Kojo Boateng

It’s Revision Path’s 350th episode, and for this special, historic occasion, I’m honored to talk with Kojo Boateng. You might remember our 2016 interview with Kojo (episode 125!), and we get into everything that’s changed in his world since then.

We started off talking about the transition period in his life that led him to move to the United States, and Kojo goes into his current work as a creative director for PBS News Hour. He also shared some of the community work he’s doing in the DC design scene, including creating safe spaces for Black designers to fellowship and network. Kojo also spoke about the effect hip hop has had on his design work, and talked about how he’s staying motivated and inspired during these current times.

Thanks to all of you for helping us get to this huge milestone!

Sponsor

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

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

You might not think of Memphis, Tennessee as a bustling creative city, but folks like Ed Williams are here to show you the truth. By day, he works as a creative manager at the National Civil Rights Museum, helping shape the brand design and strategy for the museum for all its visitors. But by night, he is the founder of Mayke Entertainment, and creates comic stories with culturally-rich superheroes from all walks of life!

We started off with some quick talk about Ed’s museum work, and from there we went into a conversation about Memphis’ design scene and then learned how Ed turned his talent for art into a career in design. He also shared how he’s holding up during this pandemic, and gave a behind-the-scenes look at Mayke Entertainment and what’s coming up in the future. Give this episode a listen and learn about what Ed Williams brings to the creative community!

Sponsor

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

Carolyne Hill

Revision Path is back across the pond this week for a rousing conversation with creative director Carolyne Hill. She is the founder of ChillCreate, a lifestyle brand that celebrates creative living and the choice to create happiness where you can.

Carolyne shared her inspiration behind starting the brand, which grew out of her love for Brixton and the Afro-Caribbean culture there. Carolyne also spoke about her time here in the United States, gave her thoughts on diversity in the UK creative community, and talked about her current work as a graphic design lecturer at Ravensbourne University! Carolyne’s creativity shines in everything she does, and I think you’ll agree after listening to this interview!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Carolyne Hill:
Hi there, my name is Carolyne Hill. I’m a creative director. I’m a specialist in branding and I have my own brand called ChillCreate and I’m a designer. I’m an all around creative.

Maurice Cherry:
What was your impetus behind starting ChillCreate?

Carolyne Hill:
So it’s something I’ve always wanted to do from when I was a little girl and I got to a point in my career, I was the director, art director, creative director of a design firm and that was my goal from when I started out in my design career. And I got to this goal and I was just really bored and I wasn’t really feeling the type of clients I was working for anymore. I wanted to do something different. And to be honest, I was even questioning whether I wanted to be a designer anymore. So I went off traveling, I took some time out, explored a bit, went full hippy, went off with a camera and a sketchbook. And when I came back, I just had some designs, some ideas, which were a lot more just completely different to anything else I’ve ever done. And it was a print. I ended up making some fabric and experimenting with a few products, which I got a friend to make for me. And that was the birth of ChillCreate. I basically wanted to start a fashion brand.

Maurice Cherry:
So what is sort of an average day like for you these days with ChillCreate?

Carolyne Hill:
Well, at the moment ChillCreate has kind of taken a back burner because although that’s there, it’s online, it’s ticking away, online sales still happen. Last year, I had to focus a lot more on my branding side of things to actually pay the bills as, I don’t know if you know, but yeah, as a creative, you often have the balance between the work that is your passion and the work that pays the bills.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely.

Carolyne Hill:
So ChillCreate is my passion and the work that pays the bills is my branding work. So I’m an independent design consultant. I help people build their brands, their communications, that type of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. How do you go about sort of choosing the types of clients and projects that you work with?

Carolyne Hill:
Well, I’ve been really lucky thus far. I’ve been an independent creative now for three years and I haven’t actually had to go out looking for work. So my way of getting work is through networking. I like socializing. I like being out and meeting people, so it’s really old school. But I get my business cards out, I chat to people, I tell them what I do and I get my clients that way. But I have to say I’m now in the process of actually beginning to think, “Right. How do I now choose the type of clients going forward?” I think trying to find clients which I can believe in what they do is really important to me.

Maurice Cherry:
And I guess they would also have to mesh with sort of, well, if you’re coming to them as a brand consultant and they might, I guess they’re like at the beginning stages of their business or does it really matter?

Carolyne Hill:
I do have people at that beginning stage of their business and that tends to be kind of start-up entrepreneurs. They are super excited and great and have super amounts of passion, but they don’t necessarily have big budgets. So the type of clients that I like to try and work with more are people that are perhaps already on the road with their own entrepreneur side of their business, they’ve probably been doing it for some time and now they’re trying to take it to the next level. They’re trying to step it up so they’ve already got their brand. They’ve already got their philosophies, but they now need time and help to hone in on their key values, strategies and identities.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. At work, we just wrapped up. We just wrapped up and launched a project last month where we use, it was a independent branding agency, I think kind of similar to what you’re doing with ChillCreate, and it was amazing just kind of seeing how precise they were with asking all these questions and really making sure to get to the root of what the brand was about that we wanted to build. It wasn’t just, “Oh, make us a pretty style guide.” It was what are the values and everything that go into it, which I thought was pretty cool.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah, I think it’s so important. For me, it makes the design process easy because sometimes if you’ve got a client who just wants you to make them a pretty logo, something that looks nice, I can go off, I can create a pretty logo. Yeah, but then they come back, “Oh, it’s not quite right. It doesn’t pop.” You know, the classic it doesn’t pop. But if you work with the client and you then start to understand their values, where they’re coming from, who they want to attract, then it really hones in on the actual style, the content, the philosophy, and it then becomes really easy to work with the client developer relationship where you both have an identity or project at the end which everybody’s really happy with.

Maurice Cherry:
When it comes to approaching a new project, what’s your process like?

Carolyne Hill:
I think to start with, it would be to sit down with the clients, have an open discussion about what it is they hope to achieve and I take them through kind of a brand strategy process that I used to use a lot when I was working for these other agencies. It’s where you build up a set of values, you then build up to the next stage. So it’s like a pyramid chart where you build up from the values, to the promise, all the way up to the brand essence. And then once you’ve got these things, you’ve got essentially without the actual design, you’ve got the brand. And then from there we go through sort of imagery search and creative stages of designing, feedback, and then applications. So it’s quite a straightforward process.

Maurice Cherry:
Are there any companies or clients out there that you would love to collaborate with?

Carolyne Hill:
Oh goodness. I guess I think for me, I actually asked, I’ve started lecturing recently and I actually asked my students this question just the other day. And while I asked them, I felt myself, “Who would I like to collaborate with? What would be the ideal, the most amazing project?” I think for me it would be, I’ve worked perhaps this year a bit more on my own personal graphic style and then I imagine that, I don’t know, [nightcore 00:08:08]. Somebody comes to me and says, let’s do a collaboration. I’m talking out of this world kind of ideals. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Well hey, put it out there in the universe. You never know.

Carolyne Hill:
You never know, right?

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

Carolyne Hill:
I think the hardest part for me is often working solo. I used to be the director, have a whole team, so I would have bosses above me. I had kind of strategy stuff on the left and then I had a whole team that I managed. And so going from that, basically being the boss, the middle person, and the person doing the running around, that has been one of the hardest challenges. And at times I have people to share the work with and other times I don’t. I sort of have to expand and contract, depending on the job. So that’s been quite a major challenge.

Maurice Cherry:
So let’s kind of switch gears here a bit. I know just from doing my research that you’re from London, right? You’re London proper.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. Born and bred.

Maurice Cherry:
Born and bred. What was it like growing up there?

Carolyne Hill:
I have very fond and happy memories growing up in London. I grew up in Brixton, which is South London, I guess the equivalent to stateside, massive might be like Brooklyn or something like that. So it’s a very Afro-Caribbean neighborhood with a lot of energy, a lot of vibe about it. And school and everything for me was great. I loved school, growing up in London was fun.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you know that art and design were things that you were interested in? Were you exposed to that a lot in Brixton?

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah, I was exposed to a lot from my parents. They were very creative parents themselves. They’re not creatives themselves, but they just have lots of creative friends, lots of artist friends. My grandmother was a painter and we used to go and visit her. She lived in Cheltenham, which is sort of just past Oxford and she’d have watercolor paintings going on the whole time. And I always wanted to be an artist. I think from a very young age, I was really excited when we’d go to galleries and look at art. I remember being about 10 years old and loving Andy Warhol exhibitions that my parents had taken me to. And of course lots of my parents friends were artists. So I’d grew up in this very creative community. So I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an artist or a designer or a fashion designer. And then yeah, I got to school and quite quickly I was kind of told, “Well, you don’t want to be a starving artist, Carolyne.”

Maurice Cherry:
Were your parents and family kind of supportive of you though, going that route?

Carolyne Hill:
Oh yeah, they were super supportive. I never had any problems in terms of convincing my parents that I was going to be an artist because I’d been saying it from when I was, like I said, about 10 years old, maybe younger even.

Maurice Cherry:
But at school you were hearing something different.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes, quite often at school you’re paired up with careers advisor. And I remember the careers advisors saying, “Well, I don’t know really about you being a designer or an artist. Maybe you should be a social worker, something a bit more achievable.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. Can you imagine?

Maurice Cherry:
I can’t imagine. When I was in high school, I had my guidance counselor at the time was always telling me that you need to learn a trade. And here in the States, learning a trade is blue collar work, like a mechanic or fixing air conditioner units or something like that. And now granted, I was valedictorian in high school. I graduated the top of my class. But she was like, “Well, just think about it. You might want to think about learning a trade or something because you never know. One day…” I’ll never know one day what, that doesn’t.

Carolyne Hill:
One day, what? Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah I was the same. I was top scorer in the school. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have been pushed to do exactly what we wanted to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And you went to the London College of Printing, which I said this before we recorded, I was like, “It sounds like a college for printing.” which seems like a very intensive thing to study. But what was your time like there?

Carolyne Hill:
It’s changed names now. It’s the London College of Communication because essentially the printing world is dead or depleted. But yeah, I guess it’s background, the London College of Printing was that it was an arts college, part of the London Institute, which focused on the kind of printing, publishing and arts, which then moved into digital. So I actually studied retail design and business management, which was actually an interior design degree for public and commercial spaces. So it was a mixture of sort of design, but also business and branding was very heavy, was a big part of it. So you had to both design the interiors, brand the interiors, and understand how you are going to make this commercially viable.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. That actually sounds like a really modern program. When I think about what a lot of schools try to teach, it’s more so just the design and not the business aspect of it.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. At the time, I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, the business side is so boring.” But actually, having left university when we only had access to computers one day a week, I kind of feel like everything I learned in university on the creative side was great. But as soon as I started the job, I was on the computer 24/7. So all this hand drawing skills that I learned, I never actually had to use in my job for a number of years. But the business side of things was very informative and I still kind of think about what we did learn and it was very good in that respect.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that’s really good. I mean we had back on the show, I think it was maybe about… God, I’ve been doing the show for seven years now. I think it’s been about two or three years ago, we had Douglas Davis who wrote this book about kind of the business of design, learning basically what you learned in college, learning the aspect of not just branding, but how do you design towards business goals. How do you keep those in mind while also still creating something that looks nice, that serves the client’s needs but is more than just a pretty thing?

Carolyne Hill:
Exactly. It’s the strategy. I think they changed the name of the course after I did it and they switched it around a bit. I’m not sure if they still combine the design with the strategic side anymore. But I remember there was one book which was really important at the stage. It was called the Design Agenda. It’s so old now, but that was like the course bible and it was basically brand strategy and design management.

Maurice Cherry:
And what did you say it was called? The design what?

Carolyne Hill:
The Design Agenda.

Maurice Cherry:
The Design Agenda. That sounds kind of sinister, but I kind of like it. The Design Agenda. No, I liked that a lot. So what were your first design jobs out of college. You graduated, you now have this not only design skill but the business skill. You’ve got the degree to back it up. What were those first design jobs like for you?

Carolyne Hill:
So my first job I got was designing for Tesco’s, which is one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and I got the job and I was super excited because it took me a while to get my first job and I said, “Great, thank you. I’ve got the job. Sorry, what is the job?” Because I didn’t actually know what the job I was applying for. They said, “Graphic designer.” And you just heard me say I actually graduated from an interior design degree. And that’s when I said, “Oh great. Yeah.” They said, “You can do that?” I was like, “Yeah.” I was just so happy to have a job. I wasn’t about to tell them that I’m not a graphic designer, I’m an interior designer. So I did it. I learned straight in at the deep end, designing for one of the UK’s largest supermarkets. I had to design buy one get one free messages, frozen food signage, just really boring till messages, anything and everything that you see on the kind of point of sales side within a supermarket.

Carolyne Hill:
That then gradually grew into being put in charge of whole departments, graphics, art direction for photo shoots of frozen food, being in charge of the entire UK’s carpark signage packages. So it was a fast paced agency, it was a massive agency. It was a sink or swim kind of situation and yeah, I went in, front stroke, swimming hard.

Maurice Cherry:
Well I think it’s good to kind of be in those sorts of situations because it pushes you to become a lot better I guess pretty quickly given how large Tesco is as a brand.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. You had to, you really had to deliver quickly. It was one of those agencies where you would work ’til sometimes midnight, two in the morning and you still had to be there at 9:00 AM. I learned a lot in that company. And I also learned straight away from my experience there that I didn’t want to work at another big agency like that again. So after that, I went to smaller agencies.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s amazing. I feel like the agency experience is universal. No matter who I talk to in any country about working for an ad agency or something like that, it’s the same type of breakneck speed or the same type of huge, just workload. That’s wow.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. I think you can handle it for a while and some people love that.

Carolyne Hill:
I think you can handle it for a while, and some people love that kind of vibe consistently.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think when you’re young it’s good, because you’ve got the energy to do that.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah, and you’ve got the fire to keep fighting and pushing back, constantly delivering. But I think I figured out very quickly that I didn’t really like working for other people.

Maurice Cherry:
So, you were doing these sort of small agency gigs. We spoke about this also before recording, that you worked even here, in the U.S., for a little bit. Just briefly, right? In New York City?

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah, I always wanted to come to New York and, I don’t know, I wanted to be a designer in New York. I came out, I did some house-sitting in Brooklyn, and then I got a really cool gig looking after somebody else’s apartment in the Lower East Side. While I was there I just was trying to find jobs, and it was very difficult, as a Londoner, trying to get into the New York agencies.

Maurice Cherry:
What made it difficult?

Carolyne Hill:
Well, there’s the whole issue of your green card and who was going to be your sponsor, and you had to prove that your service was not able to have been filled by a United States citizen. Agencies, they kind of weren’t really interested in having to go through all that rigmarole, and maybe I didn’t have the right contacts at the time. I was quite naïve in that respect.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s still tough. I have a friend, he’s from India. He went to school in Canada and he was here in Atlanta for a while, but now he lives out near L.A., in California. I remember even when he was looking for jobs how difficult it was, because of those same kinds of issues with companies that wouldn’t sponsor him, or he had to be sponsored on a certain visa so there were only certain types of jobs that he could look for and not something that could really advance him in his career. It had to be something more lower level, so you kind of were stuck at one point because the job may offer you the paperwork that you need to stay here, but it’s not really something you can succeed in or you can grow in.

Carolyne Hill:
Exactly, and that’s where I found myself. In the end I had a great time exploring New York, living the life, doing yoga. I was just hot-desking, going to cafes with my laptop, working on … I was actually working for magazines at the time and record labels from London, so it was quite a fun time. You know, coming out of the big corporate chain of supermarkets, high street retailers for a while, there was me designing cute stuff for record labels and magazine spreads for [Touch 00:20:49] Magazine, which was one of these kind of R&B Hip Hop magazines in London. So, it was fun.

Maurice Cherry:
What year was this, just to kind of put it in context?

Carolyne Hill:
Oh, my goodness. In context, I would say that would have been around, oh gosh, 10 years ago, now.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so right around late-2000, something like that?

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. Okay. All right.

Carolyne Hill:
I know. Time’s gone fast.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your early career experiences, up to what you’re doing right now, when you look back at those, what do you feel like those experiences taught you?

Carolyne Hill:
It’s been quite varied. I enjoyed being a freelance designer, as well as then going full-time to be an employed designer. The bits that taught me the most were probably the freelance parts, because you got to jump around to lots of different types of agencies and work on lots of different projects. Of course, each time you work on another project you kind of come back and you say, “Well, actually I can charge more.”

