederator and just started this because we just needed extra work and the fans were helping us pay and keep it alive. We got a couple hundred bucks a month working on it and we just kept the joy alive because that channel meant a lot to us, like Get in the Robot, and then Beyond the Bot was a new baby that helped us be able to do even more than we wanted to do without corporate constraints.

Maurice Cherry:
For people that want to check it out, you should really go to YouTube, search for it. If you’re into anime, I wouldn’t even say just modern anime, like My Hero Academia or whatever because you all have talked about stuff with Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z and stuff. If you’re an anime fan of any stripe, definitely check it out.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes. We do deep cuts. I think we did a Neon Evangelion Genesis video. We’ve done a Cardcaptor Sakura video, so even the ones you’ve never heard of, we were talking about that stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What are the best types of clients for you to work with? I know you’ve worked with, you mentioned Frederator is a place that you’ve worked at before, and we’ll go through the rest of your work history, but you’ve worked for some publications and other publishing studios. What are the best types of clients for Foxee Design though?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I love working with YouTubers. YouTubers are where it’s at because everybody is getting on that. I’m even trying to get on YouTube. I would love to be able to be like, come follow me at Foxee. Content will come this year, I promise, but yes. I love the YouTube space. That’s kind of what Frederator did too. We were kind of cornering the mark. They were kind of the first people really doing what they’re doing on YouTube. A lot of these clients that have reached out to me are like, I’m inspired by Get in the Robot. I’m inspired by this. We’ve kind of set a domino effect of these new big YouTubers who focus on anime or cartoon industries or video games. Well, there were other people like [inaudible 00:30:17].

Alexandria Batchelor:
All those different names, but YouTube is the place to be. There’s kind of a lot of not so great branding on there, so I would like to save YouTubers. That’s also why VidCon is a great space for me to speak at. I can’t wait to connect with a lot of people who might need a new brand. Either a brand refresh, a whole rebrand, or just a brand in general, but I think YouTube is a great spot because there’s a lot of authentic personalities that… the algorithm serves up authenticities. They love when you are just yourself and you have a good niche and you have a good hook. If people have those good ideas and just need a good brand, then they’re a great fit for me because I can help visualize that and help build their brand on YouTube.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Those are my ideal clients, but I’ve worked with musicians. Back when I was living in Buffalo, my first set of clients were local rappers who would charge $50 album covers. I’m like, the come up is real. I’ve worked with musicians, but I don’t charge $50 for album covers anymore. I’m all about indie. I listen to indie music. I love like indie films, so anything independent and not discovered by the world, it just feels more special. You were one of the first few fans to get access. When you see someone blow up, you’re like, I was following them when Spotify didn’t even exist. It just feels like an achievement to be able to be in those spaces. I think it’s high honor, especially if you’re a designer in those spaces to work with those kind of artists who are doing their thing, because it’s solely based on passion. Of course they want to be famous and they want money, but they are 100% driven by passion, and passionate clients. Ideal clients are just anybody with a dream and a lot of passion, and money too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. There’s a guy I design… not design. Sorry. I had him on the show… was it last year? I’ve been doing this for so long I really have to think, like when did I interview this person? It was last year. This guy, Chris Burnett, he started out doing some designs for Odd Future. He loved the music and lucked into becoming their creative director for a while, did work with Tyler and with Frank and them. I’m like, wow. To be able to come in at that level, whether it’s a musician or even with what you’re talking about with a YouTube channel or something like that, to get in on the ground floor of working with another passionate creative is amazing. That’s the best. It’s the best. It’s so good, because that energy is there. They’re doing their thing. You’re doing your thing. It’s so good. It’s so good.

Alexandria Batchelor:
So good. Glad you agree.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears here a little bit. I know we’ve talked a lot about your work, but let’s talk more about you. Where did you grow up?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Me, I grew up in the Hudson Valley in New York. A little town. I don’t know if you all know Fishkill. More like the Poughkeepsie area. I’m just throwing out general terms because this is so specific. It’s like the greater New York City area. I know some people are going to be like, what? Then other people are like, what the heck is that? It’s near Beacon. Beacon’s also really nice. I don’t know. Good. It’s the upstate New York area kind of, but not really. It’s very white, which is fine. That experience made me very comfortable being in predominantly white spaces, which actually helped me out in corporate and college, although my college program, our class, there was a lot of diversity there, which was surprising because it was Buffalo, but anyway. Yeah. I grew up in a predominantly white area in the suburbs and I lived there my… that’s not true. I was a baby in Mount Kisco, so I barely re remember that, but remembering the growing up experience, I grew up in that other area that I ranted about that half of the people listening will probably not know.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you know that creating art was something you wanted to do for a living?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Probably when I was five. I was always drawing, especially when we hung out with the family. I was always curled up on the couch just doodling. I still have my doodles. I have a great archive. I’m excited to go through it, like through recent revelations and deeper understanding of my work, but I have stuff from when I was really young still in my possession, but I always knew. Yeah. I’m an archivist, which is a fancy term for hoarder, but it’s still worth it. I think having your old work is really important because it says a lot about the interest that shaped you as an artist. I always knew, and I actually wanted to get into architecture briefly because I do love architecture, but I’m not good at math, or maybe I am but I just didn’t have good teachers. The pressure it is to be an architect, uh-uh (negative). I was like, I’m not going to build a house that could fall down and me get sued. I don’t think so. Then I found graphic design and that was a wrap.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned studying communication design. You started out at Dutchess Community College and then you attended University of Buffalo. What were those experiences like? Did they really prepare you once you got out there in the world as a working designer?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I would say yes and no. Dutchess, the community college, it was a great school for saving money. I just wanted to save. Maybe I was a little not like ready to run, like jump the nest. That’s my mom’s theory, even though I’m like, no mom. It’s probably not that, but she’s usually right with her suspicions, so maybe. I went for free because I graduated in like the top 3% of my high school, but it felt like the 13th grade and me and one of my friends were really bored and we were just like, we have to get out of here. We got to do really fun programs. I got to learn fencing while I was there and did a dance program. I want to get back into fencing. Fencing was super fun and you look really cool. I love swords, and video games, I am always the person with a sword. That’s my ideal weapon choice.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Just in case you guys were wondering, but I didn’t get to take really graphic design classes there. I took a 2D and 3D design class and a photography class, which is indirectly graphic design, but I had to wait the next year to take a graphic design course, but I was already onto the University at Buffalo. Those courses, they were okay. I thought the teacher I had was kind of pretentious. He was kind of a jerk and told me I couldn’t get into other schools, even though out of high school, I got into like RIT and I’m like, okay, well I’m here just to save money for my family so you’re wrong, but thanks.

Alexandria Batchelor:
That was a crappy experience with that guy where I’m like, maybe you’re just mad you’re teaching and you want to be out in the field. I don’t know. It was not really about me, but it was a crappy experience to still have. University of Buffalo was way better. I actually met two of my mentors that I’m still friends with today, John Jennings and Stacy Robinson. They together work as Black Kirby and they are leading the Afro-futurist… they’re just big names in the Afro-futurist space, especially in the comic book industry. They just kind of took me under their wing immediately when I met them, and that was the best thing I got out of UB especially. Then also all my friends. I still keep in contact with a lot of my classmates. We just kind of all stuck together. I had a friend reach out to me recently like, hey, we’ve always been fans of your work and we always thought your stuff was next level. I’m like, me? Fans from school? Oh my gosh. Thanks guys. That was so sweet.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I had John on the show a couple years ago. I want to say 2017, 2018. Yeah. John is great. John, you mentioned his name.nd I think any Afro-futurist circle people are going to be like, oh yeah, Kindred. We know John. Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yep. I’ve worked on most of those projects he’s worked on, so I actually helped color Kindred too.

Maurice Cherry:
Work. Nice.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I just think those things [inaudible 00:39:39]… because I’m a very humble person. I don’t go out reciting my resume, but I’m like yeah, I worked on that too.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yeah. He’s dope. He’s very cool to work with. He was the one I mentioned earlier who taught me, don’t leave your network behind and bring them up with you. He is trying to master the subcontract and that’s who I got that from.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I like that a lot. I like that. What was your early career like once you graduated? Is that when you started freelancing right alongside working?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes, because my first job out of college was at The Cheesecake Factory. I was a server. I couldn’t get a job for the life of me because I was in Buffalo and the industry there is very small. It’s a very blue collar town. No shade to Buffalo, but design was not flourishing there. I’m not really sure how it is. I don’t think it’s flourishing now. You’d have to work at like a doctor’s office or some kind of establishment to really be a designer there. I wanted to work at an agency or some kind of innovative company, but I just couldn’t get in. I was behind on internships because I didn’t take internships in school because I was kind of a lazy student. I’m going to be honest with you. I slept during class all the time, since high school. I was a sleeper. I don’t know. That was my bad.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Instead, I decided to go into the restaurant industry and I made really great tips. Then that also encouraged me to freelance. If I never served, then I would’ve never really focused on freelance work and Foxee Design may not be what it is today, because I didn’t want a gap in my resume. I was like, well, I’m going to have to really operate as a freelancer so I have this experience for when I’m ready to get into design. I did end up getting in two offers at internships. One at like a car dealership place, which I’m like, I’m not a big car person, so I’m like, it’s not a great fit. Then the other was at a newspaper, which is really cool. It was called the Buffalo News. It’s one of the biggest newspapers in the Western New York area. They had a medley of different clients that they would work with, so I thought that was a better fit than a car dealership. No shade.

Alexandria Batchelor:
It was a great offer that she… it was the first time someone took me out and wined and dined me to be like, are you going to choose our internship? I’m like, for an internship for real? No, but thank you. I mean, not wine. She took me out to coffee and got me a snack or whatever, but either way it was [inaudible 00:42:21] that she really wanted me to work there, but I chose the newspaper instead. I worked in their digital ad department because they were still focusing on penny savers, but my department was the smallest and newest and youngest. We worked on Facebook ads, like back in the day when you were only in the backend, working on Facebook. This was back when it was so new that you could actually discriminate through it because you could choose to serve your ads to specific races. It was very interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah. I remember when Facebook had that. I think it was some sort of housing. I forget what it was, how someone found out. I think it was because they were making ads that would discriminate against people for housing or something like that, but I remember when could do that with the ad manager.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes, and I witnessed that happen. The sales rep didn’t allow it, but the woman was on speaker phone asking and I was just like, oh my goodness. I can’t believe she just asked if she could only serve this housing ad to white people. It was just the most baffling experience. I was like, wow, people really be doing that nowadays. Still to this day. That was a very interesting experience because it was very old school. I had to dress up for work. I had a retirement fund. I was like, what in the world? I had a retirement fund. That’s how old school this place was. That was my early career. It was very interesting. Very interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, what was it like at Frederator? What did you learn from there? I know you said it kind of helped you now in terms of, I guess, process and such, but what was that experience like, because Frederator, and we talked about this a bit before recording, but it feels like it serves a very specific type of demographic that I don’t know if it encompasses black women, black people in general, but probably specifically not black women. What was your experience there like? What did you learn from there?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Well, it’s funny enough. I was one of the first three black people employed there. It was two black guys and me and one of them, he’s still there and just got promoted to president, so now he running the place, which is amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Look at that.

Alexandria Batchelor:
The first day he started, he said, I’m going to run this place. I said, okay. That was me meeting him. I was like, sure. Then he did. I’m like, of course he did. Of course he did. It’s being run by a black person now, but it was a wild ride because it was definitely predominantly white for decades, which, it makes sense. The higher ups were all white. That’s usually what happens, but that’s why I was really grateful to my boss who gave me a chance because I needed to get out of Buffalo. Through friend or something, I was able to connect and she’s like, I love your work. Then I got the job and I got to New York City lickity-split because I was ready to go. It was just amazing to have an opportunity to be in that space, because it’s so hard for us to get into design spaces for whatever reason. Well, the reason is because it’s systematically designed like that, but that’s a whole other conversation. We’re partially going to talk about it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yes, it was kind of hard being there, as any predominantly white space, but for whatever reason, there was more and more minorities that kept flooding in. At one point, there was half minorities and half white people and then there were less white people. I’m like, oh, they’re getting scared. They’re getting scared. I’m just kidding. It was so funny though. We would joke about it, but I think I was able to navigate the space where I let people feel comfortable talking about feeling uncomfortable. I would be able to talk to the one half Hispanic, half indigenous guy and the one Asian guy about in high school when they used to give us really racist names.

Alexandria Batchelor:
This was water cooler talk, and I don’t think anybody would ever have been able to have a safe water cooler space talk like that if it was only white people around. I didn’t really have an influence on company culture because I was the only designer there too, so I was so tired and busy, but the moments I had were really nice where I could just bond with people and we could talk straight with each other. I even talked to some of the white people about it because I’ve always had white friends who just let me talk. I’m like, if you just listen, I’m cool with you. You cool. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Just let hear my voice. I’ve had really real talks with some white folk and those are the ones to stick with; the ones who aren’t going to tell you how you are supposed to feel or about your experience. I had a lot of those moments with some people there, which was nice, but design wise, it was YouTube. I got to figure out how to brand YouTube. I made extensive style guides. I’ll make you a 50 page brand guide that you will use and share with the video editors, because we had a huge freelance network too, some of whom I still keep in contact and using my own network now. Yeah. The people I met there were worth it. The skills I gained there working on YouTube was worth it. Yeah.

Alexandria Batchelor:
As a black woman, it wasn’t always great. I didn’t always feel like my voice was heard. I feel like I had a lot of good ideas and they would always be overshadowed, and then every time the white guy said exactly what I said two weeks ago, I’m like, of course. Of course now it’s a brilliant idea. I don’t want to think it’s always intentional, but you always feel a type of way where it’s like, is anybody listening to me, but still a good experience. Still a good experience. Again, it made me strong. I had interns be like, because we went through a lot, I was able to handle a really crazy work situation being only in a small team, and I’m like, I’m glad, because it hardens you when you are responsible for a lot. It was too much. I definitely needed like another designer, but I run my own business now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s interesting. It hardens you. That’s an interesting way to look at it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Yeah. It’s not 100% great terminology, but that’s the strong black woman though. Unfortunately, that’s the trope that we do have to play often.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, this kind of leads into my next question, which is kind of about representation. I mentioned to you before and I’ve talked about this on the show too when I have black illustrators or fine artists, do you feel a need to quote unquote represent with the work that you do?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Not necessarily. Obviously I’m going to go for the black female representation or even just a lot of women I’ve always drawn, because I’m always going to go to the self first. It’s an easy subject. It’s like Frida Kahlo. She says, I know myself the best. That’s why my best subject. She’s one of my favorite artists. That’s why I quote her. That was not a direct quote, but anyway, and then also, because I’m bisexual, I also love how women look and it’s so easy to draw women. I always have to be like, oh crap. I haven’t drawn a man in months. I should probably do that. Men are cool too, but dang, I don’t know. [foreign language 00:50:26].

Alexandria Batchelor:
Anyway, I think it’s important specifically to represent the black women in my work because I pull a lot from my feelings, so I make a lot of sense of what I’m feeling and what I’m going through through my illustration work, and because black women have to be hardened by society, I think being vulnerable in that way helps be like hey, I’m still a person and I’m really sad or I’m really frustrated, or I feel like I’m falling apart, which is why I do a lot of disembodied, disconnected body parts. That’s kind of a style I’ve developed. I’ve always been doing that for I think maybe for 10 years.

Alexandria Batchelor:
That’s kind of been the art style where it’s like just the head or the bust or a hand or an arm. It just shows this disconnect and just feeling really outside of your body, because there’s so much going on, you don’t really know the feelings that are kind of taking over you and you feel like you’re just kind of fractured. I’m constantly breaking apart and putting myself back together to make sense of myself, to reassemble myself, like a stained glass mirror or a stained glass window. Sorry. That’s why I think when I try to represent the black woman it means more because we aren’t allowed to feel feelings like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, you do a lot of work with like Afro-futuristic [inaudible 00:52:02]. You mentioned John Jennings and you mentioned Kindred. You’ve got a new project that’s coming out in September with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Sure. We’re now allowed to talk about it. I was doing hold up because I was the colorist on the project, so I colored that whole bad boy. I had some help with my assistants. They were great, but yes. It’s funny because I’ve been coloring with John since I was in college and I’ve been getting promotions with him. This was the first time I was the lead colorist. Oftentimes I’m an assistant colorist, like on Kindred I was an assistant, but this time I got to be the senior level colorist and I got to see the inks that Marco Finnegan did. He’s incredible. He loves film noir. That’s why the shadows are really heavy. I always forget this name, the really intense contrast. It’s the [inaudible 00:53:01].

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, chiaroscuro. Something like that.

Alexandria Batchelor:
There you go, chiaroscuro. Yes. I never get that right, but one day I will, so thank you for the assist, but it has that really beautiful effect. It made my job easier because I was like, great. I got to do less shadows because he made this so exaggerated, but it was beautiful. His inks were just so strong on their own. Then I got to just take a look at them, understand the scene. I had to plot out the script to see how many days this story went over. It took a place over seven days. It’s about this little girl, she’s eight, which, fun fact, was based on Marco’s daughter, which is really cute. I love when, again, you’re using your reality as your subject and that’s what makes it realer, because the expressions, I’m just like, this feels heartfelt. I’m like, well, if it’s based on your daughter, I get it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
This little girl, she goes through a lot of death and she is kind of on her own after a while because her caretaker dies and then a monster is summoned to take care of her, called the keeper, but there has to be a sacrifice to keep it alive because it needs life to keep it alive. It’s a beautiful, horrific story. It was funny because I was listening to a talk with Tananarive Due and she was talking a lot of black history or black stories. They are horror. They’re horrific, so it’s technically a horror graphic novel. I think the demo is like around… it’s supposed to be young adult, but I think it can skew higher because it reads really well. I highly recommend, not just because I worked on it. It’s good. We nailed it.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. We’ll put a link to it in the show notes so people can pre-order it, because this will be out before this comes out. Side note, and only because I’m a nerd, you talked about [inaudible 00:55:06], and as soon as you said that, I was like, there’s a song by a British jazz singer named ZR McFarland called chiaroscuro, so if anybody’s listening and they want to check that out, it’s a pretty good song. She’s a good singer, but that’s a pretty good song.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Nice. I’m going to be jamming to that after this podcast.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How do you get back your creativity when you’re feeling uninspired? Do you have any methods that you go through or anything like that?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I wish my brain could shut off that I could really be uninspired, but I understand it’s not necessarily not being inspired, but the creative blocks, I guess, where it’s like I know I want to do this, but sometimes I don’t know how. Sometimes I guess going back to traditional media, just doodling mindlessly helps, me going back to nature. I was just going on a walk with my mom and she was so annoyed because I literally was stopping and picking the flowers because I mentioned wild flowers in a blog post, so just taking root of my surroundings, even if it’s a fire hydrant and the colors on that because I’m a comic book. I work in comic books, so the background art, you think the things that you just pass by every day, we love. We put that in the background so we’re always studying the environment.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I think that’s been a really good way to, I guess, push through creative blocks where I’m just like, let me just go outside and collect some research and also get in the fresh air and I just want to hike more. I want to get back to nature because I think as we get back to nature and respect it more and I want to raise more plants, I want that to help revitalize me when I’m feeling like down with my creativity.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s funny. As you said that about creativity and even as you mentioned this about horror before. Have you been to Elba before? Is this going to be your first time visiting this summer?

Alexandria Batchelor:
No, I used to go when I was a kid, but it’s been a while. It’s maybe been over five years, so it’s been a while.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. One thing I remember about Elba is that it’s flooded a few times. At least in my lifetime, it’s with the river there, the town is flooded. I don’t know. As you started talking about that I was thinking, what if there’s some interesting southern gothic horror story of this town that’s been repeatedly flooded with people that can breathe underwater or something. I don’t know. My mind is wandering a little bit.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I would love that. No, please, because it’s funny. We have another piece of property and on it there’s this little mini house and they call it the doll house, and it’s near a lake, so I’m like, oh, you might be onto something. Okay. We might have to talk. Okay. We’ve got to talk about this little story over here. That sounds awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project or anything that you would love to do that you haven’t done yet?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I am literally working on a dream graphic novel, so yes. It’s pretty much I have very vivid dreams because I’m very stressed out a lot, I guess. Yeah. People would call them stress dreams, but I’ve started getting them again. They’ve been hilarious. One dream someone said that… like I was an X-man and someone was like, your sister’s a normie, and I pimp slapped them because I was like, she’s amazing. Don’t you ever talk about my sister like that. These are the kind of weird dreams I have. I’ve recorded at least 70 plus of these. I’ve started organizing into a story because there has been a lot of through lines between all of these dreams where it’s like, there’s this underlying plot or there’s this love interest, so it’s been very interesting mapping out all these symbols because I also love dream symbolism and dream interpretation.

Alexandria Batchelor:
I’ve used that as a resource for this story because it’s literally writing itself. I literally just have to go to bed and dream and that’s part of the writing and now it’s tightening it up, but then I’m paralleling it with my actual life to be like, what is going on to instigate these dreams? It’s biographical as well as a dream memoir, so I’m pulling from my journal entries at the same point in time and I’m creating this beautiful story that weaves in and out from reality and dream world and creating a narrative. This is going to be a hybrid piece where it’s graphic novel, but there’s going to be written pros and there’s going to be dream dictionary-esque aspects of it. This is a passion project. I’ve already finished the beginning and figured out the beginning and end. I’ve just been working on it diligently and hopefully I am going to get this published maybe next year or the following year, given how much time I’m able to work on it with everything else going on.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds amazing. I’d love to read that once you have it. Once it’s out there and ready, I’d love to read that.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Absolutely. I will send you a link personally.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the best advice that you’ve ever been given regarding your craft?

Alexandria Batchelor:
I guess reserving my passion for my own projects, but I don’t think that’s actually the best advice because I’m so passionate about everything. I think just focusing more on myself though is important because I’ve always been worried about everyone else. Not that I’m going to drop the execution that I spend on projects, but I just need to be a little selfish nowadays and there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s a balance between selflessness and selfishness, but with my work, I want that dream to come true. I also want to have an exhibit. If I want all these dreams to come true, I’ve got to think about me, so I think that’s probably the best advice. Balance, letting myself get a little bored, re-centering myself and just letting go a little bit. That’s, I think, what I need to continue to grow and not stagnate or burn myself out or give up on this because I feel like I’m onto something.

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

Alexandria Batchelor:
I want to do more environmental design. I want to figure out how to help the environment more. I’m not really sure. I’m still very new about sustainability. I do it in different ways. I don’t have a car, so I don’t add to the carbon footprint. I take the public transportation. I recycle plastic bags and use them as garbage bags. There are little ways I do it, but I want to know how to build that into my business more. I also want to build interactive spaces for people to be able to enjoy separate… hopefully including sustainability. I want to get more into the museum exhibition space and just create a new world that you walk into whenever you go to a show or some kind of piece. I want to get out of the 2D space because I’m ready to graduate to 3D.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that. That’s good. Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work and everything? Where can they find that online?

Alexandria Batchelor:
Sure. Well, I’m actually not as active as I need to be, but I will be more active on Instagram. That’s where I prefer to post work. I’m also on Twitter. It’s all Foxee Design, F-O-X-E-E Design. Then I’ll be on YouTube this year too, so those are my main platforms, and then you can find other links through there, but that’s all I’ll share for now.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Alexandria Batchelor, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I was familiar with your work, like I said, through YouTube and watching the videos and being like, this is so really well done. Who is behind this? Then of course now being able to talk to you and really get the passion and the fun and the energy and the vitality that you have behind your work. I’m excited to see what comes next, because it sounds like you are working across a lot of different spaces, doing a lot of just really cool stuff. I’m excited to see what your design future is going to hold, so thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Alexandria Batchelor:
Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I had a blast.

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Ayrïd Chandler

We’re off to the Caribbean this week to talk with the incredibly talented Ayrïd Chandler. Ayrïd is the head of her own studio, Ayrïd by Design, where she offers graphic design services with a focus on brand and identity design. She also teaches at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, where she’s helping to educate and inspire Trinidad and Tobago’s next generation of designers.

