Terell Cobb

Back in the day, the path to becoming a designer might have meant attending an expensive art school, interning at a design studio or an ad agency, and then working your way up the corporate ladder. But this week’s guest, Terell Cobb, illustrates how you can become a successful designer by carving your own path!

Our conversation begins with a look at Terell’s work at Microsoft, and he talks about his day-to-day schedule, working with his team of designers and researchers, and gives a peek into Black Designers of Microsoft and how they work as a group. Terell also spoke about how his athletic career as a football player taught him about design, and shared with me some mentors who have helped him become the designer he is today. With his drive and ambition, Terell Cobb is definitely someone to keep your eye on for the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Terell Cobb:
My name is Terrell Cobb. I am a design lead over at Microsoft as part of the Digital Transformation Studios.

Maurice Cherry:
Digital Transformation Studios, that sounds super lofty. And I’m sure we’re going to get into that. But before we do, how has 2021 been for you so far? How have things been going?

Terell Cobb:
2021 has been a great ride for me. I believe that last year during the pandemic, it was learning how to be more self-sufficient at home and also taking care of a fam all while taking care of myself as well. And I think within 2021, I’ve gained the appreciation of changing states and moving, and then also starting to center life around just taking care of me and also taking care of the family. It’s been a good ride so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Also you moved to Texas this year then.

Terell Cobb:
When Microsoft had the opportunity for flex work, I took advantage of that and got an opportunity to come back to the Dallas area and get to some familiarity and also just enjoy the atmosphere that we’re in right now. Sorry to rub that into Pacific Northwest folks.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to ask what’s changed for you last year, but clearly location’s been a big part of that.

Terell Cobb:
Yeah. And the sun, and being able to see the sun.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Being a design lead at Microsoft over the platform that you mentioned, can you tell me about that? What all does that entail?

Terell Cobb:
The Digital Transformation Studios is conglomerate of several spaces within that Microsoft. One of those spaces in which I work in is the business applications group. Business applications group are the parts of the business that actually build applications for large enterprise customers. And being able to sit in that part of the arena of Microsoft, it allows me to see how businesses are, specifically using supply chain and provide certain intelligent solutions to that supply chain space.

Maurice Cherry:
What does your team make up look like?

Terell Cobb:
My team today is made up of a couple of designers and also a researcher. However, one of the things that we kind of anchor to within Microsoft is being able to go with an A1 Microsoft mindset. So I also consider my engineers and PMs as part of my tetra or my team as well. I have an amazing group of people that I get to build amazing things with on a daily basis.

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like that’s been a fairly new development within companies to have a researcher on the design team, as it relates to what you’re doing, how does that work?

Terell Cobb:
I appreciate research so much. I believe I’m one of the biggest advocates for research and also content design. But specifically research, I believe that they’re the silver lining of experiences and if we don’t have their heartbeat of what the experience should be, we’re building in the wrong direction and that could be expensive over time.

Maurice Cherry:
I can see how certainly if you feel like you’re going in one direction and internally, you might think that’s a good a thing and then your users are using it and it’s something completely different. They’re not responsive to it or receptive to it like you want to and you have to go back to the drawing board.

Terell Cobb:
Exactly. I think just being southern and being from the south, you hear those proverbs like it’s wrong to run 100 miles per hour in the wrong way. You would want to go in the right way so that you’re not making further mistakes. Start of the project, they’re essential to the midpoint of the project and they’re essential to the delivery part of the project.

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

Terell Cobb:
A typical day for me these days are just a bunch of new negotiating. It’s either negotiating confidence of how much confidence a user is going to be exposed to by the options or things that we’re building. It’s also the negotiation of time of how much should the team be leveraged against a certain initiative? What are we talking about six months from now? What are we planning for a year from now? How do we engage the team itself? And I think recently, really taking a step back away from just design as a delivery, as a process, to more of enjoying the process of actually designing and the delivery will get there, but actually taking the time to enjoy the process of discovery, going into definition, going into actually defining from the research and actually delivering something that’s powerful.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’d imagine in that process, you’re also working in sprints and making sure everyone’s up to speed in other parts of the company or maybe other parts of your team, because you mentioned engineers as well that you’re working with.

Terell Cobb:
Indeed. It’s a healthy balance of speed and quality. And I know not a lot of other designers out there have to deal with most of that. But being at a large enterprise company like Microsoft, there’s nothing new under the sun and you have to bring in your best pudding on what that solution could be next, if that makes any sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes a lot of sense. Now, also at Microsoft, you’re the co-founder of an employee resource group there called Black Designers At Microsoft, which is for black designers at Microsoft. Tell me how that whole thing came about.

Terell Cobb:
Yeah. So the amazing story behind that is that I came into Microsoft and previously started other groups like Dallas Black UX. And also while I was at Capital One, worked with a couple of folks to kind of co-found the Black and Design Employee Resource Group there. When I got to Microsoft, it was more of, hey, I’m just going to focus on my career and a climb. I’m going to leave the Employee Resource Group to the side. I’m going to just stay focused and do this. First day walking in, I meet another black designer and she basically says to me, [Cherryanne 00:09:37] Porter from Houston basically says to me that, “Hey, I’ve never worked with a black designer before you are my first black designer that I’ve ever worked with before.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Terell Cobb:
And that was the inkling of, okay, here we go. We’re about to do it again.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re like the Grand Theft Auto meme , you’re like, “Oh, shit here we go again.”

Terell Cobb:
Here we go. It then intensified by both of us being on the same team and actually going to orientation. And when we went to orientation, we saw on the screen another black designer that was a part of the studio. We were like, “Wait a second, where is she?” And this is Zoe and she’s been inside of the studio, but pretty much could not find her. And then low and behold, the next all hands we meet with each other and we’re like, “Huh, okay. There has to be more of us. Where are we?” I think along with that and just how big the company is, along with some of the understanding of designers being disenfranchised from not even being inside of the world of design from a black designer standpoint, we took that as an opportunity to build something ourselves inside of Microsoft and grow the talent that’s internal but then also attract talent that’s external to the company as well.

Maurice Cherry:
That sort of feeds into what I was going to ask. What sorts of things is the group doing internally and in the larger community, but recruitment sounds like a big part at least of that external, I guess, outreach of the group. Is that right?