Carolyne Hill:
So, it gave me a really good experience across a wide range of types of projects: working with interior designers for a long time, which was great, because that’s where my original training started. I also worked with architects, and did a little bit of work with ad agencies. I worked with TV companies, mobile phone operators. It’s been really random and quite varied, so I think that’s the advantage that was given me, is that now that I’m working for myself, I do have a very varied type of client base. And I like that. I like things when they’re varied.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s one thing I really enjoyed when I was freelancing, too, that I could sort of bounce around and see how I can use my skills with different types of clients. Back when I had my studio, I would … maybe one month I’m doing something for a cosmetics brand, and then it’s pivoting to work for a software company, and then it’s pivoting to work for a solo entrepreneur that’s writing books, or something like that. And so, you find a way to kind of use your skills in these different ways.

Maurice Cherry:
What I think, and maybe this is different in other places, maybe this is unique to Atlanta, but what I found sucked was that once I went out looking for a job, they wanted you to sort of be a specialist. Instead of being a generalist that could take your skill and apply it to anything, they wanted you to only have worked in this particular type of design for years or something, which … I don’t know.

Carolyne Hill:
Is that when you were applying for jobs in big agencies?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I don’t know if they were all big agencies. Mostly they were software companies or tech companies. I think they just wanted to make sure they had someone that understood, I guess, tech. Like, right now I work in a software company. There’s a lot of jargon that goes around that I know probably most designers either don’t know, or don’t care about. I’ll be honest. I don’t care about it most of the time, but I know enough to be able to translate it, and know what I have to know for my work. But it wasn’t something where, “Oh, you have to have had this many years of experience in a SaaS company.”

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like … This is something that I want to explore more this year in general, is that it feels like everything is converging towards tech, every single profession in some way is converging towards technology. Maybe it’s because tech is everywhere, maybe it’s because even in things that I don’t think we realize, AI and machine learning are parts of them.

Maurice Cherry:
Even in the most seemingly low-tech job, like farming or something like that, there’s so much technology in farming. It feels like everything is certainly converging at some point towards tech, so having those singular kind of work experiences almost … I don’t know. I don’t know if that really prepares you for this sort of new world, where everything has to do with tech.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. I don’t know. I do think about that sometimes because I think, like you, I don’t really care for the techspeak and the … I use tech. I love tech. I love new things and learning new things, but I don’t necessarily want to be in tech, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, that totally makes sense.

Carolyne Hill:
I think for me, I would rather … I don’t know. I think personally, for my own creative ambitions, I want to [inaudible 00:25:19] more to the art side of things to step away from tech. Because although I understand a lot, I can learn, but I don’t really want to spend my time having to become a specialist in it. And I think so many people do it so much better, so why should I … I don’t want to make that my purpose. I want to stick with creative thinking, because I don’t think that will ever go out.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, no.

Carolyne Hill:
I think it might be short-sighted in the sense, “Oh, you need to be [inaudible 00:25:47] in tech,” but actually, it’s a very different skill to think creatively and to come up with creative strategy and ideas. Tech exists, but it needs ideas to make it functional. So, even if perhaps, I don’t know, maybe in the future I might have to get into tech, but I would hope that I get into it on the ideas side of things.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I see now … You can tell when a solution has been thought up by a group of engineers and there’s no tech people in the room, because it may work, but it doesn’t look good or it’s not user-friendly. Granted, design is a very visual medium, but there’s also UX design, and a lot of that has to do with more psychological things about-

Carolyne Hill:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
How does the user feel about this? Is this word choice proper? Things like that. I know one, this is a project I worked on with … this is with a client years and years and years ago. It was very clear that they wanted to have this new content management system for their newsroom, and the software developers there had come up with a solution. They were like, “Oh, well it works because it does these technologies and this, this, and this, and all this stuff.”

Maurice Cherry:
But the actual user interface was so bad to use. I think it was … God, was it DotNetNuke? It might have been DotNetNuke. It was something super-obscure that 0.01% of companies probably use right now. It’s not WordPress, by a stretch, it’s not something that’s simple to pick up. It’s like if you were making an article, you had to make an article in these blocks, and so you had to think of …

Maurice Cherry:
Say you were writing a piece, and the piece has five paragraphs and two images. Each of those paragraphs is a block, and each of those images is a block, and so you now have to abstract, “Oh, well you just take this paragraph and put it in this block.” Then someone’s like, “What if I want to put a picture next to it?” They’re like, “Oh, we didn’t think of that. Well, why don’t you put the picture underneath it?”

Maurice Cherry:
They’re like, “I don’t want the picture underneath it. I want the picture next to it.” Like a pull quote or something going outside the margin. It’s like the engineers didn’t even think of that. They were like, “Oh, we never considered that use-case.” That sort of thing.

Carolyne Hill:
So, it’s important. I think there will always be room for the non-tech, but in tech.

Maurice Cherry:
At this stage in your career, what is the London design scene like? How do you experience it?

Carolyne Hill:
I live and work in the Shoreditch area, which is like designer central. I’ve always worked in and around this area, which is how I ended up living up here. It’s fast-paced, there’s design companies on every corner. It’s big business, some of the worldwide agencies are here. But for me, my design community is perhaps a bit more local: as in my peers, my friends, the sort of creative family, and there’s a lot of crossover in between our creative endeavors.

Carolyne Hill:
Since working for myself, I’m beginning to perhaps work with fellow creatives, but on different things. So, I have people who are photographers, who are artists, who are fashion designers, writers, TV people, all in my circle of friends and associates, and I think there’s a great crossover.

Carolyne Hill:
I think at this moment, especially within the black arts scene in London, it’s a great opportunity and time, because there’s been a lot going on. I’m starting to see some of my peers, people that I’ve known for a long time now, actually reaching sort of great heights of success. I’m reading about them in publications, and seeing friends of mine who are now the artists being featured on packaging for quite famous products here in the U.K.

Carolyne Hill:
So, I think it’s a really good time. It’s an exciting time. It’s like if you’ve got the staying power to just keep going and reaching out to these connections, I think it’s a good time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It sounds like it’s booming, if that’s the case.

Carolyne Hill:
I don’t know about booming. I think London is one of these places where you can boom, but you can also bust real quick. There’s opportunity, definitely. There is definitely opportunity to boom, but it’s, I think, probably like anywhere at the moment in our societies. It’s quite hard work, but then you get these little nuggets of goodness and growth and prosperity, which keep you going until the next-

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I know here in the States the conversation around diversity in design, it seems like it’s ongoing. Is that the case also in London, or I guess in the U.K.? Do you find that there’s a lot of conversations around having more people of color involved in the design industry as a whole?

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. Yeah, there’s always this conversation. I think for myself, as a person of mixed heritage from Brixton, London, I’ve always been the only person of color, and often the only woman in the room in these design agencies that I’ve worked for. Working now for myself, I’m just working with all black people and loads of women, and loads of people who are just open to be creative. It’s kind of refreshing, because in my earlier career I’ve always been the only one in the room, so to speak. So, that discussion is going on. I don’t know how much it’s going on within these big agencies itself, because I stepped out of that.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, that makes sense. Because a lot of it, what I hear is mostly about employment. It’s not necessarily about all over, general numbers. Here in the States it started from the diversity in technology conversation, which was looking at big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and seeing how their workforce broke down. It started to go over into design, but I feel like it’s mostly been just about design departments at tech companies, and not about these ad agencies, or something like that.

Carolyne Hill:
Well, we’re seeing it a lot in the press. It’s slightly different, but even in the BAFTAs this last week we’ve had, there’s nobody of color that’s been nominated for anything, and that’s just completely shocking. Then you’re thinking, “Well, who’s doing the nominations?” Well, of course, is there anybody representing there?

Carolyne Hill:
But then over in the literary field, we’ve just had the first black woman to win the Booker Prize for her book, “Girl, Woman, Other,” a writer called Benardine Evaristo. Her book is fantastic. I recommend everybody go read it, it’s really good.

Carolyne Hill:
There are sometimes things are changing, but I don’t know. There always has to be the first, and then are there any others? And how do you keep it going? I think it’s a constant discussion and a constant struggle, so to speak. I think at the moment, with the society that I’m in at the moment in London in [Brexit 00:33:09], I feel I just have to get on and do it myself, in whatever that is that I want to do to make the change that I want to see.

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like here in the States, it’s similar to that. I think it depends on the industry. We just had the Grammys here a few weeks ago, I think. For people that are listening, we’re recording this in early February, so this is … Grammys were last week. My whole calendar is a blur, so I apologize. But I know the Grammys were recently, because unfortunately they happened the same day that Kobe Bryant passed away.

Maurice Cherry:
There was conversation, I think, around some of the big names in the music industry, black folks in particular, like Puff Daddy, some other folks, et cetera: about how the Grammys are not treating black artists well, and they sort of lump us in these other categories and things like that. I was having a conversation with some people, and the thing that came to me was, why don’t they just start their own awards?

Maurice Cherry:
I got pushback from it, I think for two reasons. The first reason I got pushback was because, how come we always have to make the solution? Like, the system doesn’t change if we just sort of make an alternative to it, which I don’t necessarily agree with.

Maurice Cherry:
But then, the other pushback I got was the value of what that even means. A lot of people in the music industry look to Grammys as some pinnacle of success that you’ve reached in your career. For some artists it means you will get paid more, it opens the door to more opportunities, collaborations, et cetera. That may not be the same case with a perhaps lesser-known award. So, it’s also about, I guess, the value that the industry gives to these types of honorifics. It’s like a whole power structure thing.

Maurice Cherry:
I agree with you about, we have to do it ourselves. Because if we keep waiting for the system or keep pushing at the system for things to change, sometimes it changes. Sometimes it does. It can be slow, it can change in unexpected ways.

Maurice Cherry:
But then if we’re able to do these things ourselves, we sort of become the masters of our own fate in that way. We can control and shape the exact message that we want to get out there without having to go through some filter, or gatekeeper, or something like that.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. I think sometimes if you’re constantly trying to prove yourself in a structure that has no interest in hearing you, you just get worn out and worn down. So, I think there’s a point at which you just brush it off and do your own thing.

Carolyne Hill:
I’m not saying you stop trying. I’m just saying you’ve got to focus on what means something to you and the passion that you have within yourself, creatively. Because the whole system can get on top of you to the point where you lose that creativity, and you lose that buzz, and the inspiration which made you want to enter these roles-

Carolyne Hill:
… inspiration, which made you want to enter these roles, competitions yourself in the first place. It’s kind of like you have to do everything, but for me the priority is you’ve got to focus on your own passion and your own self and your own community.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So speaking of knowing friends of yours that have had these sort of big campaigns and this visibility, you yourself had a popup exhibition at the Tate Modern last summer. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Carolyne Hill:
Yes. That was so exciting. It was a really random opportunity that came my way, and I just said, “Yeah, cool, I’ll do it.” And I had no idea what I was going to do, but I was given a sort of loose topic to explore, and I ended up exploring the question: where do you come from? Because as a person of mixed heritage from London, I’m always asked, it’s the second question, apart from, what’s your name, that people ask you, “But where are you from?” And you say, “Well, I’m from London.” “No, but where are you really from?” You say, “Well, I’m from Brixton.” “No, no, no. What’s your heritage?” You say, “Well, my mother’s Jamaican, my dad’s English.” “Oh!” And so you’ve always got all these layers of questions that come your way.

Carolyne Hill:
So I felt, especially as the Brexit drama we’ve been having, this negative rhetoric about identity, which is going round. I wanted to explore it. So I did some posters, had this exhibition, was up there for a week, and it was just the most satisfying and exciting experience being at the Tate Modern, which is one of my most favorite places in the whole of London.

Maurice Cherry:
What was the reception that you got from it?

Carolyne Hill:
It was great. I had the posters and then I wanted people to come in and ask and answer the question themselves, where are you from? So I had people from all around the world come and make their own versions of my posters, which filled all the walls in this kind of pop-up space. And even this week I had a message on Facebook from a lady from Peru who came and was part of the exhibition. She was a poet and she just wrote me a message this week saying “Hello, I miss the time we had at the Tate Modern.” I was just like, this is amazing. I met so many people. It gave me so much confidence to think that I can be an artist, I can take my design skills, my creativity, and I deserve also to be here in this space at the Tate. Yes, so it was really good fun.

Maurice Cherry:
And I guess, also with taking those skills, you’re also now a part time lecturer at Ravensbourne University. So you’re putting it out there in the community as well.

Carolyne Hill:
Yes, that’s right. I wanted to have the opportunity to give back and to be that inspiration that you see. And like our conversation at the beginning here when we were in college or university, we didn’t necessarily have people that looked like us to necessarily guide us in that direction. And I just feel that my experience as a Londoner would be valid and useful to anyone at university for whatever their background. And so I’ve just recently started, I’ve given one or two lectures, and I’m really enjoying the tutorials and getting to know the kids. Yeah, really it’s quite exciting. It’s very different to my usual day job.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you finding that they teach you?

Carolyne Hill:
Man, they’ve got so many ideas. They’re teaching me a bit about tech. They’ve all got the latest computers and every single app and all the applications. I don’t necessarily have the latest computer myself. So what are they teaching me? Definitely just different kind of thinking. They’re coming from a different place to myself and they’re just ready to explore. They’re at that point of exploration. And I think for me it’s great to see that because it just opens your eyes again to exploring.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s an interesting thing about lecturing and teaching, especially if you’re self taught or you’re entrepreneurial in any way, because you take all these things that you’ve learned from trial and error and now you’re like teaching it to someone else. It’s a weird kind of feeling because, I don’t know, for me, when I did it, I used to kind of feel a bit of imposter syndrome, like, why am I at this place teaching this? Like I taught a brief class at Savannah College of Art and Design, and I was like, “I didn’t go to art school. What am I doing here? I’m just a guy off the street teaching these kids and stuff.”

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s amazing how that, I feel like they want to hear that though. They want to hear that kind of real experience because in a way that’s sort of where they’re at. Like they’re not a known entity or they don’t have these years of experience yet. So they kind of want to hear the real thing. They don’t want to hear the package speech, I guess, about, work hard and all your dreams will come true. Like will they? That sort of thing. So yeah.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. I think they want to hear the sidesteps, the roundabouts, the up and down that you go through. Because I think maybe this generation, they know that it’s going to be quite hard to get a job. They’re seeing it all the time. There’s no such thing as a job for life anymore. And even getting a job is going to be really hard for them. So I think they’re aware of that. And so I just think, I know what you mean about this imposter syndrome by the way, because on the first time I had to get up and speak, I was really nervous. And the senior lecturer, she did her speech, her lecture, which was good. And when she put up on the board all the clients that she’s worked for, I looked at it and thought, “Oh, we’ve worked for pretty much the same clients over the years.” So that’s one layer that dropped off of my insecurity, because it’s like, “Okay, I’ve done what you’ve done.” Her whole experience was completely different though.

Carolyne Hill:
And then the other lecturer gave her talk and she’s, I would say much younger than myself and the other lecturer, I mean, her experience was also completely different. And that’s when I actually became really comfortable because I was like, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m different to these other two. I don’t need to be what they are, who they are or where they’ve been, because I’ve got my own story and my own journey.” All of that imposter syndrome dropped off, and I saw the kids looking back at me smiling, which meant they must be engaged. So I’m good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s so good when you reach that point, because I mean, one, it instills in you this confidence that you know exactly what it is that you’re talking about, what it is you’re doing. Because it’s your experience. Who knows it better than you do? Your own experience. Right? So of course you can speak on that from a position of authority. I think the imposter syndrome does sort of come in when you try to do that comparison to what other people are doing.

Carolyne Hill:
It’s the worst thing you can do, isn’t it?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And it’s interesting because I’ve talked to people lately about, and it’s mostly just been about podcasts and some stuff about design, but they’re always like, “Wow, you’re so confident.” And I’m like, “I’ve worked my ass off to get here. So yes, I am confident because I know what I’ve done to get to this point to be able to talk about it with authority.” So it’s a good feeling once it does go away. So how do you define success at this point?

Carolyne Hill:
I think success at this point means being happy, yeah, success means being happy. If you’re working to pay the bills and you can’t quite make things stretch, are you happy? I don’t know. You need both the commercial success as well as the creative passion success. So for me, being happy means that I’m successful. That means that I’ve got enough money to pay the bills, I can take some holidays, but I’m also creating things that I am proud and happy to work on.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there anything that you’re obsessed with at the moment?

Carolyne Hill:
Just music. I’m always obsessed with music, listen to different music every single day. It’s what keeps me designing and keeps me working.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are you listening to?