Ayrïd starts off talking about her goals for the year, and from there we get into the differences between being a designer in Trinidad vs. being a designer in America. She also spoke about what draws her to brand and identity design, and talked about entering Savannah College of Art and Design, moving back home, and how she’s making a name for herself there. Ayrïd’s path really shows us that as Black designers, we share a similar sense of community no matter where we are, so you’re never alone. Huge thanks to Rebecca Brooker of Queer Design Club for the introduction!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Ayrïd Chandler:
My name is Ayrïd Chandler. I am technically an officially a graphic designer. I run my own business firm studio, one-woman show called Ayrïd by Design here in Trinidad and Tobago. I primarily work on branding identity projects. Apart from that, I am a part-time lecturer for design at the University of West Indies St. Augustine, which is here in Trinidad. There might be other things I’m [inaudible 00:03:15] that I do, but we can get to that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. How has the year been treating you so far?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Whew, it’s been interesting. I feel like 2022 has started kind of with a bang in a different way. I mean, things are changing with the pandemic, but then World War III question mark. I feel like a lot of stuff is just happening globally. I don’t know about you, but as a creative, all of those things kind of impacts me a little bit. I feel like because of the weight or the toll that can take on mentally consuming all of the information all the time. It kind of puts it own on things.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But apart from those obvious things, the year started actually with me doing a lot more than I planned on doing. I ended up being a creative director at the local agency here, working on ruling out some digital products. And then that got pause due to pause and investments. There was a lot of shifting happening, where I went from working on external products to focusing more on Ayrïd by Design, instead of juggling the two. Feel like that was a mouthful of your very simple question, but that’s all the year has been going for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting about as you kind of alluded to about World War III and I promise for folks listening, this is not a political podcast, but I’ve been kind of keeping my eye, just I watch the news every now and then just to kind of get a sense of what’s happening. I mean, as we’re recording, this conflict has been going on now for roughly about six or seven weeks.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It doesn’t show any sign of abatements. It’s tough to kind of see, of course, all the devastation that’s happening and the general pleas from the President Zelensky. Yet, I know people that are actively traveling to that part of the world without a care in the world, and I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I’m like, look, I know you’re a few countries away and maybe that distance means something, but like, I don’t know if my American self wants to be in a war torn part of the world right now, but that’s just me.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, no, I mean, I have friends and family in Europe and London and Germany and life is normal. Life is like every day, no big deal. Then I have a friend who is actually Russian, but she lives on this part of the world and she’s just like painting a picture for me of what that means and life, I mean, the war is really from what I understand only happening in, I mean, certain parts, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s not even affecting the country as a whole. It’s like say, and there’s a war in the US, but it’s really just happening in Washington. The rest of the US won’t really be in war. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I think it’s a very similar kind of situation where we just think, well, the whole of this thing is being affected when it’s really just a portion. But I think it’s just the fact that we are getting all of the imagery, we’re getting all of the information live. Like it’s not like before in the previous war, there was no social media. There was no, you know what I mean? It took a while to get news update. We’re getting everything instantly. I think that is what’s making this so different, at least for me. I mean, I haven’t existed in a war before, overtime.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s just new.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s also different to be completely honest that it’s happening to Europeans.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When this is what’s happening to Syrians and Palestinians, and there were news about these sorts of things happening, there certainly wasn’t this level of focus on it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Nope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Geopolitics aside, is there anything in particular that you want to achieve this year?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yes, I do, actually. I would like to achieve financial independence and stability. That is the main goal for me this year. And what I mean by that is actually having the profit that the business makes then stuck up to a point where the business kind of can run on its own and it’s more sustainable. Right now, I think we’re still very much in those early stages of, I won’t say paycheck to paycheck, but month to month, certain projects will definitely make a difference, that kind of thing. And so, being able to kind of get that stability within a personal business that one might have, they had a day job, I think that’s kind of the goal that I’m aspiring to for this. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk more about your firm Ayrïd by Design, what made you want to start your own firm?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I came back home in 2012 after I graduated from college. I haven’t realized that I’m one of those people that didn’t go the traditional route of started off with a day job and then decided to leave and do my own thing. I kind of always worked on my own. I went straight from college, well, not straight, like mainly from college to freelance to registering my business. Honestly, I was freelancing for six years and I discovered all of the different things of how business worked in Trinidad and basically, my banker was like, “You’re commingling your funds, right?” I was like, what does that mean? She was like, “Well, you’re passing business funds into your personal bank account.” I was like, what do you mean business funds like money that I’m earning? She was like, “Yeah, you’re supposed to have a business account for those things.” I was like, oh, I did not learn this from school. I never heard this before.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I don’t know anything. And so, that kind of took me down a trajectory of the researching things and finding things out and talking to different people and that kind of thing. And also, it came at a point in my life when I really wanted to ground myself a bit and set roots on structure and stability. It was a kind of a natural make sense progression of, okay, no, you need to make things official. You need to go and register your business name. You need to be a legal, registered entity. You open your business banking accounts. I got an accountant. Like I did all of the things correct to make sure that I was set up properly and that led to so many different opportunities, which was great, so yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it’s interesting, you mentioned that about it, not you being taught in school. I know that there are some schools that do have some kind of entrepreneurial program, but even for folks that want to just strike out on their own like, I know so many people have done over the past year or so because of the great resignation, like that kind of information isn’t super, I don’t want to say it’s not super available, but it’s certainly not something that is I think talked about a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, when I started my first business, I had the same issue. I was co-mingling personal funds and business funds before kind of getting my taxes back and getting audited and then realizing, you know what? I should probably separate these funds, which makes more sense. It just makes more sense.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But that’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. For sure. Also, to your points of like information being readily available, I mean, I’ve a 100% agree from being in the US system, at least for my college and my education, that information is way more readily available for you guys. But in the Caribbean, information is still kind of pretty hard to get in terms of the structures of things. And so, you have to do a way more research. You have to actually speak to another human being. It’s not as easy as go look it up somewhere because our websites are still… We’re very much kind of a little bit behind. I’d say we are a decade behind in terms of that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, but decade is a lot though, I mean.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, I mean.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad that you mentioned that it is different like that in other countries, because certainly I think what’s shown here in the US is about sort of being a digital nomad and you can work from anywhere if you work remotely and this kind of thing, and I mean there’s limitations.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was blessing for us…

Maurice Cherry:
What did you say?

Ayrïd Chandler:
… in a weird way. The pandemic was a blessing for us in a weird way because it forced us to get things like online banking, which we did not have before.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. Things like apps on being able to pay someone who banks somewhere else in Trinidad was a challenge, which set up a challenge usually for business. At least to me as someone who, I mean, I learned banking with like Chase and Wells Fargo when I was in college. I was accustomed, getting paid by the company that I worked on in Atlanta taking out my iPad at the time, scanning it on the app and having the money in my account. Then I came back to Trinidad and someone would pay me with a check and I’d have to go sign in a bank line, deposits that check and then wait four to five business days to access the check. It’s very different realities and that affects business as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Walk me through like a typical day for you.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. I always like to say no day is typical and every day is very different, but to paint a kind of a picture. I would start the day, usually catching up on emails. I have an assistant who I work with and she helps me establish what my to-do list is and what are the priorities in terms of clients, et cetera. I usually would have a meeting or two and these will all be online. It’s usually me chat, checking in with a new client, having a conversation about what their project is like, that kind of thing. Then it’s usually like four hours, especially if I’m working on a new branding project of just computer one on one time with zero disturbances. Well, I try for it to be with zero disturbances, but I have a dog that likes a lot of attention.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I usually just go into this whole work where the world does not exist and I’m in my creation mode. Then after that, it’s kind of, I do whatever I want in terms of relaxation, et cetera, and prep for the next day. The reason why I say it’s like there’s no typical for me is because that might be like a Monday, whereas if you were to ask me about a Wednesday, what tomorrow, it starts with me teaching my students, because I teach on Wednesdays from 9:00 to 12:00. And so, a Wednesday would start with me teaching and then most likely doing, having no other meetings for the day, just to kind of clear my head and focusing on getting tasks off my to-do list kind of knocked off. But I would say like if it was to broaden it a bit and talk about a week and a general week, it would be typically a little bit of teaching, many meetings, lots of discussion with my assistant as well as someone that I recently started working with who was kind of helping me structure systems and processes within my business.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Like set it up for a more sustainable model. A lot of just talking things through, talking steps through, talking like, okay, what is the process from the time I engage with a client to the final stage where they receive the final artwork, like what are the steps? When do they fill out the creative brief form? When do we meet? When do they make their first payments? When do they make their second payments? So stuff like that is kind of, what’s been happening a lot lately. Of course, well, the actual design work within those probable period.

Maurice Cherry:
What are the best types of clients for you to work with? Do you kind of work along clients in the particular industry?

Ayrïd Chandler:
No, I would say I work across multiple industries, both within the creative sector as well as corporate, as well as I think anything in between, best clients would be a paying client.

Maurice Cherry:
Hello?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Those are always great. No, but the ideal client for me is someone who’s a little bit open and clients who trust me, I think is what I am leaning towards noting is so important in the creative process. I work a lot with, I mean, well, as an identity designer, someone who’s there at the beginning kind of creating the logo for your new business, your new baby, your new idea, your new project or whatever. That’s kind of, I would say like 75% of the work that I do. I’m there at the beginning, right? I’m there with this person and they’re like, well, this is this thing that I’ve always wanted to do. And finally, getting started and I want to open a bakery or I want to create a new product. Those are kind of the SME as we call them that come to me and who I work with. And so, those are, I would guess the ideals right now, because they’re fun to work with.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it about identity design in particular that appeals to you?

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s an excellent question and I’m now like I have my hands down and I’m thinking deeply to answer your question. I think I’m good at it and I know that sounds kind of weird and conceited a little bit. I don’t mean it in that way. It’s just that it feels kind of second nature to me. It feels like the thing that I am meant to be doing and I’m able to do well. Even when I was studying design in college, like that was the thing, that was the part that made my brain tingle.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I guess when we did a different courses, maybe someone more into web, their brain might have tingled when we were doing that. But for me, being able to tell someone’s story visually is really, really appealing to me. And so getting into this, the background of why you’re doing this and how you want your customers to feel and what is the best way to put all of those things together to kind of become the new face or look of your business, your project, your company, whatever. It just it’s really exciting for me. Like I love it, so yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When a company or an individual contacts you about a new project, like talk to me about that, what does your process look like?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. It’s changed recently, so I now know it officially. Usually, an email comes in and it will go straight to my assistant and she would kind of be their first point of contact. They’d be like, hey, I’m interested in finding out more about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Most of the times, people want a quote. That’s usually where the first thing they want to know is like, if they can afford you or how much it’s going to cost and that kind of thing, at least here. What I do is we send a form that I’ve created that helps get information from the client to create a creative brief, because the typical client wouldn’t know what a creative brief is outside of certain industries. It’s just not common knowledge.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I created this form that allows them to answer certain questions that ultimately creates a creative brief for me. But it also does things like ask, what’s your budget, et cetera, et cetera. What are the actual deliverables that you’re looking for? It kind of lays all of that out for me. Then from that point, we send a quote and it includes things like the timeline, how long the project will take, and it also lays out the kind of rules of engagement. Like, when you’d get your first invoice, when you’d get your second invoice, who has ownership, who’s rights and credits, all of those things are kind of I include my, what you would call like a contract within the quote process. From there, the client either says yes or no, and usually it’s yes, thankfully.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sometimes, we need to meet and chat a little bit more about the project, sometimes we don’t. There’s some clients who I literally have never had a meeting with because they’ll just so very clear and they’re answering the form as well in their emails. And they’re like, “yeah, no, I don’t need to meet you, it’s fine.” But most of the times, there are instances where we’ll meet and just talk about a project a little bit so I can get a better sense of what it is that they’re looking for.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Then, I begin and head to phase one, which is usually sending, creating a document to send options for them, whether it’s one option based on their budget is on what they sent, whether it’s two options, whether it’s three options and I go through this process of research based on the industry. The great thing about what I do is that I get to learn about all of these different fields and lives and businesses that I would never have otherwise been exposed to. One day, I’m looking up all of the information about NFTs, the next day, I’m looking up real estate and how that works in Trinidad.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just go like a deep dive into whatever the industry is so that I can understand it. I can see trends. The great thing about this, that I get to go this deep dive into different industries, what people are doing, and so I research the trends within the industry. I research things like what colors do people use? What are the font styles? I’m really good at observing patterns for some reason. I feel like that’s like little secret thing that I have. And maybe not, maybe that’s what all designers do and I just am giving myself more importance than necessary. I tend to like just pay attention to all the trends, pay attention to all the details and then go back to the original notes that the clients gave me of what they want, what they want to achieve and marry it all together to achieve this perfect for them outcome.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I send that off, then comes the pain taken part of waiting for client feedback, which I think is always like, it’s like the best and worst part of the project for me, at least because it can go either way. It can go, I hate this and you’ve not understood anything that I said, or it can go, oh, I love this, and this is what we want to move forward with. From that point on, it’s just back and forth with the client, whether it’s edits, whether it’s tweaks, changes, colors, fonts, et cetera. Then we get to the end when they finally made their final decision, I package all the wonderful files for them and I hand it off and I say, here’s your child. Goodbye, good luck. That’s kind of how I do it.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, your process sounds pretty thorough from start to finish.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. I try to get as much information from clients as possible because that ideally is what helps me create. I think I’ve kind of figured out a way to eliminate as much as possible that back and forth period. Whereas in the early, when I first began, the back and forth was long and tedious and I didn’t ask as many question upfront as I do now. I wasn’t really designing for them. I wasn’t solving their problem. I was designing for the thing in general. I was designing for like, say someone wanted a logo for real estate. I was designing a generic real estate something. I wasn’t designing real estate but based off of what they wanted to achieve.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, I think when I finally figured out that I needed to be more in tune with the clients as well and asking them the right questions so that they would know, like not necessarily asking them what they want, because that’s not really what I want them to tell me, but more so what are their goals? What do they want to achieve? Why are they doing this? All of those questions help me then make sure that they have what it is that they need. I have noticed in the past couple of projects that I’ve wrapped up, that the back and forth period is way shorter as a result of that because of those questions upfront.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s usually really good to get as many qualifying questions as you can, because one thing it does also like you’ll quickly find out whether or not this is a project you even want to do. If it’s something you want to take on, if this is a client you even want to work with and certainly like, as you do more projects and as you mature in your business, you get a lot quicker at getting to the root of it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good that you kind of have that thorough process.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re originally from Trinidad and Tobago, tell me about what it was like growing up there?

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s been amazing. I enjoy being part of the Caribbean and I think growing up here was fun, I guess, would be the word I would choose. I am a carnival baby and what that means is that a huge part of Trinidad’s culture. And I say part of, or not the only thing that is Trinidad, because we have so much more to offer, but a huge part of it is our annual, I guess, street parade is what would be the best way to describe it. But it’s really a season that kind of begins right after Christmas, straight until the February or March, depending on the year, because it usually lines up with whenever Ash Wednesday is. It’s usually Monday and Tuesday before, so similar to Rio, I think also similar to New Orleans, all of our carnivals kind of line up around the same time, but I grew up playing kiddies carnival, which happened before the main Monday on Tuesday parade, trust that ability to express this freedom and creativity and this open way always really, really fascinated me.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, when I say I’m a carnival baby it’s because like from the time I was five years old, I was engrossed in this culture and I was playing these things. We say playing carnival, we say playing mask, that’s kind of how we refer to it. It was great. Like I was ready like the first time my mom told me, like the first time she took me, she was like, testing me out to see if it was something I’d be interested in. When I realized that it was only one day, because I thought I was going back like the next day, like how you go back to school every day.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And she was like, no, you have to wait until next day. And I was like, what? No, tomorrow. So yeah, I would say growing up is very unique. I would say, I mean, I don’t know how many foodies there are out there listening, but if you’re a foodie, Trinidad is definitely a place to enjoy all of the flavors. I mean, moving to Atlanta directly from Trinidad for college was an awakening because I didn’t realize how much I loved our food until I left Trinidad, so that’s always really interesting. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You didn’t run into any good like Trini spots here in Atlanta?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yes, it took me a while, because I mean this was 2008 to 2012 was when I was there. I didn’t have as much information and that first year was just me getting used to the fact that I am no longer home and dealing with the culture shock, which I didn’t think I would have. Because I was like, well its people where speaking English, there’s no language barrier, but learning, appreciate you or appreciate it, it meant thank you. That was like [inaudible 00:27:43] I guess. I was like, what do you say? Appreciate it, man. I’m like, what? There was a lot of back and forth with that in that first year for sure. And getting used to cafeteria food was also very interesting, lots of tilapia. It was weird time. It was very weird time, but I know I did eventually find some Trini spots there and I also started cooking for everyone and so it worked out, eventually.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Atlanta has a pretty big like overall Caribbean population, especially for students. I went to Morehouse. In the whole AUC area, especially when I first got to Morehouse, that was first time encountering anyone from the Caribbean outside of a bad impression that I might have saw in a movie or a television show.

Ayrïd Chandler:
[Inaudible 00:28:34].

Maurice Cherry:
I’m from Alabama originally so it’s just like one state over.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
But I remember getting to Morehouse and meeting Jamaicans and Trinidadians and Saint Lucians and at first thinking like everyone just sounded the same because I could kind of understand it, but I couldn’t understand it. But then also learning just the differences in everyone’s culture and the food, that’s where I introduced to roti and doubles and everything. Yeah, I know what you mean by the culture shock. I think Atlanta, I think for a lot of people when they first come to Atlanta from anywhere, it’s a bit of a culture shock.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, for sure. Also, I mean, I don’t want to sound like a little bit of an alcoholic or anything, but we drink at 18 in Trinidad, when you guys drink at 21.

Maurice Cherry:
Legally.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Legally, but like going to the club for me and being told that this was before you all changed the law. This was back when like at midnight on Sunday, the bar closed because y’all didn’t serve on [inaudible 00:29:42]…

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
… on Sundays. That was huge for me. And not realizing that I couldn’t like walk along the street and drink a beer because that’s just a thing that we do here, Savannah was kind of like a safe haven for me because you can kind of do a lot down by the river.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, I was always kind of running away to Savannah just to get a bit of what I learned for you a little bit just like a little bit of home, but yeah, all of those things that you like you don’t think about that are things until you experience it and you’re like, oh, this is something that I have never experienced before. Interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, now your dad worked in advertising, was that kind of your first introduction to the world of design in a way?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I feel like it could be, possibly. I grew up watching commercials and critiquing them with my dad. That’s just kind of a thing that happened in the household and never did I put the two and two together and be like, oh this is a Korean, this is a thing that I would then be doing in the future. It was never that direct or that straightforward. I would be… And my dad works at [inaudible 00:30:51] in Trinidad for many years and after school, that’s just where I ended up. And we would be the office until eight, nine every night because advertising, at least here, I know globally, it’s intense but here is many late hours and long hours of just making sure that clients are happy. I don’t know that I ever made the connection with this is like a profession or a thing that I can do or wanted to do.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I knew like very early on that I wasn’t never going to work in advertising because of the demand and the hours that it puts on someone. I think everyone was really surprised when I was like, oh yeah, I want to do graphic design because it was not a, well, I’m following in my dad’s footsteps or I’ve been exposed to this thing, to this long and this is what makes sense. After did languages in school afternoon, even do art and well, what we call secondary school that you guys would call high school. It really wasn’t like a very clear cut sort of thing that happened at all.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It kind of became a, well, what do you enjoy doing and what are you doing naturally? I was a person that was like creating event programs in school for our masses. I went to like Catholic girl school and we’d always have weekly masses and I was doing the program for those kind of things. I was there and illustrate [inaudible 00:32:13] in on my dad’s computer, that kind of stuff. It came that way, as opposed to like me watching this person that I’ve lived with my entire life kind of doing this thing and following him, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. I mean like, I mean, I grew up, my mom was a biologist and I never wanted to really go into science I think because I was always around it, and I was not to say that I didn’t have a passion for it or a proclivity for it. It’s just because it’s around, it doesn’t necessarily mean, oh, this is the thing that I want to do. Like, she was like super surprised when she saw that I was really into writing. Then when I went to college that I majored in math. She’s like, what? She didn’t really understand where that was all coming from because she thought I would either do… She thought I would either do biology or like pre-med or something like that, and I had no interest in it whatsoever.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What was it like SCAD for you? I mean, you mentioned that first year kind of being a bit of a culture shock, but how was it overall?

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was great. I mean, I was finally happy to be doing something that I enjoyed in a school structure because prior to school, like just to be completely transparent here. When I graduated from secondary school, high school, I had a 1.96 GPA.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I got into SCAD with a 1.96 GPA, let’s just put that there.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
This system here just didn’t appeal to me at all. Like I was doing it because I had to and not because of… And I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t engaged, it wasn’t anything like that. When I got to SCAD, it was like, oh my gosh. Like all of a sudden, I’m getting to do subjects, I’m choosing. All of a sudden, I’m getting to participate in this thing that I have actively decided like I’m interested in. It was the first time of me enjoying an academic setting at all, and it was great. I think we had some really great professors in the graphic design field. They made a huge difference for sure. Definitely, finding community and bonding with different people in different walks of life, from different parts of the world was really fun as well.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was also really active in student life. So I was like an RA. I was the youngest RA at the time because usually you’re only allowed to be an RA once you get into your second year. But by the end of my first year, I was an RA and then I became CA and I also was one of the loud ones who probably administration did not like, but I got the food to improve in the cafeteria. Well, what we call the hub in Atlanta and I met with like the manager of the food, situation was like, how can we improve this? And can we change up the menus? Can the recipes can change? Like you’ve been cooking the same thing for the past two years, what’s going on? And so yeah, there was like a huge shift that happened literally my final quarter was when the results started to show. The food that they serve now is amazing in comparison to what we got. I still take small credits every now and then I’m like, you’re welcome guys, you’re welcome.

Maurice Cherry:
You paved the way.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But yeah, no, it was great. It was really, really nice to just be in a setting that foster learning a thing that you already figured out that, that’s what you want to learn. You know what I mean? Like it was fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. After you graduated, like tell me about what your early career was like? Because I’m kind of curious about this period right after you graduated and you were in Atlanta before moving back to Trinidad, because you kind of alluded to that a bit earlier.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. [inaudible 00:36:16], well, for graphic design, we used to have this event called Out to Launch and basically it’s a reverse kind of portfolio review session where we set up booths. We, being the students, set up kind of a little booth about ourselves and our work. And then SCAD invites perspective employers and businesses and companies within our field to come and meet us. And so, we kind of sell ourselves at this kind of trade show kind of set up. It’s called Out to Launch and it’s for the graphic designers. It was meant to then introduce us to folks who we would then get jobs with after graduating. It’s in that final quarter and everyone, the pressure was on from that point in terms of, we were very much an interview stage and I was calling everyone and having interviews with folks, et cetera.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I had the option for OPT for a year, which allows non US citizens to stay and work in the US for up to a year after they graduate, legally. I guess the hopes is that a company loves you so much that they would then sponsor you so that you can get a work visa and stay on permanently. I interview with many folks and for some reason did not get through with many opportunities. Eventually, I connected with a company called Atleisure. I don’t think they exist anymore, but at the time, they were an outdoor furniture design company. They were based near Grant Park area, and they were looking for an in-house graphic designer to work with them, for things like instruction manuals and labels for their product. When I say outdoor furniture company, I’m talking things like patio furniture, umbrellas, that sort of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That was my first job. For three months, I was there, it was an internship. I was the in-house graphic designer. They would provide things to like Target and QVC. Those were like where they were selling these things. They had the furniture designers in-house who were creating their designs and then sending it off to China. Then I was like on the phone with China folks to get the instruction manuals and then design it with the established brand that they had. I had to tweak the brand a little bit because the brand was really rough when I joined. I was like, no guys, this is nuts, and I tried to tweak it a little bit, but there was only so much I could do because it was already registered and that kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was a really, really interesting time. I mean, looking back now, I see how that job helps me for a lot of the things that I’ve since done in a lot of the projects that I’ve since worked on. In the moment though, I will admit that I was very sad because in comparison, I had classmates who were interning at Nike and who interning at Apple and who were interning at Coca-Cola. Then there’s me like just interning at this furniture design company. I’m like, what gives guys?

Ayrïd Chandler:
There was definitely that internal sort of am I good enough? What’s going on? What am I doing with my life kind of thing. But I also was that person who even when I left to go to college, knew that I didn’t want to stay and work in the US. I knew I eventually wanted to come back home. I think maybe that’s what folks saw as well in my interviewing process, even though I wouldn’t have said that out right. I think maybe seeing that I was not as dedicated or connected to staying in the US, so work permanently because they would’ve been looking for folks who they could then hone and then have a staff afterwards, so maybe that was a thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I wonder for young designers particularly here in Atlanta and this is something that I have, I’ve discussed it with business folks here with studio owners and things like that. For design graduates that are just coming out of school right now, Atlanta is a tough city to break into for your design career just overall for a number of reasons. One is, I mean, I would say the business culture here particularly, but it’s not like New York. It’s not like Silicon Valley. It’s not a city where you can sort of start out at maybe a more design forward or design focused company in that way. Like even some of the big names, like Twitter or Square or things like that. They may have offices here, but then they don’t really have a design department. They’ve got sales here or engineering or something like that. It can be tough to get in on the start like on the ground floor and then agencies are hard because agencies want you to have agency experience and you can’t get agency experience without working at an agency.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s like that kind of rough go of getting in and so I know a lot of folks, particularly at… It depends on the school like I worked at AT&T for two years, this was way back in like 2006, from 2006 to 2008.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I worked at AT&T and there was a direct pipeline from the Art Institute of Atlanta directly to AT&T like a direct pipeline. People graduated from there, they got referred by someone that they knew and so they start in house at somewhere. Then from there, they would either go on to the CDC or they’d go on to Northrop Grumman and they’d live just kind of this mid tier designer life so to speak, nothing fancy, nothing great, but it’s a paycheck, that kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I think the design community in Atlanta and I’m firing shots here. It’s just not that… I think for a designer just starting out, if they really want to sort of make an impact, it’s really hard to find a company here where you can do exciting work. If you end up at a good studio or something, maybe.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s tough. And so, I know that a lot of graduates end up leaving, you left, but a lot of graduates end up leaving to go somewhere to a more exciting locale with better prospects.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Better career prospects in general, not just entry level stuff.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. Most of my class left, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I would say when they like maybe two or three folks stayed in Atlanta and they got through it like Coca-Cola. For the most part, people yeah, for sure. I think New York and LA was where folks ended up. That’s a huge relation to SCAD and just kind of the grip that they do and making sure that you get an opportunity somewhere…

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Ayrïd Chandler:
… once you’ve graduated.