Terell Cobb:
Indeed. I think if we look at just some of the general grounding of the group itself, it’s based in on not just looking at one form of design. That’s one of the biggest differences there. It’s not just a UX designer and you’re a part of the group. It’s more so of design with the capital D as it’s reference from our fearless leader, Jonah Sterling, it is design, it’s research, it’s producers, it’s data science, motion designers, audio designers, front end development, illustration. All of these people are a part of the group and the key points there is getting into the intentional community to influence diversity. Influencing diversity internal to therefore make it external, just creating that ripple so that we can continue to build from the inside out and doing that, it was growing the community itself by creating teams channel in safe places along with the opportunity to do share outs, hackathons right now anybody in the group can kind of spin up a opportunity for someone to have a quick review and they can basically get started and you’ll have multiple people join in to give them feedback.

Terell Cobb:
And it’s different because you’re getting feedback from friends in that sense. I could tell you, “No, bro, that’s not going to make it. That may not make it bro, or I like that, that’s going to be amazing.” And it’ll be a little bit different because it feels that it’s coming from that place that we get most of our things from that feels safe for us. Continuing to drive that type of community was important to us and doing it internally through the community piece, but then also reaching out to external to the community and going after middle schools and high schools and also HBCUs. Last year we had a couple of events where we actually partnered with some of the HBCUs out there to kind of expose the craft of design to them.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. When I was in an HBCU some twenties years ago, one of the first company, one of the first tech companies I interviewed with was Microsoft. And actually, I mean, I think I’ve told this story on the podcast before I’m well outside of college now, so I can sort of tell the story, how I scan my way in there. But essentially I was a math major in college and my whole thing was I was part of this program that was sponsored by NASA, my scholarship and everything. And so the goal was like, oh, well, when you graduate college, you’re going to work for one of these NASA facilities. I had interned at two NASA facilities. So in my mind, I’m thinking, boom career set when I graduate NASA. 911 happens.

Maurice Cherry:
And when that happened, the funding for my program got pulled and it went towards Homeland Security. And so this whole guarantee of, oh, well you’re going to work for NASA when you graduate completely gone. I’m like, damn, I got to find a way to … I don’t know what I’m going to do when I graduate because I was working at the high museum selling tickets for $8.70, not making real kind of money and really had no prospects of career stuff. But I had sort of gotten in really good with the computer science department, with the secretary there, shout out to Mrs. Banks. I don’t know if she is even still there or not, but got in really good with her, started hanging out in the computer lab and stuff, started hanging out in her office and that got me access to this interview book.

Maurice Cherry:
And the interview book was basically juniors and seniors that were interviewing with all these companies and all you had to do was just kind of slip your resume in, put your name down. And I was like, “I’m just going to slip my resume in there and write my name in it.” And I interviewed with real player to show you how long ago that was, that went nowhere.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I interviewed with Microsoft and I remember, God, I don’t remember the woman’s name, who I interviewed with, but it was a black woman interview with her and she gave me one interview question. She was like, design an alarm clock for a blind person. And she slid over a sheet of paper and a pen. And I was like, just walk me through your process. And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” So I was talking through, oh, we should do this. And it should vibrate and maybe have sound and all this kind of … She was like, okay, all right, great. And she took it and she put it in a folder, shook my hand. And that was it. That was the interview. I was like, “That’s it.” Apparently it was good enough because they flew me out to Seattle to do an interview with Microsoft and they had it in this sort of almost an elimination style.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if the interviews are like this now, but you do the first interview and if you pass the first one, you go to the second one. If you pass the second one, you go to the third one. And this was all day for an internship. I remember because this started at maybe 8:00 AM and it was getting until around maybe 7:00 PM. I was tired. And I forget what the question was, it was something about notepad and right to left text or something. And I think it was at that point that they realized, oh, wait a minute, you’re not a computer science major are you? Because it was some programming stuff and I was like, I don’t know. I don’t know how to do this and I didn’t get the internship, but I remember vividly being on the campus and everything and when I think of companies that have sort of given me a chance in college, like Microsoft was that one company.

Maurice Cherry:
The fact that you all are still doing HBCU research now some 20 something years later is a testament to the fact that you all have put skin in the game and that it’s not just, oh, we need to look for a diversity. Where should we look? Why do I look at black colleges? You all have been doing this now for a long time.

Terell Cobb:
Indeed. It’s incredibly rewarding not just to win by yourself, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to see others win and see that spark in a high school as I, that, wait a second, I can become a designer. I could be a researcher, I can work at Microsoft is like, yeah. Actually, one of the previous workshops with CodeHouse, shout out to CodeHouse in Atlanta who brought in 29 students from Morehouse and Spelman at the time. And we ran through just roughly about a six hour to seven hour workshop with design. And you can kind of see the amazing minds that are there and applying design thinking to those amazing minds, our leaders coming behind us are going to be crazy good. And I think that is the reward that most of us get from that because there’s a great chance that, hey, we will be working with these leaders later on in life. It’s extremely rewarding.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say the fact that you mentioned high schoolers and middle schoolers, you’re going past just reaching them while they’re in college. You’re getting them at a really pivotal age when they can make a decision on where do I want to go in terms of, I want to say my career, I really think it’s unfair to sort of burden an 18 year old with that anyway. But the fact that you’re showing them that this is an option because now social media and technology is ubiquitous. When I was a teenager in the nineties, there was Game Boy, there was Tomagotchi, there were Super Nintendo. It was all consumer electronic sort of stuff. Certainly no smartphones or anything like that. But now you can show them you can be more than just a consumer or a user. You can be a creator. You can be someone that makes this stuff and to show them that at such a pivotal young age, at middle school and high school is really something.

Terell Cobb:
That is so key. I mean, and even if they choose not to become a designer, we still win because we just taught them design thinking. So now from that point on, they have that emotional intelligence or that critical thinking mass to take with them to the next adventure. And I think that’s part of the reward back to us as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. Now, let’s kind of switch gears here a little bit. You mentioned being in Texas, is that where you also grew up?

Terell Cobb:
No, actually I grew up in South Florida in a small town called Boynton Beach, which is roughly about 40 minutes north of Miami.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Growing up there, were you exposed a lot to design and everything?