Carolyne Hill:
Today is a complete mix up of music and tracks. I started off the day listening to, okay, then judge me, it’s going to be really random, yeah?

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Carolyne Hill:
Beyonce’s Homecoming was the first thing to get me out the house, a bit of Curtis Mayfield, then I jumped into some Nina Simone, then I’ve just seen Queen and Slim, so I listened to the Queen and Slim soundtrack. And then this afternoon we listened to some Alfa Mist. I would say I’m very obsessed with Alfa Mist, they’re are kind of UK ambient soul jazz band. They’re really good. I listen to them a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Carolyne Hill:
So it’s a very varied playlist for today.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s actually a really good playlist. That’s really good. I’m into like, so I don’t know, my music taste is all over the place. I don’t even know if this is something I’ve talked about on the show, especially when I was in college and my early 20s I was so, so big into British music. You have no idea. My favorite band was Jamiroquai. I listened to Radio One just on the internet or whatever. So I knew about producers and artists like Alice Russell and Ben Westbeech and Will Holland, and I mean, I still listen to a lot of that stuff. I think Alice Russell has a new album coming out this year, knock on wood, I hope she does. But I listened to a lot of stuff from the UK, a lot of music.

Maurice Cherry:
And I went there, it was the first time I was in London, it was in 2017 is actually, it was the first week that I started this job. They sent me to London for the first week. I was like, what? That was so mad. I did not get to listen to the radio, go to any bars or anything, because it was all work. I didn’t have time and I didn’t know where places were and stuff. I was like, “Oh man, I missed the golden opportunity to really be in the UK music scene or whatever.” But, oh man, I love it, love it, love it. But I’m not going to pull up my music director and everything, but I’m a big, huge British jazz fan, British soul. Oh, all that. Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. Well I listen to a lot, and it’s what gets me designing, and I feel really happy when I’m at my desk. I share a really nice little studio in Brick Lane with two other creatives, and I love it. And we play music all day.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s something that perhaps maybe not many people understand about you?

Carolyne Hill:
Gosh, put me on the spot there. I think one of the things, maybe not understand, but they don’t maybe realize is, you can very easily put out this persona, especially being like a brand owner, that everything is always going amazingly and ticketyboo. But when you’re a creative working for yourself, that there are often those times which are like major highs and that’s what everyone sees. So maybe people don’t necessarily understand that, me, this big vibrant person who’s very happy to be out socializing, can also be at times a bit of an introvert and can have those moments of self doubt.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Because I think now, especially with social media and design, it’s like you always have to be putting something out there for people to see so they know that you’re still doing it or that you’re still out there making work. So it’s hard to kind of, I don’t even want to say take a break, but you rarely see the downs, you mostly only just see the ups.

Carolyne Hill:
Yeah. And I think when you are working for yourself and you’re running your own business, you know, I run two businesses at the moment, you’re doing it all yourself, so you don’t necessarily have anyone to share that burden with in terms of on a business level. And to the outside, people don’t necessarily see that. And well, I think that’s just life at times, but maybe that’s what people don’t see or understand about me as much.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Where do you think your life would’ve gone if you weren’t working in design? Like did you have a backup plan or anything?

Carolyne Hill:
I really enjoyed sociology, studying that at school. I think if I wasn’t in design, I don’t know if I would have gone into that kind of social world, but maybe a different type of creativity if I wasn’t a designer, you know? I think stage design, it would be something that I would love to have explored, because it’s so conceptual and fantastical and random.

Maurice Cherry:
And I guess London’s a big theater city, so that would’ve worked out.

Carolyne Hill:
That could have worked out. Yes. I do a lot of work with theaters at the moment, and I really enjoy working with people, helping them visualize their creative concepts.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What do you want your legacy to be?

Carolyne Hill:
CarolYne Hill, creative from Brixton. I don’t know. I think my legacy would just be to be remembered as somebody who was a creative who designed and was here, maybe did a little something to change things.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s it’s 2025, what are you working on? Or what do you want to be working on?

Carolyne Hill:
I would like to think by 2025 my businesses are going really well. I’m perhaps actually running a team, not perhaps, I’m running a team. Things are pretty organized. And those things are ticking off nicely, but I think personally I’d like to have explored my artistic side more and be in the process of creating artwork as opposed to design and designing for other people. I think that would be a really nice thing to aim for for the next five years.

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

Carolyne Hill:
I have a website which is carolynehill.com. That’s Carolyne with a Y rather than an I. My other brand: chillcreate.com

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Carolyne Hill, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really just kind of sharing your journey. I know we didn’t include this in the interview, but the connection that you and I both have is from the late Jon Daniel, who was also on the show, and I know you mentioned him being a big inspiration to you, a big mentor to you. And I think with the work that you’re doing with ChillCreate, I mean, having an exhibition in the Tate, and then really I think just living a proud creative life, I think that’s kind of the dream for all of us, and I know, I really feel like that would have been the dream that Jon would have wanted to see from you. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Carolyne Hill:
Thank you very much. You’ve been a wonderful host.


RECOGNIZE is open for essay submissions for Volume 2! The deadline is April 30 – enter today!

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Erwin Hines

I first learned about Erwin Hines last year when we profiled him for 28 Days of the Web. He serves as creative director at BASIC®, a branding and experience design agency that builds digital products and services that turn cultural values into company value. Creative direction is definitely a great fit for Erwin, as you’ll discover as you learn more about his story.

We talked about Erwin’s upbringing in Cleveland, and he shared the moment that he knew design was his calling. Erwin also spoke a lot about fellowship and empathy, including how the spaces we create — even digital ones! — can uplift a community. He even hipped me onto the San Diego creative scene, including his latest project — a monthly pop-up series called Crafted. Erwin is proud of where he comes from and who he is, and he represents that clearly through his work and by reinvesting in the community that supports him. It’s a great message for Black History Month that I hope will inspire you!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Erwin Hines:
My name is Erwin Hines and I am a creative director or one of the two creative directors at BASIC Agency. Our headquarters are located in San Diego, but we have offices in Mountain View as well as St. Louis.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Talk to me about your work at BASIC. What’s an average day like for you there?

Erwin Hines:
Oh, man. My role as a creative director is different from some of the other creative directors at the agency’s role. We each kind of focus on our unique specialty. It’s pretty expansive. I focus a lot on client work of course. And so that just involves managing teams of two to maybe five people and guiding the process throughout the duration or the lifetime of a specific project with one of our clients and doing all of the initial strategy. And so at BASIC, we don’t necessarily have a traditional strategy department. We expect all of our creatives to actually dive deep into strategy. That’s understanding the different cultural nuances of the client’s audience and making sure that we are making those unique connections based on what the client’s goals are and what the audience actually values.

Erwin Hines:
At the base level, that’s one of my roles at BASIC, but since I’ve been there for seven years, was one of the original people at the company, I’ve also really taken it upon myself to help guide the brand as a whole. As an agency, we don’t necessarily just view ourselves just as a service company. We also view ourselves as a brand that we’re constantly trying to build. One of our products that we deliver is our service, right? We’re very inspired by brands like Nike of course. And so my other role is really heading up what our brand looks like, what our brand feels like, what our brand sounds like, and then all of our different community initiatives that we do.

Erwin Hines:
Our podcast, Brand Beats, that’s one of the things I kind of head up. Then we also have a community series called Crafted that was actually built to help bring together the different creatives within San Diego and help them to rub shoulders and break down the barriers between the different industries or creative verticals. And so I do a lot of community stuff as well as the client stuff. So again, it’s pretty expansive.

Maurice Cherry:
That is really expansive. One thing that you just touched on there, which I thought was interesting, is that you expect the creatives … I’m imagining these are individual contributors, right?

Erwin Hines:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
You expect them to get into the strategy. Often that strategy part tends to be reserved for maybe someone higher up the ranks, like maybe a creative director or art director. Why did you all decide to take that approach?

Erwin Hines:
I think it came out of necessity. When I joined, there was only five people, so all projects, we had to wear a lot of hats. I joined as a senior designer, but as a senior designer, I had to come in and build brands and all of that stuff and we didn’t have a strategy department. And what we realize is that having that designer or that creative from the very beginning thinking about the brand strategy, thinking about how the brands needs need to be met and/or what the consumer’s actual desire is and how the product that we’re trying to market or trying to build a digital experience for actually meets that consumer’s need, and having the designer onboard from the very beginning just creates a stronger, more seamless kind of project and process as well as just a stronger experience in the end. And so it’s just sort of stayed that way because we realize the value in it from the beginning.

Maurice Cherry:
And now with one of the products of BASIC kind of being the service that you deliver, is that something that came as sort of an organic evolution of the agency?

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, I would say so. And I think again, it’s mainly because we like to view ourselves as a brand, and all great brands, the things that they create add to their larger sort of why, their larger sort of essence and their larger perspective. And so we like to make sure we’re always considering what is our larger perspective, what is our why as a company and how are we bringing that forward through the work we do. And probably that also comes from the fact that we build a lot of brands for our clients and we always tell them to start with the why, understand why you exist, what your customer wants, and then make sure you’re delivering on that constantly. And then all of the things that you do are just really an ecosystem of consumer touch points that reflect your why. And so I think we just internalize that ourselves and try and make sure that we’re constantly focusing on refining and defining our why so that our work at the end of the day can become stronger.

Maurice Cherry:
How did you first get started at BASIC?

Erwin Hines:
Seven years ago, I was actually doing freelance. And so I was freelancing, working at home, not working with anybody, not working with other designers, just working with clients, and I was doing that for about six months. I started to get very, very restless because before that I hadn’t been at a couple other agencies so I was always able to toss ideas off of people, always able to feed off of the other creative energy, and I thought I would really, really love that freelance lifestyle where I get to do anything I wanted and hang out all day and take whatever days I wanted off and all of that stuff. But after six months, I, again, started to feel a little bit stir-crazy. I didn’t have people to toss ideas off of, and BASIC actually reached out to me because I was doing some freelance work through an ex-employee of BASIC. And so through that ex-employee, Matt Faulk, who owns BASIC, actually saw my work and decided to reach out to me.

Erwin Hines:
And at first, so a little bit of a funny story. There’s actually a pizza place in San Diego that’s really big called BASIC and it was located across the street from the agency I had previously worked at and we would go there every single day. So when BASIC reached out to me via email, at first I thought it was a pizza company asking for me to become a designer at the pizza company. And at that point my freelance work was Activision, Sony. I had big clients as a freelancer. And so I was like, “No, why would I ever want to meet with these people?” But because it came through the referral of one of my other freelance clients, I decided to go meet with them and was pleasantly surprised that it was an agency that was doing amazing work.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, talk to me about the team that you’re working with here, because I would imagine after seven years the agency has went through a lot of changes, you probably went through a lot of changes as a professional. What’s your make-up like now?

Erwin Hines:
I was going to say we do. So I think there’s two answers to that question. One is over the years, we didn’t focus on this and this wasn’t a thing we tried to do, but because the company is ran by a black man, so Matt Faulk is black and then a lot of the leadership is black as well as women, we’ve actually created a very, very diverse team with people from all over the world, all different cultures, all different perspective. And that was just because we truly valued different ideas and different perspectives coming together in one space and felt like that collision of differing perspectives and ideas actually fosters better work, right?

Erwin Hines:
So that was the perspective we had every time we would hire someone new. We were like, “Do you challenge us? Do you come with something different?” And if they did, that’s when we knew that this was the right person. Of course, taste level, great work, great portfolio, all of that stuff was like table stakes. Yes, have all of that stuff, but you have to challenge us. And so that’s why I was like, “Please ask that question again,” because I had to make sure I gave this a proper response.

Erwin Hines:
Again, that’s one side. And then as far as the make-up of the team, it’s pretty standard. We have about … I’m going to probably mess up the numbers … We probably have about 35 people in our San Diego office, 40 to 50 people in the Mountain View office, and then we have like eight people in our St. Louis office. And so the St. Louis office is really an extension of the San Diego office. It supports a lot of the work that we do in San Diego. And then the Mountain View office is really just focused on Google, and then some of our other sort of Bay Area clients, but their main focus is Google.

Erwin Hines:
And so that team make-up is a lot different than the team make-up in San Diego. The team make-up in San Diego is project-based for individual clients. So you’ll have teams of three or four. We like to try and keep them small so they can be a lot more agile and nimble as well as allow all of the designers to really have direct contact with the clients. That way, there’s no hidden people, right? We always want to kind of elevate and empower all of our creatives, like I was saying with strategy, to really be the face of the company and to be able to someday lead their own projects. That’s really our goal, right? We really want to make sure that each person grows. We have junior designers, senior designers, art directors, creative director, and then we have kind of the higher level leadership team that helps guide and really think through the vision and mission of the entire agency.

Erwin Hines:
All of those departments and all of those groups, we do our best to work seamlessly together. We strategically have set meetings so that whatever the leadership talks about can then be distilled down and shared to the rest of the team as well as we have methods for communication in the other way. So we can take things that maybe a new designer comes in and has some frustration points or some tension points with some points in the culture and all of this other stuff and maybe has some great ideas. We have tools and really it’s just talking, but we have tools, that allow that new designer’s frustrations or ideas to bubble up to the surface to the leadership team, and that’s how a lot of stuff at BASIC is really done. It’s more so done from the younger creatives or from the ground level as opposed to top down.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s an interesting kind of model and it’s something that I’ve noticed as I honestly am interviewing and hiring creatives and stuff is that there certainly is more, at least I’m finding that there’s more of a need to have designers that have sort of led projects in that way, maybe not necessarily from end to end, but they were more than just, say, a team member that did visual design. They actually had a project or part of a project that they really got to completely oversee. So it’s good that you’ve got the agency kind of structured in that way to work with clients.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, and I think also, it benefits us at the end of the day and of course, the designers, because then these creatives are well-versed if there has to be a shift in our agency. They’re not just trained in one skillset. We like to say they’re trained in brand building, which extends past websites, extends past UX, extends past whatever new medium or media type there will be. But now you understand the foundations of how to build a company that resonates with people. And then whatever that company needs in order to speak to that audience, we can create it.

Maurice Cherry:
And now speaking of clients and projects, one of the clients you’re working with are the Webby Awards, which people know from … I don’t know if I even mentioned this on the show, but I’m one of the judges this year. How did you all end up working with them?

Erwin Hines:
That was an honor because they honestly just reached out to us. They didn’t do any pitching process. They just reached out to us because we have won so many Webby Awards within the digital category over the past five years. And so I think because of that, they looked at us firstly but then they also saw the quality of our work and our focus on really elevating the brand and trying to define new UX patterns because we went a lot in best practices and we do that by trying to look at and understand and really pull forward what your brand’s actual unique value proposition is, what your brand’s mission is, very similar to when people are creating a retail experience for Ralph Lauren or when people are creating a retail experience for Off-White.

Erwin Hines:
Those stores look different because they’re trying to express what is inherently different about that brand, and far too long, digital experiences, we’re moving away from that because everybody was sort of moving to these templatized systems because they were deemed as easier to use. And so I think that we came in because we started … the agency started doing at the very foundation was mainly branding and I think that’s why we approach all of our projects with a very, very brand-heavy mindset. And so they saw that we really hone in on what that brand’s message is, what the nugget of truth is and pull that forward into the digital experience to create something that is still very, very easy, simple to use, but also has just a touch of difference, something that expresses that brand.

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

Erwin Hines:
I honestly think for me all clients are the best type of clients. That might sound like a cop-out answer, but the-

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a little bit of a cop-out answer. I was going to push back on that.

Erwin Hines:
No. I was going to say, the reason I say that, because I mean, obviously I have ideal clients. The ideal client is somebody who wants to be super open and super collaborative, challenges us, very similar to what we look for when we look for new employees. It’s almost the same as when we look for our ideal client, right? We want to be challenged. We want to be pushed. We want this work to be the best work that we’ve ever done. Not saying that it needs to be the craziest design, but it expresses your brand, it tells your story and you want to push us because you know your industry better than we do, and we know digital maybe better than you do. That’s what we really look for when we’re looking for relationships.

Erwin Hines:
The reason I say all clients is only because I’ve been in situations where at first I was like, “I don’t want to work with this type of client,” or, “This type of client is really, really frustrating,” but just based on my time being in this industry or maybe it just comes from my me being a black man in America, just realizing that most situations are not easy and I’d rather look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow than ever a challenge that I need to run from. And so even those clients that are super challenging, I think I learn something new, I learn how to look at something new, I learn how to navigate a new area or a new industry or a new client and deliver something good at the end of the day.