Maurice Cherry:
Because the school itself is a, I mean, it looks great on the resume anywhere you go, they say, oh, you went to Savannah College of Art and Design. That’s going to at least get you an interview, so that’s great. But here in the city, it’s tough. And I mean, I’ve heard this from art students that went to art school. I’ve heard this particularly from HBCU students. I’ve even heard this from people that have went to Georgia Tech or Emory or Georgia State. It’s just, it’s Atlanta is a tough design city in that aspect. I will argue it until the cows come home. It’s just tough. I mean, I had to start my own business to really further my career in design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
I graduated in ’03 with a math degree. Of course, I didn’t want to go into teaching so I did customer service jobs. That …

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
… sold tickets at the symphony. I was a telemarketer for Atlanta Opera. Like I did boring stuff. Then I got my first design gig, believe it or not from answering a classified ad in the back of Creative Loafing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh, okay.

Maurice Cherry:
I answered it on a whim. That was my first design gig for the… It was for the state of Georgia. I did that for about a year and a half. Then from there, I went to AT&T, quit AT&T and then started my own studio. The reason I quit AT&T is because I could see my career hitting a glass ceiling already and I had only been a working designer for roughly about three or four years. I’m like, I’m not going to get any further here. I was registered at A Queens and I was like putting my resume out there and no one wanted to even interview me.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m just like, I was going to move. I was trying very hard in like the last, like 2008 or so, I was trying very hard to move to New York. I had friends that were up there that were like, well, we know a broker, we can connect you with because I’m like, I’m not going to further my design career staying in this city.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
It didn’t change until I broke out and started my own thing, which is very similar to what you did. You left, you started your own studio.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. How does one with a math degree then do design? Walk me through that.

Maurice Cherry:
I tell people that math really teaches you how to think and so what helped me, particularly when I started my studio with being a math major, and this is going to probably sound a bit weird, but you write a lot of proofs in math. Math is all about proving things once you get like past a certain level, like you leave the numbers behind. It’s all letters and symbols moving forward. And so, you’re proving things like why is zero less than one? Why does one plus one equal two? And you would think like, oh, because it does. But then you have to prove it through all these weird theories and all this kind of stuff. Going through all those logical steps taught me how to put together a brief for a client, taught me how to put together a proposal, taught me to look at a problem and find more than one solution.

Maurice Cherry:
Like being able to abstract that out into a way that made sense is how I’ve done that. I would say everything from that has been just honestly just self-taught. I read a lot of books. I watch a lot of courses. Oh my God, when I worked at AT&T, for example, there was a Barnes and Noble that was nearby my apartment and I would go to that Barnes and Noble on a Saturday and get some of those Photoshop’s tips and tricks books. And I have my little point and shoot digital camera and just sit and just take picture.

Maurice Cherry:
Because I’m like, I don’t have $40 to buy this book so I’m just going to take pictures and I’m going to go back home and I’m going to look at the pictures and try to recreate it in my cracked version of Photoshop that I downloaded from some sketchy place that hopefully won’t give my computer a virus and just did a lot of practicing. There was a time where I went through and tried to figure out what every tool in Photoshop did, every single one.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m like, I’m going to figure out what each one of these things does. And then that helped me out once I actually got into a production environment, because then I knew these kind of things that Photoshop could do, that other people didn’t because they only knew maybe layers or something like that. And I’m like, oh, well actually you can make an art board and do this, this, this and this. And folks were like, how do you know that? That kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was a lot. I taught myself a lot about design. I’ve not taken a single formal design course.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I always envy folks who can be self-taught. I’ve tried to like try to learn things on my own and my brain, I don’t know what it is. I’m one of those people that needs to be in this formal setting and someone else is showing me the ropes in order to learn. I hate that about myself, honestly, because I’m so envious of folks who can just have that self discipline to learn a thing. I find it so fascinating and amazing, and I envy you right now, just a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’ll tell you, it doesn’t help when you have to go and apply for a job because you can put all that self taught knowledge on there and the first thing they’re going to look at and see is like, oh, you sold tickets at the symphony?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. That’s what I did.

Maurice Cherry:
Or they see that A, you don’t have the education and B, you don’t have the work experience. Whether I knew it or not, it didn’t matter once it got into that sort of setting like. Certainly, for my first design job, I really had to prove myself by creating a portfolio overnight for the job that I ended up getting. Then even for AT&T, I remember they gave me a take home test. They were like, we want you to make a three page website and there’s two types of businesses you can choose from, a bridal boutique or a motocross event. I said, you know what? I’m going to take the bridal boutique, the person, the interviewer was a woman. She’s like, what? You don’t want the motocross. I’m like, well, first of all, I’m feeling some sexism here, but I’m going to take the bridal boutique and I’m going to work with that and I made a little bridal boutique shop and they were impressed and I got the job.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just feel like that’s the easier option as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Like motocross, what do you even do with that?

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know, dirt background.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I’m not [inaudible 00:49:39].

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Tire treads, rough stencil type. I don’t know.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just feel like bridal boutique is a better way to show off your design skill.

Maurice Cherry:
But I have to do, but yeah, I did a lot of, oh my God, just so much playing around in Photoshop, just trying to figure out what stuff did, but eventually once I had design experience under my belt, when I started my studio, for example.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That was when I said my design career took off because clients don’t care where you went to school.

Ayrïd Chandler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
They don’t care where you went to school. They just to know if you can do the job that they’re paying you for. And so, I did that for roughly nine years and then I closed my studio down and got back into the working world. But it is what it is.

Ayrïd Chandler:
What made you close? Sorry, I feel like I’m interviewing you now.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, it’s fine. It’s fine. The market changed. I mean, when I started, I started my studio in like 2009, late 2008, early 2009. And back then, WordPress was really started to take off and so I had gotten good at making WordPress themes.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
That was something that really kind of let my career take off. I had gotten together with someone who was running for mayor for Atlanta. And wait, you were probably here during that time. What years were you in Atlanta?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was there 2008 to 2012.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Lisa Borders had run for mayor in 2009 and I was on her campaign. I was her director of new media.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
I made her website, her Twitter profile, her MySpace page to…

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
[inaudible 00:51:16] how long ago that was, and she didn’t win. She came in third place. But one, that experience really like connected me to so many other people, influential business people and donors and things like that. By the time the campaign disbanded, I had a Rolodex full of leads that I could then call on and be like, “Yeah, I can do this job. I can do that job. I can do that job.” But I’d say by the time 2017 really rolled around, the market had changed. WordPress was still a big thing but then you started having the rise of a lot of site builders. You had Wix, you had Squarespace, and then for clients, it suddenly didn’t make sense to have a $5,000 bespoke website from WordPress when they could just pay Squarespace $8 a month and throw something together themselves. It became harder and harder of a sell to make that happen.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Eventually I just kind of wound it down and got back into the working world.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Interesting. Interesting. Thank you for entertaining my question.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no problem. I mean, the thing is when you’re working for yourself, you always kind of have to keep an eye on just what’s happening in the environment like.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
I picked up different services. I stopped doing different services for a while, I’d say, right around the mid 2010s, I started doing diversity consulting. I had no business doing diversity consulting. What they saw was like a black person in design and this was around, I guess, maybe year two or three of doing Revision Path. And they saw me doing this podcast and companies were like, “Yeah, we’ll write you a check to come and tell us what we need to do to bring in more black people. I got to do work for Netflix and I did work for Vox Media. Now, I would say in hindsight, that was purely situational.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Not to say, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I didn’t know what I was doing. In hindsight, I would say that, because the money is spent now, but in hindsight I was like, “Yeah, you know what you need to do, change that job listing language.” And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s a good idea.” And I’m like, I don’t know what I’m doing here.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It did. You definitely did, because that sounds like good advice.

Maurice Cherry:
But it helped though. It helped though.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I think it’s obvious for us, but it’s not obvious necessarily. Like if you don’t live it and if that’s not, like if you’re not aware of the mistake you’re making, it’s very easy for us to… It’s your design training, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s very easy for you to… It’s your math training. You’re seeing what the problem is and you’re calling it out.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s very simple.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, there’s one company. I can say the company it’s Vox Media, but I remember I was doing consulting for their product team and they were saying that, well, we don’t know, like we’re trying to get a sense of how many people of color on our team and we just don’t know how to find that out. I was like, “Well, did you do a survey? Did you count?” They were like, “No, we haven’t.” I’m like, “Oh my God, how do you not count?” That’s like the… But they didn’t know that so they put out a survey and they got numbers behind it because this was at a time when a lot of tech companies were starting to first report, like the percentage of black people as part of their creative workforce.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, they’re like, well, we want to try to get behind it and figure out the number and see what we can do to improve it and everything. I was like, “You should do a survey.” That’s a great idea. Here’s $5,000. That’s a great idea. Okay. Look, I’ll take it. If that’s all you need to hear, pay me 5,000 more, I’ll tell you something else. But in hindsight, I would say very situational that it sort of occurred in that way, but in general, yeah. I just wound it down because the market itself was changing. It was harder to do the kind of business that I had did before. And while I was changing, my business was changing with the times, also the podcast was taken off.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There was a point where the pod… I was bringing in more money with the podcast than I was with the studio and I really had to look and be like, well, what am I doing here? I could just focus on the show.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And not have to chase down checks from clients.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s amazing. Congrats.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, it’s something where every year you kind of just have to like take stock and see what you’re doing, see what you can change and improve.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
If you can go where the market goes.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. I feel like, so my thing is like, I’m always, like I have a foot in terms of observation of the market in the US. Then I have the very real reality check of the market in Trinidad, which is completely different. I think this year as well, I’ve been trying to stop comparing the two. I’ve been trying to stop kind of beating myself up a little bit about, well, if you’d stayed in America, maybe you would’ve had this much and blah, blah, blah. And kind of just dealing with the reality of what it is to run a design firm in Trinidad. It’s definitely a challenge for sure, a 100%. No one’s going to pay me 5,000 US to tell them the things that I tell them all the time. That’s just not the reality of our situation here. It’s kind of sad on one end.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s kind of like, oh, I wish you people would just get with the program. Then on the other end, it’s like a nice challenge because it’s like, you get to be at this start of hopefully something different, something new, helping make a difference, helping improve a culture of what design could be in Trinidad. I mean, when I graduated from college, when I came back in 2012, at the end of 2012, there were no graphic designer jobs, like people don’t know what graphic design was. That wasn’t a thing. And the fact that now, like when I look through job listings, there’s graphic design of those, there’s graphic design of that, et cetera. To me, like that shows like, okay, in 10 years there’s been change. At least, I can say things are improving. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Now, we just need to get them to pay graphic designers what we’re actually worth and stop trying to get a graphic designer, who’s also an animator and a copywriter all in one, which is a huge thing here, locally. No, we want one person to do all the things and pay them a quarter of the price. That’s like the realities and I guess it answers one of your first questions as well of like, how come I would’ve started my own thing is because you could make more money doing your own thing than you could working somewhere, which is wild. That’s wild to me. Like the fact that there’s more stability as a designer, like freelancing and working on your own and trying to figure things out than having that stability of well a paycheck.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, that’s absolutely how it was when I started my studio, I felt like I could make more money, but also, like I said, I had just hit a plateau in my career. I don’t know where I would be now if I would’ve stayed at AT&T and didn’t break out and do my own thing. Because aside from just the freedom of entrepreneurship, it gave me a lot of confidence just in my skills overall, because…

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
… at AT&T and T I was like part of a team. The way that they had a structure was they really pitted you against your coworkers. Like it was really more of a competition than a team kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s terrible.

Maurice Cherry:
Once I left, I really felt like I’ve got a couple years of design knowledge under my bill. I know what I’m doing. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I could at least figure it out and come to terms with the kind of work I want to do and the kind of teams I want to be on and stuff like that. Because I was calling the shots myself, it made just a lot easier in terms of me being more confident, because at the end of the day, you know this, you have to hunt what you kill, I guess is how you put it. Like, no one’s going to be responsible for bringing the work in, but you.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Unless you happen to have a salesperson, but other than that, you have to be the one that’s the face of the company, especially if your name is part of the company, like you got to be out there…

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… selling it all the time.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. Definitely. I definitely learned that very quickly. It kind of happened naturally though, similar to how you kind of leap off points would’ve been working with that mayor. Well, going up the mayor person, I guess my equivalent project would’ve been working with our local film festival. That was one of the first design jobs that I got. And back when I moved back home, it was really just an internship, but I got to work alongside an art director, Melanie Atro, who is pretty awesome.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was a really strong brand that it was already created. Every year, we just kind of roll out all of the different elements for the festival, whether that’s signage, whether it’s the poster, but what that allowed me to do similarly to you was network in a country when networking is not as… It doesn’t happen as organically, or as officially as when I was in Atlanta, I’m going to AIG, AIG buzz events and that sort of thing, like that was what I was accustomed to. I was like, oh, I’m going to go to this networking event and meet these people and talk and blah, blah, blah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And then I got back to Trinidad and I’m like, where are the networking? And everybody’s looking at me like, what are you talking about? All of a sudden, I’m in this festival with all of these different creatives, doing all of these different things and I’m meeting this sponsor. I’m meeting banks and all of these different folks who are part of this community that I would have been completely removed from for four years while I was in college.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And that definitely led to all of the connections, like some of the friendships that I even have to this day are from that moment and that time. Definitely, would not change it. I don’t know where I would be now, similarly to what you’re saying, I don’t know where I would be now if I was still working on Atleisure, for example, or right after Atleisure, when I came back home, I would say, my equivalent of your AT&T job might have been like this bank take that I took where they advertised it as a desktop publisher.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And this is a time when I have my graphic design degree and I’m not seeing any jobs with graphic design on it. I find this thing, I’m like, what is a desktop publisher? I’ll look it up. It was like, it said something like someone that designs long documents or brochures and annual reports and that side of things. I was like, oh, okay, well, I can do that for a bank.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Day one, I had no computer. Day two, they gave me no… Like I was sitting at the desk, no desktop on it for me to do any desktop publishing. It turns out they just wanted someone to design PowerPoint presentations for their managers to do a transitionary, blah, blah, blah so I didn’t last, I didn’t last a month, I don’t think. I was like, no, this is [inaudible 01:02:31] I didn’t have to open PowerPoint any time in my four years at SCAD. And right after that was when I found out about the festival looking for a graphic design intern, I was like, oh my gosh, someone wants a graphic design or specifically in Trinidad right now on that, and the rest was history. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, aside from your design firm, you’re also a writer, talk to me about that.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was [inaudible 01:02:59] an aspiring writer. I’m not a writer. I won’t put myself just yet, but what I do is in my downtime or my free time, I go to a lot of writing workshops because like I told you, I’m not a self-taught person. We have this other festival here called Bocas Lit Fest, which is our literary festival. They put on different events and workshops all the time and I’ve been to a couple of them. I mean, I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. I’m like one of those people, I was always writing cheesy poems. I kind of over the years, just put a little bit more energy towards writing every now and then but this year, I put the most energy, I would say towards it, because I entered emerging writer’s thing. I entered Bocas Emerging Writers like competition, scenario, fellowship, sorry is the term.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was actually shortlisted in [inaudible 01:04:01] and I was like, okay, you really need to start putting a little bit more energy into this writing thing and stop seeing you’re an aspiring writer and just be the writer that you want to be kind of thing. But yeah, really, I use writing as way to get out of my head a little bit. I find as a designer and as someone that works primarily alone and not necessarily on a bigger team, that it’s a lot of thoughts just floating around in there always, like the brain is constantly flowing and writing allows me to take all of those thoughts and kind of put it somewhere, which I really, really enjoy. So yeah, and I write about me or about experiences that I’ve experienced. Yeah, I like it.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you think you’ll ever kind of branch out and write about design?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I would love to. So I have a blog. I do write about design on there, sometimes, but usually it’s in a critiquing manner or it’s in a, this is how, this could have been better. It’s more like me critiquing the design society in Trinidad rather than me writing about design formats or structures kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But I see myself doing both because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do simply because we don’t have it, one. Actually, technically I did write about design. I actually co-wrote a book called How to Get Paid for designers here locally in Trinidad and like talking about what the pricing is like and how to get those things done? Why you should I have a contract, stuff like that, but I guess that’s more business of design than design specifically.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But I also had this feature on my social media page on Instagram called Just A Tip, and I used to give design tips on Tuesdays and I wanted to turn that into something that I do on my blog or maybe a newsletter that continues and it’s a little bit more direct in terms of suggestions and that sort of thing. There’s room for it to answer your question, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
You could be the voice of Trinidad design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Some people would say that I kind of am and I run away from that a lot. Like that terrifies me the idea of being the person for anything that’s… I feel very badly about speaking on behalf of other people. I just want… Let me, I’m speaking for me, myself, Ayrïd Chandler. I’m not speaking for Trinidad or Trinidad graphic designers or anything like that. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think a lot of writers are like that. They have their own quirks and stuff, but I think as long as you’re talking about your work and your process and even just writing about yourself, like you mentioned, that’s a good thing. Writing is one of those things it’s called a practice for a reason. You kind of have to keep doing it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from writing, you also teach, you’re doing a lot.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I do.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re running your business, you’re writing, tell me about your teaching at University of West Indies St. Augustine.

Ayrïd Chandler:
A couple years ago, I was hanging, I was on a rooftop event and met a fellow designer who was one of the folks that I first worked with here and kind of guided me and did local design scene. And he was like, I just started teaching and they’re looking for more lecturers, are you interested? And I was like, I don’t know. I was like, I’ve never given teaching a thought, like I am I qualified? They’re like, “Yeah, you just need to be a practice and designer and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I was like, “Hey, sure, let me try.” And literally within 15 minutes, he had messaged the person and the person messaged me and I had a meeting the next day to talk about lecturing to university and my mind was blown and they were like, “Oh yes, we were looking at your work and we think that you’d be great for this blah, blah, blah.” I was like, okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Before you knew it, I was teaching year two students about design basics and going from practicing design and to applying all of the things that I tried to search up all of my SCAD syllabi to get some kind of inspiration. Then before you knew it, I was putting together my own syllabus and the rest is what it is. And so, I started, this year was my third year teaching this course. I’m a part-time lecturer. It’s only during the first half of the, well, first quarter, third of the year, I guess, for the second semester that starts in January. And yeah, I get to talk about design and teach design and kind of help shape what other folks are doing that process and cut in conjunction with working with interns at my business, kind of inspired me to then start teaching courses as part of my business.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Because I realized one that I actually really liked teaching, which really, really surprised me more than anything else. I was really, really shocked and I’m not sure why I was that shocked. I guess I just never thought of myself as someone who would have the patience to teach, because I feel like it’s very much like a devotion on one of those things where it requires you to remove yourself from yourself a little bit and kind of very much make sure that what you’re seeing is resonating with someone and helping them. Teaching is basically helping another person. And I guess design is also helping another person and they’re both kind of the service industry thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so maybe it does make sense that I enjoyed doing both, but I also noticed, and working with the interns that I worked with, they were coming from another local school and a lot of things were like lacking. They didn’t know some basic design things that I felt like they should know. We also have a huge self sort community in Trinidad. And so I thought, okay, cool, let me put together some design foundation basics, at least, that folks can reference. I’m talking about things like knowing the difference in a JPEG and a PNG and a PDF, like basic. And that also really went really well and so I’m actually preparing now to do the next, which would be my third offering of courses so far, but yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you’re writing, you’re teaching, you’re running your own business. Like what’s the best thing about all this work that you’re doing?

Ayrïd Chandler:
What do you mean the best thing?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean I could ask what’s the worst thing. I mean, I would imagine that you have some enjoyment out of this, Ayrïd?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, yeah. For sure. For sure. Honestly, I am one of those people that likes connecting with other human beings. I never thought I would’ve like, if you asked me this 10 years ago, that would not have been what I said. I very much am one of those people that enjoyed my alone time. I’m an only child. I like doing stuff on my own, solo traveler here, like all of that stuff. But I quickly realized over the past couple of years that I enjoy connections, I enjoy connecting with other human beings. I enjoy that experience. All of the things that I’m doing, I’ve realized that is the one common sort of thing that’s happening. I am able to step out of myself a little bit, step out of my world and connect with someone else in their world. That’s great. Like I enjoy that so much and it kind of makes life a little bit easier to live, at least, for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel creatively satisfied?

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. Like right in this very moment in time, I would say I need a little bit more and I think maybe that’s what writing does for me in terms of satisfying that creativity. I think, yes. Sorry, I feel like I am creatively satisfied, especially when I wrap up a branding project and the client is happy with it. I was like, I know I did the right thing and I know I hit the mark on what it is that they were looking for and also, what it is that they needed?

Ayrïd Chandler:
When they say things like, oh my gosh, I wasn’t expecting this, or like I get a lot of those kinds of reactions, which is pretty wild and fun and interesting. I think that does kind of satisfy that creativity, but I am also at that point where I’m at that 10 year mark. Because I moved here 10 years since I graduated from SCAD. I am feeling that itch of like, what now? What more? Where else? What can I do differently? Like what is the next step for me? You know what I mean? Like where do I go now? Do I pivot as we’ve been talking about so much on these past two years? Do I learn a new skill? What’s the next step in terms of that creativity and that flow and what I want?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Where do you see yourself for the next five years? What do you want this next chapter of your life to be?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I definitely want to teach more. I would love to be able to get to a place where I can go from being a part-time lecturer to maybe a full-time lecturer. I think that would be really awesome. I kind of really see myself becoming, I want to step more into that brand identity designer shoe out of that whole graphic designer shoe, where I still kind of float around, meaning I still do anything under the hat of graphic design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Even though, I focus a lot on branding, I kind of want to like be like, I am a brand identity designer and I am the person that you come to for that specifically and that alone. I kind of I want to eliminate as much options and kind of zone in and be more specific and intentional with what I’m doing. In five years, I’d like to be able to impart that knowledge more, more talking workshop opportunities. Hey, if I can give a TEDx talk in five years, that would be awesome. You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s kind of where I see things.

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

Ayrïd Chandler:
Ooh, I make it very, very easy. So I have my website. I technically have two, but for my business Ayrïd by Design, A-Y-R-I-D bydesign.com. That’s my website. I’m also the same thing Ayrïd by Design on Instagram, I have a very kind of unique name. I think I’m the only Ayrïd Chandler of there. So from a time you type that in, I think most of my stuff comes up, but those two places are kind of where you can start. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Ayrïd Chandler, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you really for just sharing, not just your story, but also I think giving us kind of a behind the scenes of what it’s like to run a business, particularly running it from another country and showing people out there, as you said, kind of right before we started recording, you said you wanted to let folks know that they’re not alone and that there’s a sense of community. And so, I hope that people will listen to this and they’ll sort of get exactly what you’re talking about. Like a lot of the experiences you shared are universal experiences to a lot of designers, to a lot of entrepreneurs. And so, even as you do your work with writing and teaching and everything, you’re not alone out there.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Thank you for having me. I enjoyed this.

Rob Martin

Running your own design studio is no small feat, but design professionals like Rob Martin make it look easy. As the founder and creative principal of Majorminor, he and his team have done branding and digital work for a number of clients for over a decade, including ICA, Complex, and Sony. On top of that, Rob is a talented musician and producer who goes by the name RCA. That guitar you see in the photo ain’t just for show!

We started our conversation with a quick 2022 check-in, and from there Rob talked about the ins and outs of running Majorminor, working with clients, and the types of projects he wants to branch out and tackle. Rob also spoke about growing up in the Bay Area, attending Sacramento State University and working for a few companies before striking out on his own. We even chatted about his music and his upcoming gig at SXSW this year! Rob is proof that being true to yourself is the real key to success!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Rob Martin:
Hey, so my name is Rob Martin. I run a studio called Majorminor. We’re based out of San Francisco, California. I act as the principal owner and a creative director here. Yeah, we do branding agency work. We do brand strategy and graphic design identity systems for a different range of clients. B2B, small local bakery or some more enterprise-level international enterprise. But basically we work with clients and people that are really trying to do something good for people. So we try to do good work for these people at the organization to support them and their vision.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How has 2022 been going for you so far?

Rob Martin:
It’s been doing okay. Definitely not a banner year for us or me in person or anything, but it’s one of those years where we’re looking back so we can see how we can move forward, right? It’s a lot of reflection on how we’ve been running the company, our past clients, what we can learn from those experiences and start to implement things into our workflow, our processes to make it better for us to work, whether it’s a work-life balance kind of thing, or even just how we’re serving our clients. How can we get, “Better clients?” We just work less to do more.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, because you just hit the 10-year mark not too long ago, right?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. I think 10 years was… I forget what year that was, but I think we’ll be turning 13 this year.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, it was 2019. So yeah, it should be 13 years. 2009, we started.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
And then yes, we should be 13 this year. July 20th is our birthday.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Congratulations.

Rob Martin:
Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a long ride.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about the design studio Majorminor, which first off just for those that are listening and might be wondering, where did the name come from?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. So the name actually goes back when I was in college in Sacramento State, our last class was a portfolio building class. We actually have a portfolio to use once we got out of school. I took it upon myself to actually treat it as if I was doing a studio for myself. Actually, since I started school at Sacramento State, one of my friends in school really put me on all the cool studios like Pentagram and Turner Duckworth out in San Francisco. That was my first real exposure to something like that. Even the idea of owning a business, something I’ve always wanted to do as a kid, but that was like I was a kid in the ’90s, so it was going to be a store, a 7-Eleven/import video game studio or a store/rollerblading store.

Rob Martin:
It was a very juvenile idea. That has always been inside of me. So once I had the idea like, “Hey, I can actually run a studio. I’m really passionate about graphic design. Here’s my chance to kind of get that idea realized.” So in this portfolio class, we start coming up with names and I’m really digging into myself about who I am, how that reflects my work. And it actually came from the parallels I see in design, in music and also even just myself. So I’ll kind of explain the names. I think it’s really interesting. This will help me make sure that it still makes sense years later. So basically when you have a visual, right? There’s a rhythm between light and that contrasting that creates the form, right? So you remember doing line studies in your first graphic design class. You’re doing these strips and then see how this black and white can make rhythm or how it can make a form.