Terell Cobb:
Not at all. I like to tell the story this way, that growing up in Boynton and also just South Florida in general, you’re growing up in a football arena. And there’s not much else to do outside of football. You got the notoriety that you had from football. There’s countless of times of pretty much kids starting playing football at four years old. And you could see those kids training and practicing with parachutes at four or five, just trying to get faster and trying to get better there. It’s still to this day, I believe the, South Florida is leading in the most NFL prospects within the country. And it’s not by chance. It’s just simply because of the arena of how important football is in those areas. Because of that, that had gave me an opportunity to be exposed to being a football player, but just doing it a little differently.

Terell Cobb:
I still had some of the tenacity of being on the D line and knowing how to use my hands and knowing how to be fast and running 707s with different people. But I also found a unique ability of me actually setting up the field. I love the aspect of walking each five yards and putting a cone or a shoe or a hat down to say that this was a first down or this was a yard marker. Or this was going to be the goal line, even down to cones. I’ll never look at orange cones the same ever in my life, because I would take these orange cones and you would create different patterns a pentagon, a triangle, a square, a circle, depending on the pattern that’s on the ground, that’s where your feet or your toes would interact with in order to beat the drill.

Terell Cobb:
I got really good at setting up these cones. I really started to understand well, wait a second, I’m good at this. I can also draw a little bit, where is this leading me? I just said no, don’t worry about it. I’m good. I’m going to just put that to the side and continue all with life as is. But the opportunity presented itself when I got into college once leaving the Boynton area. But I appreciate the hardships of Boynton because it taught me the lessons that were needed to be a champion on the things that came to me afterwards.

Maurice Cherry:
I know what you mean about sort of growing up in that crucible of football. I mean, I’m from South Alabama, well, South central, Alabama, and it’s either Alabama or Auburn. One of the two. I know what it is about … And I remember, there were like those Pop Warner football leagues and stuff like that. And I wanted to be, and my mom was like, “No, you’re not doing that.” But I remember there would be six-year-old, seven-year-olds in pads tackling. I remember that vividly exactly about growing up that whole thing about just really getting into football.

Terell Cobb:
Exactly. I mean, that’s exactly it, but I think this is how I attribute back how football taught me design because being one of those four-year-olds out there with the helmet that can’t hardly hold myself up, but making tackles, it’s not just the football field, it’s the people, it’s the cars around the football field. It’s the atmosphere of the lights being on at a certain time. It’s the concession stands as part of food trucks before food trucks were food trucks. It was all of that atmosphere that kind of gave me a sense of how not knowing at that time, but how designed was working or things were designed around me.

Maurice Cherry:
I was in the margin band too in middle school and high school. Every Friday night, it’s a whole production. It’s a whole production. The whole thing. Absolutely. Given that football kind of taught you design in that way, that’s also why you ended up studying it I would imagine in college and you went to Washburn University.

Terell Cobb:
Well, the interesting thing, I went to Washburn University but I think prior to Washburn University, I like to tell the story this way that I earned my way to the middle of Kansas at a junior college called Butler County Community College by not getting great grades in high school. That also earned me the opportunity to see a deer for the first time, see a cow for the first time, didn’t know turkeys could fly found that out.

Maurice Cherry:
And they’re mean, they’re very mean bird, probably because we eat them every year.

Terell Cobb:
It was so interesting to have that culture shock from being from the city and brick and hardship and going into country immediately. The school itself was a college, a cemetery, a Walmart and an oil field. The rest was just the school. It was a stark reality of, hey, if you want to excel in life, there are some things that you will have to do. And that stark reality basically helped me understand what the direction I wanted to go into next. And so as part of the Juco experience, you get an opportunity for teams from across the country to come in and actually draft you or actually pick you up or recruit you from that location. It’s actually high school part two. And during that process, the school Washburn drove about maybe three to four hours down the road in Kansas and actually picked me up and took me to the campus.

Terell Cobb:
And it was one of those moments where you step in and look around like, man, this is nice. I think I could do this. And it was slow and it feel like academia that you saw in the movies for my aspect. And I think that’s what drew me to it because I saw a calmness or a piece around it. And I think heading there starting out, it wasn’t immediately designed. It was jumping directly into psychology. And I thought for sure that I was going to be a psychologist actually getting up to somewhat of my senior year in psychology classes and actually stopping and actually working as security as part of the design as part of the work study football job, making sure that people log off the Mac lab, I guess, I got the opportunity to play on the computers from every once in a while. And the classes that were more of the later classes were the illustrator, the photoshop. I’m going to date myself now, flash multimedia or SWiSH Max classes.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh my God. SWiSH. Oh my God, you took it back. You really took it back with SWiSH.

Terell Cobb:
Being able to see those classes actually happen gave me an opportunity to be like, “Wait a second, they’re doing what I was doing, but drawing, but they’re making stuff move. They’re making their drawings move.” How is that happening though? Wait a second, and think after talking with the professor that night, I actually went in the next day and changed my major to art and then started to go down this path of being the football player, leaving practice with an easel, running across the football field with an easel and all of my art materials and running into the art lab and of course sitting in the corner because pretty much I’m just leaving football practice and fresh hour, but still just leaving football practice, four hours of practice.

Terell Cobb:
I dealt with that dynamic for two more years and it was incredibly beneficial for me just simply because it started to introduce me into graphic design. I was always exposed to graphic design on via bubble letters, airbrush tees, just drawing certain things for certain people, but just didn’t know that it was actual profession behind it. And being able to make that correlation there kind of sparked my career into the design world.

Maurice Cherry:
Getting that exposure to it, knowing that this is something it’s an option that you can take because prior to that design was something that you just sort of consumed, like you mentioned in these sort of bubble letters and stuff like that. But now knowing, oh wait, I can do that too. I can make that. I mean, even that whole setup about leaving football practice and going to our class with a easel, sounds like a feel good holiday movie or something. I mean, if you ever want to transcribe that to a story, I bet Hallmark can pick it up. That sounds pretty dope.

Terell Cobb:
I may have to do that. That’s a good idea. I receive that.