Erwin Hines:
And as an agency in general, because our product that we deliver at the end of the day is this service of design, we look at our clients who’s reaching out to us really as our consumer or a customer and we try and understand their latent needs. We try and understand what’s frustrating them about their company, what hierarchy they have to go through, what pushback they’re getting. We don’t look at our project in a silo saying, “We have to get this through and all this stuff.” We really try and understand what the client is going through, what the individual, the person, is going through at that organization so we can help them at the end of the day.

Erwin Hines:
At the end of the day, their goal is to create this product, get this website done, get this digital experience done, get this brand done so that they can help their company be successful, ultimately helping them be successful. And so we try and understand their pathway of growth and all of that stuff. I think that’s why I’m like, “Every client is great,” because every client is a person and at the end of the day, we’re here to help people, not just create websites.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. Great explanation there. I like that. Let’s just switch gears. And talk about your work at BASIC, and I do want to get more into some of the community work, but tell me about where you grew up.

Erwin Hines:
Actually, I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.

Maurice Cherry:
Ah.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah. Grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Love it still. Just can’t move back there mainly because there’s not the job opportunities, although it is having this really awesome resurgence. Every time I go back, which is only once a year and it’s during the winter, so it’s probably not the best time to come back from San Diego that’s always sunny, but every time I go back it’s like there’s something new. There’s new energy. There’s new creatives moving into that city. So every time I go back it is cool and it makes me miss it, but again, I can’t move back purely because of the industry and now my investment in San Diego.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that makes sense. For folks that have listened to the show for a while, they know I’ve got family in Cleveland. My dad’s side of the family is from Cleveland, Shaker Heights.

Erwin Hines:
What?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Erwin Hines:
Oh wow. Yes. Most of my family, my dad’s side all grew up in Shaker. I grew up in Beachwood. So if you have family that is from Shaker, I feel like there could be a connection. They might know them.

Maurice Cherry:
Probably so.

Erwin Hines:
My family is heavily involved in community stuff in Cleveland and they were a family of five or six in the Shaker school system, and so they had somebody in almost every grade. There probably is some overlap.

Maurice Cherry:
I think there probably is. Yeah. Growing up there, I mean, was creativity a big part of your childhood?

Erwin Hines:
Yes, I would definitely say so. I think I always had an inkling for creative. My family would push me into doing sports. I think that was just by default what my family did. Everybody played sports. Everybody was good at sports, and so on top of me wanting to be creative and my parents supporting that, so they put me in art classes, they encouraged me to try music, although I sucked. I tried to play trumpet, the worst experience. And at some point I actually thought I could sing and I thought I could play piano but it was just me playing on my parents’ piano and I’ll be in the living room singing and trying to play.

Erwin Hines:
I think about it now and that had to be so cringeworthy, and my parents wouldn’t yell at me. They would just let me do it. So I think I had very, very supportive parents when it came to exploring my creativity. But again, I was also pushed to do sports. But in high school, I actually dabbled in pattern-making. I really, really loved clothing and creating my own clothes. So that was my main form of creative expression throughout high school was making clothes or making shoes.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh really? Wow.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah. I viewed that as … I drew and stuff when I was younger, super young, but then as soon as I got into high school and I touched the sewing machine, I was like, “Oh, this is dope. I can create the things that I put on my body. I don’t have to wear other people’s stuff.” That was so cool to me and I viewed it as this living testament to who you are inside, so it was like this walking billboard of sorts. Billboards sound so markety, but the reality is this walking art piece. I always found that very powerful. I didn’t realize the power of it. I think I liked it on a very shallow level, but there was power in creating something that I was going to put in my body or that other people desire to put on their body.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you sort of know then … I mean, with not only this exposure that your parents supported, but even now you’re talking about fashion and apparel and stuff like that … when did you kind of know, “Oh, this is something I could do for a living”?

Erwin Hines:
I actually didn’t know that until my second half year in college. Well, because my parents supported it, but it wasn’t like … I didn’t have any patterns to look at when it came to a designer. I didn’t know any designers. I didn’t know anybody who made it in fashion design or I didn’t even realize fashion design was a thing. I was doing it, but I didn’t realize it was like a thing. I never fathomed that. My access to creative profession was actually architecture and so on top of doing fashion stuff in high school, I also did a lot of CAD and took architecture classes and that was mainly due to the …

Erwin Hines:
… classes. And that was mainly due to the fact that I had exposure because my parents owned a development company and so I saw it. And that was like, “Oh, I don’t really…” I saw construction as a place I can go in my … So my parents owned a development company and then my grandparents on my father’s side owned a successful exterminating company and landscaping company. I’m sorry, my grandparents on my father’s side owned the landscaping company, my grandparents on my mother’s side owned the successful exterminating company. So those were like the pathways that I was exposed to on top of doctors and all of that stuff, but those were the entrepreneurial pathways that I saw.

Erwin Hines:
And so out of all of those I was like, “Oh designing landscaping, like a landscape architect, that’s kind of cool.” Or designing a home where people can live and creating these spaces that impacts your emotions and, and all of that stuff, I found that deeply interesting. So I took some architecture classes in high school just to learn CAD and I also did like my senior project at my parents’ company with the architect.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s convenient.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah. That was super convenient. But again, it was basically what I was exposed to. It made my path way longer to get to realizing that design was a thing I could do. So then my first year in college I studied… Or my focus was construction management. And with that I wanted to really focus on this idea of architecture or city planning. And that was partially due to the fact that when I was seeing my parents build these homes, so they build homes in… They built affordable housing in the inner city and when I saw them doing that, and then we would actually go back and always meet with and talk to all of the people that we build homes for to help maintain them because we also had the landscaping business, and we also had the exterminating business. So we would actually help these people maintain their homes. And it was amazing just the connections and then the joy that we would see on these people’s face, right?

Erwin Hines:
And I think I was very, very impacted by that, the fact that again, space things that we create can uplift a community. That to me was like, “What the heck? This is incredible, this is incredible.” And so that’s what took me in this space of really trying to pursue architecture or city planning. And my whole thing of city planning was like how do you actually create spaces and cities that are equitable for both the privileged and the underprivileged and how do you bridge that gap between those two to actually begin to create some empathy so people understand the other side? To me empathy is the biggest thing in the world because once you have a sense of understanding, true understanding, not just like, “Oh yeah, I know what you’re saying but I don’t care.” Once you have true empathy from both sides, then we can begin to push forward and work together to create equitable solutions for everybody. That might be hella idealistic, but that was my mission, my goal, my vision. But-

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like nowadays what they called that, service design or something to that effect. So you were ahead of the curve there?

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, except the only challenge was I hated math. I hated it. So been like I’m there, I’m designing cool things, but none of them can be built so my teachers are like, “You know, you can’t make this at all.” And I’m like, “But it will be cool though, if you could, right? Right?” And so my first year in college, that was happening and then I also took art history classes. And I had never ever taken an art history class so I didn’t understand the history of art, I didn’t understand the story of art, I didn’t understand the depths of art really before I went to college. So that first year I also took an art history class.

Erwin Hines:
In that class they’re teaching us about like Basquiat, they’re teaching us about Picasso, so they’re teaching us about… It was a very in depth all history of art. And they’re talking about the impact that each one of these artists had had and how they were… And this is something that I took away, where it’s like every single artist was… every great artist was basically acting as a mirror reflecting society’s ills back to itself so that society could actually digest it and understand it. Because in our day to day life, we move so fast, we don’t actually take time to sit and think and see what’s happening in front of us. And the purpose of art has been to create and take a moment and take a chunk of time and give it to us in a digestible way so that we actually can understand what’s happening, right?

Erwin Hines:
So great writing, great podcasts, great anything, and I’m including all of these things on the umbrella of art, do that, right? They force us to have a conversation, they force us to talk, they forced us to live in a space for a moment and take us out of our day to day. And so I saw that and I was like, “Oh yeah, I don’t have to do architecture. I can just do some art to have the same level of impact.” So then I actually took time off of school and I began to just… I still didn’t know that I could do design, that still wasn’t clear to me. So I took some time off from school, about half a year and I went and hung out in my friends like dorms at UPenn and I would just go audit classes.

Erwin Hines:
And she was studying marketing and advertising and sitting there with her being able to… And sitting in those classes and hearing about branding, hearing about marketing, hearing about advertising. I was like, “Oh shoot, this is like they’re using this power to create these emotions and create these feelings and create these desires and they’re tapping into the things that make us human.” That to me became really, really interesting. Still, I didn’t know how to get into it because I definitely couldn’t get into UPenn after dropping out of college. So I went back to creating clothes. Again, that was my default. I kept making shoes and selling shoes and then one of my other friends actually saw the shoes that I was making and was like, “Hey, you should come check out the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.” And I was like, “Yeah, why not?” I was kind of down for whatever.

Erwin Hines:
And then I went down to Pittsburgh and met with some of the people at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I’m not saying the Art Institute is good, I would never promote the Art Institutes. That’s just where I had to go because I didn’t have a portfolio at all. And then I actually wanted to do game design at first, and it was because they were talking to me about their courses that they had, going through all of the details. They first mentioned game design. They talked about advertising, they talked about all these other things, but game design was interesting because it wasn’t far off of what I enjoyed about architecture, which is creating these immersive spaces that people essentially live in or inhabit for a period of time. And those spaces can be used to create connections. And since games are played over the internet and it creates connections for people across the world, I was like, “Oh yeah, I totally want to do that and try and figure out a way to create healthy games that create these connections and try and build empathy with people.” But you needed a portfolio.

Erwin Hines:
That’s like a constant theme where it’s like these are the things I wanted to do, but I didn’t have either the love of math, or I wasn’t good at math, and I didn’t have a portfolio. So then I was then forced into graphic design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and through my courses and through my classes actually ended up falling in love with it because once I took my branding class, again it kind of re-sparked some of the energy that I had when I was sitting in and auditing the classes at my friend’s school, where I was like, Oh, branding has immense impact. It’s not just about the beauty, it’s not just about the aesthetic, but you’re creating this entity, you’re creating this thing that if used properly will reflect and amplify the voices of the people that are supporting it. And so that’s when I knew that I was like, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to go hard at branding.”

Maurice Cherry:
That’s quite a journey.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, it was… It’s a little bit all over the place, but it has a through line.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious and I’m going to… We don’t have to dwell on it too much, but why would you never promote the Art Institute? I didn’t go to the Art Institute, I just want to be clear about that, but I’m just curious why.

Erwin Hines:
Oh, I mean their [for 00:32:43] proper university has been sued mad times. And the Art Institute of Pittsburgh has actually closed down, so I don’t want people to get confused with the Chicago Institute of Art. That’s an amazing institution and it nothing to do with the Art Institutes. The Art Institutes are all for-profit and they would… They lied and they would fudge the numbers for how many people they were actually placing, which was just sad because you would see people who… They would say they had really high placement rates and there were some people who got jobs, I was somebody who got a job, but I did so much work outside of school. Everybody who got a job did so much work outside of school, but they didn’t tell you that, right?

Erwin Hines:
And if you’re a student and you’re putting your trust in an organization to teach you the skill sets and the things you need to get that job, it’s almost like, okay, if that’s a part of it, why aren’t they including that in the onboarding? Why aren’t they saying like, “Yes, you’ll have your curriculum, you’ll learn your skill sets, you’ll learn the tools, but in order to guarantee a job, you need to make sure you’re doing freelance. You need to make sure you’re going around to all of these different networking events. You need to make sure you’re collaborating with kids from Carnegie Mellon.” You know what I’m saying? All of those opportunities were open but it’s like I had to figure it out and open them myself.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. No I was curious about that for two reasons. I mean one, I like when people push back against these sort of, I don’t want to say industry standard tropes of, “You have to go to this school in order to make it as a designer.” I do think, and you know this is sort of a problem with the industry, is that there is still this notion of that you have to go to these certain schools, like you have to go to design schools to be considered a designer, essentially. I know just to tell my story a little bit, I went to HBCU, I went to Morehouse here in Atlanta. It’s funny you mentioned you didn’t like math, I majored in math.

Maurice Cherry:
But my first semester I was like, “This is a lot.” And I really wanted to go into web design. I was a computer science major and I remember my professor at the time, I was telling him I wanted to do web design because I had been tinkering around with HTML, reverse engineering, so this is 1999, so this is… God, this is so long ago, this is a while ago where I was telling my advisor this and I remember him telling me how the internet is a fad, like, “This isn’t going to be around for too much longer and if this is something that you really want to put all your eggs in this basket, you should probably change your major or go to another school.” And I was like, “Well damn, okay.”

Maurice Cherry:
And at the time I wanted to go to the Art Institute because we had two art colleges here in Atlanta. We had the Art Institute of Atlanta and we had the Atlanta College of Art. The Atlanta College of Art is now closed down, now we have Savannah College of Art and Design Campus here. But for me I was like, “Yeah the Art Institutes…” Like that was it because I saw the commercials, they would have these commercials where you could see they’re doing all this stuff. And I was like, “Oh so this is where you go to learn design.” And then even later on in my career, because I’m self-taught, even later on in my career there would be these sorts of, I guess you could call them gatekeepers I suppose, I don’t know, who would say like, “Oh well you’re not a designer because you didn’t go to design school.” Like that’s the only way when clearly it’s not the only way, that’s one of the great things about this industry is that you don’t necessarily have to follow a specific path or go to these specific schools in order to be a success.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, I was going to say that’s trash. Very much so because again for me, even without the Art Institute, I think I just needed to be exposed and the Art Institute exposed me to the fact that this could be a profession, but I did all of the work on the side and on my own. You can go audit classes to learn some skills or you can learn a lot of the skills that you need on YouTube and stuff. To me, I think the main takeaways of university for me were some of the non-design classes or the classes that were more focused on theory and psychology. Those to me were the biggest helps because it expanded my mind as opposed to just expanding my skillset. And so if there is anybody who’s listening who is questioning whether they need to go to school or do I need to do this? I think as long as you’re doing things that are expanding your mind so that you understand cultural nuances and you understand again, how to look at the world differently, that to me is what, as a designer, university is really good for.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. So from Pittsburgh to San Diego, that’s a trek. Well really from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, to San Diego, that’s kind of a trek. When you look back at your career, because I did my research, I saw you’ve worked at a few agencies, at Nobis, Modifly, you did some work for Digitaria, etc. When you look back at your career, what did each of those places teach you? Did you walk away from those experiences with a nugget of information that you take with you now?

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, I would definitely say I did. I think whether it be good or bad, I definitely learned something from each of those experiences. So Modifly and some of the other ones were just freelance clients. I was the dedicated creative but they were mainly freelance so it wasn’t necessary major learning experiences, right? Other than continuing to hone my craft. Whereas Nobis Interactive, I was also the only creative and was brought in as a Creative Director and it was to help lead and build out this brand. And I think one of the things that I learned from that was the importance of good leadership and the importance of a strong founder. And [inaudible 00:38:42] Nobis actually didn’t have that and I think that’s why I learned it, because I saw what lacked in the experience and how it kind of destroyed the organization and the company. And so from that it’s just how to be a good leader by doing everything opposite of what that leader did. And how to be honest, right? And making sure that you’re inspiring your team.

Erwin Hines:
And then when I went to Digitaria, that was learning how to manage growth because when I went to Digitaria, it was still relatively small, it had just gotten purchased by JWT, and over the time that I was there it expanded rapidly and what ended up happening was you kind of lose some of that design-forward culture. And the the owners knew that, their focus was expansion, growth and almost taking over and becoming their own holding company. That was their goal and they’ve done that so now they’re called Mirum, and Mirum is bought out a bunch of other digital agencies and then Digitaria became Mirum, which is the holding company of all those other digital agencies. So they were super successful in that goal, but I saw the sacrifice of creative to be this bigger entity.

Erwin Hines:
And so I think it was… From there it was making sure that when I go to the next organization that we managed growth properly so that we don’t lose culture because when you lose culture, you have high attrition, attrition costs more than keeping people as well as a cost your work. If your work is your product and if you lose all of those people then your product suffers.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That is so true, I see that now in a lot of startups, a lot of tech startups usually where that’s the case. There’s been this sometimes over-indexing on culture fit, and oftentimes when bad things happen at a company like that and it’s to the detriment of the product, it’s to the detriment of the people that work there, it’s pervasive when stuff like that happens.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’re in San Diego, which, and we talked about this before recording, I was like, “I don’t think of…” When I think of San Diego, I don’t think of design or culture, but San Diego’s one of the 10 largest cities in the US, which I don’t know if a lot of people know that, but I’m curious to learn more about your community work there. You said through BASIC that you all are kind of… I guess you did this community series in San Diego. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Erwin Hines:
Yeah. All right, so I’ve been in San Diego for 10 years. When I first moved here, moving from Pittsburgh where you had gallery crawls once a month or spending time in New York a lot where you just have a lot of culture, just a lot of creative culture. And then even touching LA, it was like there’s just an energy and a vibe. When I moved here 10 years ago, I was looking for those things and then all I could find was like, “Okay, there’s breweries and there’s beaches, okay.” Which is super cool for a little bit, especially when you feel like you’re a city boy and yeah, I liked the beach, I’m going to sound ungrateful, the beach is nice, but at the same time as a creative, I need that creative energy.