Rob Martin:
And then even with sound wave, it’s a up and down wave. But the contrast between those ups and downs and the speed that they’re going at will make it sound. So those parallels are really interesting to me too. And then even thinking about myself. People thinking about different people like, “Oh, that person is X, that means they like Y.” I feel like I was in the middle of all these things like, “Oh, you’re a black dude, but you grew up around South Bay around a bunch of Asian folks. So you don’t fit that mold in that way.” So I always kind of saw myself in the middle.

Rob Martin:
And then bringing it back to the whole music thing, Majorminor the way I see it as being in the middle of these ups and downs and kind of existing there, even again with the whole balance between form and my shape and color, all kind of making these things. That’s kind of where I came up with the name Majorminor to then represent myself and the practice that we have at the studio.

Maurice Cherry:
So tell me about the Majorminor team.

Rob Martin:
Yeah. So the Majorminor team currently, our core team is there’s three people; myself, my producer, Vincent, and then my other project manager, account manager, Michelle. One of the cool things about Majorminor is that everyone at kind of the leadership-level, you want to call it, they’ve always been people that I considered my best friends in life. I’m very lucky to have people that I call my best friend or a best friend that I could then actually work with and work alongside with in a really healthy, non-toxic kind of a way.

Rob Martin:
And this current iteration they’ve been on the team for the last, two years now. During COVID I took a break. I had a really bad panic attack in 2020, I think it was right before COVID hit. So I took off pretty much that year from COVID or the year that we first had the shutdown. When we started to come back together or when I decided I was ready to get back to work, I brought them along to kind of reshape the team and move forward with a more healthier feel.

Rob Martin:
And it’s been great so far. They’re really, really sensitive to that kind of stuff. And just paying attention to that for even our clients. How are they feeling about this? How are we feeling about everything? Making sure we’re not working too much, but know that when we do need to pick up the pace or something, we’re doing that in a way that’s not toxic or berating of anyone. Really considering, “This is about the work and not the person, but the people here, they need to be in a certain place to able to do their best work.”

Maurice Cherry:
What are the best types of clients for you to work with?

Rob Martin:
I’d say our best type of client is and this is something that we’ve only recently started to identify maybe in the last year, maybe even two years, but really kind of taking a hypothesis and trying to see if that actually makes sense, which it has. But basically, it’s a company that has some kind of product they’ve been able to vet their business. They’re probably making at least a million dollars a year revenue, but they don’t have a real brand system or even a strategy. They’ve just been just doing their thing. And they want to become competitive on either a larger regional stage or a national stage.

Rob Martin:
And so usually that means most of our clients have never paid for a design or worked with a strategic design team before. So we already know there’s a lot of education that comes with that relationship and a lot of handholding, but not like… It’s just like, “Hey, this is the process. And it might feel unintuitive to you in certain ways, but let us walk you through it.” And we’ll explain why we’re doing all this stuff. So we kind of see ourselves as being the stepper for them to get up the mountain. Sometimes people climb mountains, but they never climbed ever. So they need someone that’s done it before, see how they move and then bring them up the mountain in a way that facilitates their best experience.

Maurice Cherry:
So when let’s say a company or an individual then contacts you about a new project, what does that process look like in terms of bringing them in, working with their idea? What does that look like?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. So first off, I guess we get some kind of initial email from them, “Hey we’ve got this project we’re thinking about, we got referred to you by whomever.” We’ll just hop on a really casual conversation and just talk to them. They can say, “We need a new brand system. We like this and like that.” But again, this is their first time actually working with a strategic team. So we want to uncover what that really means for them. And then help them understand what that really is for them. They might need an identity system, but how agile are you expecting it to be? What places will the main touch points, the core brand expressions actually be? And then once we have those conversations, it enlightens them onto what they’re actually about to get from us, what they actually need. And just the whole thing, just more are detailed and articulated for them.

Rob Martin:
Then from there, we’ve kind of uncover all those things. We call it a discovery session. Once everything is uncovered during that discovery session, then we’ll actually go and write a proposal with a number in there for them, go back and forth. Maybe they can’t afford it, or maybe they have to get more money, but then we can cut things out of it, put things in there that might have been revealed to them during some kind of board review of the proposal. And then from there, everything is sign the dot line. And this is actually something we’re about to do, to have a second session after the contracts are signed, going through all the terms of the engagement with them very clear. So everyone’s on the same page on how the process will move and why we only want you to have six stakeholders and no one else can chime in, why we’re doing that because we don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen.

Rob Martin:
People giving feedback out of context, or even giving personal feedback that isn’t irrelevant, but it then messed up the flavor in the pot. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Rob Martin:
Really trying to get… And not to be strict, but just say, “Hey, if you want this to move efficiently, when you want to get done, then we have to move in this way.” It serves both of our parties, not just us, not wanting to deal with other people. But for us to get that product for them, we need to make sure we’re all in agreement with the way we all have to move. It’s like I sign a disclaimer for you to jump out of a plane or something like that, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
So aside from clients and everything you mentioned that’s been going on now for 13 years almost, what’s been the secret to keep the things going?

Rob Martin:
I don’t know if there’s a secret, if there is, I’m still trying to figure it out. So if anyone hears anything from the stuff I’m saying, please feel free to pull my coat. Let me know what the secret could be. I think if anything, it is really just building. I think the biggest part of it is building and maintaining relationships because people the best way word-of-mouth or word-of-mouth is the best way I think, to get new projects. And even I feel like people see your work, that’s not what they’re buying necessarily. So if they come to you like, “Oh, that was really cool that you did that.” And their whole traction leads off of your work. It’s usually, you got to turn that back around because they’re not really paying for the work.

Rob Martin:
While the work is obviously important as the product that they’re getting at the end of the day, the relationship and the way that you both move, how the designer leads you through this, I think is what really, the biggest thing is. If they’re efficient, they’re working right, they’re being professional, they’re hitting their timelines. Those are the things that I think you’re really paying for because you get anyone to do any kind of design work. That’s why I don’t get hire people like, “Oh, I can just go on Fiverr and get someone to do this.” I’m fine like, “Fine, if that’s what you want to do go, but it’s going to be a way different experience and end product than what you’re going to get from us.” And that’s fine. If you want to go there, I’m not mad at you because that’s probably stuff I don’t want to work with if they’re going to have that kind of mentality.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
Or maybe they don’t really know the difference. I have to educate them to show them the value of what they’re actually getting versus a different studio or even another designer or even a Fiverr guy.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean that education part is important. One, that’s kind of in a way what they’re paying for, hopefully they’re paying for the education because they’re paying you to do something that they can’t do. So the hope is that you’ll be able to kind of show them like, “This is how it should be done.” But then also, they’re also paying for just your expertise. If you’ve been doing it for this long, clearly you have a track record for knowing what you’re doing. So it would take, hopefully I’m thinking on the client end, it would take me less time to hire a professional than for me to hire someone on say Fiverr or some marketplace that I may have to do a whole bunch of explaining towards, I don’t know the verbiage or the terminology to really talk to them the way they did in order to do the work. It ends up becoming just a lot more work that way.

Rob Martin:
Yeah. And that part, especially with the clients that we have, where it is their first time paying for this large of an effort strategic with design, they don’t know what they’re getting into. And there’s actually even a moment I want to say it was about a year ago where this woman approached us for some work. We already knew we didn’t want to work with her because of her tone of voice. But we still took the time to let her know, “You have no idea where you’re about to get into and this is what it should look like. And that’s why it costs X hundred thousand dollars.” Just because you don’t think it’s worth that much. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth that much. If anything, you really need to understand what you’re about to get into because you’re going to have a world of hurt as you try and do everything you’re trying to say for $15,000.

Rob Martin:
And we’re not trying to be mean, it’s just like, “Yo, this is actually how it is.” If anything, it should probably cost more because you’re going to be one of those people that don’t get it and don’t want to get it and it’s going to make more work for everyone. So yeah, I’m sharing information because I want people to understand what we actually do and take the veer off because it’s kind of… If you’ve never done it before, it’s kind of nebulous, what it really is and you learn along the way. And that’s the kind of the fun part about it for our clients too, is them seeing and having those aha moments and say, “Oh, that’s why you guys wanted to.”

Rob Martin:
One thing that we do that we’ve been doing for the last few years and we do identity systems. We don’t just do the logo and then the colors and then the tie, we do the whole thing at once. So they see a very good representation of where we want to take this direction for the system. So they’ll see the logo, some colors, it’s a very detailed mood board. And we even mock up like, “Here’s a poster or a campaign idea within this.” So it might only get two directions, but these two directions are thought out and vetted all the way to the point where they can just say, “We like that one or we like this one or maybe can we try this one with the other colors?”

Rob Martin:
And we cut down a lot of the really big reviews because we’re not doing everything one at a time. We’re showing everything in context. So if you can see this image that we’re trying to create for them, what the system looks like and how agile it is, how it can scale, what other pieces we think might need to be invented. Maybe they didn’t think about, “Oh, we never thought about doing this thing because we never saw the need for it. But we do see the need for it in this image mock up that you’ve done for us.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Like I said, that education is really important for them to kind of see what goes into it. Because oftentimes they don’t really know. Especially like you said, if they haven’t hired someone before, they don’t know what the creative process looks like. They just think you go in there and punch a few buttons and there you go. There’s the logo. But when you show them all the thought and the care and the psychology and everything that goes behind it, the hope is that they have that appreciation.

Maurice Cherry:
I had someone contact me recently that was like, “Oh, I need a logo for my organization.” And usually the first question I’ll always ask is, “What’s your budget?” Because for me that can be the indicator as to whether this is going to be a good project or a bad project. I hate to say it, but that’s true.

Maurice Cherry:
And so they had a pretty low budget and I said, “Well, you probably would be better off going to a marketplace just based on what you are willing to spend on this.” And it was pretty much a full brand identity for a nonprofit organization. They’re like, “We need a logo and this and that and the third.” Because I was like, “If you really try to hire the services of a designer, it’s going to be much more expensive than that. And I don’t know how much more expensive, it’s definitely going to be more expensive than your budget.” So you kind of have to ask those qualifying questions and stuff too. And especially when you’re starting out on your own, you may not know that. You may take those low gigs at first just to kind of have some skin in the game and you realize years and years later, you don’t do that.

Rob Martin:
Yeah. You know what’s even kind of crazy about that. They’re not crazy, but another piece of that is like, this is what I learned a few years ago too, was you might bid the pie and the sky project for them. But really they might not even be able to support that. It might be just be too much. And they spend all this money after you’ve educated them on it and they can’t even support it, and the identity just falls apart. Sometimes you’ll see this new brand comes out there, they wouldn’t be on brand new or something like that. But you’ll see the whole, “Oh, this is really cool. This is really great.” The way it’s represented on the designer side looks awesome. Then you go back a year later and it looks nothing like that because the internal team on the client side could not support something like that. Either their designer that they had in staff was whack or the brand guidelines you made them were trash.

Rob Martin:
But you also have to be able to make something that people can actually use and support over the length of however long they need it for. So that’s part of it to consider too. So they might be able to get the money for, but if you don’t think they have the support system to use that work and make it of even more value for them, then it’s kind like that’s another place you got to pause and be like, “Hey, you know what? Maybe we can just do a smaller scale of this or you should just to go somewhere else and just do something basic until you have the infrastructure to do something more. Just do something bigger to get you to that level, but I don’t think you’re there yet.” That’s something we’ve had to do a couple of times, but it’s a good thing to be able to identify as we’re kind of going through the bidding process.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes a lot of sense, actually. I didn’t even think about that. You can do this big identity and things for them, but if they can’t support it moving forward, then it’s like, “Do they really need that? Are they going to contract you to do that work for them?” There’s all these other questions that end up coming into play.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, yeah. And because just me personally, I to do the most and that always nips me in the bud a lot. So I’ve had to temper myself with trying to do everything I want to and would like to for them to what they actually need, what can they actually use? So that’s been, I guess, more of a learning for myself but that has been for other people. But we’ve had multiple times where we’ve had to encounter that and make a decision.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve mentioned doing a lot of branding and identity projects. Are there other types of projects that you want to do in the future through the studio?

Rob Martin:
Retail stuff is always really interesting because even getting into the graphic design. I remember my mom, she worked at, I don’t know, some place. It was a big white building called Sintex or something and over by Stanford in California and she would go to work every day and then come back and tell me what she did, it was data research or something. But there’s never any physical thing to show for it. And I also thought it was weird, at least for me because even as a kid, I liked to make stuff. I was either drawing or arts and craft, lanyards kind of shit. Everything I did, I had something to show for. Even when I was playing video games if I beat the game, I then make a drawing of the game as a certificate for myself like, “Hey, I did this thing.”

Rob Martin:
So for me, having some kind of artifact of your accomplishments or things that you do has always been really important to me. So the retail kind of thing, having a product that we then get to design and then package and someone I can point to it on a shelf like, “Yeah, me and my team did that.” That’s always been a really important to me to do more stuff like that. But even with websites, “Yeah, we made that thing.” But the physical thing is actually really interesting too. So even with the music that I put out, I put that on vinyl. So I have a record, literally a record of it and-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Rob Martin:
… it’s like a piece I can look back on. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s pretty dope. I want to definitely talk more about your music. We’ll get to that I think later in the interview. But let’s switch gears and talk about your origin story. You mentioned, or you’ve alluded to that you’re from in and around the Bay Area, is that right?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. So I grew up in Sunnyvale, California, and that’s in the South Bay Area of the Bay Area and that was really cool being out there. Again, it was a cool mix, melting pot being around all these different people, even the tech and stuff out there. I really would say, I am a product of Sunnyvale, really into video games. Nerdy kind of guy, but cool enough where I could still get around and not get punked or anything. It definitely had an impact on the person I am in good ways, I think. I’m very proud to be from there.

Maurice Cherry:
It definitely sounds like you got into art and design and stuff pretty early on. You mentioned sketching the video games after you beat them and stuff like that.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, yeah. Video games was one of the gateways into art and design. Skateboarding was another really big one too. I was never, ever good at skateboarding, but I always like the art on them, the culture and the way people dress. That was a really big part of it for me. And then even with skateboarding, getting into punk rock music, I played in punk bands and stuff when I was in high school, sky bands, metal bands. But all those things, they all kind of… One thing I got into took me into something else, took me into something else. But they all stemmed around the art and the music part of it and the culture too, just the people that built it, seeing how they operate.

Rob Martin:
And especially even thinking about, I won’t say there was a counter culture necessary, but there’s just alternative lifestyles, the way people get down in there. Some of the crusty punk dudes, I used to kick it with. I would never want to live like that, but I respected the fact that they wanted to live that way. That’s what they did. And there was very authenticism or authentic part about it. They’re being themselves, doing what they want to do and whatever you’re “supposed to do,” they weren’t really worried about that because that’s what they wanted to do.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you know that design was something that you wanted to study?

Rob Martin:
Well, so I’ll say this, I always wanted to do graphic design, but I didn’t really know what graphic design was from a theoretical kind of practice until I got to Sacramento State.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Rob Martin:
Before that, I really just wanted a job where I didn’t have to do any math and I got to sit in front of a computer all day. I guess I wanted to be a production designer at that point. I didn’t know that’s what it was. I just wanted to make stuff on the computer and not have to stand all day.

Rob Martin:
So once I got Sacramento State, the first class was all about theory again, how we’re seeing light becoming sense of the form and color. I was like, “Oh, this is actually kind of dope. There’s a whole science to it.” Even the degree that we got from Sacramento State was a Bachelor’s of Science, not an art degree. I really like that they fought to get that kind of definition around the program because this is all theory. Yeah, you are making something. You’re making a “beautiful thing,” at the end of the day. But there’s a lot of science, psychology, anthropology, even that goes into the foundation of the algorithm that we used to make whatever we make, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And now prior to Sacramento State though, you started out at a art school, right? At Academy of Art University.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, yeah. So I don’t know if you knew this, but in the Bay Area where Academy is based out of, back in 2000s, they would run commercials late at night when all the anime stuff was on.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah.

Rob Martin:
Show, “Hey, if you want to draw anime, you can come over to art school over here and we’ll help get you a job and all this.” It was very romantic in that way. Trying to play up getting an art degree. That obviously looked very attractive to me. It was very expensive, but I like, “Mom, I really want to do this. Can you help me get there?” So we worked over the summer to get me signed up over there. It was a pain in the arse to get signed up there. And I was still living in my parents’ house in Sunnyvale. So getting up to San Francisco to be there for four days a week, a little bit of a stretch being… I don’t know how old I was, so I think I was maybe 20 or 19 then.

Maurice Cherry:
Were you driving or were you taking Caltrain?

Rob Martin:
So I’d stay at my friend’s house in Berkeley. He was going to UC Berkeley and I would stay up there for a day or two and then take BART across and then come back on the weekends.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha.

Rob Martin:
So I could work and just be home.

Maurice Cherry:
Because that’s a commute from South Bay to get up to San Francisco. I remember I interned out in San Francisco for a summer when I was in college and I was like, “It’s a trek.”

Rob Martin:
Yeah, yeah. If I had a good car, it wouldn’t have been that much of a problem, but just the logistics. So I’d be there till 7:00. I had to get there 9:00 AM, be there till 7:00 and then have to do homework. My friend was like I could just stay with him for a little bit.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, so I started school there, just the whole commute thing, the amount of stuff I needed to buy, the work I needed to do. I wasn’t ready for it. I think I dropped out halfway through the first semester. It wasn’t what I thought I was going to be. I wasn’t ready for that. It wasn’t what I expected it to be, which it ended up being more or the theory stuff. They start you out with all these foundational drawing classes, which are important.

Rob Martin:
But in hindsight, I don’t think that was absolutely necessary for the type of designer that I ended up being. So I’m glad I didn’t stick with that, especially for the amount they were charging. It was incredibly expensive.

Rob Martin:
Oh, yeah. I was going to continue with the little bit, the origin stuff, right? So I dropped out of there and I went back to community college and I decided, “You know what? I’m going to go to a state school. I would like to get out of the Bay Area slightly.” So I started working towards going to Sacramento State, doing some painting and drawing classes at the end of community college and then went to Sac State. I think I started in 2003 there and I was at Academy, I think 2002. Yes, maybe like a year. I had an in between just because we had to sign up for the whole school transfer and everything to go to a state school from any other school.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It sounds like Sacramento State was just a much better environment for you overall.

Rob Martin:
Oh, across the board. I swear I’m so lucky that this worked out for me because it was like one of those things was like, I don’t know what I’m going to do if I don’t do this, I have to do something like this because I actually got diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. And in hindsight that explained my whole entire life up to that point. And because usually if I’m not in it, I’ve been saying this thing recently. If I don’t fuck with you, I don’t fuck with you. And that’s kind of, if I’m not into it, then I literally can’t do it. My brain won’t let me. It won’t be stimulating enough for me to engage with it at all. I didn’t know that was an ADHD thing until recently.

Rob Martin:
But looking back, I told myself, I was like, “Yo Rob, you got to make this work.” Luckily the program at Sac State is top-notch. I highly recommend it to anyone trying to save money, but still get a very solid design education. I think their education there is better than Academy’s. It’s all theoretical. Although the professors are super Swiss old school trained, but they’ve been able to be agile and keep up with the times in a way. That really shows how much the theory and the practice of the foundations like becoming sensitive to the way you’re looking at things and having a critical eye and not personal preference or anything like that. They’re able to shape someone that’s maybe not naturally good at design and get them to a place where they can’t be competitive in the workplace.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s talk about your early career. So you graduated from Sacramento State, you’re getting out there in the world, working as a designer. Tell me what your early career was like because you were kind of working at a few different places here and there, right?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. Actually, so maybe I should take a little step back. So before I graduated, I went to Dallas for a student design competition and I won my first award there, but I also met a lot of people. I met Armando Simmons out there. This guy, Matt George, I was working at VSA in Chicago. I almost actually ended up working at VCA a few months after that, but I wanted to graduate first and they were trying to get me to get over there before I graduated. I’m like, “I got to get the degree due. I’ve been working on this for three years. I can’t leave a month early and not get the degree.” So passed on that. And then I graduated and then I think immediately after that, I started sending out stuff for internships and I was able to land one at Chan Design in San Francisco, one of my favorite studios.

Rob Martin:
So back in the day, they were very influential on me. I was back again to commuting. So I’d be taking the train or driving to San Francisco from Sacramento at least three days a week for this internship. Super long commute.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
And eventually it was a pain, but for me it was worth it because that was a place I always admired and I really looked up to. So for me that was worth the commute. Plus I got to listen to podcasts and music all day on the way up and down. So those two and a half hour drives weren’t too bad back then.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Rob Martin:
And then from Chan, I was able to get a full-time designer spot at Volume. I was there for about a year, I think. For the first half of that, I was commuting every day now, but this time I take the train, which took longer, but at least I wasn’t driving so I could sleep on the way there and back. I did that get commute for a little bit then I moved back to my parents’ house in Sunnyvale. I just drove from San Francisco every day to back home. Then from there I got a spot at this place called Duarte Design. They’re the PowerPoint keynote specialists for Apple. They did Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth stuff. They’re a heavy player. They are the PowerPoint people. You there’s no one else that’s messing with them in any kind of way.

Rob Martin:
And I was there for a little bit and this is where my snobbery and the me thinking I was hot shit really came into play because I didn’t really… Cool. Working on PowerPoint stuff but I didn’t know I’d be working a Windows machine. I got really uppity about that. I think just culturally I wasn’t a good fit there and we all knew it, but they were trying their hardest to make it work just because they’re investing in the people and everything that they have. So I guess they kind of short, I am getting fired the day that Obama was elected.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Rob Martin:
But yeah, I saw it coming, but I get a little more symbolic on that day of all days. So I left there and I worked at Punchcut for a little bit and then I got laid off there because I was right when Obama got elected was when the recession started to hit. And it hit pretty hard right after that. So I got laid off there and then I was like you know what? I was going to start my studio. I’m living at my parents’ house. I said, “I need to make a little bit of money,” so they let me pay for food and gas and hang on the weekends. So I’ll be able to do that while I’m kind of getting my whole process together and actually figure out how I’m going to do this.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want to interject there for two things. One, when you were at Duarte, I’m curious. Do you know Jole Simmons? Does that name sound familiar?

Rob Martin:
It sounds familiar, but I don’t have a face.

Maurice Cherry:
He’s a presentation designer. I don’t know if you and he worked at Duarte at the same time, but you mentioned him. And that made me think of when I interviewed him a while back.

Rob Martin:
Oh, you mean Armando Simmons or Jole Simmons? I said Armando.

Maurice Cherry:
I know Armando Simmons, Jole Simmons, J-O-L-E Simmons, Hampton grad. I think Joel is still out there in the Bay now, but he does a lot of big presentations like Apple, Microsoft, et cetera. So you mentioned Duarte and I was thinking, “Oh, I think I know him. I don’t know if you all had crossed paths or not.” But it sounds one interesting parallel that kind of came up to me as you were mentioning that is you left right when Obama got elected, like you said, that was kind of symbolic. And I remember I was working at AT&T right at that time as a senior designer and I quit my job the day Obama got elected. I was going-

Rob Martin:
Because of that or just you got hyped up?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think I just got hyped up. It was all in the moment because I’m not going to get too much into it. Folks who have listened to the podcast have probably heard this story. But I was working at AT&T, I was a senior production designer. It was just a lot of work. And they were scaling things to the point where we were doing… All the work that we did had point values to it. And so they would lessen the point value of the work and increase the number of points you had to hit every week to make your goal or whatever.

Maurice Cherry:
And then on top of that, I was also getting paid less than other senior designers there, despite the fact that I had more experience and I had sort of lobbied to not my manager because I was a contractor working there, but my contractor manager telling her what happened and she managed to get all of my back pay. There were six months of back pay that was owed to me and the back hit that morning because I remember I went to go vote. I came back to the office and my contractor manager pulled me into her office, told me that the money had hit and everything like that. So we should be all squared away and things like that. And it was like as soon as she said that, and then a little bit later on we were watching the votes and everything in the office and stuff like that. And we had a big team meeting near the end of the day and I just quit. I quit in the team meeting.

Rob Martin:
Yo, props for that, though. Even during the team meeting too, that’s a hard mic drop thing.

Maurice Cherry:
But I’m curious for you, you had kind of these short stints at these different design agencies and studios and stuff, what was going on during that time. Did you just feel like you weren’t fitting in anywhere or what was going through your mind then?

Rob Martin:
Yeah, this is actually kind of a personal thing for me, right? Again, with the ADHD thing, I didn’t know I had that until later in life. So first two spots to Chan and Volume just being contract designers out here, you kind of come in and out, that’s just how those worked out. At the same time, I think the person I was, my social skills were not where they are now. I’m way more socially inept or I’m better as a social person. I fit in with people. I can talk to people now more comfortable with doing that. Before I was really shy. I’m very awkward on top of me just not being into certain things. At Duarte, I just looked like an asshole pretty much I think to people. Not intentionally, but I was though.

Rob Martin:
Again, in hindsight I could see how the way I was behaving would look to someone for me outside in. And then even just starting Majorminor and having to now get in of people and sell myself, that really helped with all this being comfortable and being able to approach people, being able to talk to people in a certain way. All that really helped and it started to happen once I started getting my feet on the ground, started campaigning to get work and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
So that feeling was kind of what made you want to start the studio?