Maurice Cherry:
What were those early days post-college in terms of your career, you’ve graduated now, you were majoring in graphic design. What was next after that?

Terell Cobb:
It was the real world posting its first challenge to me. I think that first challenge to me was getting into an internship. Well, as a football player, you’re spending 40 hours a week on football. So you’re not able to kind of go and market yourself to other agencies and say, hey, I’m a designer. I could do these things. It just wasn’t acceptable or it wasn’t available for you. But in my case, the real world slap that was put in front of me was in order to work my internship, which I finally got at a local ad agencies, Joan Youths And Partners there in Topeka, Kansas, I was only able to do that into on Fridays from roughly 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. In order to be able to do that, I’m finished with school, but of course I have to make money somehow.

Terell Cobb:
I hustled my way into talking to a Topeka Youth Project, a local small school that taught kids that were 15 to 21 jobs and life skill readiness. It was my job to go out to the local fast food restaurants, the local libraries, anybody who had a job for 18 and actually become a business representative and pitch the school to that company to say, hey, I know you manager, and I know this kid that I just taught this class, you guys sound like you’ll be a great match. You should probably hire this kid. Getting the kid hired, that was the first indication of negotiation and stakeholder agreements. Knowing how to actually have those conversations. While doing that, I was only able to work. I believe it was 28 hours a week or 25 hours a week with that company. In order to do that as a business representative, I bargain to say, hey, let me help you with your website and your logo as well.

Terell Cobb:
I’ll do your website and your logo, and I’ll also be your business representative. I was doing that. A normal day for me post college, and this is how bad I really wanted to be in this world of design. I worked from 8:00 AM to roughly about 3:00 PM, Monday through Wednesday at the Topeka Youth Project. On Tuesday through Thursday, I was working overnight shift at FedEx, unloading trucks. Pretty much from roughly about 3:00 AM to 7:00 AM. And then in between the Thursday to Friday, I was also unloading packages to Target and basically being a Target shelf, stocker. All so that I can get the internship completed and also get the first level of experience out of the way.

Terell Cobb:
Now, I’m not saying that most design now coming out of college, don’t have to worry about those types of stories and those types of hustles but it was just a slightly different for me being in a small town and just wanting to make this work so bad and not wanting to go back home and say hey, I didn’t do it, I didn’t make it. That was the start of hard work makes something out of you. But then also hard work creates the character that you need as you continue to progress.

Maurice Cherry:
You were hustling.

Terell Cobb:
It had to happen.

Maurice Cherry:
That reminds me a lot of, there’s another guest we had on the show several, several years ago, his name is Ben [Lindo 00:32:19]. He’s a industrial engineer out of, I think he’s out of Philly or Pittsburgh, one of the two, but he was mentioning how he would do design school. He was doing design school and it was UPS driver at the same time. And would come to class in his UPS uniform and the teacher would always have something to say and that kind of thing but he made it work. I mean, when you’re out there on your own, you have to hustle to make that happen. You have to make those sacrifices, those compromises. And it sounds like you really, really hustled to make that happen. Props to you.

Terell Cobb:
Exactly. And I think it benefited me a lot just because I was exposed to so many different conversations, so many levels of small talk. Many levels of strategy. I knew that I can unload a semi truck of boxes from FedEx in under 56 minutes, holding that record doing that. But I also do the pattern of, if I unload the boxes too fast on the belt it could stop the belt and then pretty much that makes the day longer for other people that are behind me. It’s just so many lessons that are there through that first year out of college.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it really teaches you the value of hard work too. I mean, I think it’s one thing, if you’re going to school and you manage to land that super cushy gig right out of school, and it’s not too hard, but not too easy. It’s kind of Goldilocks kind of situation but I mean, it’s another thing when you get out and you really have to hustle to carve your way into a position or to get to a point where you’re going to be you hopefully setting yourself up for the future in a good way.

Terell Cobb:
Exactly. I think, just being the first of the family to go to college, first of the family to graduate college, you knew and understood you are your help. It wasn’t something else that you can wait on, you were your help. You were ascending this next avenue in arena so that you can then help your family on the back end of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Like you said, it’s that thing where you don’t want to go back home defeated. You don’t want to go back home like, oh, I couldn’t make it. That also pushes you and drives you to succeed as well, that feeling.

Terell Cobb:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
So you worked for a number of companies between being in Kansas, being in Florida, being in Texas, worked for a lot of places. When you look back at your career, now that you’re at Microsoft, do you feel like there was a particular moment or a particular job or anything where you felt like you had leveled up?

Terell Cobb:
I think it was the first opportunity to leave South Florida in working in the banking industry down there at the credit union where I started to see the shift from design as more so as a graphic or tangible color or button style to design as a product experience element moving forward. And I think that was the transition from working in South Florida at the credit union to getting a first big break at working for Barclays Bank here in the Dallas, Texas area. One of the mentors that I had at the local ad agency who saw the drive of what I was doing actually called me up from the South Florida area like, “Hey, you want to try this out?” It’s like, “Well, no, I’m pretty good. I’m building websites. I’m doing club flyers. I’m good.” I’m around my family, but not too close because I don’t want them to get on my nerves, but pretty much I’m close enough so I can go hug them and come back.

Terell Cobb:
But it really was at that point in which I saw the level kind of change because it went from me being just a single designer/webmaster slash business representative at that local credit union, continuing that trend to not just being a slash, but being a focused disciplined designer. And that was coming into that first level of product design at Barclays there with that company.

Maurice Cherry:
Now also prior to Microsoft, you worked for two other pretty large companies, you worked at Capital One, you also worked at FedEx. Was it a big sort of culture shift going from those two companies? One’s logistics, one’s banking. Going from that to a strict tech company? Was that a big shift?

Terell Cobb:
I mean, the amazing part of my pathway is that each one of those companies had a different element that I’m using today in firms of my leadership and moving forward. Within Capital One in the FinTech arena, you’re constantly thinking about how could you do things as a group? It’s all about innovation, how to be … And I greatly appreciate just being there in that arena because Capital One didn’t consider itself to be a bank. It happened to be, as they say, a tech company that so happens to be a bank. And that opportunity of being with instant innovation all the time and blue sky thinking and being able to stop projects from releasing and saying like, “Hey, wait a second. Was that innovative enough? Are we really proud of this thing.” To the introduction of service design and the introduction of critical thinking and the folks from Adio coming in and merging into that as well.