Erwin Hines:
So when I first moved here there was nothing, and over the years, especially within the past three or four years, I began to realize how wrong I was and just how hidden the energy and the vibe was in San Diego. It was like you had to know. You had to know the people, you had to know what’s going on in order to find it. So it was a lot more about the underground scene in San Diego and it was just hard to find. And then within the past like two years, that underground scene has started to really bubble up.

Erwin Hines:
And so when we talk about what is the creative scene in San Diego, we have some of the best poets in the world, like our poetry society wins nationals all of the time. We have some of the best dancers in the world. There’s two dancers in San Diego who do choreography for Justin Bieber, they have a new Broadway show, they do stuff for Brittany Spears, but they live in San Diego. And then we also have some amazing other dancers, traditional urban as well as classical ballet. Then we have amazing chefs and an amazing culinary scene. And then we also have amazing creatives and amazing designers, like BASIC being one of those, but then you also have Grizzly and a few other agencies, and young creatives who are here in San Diego. And then you have amazing DJs and music.

Erwin Hines:
So you have all of these different amazing creative industries and creative spaces, but one thing that we were seeing is that they weren’t rubbing shoulders. So it kind of goes back to the thing I was saying that I had this goal since my very foundation of my creative spark, which is how do you build spaces where people can come together from different backgrounds and start to develop empathy and understanding and work together? And again, so you have all these different creatives and creative people in these different spaces and they’re all doing these amazing things, but they weren’t rubbing shoulders, there was no friction, there was no collision.

Erwin Hines:
And so we created this very simple series, or this very simple idea of just bringing 12 people together from different industries, different backgrounds, different cultures, different races together over dinner. And we used food as the medium of connection because it’s visceral, it’s easy to understand, and it caused us and sparks conversation. And so we strategically do a five course to seven course meal mainly because it creates more time. And then the food itself is never really the central focus of the time, it’s there, but really the central focus is about creating a space for conversation to happen. And these 12 people do not know each other at all, and they get free invites so no one has the pay because we want to make sure that it’s open and accessible to everybody.

Erwin Hines:
So we’ll always have a student, we’ll have somebody who works in architecture, we’ll have a scientist, we’ll have somebody who owns property within an undeveloped neighborhood, we’ll have fine artists, designers. So we’ll kind of mix and match these different groups. And then each one of the experiences, which happened monthly has a theme, and we utilize the food to connect and to make people comfortable and then the theme is utilized to create a unifying connection and conversation between everybody. And those themes are things like identity. And in that dinner, which was our dinner in December, in that dinner the theme was identity and it was about exploring the ever evolving nature of the self and what identity means to each one of us individually.

Erwin Hines:
And so we usually start off each dinner with introduce yourself and then kind of go into that line of conversation. And usually that first round of conversation is like really, really, really deep where people kind of get really personal, they expose things that they wouldn’t have otherwise exposed, and maybe it’s because it’s a group of strangers so you feel a little bit more comfortable and no one knows me here, but they’ve been really powerful mainly because it’s a small intimate group who ends up having a very deep conversation with one another. And we’ve seen a lot of people begin to work together from the different Crafted experiences, which is really the main goal. There’s no other ulterior motive other than bringing people together and then promoting and showing people that there’s other things going on in the city so you don’t have to leave.

Erwin Hines:
because we also had like high attrition of like creative talent in San Diego because a creative was like, “I do fashion but there’s no one else here doing creative stuff, I’ll just go up to LA because there’s more opportunity.” Which right now there still is more opportunity in LA obviously, there’s more people who appreciate that type of stuff. So you will have a larger consumer base as a creative in LA. But one of the things that we’re really focused on with this dinner, as well as all of the other groups who are doing really amazing things. So there’s also this group called the Traveler’s Club. There’s a group called Weird [Use 00:00:47:00], and I can go on and on with all of these different groups, but everybody is now focused on creating an opening up the doorway for opportunities for these young creatives so that they don’t have to leave.

Erwin Hines:
So that’s the dinner as well as the energy in San Diego right now is everybody is focused on building a community that can thrive and can be self sustaining. And it’s amazing because it’s really collaborative, so there’s not a lot of negative competition, if that makes sense. It’s a lot of collaborative, co-building of the community that we all want.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I might have to visit San Diego, it sounds like a lot of great energy there. Also, I mean, San Diego is right on the border to Mexico like you guys are right [crosstalk 00:47:46]

Erwin Hines:
Exactly. That’s another beautiful thing about it is we have all of this rich culture. One of the things that I find the most interesting, and we begin to talk about this a lot through our Crafted Instagram is this idea that culture is made by many and the beauty of San Diego is unlike some of-

Erwin Hines:
Whereas made by many and the beauty of San Diego is, unlike some of the places on the West coast, unlike SF or unlike LA, people come here with different perspectives and goals and backgrounds. Like a lot of people will go to SF with one perspective and one goal. So no matter what race you are, what cultural background you are, you have a specific perspective or goal. Whereas here, because you have the military, because we’re a border town because you have all the universities and the different levels of universities and then you just have random transplants who are just coming here because it’s something different or you have the people who are coming here for the beaches, you have the people who are coming here for the music.

Erwin Hines:
So you have all of these different people that it almost is akin to something like a New York where you have this really, really diverse makeup and that’s what makes the culture of New York. And to me it’s like that’s what makes the culture of San Diego is this diverse makeup and it’s just us realizing, over the past year, we’ve been realizing that that is our true power. We don’t have to just be a beach city and a brewery city. We can be a creative powerhouse.

Erwin Hines:
And this year we’re going to actually have our first design week as well. So it’s like there’s a lot of movement around San Diego and I’m happy to work at an agency that has been so invested and lets me take the reins on a lot of the community initiatives and making sure that we’re using our skill sets and our talents in authentic ways. Then we still do canned drives and all of those things, but I think we used to just do that and we started asking ourselves how do we as people who understand how to build brands start to build the brand of our own city and really give back to our community in a deeper, authentic way that lasts.

Erwin Hines:
So it’s the teach a man to fish versus just fish for them. So I think what we’re trying to do is build programs that teach people how to fish ultimately that will come back to other issues like homelessness or other issues like education because by connecting these different people you can essentially begin to affect all of those different things because you’re building empathy across these different groups. So connecting somebody who, like having somebody who maybe their family is being gentrified or they’re a part of like the gentrified class, you have them at the table with a property developer and maybe a city official and you actually allow them to have true conversation as opposed to just like yelling. That’s the main goal of of Crafted.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you satisfied creatively?

Erwin Hines:
Oh yeah, totally. I’m more than satisfied partially because whenever I’m unsatisfied, I can just create something like Crafted. I literally just think about like, “Okay, if I’m not having that feeling of expressing empathy or the feeling of me being able to tell my true authentic story and really explore who I am. If I’m not that, then I just create another avenue and another pathway for me to have it.” So I never really rely on other people for my creative satisfaction, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. The reason I was asking that because I was talking with a friend of mine actually, her name is Diane Holton, she’s been on the show before too and we were just talking, just catching up and she was mentioning, she’s like, “You’re like Beyonce, like you don’t take your foot off our necks.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” She’s like, “You’re doing this revision path and now you’ve got this anthology series coming out and stuff.” And for me, when I’m doing these things and essentially you mentioned, you sort of see the void and you figure out like, how can I fill the void with something that can help? So with me with the anthology, I was like, there’s not a lot of people of color and indigenous people doing enough writing about design.

Maurice Cherry:
You go to a bookstore and you look in the arts or design section, there are very few, if any, book in there from people of color, definitely not from black people. And it’s like where does that begin? It begins with just writing an essay and getting the feedback from people and then building on that and you know I think now certainly with technology it’s easier than ever to start up a blog and put your thoughts out there. One thing that I’m experimenting with this year is getting back to blogging. I used to blog a lot in the early 2000s and stuff and I’m thinking about getting back out there now because it’s so much easier to just get your thoughts out. Before, when I was blogging back in the day, you had to know how to have a MySQL database and install it to the database and then run the installation and then keep up with all this and you have to have hosting and a domain and all this.

Maurice Cherry:
And now I use this tool called Notion, which is sort of like this all in one work place. It’s like Evernote and Trello and all these things had a baby and it’s Notion. And you can blog from Notion, so write a page and you can set the page to public and then because it’s all in the cloud or whatever, but you can set that page to public and then just have people read your stuff. And it’s like I have all my projects, I have all revision path recognize all my stuff in Notion and then I’ve got a little separate thing that’s going to be the blog that I’m going to start and it’s like, “Oh, I can just write while I’m in here and publish and it’s so easy.” But I get what you mean about if there’s something that’s not fulfilling you, then you find a way to kind of get that [crosstalk 00:53:36].

Erwin Hines:
Get fulfilled. Yeah. Yeah, and I actually love what you’re just saying. I think that that’s one of the biggest things within our industry that we’ve started to see in almost every other creative industry. So you start to see it in fashion and it’s being led by these black designers and I know that they probably wouldn’t want you to call them black designers because no one wants to be pigeonholed and I hate being called a black designer because it feels like, “Oh, you’re just trying to say I’m good for that,” as opposed to just being like, I’m a good designer and I happen to have a very rich narrative that helps guide everything I do that you might not have. But what you’re saying about how we need more of that, we need more of that story within this industry, within the design world. Because for far too long, it hasn’t been there, but we’re here.

Erwin Hines:
But it almost feels like, within this industry, it almost feels like we’re a minority group who’s just pushed to the side and it’s not about us. You know what I’m saying? It’s strange because the level of importance that, specifically for me, like black people have had within the building of America and what America is and what America pop culture is. A lot of stuff is based on pop culture and the nuances of pop culture and all of that stuff and we kind of create that and our people create that. We create the vibe of coolness that drives commerce around the world, but people don’t want to recognize that and so I think it’s important. What you’re doing, hella important because it begins to shine light on the importance of these views and understanding these views and takes us out of just the, maybe a young black kid reads it and it helps to take them out of just the consumer mindset of just I’m going to consume, consume, consume. I can actually create.

Erwin Hines:
These platforms like Instagram and all of those things became popular off of the content that youth create. A lot of those youth are young black kids. They’re creating content for an organization that they don’t even know that they can work at or that they don’t even know that they can build themselves. And so I think it’s just showing that pathway. Going back to what I was saying at the very beginning where I didn’t even know things existed because I wasn’t exposed to it and so, by what you’re doing, you’re helping give that exposure, hoping that young kids are listening to this stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope so man. Hope they’re listening. Hope they’re reading. And not even that I would say just young kids because that exposure can really come at any age.

Erwin Hines:
Yeah, true.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to know that the option is out there or that there can be something different, that can really come at it at any age. But yeah. What piece of advice has stuck with you the longest when you think back over your career, you think over your creative journey? What is that advice?

Erwin Hines:
Ooh, so I never had a specific mentor ever in my creative journey and I think it’s just because I was a knucklehead so I never looked for mentors. I would just always listen to interviews from Kanye West or whatever creative I’m super inspired by at that time, but the biggest nugget of truth that I ever received was from my family that just was about… My father one time said, “I don’t like who you’re becoming.” And it was when I was losing myself for a little bit and I wasn’t necessarily thinking about my heritage and my past and my upbringing. And to me that conversation is the conversation that has stuck with me and helped to guide me.

Erwin Hines:
Although my father probably wouldn’t remember this, but that one moment and then the conversation that followed about making sure that you’re checking with your heritage, making sure that you’re checking with the things of your past, the things that your grandfather did, the things that both sides of the family have done for me. It didn’t put a burden on my shoulder, it actually made me proud of who I am, where I come from. And it made me want to truly honor that.

Erwin Hines:
So that was probably be the biggest piece of advice. Again, I think I’m somebody who looks and desires to look for inspiration outside of my industry. I have never really looked at other design and other designers for my pathway. I really love to understand and look at culture because the things that we’re creating are all for culture. And so even with creatives, my biggest inspirations are people in the world of fashion or the world of music. So it’d be Kirby from Pierre Moss or Virgil. Those, to me, are some of my biggest inspirations because they stand for breaking down barriers and walls just by being fucking good. I don’t know if you can curse on this, so I’m sorry.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah. You can curse. That’s fine.

Erwin Hines:
All right. Just by being good at what they do and they move with theory and a message. And that to me is my biggest inspiration, is the idea of moving with theory, moving with a message that is consistent and it might evolve over time, but there’s always substance there. Yeah. And so for me it’s a combination of what my father said as well as growing up. I think I’ve always been really proud of being a black man, no matter where I was or how I grew up and I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. But I would walk around school, my predominantly white school, with my fist in the air because I was just super proud of who I am and where I came from. And I think it was because, on top of what the media would show you and all the negativity that the media would showing you about being a young black man and how you can just be a rapper or you can just be this and that’s all you would see or the criminalization of black people.

Erwin Hines:
My parents had these books, I forgot what they’re called, but we got these books every single month, yeah, these books every single month that would just dive into one impactful African American. And so seeing those stories of Booker T. Washington and getting to see this diversity or Harriet Tubman. Seeing those things at a very young age, I got to see the diversity of black people and that we exist on a spectrum, a very large spectrum and we’re not just a homogenous group. So I had an early realization that I didn’t have to try and be black, I just was black and that blackness can exist on a very large spectrum, but it’s still impactful and it still carries the same narrative story, but my experiences are going to add to that history and that legacy to create something unique.

Erwin Hines:
But I need to make sure that I carry all of that with me into every room I go to, into every time I’m sitting with a CEO or a C Suite person at Google. I need to bring with me the legacy and heritage of blackness and be proud of it and speak with the strength of that heritage.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing in 2025?

Erwin Hines:
So me and a couple of my friends actually started another project that’s actually building a restaurant group. We have two restaurants, one is actually opening, they’re actually building it currently. One is opening at the beginning of 2021. There’s another one that’s opening in October and then we have a retail space that’s opening next month. And so that to me is the next project and it stems from Crafted, which is again, like this space.

Erwin Hines:
And just to put a little bit more color around it, I actually explained Crafted as a living art experience that uses space and food and art to create empathy between disparate groups of people. And for me, going back to what I view art as, art, the true end goal of art, is not to create something beautiful, it’s actually to create opportunity for conversation. That conversation can create change, but in a conversationless society that silos us through algorithms, conversations between disparate groups of people stopped happening and therefore it limits the amount of change that we can have, impactful change. So Crafted was that opportunity for me to create a space for conversation between disparate groups of people to create change and so extending that, we’re looking at how we can actually go into some of these different neighborhoods.

Erwin Hines:
So the chef and the guy who actually is going to own these different properties, so I’m a partner in it, but the main owner, he’s from this neighborhood called National City. And for him, he grew up there, but he always had to leave there to go to restaurants or to go to coffee shops or to go anywhere, which removes that sense of pride in your neighborhood and when you have a sense of pride in your neighborhood, then people begin to invest more, invest more time and invest more energy into that neighborhood. It’s very similar to what we’re seeing now in San Diego. Now that they see all of these different things are going on, people are more proud to be in San Diego and then they’re more likely to invest, more likely to stay. And so what we’re trying to do in this neighborhood called National City, where all of our three concepts are actually opening on one street, is trying to create a sense of pride in that neighborhood, so people feel prideful, they want to stay and they want to reinvest into the community.

Erwin Hines:
And so it’s almost how do you move into a neighborhood, or not even move in because he’s from there, but how do you reinvest into your community without it ever having the need to be gentrified? So I think we’re trying to… For me that’s my thing is how do we figure out this fucking gentrification problem and it’s almost going back to my passion for city plan, or not passionate, but what my goal of city planning was. It’s going back to these things that I had from the very beginning, which is how do you create equitable living spaces and make sure that you’re fostering opportunities for conversation to create empathy. And so over the next couple of years we’re going to be launching those three projects and then from there who knows, we’ll see.

Erwin Hines:
It’s probably going to be more stuff like that. How do I just get deeper involved in helping to build true community? Yeah. And reinvest in the community. I’m big on community right now.