Rob Martin:
Well, I wouldn’t say that feeling necessarily, but I guess that was a part of it was just, I need to be able to do things in my own terms in order for me to do them at my highest level. Just like the personal investment. Do I really want to do this? Do I care about it versus kind of what you were saying with AT&T just throwing stuff in front of you and you’re just trying to churning it out. I can’t do that necessarily, at least for a sustained amount of time, after a while I just start to drift off and daydream in my head and think about other stuff I’d rather be doing. So I figured why did I just do that stuff in the first place so you never have to feel like that or make someone feel a certain kind of way about you because you’re treating their work in a certain way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What were those early years of Majorminor like?

Rob Martin:
Very interesting. I’ve ever encountered anyone else that had this kind of path, but I didn’t have any clients that I brought with me or anything like that when I left any of these places or even freelance clients. I literally just went on Craigslist every 20 minutes and refreshed a page and sent out my little cold email to all the people that were looking for stuff. Sometimes it’d be a little $150 logo. Sometimes it’d be like, “Hey, I need a magazine done or something like that.”

Rob Martin:
That experience was really critical because it helped me to build my process for any actual real work, getting my contracts together. Having that experience is where things go wrong, and I now learn not to do certain things. Understanding how to approach people and not just say yes to everything, but like, “Hey, I can do this, but I can do this. Well, you only have this amount of money. Well, I can’t do that then, but I can do this for you.” The negotiation thing, being able to meet people where they’re at with what they’re trying to do and really understanding and hearing them and what they’re trying to do and not just be a factory.

Rob Martin:
The beginning years of just chilling on Craigslist was pretty, pretty significant that way. I didn’t know that at the time, but looking back that was my master’s program was the first two years of Majorminor, just trolling on there. But the thing is once I was doing that because I started off solo, right? So I’m doing this just on Craigslist as often as I possibly can, looking for other avenues to get work without having any work to show or any other contacts that could put me in front of someone else. It really built me up in that way and got my process to a place where I can actually run a business.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad you said that because I think that way of starting out is a lot more common than people think. I know that-

Rob Martin:
Yeah, I hope so.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, no, serious because that’s how I started out. My first year after I quit, I didn’t have… See, this was my thing. I thought I would have clients lined up. I had been telling friends of mine like, “I’m thinking about starting my own studio or something like that.” And they’re like, “Yeah, well you got such and such. I’ll have some work for you.” And I quit. And those first, I’d say probably those first three or four were lean. I mean they were rough. I wasn’t necessarily going on Craigslist, but I was definitely taking super low paying jobs, anything just to get something in the bank account.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to a lot of meetups because meetups were big. I’m in Atlanta to kind of give a context. But here at Atlanta, meetups were pretty big in 2009 or so. So I would go to all these web design meetups, which I quickly found out is the worst place for a designer to try to get a job because there’s other designers that are trying to get jobs. So you all are all competing for the same scraps essentially. Everybody’s trying to get something. It was rough those first few months.

Maurice Cherry:
I had went to one meetup and some guy had contacted me. He was a business graduate from UGA, this white dude. And he was like, “Yeah, I’d love to meet up with you. I have some questions about design because there’s this project that I might be working on and I’d like your help on.” And I was just like, “Okay, fine. If you buy me breakfast.” Because at the time I was like, I got $5 off to my MATA card. I can take the bus up there and then walk back to the station and take the trains, so I don’t have to pay twice or whatever.

Maurice Cherry:
I went up there. It was a Panera Bread up in Buckhead for folks that know Atlanta. Went to Panera Bread, met this guy and he was telling me, “Me and this other friend were thinking of starting this business because we’re trying to… ” They were basically trying to cash in on the, it’s funny because Obama kind of ties into this, but trying to cash in on the trend of politicians now wanting to run their campaigns like Obama. So this is early 2009. Everything Obama did in his first run for presidency with social media and graphic design and stuff was really unprecedented.

Maurice Cherry:
And so this is one of the first slates of municipal races after that. It was like the mayor’s race essentially. And so everybody running wanted the Obama sheen to their campaign and it’s like, “Well you can’t hire the Obama folks because now they work for the administration or they’re going to be super expensive.” So he had knew this guy and they knew a candidate that was running and they were basically going to put a company together to pitch to that candidate. But they were like, “We need a designer.” And so he’s asking me to basically tell him how to design. He’s like, “Should I learn HTML or should I learn Dreamweaver? And I’m like [crosstalk 00:40:09]. I was like, “You know what? I’m sympathetic to your plight. I really need work. Let’s just kind of do this as a trio.”

Maurice Cherry:
And so the three of us had met up and we came up with a name for the business and we had ended up getting onto the campaign of this woman. She was the city council president and she had ran for mayor. She dropped out because her parents got sick and she was about to jump back into the race. So we’re talking to her campaign manager at this lavish mansion. And I was like, “This is the fanciest shit I have ever seen in my life.” I knew people in Atlanta were rich, but I was like, “I have never seen no shit like this.” Huge-

Rob Martin:
Yeah. Rich, rich.

Maurice Cherry:
… 10 foot round solid marble table that we’re meeting at like King Arthur. And we meet the candidate and she’s told us about we’re running for everything and she’s like, “I like the three of you all,” because two of us were black and one of us was white. And she’s like, “I like the three of you all. This is real diverse like Obama. You got you a white guy? This is real diverse.” Because she was black.

Rob Martin:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so she kind of was, ask us about where we went to school and all this kind of stuff. And so is like, “Yeah, I’ll take a chance. I’ll take a chance on you.” So we ended up becoming the new media team for her campaign essentially. She got back in the race and ran from, I think April of 2009 to November. She didn’t win. She came in third place. But that whole experience set me up basically to continue running my studio for almost 10 years after that. Because if I didn’t have that experience of that campaign, I wouldn’t have been able to meet other people.

Maurice Cherry:
And honestly, like you said, get your process together. The crucible of working inside a political campaign is rough. It reminded me a lot of working as a production designer. You got to crank out stuff really fast. You got to respond to things quickly. There’s no time to kind of sit and iterate. You got to really come up with something super quick. It was a lot, it was a lot. And actually that’s where I first met Stacey Abrams because that was who our campaign manager was.

Rob Martin:
Oh, okay. Cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, so that was pretty cool.

Rob Martin:
That’s what I said. They all comes around full circle.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Those early years, I mean kind of to the point I was saying earlier, you kind of have to get out there and scrap. The hope is that you’re going to have these clients and people that come over. But the reality is, it’s a jungle out there. I’d say probably even more so now than that because the learning curve to design, I’m using air quotes around design, is so much shorter now because people can learn stuff on YouTube and they can take these courses and stuff. And there’s people half a world away that are doing this for pennies on the dollar. And how can you compete with that?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. It’s just all the bureaucracy that goes into that, everyone’s looking at it, everyone’s got something to say, but you still got to make it in two minutes just really quick. And did you even have a system that you were working with or were you just making stuff on the fly and [crosstalk 00:43:09]?

Maurice Cherry:
No, I was just making up stuff as I went along. I had no problem process, I had nothing. And like you said, it takes a few times you get burned by… I was fortunate that with the political campaign, everything worked out as it did. But even the clients I had after that, I didn’t have a contract. I eventually learned about AIGA’s design contract and I sort of used that.

Maurice Cherry:
I had a client that was a lawyer who used to work with the campaign. And so I bartered my service with him. I’m like, “I’ll do design work for you. If you write my contracts.” And so that’s how I got good contracts, proposals, templates and stuff. I started thinking like, “Who do I need to do work for to try to upgrade how I do my business?” But that process had to come along through a lot of trial and error. Nobody was sitting me, I didn’t have a business mentor or anybody that sat me down that was like, “You have to do this.” I was out here fucking up and just trying to recover from it.

Rob Martin:
The contract thing’s actually kind of funny. So we’ve always had problems with people running late or not paying us. Actually, we had a really bad one about a year ago. They’re still paying us. It’s been a year since the job was over. I’ve actually found the contracts to be kind of ineffective because if you don’t enforce them, whether it’s like, “Hey, this happened according to our terms, this is what’s supposed to happen.” If you don’t enforce them, they’re not going to.” If you do enforce them, you might not get anything. It’s kind of like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
So yeah, the whole contract thing, we’ve been trying to figure that out. Yeah, we have a good contract here. It is “legal” because they sign it. But, “Okay, cool. They’re not doing anything. Do we now want to spend the money that we don’t have to pursue the thing legally?” We can’t just flash the piece of paper in their face and like, “But you signed the contract.” “All right. I still don’t have any fucking money for you. What are you going to do?”

Maurice Cherry:
The one thing that I would do with clients is I would never let them sign the contract alone. So I would set up a contract meeting with them and we would go over each clause in the contract and make understood it and then we’d sign it together. And then they knew kind of moving forward, this is what you’re being held to.

Maurice Cherry:
And I was lucky that even with the lawyer that I had, he wrote the contract in pretty plain language. So it wasn’t a lot of PR24s and the party of the first part and all that kind of stuff. It was pretty straight forward. But I would always have a contract meeting. I would never let them sign it alone because one, the client’s never really going to read it. They’re just going to sign it so they can try to get the project started.

Maurice Cherry:
And the hope is that they read it. You hope that they read it. I’m like, “No, we’re going over this like you’re five years old. We are going over it clause by clause so you understand what this means. This is what scope creep means. This is what a termination fee means. This is what a kill fee means. I hope we never have to institute these things, but if it gets to that point you know because we’ve had this meeting.” I would sort of point back to that meeting if things started to go a little wonky during the process like, “Well, we had the meeting and you said this and we signed it together.” And they’re like, “Oh, okay.”

Rob Martin:
I think we are going to start doing something like that now. But I think even more so signing it in-person versus talking over the phone, which I think is what we’re about to do, but that was actually really good. I like hearing that. That was really smart.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, something that you had mentioned to me before we had started recording was the parallels in your design career and your music career. I’d love to hear more about that.

Rob Martin:
Oh, yeah. So I think more of that is just around the process of my approach. So I feel like all these things are kind of the same as far as the way that they’re made, right? You have layers in Photoshop and your music software, you have layers of instruments of tracks, right? The way you’re blending them, the way you’re using levels or curves or whatever. The same thing you do with mixing EQ, adding saturation to something, even the words, the semantics are similar in some cases.

Rob Martin:
So historically I’ve never done both of them at the same time up until maybe the last few years where I’ve really taken the design and my music career as seriously as I am. But even outside of the actual creative part, you got to start making relationships. The way you’re talking to people about your design work and trying to sell them is a similar kind of passion and trust is being built when you’re trying to get gigs or just talk to people about your music.

Rob Martin:
I’ve noticed as I do one more, I get better at the other one too. So they kind of lift each other up in separate ways. Well, separate ways, but they do the same thing. When do you do outreach or something like that, you’re campaigning yourself or your music stuff. When you start doing that in your design field, it’s a similar process. You’re running business, the concept of running a business is the same everywhere. You don’t need to know how to do that certain thing to operate the business so that you can scale it, right?

Rob Martin:
I never realized that until recently, but just all that stuff it’s very similar, even if you know how to use Final Cut, you probably know how to use Ableton or Logic or something like that. But the way they use softwares and the process, the workflow to use them are all very similar.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
The buttons might be a little bit different, but if you get the concept behind how to use it, you’ll be able to apply it elsewhere.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. The thing is for those graphic tools, a lot of them borrow their UI from music tools. So the layers [crosstalk 00:48:26] and all that sort of stuff. Yeah, it’s all the same. So what is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days? What keeps you going?

Rob Martin:
I guess there’s a couple things, I guess first off, just my personal interest. I love what I’m doing. I love the fact that I can make money from my first two passions, even starting Majorminor and becoming successful with that. I feel blessed I’m able to do that because I need to be able to do something like this to wake up in the morning, and not become bored or anything like that. So I’m glad I’m able to be self-sufficient as a man, as a person in society doing the thing that I love.

Rob Martin:
So I used to tell people, “Oh, I got my second dream running the studio and we’re good.” But now I want to get my first dream and that’s to have a successful music career, at least doing music to a certain point. I don’t want to become famous or anything like that. But just being able to release music and work on it and have people make memories to it. I always have this idea where someone sees me on the street, “Oh, you’re that dude RCA. Hey, you made that beat. I met my girl that almost playing at the club or whatever. And we listen to it all the time, it’s a memory of ours now. I just want to say, thank you for that.” I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know, man.” But that makes my day. It makes my whole life right there, hearing stuff like that. That’s from a personal kind of place. So my personal drive, that’s where that motivation comes from.

Rob Martin:
I think the other part of it too specifically to design, and this is funny because this has changed a lot over the last, since I’ve been a student, but just having see another black person run a studio. I think a lot of times people just like the diversity and design. There’s people out there’s doing everything. But in certain places, I only know maybe three or four other studio heads that are black. And I know there’s more than that, but just personally know or have actually seen on the wild. It’s just good to see that because I’m always surprised when I’m on a company’s page and I see career director, black dude. Oh, cool. If we’re getting out there, not just as a team designer, but doing strategy or being the leadership part of the team.

Rob Martin:
When I was a kid, I saw none of that. I was always the only black kid in my class historically. So it’s cool seeing all that change, even just giving back to the community in that way. Just being, not like they need to be the face of anything, but just having people see me in certain ways always feels really good. So that’s a big motivator too. And just doing kind of talks for kid’s school or portfolio reviews. I always try to show up to those whenever I can just to give back in the first place, but also represent that we’re out here like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you have any mentors or other peers that helped you along your design journey?

Rob Martin:
Not so much. I could call it mentors, but Armando Simmons, he was the first black student I had ever met. I was still in school and we talked a little bit after I met him when I was in school, but I wouldn’t call him mentor, but he definitely was a source of inspiration, just like, “Oh, shit. He’s doing and he’s been doing it for a minute too. And that stuff’s tight.” I don’t know, that was the first glimpse I got. And he was always really nice to just hang out and talk or whatever.

Rob Martin:
But as far as mentors, not really. Maybe my professor’s like Gwen Amos and John Forrest at Sacramento State, they were really positive to me in that way. I always tell them whenever I see them, “You guys changed my life. If I hadn’t met you, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’d probably be working at Target or something like that.” They put the effort, they saw the effort I was trying to put it in, and they put the effort back into me and they knew there was something there. So I really appreciate them taking the chance on me like that and just pouring some of my extra effort into someone that they felt was deserving of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Is this how you imagined your life would look like when you were a kid?

Rob Martin:
Absolutely not. And I’m glad because when I was a kid, my later life, I was always very nervous to get older because I had no idea what I was going to do. And that’s even from being a small child. Like, “I don’t know what I want to do. I just want to make stuff, I don’t know what that means, making money, being a person in society and all that kind of stuff.” But then even as I got closer to becoming an adult, I’m like, “Oh, shit. I need to figure this out. I’m getting to a point where I’m going to be 20 years old. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Rob Martin:
So I’d say maybe actually in the first time in my life, in the last 10 years, I’ve actually felt like, “Cool. Things didn’t work out the way I thought they were as a kid.” I’m super glad I’ve been able to do that for myself. And now it’s just sustaining that. What’s going to keep me going? What’s going to keep me excited in the same kind of rhythm that I have now, be able to do the things I would like to, and then still be able to make money from it, but then also add to other people’s lives? I can’t do this all on my own, so I hope whatever people that do get on the ride with me, they’re getting something out of it and are doing it not for just money, but there’s personal investment. That’s why I usually end up hiring a lot of my friends that are really close to me because they seem to be into what we’re doing. Yeah, it just feels good being able to contribute to their lives because they’re contributing back to me in that way by team and up.

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

Rob Martin:
That’s a good one. That’s what we’ve been talking about internally with the team and just even me thinking about it myself. One thing I’ve actually been doing, this is kind of like I guess one of the parallels with the music and the design stuff is doing more concert visuals. So I’ve been working on my own personal show, learning how to do visuals whether it’s a video synthesizer or software synthesizer or with after effects and premier and integrating that along with the music, whether it’s programmed and able to live or it’s just a movie that plays in the background or something with Resolume. And I guess that’s kind of the marriage of my two passions, as I’m saying it out loud is how can I bring these things together? And then also now start to offer that as a service and be able to do it for myself as well, too.

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

Rob Martin:
Yeah. The best place to go. And we’re working on this now we’re on a new website, but you can find our stuff at majorminor.co. There’s a little bit of work on there, but if you’d like to see more, just feel free to email me, rob@majorminor.co. As far as the music stuff, you can go to rcawhatsgood.com. All the links are on there, IG, YouTube and just see what we’re all about and what I’m all about. The music stuff too. I think there’s a lot of parallels as far as the aesthetics and just how we approach design. You can see both those things on there. But yeah, if you have any other questions, feel free to hit me up on any of those platforms too. I’m always very responsive. I love talking to people.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Rob Martin. I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. We kind of had talked a bit before we had started recording, but it’s amazing how much our journeys as entrepreneurs and even kind of as musicians in a way have kind of paralleled each other. I think it’s great that you’ve really been able to carve your own way and find your own way in the design industry really through hard work, luck and determination and just doing it.

Maurice Cherry:
As a musician, it’s always about practice makes perfect. We always hear that. But with business, oftentimes you don’t have the opportunity to do that because especially for your own business, everything that you do has to be contributing hopefully towards progressing the business. But it really sounds like with Majorminor going for 13 years now, you’re doing something good. You’re putting out good things out there in the world. You’re supporting the community as well. And I’m just so glad to have had you on the show to tell your story. So thank you for coming on. I appreciate it.

Rob Martin:
Right on. Thanks, Maurice. And just for you too, thank you for doing all of your past stuff. I remember we talked a lot back on the Slack channel. I don’t know if this still exists or not, but that was really great for you to support or just put out there for the community and everything you do. I’ve always seen it from afar, but I really got a lot of appreciation of what you do and just the fact you’ve been doing it for this long too, so right off for having me. I really appreciate it. I’ve been waiting to be on this for a minute too, so it finally happened.

Reece Quiñones

If you’re in the know about the DC design scene, then this week’s guest probably needs no introduction. Reece Quiñones is a force for good when it comes to design, whether it’s in her role at The Hatcher Group as executive VP and creative director, or by teaching the next generation of designers as an adjunct professor at George Mason University. And she doesn’t stop there!

Reece talked to me about an average day for her at The Hatcher Group, and talked about growing up in DC and being exposed to architecture and art at a young age. She also spoke on her work experiences before The Hatcher Group, and gave some great perspective about being a long-time design educator, including what she feels design students want from the design industry these days. As a designer, you can never stop learning, and Reece Quiñones is a prime example of how you can use your skills to give back to your community!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Reece Quiñones:
Hello. My name is Reece Quiñones, and I’m the Executive Vice President and Senior Creative Director for Hatcher, a PR marketing and design firm in the DC area. I’m also an Adjunct Professor of Design at George Mason University located in Fairfax, Virginia.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far?

Reece Quiñones:
It’s been great. Very, very busy. We ended 2021 with a bang, and I can’t believe it’s almost the end of January already. It just seems like it’s flying by, but it’s been very good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You and I talked about this before recording, but it seems like the year started and there was no kind of ramping up into anything. Everyone just kind of got to work, which usually I don’t mind that, but it has been a very busy month so far.

Reece Quiñones:
Yes, it has. It has been busy, and I think we’ve been two years into the pandemic, so there’s a lot of fatigue out there too. So with everything, with the work continuing to ramp up, with everyone feeling really comfortable with this telework, it just seems there’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of pressure to still perform as companies are starting to think about how they’re going to return back to the office. I think a lot of people are really trying to say, “Hey, I’m good here.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, we’re at this, I think really interesting shift in, I want to say it’s uniquely American, but it’s really something that’s happening worldwide. But I mean, we’re in America, you and I. So I think it affects Americans differently because we have such a symbiotic relationship with work. So the fact that there are going to see these large structures around capitalism and work that have been upended because of the pandemic, companies are trying to see if hybrid is a good deal, if they should still stay remote. They’re selling office spaces, they’re buy more office spaces. Companies are really trying to figure out what’s next, and I think it’s difficult for them. But then also with workers, we’re realizing in general that the work is always going to be there, that we have more power as workers than we thought, and so we can advocate for greater, better work experiences. So this is a really transformative time overall.

Reece Quiñones:
I think so too. I think Hatcher has done a really great job. They just went flexible first. Meaning if you want to work from home, you can. If you want to work in the office, you can. And if you want to do both, you can. And just really looking at that, I think has been really something that has kept people in the office and just really just love the culture that we’ve created there. So I’m just happy that we were able to move forward with that.

Maurice Cherry:
Right now, are you able to go back into the office or you’re still kind of doing things remotely?

Reece Quiñones:
We can if we want to, but most people are remote, and it’s great.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a average day look like?

Reece Quiñones:
It’s busy. One of the things that we really worked on during the pandemic when we just immediately switched over to working from home just one day to the next… I was telling you a little bit earlier, I was the only holdout. I thought for some reason that it would only last a week and then I realized like, “Oh, wait, I don’t think this is going to last a week.” I went back to the office to get my chair, to get my desktop computer and all the things that I needed. But one of the things that we really worked on is communication. So work at Hatcher is really just this wonderful realm. My team in the morning, we always jump on chat. We say, good morning like you would if you just came in the office. This morning, one of my designers saved a dog that was kind of limping in the street and we were hearing about it. The play by play, but that’s the wonderful thing about it. So we have kept a wonderful relationship. That’s always really good.

Reece Quiñones:
It’s really busy. The way I form my team is really in a way that everybody can grow in the way they want to grow. So as a part of their goals, they say, “Hey, I’m more interested in DesignOps. Can I move in that role?” Or, “I’m really interested in becoming an art director? Can I move in that role?” So I try to ensure that all of my designers have the ability to learn from each other and to learn different types of design. So if I have somebody that’s mostly print that wants to learn UX, they can do that.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah, just a really busy day. We have a great team of production that just keeps the trains moving. I have three art directors that help to ensure that the work looks great. In my senior creative role, I can normally formulate the strategy and just look at high-level creative. But it’s a busy day full of meetings, but it’s also one that’s really exciting and we’re able to really do some amazing things with amazing clients.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s really great that people are able to be flexible on the team like that. If there’s other things that they want to get into, they can do that, particularly I think within an agency kind of framework. I’ve worked largely with startups over the past five years and with those, it can be easy to just bounce from thing to thing because they maybe haven’t built out a robust network of people that work there yet. It’s mostly engineers, they may not have that much on creative. So if you want to jump into doing something else, you can just say, “I want to do something else,” and you can do it. With firms, it seems like it’s a bit more regimented because you’ve got creative directors and art directors and production designers, et cetera. But it sounds like it’s pretty flexible at Hatcher.

Reece Quiñones:
It is. It’s really important to me because I realized as I was coming up, the integration of design was really important. I know you remember a day that when there was a job description, they wanted everything like, “Oh, are you a website designer? Can you do print? Can you do this? Can you do that?” And we’re all looking at each other like, “Come on, really? What do you want?” So I did. I learned all those things. So over the years, I did UX, I did product design, I’ve done marketing communications design, advertising, environmental design, digital. So you’ve done all of it, and I realized that it really encapsulates the importance of design. That the foundational thing that you need to always know about design is basically that good design can transcend whatever medium.

Reece Quiñones:
So you need to understand how to design well, how to communicate that, how to understand your user, no matter if it’s a brochure or you’re working on a product. It’s still the same. You still have a user that’s going to use it that you need to consider. So that’s how I formulate my team and really pushing them to learn, “Hey, you want to do motion? Okay, let’s do motion. Let’s grab you, and let’s have you work on this project.” It just really grows the team so quickly and allows us to have more people that can do a certain type of task.

Maurice Cherry:
So given that, how do you approach a new project if seems like designers can be that flexible to bounce between disciplines like that?

Reece Quiñones:
My production team have learned… Again, we still have kid designers that might be really good at motion, or really good at long-form reports or annual reports, et cetera. Then we also know what designers want. I might have a designer who have asked, “Hey, I really want to work on an infographic,” and so we’re like, “Great.” Depending on the project, depending on the level that’s needed for that project, sometimes I do need a senior designer to work on a project. Sometimes I need an art director to work on the project. Sometimes it’s a team. We gather together, we look at all the projects and we assign them based on who can best deliver that project. Then if we have somebody that wants to learn, then they are also put on the team as well. And then from there, we schedule out and have a meeting, a launch, and the work gets done, and it’s always at a high quality. That’s something that I’ve been known for, for my students as well, as well as my staff, that quality is important.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look at your work, what would you say is the hardest part about what you do?

Reece Quiñones:
I love design so much. It’s really a hobby as well when I’m in my off hours. So as I’m looking over what the hardest part is, is just making sure that… I think it’s more on the client side. So it’s just making sure that they understand our process and they understand the whys in the decision making that we have. The world is so much more design savvy because of media, because of video, social media. They’re seeing good design on an every basis. Several times a day, they’re just seeing good design come to them.

Reece Quiñones:
So a lot of clients will come with preconceived notions on what they think will be appropriate for their project, and sometimes it’s not. Understanding the user, understanding the metrics, understanding the goals and the KPIs they have on the project. So sometimes I have to sit and kind of explain why we came up with a certain direction for them to understand why it works. I will say, even though that is the difficult part, it 99.999% of the time works because when you use design, when you use the foundations of design, the theories of design, and you explain it back to the client, then they’re like, “Oh, I get it. Great.” Because that’s why they’re hiring a firm for. So I think it’s the hardest part, but it’s also really rewarding as well.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so interesting now, because clients, like you said, they’re exposed to more or we’re just all exposed to more through television or streaming or whatever. They’ll come with these very elaborate ideas and oftentimes it’s like a therapy session in a way where you’re trying to get to what the actual thing is that they’re trying to do so they don’t get so caught up in the visuals or the presentation. Or just letting them know that maybe the visuals and the presentation you’re looking for, maybe you can’t get that on your budget, but if there’s a certain feeling you’re trying to evoke, then maybe we can get there by doing these other things. And so it is very much this kind of push-pull process with clients sometimes.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah. Always. Always. But you know what? It’s a rewarding thing. Our firm really is mission forward. We focus on education and opportunity and environment. So for us and just so much more, education is one of our large areas as well. With every single client, even though there’s that push-pull, there’s always this satisfaction because everything we’re doing is really to help them with their mission. At the end of the day, no matter how hard it is, you go home happy or rather you shut off your computer happy since we’re at home now. But yeah, it’s just a wonderful place to work.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears here a little bit. I know you’re a native of the DC metro area. I’d love to kind of learn more about what it was like growing up there for you.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah, absolutely. Actually I was born in Puerto Rico. My family’s from there. Have no accent because we came when I was two, and we moved to Silver Spring and throughout the years I’ve moved to several areas in Silver Spring. But I’m still here, and I love it.