Terell Cobb:
Capital one taught me somewhat of the college of product thinking and design external to school, external to that other layer of just design as a button color or movement. Capital One gave me the piece of grounding then moving into FedEx it was like, “Wait a second, I’ve learned all these things. I can put these things to use. Do you want to see them?” And they’re like, “Now we’re a little bit more safe here.”

Terell Cobb:
We’re just a bit more safe. But I think the logistics side of FedEx taught me the technical aspect of what an engineer actually has to do in order for packages to arrive at a certain time. Understanding, and I’ll never forget this quote, from one of the engineers he basically said to me, “Terrell, how do you build a tank?” And I was like, “What do you mean? Military builds, tanks? Send a request to the military, they build a tank.” And he was like, “No, if you had to build a tank yourself, how would you start?” And then I think this is similar to your clock challenge here, where an engineer thinking about a tank is going to be the larger items first and then start going into the cogs of the tank and building the cogs to get back out to the larger things, having a base building in, and then starting building out the shell of the tank and the color of the tank, none of that matters to them.

Terell Cobb:
And that gave me the perspective of how an engineer thinks versus a PM thinks versus a designer thinks. Wrapping all of that around and kind of turning the corner here and going back to where I’m at at Microsoft, it was the critical thinking and also being able to take chances at Capital One, also along with the technical understanding and saying, “Hey, I can’t go build this tank without these particular cogs. They’re important to somebody they’re important to the experience. And then they’re also important to the team that’s building it.” So how do I become a technical designer/team player and then entering into one of the largest tech companies in the world, it’s how do you mash up all of that experience into something and make sure that you can speak the engineering language, you can speak the PM language and you also provide the quality and also the confidence within a customer using this product moving forward. Hopefully I’m answering that question in the best way.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes a lot of sense. I mean I think that you always want to think about how you can transfer skills when you’re going from one really big, I think, type of company to another one. And granted all of these do have tech sort of at their core in some way, you’re just using that tech to solve different problems.

Terell Cobb:
I think doing that and also keeping the duality of going back to football, no man left behind or no person left behind and going back and sitting having lunch with the engineers, sitting next to them and saying, “Hey, show me what you did because that was kind of dope. How did you do that.” Spending the time to get to know your teammates, getting the time to actually make this analogy football there’s 93 plays to a game. How many times have you talked to your coworkers in a week? How could you start to understand what they’re going through? How could you start to extend to your team and actually give them the same type of comradery that they’re looking for because you are spending a lot of time with that person. Just anchoring back those principles inside of the duality of also having the technical chops to talk workshop, if you needed to.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And one other interesting thing, and you sort of talked about this, I think a little bit at the top of the interview was that you’ve also, maybe not at each of these companies, but certainly you did this at Capital One and now Microsoft, you started these black ERGs. Was it important for you to sort of build that community as you started? How did that manifest itself?

Terell Cobb:
It was incredibly important to see other people like me within the design world. I think like most designers starting out, you’re constantly looking for mentorship and sometimes you have to be the mentor as you rising yourself and you’re providing advice to people, however, you are looking for some advice yourself. And I think within the different groups, it was the opportunity to not only see people that look like you doing amazing things and being able to connect with them and saying or resonating against saying, “Hey, I’ve gone through that as well or I have had this conversation as well,” to more of just that comradery of, have you had an ethics conversation about this design? What did they say about this ethics conversation and being able to just talk shop with them in that way? I think the pleasure that I have within all of these groups is they’re all unique and all based on just different stories of how they got started.

Terell Cobb:
I think within the Capital One space, there were roughly about six of us that stood up at an all hands and were like, hey, I see you. I see you. And it was like, “Well, maybe we should stay in touch.” And then it went from, maybe we should stay in touch to maybe we should have meetings to maybe we should influence more recruiting and to maybe we should have somewhat of a council or somewhat of a type of event. And then with the Capital One piece, it was then like, how do I extend that outside of the company because I can’t just do it from Capital One. How do I also extend inside of the Dallas area? So then it was working with the Bobby Lloyds, the Michael [Tingling 00:44:03], the Labora Willis, the Adrian [inaudible 00:44:06] to kind of expand just create a ripple here in the Dallas area but then also move around to the Houston area.

Terell Cobb:
Just trying our best to create events and also create community for us here. And I think that just followed me just going into the Black Designer space at, at Microsoft because it was so welcomed by other people in that community too. And also the aspect of being able to create something that you know 20 years from now will still be there is something that I get chills over just simply thinking like, hey, that group is going to be amazing because we set it up in that way and they have their heart in the right place.

Maurice Cherry:
When you think back throughout your career, you mentioned mentorship. Who have been some of the mentors that have really helped you out in your career?

Terell Cobb:
Oh, wow. I think there’s some really awesome people out there. I say, some folks like Ty Griffin comes to mind, then there’s, people who were helping that didn’t even know that they were helping, that were just more friendships, right? Like the Tim Allens out there, the Danley Davis is out there. The folks like Dr. [Oco 00:45:30] who was pretty much the person who kind of helped me shift from saying I’m just going to work in a hospital to, hey, I’m going to go to college. I’d say those people along with the Pastor Hicks in Topeka Kansas, the Lisa Carters that are out there and all the football coaches associated with it. Those are some of the people that kind of gave me the drive, but also instilled that I cannot just keep this to myself. I have to also throw the rope back for somebody else or leave a breadcrumb for somebody else behind me so that how I can help them would be beneficial to the future.

Maurice Cherry:
In recent years, what would you say has been, and the biggest lesson that you’ve learned about yourself?

Terell Cobb:
I would say that I’ve learned that I am incredibly a nerd when it comes to setting things up and being deeply in process. I read some of the similar books throughout the week. I have my coffee and sit on the stoop and actually bask in the sun, but also just that appreciation of designing the little things. And I think this recent trip that I just took to Denmark for a designed workshop there kind of reminded me as I saw enabled person, actually leave the train with with a wand who was basically visually impaired, actually get off the train, stumble on the little ground stubbles and pretty much make their way like a boss to the escalator without any help. It was a reminder to me of, somebody thought in process of this person leaving the train in this way, somebody thought about the doorknobs that’s in front of me. Somebody thought about the angles that in front of me, what are the processes that I’m creating for people behind me as well.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you define success now?