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

Erwin Hines:
So of course, you can go to basicagency.com to see the agencies work and if you want to learn more about Crafted, you can actually go on Instagram @experiencecrafted, again, that’s @experiencecrafted. And then if you want to follow me, it’s just @ErwinHines. Very simple.

Maurice Cherry:
And that’s on Twitter, Instagram?

Erwin Hines:
This is all on Instagram. I mainly use Instagram partially because I’m managing a lot of different social accounts and I can’t be going back and forth between Twitter, Instagram. I find Instagram my main space to create conversation.

Erwin Hines:
So yeah, definitely the main thing I would encourage people to follow is probably the Experience Crafted Instagram just because that’s where I put a lot of my time, a lot of my effort outside of BASIC®.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well Irwin Hines, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, I sort of had an idea when I started this conversation kind of where things would go, but you blew my mind. Finding out more about your background and seeing how, now you’ve been able to weave all of these disparate experiences and influences into your story and then use that to guide your work and go back out and give to the community, it is such an inspiring thing to hear. One of the themes that I’m trying to carry throughout the year is basically, how are we as black designers helping to build a more equitable future?

Erwin Hines:
Whoa. That’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
And I feel that certainly you are doing it. One, through your design and branding work, but then also through experience Crafted and then through these actual physical spaces, these restaurants and retail space. When they say people out here doing it for the culture, you’re out here doing it for the culture. So thank you so much-

Erwin Hines:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
-for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Erwin Hines:
Thank you man. And if I could leave with one last thing, it actually goes to exactly what you were just saying. I think and I feel, and I’ve had a conversation with other people of color in general, that from a very young age, since we grew up in America, we were actually forced to learn empathy and a sense of understanding of people outside of ourselves before we even were able to understand ourselves. And so I think that that is a very, very powerful tool set as a creative to have in our tool belt because we can approach every single thing with a broader understanding and bringing that and making sure you’re bringing that and making sure you’re not shying away from it, to me, would be like the one thing I hope that people would move forward with.



Submissions for Volume 2 of the design anthology RECOGNIZE open on March 1! For more information, visit recognize.design!



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Alex Pierce

It’s great to be able to look back at the early days of Revision Path and see just how far some designers have come. Take for instance Alex Pierce, one of our first interview guests from 2013. Fast-forward nearly seven years, and Alex has risen to the ranks of associate creative director at Publicis Hawkeye!

Alex talked about his day-to-day work at the Dallas-based outpost of Publicis, and spoke on how he approaches new projects and how his career has grown since starting at the agency over seven years ago. We also discussed the absence of Black people in the creative industry, Alex’s feature in NET Magazine, and what success looks like for him at this stage of his career. Thanks for the updates, Alex!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Alex Pierce: Hey, I’m Alex Pierce. I am an associate creative director at Publicis Hawkeye.

Maurice Cherry: Well, first off, congratulations on your recent awards. I was looking at Twitter and I saw you got site of the day from … how do you say? Is it a wards? Because it’s like awwwards. Do you just say awards?

Alex Pierce: I just say A Awards. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some fancy way to say it, like you know how people in France say publicists versus people in America say publicists. So yeah, something like that. So I say A awards.

Maurice Cherry: All right so you got site of the day from A award. You got also site of the day from CSS Design Awards for your recent homepage redesign. So congratulations on that.

Alex Pierce: Thank you very much.

Maurice Cherry: It’s been almost seven years since you’ve been on Revision Path. For people that are listening who are long time fans, listeners of the show, Alex was the last text interview I did before I did my first recorded interview, which was episode one of Revision Path. It sounds like a lot has transpired for you since then. Now you’re … well, you’re still at Publicis, but you’re now an interactive associate creative director. What are some of the responsibilities that you have in your current role?

Alex Pierce: Yeah, so I’m an associate creative director on the digital team. So some of my responsibilities, I’d say, and I remember one of my colleagues and friends, Dan, he’s a creative director, he told me this. He’s at a different point in his life now with his career and he’s given me advice, as an ACD, you’re in kind of a weird limbo, right? So you’re 60% … I would say 50, 60% still kind of hands-on, but then 40% of my time is managing other creatives and their work and their goals and stuff like that. So my current lead or kind of role on my team is I am a design lead. While I work at the agency, our team is kind of device, or not device, but I say device agnostic on a lot of client presentations, so I just automatically say that. No, our team is pretty client agnostic in terms of, we work across all of the agencies, brands, and portfolios, but we do have our own digital clients as well. So, I currently manage the creative for Disney that we have, the piece of Disney work that we have at the agency as well as US figure skating, actually.

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Alex Pierce: I don’t skate. I don’t skate, but I learned a lot about skating, apparently. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Now, I think when we first talked, you were just a art director, I think.

Alex Pierce: Yes sir.

Maurice Cherry: At Publicis.

Alex Pierce: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So what’s been sort of the big change between art director and associate creative director? I’m not super familiar with the latter hierarchy as it relates to agencies, but it sounds like you … of course in seven years you’ve leveled up, but what are the differences between those two?

Alex Pierce: Well, yeah, it’s funny, even though I started at Publicis and I’m currently at Publicis, there was a whole period … so I went to Publicis as a mid level art director and I was at Publicis. I left Publicis to go to Hawkeye, I would say in 2012, and I stayed there for a while. Then, not too long after that, we got acquired by Publicis group and then they merged the Publicis Dallas office with the Hawkeye office, which is now Publicis Hawkeye. So, I saw all of my old friends and coworkers again.

Maurice Cherry: Oh wow.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. So it was a little bit of a boomerang kind of situation. They were like, “Oh man, we couldn’t lose you, so we just acquired the whole agency.” They like to make that joke. It’s obviously not true, but yeah. No, I think the difference was really just in terms of responsibility from art director, it’s basically just a mid level position. Senior art director, I think I had leads explained this to me. I would say senior director is more responsibility in terms of being able to be client facing, be able to manage presentations without a creative director in the room if needed, that kind of stuff, being able to be lead design leads on projects. Then, really the big shift from senior art director to associate creative director is really … I’m still figuring out myself. I’ve been in the role for a year and some change now, but I’d say it’s really just basically what I’m doing except now I am in a role of more mentorship and more creative direction, managing the vision and process for projects and accounts, doing scoping, doing hours estimates, that kind of stuff. Some of the more administrative tasks that I didn’t have to worry about as a senior art director, I have to definitely consider more of and then working with the account leads and strategy and being very client facing, that kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry: Now, are you also coming up with strategy or is that left to a more senior creative director?

Alex Pierce: That’s really more, I would say, for that big picture stuff, that’s really more related to, I’d say the group creative director, but even more so we really rely upon our strategy team to kind of help guide that. We actually take that strategy, help enhance it, give our feedback, and then we help interpret it into the creative work, but yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Yeah, I figured there were certain discrete levels at agencies where you have that kind of division. I’m working ostensibly for a startup and even, I think, if you’re someone who is at the, let’s say like VP level, you find yourself doing not only strategy, but also management and execution, which is probably more on like the individual contributor level. So it’s kind of like the shifting of roles, no matter what your particular title is, so that’s interesting to to see. How do you approach new projects at work?

Alex Pierce: Well, I think how I approach is really, and this is what I like about working on our digital team. It’s definitely a collaborative process. So, it isn’t like everything’s put on the creative team. Everyone has their role to play, so I definitely rely upon account service and project management and strategy to kind of help come to the table with a fully fleshed out, approved brief from the client. Sometimes, depending on the situation, that’s not always the case, just depending on the type of client and the type of timeline and process, but usually we work out with a brief. So, usually start there, give our feedback there, ask any questions, and then really think about timeline roles and responsibilities. Is what they’re saying … Are the deliverables in alignment with the strategy and what the client is asking for, ultimately from a goals and KPI kind of standpoint? That kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry: Now that you have worked at the same company and moved up the ranks as you have, that feels like a real rarity in today’s current creative industry. Even now from what you said earlier, you were at Publicis, you left and went to another company, that company got acquired, and now you’re right back at the same company. I’m curious to know, what has being at Publicis taught you and what makes you continue to stay there?

Alex Pierce: I think, it’s kind of a cliche, but it comes down to the people. An agency isn’t really anything without its people, right? We’re the ones producing the work and the product. I mean that in a more general sense because I don’t mean just in terms of creative, but I also mean in terms of strategy, account service, managing client relationships, all that kind of stuff. I think, as you go across agency, and I had this piece of advice from my creative director, from … and it’s funny because he, actually, this guy, Gary Hawthorne, he’s actually a group creative director at Publicis Hawkeye right now, but he was actually my first boss ever in the industry and he hired me straight out of school as a junior art director at Shaffer Advertising in Fort Worth. He told me this a long time ago, “Don’t ever just leave one agency for another just because they maybe offer you moderately, a little bit more money because I think it’s really just all kind of the same thing.”

Alex Pierce: He didn’t mean that in a cynical way, but it’s just kind of like, be sure you’re leaving for the right reasons. Be sure that you’re leaving to do something different or to really pursue a specific goal because you kind of get that money trap with those golden handcuffs and then you’re just kind of beholden to that and you might be getting more money, but you’re not happy doing what you want to do.

Alex Pierce: Also, I love the people at my agency. I love my team. They’re super talented. I love working with everybody. We’re just kind of like a family. It’s like a home away from home for me, so that really means a lot to me. I think some people … everyone has their off days, and even on my off days, I still … I think about like, “Well, if I’m having a bad day, I’d rather have a bad day with people I like than a bad day with people I don’t like.” That’s kind of why I stayed at Publicis.

Alex Pierce: Then, in terms of Publicis as a agency and kind of things I’ve learned is, frankly, just interpretations of interactive and digital in the context of what I do. It’s interesting, Publicis, I think as a larger agency, their interpretations of digital and interactive versus where I came from. It’s funny, I actually … when I left Publicis to go to work at Hawkeye and I interviewed with the managing director of digital at the time, he still is today, Wes, he interviewed me. I was showing him my stuff and I was showing my web work. I started showing him some banner ads and he was like, “Oh no, no, no, no, no. We don’t do that here. We don’t do banner ads. Can you move that on?” I’m like, “Oh, sorry. Okay.”

Alex Pierce: I think there’s just like this interesting dichotomy, and what I’ve learned is just really thinking bigger picture. Right? So, I really love just UI, UX design, just visual design, interactive design for obvious reasons based off of my portfolio site just redesigned. Working with Publicis, it definitely opens me up to learning more about brand centric kind of work and more strategic, larger, big picture things. So, thinking about the website as a tactic and a larger strategy about talking about this customer journey, right? So, how are we communicating to these people through a variety of different channels? And really kind of opening my mind up to all those different avenues, whether it be display advertising, email marketing, web, that kind of stuff.

Maurice Cherry: How is that different from, say, user centric design?

Alex Pierce: Yeah, user centric design, I’d say, and this is the kind of funny thing because I actually gave a talk about this I think a year ago, at the American Advertising Federation conference for kind of the Midwest or Texas area, Texas and Oklahoma. I forgot, it’s like district 11 or something like that. I think user centric versus brand centric sometimes there is a clash. I think the mistake that people make is that these goals are mutually exclusive. I think if you’re always designing for the user, you’re ultimately designing for those business goals as well. When you think brand centric in a more traditional sense, it’s really more traditional media, that kind of stuff and you kind of think about that one way communication. It’s really all about trying to deliver on the client’s or the brand’s goals and approaching that advertising creative or that digital creative in that context.

Alex Pierce: I think the mistake that we make is, just because … I guess the mistake that we make is, when we look at it from that lens, I think it’s easy to make mistakes or get so myopic and looking inside that bubble. Our job as creatives is to help them look outside of that bubble and really think about their customer and their consumer and the users that use their product or service or brand or whatever. When you’re doing research and learning about those people, you need to open yourself up to learning that, this and product design, I would say. Sometimes just through user testing and interviews and feedback, you learn that people use your product in unexpected and in amazing ways.

Alex Pierce: I actually saw an interview, I think the … Was it the Glitch cofounder? He was talking about why he loved Glitch and just all the cool, crazy shit that people make on the platform in just unexpected kind of ways. That’s kind of where my mind is, strategically, when I think about user centric versus brand centric. Just thinking about the user doesn’t mean being boring. It’s really thinking about the context of, like … and I always think about this and it sounds cynical, so stay with me here. I think about this in the context of, what value does this serve the user with? What value does this give the person whose product you want, the person that you want to use your product or brand or service? If you’re making like this cool crazy idea, ultimately, how does this serve them? Because for people, when we’re alone, by ourselves, using this in the comfort of our home, no one’s watching us, we’re selfish. I want this to benefit me in some way and I don’t want this to be some sort of masturbatory kind of thought experiment from a brand to try and win some awards because awards are cool, but at the end of the day it’s not creative if it doesn’t sell.

Maurice Cherry: It’s an interesting thing about awards. There was a while back on here, I’d say maybe … Oh God, I’m dating myself by saying about a hundred episodes ago, but it literally was about a hundred episodes ago when I was talking about awards and black designers winning awards and what awards actually mean. It’s so interesting now because the conversation around awards in the creative industry … this episode will come out kind of during the … I want to say the end of the awards season, I think, for creatives. When I say creatives, I’m lumping in music, television, films, kind of all into that. So many times we see work that is clearly chasing an award. We’ve all seen a trailer and we’re like, “Oh, they’re trying to win an Oscar.” We’ve all seen the thing that’s like, you can tell they’re trying to chase the clout that this particular award can get. I wonder often, one, what that is in service of. Yes, it’s in service of the award, but just because you get the award doesn’t necessarily mean that opens up a new level of understanding or what have you from that, but I’m just always interested in that because it’s something that we want those awards to validate to other people that the work that we do is worthy. Yet, everyone can’t win an award. So.

Alex Pierce: Yeah, I think for me … I’m going to go on a sidetrack in a little bit, but for … just to speak on that, I think talking internally, it’s like that vicious cycle, right? You hear about specifically an advertising industry where that kind of desire to win awards kind of goes wrong and you hear about campaign fraud, that kind of stuff, with companies and agencies or brands just putting out work and they’re buying a billboard for like one hour in the middle of the night to say that it’s published and to try and win awards and it’s a whole big controversy and you see cons trying to crack down on, in other words, that kind of thing.

Alex Pierce: You ask yourself like, “Well, why is it that people are trying to do this?” I think ultimately it comes down to money, right? I think it comes down to … and I don’t necessarily … I think it’s shady, don’t get me wrong, and it’s not great, but you think about why people enter award shows and I think ultimately it comes down to new business, at least from your thinking about a larger agency picture, why agencies wouldn’t enter into award shows. It’s about demonstrating to clients that we do work that gets noticed and we do work that is validated in the industry and work with us. I think that sounded like a very simplistic kind of surface level of the reason why, and then when you get down to the individual level, right? I think it also just comes down to, I want my work validated. I want people to know that I’m competent at my job. That being said-

Maurice Cherry: It all boils down to validation.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. Yeah. I think when you’re talking about Oscar season and stuff like that … and I have to talk about this, man, but did you see the Irishman?

Maurice Cherry: I have not seen the Irishman. I’ve heard a lot of talk about it, particularly just it’s runtime, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Alex Pierce: Oh my goodness. Oh my God, man. If there’s ever a movie, I felt like, that was chasing something, it was that. You see the memes about it, man. Just people just, “Yeah, it’s five days in and I still haven’t finished that movie.” I’m that guy. To be frank, it’s my fault. Frankly, I’ve … the last two times, I ate a Popeye’s chicken sandwich right before I started watching that movie and then I just kind of passed out and I woke up kind of sweating in the middle, so that’s kind of problematic. Then also I just felt like it was a meandering plot and then that face-aging technology that’s supposed to be all amazing. Robert De Niro did not look like he was in his twenties. I’m sorry. It just looked like they just smoothed Robert De Niro’s face. It look better when he was in his middle age. They were kind of showing the middle age, but anyway, that’s this whole rant. I could talk about that for a while, but we’re not here to talk about Robert De Niro and his smooth face and Irishman, but I just think about, it seems disingenuous.

Alex Pierce: I guess, when you see the ads and you see those ads come out and you see those ads that are clearly awards bait, it just feels disingenuous and it doesn’t feel like they made that creative for the actual end audience. They made it to speak to the judges, right? They make stuff for the judges and not for the people. I say that, like, I’m not some … I’m not the guy. I’m not some guy who’s supposed to be … who has all the answers. So, for anyone who’s listening to this and they’re thinking like, “Who’s this guy? I promise you, I don’t have all the answers.”