Reece Quiñones:
The DC area is really a melting pot. I think out of the top 10, there are two cities, maybe three cities that are the most diverse in the country within the DC area. So it was really different. When you grow up in the ’70s, you’re in school and you have 63 countries represented in your school. That was the school I went to. 63 countries. We had 63 flags in our school. Yes, it was very different. It was very different. The older I got and the more I traveled, the more I realized that the DC area is so special. It is so special. I haven’t found a place that feels like it where you can have friends that look completely different from you, speak a different language, and nobody looks at you twice. No one. Like no one. They just don’t look at you twice, because that’s normal.

Reece Quiñones:
Of course being in the DC area, there’s also almost like a different economy as well too, because you have the government here. And this is one thing that I think people who grow up in the DC area need to realize as designers and just people, that when hardships happen around the country, they’re not quite as hard here because you have the government here and the government can’t shut down. So when 2008 happened, just traveling around the country, you could see so many areas with malls closed and strip malls closed and in the DC area, there were still open. The malls aren’t doing it quite as well now, but… So it’s always important for designers and creatives to just always learn and always see outside themselves. Just don’t live in a bubble, but always look outside of your area. See how other people are living and experiencing the same things you are because it’ll just make you a better strategic designer in terms of how you can deliver to the audiences you need to reach.

Maurice Cherry:
So growing up around all this diversity and this extremely multicultural school. I mean, 63 countries in one school, growing up is a lot. Were the arts and design kind of a big part of your childhood? Were you exposed to that a lot?

Reece Quiñones:
I was exposed to art in terms of drawing, and that was really nice. Our school had a really wonderful art program as well as high school. I was introduced to photography. I would make posters and I would draw, but I actually never heard the term graphic designer at all. I went to college first for architecture, and I got into one school, but decided that architecture wasn’t quite for me. So I graduated Maryland with an art degree because at that time, I found out later their design program was closed. But I had an art degree out of Maryland, and I still didn’t know the term graphic designer. So I decided to go back to school. I went to Montgomery College just to get a two-year degree in multimedia and design. So that’s the first time I heard design with multimedia and I was like, “Okay, this is cool. Let me take it.” And I just happened to take an elective called Quark.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah. I just happened to take it because I had electives to take and I was like, “Quark. Hmm. I wonder what this Quark is.” And that’s the first time I saw graphic design because it was graphic design, I think like 120, and it was like Quark 101.

Reece Quiñones:
I took Quark and I was in the class and I remember just having such a good time. I mean, I was going for it. I was making newsletters. I mean, it was fun. Our screens were only like 15 inches and that was like state-of-the-art back then, because computers had just come in the scene just about three or four years earlier. They kind of became mainstream. And so I was in class and the professor, I will never forget him. Professor [inaudible 00:20:48], he looked at my work one day and he’s like, “You’re really good at this.” And I was like, “Good at what?” And he’s like, “Ah, good at this.” And I was like, “What is this?” I was like, “What is this? I’m just making a newsletter.” And he’s like, “Oh dear God.” He’s like, “Can somebody tell this child what class she’s in?” And somebody’s like, “Graphic design.” And I was like, “Graphic design?” And he’s like, “Yes, you can do this for a living.” And I said, “Wait, what?”

Reece Quiñones:
And at that moment I knew everything was going to be okay. I had found my passion. I really knew that it was going to be okay. I took every single graphic design class I could from him especially, and I graduated and I got my first job as a graphic designer with the Gazette newspapers, which was owned by The Washington Post at that time. And that’s how I got my start.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious about Quark. I want to go back to that because that’s a very… You said that and my mind immediately went to like… I don’t know if this is probably the right timeframe. I’m guessing this is like mid ’90s probably?

Reece Quiñones:
You are exactly right. You’re exactly right.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
It was ’94.

Maurice Cherry:
I’d have to research. I don’t even know if Quark is still like a thing now, but I remember first getting into Quark. I was in… Let’s see, ’94 I’d probably just got into high school. So yeah. I remember using Quark and Adobe PageMaker because I designed my high school’s newspaper or redesign my high school’s newspaper. Because before that we were using or they were using… And this is because I grew up in the sticks, but also I think just because publishing hadn’t reached digital fully yet everywhere, but we were still doing mimeographs.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh wow, yeah. Yep. No, no. You laugh, but my first job, we were waxing down the pages of the newspaper on flats. So it really was the turn of graphic design becoming more digital to it being more mechanical. So using Exacto knives when we needed to change a word.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
But it was such good experience. So I love it.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s so interesting because you’re… I mean, you’re learning the tool and you’re learning how to do this. There’s no real examples that you can look at. When I think about what designers can do now and how much is out there in terms of education, they can go on YouTube. They could do LinkedIn Learning or they could do Skillshare or whatever. Like there’s so much out there. We were really winging it back then like just-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh my God.

Maurice Cherry:
… trying to figure it out.

Reece Quiñones:
We were. We were winging it and that’s why I love that class Quark, because the professor had a saying, he’s like, “Welcome to my class. Number one, do you know the Mac, or have you ever used a Mac?” And I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Some people raised their hand and he’s like, “Okay, more importantly, have you never used the Mac?” And I was about to raise my hand and the person next to me took my hand and said, “Do not raise your hand or he will kick you up.” And he kicked out two people.

Maurice Cherry:
Ooh. Wow.

Reece Quiñones:
So I would’ve never known, I should have been a graphic designer. But the one thing he said is, I’m going to teach you everything about this application, every dropdown, popup menu. And it’s up to you to create something that visually communicates an idea.” And he did. He taught us every single part of that. It was almost like a YouTube in the class. I think the way he taught really did inspire me to teach as well, but you’re right, we had nothing. We had absolutely zero. We were just going into it like, “Okay, here’s a blank page. Let’s go.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And really trying to figure it out and just see how these tools work. You could read the instruction manual, but the instruction manuals were like these big thick Bibles. It was hard to get your creativity around it when the instruction manuals were just… Well, I guess that’s the other thing. There were instruction manuals. There were like printed books that you had to go through and try to figure this stuff out. So it was… Wow, what a time.

Reece Quiñones:
They were called Bibles.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What a time.

Reece Quiñones:
Like what Bible?

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Reece Quiñones:
The illustrator Bible, I remember, I remember. I know back in the day.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about your early career after you graduated. Did you stay around in the DC metro area?

Reece Quiñones:
I did. I stayed around in the DC metro area and I worked for the Gazette newspapers. And I just remember just saying, “Hey, oh, I wish I could do more in design.” I just think that people are just put around you and you need to listen to their advice. And there was a coworker named Marie. She was awesome. And she was like, “Reece, you’re really talented. I don’t think you should be stuck here.” And I was like, “I don’t know,” this and the other. And she’s like, “You know what, I don’t want to hear you complaining unless you’re applying.” And I said, “What?” She’s like, “Well, don’t complain to me about that you want more, unless you’re applying for another job.” And I was like, “There’s no way I can get a job. I’m just one year out of school.” And she’s just like, “Well, I don’t want to hear it.” And she was serious. She wouldn’t let me here until I started applying. I applied and I got my first firm job at HR communications in the DC area. And when I told her, she’s like, “There you go.” She’s like, “I’m glad it worked.” And I was like, “What?” And that’s just how she was.

Reece Quiñones:
And so I never complained about a job ever again, unless I was doing something about right. That was really good advice. And from HR communications, I went to an in-house marketing firm, which was great, because it was marketing communications and I really learned a lot about marketing. Went to focus groups, helped conduct them. And that was just wonderful experience to learn how your work is really resonating with your audiences. And I think for first time, and this was still the ’90s, I realized that it’s not what I wanted. It’s what the customer needed that I needed to deliver. Design early on, was about your skill and how you could deliver it. But when I worked in that marketing group, I really learned that I need to listen to that audience and that was really eyeopening for me and just a wonderful experience there.

Reece Quiñones:
And then from there I went to another firm, and that firm was, I think the change in the quality of my work. This firm was called [inaudible 00:27:03]. And again, they were another marketing communications firm, but their designers hailed from around the world. They had a designer from Spain, a designer from Korea, and one from the Philippines and all over. And what was amazing was this being the ’90s, I thought I knew all the programs. They’re the ones that taught me that, “Hey, oh my goodness, your program can actually merge with other programs.” And that’s when I learned that you could actually merge your files, and get this, from Illustrator into Photoshop. You could merge your layer files into… And that was way back in the day. It just changed the way I could design because now I could make montages that you could only see in magazines where you’re just like, “How’d they do that.” I’m like, “I don’t know how they do that.”

Reece Quiñones:
And so they taught me all these really deep tricks and tips about the actual programs that I think really changed the quality of my design. And again, just really an amazing group of very talented designers. I remember when I got that job, I interviewed for it three times. And the first time I went, the owner was like, “You’re good, but you’re just not what we need. It’s not quite what we need.” And I was like, “Okay.” I was like, “Can you tell me about my work? What is it that you like, what is it that you don’t like? I don’t have an ego. Let me know how I can improve.” He told me, he’s like, “I like this, but our quality has more depth. It has more layering.” I was like, “Okay, that sounds great.”

Reece Quiñones:
So I went back and I kept designing, adding more things into my portfolio. About three months later they called me in. And at that time I told them, “Well, I have a new job. I’m not going to come in.” And they’re like, “Just come in. Let’s just have a chat.” And I was like, “Okay, I’ll just have a chat.” So I went and showed them a couple more pieces and he’s like, “Oh wow, you listened.” I was like, “Well, of course.” I was like, “I love your work.” I was like, “Of course I listened.” And he’s like, “Hmm. All right. Hmm.”

Reece Quiñones:
So he had me come back to talk to the art director and I realized at that time they were trying to have me leave the job that I had just started. And I wrote a list why I should stay at the job where I was or why I should go. And I realized that even if I stayed in this new firm for six months, the level of work that would come out of it would be so much more than I could ever get at the firm that I had gone to. So I decided to go. The only job that I have ever been in less than a year, but it was life changing. It was honestly life changing.

Maurice Cherry:
Now after that, is that when you ended up joining ASCD?

Reece Quiñones:
That is correct. That is correct. That firm hit the dotcom era. The early 2000s where all the dotcoms kind of lost their funding. And that was 90% of our work. So the firm shut its doors and I was left without a job. And I was like, “All right.” I was like, “Okay, what are we going to do here?” And I told myself, “Because now you have eight designers looking for work that each have the level of quality you have…” So I started looking for work and there were jobs that had a little bit more technical motion, people were getting into flashback then. And so I would just refer other designers and they would be like, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much,” because the job wasn’t right for me.

Reece Quiñones:
But I also told myself, “I’m going to look for any job. It doesn’t matter.” And I applied to a role for an in-house designer with an in-house agency. They called themselves an in-house agency. And that was kind of in the early 2000s. And that was rare to have a team of designers that would call themselves an in-house agency. So I went, I tried and I looked.

Reece Quiñones:
And the work, I was like, “Oh my gosh, what are you guys doing here?” I realized that they were a midsize publisher for educational book and products. And I was like, “This is amazing work. I’ve never done a book before.” So I showed my portfolio and I got the job. It was such an incredible experience, designing books and just growing within that environment, that I stayed. I also had a wonderful manager. And it’s true, you stay at a job where you have a great leader. And so he saw leadership potential within myself and would give me opportunities to lead projects. And then I started leading web projects, and then I started to lead applications. So product manage. It’s a wonderful experience where I was able to do everything from… Could design applications, as well as apps towards the end of the 15 years. Could design websites, online store, hundreds of books, just everything, run the gamut, including their large annual conference. So I would do the branding around the entire annual conference. And then through the years, I got promoted four times.

Reece Quiñones:
So it was just a wonderful opportunity to grow. And I was on vacation when that was a thing, when you left the… I got a call from a recruiter at LinkedIn for a position and I remember it just wasn’t right. I was happy where I was. And I said thank you and the recruiter said, “Well, just take a look at our job description online.” And I said, “Sure, sure. I’ll go ahead and do that.” And so I clicked the link and here I am in France and I’m scrolling down, I’m scrolling down. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t think this is right.”

Reece Quiñones:
And then there was in LinkedIn, at least back then, there was a title: Other jobs like these. And I was like, “Okay, so another job like this.” So I started looking at those jobs and there was one job there and it was The Hatcher Group. And I was like, “Huh, let me just read it.” And I was like, “Oh, they’re looking for a senior VP of design. Hmm. All right. Let’s take a look at what this looks like.” And it looked good. It was everything I was doing now. And I was like, “This is good,” but they really wanted to grow what they had as a design team. So they only had one designer and an intern and they were mostly a communications firm, QPR firm at that time, and they really wanted to grow it into more.

Reece Quiñones:
And so I’m reading the description and there’s one line and that line stuck out to me. And that line was, “Above all, we’re looking for someone who is kind.” And I was like, “Whoa.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Reece Quiñones:
I was like, “Whoa.” Yes, “Wow. Who looks for somebody who is kind? This is awesome.”

Maurice Cherry:
Especially at an agency.

Reece Quiñones:
Especially at an agency. I was like, “Well, if I’m going to go somewhere, let me go to a place where they want somebody who’s kind. I think I’m kind, but I know they’re kind because they’re looking for someone who is like them.” So I knew that just from the job description. And so I applied and I got the job. And so that was four years ago and we’ve grown from one designer and one intern to a team of 16. So we’re doing some great things and I have an amazing team.

Reece Quiñones:
I focus on hiring diverse designers. I think it’s important. I think a lot of firms run into trouble when they don’t hire diverse designers because we can check with each other and say, “Hey, does this work for this audience?” Because you don’t have that lived experience. And that is very critical for me, but what it does too, is it teaches the other designers how to have a critical, but worldwide view of work that we’re doing, especially because we’re working with very sensitive topics as well in terms of education and the environment and equity within those spaces. It’s just really important to understand how the images that you use, the icons that you use, even the way it’s placed, how that reads to your intended audience and if it portrays them fairly. That’s actually something that we focus on.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to go back briefly to ASCD. I mean, that was such a large part of your career. You were there for 15 years.

Reece Quiñones:
I was.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at that time, is there anything that really stands out to you that you remember the most?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, absolutely. We had a wonderful team. It’s where I learned how to manage. It’s where my boss gave me the opportunity to take his job as he was promoted into a larger role. And it’s also where I learned to ensure that your designers can grow in the way that they want to grow. Instead of keeping people siloed into one area, I learned that it works well. It works so well for that team. We were so productive and people grew exactly where they wanted to and they became designers first, and then they learned the mediums second. So that’s where I learned that.

Reece Quiñones:
Quality was actually something that was so key to that team and to my boss. And I learned that quality is actually something that happens when the whole team works together as a unit, when everybody helps each other. And so I also hire people that don’t have egos, because we really do critique each other and help each other grow and ensure that everything that comes out of our shop has the quality that the customer expects, the client expects. But most important, I learned how to manage. I learned that if you treat your people like you’re equal, like people, you’re not their parent and you shouldn’t be, but you treat them like you’re equal. And if you’re having a problem with someone, just have a conversation and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Is everything okay? How can I help you? You tell me how I can help you.” Then you have a team that will come to you first. If anything goes wrong, my team just comes to me and say, “Hey, here’s what went down.” And then I’m like, “Okay. So how did you fix it?”

Reece Quiñones:
So we work through the solutions and we grow people. And I think that that is such a wonderful quality that I loved during the 15 years. I loved being able to go to my boss and say, “Here’s how I screwed up. Here’s how I think we should fix it. Do you agree?” And nine times out of 10 he did, “Oh yeah, that’s a great call. And you know what? It’s okay. We all screwed up sometimes.” And so I managed the same way and I think it’s really important that folks feel free to grow and to make those mistakes because that’s how you get exceptional designers. And I have exceptional designers. So I’m a very lucky person.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, definitely sounds like to be able to have that level of openness among the team like that, that really takes really, I think depthful but also very skillful kind of just management. And with being at ASCD as long as you have, being able to really learn that in that environment has definitely helped out with what you’re doing at Hatcher.

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely. Absolutely. 100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you also are a design educator. We’ve had several design educators here on Revision Path. You’re an adjunct professor at George Mason University where you’ve been since 2008. Tell me about your time teaching there. I’m curious, what are you teaching now?

Reece Quiñones:
Actually now, I start next week. I am teaching UX design as well as design principles and theory. So methods and principles, which is really the theory of design. It’s their first studio class where they learn how to design. And it’s one of my favorite classes. I’ve taught it since 2008 and I love it. I love it. I love it so much. And I love the outcome of not only the program and the students. About a fourth of my staff are my former students.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh really?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh absolutely. Oh absolutely. I snag them when I can. Absolutely. I kind of fell into teaching…

Reece Quiñones:
One of the wonderful parts of working with the in-house firms is that they have lots of benefits. ASCD had tuition reimbursement, so I was like, “Hey, why don’t I get my M.F.A. in design?” And I found a program that had most of their classes at night in the University of Baltimore. I applied and got in, and I went through that there. I learned and worked with the head of the design program at George Mason, and one day I was just sitting around and he said, “You know, I think you would be a really good professor.” And I said, “Oh no, not me. There’s no way,” because I grew up with a stutter. Just learning how to speak fluently was just really hard for me. And even now, even though I now have lived a little bit more than half my life without the stutter, I still can hear the struggle. So I just doubted myself so much and he just left it alone.

Reece Quiñones:
Years later, he called me and he said, “Hey, how about that teaching gig that I talked to you about?” I was like, “Oh, it would be wonderful, but… I don’t know.” He’s like, “I really need you.” And I said, “Oh, I don’t know.” He’s like, “Why don’t you call me tomorrow? Think about it.” I said, “Okay.”

Reece Quiñones:
The next day, I called him. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so nervous about teaching. I just couldn’t sleep. And so I said, “You know what, I know it’s a good opportunity. It’s hard to get in, but I just don’t think I can do it.” And I left him a message and he didn’t answer me back. So I kept texting. The day after, he called me and said, “Hey, I got your message. I’m sorry I got it late. I already put your name in and I can’t change it.” And come to find out, he could have changed it. But I thank him every day. His name is Don Star. I thank him every single day for tricking me into a teaching job because the first night I taught, I realized, “I love this. This is so amazing.” And you just get this vibe when you teach.

Reece Quiñones:
My mom was a teacher and she told me, she’s like, “When one of your students learns how to read, your whole body gets this shiver. You just get this vibe that, ‘Wow. What I’m doing is making a difference.'” And she’s right. I got that same vibe when I had a student who really understood a concept, understood a theory and was able to apply it and created something that looked so beautiful. And I was like, yes. And I got hooked. I got to teaching.

Reece Quiñones:
So I just got hooked to teaching. And with that first class, which was the design methods and theories class, I just had a great time. I kept teaching. There’s other classes I teach as well. I’ve taught typography, infographic design, motion graphics, and I just have a blast with it all. Like I said, I think that teaching is so important and learning how to teach those foundational skills are the critical part that I think is missing in some programs as well. Because I also interview and hire and look at hundreds of portfolios all the time, and just those little things that you can see throughout is what I teach. The things that people don’t get, or they don’t understand how to really put their work together or how to continually improve their work. So I just have a great time with it.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say things have changed since you started teaching there? Have you grown as an educator?

Reece Quiñones:
I have. I don’t like grades, though I have to grade folks, but I love projects. And so my projects have gotten more complex. They also have introduced a digital aspect to them because everything now has a digital aspect. Even if you do a report, we’re asked to do social media or a little motion graphic video that will help to launch that report. So I think I use what I see at work as a part of how to improve the way I teach. So when I see shifts in the industry or in the way clients are asking for work, I also change how I teach to mirror that, to ensure where that my students are ready for hire as soon as they graduate

Maurice Cherry:
From your perspective, and again, you’ve been teaching since 2008 and you’ve mentioned these changes, what do design students, and I guess design graduates also, what do they want from the design industry?

Reece Quiñones:
That’s actually a good question. I’ve had a couple students, especially during the pandemic really kind of reached out for co-mentoring because we haven’t been in person for two years. So they want to be ready. They want to be ready to get a job. They want to ensure that they’re not looked over. They really want to understand how their work applies in the real world. And that’s actually something that I do. As a part of every single class, I also take one class period to teach them salaries. What are you worth? What are you worth when you go out? Here’s the salary range. Here’s how you can adapt it for the DC area. Or let’s say you were going to New York, here’s how you adapt it. Let’s say you were going to Chicago, or let’s say we’re going to Alabama or to Mississippi. Here’s how you can change and see what you’re worth and how much you can ask for.

Reece Quiñones:
I also go over portfolios. I’m like, “These portfolios work and here’s why.” I go over resumes. “These resumes work and here’s why.” And I explain to them how to get ready for the real world. Why it’s important that their work is good. How they can self-edit to ensure that you don’t have one piece that looks really bad with work that looks really good, because I see that all the time. When I’m looking at the students’ portfolios, I’m like, “Why did you add that invitation?” And they’re like, “Well, because I don’t have an invitation.” I’m like, “But do you think it looks good?” They’re like, “No, it’s not my best work.” I’m like, “Well, I’m going to judge you on that.” And they’re like, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, as a creative director, if I look at this, I’m going to say somebody helped you with everything else. And the one that looks bad is the one you did on your own.”

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Reece Quiñones:
And they’re like, “Oh.” I said, “Mm-hmm (affirmative).” I was like, “Take that.”

Reece Quiñones:
So I help them learn how to edit their work because as you’re coming up, you always have a couple of duds in there where you’re… They’re not horrible, but they’re just not the level of quality as some of your other work. So learn how to edit because your portfolio is the way that someone’s going to hire you. I really help them with that. And I think that’s what they’re really looking for. They’re looking for help to ensure that they can get a job, because we all know how it feels when you graduate and then you have to like make it on your own.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
That intense feeling of fear like, “Oh dear God, I’ve got to pay for everything myself.” And back then it was harder because you literally left home. Nowadays you can come back, things are changing a little bit. But back then, they were just like, “Okay, you’re gone. Bye college. You’re gone.” But kids still feel that. They still feel that fear. So just helping them know that these things can help them. And then I also do mock interviews and I do them in class so that people can see how I answer questions. I tell them, “Just ask me anything.” And I’ve gotten some really tough questions for them to see how I answer that so that they can really have a leg up when they go to their first interview.

Reece Quiñones:
And even afterwards I will help students. I give them my email address. I’m like, “Hey, you want a mock interview? Let’s do it. You want me to look at your portfolio? Let’s do it.” Just the other day, I had a student who was so nervous about an interview that they had, catchy with Deloitte, and they were just so nervous. And so they just wanted me to go over again… They just wanted to practice and they wanted to go over it one on one. So I took some time to help that student and they reached out and said that they got the job and I was so excited because there’s another level that’s hard here to the pandemic. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
So they just have that nervousness going out. I take the time for that too, because I think it’s important and I wish I had that when I was first coming out. And so I make sure that I’m there for them so that they don’t have to feel like they’re going out alone.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I think what you’re doing with reviewing their portfolio and resumes and talking about salaries and doing mock interviews, that stuff is so, so, so important for designers just to get out there and know what it is that they have to do to try to compete in the marketplace, but also to position themselves in the best possible light.

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve done some work in the past with the art institutes, particularly the Art Institute of Atlanta here in Atlanta. They sort of do this thing every year where they bring in people from the local design community and they have a dinner at the school. And what they’re doing with that is one, just trying to meet practitioners out in the city, but also to get a sense of like, “What do we need to be teaching students? What out there are you seeing in the market that we need to inform them of?” Whether that’s about upcoming technologies or certain-

Reece Quiñones:
I love it.

Maurice Cherry:
… design trends or things like that, to try to stay current and keep up on top of things. It’s funny, you’re talking about your adjunct experience and I’m thinking about, I taught adjunct… Oh, this was 2012 I think. Like 2011, 2012, I was teaching like a principles of web design course-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, love it.

Maurice Cherry:
… as an adjunct. And what I tell you, it was so dated… Well, first of all, it was a BIS course. It was a business information systems kind of major. So it already wasn’t like technically really designed. You were just teaching business students enough design to sort of get by, I guess. But the curriculum was so old.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh.

Maurice Cherry:
Like when I started, they had students learning how to design web pages using tables. And I’m like, this is 2011, 2012, sometime around that.

Reece Quiñones:
I learned tables in the ’90s.

Maurice Cherry:
Me too. I learned tables in the ’90s too. And I’m like you have to teach because this was in that period where CSS layout design of course was the norm at that point. I remember working at AT&T in 2007-ish and we made the switch from tables to CSS. I mean, you want to talk about seeing grown people cry at work?

Reece Quiñones:
I know. I remember that switch. It was emotional for many.