Terell Cobb:
I define success a little differently from other people. And I say that just to say that I look at success as an opportunity to succeed. As long as you have that opportunity, I don’t believe that you fail. I believe that you learn. And if you have that opportunity, you started in part of that success you’ve already … To start is success.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that. Because oftentimes really, it’s just that first step that you have to make.

Terell Cobb:
Exactly. You have the thought and you have a couple of seconds to go about that thought or a couple of minutes or that first step. I think we’re a little bit hard on ourselves sometimes and I think just to start in itself is success.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you like the next chapter of your story to be?

Terell Cobb:
I have this grand dream of creating pillars of design practices across the country and their anchor inside of some of the experiences that I’ve had over in the past of the different tech companies or the different businesses that I worked for. But I think mostly the desire to have those communities or those practices is kind of related back to just one in the lead break grounds. My desire is to work on the next 20 years now. There’s an amazing book out there Called What The Forecast. And I look at it almost every week because it kind of puts these brain like exercises in front of you that says it’s five years from now. I am doing this, I’m driving this. I am living here. And it goes from five years to 15 years to 20 years. And I’m constantly thinking about those 20 years just because if you don’t start on it, it’ll just sneak up on you.

Terell Cobb:
That’s my next step here. Just continuing on that path of thinking about those next 20 years. And I have breakfast with some amazing guys, almost every other weekend. And we joke and say, well, we’re talking about our 85 year old self and what our 85 year old self is eating. What could we do now to help our 85 year old self? Are we at 85 and we’re riding motorcycles to eat for breakfast? Are we pulling up in our wheelchairs? Do we have scooters? How mobile do we want to be when we get to that age? I’m constantly thinking about the future in normal yet intriguing terms of life now.

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

Terell Cobb:
Yeah. So if anyone wants to find me on LinkedIn, definitely reach out to me. If I can’t get back to you, I promise you, I will find somebody that can get back to you. Terrell Cobb, T-E-R-E-L-L C-O-B-B on LinkedIn. If you want to follow me on Instagram, it’s a vintage_424. I’m always there. And those are some of the main channels right now where people can find me.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Terrell Cobb, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. One for just giving a peak behind the curtain as to what it is that you do at Microsoft and even how you’ve helped to create community not just inside of Microsoft or designers there, black designers there, but also the help out in the community as well, but really sort of showing the fact that perseverance really the way. There’s so many paths into design, there’s so many ways to be a success or to do anything really in this industry. And I think what your story really illustrates is that there’s no one single way to do things. There’s no one way to be a success. And so hopefully people will get a chance to hear your story and we’ll take that to heart. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Terell Cobb:
This was incredible. Thank you so much, Maurice, I really appreciate it.

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Roneka Patterson

These past two years have been stressful for all of us in a lot of ways, but this week’s guest is proof that you can find a way to redirect those feelings into something positive. Meet Roneka Patterson, an associate creative director at Hawkeye in Dallas, Texas, and the co-creator of The Unwritten Rules.

Roneka and I talked about adjusting to work from home life, and she shared a bit about her process and what it’s like to be a creative director. From there, we discussed The Unwritten Rules, including how the project was launched last summer with other Black creatives, and she shared how she got Hawkeye on board with amplifying its message. Roneka also spoke about mentorship and how she’s helping local high schoolers discover their creativity as well. Roneka’s motto — “keep going” — is one I think we can all adopt as we move forward and chart our own paths to success in this industry!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Roneka Patterson:
I’m Roneka Patterson. I’m an associate creative director with an art director background. I work at Hawkeye, which is an agency, an ad agency in Dallas, Texas. I’ve been at Hawkeye for about four and a half years, and I work on the Capital One account. So we do just basically a little bit of everything for Capital One, but a lot of CRM and direct mail, email messaging for them.

Maurice Cherry:
Now we’ve had quite a few advertising folks on the show, probably since the beginning of Revision Path, but certainly over the past year or so. How has it been adjusting to the work from home life?

Roneka Patterson:
It’s had its ups and downs. I think when we first started last year, there was definitely a lot of anxiety for me. I’m kind of an introvert and so I really relished having my time at my home with my family away from work. I think there was just a lot of nervousness on our team when we first went home. I was just getting pinged all night, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 at night through our messaging apps. Finally had to like, “Guys, we still need to have some boundaries here even though we’re at home.” So that stuff has kind of leveled out, but there’s still I’ve three year old daughter and so there’s times when she’s at home trying to work and my wife and I are juggling who’s got her now. It’s been a challenge.

Roneka Patterson:
I’ll say that from a creative standpoint, I don’t feel like the work for our team has dipped any. I feel like we’ve actually been a little bit more creative working from home. I don’t know. I think there’s a freedom of being able to work at your own pace with things, whereas if you’re in an office there’s a little bit more like, “Okay, how are things coming,” you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Roneka Patterson:
But this has definitely been my most creative year in a while in terms of just the types of ideas that I’ve had, the thinking I’ve been able to do. I’m grateful for that. It’s been ups and downs, definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
How long did it take for you to get into a groove where you’re like, “Okay, I can do this day to day.”

Roneka Patterson:
Oh, man. I think maybe over the summer. Maybe the fall of last year, of 2020, I think that’s when things kind of started to level out. So it was a good six months of it just being very chaotic. Not chaotic in the sense like, “Oh, I wish we could go back to the office,” but just this is just a lot. And I know that it’s a lot more than it would be if we were in the office. I think that fall is pretty much when it started to feel like okay, I feel like I’ve got the handle of this and it just wasn’t as intense.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about your work at Hawkeye. You mentioned you’re an associate creative director. Is the Capital One account the only project you’re working on or do you work with other clients?

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah, I work with a couple of other clients just on project by project basis. I’m dedicated to Capital One. Our team that I work on, there’s about 30 of us. I think we’re one of the larger accounts in the agency and so we work pretty much primarily on them. But there are little things that come in the door that we can help out with for other clients. So I’ll say it’s about a 90/10 split.