Maurice Cherry: Well, I have to butt in here now. We’re both members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. We are also both current Webby Awards judges.

Alex Pierce: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: We kind of operate, I guess, a little bit on that level, but go ahead. Keep going. Keep going.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. No, you got me. You got me. No. Yeah. I think … and actually, I will … I don’t want to call out a brand but I … because I don’t know what agency did this, but I did something and I was just talking about it. So we had our holiday party last night and I made sure not to drink too much because I knew I had to do this today, but we were just talking about the Webbies and I think I need to actually get my judging entries done today at some point, but I was looking … Last year, I was looking at this one entry and it was for a popular bacon brand. I won’t say who, but it was crazy to me, man, because I looked at this and amazing technology. It was some sort of VR 3D website experience that you’re kind of exploring. It was very black and white and noir and very abstract.

Alex Pierce: Yes, man. I had no idea what was happening in this thing. All I saw was at the beginning because it was like a black label, bacon brand, whatever and I was looking at this. People are probably going to infer what that is, but whatever. I was looking at this and it was like … I’ll say this, the execution was amazing. It was cool, but I just couldn’t give it great marks because, well, one, from a navigation standpoint, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I was just like out exploring this world. I had no idea. I even wrote in the notes, “I have no idea what this has to do with bacon, but I guess this is kind of cool.” I was just thinking in my head like, “What? How did this creative director sell this?” Because I want to talk to him and learn his secrets because this website looked like it cost a million dollars to make and it had nothing to do with the brand whatsoever.

Alex Pierce: So that’s kind of what I was thinking. I’m like, “Who are you making this for? Are you making this for the user? Are you making this for the brand? Are you making this for yourself? What’s the motivation behind that?” That’s kind of where I was getting at. I think, because I think to a certain extent even judges have their limits, right? You’re just like, “Okay, what is this?”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I need to start looking into what I’m going to, I guess submit as my picks, because I’ve been keeping track of a couple of campaigns and seeing what’s new and what’s interesting and what I feel like are interesting ways that people are using the social media tools that are out here. I see how different people use Instagram and Facebook and Twitter for different implementations, because I think it’s one thing, of course, to use it as intended, but sort of like how you said earlier, people will use these tools in all kinds of different ways. So, who’s using Instagram not just to post pictures, but like to post mini magazines?

Alex Pierce: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Things like that.

Alex Pierce: Did you see the adult swim, the Rick and Morty thing? That was amazing.

Maurice Cherry: No, I didn’t see that. What was it?

Alex Pierce: No, they, for their promo … I think this is last year, but they made their own Rick and Morty adventure experience. So you’re traveling. So, they made a bunch of different Instagram accounts that are all linked to each other and like they’re tagged to each other, so you’re basically traveling the different planets and universes through these Instagram accounts. It was so meticulously well done and I’m like, “How much time did they take to do this?” Because you’re looking at those Instagram grids for each of the profiles and you see the galaxy and you can zoom in to the planet and you can zoom out and go to-

Alex Pierce: You can zoom in to the planet and you can zoom out and go to different and… I’m like, “Man, this took a lot of time.” I don’t know, it’s just like people taking mediums and using them in unconventional ways always just fascinates me.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I’ve been saying that a lot on YouTube also. This kind of, almost choose your own adventures style of, I don’t want to call it videography. I don’t know if that’s really the best way to categorize it, but I’m thinking particularly about this show that I saw, it’s called A Heist With Markiplier. It like starts out with the intro video, Markiplier is trying to break into a bank, and for those who don’t know, Markiplier is a YouTube influencer guy. But he’s trying to break into a bank and then the video is short, maybe like 20, 30 seconds. Then you know how you can have annotations that will pop up on the screen so that you can choose, okay.

Maurice Cherry: Very similar to how Netflix did the Bandersnatch episode in Black Mirror, but it’s all done through YouTube videos. So you select what the right path is and there’s different endings, and I’m like, “That is really an ingenious way to look at how to even do something like this.” Because at least with YouTube you can sort of unlist all the videos so then you can’t really track what the right path is. It’s really interesting way to use the platform, but I think it also speaks to honestly, the disposability of these types of mediums. The fact that you can spin something up that quickly and easily for just that purpose and it can also be gone just that quickly.

Maurice Cherry: Actually, another interesting thing, and this actually might be one of my webipics, so I might be spoiling this, but the same guy Markiplier, him and this other guy Ethan, who’s a YouTuber, are doing this project called [Latin 00:01:45]. I think it’s Latin for one year. They’re going to release a video on YouTube every day for a year, and then once the year is up, they’ll delete everything. They’ve gotten already over a million subscribers, they’re selling March, doing all that sort of stuff. I’m interested to see what they are trying to get out of it. What the end goal is, because they’re both already YouTubers. They already make videos. So making more videos isn’t the point. I don’t know if it’s just a creative exercise.

Maurice Cherry: They’ve sort of implied that it speaks to the ephemerality of life and things like that. I’m interested to see where they go with this because you can tell as you, so I’ve watched all the videos cause I’m a dork. But you can tell that there’s an underlying slightly sinister theme that connects all the videos and I’m wondering if that will play out as the year plays out. I’m just interested to see where it goes from here and it’s those sorts of things that I really like seeing, brands and people take the tools that are given to you and use them in a way that no one would have expected.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. You’ve touched on something interesting, to be clear, I mean I think there’s, when you think about user centric, I also about using the medium as an art form, right? I think like as a creative exercise, so sometimes it’s what separates visual communication in graphic design from more fine art, right? It’s open the fine art aspect being a little bit more open to interpretation and it’s really meant to provoke a dialogue and discussion. It’s really all about the artist’s intentions and thinking and the message they’re trying to communicate. Visual communication touches on some of those subjects. But ultimately the idea is to communicate a clear message that a large group of people can understand. I don’t know, you touched on that, because sometimes entertainment is just entertainment and we don’t need to overthink it that much, but then there’s times when you actually need to service a specific goal.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. I want to go more into your design career, but first let’s take it back to the beginning. Where did you grow up? Was design a big part of your childhood and everything growing up?

Alex Pierce: Absolutely not. No. I think, it was just growing up it was me, my mom and my brother. My uncles played a big influence on my life. Two of my uncles were Army dudes, one Army, one Air Force. I even think when high school they were trying to get me to sign up when I was trying to figure out how am I going to pay for college? They’re like, “Air Force is the way, Army is the way.” I was like, “I do not have the discipline for either, so I’m going to get a student loan.” I think, what actually started me down, this whole path of creative exercise and graphic design is kindergarten. I think about this to this day. I love Garfield. Garfield basically got me to where I am today.

Alex Pierce: If you want to sum it up. Garfield, I love the cartoon Garfield. I was obsessed with it. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mom would give me for my birthday, every year I think until maybe I was like a pre-teen or whatever. She would give me a Garfield book every birthday and I just was obsessed with it, I always try and draw Garfield cartoons and stuff like that. Then I got really into drawing and then for the longest time I swear to you I wanted to be a comic book artist. I wanted to be like Jim Lee. I wanted to be like, was it George Perez, I think that’s his last name. Jim Lee’s the one that comes to top of mind always because I loved his style or [Linelle Hue 00:00:27:38].

Alex Pierce: But I think I really obsessed with comic books. I still love comic books, it’s kind of a bad habit. I go through spurts of just buying a whole crap ton of comics, stacks of them. I just spent too much money and my girlfriend makes fun of me for it. But it’s fine, whatever. But I think for me I just love that medium, I love the storytelling, I love the art, the visuals and just the message and just the art form of it. Going through high school, I was in Houston, I grew up in Houston and Westfield High School and then I transferred. I had a, I would say it was a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air moment kind of situation.

Alex Pierce: I didn’t get into a fight at a basketball game and I got transferred. But my family we got help from a family member and we moved out to the Woodlands, which is a more affluent area and it was definitely a different world, right? Not a lot of black people up there in more the suburban area of Houston outside of Houston. But good schools and that kind of thing. I was on all the art classes and I actually got introduced to design from this teacher. God, forgive me, I forgot her name, but in high school she showed, it was like this digital design class or electronic media class or something like that.

Alex Pierce: We go in there and we use MS-DOS to make animations. I remember the first thing I ever did, we had an assignment to use Photoshop and this was old Photoshop, right? We had to use this, what was it like? I had to Photoshop myself into a picture and of course for some reason I chose to Photoshop myself into a Run-DMC album cover. I was obsessed with that after that and I was like, “Well drawing’s cool but I like this too.” I just went down the rabbit hole on that and just designing things. Then a person from SCAD came to the school to talk about all the different programs and of course, the thing I learned and the reason I didn’t get into comic book art man is, drawing comics is freaking hard.

Alex Pierce: If you don’t know this, I have a lot of respect for those guys because basically the program was called sequential art, which is basically just fancy for comics, right? But being able to do character study and drawing the same person from different angles and consistently, that’s very difficult apparently. But they had another program called the Visual Communication and Graphic Design Program. I was like, “What is that?” I learned a little bit more about it, I’m like, “This is really interesting.” Because I love computers, I love the technology of it, I love making things that people see and interact with and I just had really awesome time with it.

Alex Pierce: I decided to pursue that and actually looked at a few schools in the DFW area. I think University of North Texas is like, I don’t know if you knew this, but University of North Texas is one of the top design schools and at least the Southeast or whatever you want to call Texas Central area. At least in Texas it’s the design school to go to. [inaudible 00:30:57] has an amazing design program and it’s a public university. I went there and I just found the program to be not really what… It didn’t really seem like a right fit to me. So I went to actually, UTA and to this day he’s still my mentor, but Robbie McEwen, he was a professor in the design department at the time and I remember he had a Hummer, this huge hammer.

Alex Pierce: He took me and my mom around the campus and to this day I’m trying to think, “Why did he do that?” He took his time, drove us around the campus, he showed us the senior student work and I’m like, “I’m sold.” He’s cool dude, he looks like Santa Claus if you ever meet him in person. He’ll even joke about that himself, he’s an awesome guy, he’s the coolest guy ever. I learned so much from him over the years at that university and I owe a lot of what I am today to that guy because he really took me under his wing and he really taught me about design, about communication, about art versus design, that kind of stuff.

Alex Pierce: I would say, went a little tangent, but that’s my journey from kindergarten, drawing Garfield and reading Garfield comics to going to college, University of Texas at Arlington and getting a official design BFA degree there. Then getting my first job, which how I got my first job was actually very lucky because I graduated in the middle of the recession.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, it sounds like, I mean that’s when you knew that you could do this for a living, I guess at that point, right? When you saw the campus and saw the student projects and everything?

Alex Pierce: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. My mom and bless her, I think… This touches on a larger question and I would love to hear your thoughts on this, but in terms of why we don’t have more black people in the creative design industry. I have my own guesses, but I think it just comes down to opportunity and thinking that, “If I’m going to go to college, I need to go to college to learn a skill that will really make me money.” As a kid I loved animals and my mom was thinking I was going to be on some Dr. Dolittle stuff, right? I’ll be a veterinarian.

Alex Pierce: Because I told her I wanted to be a comic artist at first and she was like, “What?” She’s like, “Well, but you love our dog Hershey, right?” Our dog’s name is Hershey, our childhood dogs names. She’s like, “You love her, you love animals.” I’m like, “Yeah, I love animals but I don’t want to necessarily work with animals.” Then I think she saw, and when I was talking to her about majoring in graphic design, I didn’t go to college not knowing what I wanted to do. I knew what I wanted to do and I was telling her Graphic Design Program and she’s looking at it and she was looking at how a graphic designer could make money. It isn’t necessarily a full on art degree, although I have respect for those people too, for sure. But she saw that and she said, “Oh okay, I’m okay with this. I’m okay with this.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Once she could see it, it’s like, “Okay, now I can get it.” To answer, I guess the question, I think that’s part of the answer is that the lack of visibility is why we don’t see more of us in the industry because it’s really a mix of things, right? First of all, it’s complete economics. In order to be really working in the creative industry, you need to know these industry standard tools, these tools are expensive. Folks don’t make a ton of money, so it’s like how are you going to get the money to get access to the tool? Then the time to learn the tool to get good at it, to then get jobs and then get in the industry. So it ends up being this pipeline situation.

Maurice Cherry: It’s lack of resources, lack of professional training. I would say even sometimes accurate information about the industry, getting into it. But also I think it’s a matter of visibility. As you stated before, your parents didn’t really see like, “Oh, this isn’t something that I want you to do because I can’t see you being successful or making money. You’re making a living from it.” Art ends up being treated as a hobby and not a profession and so oftentimes that lack of visibility into seeing the ways that you can get paid from this, is a reason that we’re not in the industry, I think.

Alex Pierce: I want to be very clear, my mother, Marsha, she does support me very much. Because he’s going to listen to this episode and I don’t want her giving me grief. My grandma gave me grief about this, she’s very supportive of me. She actually talks about me a lot to our co-workers. She features me on her timeline, which in my opinion is the biggest award of them all. So thank you mom. I love you. I obviously owe everything to her because I’m existing because of her, so just want to throw that out there. Thank you.

Maurice Cherry: But yeah. That’s probably a big reason into it. I mean, that’s something I’ve discovered honestly from doing the show is that for a lot of folks, they just weren’t exposed to it. They didn’t know that they could do this until much later on in life. After college, after working a few jobs and they’re like, “Wait a minute, I really like design and art and I can focus on this.” Or, “I really like coding and I can focus on that.” That being a part of the creative industry, it’s like the exposure and the visibility to this ends up happening at a time where for us, I think it ends up being just much later in life, than with other places where the viability of that as a profession is a much earlier and easier opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, as kids we’re all exposed to cartoons, drawing and art and painting at the same time. At least here in America, that’s part of the American primary school system. So how is it that there’s this huge bifurcation of people of one particular race or culture that are over index in the creative industry and then so many others that aren’t? What happens, where does that split happen? So, yeah.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. It’s tough because yeah, to your point, man, I didn’t think it was a thing that people… Intellectually, you know someone made that stuff but you don’t really think about it. Then you get a little bit older and then you just realize, yeah. I actually have Michael Beirut’s book on my desk right now and I’m going through and it’s just like, “Man, I can’t imagine doing anything else but this.” I realize I’m in a position of privilege that maybe people of of the same race as me are not in the same, really or they don’t see that opportunity because of socioeconomic factors or the fact that there hasn’t been exposure or in terms of just education in the arts program, that kind of stuff. Or the fact that, thinking about how to get into that, it might be too late. I don’t know, I don’t have all the answers on that. That’s a larger topic that I’m assured that you are definitely tackling at the AIG level.

Maurice Cherry: Well, I mean it’s one of those answers that just has many layers to it. There’s no simple answer to the question. There’s so many layers as to how that happens, so yeah. Now you said you graduated in the middle of a recession, but you got your first working design gig, working for your school. You were working for University of Texas in Arlington. What was that like?

Alex Pierce: Working for UTA, it was exactly what you think you would be. Now, I mean it was a great job. I think in high school and one of the things that I did in high school as I worked for Kroger, I was a sacker all through high school. As soon as I was old enough to get a job, my mom was like, “You going to Kroger.” Because Kroger was one of the few companies that hired 14 year olds. You have to wear a special name badge to indicate that your managers can’t abuse you. But, I mean you can’t work extra hours and stuff like that. But I worked there and then I just remember thinking, I learned how to deal with people and I guess that I still think about that.

Alex Pierce: I wasn’t a waiter or a server, I didn’t work in the food service industry, but I worked in a different thing that I dealt with people. A lot of different types of people every day and working in that environment, one thing I did learn is, I definitely did not want to work at Kroger during college. I wanted to try and do something that can help hone my skills and learn more about the profession I wanted to get into. Actually before that, I think a little bit of overlap, I actually worked at The Shorthorn, which is the college newspaper and it’s actually a pretty big newspaper, pretty award winning.

Alex Pierce: I was a page designer, a layout artist and then I also did illustration, cartoon editorial illustrations and stuff like that. Obviously it is a school job, so I think I got paid like 90 bucks every two and a half weeks. That was not sustainable for me. So that’s why I looked at getting into the design program. I applied to different departments but they are the ones who finally hired me and really I just managed just vendor relationships and stuff like that and making assets, helping student events, making all the graphics and displays for that.