Maurice Cherry:
In this teaching thing, I remember going to the Dean and like petitioning to rewrite the curriculum because I’m like, “You’re setting these students up to fail-”

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
“… if you’re teaching them how to design in tables and then they go out there in the world trying to get some design jobs to say they have some HTML experience and it’s this dated. We’re not setting them up in the best light.” Eventually they did let me rewrite the curriculum. So I did teach them basic CSS and stuff, but I’m thinking like, “What if I didn’t?” Or what if another educator was just like, “Oh, this is what I’m teaching? Okay.” And just went with it. So the fact that you’re extending that out, you’re doing way more than usual. I mean, I certainly commend you for that.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh thank you. But now, what I was going to say is that that’s really important and that’s one of the things that I love about George Mason. Is that with the curriculum that I’m able to continually update it. So every single semester I update everything to ensure… Including my samples, because I want to make sure that the students have the latest and the greatest of how you can incorporate design into all this new technology. And it’s just really important to be able to do that because it’s true. Just like you said, if you don’t do that, you are setting them up to fail from the beginning and school’s not cheap, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
Let’s make sure they have all the right tools so that they can go out and live their best life.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the design community like for you at this stage in your career?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, it’s awesome. The DC area, as well as the Baltimore area, because I’m still connected through school, they have such a strong design community that they overlap as well at times, but it’s really strong. I’m a part of AIGA, I volunteer. I am on The Continuum Fund, which is a scholarship fund for underserved designers, and it’s just wonderful. It’s great to grow with designers and also bring up new designers and seeing them grow in leadership roles as well. It’s actually something that’s important because no matter how large your city is, the design community is actually small. And that’s the thing that I think that people need to understand. Like I’m connected with so many people around the city and know when they’re looking for someone, I can refer other people. And that’s why it’s important to always get connected to the community where you are, because it’s a great way to help you find jobs or just to grow and design or just to give back, to mentor or to help an upcoming student or designer that joins a group. So I encourage everybody to do that if they can.

Maurice Cherry:
And you’re a recent DC design fellow. Congratulations on that.

Reece Quiñones:
Thank you so much. I was shocked and honored to be named an AIGA Fellow. It’s something that’s given to just a few people and not every year. And for me to be chosen, I was very humbled and just very gracious. It just makes me want to triple my efforts in terms of what I’m doing and teaching and mentoring, because I realize now that it’s made a difference. The power of just winning that award is just realizing that you can make a difference. You can help your community just by giving back. It was a really fun experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of your influencers? Who inspires you?

Reece Quiñones:
It’s actually everyone around me, but including, and I think the most important are my students. I am the creative director I am today, I am the leader I am today because of them. They inspire me to push further. They inspire me and grow… They just have just great ideas that they use on their projects, that they come forward, that they ask, “Hey, can I do this?” And I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t see why not. Let’s have a go.” And so they keep me always growing, learning and searching for new ways to apply design. And they inspire me every day. I think that’s why I’m hooked to learning and I’m hooked to teaching because basically I learn from them. As much as they learn from me, I learn from them.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you the most excited about at the moment?

Reece Quiñones:
I think I am the most excited about how technology is informing design, how we can apply design to new things. For example, augmented reality. So AR, VR and how I can apply that within my teaching, as well as within my own firm. I love how the industry and how design has to continually change. I think that that keeps us fresh. It keeps us learning. It keeps us growing. And that’s important. I mean, I think creativity really requires the pursuit of experiencing learning and observing as much as you can. One of the things I always say is you cannot design what you don’t know. So you have to continually be curious and open-minded and just always be a student. And just continuing to learn, not only in your field, but what’s around it, and be ready for it so that you can continue to visually communicate ideas to your clients.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I mean, with what you’ve got going on with teaching, as well as your work at The Hatcher Group, it sounds like you’ve got a very, very bright future in terms of what you want to.

Reece Quiñones:
I’m always living in the present. Right now, I am so excited with the work I’m doing at The Hatcher Group. I recently got promoted to executive vice president, which actually allows me to do a lot more business development, not only with the firm, but with our clients. So it’s a wonderful place for me to be. In five years, I can tell you, as long as they’ll have me, I will still be teaching. That I do know. I love it. It’s how I actually relax after a long day, is I teach. And the moment I go in and I say, “Hi class, how are you doing?” Like all the stress leaves. And we just have a great time and we laugh and just learn together.

Reece Quiñones:
In terms of what I do, I hope that I’m always going to be tied to design in some way, the next five years for me, just really… It incorporates me continuing to learn. I’m always looking at the next program. I know it’s weird, but I am looking at a doctor’s program. So I think it’s important for me to continue just growing and learning within my own field, and right now just doing what I do at Hatcher.

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

Reece Quiñones:
Well, they can go to thehatchergroup.com as well as my own personal website, 09creative.com. And I am also on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/reecequinones

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Reece Quiñones, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. I mean, just going through everything that you are doing with The Hatcher Group and with education and your background and everything. I mean, you’re someone that I think a lot of people in design industry can look up to. It’s so interesting before we recorded, you were talking about how you don’t know, or you didn’t know why you received the DC fellow award. And I’m like, I don’t see how you didn’t know considering how much you’ve been, not just a practitioner in design for a very long time, but also how much you’re giving back to the next generation of design through teaching-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, thank you so much.

Maurice Cherry:
… and everything. So I am so glad to have had you on the show and to share your story and I look forward to seeing what comes next. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Reece Quiñones:
Thank you so much. I had an awesome time.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Sponsored by The State of Black Design Conference

The State of Black Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maxwell VanHook

“If you have a vision for yourself, go for it.” When Maxwell VanHook told me that before our interview, I knew that he was about to drop some serious knowledge. And he did not disappoint!

We started off in an interesting place — the home — and he talked about how newlywed life and how he’s been re-evaluating the concept of work and code switching in this current age. He also shared a bit about his work as an associate creative director for Amazon Devices, and his role as co-host of the weekly IG Live show Designing While Black. For Maxwell, trusting your voice and values has been key to his success…and I definitely agree with that!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Maxwell VanHook:
I am Maxwell VanHook. I am from Baltimore, Maryland, currently. In my professional life, I am an associate creative director on the Amazon devices team. That basically entails anything that has Alexa in it, but it also involves the devices that Amazon makes. You can think about your Echo Dots, Echo Shows, Kindles, emerging platforms like Amazon Luna, which is cloud gaming. Outside of my professional life, I am a music lover. I’m also the co-host of Designing While Black along with Bekah Marcum. That comprises who I am. First and foremost, I would say with all of those things, I like to show up as a friend. I’m just a friend, support system and a champion of other people’s dreams. I like to see people succeed. I’d like to see people win.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going so far?

Maxwell VanHook:
The year’s been good. I’m not going to lie to you. When COVID hit, I think that I had some psychological and emotional barriers. No, just in terms of shifting my schedule. I had a routine. I would get up every day, probably around 6:37 o’clock, do whatever I need to do for the morning, get dressed, go to work, probably get coffee when I went to work. And so it gets monotonous. All of that broke down once COVID hit. And so now, I’m at home. Now, I’m with my wife and I’m with my cat. Nobody’s really going outside. And so I had to create new routines for myself. I had to learn how to work out within at home, I had to learn how to run within my home, I had to learn how to make sure that I was keeping my mind active outside of my day-to-day work. I also need to figure out how to keep myself emotionally and mentally stable.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so it’s been good because I learned a lot about myself. I really had to scrutinize what I wanted from life and it allowed me to be still. I know that there were a lot of things that came along with the pandemic. But now that we’re somewhat out of it, I actually appreciate it because it allowed me to sit with myself and really be introspective about how I wanted to move forward in this next phase of life. I just turned 31 not too long ago. And so I feel like I’m at a crossroads in terms of who I want to be. This has been good for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think a lot of people now, especially peer in the states who have hopefully gotten their vaccines or they’re seeing now that just restrictions are being lifted like nationwide and in many places, I think a lot of people are at that point of reexamining and reevaluating where they’re at now that they’ve come out of this and trying to figure out what moving forward looks like, because I think there’s been this big push to get back to normal. You got to get back to normal. But it’s almost impossible in many ways because the world is just a different place. We’re different people now that we have all collectively went through this extended trauma. It’s hard to just snap back into what you used to do before all of this.

Maxwell VanHook:
Now, it was important for me… I realized, especially like on a work-front, there are certain conditioning that you go through in terms of how you show up that especially in physical spaces, like when you walk into a corporate office and you’re not the dominant culture. And so things like code switching, dialect altering, I was with… not too long ago, we had someone that we interviewed and they used the phrase telephone voice. These are things that I feel black and brown people use every day to survive in these spaces. I just had to do a deep conditioning because when I was at home, I was way more relaxed. And then I realized that I’m not in the physical space with you and I’m not going to become someone different when I’m outside of my home.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so I had a conflict with myself, like internal conflict. This is the space where I am authentically myself, this is the space where I can be free and open and now I’m bringing work into that space. And so I like, “No, I flipped that on its head. Anywhere that I show up, that’s how I’m going to be.” And so working at home actually allowed me to do that, getting on the phone and not really caring how I’m phrasing things, not really caring on what type of vernacular I’ll use because I was just embracing fully who I am. Especially when you put it in the context of the pandemic, you realize, “Hey, life can be snatched at any moment. It’s up to us to live use the agency to own your life.”

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting. You’re like reevaluating… it’s funny… well, not funny, but I like that you said that you’re looking at home and how you bring work into it, because certainly for a lot of folks, having to work from home, it’s been tough, I think, for many people to really make that delineation between like, “This is work, this is home.” Even if you’ve got a dedicated space, you’re still bringing a totally foreign thing into your sanctuary. Home is where you… That’s where you sleep, that’s where you let your hair down, that’s where you let your defenses down. But now, it’s also your workplace and your gym and your daycare and all these other things now. Yeah.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah, all those things converged. When they converged in that manner, I just started to look at how I was showing up and then also how I was relating to people. I think you discover things about yourself throughout life because I believe that we’re fluid beings in that way. And just being able to sit at home, knowing that this is my space and I own it, I couldn’t even access any form of code switching or altering, if I wanted to, because it just wouldn’t sit right with me. And that just ultimately led me to say like, “Why was I doing it in the first place? Also, who told me to do this?” And that was another thing like, “Who told me to do this?” I was like, “No one told me to do this? This is a decision you made and you have to break and work to get out of this.”

Maxwell VanHook:
And so if there is a danger and not code switching, that’s just something that I’m going to have to deal with, but I would rather live my truth. I feel like most people should live their truth in that sense. There’s so many people who stay away from their unique sensibilities or their unique form of expression because of how other people will perceive it and that stops you from that expansion. That’s the goal. I’m trying to expand, I’m trying to try as many things as I possibly can. With curiosity comes failures sometimes. I don’t even look at failure as failure. I look at that as a lesson, a learning lesson. I want to fall as many times as I can. I want to show up in any form that I want to show up in. Yeah, I just want to own my space. I’m trying to walk away from conditioning that may have happened beforehand.

Maurice Cherry:
Does Amazon foster that kind of exploration for you as an employee?

Maxwell VanHook:
I don’t necessarily know if Amazon fosters it. But I will say that when I came to Amazon, I was met with some very real confrontational energy in terms of the people that I was interacting with. I know there are horror stories about Amazon. I do not believe that the majority of them are true, just not in my case. But there was this presence of trying to be A type, trying to be the best, trying to always be on. And for me, there was the double whammy of walking into a social environment inside the building where nobody looked like me, and then also outside of the building, nobody looked like me. And so I don’t necessarily know if there was a support system there. I’d argue that there wasn’t and they’re trying to build it now to foster that individuality and that freedom of expression, but it forced me to build my own.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so in that way, I would appreciate the experience of coming to Amazon, being able to live in Seattle, because it put me directly in line and maybe come face-to-face with who I am as a person, as a designer, especially as a man. And so it was like a forcing function. If I was half stepping in in who I wanted to be and how I wanted to show up, I couldn’t really do that there. And so there were a lot of things that I just started to think about differently life-wise once I started working at Amazon. More specifically, like my wellness, like self-care. I didn’t even get a therapist until I came to Amazon, which is odd, it’s super odd. That shouldn’t have been the case. I probably should have always had a sense of reflection or someone to help me process, but that stuff did not happen until I came to Seattle.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. We’ll talk about what brought you to Seattle and everything later, but I want to focus now on the work that you’re doing at Amazon. You said you’re an associate creative director when you’re working on Amazon products, devices I should say, Amazon devices. Amazon has been in the device game for a minute. I think everyone knows about the Kindle, but now there’s Echo, like you mentioned, there’s the Fire TV, there’s the Fire tablet. Amazon has also acquired other electronics companies. And so there’s wearables, there’s the ring security system, all this sort of stuff. There’s a lot that goes into devices at Amazon. Just like as broad as you can, and if you want to go into specifics, that’s fine, what are some creative considerations that you have to think about when it comes to Amazon devices because you’re really working with an entire ecosystem of tech here?

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. I would say at the center, there’s a leadership principle called customer obsession. Really without getting into too much jargon, essentially at the epicenter of any Amazon product or any Amazon device is this human focused, this human lens. Always creating product and always creating innovation with your audience in mind. And so anytime that I am getting ready to create a campaign or I’m getting ready to market a product, I always think about the audience that I’m trying to serve, because if I’m not thinking about that, then I’m probably being a terrible designer.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so I would say that one is that audience, but then also balancing that as you go through and you’re innovating from device to device, realizing how these technologies may create tension points. You want to look at like Echo Dot, for instance, the way that it functions is it very much so has to record. And so it’s constantly listening. It’s pinging to see if it’s being called every so often. And that’s why when you say the key phrase, Alexa, it’ll activate. And so how do I humanize technology like that? How do I humanize emerging technology to show people like, “Hey, this is new, this is novel, but it can fit within your day-to-day lifestyle and it can be a benefit to you”? And so that’s how I think about marketing any product with Amazon. What is the human entry point? What is the human lens? How does this product help serve the customer base and how does it help enhance their lifestyle?

Maxwell VanHook:
I worked on a product, a service within the Alexa app not too long ago, which is probably one of my proudest projects. It’s called Alexa Care. Essentially, it’s for the more senior, elder loved ones in your life. It allows people to stay in touch with those loved ones without infringing on their day-to-day lifestyle. Imagine you have a grandmother who’s 75, 80 years old. She lives by herself at home and you live maybe in another country or another state. How do you stay in touch with her? And so those are the types of products and that’s essentially how we would want any of the Amazon devices to show up. It needs to be a benefit, it needs to enhance, it needs to be brought into the life of our everyday customer and improve. If it’s not doing that, then we probably won’t make it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now that you mentioned, I’m thinking of other kind of Amazon devices. I think these might’ve been some that were discontinued. I remember at one point there was a… I think one was like a camera or a camera wand or something that went with Amazon wardrobe that would analyze your outfit. It reminded me of Clueless, like the opening scene in Clueless, where Cher is picking out her outfit on the computer and the closets got the dual conveyor belt curtains, or whatever, or the rods, or whatever, but thinking about like, “Is that really a benefit? Do I need to do all of that if I’m getting ready in the morning?” Probably not. I think Amazon discontinued it fairly shortly. But when you put it in that way of like the devices need to be a benefit, then I see why Amazon has made such a, I think, deep strides into the home with their devices.

Maurice Cherry:
The Echo is something that easily can blend in with your decor. The Fire TV it sits behind your TV, it’s out of sight. The ring it’s literally outside the house. You don’t really even see it. But the benefits that it adds, whether that’s security or extensibility or smart home functionality, stuff like that, it’s interesting how all of that still works together under the Amazon brand because now it, of course, ties into the services, it ties into Alexa, it ties into purchasing, or whatever that you want to do on the website.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. It’s really important to look at the ecosystem of devices that we have. I don’t even think there’s a lot of things that Amazon tries. I would say a year-over-year, we’ve increased our device output like 10 fold. I expect it to continue to grow and grow. Really, I think the goal is to provide through Alexa a service that can be personalized to the end user and can function in a way that benefits them specifically. I imagine a world… And these are not conversations that I’ve had with anyone in terms of how Alexa functions. But I imagine a world where there are no devices and potentially Alexa is integrated into the home itself.

Maxwell VanHook:
I could imagine like seeing a tiny home, it could start off there and it could just have Alexa integrated into. You don’t need to have these one-off devices in order to have it function. Imagine it already being built into the smart appliances, imagine it already being able to interface with your computer. You don’t need to have a suite of devices that ties into the Internet of things in order to function efficiently. That’s what I think is going on with most AIs. I think the overall goal is to arrive there and the device is just to open up new spaces and open up how customers relate to the voice assistance.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, because I imagine you get a ton of data with just seeing how people talk to Alexa, how they interact with the different devices, and then you can use that, of course, to upgrade the experience. But then as you said, you can venture off into greater implementations. Like I know there’s the Amazon Go store, which I think started in Seattle. I’m not sure if it’s started to spread nationwide yet, but it’s almost like a person list convenience store. You can go in, pick up what you need and walk out. As you’re doing this, you’re automatically being rung up, like the things that you’re buying are being tabulated, you’re charged when you walk out the door, and you don’t have to interact with a person. You just go in, do what you have to do, walk out.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. I think, if I’m not mistaken, not too long ago, and you probably find this online, they just opened up a full fledged grocery store here in Washington.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. I’m going to have to go check that out. Even like that concept, it’s interesting because it’s not like we haven’t tried that in history before. I look at the, on a smaller scale, like a lot of the grocery stores already have some form of self-checkout. But even the human psychology behind self-checkout, you look at it, realistically, if you were to assess how long it takes you to go into a store, get what you need and then go through the checkout line by yourself, it probably on average takes you a lot longer rather than having else. But it’s the thought that you are going to be a lot faster than that person who may be checking you out in line, which is interesting. But also even seeing Amazon try something like this and be relatively successful has a lot to do with studying the human behavior. But yeah, that’s not the first time in human history that we’ve we tried that before. [crosstalk 00:21:10].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, no, no, I’m thinking specifically of the automat, which has been around since like the late 1800s. When Amazon is doing at least in… if you look at from the automat to the Amazon Go store is essentially taking that same concept and almost treating the store like a vending machine and just having this layer of technology that handles interactions throughout the entire process.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah, no, it’s crazy to see. I remember the first time that I actually went into… because I work in Day 1, and for anyone who doesn’t know what Day 1, it’s one of the buildings. I believe it’s actually the building that Jeff Bezos is. And so within the verticals and the business orders that he cares about, they all exist in that building, with the exception of AWS, Amazon Web Services. I remember when I first went into that store and it was such a weird thing. It was like coming from where I come from, just be able to use an app, walk in and walk out, and I stopped myself and I was like, “Am I like really…” It’s almost like you feel like you’re about to steal something like, “Am I really allowed to walk out with this?” Yeah, but it’s interesting in that I think as they become more successful with the rollout of the stores, yeah, you’re going to see a lot more of it.

Maurice Cherry:
I can see Amazon coming out with like the Amazon house of tomorrow. You know what I mean? It’s almost like those old Tex Avery cartoons where you got all the machines and robots doing stuff. It’s so interesting because these are concepts… Just this whole thing about home automation, for example, we’ve been fed that for like 50 years now. The Flintstones and all those little animals and shit doing stuff for them in the cave, we’ve been fed this whole thing about having the house work for us instead of us working in the house for such a long time. And so now you’ve got a company like Amazon that’s able to really do that through their devices. Other companies have gotten on this too, but I feel like Amazon was really one of the first to really do deep penetration into the home largely because I think it was tied to commerce.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah, no, I also think it’s so interesting to see the exponential growth of technology and the rate of change and the rate of innovation and technology. I’m sure that you’ve watched Black Mirror.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. And so I remember the first season and I was like, “Oh, some of the things that are happening in this series, like the grain, the grain where you can run back all your memories, that’s super far away.” And then season-by-season, I think I realized by the third season, I’m like, “No, these are things that can happen now.” And so I’m looking back because I always feel as though like art imitates life. I think we seed ideas within the consciousness of society and then some person out there will have the goal or have the genius to make it. And now, I think we’re at a crossroads where it’s like, “All right, you put that into the world, I can make that tomorrow.”

Maxwell VanHook:
And so yeah, I think you’re 100% right. We’re going to look probably within the next few years, there will probably be some sort of smart home that will have all this integrated tech. I think we’re at a stage where that next technological revolution, if it’s not already here, it’s getting ready to come underway. It’s pushing up against our beliefs about identity in how we think about ourselves. Going back to Black Mirror, that episode about VR and video games, I forget the actors that were in it, but…

Maurice Cherry:
Is this from the latest season, the Striking Vipers?

Maxwell VanHook:
Yes, Striking Vipers.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah.

Maxwell VanHook:
That was so interesting to me because it introduced a new topic, because that technology is not far away. It’s right around the corner. I want to say not to get too graphic, but there are streaming websites that people probably sit or shouldn’t be going to that get a lot of data and they have invested and have given seed money to companies who are creating bodysuits that can sense like AR/VR touchpoints and mimic haptic feelings throughout the body if you’re wearing these suits. And so, yeah, like seeing an episode like that and knowing… because I pay attention to angel investors, I’ll pay attention to what people are doing in the market, knowing that there are websites who want that technology and are spending money in order to make it happen means that that conversation may not be that far down the line. And that to me, it’s somewhat terrifying, but it’s also really interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, I totally get what you’re saying. I didn’t even think you were going to go that way with it. But now that you’ve mentioned it, I can see that. I was thinking more so about like now how… A couple of weeks ago I had this guy on the show, Brandon Groce, and we were talking about the metaverse and about how there are online personalities, YouTubers, podcasters, et cetera, that have a virtual realish avatar, like a VTuber or something like that. We’re starting to see it on YouTube, for example, people that have these online-ish identities that are getting some level of fame. There’s Dream, there’s Corpse Husband, there’s probably a few other folks. It’s like these are real people. No one knows who they are, what they look like, but they’ve presented this digital 3D avatar of themselves. They’re able to use that to, I guess, be themselves online in some sort of way. But to go back to what you said with the Black Mirror portion, I do see how that’s not too far away at all. Between augmented reality and things of that nature, it’s pretty close.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. Even what you just said, I love to unpack that even more, because in a sense, it’s the most ideal version of yourself. That’s what I think in a real way because I’m conflicted about social media and how it’s used, but you curated. A lot of people do not give this holistic presentation. It’s not like a direct one-to-one to your everyday life experiences. Yeah, you just amplify that and then now I can actually physically choose what I look like. If I want to be part animal, part human, or if I want to be a cyborg, I can do that. And now, we’re all in ready player one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely.

Maxwell VanHook:
I can imagine that that’ll happen. Yeah, not too long from now. I feel like I’m watching kids now and at least my… I have a godson and he constantly in his video games. If he’s not in his video games, he’s watching streamers. I hear you on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s switch gears here a little bit. I know we’ve been talking about your work at Amazon. One of the other things that you do is that you are a co-host of a show on Instagram called Designing While Black. Tell me about that.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. I think Bekah and I met in my first year at Amazon. And so Bekah is my co-host. What we realized is that internally there were no spaces for designers to come together, meet politic, learn from one another, and generally just have a social bond that feels like support. We wanted to change that. And so we got together. I want to say one day, we went to a mini golf session and we sent out a blast. We expected like five people to show up. I think like over 30 people showed up. So now, we realize like, “Oh, there’s a community within Seattle that we really, really need to access.” That’s where black designers of Seattle came from, just trying to create a space where black designers who may feel other, who may feel like there’s no one who shares the same interest or even walks in the same spaces that they do. There is a social circle out there that they can access.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so a lot of the times like when we were starting to have these gatherings, we weren’t talking about design at all. We were just having fun. We would go, pick a place, we would eat, and we would just fellowship. And then we slowly started to shift that and it became a little bit more educational. We started to bring people in like Tim Allen, I believe you had Tim Allen on your show.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), from Airbnb, yup.

Maxwell VanHook:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). We brought in Jessica Rochelle, Timothy Bardlavens. And so we were bringing in these different people who were really able to share knowledge, share their experience, and uplift the designers within our community. And then we were getting reached out to from agencies or other bigger tech companies because they wanted to host us in the space and then the pandemic hit and then things started to take a bit of a low. We try to figure out how to navigate the new world and the new situation that COVID presented to us.

Maxwell VanHook:
One of the things that we thought about was having a Zoom. But then outside of that Zoom, because we were specifically talking to designers within Seattle, we were really, really interested in being able to reach a larger audience. And within that larger audience, really speak to emerging designers. People who are either in middle school, high school, college, and wanting to walk in the same spaces that we’re currently walking. And it’s like, “How can we reach out to them? How can we give them content that can encourage them and allow them to know that there are people out here who look like them and are doing this work?” Because I firmly believe like if you don’t see yourself, then you may not believe it’s possible.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so that’s where Designing While Black came from. We spent a lot of time thinking about it, scrutinizing it, trying to design out the materials in the brand and a bunch of different ways. One day, Bekah and I just sat down and like, “We’re just going to do it, do it. We’re going to get out within a week, we’re going to bring on…” I think our first guest was Alyssa Johnson, “and we’re just going to keep going every week, short form content, bringing the people that we know and make sure that this gets in the hands of the right people.” And so uplifting those stories and disseminating them to the people that can access those younger folk who want to be creative and want to do design professionally, that’s our main goal.

Maxwell VanHook:
As COVID restrictions start to lessen and we get back to peopling again, our goal is to get right back into those physical spaces and those physical venues, and then maybe we can start to do those shows in a more brand way. But that’s where it started. I think her and I really, really believe in education and we both stand on the shoulders of the people that came before us. Like I specifically, one of my design mentors was in my church. I know that that’s not like a common story to have a professional graphic designer who can talk to you at the age of 14, 15 and guide you. But I want to give back to other people what he gave to me. That was the overall goal of just doing the IG Live show.