Maurice Cherry:
So let’s say a new project comes in. Talk to me about that process. Where do you come in? How do you work with the particular client? How does that work?

Roneka Patterson:
So as an associate creative director, I’m a half manager, half hands kind of person, I think moving a little bit more towards manager. So basically when a project comes in, I’m helping staff the job. So it’s like, “Okay, we think this project is going to need two art directors and a writer, or two art directors and two writers.” I’ll help with that and then I’ll just be providing oversight and guidance as those projects happen. So I’m helping out with brainstorming, helping check files to make sure that they’re built correctly per the standards of the client. Basically just oversight.

Roneka Patterson:
Occasionally I’ll still get in there and do some design work. If we’re a little understaffed and we’ve got some people out on PTO, I can definitely help out in those cases. But generally just providing oversight and guidance based on the experience that I’ve had working on the account.

Maurice Cherry:
And so how long did it take you to get to that point within Hawkeye? Because I would imagine coming in you have to work your way up to that, right?

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah. So I’ve been an associate creative director for a year and a half now. I think it’ll be two years in January. So prior to that I was a senior art director, and so a lot of what I was doing was the associate creative director level of things where I’m having to lead presentations and oversight on jobs. It hasn’t changed much, but yeah, a lot of it was just getting familiar with the company, getting familiar with the team, establishing a name for myself on the team. And then again, just starting to do that next level of work that finally they’re like, “Okay, yeah, you should definitely be doing this job because you should be getting paid for this because that’s the job that you’ve been doing.”

Maurice Cherry:
What’s a typical day for you working at Hawkeye?

Roneka Patterson:
So a typical day for me now, a lot of meetings. Whether it’s kickoff calls, like we’re kicking off new jobs, status calls just to see what everyone on the team is working with and help allot resources for the different projects. We do a lot of check-ins. Our account is very agile, so they love to meet. They’d much rather over communicate than things get dropped. And so we’ll do a lot of check-ins internally with our creative folks, like this is how the work is coming along. We’ll give feedback, we’ll do check-ins.

Roneka Patterson:
Capital One has their own robust creative department, so we’ll do check-ins with them to make sure that the work that we’re creating meets the brand needs. And then we’ll do check-ins with the client, the business managers who’ve actually requested the work. So a lot of meetings. In between there is time for brainstorms and occasional sketching, but a lot of it is just making sure that things are moving properly, that creative folks have the help they need so if they’re stuck on something or if they need an extra set of eyes on something, providing that support. But that’s pretty much how my days go nowadays.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s something that you think people underestimate about your role?

Roneka Patterson:
So when you’re at a CD level, and this may be me making assumption about that level, there’s a lot more strictly oversight. It’s understood that your job is to lead and to direct. With an associate creative director, you’re kind of in this in between area where there’s an expectation that if we get in a jam, you’re going to have to help out designing something or laying out something. Because of that, even though my workload, it may look like Roneka is only designing on a couple of things, I’m actually overseeing seven or eight things. So I think sometimes there’s the assumption that because you don’t see me doing the art direction stuff, that I’m not doing direction.

Roneka Patterson:
It’s one of those things, it’s not like a woe is me type of thing, but it’s something that I didn’t realize about the role before I got into it was just that there’s a lot of oversight takes time, to make sure to check in projects, to be able to switch on a dime to remembering, where are we at with this one? What kind of feedback can I give here that would be helpful? Presenting to clients, just being able to manage if something goes wrong and how do you talk to that? How do you speak to that in the moment? There’s just a lot of that kind of stuff that I think I wasn’t cognizant of before I got into the role.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve heard that from other folks that are in advertising as well, so what you’re saying definitely lines up with that. I want to go more into your background. I know you’re at Hawkeye, which is located in Dallas. Are you originally from Dallas?

Roneka Patterson:
So I’m from Austin, which is about three hours south of Dallas, so I didn’t go very far. Yeah, most of my family is from the Dallas Fort Worth area and my parents just kind of branched down to Austin and had me. I just stuck down there while I grew up and then I ended up moving back to Fort Worth for school.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you know early on that you were into design and advertising and all of that?

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah, so I always loved art. I love to paint, I love to draw, I love sculptures. Always had a passion for that. I mean, I can do think back to grade school and just being super into that kind of stuff. So I didn’t necessarily understand how to make a career out of that in terms of what design was, what advertising, art direction, all that kind of stuff. But I knew that I was really passionate about that.

Roneka Patterson:
Funny, actually, when I was in middle school, I used to run track. Pretty good at it. We were city champions my eighth grade year, which was a highlight for me. When I got to high school, it’s a different ball game when you’re changing sports in high school. There was a lot of practice for running track in high school. And I remember going home with my mom one day and I was like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I was like, “I want to just focus on my art.” And my mom was like, “Well, whatever you do, just make sure you go a 100%.” So she let me get out of track and I really started focusing on art.

Roneka Patterson:
I was taking art classes. I got some AP credit in art that I was able to take to college with me. I loved to create, to draw. I used to joke that my favorite class in high school other than art was history class because it allowed me time to just draw. I’d sit in my seat and just draw during the class and I loved that. But that’s where that love started to really strengthen. From there I was like, “Okay, I want to go to school, to college, and I don’t know how to do this.” So I was able to find TCU had a really good graphic design program, so I was able to get into that and the rest was history.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s talk about that. Tell me what your time was like at TCU.

Roneka Patterson:
It was good. It’s a small private school and there’s a lot of money that gets poured into that school. They’ve got a pretty good football program. The Black community there is pretty tight knit because I think there’s only like 8% Black students there out of the entire school. So created some camaraderie that was nice.

Roneka Patterson:
In terms of the design program there, I think I was the only Black woman in my coursework, but there were other Black folks in the fine arts, studio arts degree path. So I was able to make some connections with them. Some of them I still speak to to this day.

Roneka Patterson:
So I think that overall, with all of the creatives that I’ve met through my career, I do feel like it was a really solid education, a really solid foundation. It taught me design fundamentals, an understanding of conceptual advertising thinking. I’ve met some folks that didn’t have one or the other, who went to an ad school or a design school. I just feel like TCU gave me a really good balance of the two things.