Alex Pierce: I think my proudest moment was, I got to make a label for a water bottle that they were handing at events. I don’t know if that’s kosher to say today, necessarily making labels for water bottles and the plastic is choking our ocean or something like that. But I think at the time I was like, “Oh, I got to make a little label for a water bottle. That’s cool.” But I think I just got experience with a lot of different types of mediums. I got to work on web work, I got to do email stuff, I got to do website stuff. I got to do packaging and print stuff. It was all just kind of like a generalist initial exposure.

Alex Pierce: That being said, I mean, I was a designer and I didn’t really have any design mentors in that program. I just was really working and getting mentorship and guidance from my actual design teachers and professors in that. When I mentioned Robbie McEwen, which he’s awesome dude. So I was learning that along the way, but I was working in a corporate little office environment. I was in a cubicle way in the back, it was almost like a closet. I shared and office with [inaudible 00:41:52] smell like pancakes, it was really weird. That was definitely in my first [inaudible 00:41:56] into professional design and learning about how my design decisions affect other people.

Maurice Cherry: I’m going to show you a photo, and I want you to first describe this photo to the audience and then I want you to tell me the story behind it and the feedback. So I’m going to show you the photo now if you want to take a look at it.

Alex Pierce: Okay. Oh boy. Yeah. This photo, I’m wearing my Bob’s Burger t-shirt. I am clean shaven for the most part, I didn’t have my beard yet. But it’s like a me of my feature and net magazine. This is like back in 2017, I believe. Yeah. I’m holding just the cover art for the article, the featured article, diversity in design. It’s an article I wrote talking about how to be more inclusive in your design and UX and visual design overall experience for people, audiences, users, that kind of stuff. I’m in my agency’s office and I actually had my co-worker Ale, short for Alejandra.

Alex Pierce: She actually took a photo of me, she’s one of the art directors on my team. She took a photo of me and she actually forced me to do this whole photo shoot. This was one of like 50 photos at different angles. You could actually, in one of the other photos there’s actually a scene of one of our junior art directors at the time, she’s way in the background and she’s rolling her eyes and she’s just very fuzzy and we still make fun of that to this day. But yeah, I was like a really proud moment of me. I bought like 10 issues. I sent a couple to my mom because she had requested them. But yeah, that was a really proud moment for me.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. What was I guess the feedback behind it? As I’m looking at the image and I’ll make sure to include this in the show notes so people can take a look at it too. But it says diversify your design. Five steps to diversify your UX design.

Alex Pierce: Yeah. Do you-

Maurice Cherry: … steps to diversify your UX design?

Alex Pierce: Yeah. Do you mean feedback in terms of what people were saying about it or what I was [crosstalk 00:44:07]?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, about the article and everything. Yeah.

Alex Pierce: Overall, I had a lot of positive feedback. I think the thing was just people… You hear a lot of people getting on their soapbox talking about diversity is important, diversity is important. For me, I’ve always been a very practical person in terms of how I approach things, in terms of how I approach things in my professional and personal life. If you know me in real life, you know if someone were to ask me, “Hey, we’re going to go out to this lunch spot. You want to go?” And my first question, and they know this, is, “What’s the parking situation? Because if the parking situation ain’t good, I’ll see you all later.” I have to think about that.

Alex Pierce: But in this context, for diversifying your design, for me, I wanted to do something that was very practical like, “okay, yeah, I need to be more diverse in how I’m thinking about approaching my work, my creative work, but how do I actually do that? What’s some simple initial steps that I could do?” And like I said, I don’t promise to be the guy who has all the answers, but I just thought this is actually kind of a therapeutic piece for me to do. Because actually, it was funny because how I got into doing that article was I had reached out to NetMag and I was saying, “Hey, I did my Black in History Tumblr site.”

Alex Pierce: And for people who don’t know the Black History thing, I did a Black in History Tumblr, which it’s still up, it’s still live, blackinhistory.tumblr.com. And it was basically about just game changers, figures that have affected everyone’s lives, not just black people’s lives, and they’ve fallen through the cracks. So I just think about an entry that uniquely talks about this person and I put that to them and they’re like, “Man, this is great. We’re going to feature this as a side project of the month.” I’m like, “Oh that’s great.” And they’re like, “Also, hey, our issue’s on diversity. So maybe if you can write a feature about that, you have two weeks.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I’m like, “I’m definitely not turning it down.”

Alex Pierce: But I got advice from my fellow copywriter colleagues and just friends and I interviewed coworkers and colleagues, my bosses to get a really holistic view, because I definitely wanted not only to talk about diversity, but have a little bit of diversity in the thought and opinions about how to approach that from.

Alex Pierce: So I have five different steps. So it’s the first one, just understanding that it’s the right thing to do. I think a lot of people call it PC Culture, and I don’t think it’s PC Culture to think holistically about your audience. I think it’s opening your mind up to the fact that not everyone who uses your product or uses that brand looks exactly like you or lives exactly like you.

Alex Pierce: And then I think it’s just stop being lazy. I think as designers, especially when you’re in the grind, the daily grind of things and stuff like that, it’s easy to get caught up and just go to your go-to sources, that kind of stuff. So just learning to actually force yourself to take a step back and think about, “What am I doing? Am I representing this product the right way? Is this the actual thing I need to show or the say or to write?” et cetera. And then just the other ways to do it through visuals, so advice around photo shoots, video, that kind of stuff. Doing it through copywriting, so using inclusive language and strategy around that.

Alex Pierce: And then UX, obviously there’s a lot of talk lately around accessibility and then just overall thinking around inclusion in your user experience design, and I think that’s been a big conversation these last few years around that. Then just the last thing, selling it to clients, which is sometimes actually surprisingly, well, actually maybe not surprisingly difficult to do, especially if they think it’s a counterintuitive to maybe what they think their audience is or their own envisioning of their goals for the brand.

Maurice Cherry: What do you think is the most important skill that a designer needs to possess these days?

Alex Pierce: God. Man. I think it’s a combination of two things. I would say first and foremost, it’s cliche answer, but empathy. But to get specifically around this, because I had actually a designer reach out to me and ask me, “What’s an important skill set?” And I actually told them this, this guy. I said, “The most important thing you could have this self-awareness actually.”

Alex Pierce: I think self-awareness is always the first step in making some good decisions. I think being self-aware of your position of who you are as a person and how people perceive you, how you present things, how you talk about things, your creative design decisions. I think you take a step back and you objectively look at yourself and you learn about maybe you have some unconscious biases, and I think that’s where the empathy and the self-awareness combine to each other.

Alex Pierce: But I think it’s really more of a soft skill, I would say, but it also lends itself into actual creative skill in my opinion, too.

Maurice Cherry: Now, you mentioned the Black in History on Tumblr. That’s actually when we first talked seven years ago. I think you had just started that project or it had been out for a little while. I don’t recall, but I know that that was a project that you ended up getting a good bit of acclaim from. I think even got a Webby, not an award, but you got a Webby mention.

Alex Pierce: Honoree, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Honoree. That’s the word I’m looking for, Webby Honoree for that. Is there another dream project that you would love to do?

Alex Pierce: I think about this a lot. I think for that it was just something that came up. My family liked to joke about that every time during the holiday seasons or during some sort of special season event. You see all the brands put out some R&B music and show black people doing stuff with their products. And it just got me thinking like, “Man …” Or in Black History Month, right, just where it just becomes so myopically focused on just a few key characters. And it turned into that.

Alex Pierce: For me, I don’t know. I’m still exploring that to be honest. There’s a lot of things I’d like to approach in a dream project for me. And maybe if people see my Instagram, you’ll know this about me. I love food. I love everything about the … I love making food more accessible to people. I think for me that’s a dream project for me to work on.

Alex Pierce: Another thing, and I’ve been getting more and more into this, I’ve been exploring it, but I love games. I love video games, which sounds like a typical nerdy black guy thing to say. But I love video games and I would love the idea of working on interactive experience, gaming interactive experience, maybe using pixel or I don’t know. I’ve been getting into pixel art lately, as you might know. And actually, what got me thinking about that is I saw something, I think it was on A Awards or I can’t remember, but it was this guy who did this interactive side scroller or pixel art game about is Japan cool, and he gave this history of Japan and I think talking about Nintendo and that kind of stuff. And it’s this interesting interactive side scrolling experience I can’t remember the name of. It’s killing me.

Alex Pierce: But I don’t know. It just got me thinking, “What a cool, educational way to talk about something and make it engaging too.” And I don’t know. I like the idea of making an interactive game and getting deeper into that. I’m not a developer myself, at least not first and foremost. I know enough development to be very dangerous. That’d be something for me to explore, getting deeper into the interactive space.

Maurice Cherry: What is it that inspires you these days? How do you keep that creative spark going?

Alex Pierce: For me, it’s just I learned a long time ago not to get invested in my work so much that my identity is wrapped up in my job, because I think once you start doing that, it’s easy to get burnt out or get depressed about certain things or … Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t get any fulfillment out of your job, but I think it’s really important for you to try and discover personal interests outside of that.

Alex Pierce: And for me, what inspires me, and it sounds, once again, simple, but I just like going on the internet and just looking at cool shit. I like looking at Sidebar, I like all the inspiration blogs, but then I just also think about what are ways for me to explore something and take it back into my work at the office. I like to explore different technologies. I like to do things.

Alex Pierce: But in my personal life, what actually inspires me is I love to read actually. I love reading science fiction. I love reading novels. I am actually in a book club. I’m in a book club and people are going to be like, “Okay, that’s all right. Wow, that’s fancy. That’s hoity-toity.” No. We meet at a bar and we talk about our book. We’re half in the bag before we actually start talking about the book. But I think for me it’s just helped me expose myself.

Alex Pierce: And you know the designer, what’s his name, Tobias van Schneider, I think? The guy behind Semplice and he’s the guy at Spotify. I remember him saying how he gets his inspiration from people outside of the industry and how little he talks to people in the design industry. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I think it is useful to live outside your bubble and just sometimes taking a step away from the screen. And I’m very technology focused, so I’m not saying, Put down your phones. Rah, rah, rah.” I’m saying just find things that you enjoy and have fun with, and I think you can learn how to connect those things together.

Alex Pierce: For instance, I did a thing a few years ago. It’s one of my actually things on my case studies, but I did this thing called, “We Lunchin’, Bro,” which is just an in-office term of just, Where we going for lunch, man? What are we doing?” And my old creative director, he made this word document of just lunches or lunch spots or restaurants in the area, that kind of thing. And I thought, “Okay, this is interesting. So how can I take that and make something a little bit more accessible and interactive for people to help make better decisions during lunch?” And I did that on my own time for the office and I made it a thing. I made it a little mobile website and it was fun to do that. But it’s just one of those things where I’m taking something from another part of my life and seeing how can I apply my own personal skillsets to enhance the experience for me.

Alex Pierce: So that’s where I come from, how do I find inspiration? I have my passions and interests and hobbies and I think about how can I inject that into my own creative mind a little bit.

Maurice Cherry: So what does success look like for you at this point in your career?

Alex Pierce: Success? I think success looks like I’m working on stuff I want to work on. I think success for me is I think having good synergy with your team. For me, I think it’s about … Man, that’s a tough question.

Alex Pierce: Success, I’m still trying to figure that out myself. But I would say I love where I’m at right now in terms of my team. I think success is me continuing to learn, and I think this is one of the things I tell people on my team all the time, which is, especially in our industry, in our field, interactive work, you always have to be learning. You always have to stay on top of things. And I just have that passion around just making sure that I am moving ahead. And success to me looks like I always have something on the horizon, I always am looking forward to the future, I have something that is fulfilling my creative passions and desires. And people might recognize that. Maybe they don’t. I would guess success would be that people do recognize it, I guess, maybe formally or informally or whatever.

Alex Pierce: But for me, and I think this is a long time ago I said this, for me success is me making something that people get a use or enjoy out of, whether that be functionally, whether that’s an app or product or tool, making products that outlive me would be great. But obviously, as we talked about, sometimes especially interactive design can be ephemeral and doesn’t last forever. But I think making things that serve a purpose or function and I want to make experiences that people enjoy. And yeah, that’s where I would leave it at. I think just getting some sort of satisfaction out of people utilizing whatever I make to serve their goals or needs.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Well, it’s 2020. It’s like the future now, which is … it’s so wild to think about. But where do you see yourself in the next five years? In 2025, what will Alex Pierce be working on or what do you want to be working on?

Alex Pierce: Maybe I’m designing a website for the first hoverboard. I don’t know. Right now, I’m currently an associate creative director and I love where I’m at right now. I love the mentorship and guidance as well as still being hands on. I think five years now, I think I’m still doing both those things, maybe at a higher scale, hopefully at a higher scale or larger level. I think my goals are just continuing to just do cool work. Just remember that, for me, we’re so lucky to do the work that we do.

Alex Pierce: A lot of people, for them, you want to make sure that, I want to be clear about this. A lot of people, their job is not their career or their first passion. Sometimes, a job is just a job and everything outside of that, that’s what they … they go to work to earn money to live their life. And that’s perfectly fine and that’s great. And for me, we’re lucky because we get to take our passions and our creative thinking and we go to work and we get to express that. And I used to joke not a lot of people can go to work and their job is to just dick around on the internet.

Alex Pierce: My brother, he’s like a super genius. My brother, he has like three degrees and he’s a VP over at … he’s actually in Atlanta actually. He’s a VP over at Citi, and he’s a math genius, a math nerd, a math whiz. He was a mathlete in high school. Oh, hey, congrats. For him, he tried to explain to me his job once and it just flew over my head. I got a lot of good grades in college, but math was not one of those classes I got great grades in, unlike you, which you’re apparently a creative genius and a math genius.

Maurice Cherry: Well, let’s not go that go that far. But no, go ahead.

Alex Pierce: I’m just grateful for working on stuff that a lot of people … and I want to make sure that people don’t take that for granted, especially if there’s a takeaway from this, is that don’t take what you’re doing so seriously. Some people are like, “Oh, we’re doing work that’s going to change the world.” Yeah, there’s certain … design does have a very important impact on people’s lives. And I think that’s one of my goals, to have my design work impact people’s lives in a positive and in an meaningful, impactful way.

Alex Pierce: But I think at the same time, sometimes you just want to make people smile. Sometimes you want to just entertain people. Sometimes you’re just wanting to have fun. And that’s what I did with my portfolio site. That was the goal. It’s not for everybody, but I made something that … And I remember one comment from a designer on Twitter. He was just like, “Thank you for making personal sites fun again.” And granted, there’s certain flaws with the site, I think from an overall maybe architecture standpoint, but I think the goal for me was just to experiment and have fun and just do cool stuff. And I want to keep being able to do that. And I think that’s something I want people to remember, just we’re really lucky. Just have fun and don’t take yourself so seriously and …

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

Alex Pierce: They can go to my personal site, TheGeekDesigner.com. I’m on Instagram quite a bit. It’s at AlexJamalPierce, all together, lower case obviously. And then I am also on Pinterest, strangely enough. So if you want to see some random recipes that I like, go on Pinterest. I think it’s Alex Jamal Pierce, Pinterest, something like that. If you see a black guy’s face, and I have glasses and a beard, it’s probably me. So, yeah.

Alex Pierce: Then I also still have my Black in History Tumblr up and going. It’s been a little lapsed since I put any entries in, so I need to get back into the flow of things for that. But if you want to check that out, there’s that too. But otherwise, I’ll be at home trying to finish The Irishman. Pray for me on that. I probably won’t. I’m probably going to watch that Six Underground movie that just dropped by Michael Bay. So-

Maurice Cherry: Isn’t that wild how we can binge watch a whole series of a show, but then a three and a half hour movie is too long?

Alex Pierce: Yeah man. I was [inaudible 01:01:55] in that Avengers End Game movie, so I can sit through a long movie, but you got to give me something, man. You got to give me something.

Maurice Cherry: All right. Well, Alex Pierce, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Well, first, I think thank you for, I guess I would say coming back on Revision Path. Like I said before, you’ve been on here before seven years ago, which is wild to think I’ve been doing this now for seven years. My God.

Alex Pierce: I’m impressed. That’s [crosstalk 01:02:24]. I’m glad to be an OG.

Maurice Cherry: OG. Yeah. Well, I think it’s been good to see not only your growth as a designer and really your growth in your career, but also to see how you uniquely approach projects, as you were talking about brand-centric design and user-centric design. I think it’s that level of intelligence about the field and about the work that more people need to see, I think just from us in general.

Alex Pierce: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And hopefully, that will inspire more people to want to get involved, even in some small way. Like you said before, you want people to not take themselves so seriously. But I think it’s important to show that there are folks that are in this industry that can bring that level of play to their work, but also be very serious and smart about it too. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Alex Pierce: Thank you. I’m glad to be back.

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