Maurice Cherry:
What have you learned since starting the series?

Maxwell VanHook:
One, I’ve learned that there are some magical black folk out there, real like, “You start to like.” You’ll sit down with some people and you think that you have a full understanding of everything that they’ve done. And when you sit down and you have a conversation with them and you really have to assess and dive deep into their life and their work, you start to realize like, “Yo, there are black people who are innovators in every single type of design that you could think of.” And that’s really encouraging to me, especially in the spaces that I travel. But I think the biggest thing is that like, “Yo, we’re killing it out here. We’re killing it out here, and not just when it comes to being like a director or a VP or an executive.”

Maxwell VanHook:
I met a young woman the other day, her name was Kiwi. She’s currently in school. But she was a producer on MasterClass. Yeah, and she has spent time producing for films. She just completely shifted and decided that she wanted to become an instructional, or she wanted to become not only like an instructional designer, but industrial designer more so. That’s probably like the most amazing thing like being able to meet people who have had just so many different types of experiences in life and aren’t afraid to try new things. That probably is the biggest thing that I’ve learned. I do want to ask you, as you were building out your platform, what probably is the biggest roadblock that you faced just in terms of making sure that, one, it was reaching the people that you wanted it to reach?

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a good question. I think it was two things. One was really me trying to get out of my own way. I think I certainly was trying to do, especially early on, a lot of partnering up with other entities to try to reach an audience that I just didn’t have yet. I should have been spending that time really cultivating the audience that I did have, like the ones that I knew were listening and were leaving reviews and stuff. Instead, I would try to talk to another design podcast or another design organization and see if there’s ways that we could work together and do some stuff. Oftentimes the answer to that would be no answer. It just wouldn’t go anywhere, even though I’m reaching out.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s probably been a big roadblock. To be fair, I’d say money is a continual roadblock. But in those early days, there wasn’t really a whole lot that I really needed that money for in terms of I think I wanted to have it as a status symbol to myself that I’ve created something that companies will pay me for. And of course, I would use it for operational resources and stuff like that. But I spent way too much time trying to chase sponsors and chasing audience I didn’t have and I should have been really focusing inward on cultivating the audience I do have and making them really rabid fans of what I’m trying to do that can see the vision that I see. I would have done that. Because yeah, in those early days, there was… I’ll say this, it was certainly not as progressive as it is now, not by a long shot.

Maurice Cherry:
When I was reaching out to people in 2013 and 2014 there was a lot of, “Oh, we’re post-racial, we don’t do this sort of stuff anymore, et cetera, blah, blah, blah,” which then just made it difficult when people ideologically feel that the work that you’re doing for some reason is racist and it’s not. It’s like, “Oh, well, I don’t see why you would think that.” The tenor of the design community was not as open and accepting and as, I’d love to say the word woke, but it was not as woke now as it was back. Back then, people were really closed off to like, “No.” Now, it’s a lot more open. I think there’s a greater consideration and a greater perspective for what black designers are doing and what they can bring to the table and their voices and such.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. I want to think back to when I first discovered your podcasts. I think, for me, especially I was young. I was fresh in the design game. And so you don’t see a lot of examples of people have had robust careers. I probably didn’t meet too many people outside of my actual mentor who had decades worth of experience in design. And so being able to access your podcast reassured me that like, “Not only can I have a long career in this, but I can aspire to do great things.”

Maxwell VanHook:
And so, yeah, I just wanted to I appreciate the platform that you built in that sense because it does not only spread knowledge, but it also reinforces some things identity-wise within a young designer to know like, “Hey, there are people who are out there and there are people who are great and they’re killing it.” And so, yeah, I was really, really, really excited when I found the show. I don’t even remember how I found it. I can’t even remember how I found it. I may have been searching online. It probably was like Facebook back then. Yeah, I would just check in, listen and use it to build not only my knowledge of self and what was happening in these different spaces, but also to explore new territories.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’m certainly glad that you found it. It’s interesting because like I said, I’ve been doing this for such a long time. And oftentimes, it’s probably different with what you’re doing with Instagram because you have a live audience. But with podcasting, a lot of this is pretty solitary. I don’t really know how it’s being received unless someone leaves a review, or they write me an email, or they send a tweet, or send a DM on Instagram. Other than that, I’m just pushing episodes out into the void. I can see that they’re getting listened to and downloaded, but I don’t get that direct feedback. And that could just be honestly because of the medium. But yeah, no, I’m glad that you found Revision Path and that it was able to serve as an inspiration for you.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. I feel like we should give people flowers again maybe on the internet. We don’t do the best job of that, especially when you look good like the vacuum that is Instagram in the light system. But as I live and breathe, I just wanted to let you know that… And I definitely share your podcast with young designers and people that I mentor because I don’t want people to think it’s just me out here. I’m tired of that narrative. I’m tired of the narrative of being like, “Oh, I was the only one. I’m the only black designer that I know, I’m the only black designer for 100 miles.” Is exhausting. I don’t subscribe to it. I don’t want to hear it anymore.

Maxwell VanHook:
I also want to change the narrative in terms of how people of color relate to design because I tend to think that the way that you think about something has to be vastly different than the way that another person thinks about something. And the way that you will build something is going to be vastly different than the way that someone else will build it. I think inherently, black people are designers. Even thinking about systems that were placed on us and how we’ve navigated around them, we’ve organized. We have created structures, we have created innovation and process to be able to by step roadblocks that have been placed in front of us.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so I think that that’s a part of your heritage, that’s a part of your legacy. I think if you want to be a designer, you can do that. It’s just a matter of sending your mind to it. And so I tell people that all the time, especially younger folks like, “This is a part of your ancestry, bro, you’ve been creating long before you were in existence. It’s in your blood. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s not.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Speaking of ancestry and going back, I want to go back to where you grew up. You’re originally from Baltimore, born and raised. Tell me about what it was like growing up there. Did you feel like you got a lot of exposure to art and design as a kid?

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. Both my parents are like… We’re really supportive of the arts. My dad, he forced me to take drama classes oddly enough. He came to me one day after school and was like, “You’re signing up for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. You have an audition two days from now.” And then my mom would make sure that during the summers and after school, I was doing some sort of arts and crafts. Baltimore has this program called TWIGS. It’s attached to this high school called Baltimore School of the Arts. And so when I would leave my middle school, I would just take a bus there. And so I’m learning foundational principles of traditional art. And also from year-to-year, I’m switching off. Maybe one year I’m doing more traditional art practices and then the next year I’m learning how to act.

Maxwell VanHook:
And then that evolved. As I started getting a little bit more focused, my mom would take me to MICA. Even in middle school, I was able to get a lot of exposure to institutions that existed within Baltimore that solely focused on art. And then when I went to city, city is… I’ll say it’s the best high school that exists within Baltimore, but they have a program called International Baccalaureate. That allowed me to get a little bit more focused when it came to how I was telling my stories through art.

Maxwell VanHook:
I had some teachers who were just really, really helpful and set the foundation for how I wanted to express myself. And one day, one of those teachers came up to me and was like, “You know that you could do this as a career.” I was like, “Huh, I didn’t really think about that.” This was just something I would do when I was just chilling or late at night or when I have free time. And so once he expressed that to me… because I was going to go to school for communications, which would have been really, really bad. But I had made the connection that what you’re probably passionate about, you should follow that. You should figure out how to do that as much as you can.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so what they saw in me, they really, really poured into me. And then I talked to my mentor and he opened up that lens a little bit more and he was like, “Hey, you could go to school for graphic design. But I see something different happening in the space. And so you’re going to need more than one skill when you graduate from school. He’s like, “Don’t do graphic design.” He’s like, “There are programs out there now that will teach you those principles, but you need to be more in the digital space.” That’s how I ended up majoring in multimedia and I got crazy amount of exposure to different things.

Maxwell VanHook:
I want to say we were doing physical computing. I was messing with Arduino boards, trying to figure out how I could trigger light within a physical space, doing sound production, messing with middies, a bunch of stuff like video production, pretty much all the different types of design and art forms that you could think of. I just had so much freedom, I think. Out of all the majors in that school, we had the most electives. It was wonky. I want to say like three to four years after I left, they shut it down. Yeah, they just rolled it into graphic design.

Maxwell VanHook:
But even that was indicative of the fact that graphic design as a major or as an industry had changed, and we were using new terms and I had no idea what a user experience designer was, but also those lines hadn’t been defined yet. But to go back to Baltimore, that’s my heart and soul. Even though I’m in Seattle right now, the goal is to always return back to it. It’s taught me a lot, is where I get my grip from, is where I get my perseverance from. It’s the place where I learned to be me. And so me and my wife, we’re here in Seattle now, but the goal is always to go back home.

Maurice Cherry:
Now growing up in Baltimore and everything and with what you’ve just described, when did you know that this was something you really wanted to do for a living? Did it click at any point growing up?

Maxwell VanHook:
When did I know that this was something I wanted to do for a living? It’s really odd, but it was probably my senior year of college because I wasn’t really sure how viable a design career was. I was going back and forth and as I was starting to get closer to graduation, I was having some apprehension. It was like, “Do I just go get a master’s degree?” Both of my parents have master’s degrees and they’re both educators. I just thought that that was the path. And then my senior year, I had a teacher… It’s interesting. He led our whole program. I had him like freshman year and he leaned on me. He’s like, “You don’t understand any of these programs.” He’s like, “You have great vision, but you can’t execute on any of your visions because you don’t have the technical knowledge.”

Maxwell VanHook:
And then I had him again in my senior year and he did the exact same thing, except it was a different message. He was like, “You could be so great.” He was like, “You could be so, so great.” He was just yelling at me. I could see this passion in his eyes. I’m seeing all my other classmates and they’re walking in with projects that are half thought out, or they did the night before. He’s just letting them come in and out, come in and out. What you said to me is like, “You’re not the same as them.”

Maurice Cherry:
In a good way or a bad way?

Maxwell VanHook:
In a good way, in a good way. He’s like, “That’s why I’m yelling at you.” He’s like, “I can see you doing this for the rest of your life.”

Maurice Cherry:
And so that really set you on that path. Yeah.

Maxwell VanHook:
It set me on that path because I woke up and was like, “Oh, do I need to get a master’s? Why am I going to get a master’s degree?” I lit fire within me because I didn’t have that confidence yet. There was nothing saying that I was meant to do design full-time, there was nothing saying that I was going to work at Under Armour, there was nothing saying I was going to be where I am now. And that teacher, yeah, it came full circle. Like first year, lit a fires like, “Oh, you got to learn these programs.”

Maxwell VanHook:
And then it was like my last year. I still remember this man. His name’s Chris Garvin. Yeah, just leaned on like… just yelled at me and would not do it to anyone else at all. But I think I saw him maybe like five or six years after that because my brother ended up going to that school and I thanked him, because there’s a level of care. You need a support system of people who are going to hold you accountable, but also people who see you as greater than what you see yourself as. That was important for me. But yeah, that’s when the switch turned. That’s when it turned and I was like, “Oh, I can do this, I can do this. I can see myself as a designer professionally.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And speaking of which right after you graduated, you ended up working at Under Armour and you stayed there for what? Six years pretty much?

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. That’s an interesting story. I want to say I was up late at night once Saturday evening, probably like Sunday morning, around twelve o’clock in the morning. I’m on Craigslist. I’m just applying for anything. I have my busboy job. I’m like, “I got to pay off these loans quick as possible. I’m working as many shifts as I can. I’m not trying to live in my parents’ house forever.” And so I’m like come across this ad that says, “Oh, we have a contract position for a designer working with a sports organization within Baltimore.” I’m like, “Hmm, what could that be?” I was like, “Could it be the Orioles? Probably not. Could it be Baltimore Blasts? I don’t know.” I was like, “It’s not going to be Under Armour. They would just have it posted on their site.”

Maxwell VanHook:
Got a call probably… I’m in church. I got call around nine o’clock. Someone leaves a voicemail. It’s like, “Hey, we want you to come in tomorrow, take a test.” Still don’t know what it is. Go in, fail the test. Yeah, failed the test. There’s an old version of Photoshop that I’ve never used before. Completely different set up. I think around that time it was like CS3. There might be like CS1 or something like that and they still send me in. They send me in. I’m at the door. At this point in time, my parents are telling me like, “No, the only way you get the job, dress up suit and tie, blah, blah, blah.”

Maxwell VanHook:
I have a suitcase on, I have a suitcase, Maurice. I have a suitcase. I pull my portfolio out of a suitcase. This a woman, she comes and she gets me. The first thing that she says to me, she was like, “Don’t worry, you got this.” The person interviewing me, comes like, “You got this.” I don’t know what she saw in me. She was like, “You got this. This is yours.” This is as someone else’s walking out. I know that they’re interviewing other people. But yeah, I ended up getting the job. I walk away from that interview, by the time I catch the boat back across the harbor in order to go home, I get a call and saying, “Hey, they want to bring you in.”

Maxwell VanHook:
What started as a contract position evolved into a six-year career with Under Armour. They were a fledgling team. I worked on the e-commerce team there, really supportive people. It was a blessing because I got a lot of experience that typically contractors don’t get. I was able to work in their custom CMS. I got to see how you grow a business, how you grow a platform. We essentially went from just supporting ua.com to looking at the whole digital consumer journey. It was like ua.com and then now all of a sudden it’s emails, it’s social paid and organic, it’s apps. I’m looking even at designing for touchscreens within retail stores.

Maxwell VanHook:
I was only like 23 years old. And then we go from there and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Hey, we got all these different channels that we need to marketing now. The brand team can’t support all of these. You all need to figure out how to extend these stories.” That’s when the art direction experience comes in. And so now I’m in studio and I’m internalizing these products and figuring out how to craft stories and narratives around them that are compelling, and not only tell the technology story, but then also give that emotional and aspirational lens to the product.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so I’m started off in studio and that was a really good experience, and then now all of a sudden it’s like, “Hey, can you go on location? Can you scout places? Can you work with athletes? Can you put them through training regiments?” I got a lot of crazy experiences from that. I got to meet Steph Curry while I was working at Under Armour. I got to work with him on set. That was key for me. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything because that’s where I learned how to really fly in, like really be a leader. They allow me to pitch ideas. No, they didn’t accept all my ideas, but they allowed me to take chances there. I really appreciated that.

Maxwell VanHook:
No matter how many times things may have not gone perfectly, they always gave me another chance to push my ideas. And that also gave me a lot of confidence. I probably wouldn’t do what I do now if I hadn’t worked there and worked around the people that I worked around. There was a lot of black leadership. When I was there, there was a lot of black leadership at Under Armour. Like Adrienne Lofton, she’s a black CMO, Julian Duncan, he now works with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a CMO, but he was a director, Thomas Harden, Ernie Talbert, he works here at Amazon with me, Tai Foster. These were the people giving me the opportunities. These are all black people. Like that, that matters. Looking back on it, that was a blessing for me. That was really, really key because I would say the majority of designers who enter into professional workplace don’t get that level of support.

Maurice Cherry:
No, absolutely not. I’ve had a number of folks here on the show and like… There are some that will go into agencies and agencies may have some kind of apprenticeship type setup or something like that. But it’s rare to go into a real corporate design space, like I’m sure Under Armour was, and still feel not just that supportive, but then also to have that many black creatives around you supporting you as well.

Maxwell VanHook:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), and opening up the budget for you to fully realize your idea. It wasn’t until I left Under Armour that I realized how special that environment was, kind of like when we were talking about like, “Yeah, I hold that near and dear to my heart,” because I realized that that’s not the case for everyone. I cherish that moment. I still have relationships with those people now.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to ask what prompted you to move out to the West Coast because you went to school at the university of arts in Philly and it sounds like this opportunity was it, like this was the reason you moved out there?

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. I had always wanted to live on the West Coast. Nothing’s like Baltimore. Baltimore is always… will be my home. I love it like I said earlier. But I feel like when you put yourself in new spaces, that’s when you learn new things about yourself. And so I like being uncomfortable because I firmly believe that it leads to expansion. And so a part of going to the West Coast was about not falling into this sense of like comfort and familiarity with my environment. I just knew I got to a point probably when I was like around 26 where I was like, “This feels amazing. I feel like I know everything. I’m starting to feel like at work. I don’t have to try as hard. I don’t have to exert myself as much.” And that’s when I knew I had to go.

Maxwell VanHook:
I was like, “I made a plan.” I was like, “I have to go. Because if I stay here, there’s the potential that I plateau.” And so I set up a plan for myself. West Coast was the ultimate goal, but I teared it out. It was like, “Getting to California, number one. Number two, we stay at Under Armour and then we go to Amsterdam.” I lined that up. Number three was going to be like even moving to Virginia. Yeah, because I was just like, “I need to have some new experiences.” That’s really what drove it, having new experiences, being in new environments. Living in Philly gave me a little bit of a taste, but also both of my parents are from Pennsylvania. My dad is from North Philly. Then Philly was like a second home to me.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so even though I was away, I wasn’t ever really away. I wanted that experience, I wanted that moment. That’s ultimately like it landed me in the bay with Athleta, which is a part of Gap. But yeah, I didn’t even stay… I loved Athleta. They had a wonderful environment, completely different than Under Armour. They were way more focused on empowering women. And then also it was more so from like a wellness lens, but then I got that opportunity you with Amazon. Once again, it was someone who believed in me so much so that a position that I did not even apply for, they wanted me to come and work with them.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so I got a call from… He’s not my hiring manager anymore, but I got a call from a man named Kay Tran, a Vietnamese man. He’s like, “I know that you exist as a designer right now, but I think that you could be way bigger than that.” It was like a costume theme within the experiences and the interactions that I’m having. He was like, “I think you can be an art director.” He was like, “I think you can lead these projects. I know that you have no experience in tech, but I’ll support you and I’ll work with you.”

Maxwell VanHook:
He held true to that. He held true to that. I owe a lot of my success here to the support that he provided me initially at Amazon. And that also set the foundation for me wanting to create the spaces with Bekah that we’ve created so far. But yeah, and he reached out to me, called me, told me to come up here, gave me the lowdown on how it would be. I remember that one of the first calls that we had, he was like, “I used to live in the Bay.” He’s like, “Seattle is not the Bay at all. So be prepared for that.” I think it’s worked out for me, it’s worked out for me, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
It certainly sounds like it has. I can tell. When you look back at your career and you’ve dropped a few names throughout this interview, but who are some of the people that have inspired you? Any mentors or colleagues?

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. First and foremost, one of the people that inspires me the most, I’ll go to my first mentor, that Sean Cunningham, the man that I met at my church, a professional graphic designer over 20 years. He worked in agency life and he really, really took me aside. He would spend time with me on Sundays, on the weekends showing me how you craft a portfolio. Because I think a lot of times, kids can think that they’re putting their work together and they have a bunch of pretty pictures, but they don’t have any story behind it. There may not be any depth. And me having access to him, he started to mold me and shape me and pull back the curtain. He was one of the people that really blocked down field for me, because if he wouldn’t have spent that time with me, who knows if I’m in the same space that I’m in? Sean Cunningham would definitely be a really, really big one for me.

Maxwell VanHook:
In terms of other mentors, definitely I have to give… My parents are really, really keen and influential in my life. And so a lot of the principles that I have… I do think that this relates to the design as well. My parents are extremely empathetic. I don’t believe that you can be a good designer if you do not have empathy. If you’re just out here making decisions and building products and doing work solely because you think it looks good or solely because you think you’re making the right decision and you’re not considering the people that you are doing it for, then it’s all for nothing.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so one of the sayings that exists within my church is, “It’s all about relationship or ain’t about nothing.” My parents are the embodiment of that. And so they pass that empathy along to me and that’s how I like to show up. And not just in how I think about my work, but also how I relate to people. Those would probably be my key mentors. Of course, like all the people that I currently fellowship with now, even though back in [inaudible 01:04:11] like relatively like the same age, I think being in contact with her has been a form of mentorship for me. John as well. John has been huge for me, especially in these past couple of months, just in like owning your agency and owning how you want to show up for people and making sure that you do it with a spirit of service. Those would be my mentors, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you obsessed with right now?

Maxwell VanHook:
Okay, this is a side thing. I’m absolutely obsessed with how the market is changing currently, like how it’s peered into the social conscious of millennials specifically. I’m seeing this stuff that’s going on with AMC and hedge funds and Citadel. And for whatever reason, that really interests me. It’s like this story of fighting against the man and government agencies and little people banding together. Outside of that, I’m really, really, really into vinyls. I’m copying a different vinyl every other week. I’m searching, going in different spaces. That probably consumes a lot of my time. I’m trying to look to see if I can get a new credenza soon. We were just talking about getting rid of furniture. That’s going to be a big purchase for me. I don’t even know if it’s like 350 anymore. We’re probably approaching over 400.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah, I got more [crosstalk 01:06:01].

Maurice Cherry:
You got storage for it and everything?

Maxwell VanHook:
No, man, I don’t even know. Yeah, I had a credenza and I thought it’d be big enough and then I filled it up. So there’s probably about 150 of the vinyls that are either in the crate or they’re on a shelf. I need to create a storage space specifically for it. But even past that, I have to go home and probably grab like another 500 or 600. My dad called me because I think it was a little bit of a test. They allowed me to go into the storage and grab my uncle’s records because that’s really why it’s important to me. It’s kind of twofold. It serves as this design inspiration. You look at these covers and the sleeves and how they put everything together, is like a master’s class in design.

Maxwell VanHook:
You look at some of the type, the color palettes, the photography, and the composition, it boggles my brain. You don’t know all the people who have done these things. Some of these people are hard to find, they’re dead. You can have someone in present day who can say like, “Oh, that was my great grandfather who did this cover for The Spinners.” That’s really interesting to me because you’re actively discovering things with a sense of duality. Not only from this perspective of looking at it as a creative, but then also musically. Not just like discovering new sounds, but like, “I am learning things about my family and my uncle Candy, specifically, in terms of his tastes.” I’ve never met the man, almost like him and I are having a conversation through the music and I can take that to my dad.

Maxwell VanHook:
For me, it’s been really good, especially in contrast to what you get with streaming services because this is way more passive with streaming services. They serve it up to you, they give it to you and you just consume it. I know that you have to be active. You got to look through it, you have to touch it, you got to look at those songs, you got to look at their artists and then you have to put it on the turntable. And then once that side A is done, you got to flip it over to that side B. There’ve been fascinating things that have shown up in that vinyl collection. I’m like, “I got an original test pressing of a snake fundraiser concert.”

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah, it’s wild. I got to figure out how to… Yeah, I got to figure out how to get that into the right hands because I feel like I personally shouldn’t own it. I feel like it should be in a museum somewhere. But yeah, it’s a part of my family history and I want to keep it intact and establish a library around it where I can give it to my kids, God willing.

Maurice Cherry:
Something like that ends up being really like a family heirloom, but it’s something that you keep continually adding to and diversifying and curating and everything. That sounds amazing.

Maxwell VanHook:
It’s been a good discussion starter, or just catalyst for how I talk to different family members because a lot of them have at some point in time come across this collection or have contributed to it in some way, shape or form, like even the snake record that I have, which has a speech from Jesse Lewis on it, and that original test pressing came by way of my aunt’s old boyfriend because he used to help him disseminate those vinyls and sell them for the fundraiser. I can talk to her and then get the background and the story behind that and then also get her other stories. She used to work for the Schomburg Center. She used to be a part of Freedom Rides citizens. And so that’s what these vinyls have done for me, where it was like, “All right, this is a really, really interesting piece. Where did this come from?” And then all of a sudden I’m getting a story around like how it was made and then all the experiences that are connected to it. And now, I’m learning more about my aunt, Roberta.

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

Maxwell VanHook:
I think in the short-term, I’ve leaned more into the visual side of design. There’s a people focused in that, especially working for Amazon. Data is super key. But I want to get more into the product side. Especially with what I’m seeing in a lot of the technology that’s being created, there are inherent biases that exists. And so when you’re designing, you have to design with those problems in mind. If the room of designers that you have are largely white, the same issues that exist within society and exists within the world, probably going to exist within that product.

Maxwell VanHook:
And so I’m like, “Hey, maybe we need to take a step back from visual design and get more into product and user experience. And with that, get a better understanding of how people are interacting with the products and how these systems are set up, how we can decolonize those, in a sense.” I have a lot of different thoughts about how we think about accessibility. All right. Traditionally, accessibility is like people who may be hard of hearing, people who may not be able body. But I also think that race may be a component of accessibility as well. And so I don’t fully understand why we divorce those things. And so I just want to do more of a foray into that space so I can figure out how to set up structures that will be more encompassing of people who look like me.

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

Maxwell VanHook:
Yeah. You can find me on Instagram @maxwellvanhook, and you can also find me on Instagram as well @designingwhileblack. Either of those, feel free to follow me, feel free to reach out to me also. If you are looking to get into design, if you want to politic, or if you just want to share your passion about design and your experience, I’d love to connect with people.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Maxwell VanHook, I want to thank you so much, one, for coming on the show, but two, I think it’s obvious from anyone that’s listening up to this point that you bring such a deep level of passion and introspection to your work. You’re a very thoughtful designer that really takes a lot of considerations into account when it’s not just about the work that you’re doing, but also the impact that it’s going to have on people and on communities and such. I think this was just such a great interview, such a great introduction of you to the Revision Path audience. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Maxwell VanHook:
No, thank you for having me. It was great actually being able to talk with you and, yeah, meeting you. I feel like I’ve listened to you so much over the years. Finally getting down to talking with you has been somewhat surreal. Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to share this space with you.

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