Roneka Patterson:
I’ll say that that’s where I had my first design job. I had a professor who pulled me this side one day and he was like, “Roneka, the dining hall is hiring.” And I’m like, “Excuse me? What’s that have to do with me?” He was like, “No, no, no.” He was like, “They have a marketing department and they’re hiring. They’re looking for a designer and so I think you should check that out. I think it might be a good fit for you.” It was great. I got to design posters and little logos for advertising around the dining hall. I got a free meal every day, which was amazing. And so that was my first design job was at TCU.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. In a way they really did prepare you for getting out there, working as a designer because you got a job working for the college while you were there.

Roneka Patterson:
Yep. Yeah, it was awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So when you graduated, what was your early career like? I see you worked for an agency called Sonus. Tell me about that experience.

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah. So that was a privately owned small boutique marketing agency. And so I think when I got hired, there was one other designer there and then I think she left within a year so I was the sole designer there. We had an account person and me. It gave me a good foundation of these are all the things that are entailed with marketing, kind of had to do it all. I learned how to present to clients because I was the person that had to present. I did the work and I had to present the work. Timelines, budgeting, all that kind of stuff. I think I learned more in that experience than I think I would’ve learned just being dropped into an agency environment or a larger agency because there just wasn’t enough hands. I had to do a lot of it.

Roneka Patterson:
I left there to work at an ad agency, and I worked there for six or seven years. It was at Moroch in Dallas. That experience, high highs and low lows. I think that I got to work on a bunch of different clients. I got to do a lot of different types of projects. The range of work that I got to do there really was amazing. It was the aughts, the mid-aughts, the late-aughts, so there was a lot of… I don’t know, the reckoning that’s happened in advertising over the last year or so, that was not a thing back then. So there was a lot of just political, cultural things that just really just wore me down.

Roneka Patterson:
There’s too many things to name. Just random things that happened that I think if you talk to any Black person who’s worked in corporate America, they could probably be like, “Yeah, yeah. That sounds about right.” After the time that I spent there, I left that agency and I said that I was never going to work in advertising again. I don’t care where I work. I’ll be a postal worker, I’ll work at the art museum. I don’t care. I can’t do this anymore and I don’t want to go back. This isn’t for me.

Roneka Patterson:
So I ended up at a greeting card company. So we did basically the B2B greeting cards, the type of cards that corporations send out during the holidays. So I worked in the marketing department there and got to lead and also just to see how things go from the business side because that’s another thing that you don’t really get to see when you’re working in an agency is just the business side of things. How are some of those decisions made? How are our agencies received? Because we worked with some freelance agencies, some of our projects and just sitting on the other side of the table, how are those things received?

Roneka Patterson:
So I did that for a little while and then I started to get the itch about potentially moving back into an agency environment. I’d said for myself it needed to be the right agency. It needed to be the right environment. I needed to feel safe. I don’t mean safe in the sense of boring, but safe as a Black queer woman, am I going to be safe in that environment? Am I going to have opportunities in that environment? So that’s how I ended up at Hawkeye. Actually, I got interviewed by two women who were creative directors and immediately I was like, “Okay, this may be it.” I’d never actually worked with a female creative director before in my entire career. So that was a very big reason why I wanted to work there. There are a bunch of other women creative directors at Hawkeye, which was really, really comforting for me.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it that appealed to you about going back to work at an agency?

Roneka Patterson:
I missed the creative department. I missed having a team of other creatives that you could bounce ideas off of, that could help push you and help push your work. I missed that. I missed having writers that could help me generate ideas and say it in a way, a lot more concisely than I could say it. I missed all of that. I missed the direction and just opportunities to just solve different types of business problems for people. I missed all that.

Roneka Patterson:
I didn’t realize it when I left that first agency, but I was like, “Yeah, I definitely miss…” When you don’t have it, that’s when you realize, yeah, there’s some value in having people around you that are super smart and super talented and they can just help make your work better. Also, they get it. You’re not having to explain and reexplain why creative is valuable and why it’s important.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s good that you had that break after working for two agencies for a long time. You can sort of separate yourself a bit from it. There’s that saying that hindsight is 2020. So you’re able to then look back and say, “All right, well, these are things I liked and this is why I want to have more of these things and maybe less of something else.”

Roneka Patterson:
Yep. You got it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you talk about encountering a female creative director and that’s sort of what made you decide to work with Hawkeye, but did you encounter a lot of Black creatives in advertising throughout your career?

Roneka Patterson:
A handful, Maurice, a handful. when I was at Moroch I think there was about maybe five of us total Black creatives there. Traditionally in advertising, I met more Black strategists, account folks, relationship management folks. We had a few of those there. But creative, it was just few and far between really, and it was very discouraging.

Roneka Patterson:
I never saw anyone that outranked me. It was either a peer or someone that was a junior level. It gets in your head a little bit because you’re like, “Okay, maybe this is not thing that women can do. Maybe this is not a thing that Black women can do to be leaders, to be creative leaders.” I know logically that’s not true. I keep an eye on the industry, I know that that’s a thing that happens outside of where I’m at right now. But when you’re young coming up, you just don’t know. I was like, “Maybe I have to move account side or move into strategy and that will allow me to grow, have advancement.” But yeah, it messes with your head a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you found now that you’re more into your career in terms of tenure that you’ve encountered more Black creatives?

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah, definitely, definitely. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable and confident with networking. Like I said earlier, there is a camaraderie that we have, those of us in this business, even if we don’t know each other. There’s just a little like, “Oh, yep, yep, yep.” You know you’re probably fighting some of the same battles and trying to champion some of the same causes. And so yeah, I definitely, any time I’m out and about, whether it’s an industry thing, an industry event or a conference or something, I’m definitely connecting with folks because you just never know.

Roneka Patterson:
You never know when you’ll run into those folks again, there may be an opportunity that you can provide someone or vice versa. I see a lot more now and I’m able to connect with a lot more now, which is really, really nice.

Maurice Cherry:
You created a project called The Unwritten Rules, which you did in conjunction with a former Revision Path guest we had on the show before, Alex Pierce, along with some other Black creatives. Talk to me about that. How did this come about?

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah, so this came about last summer. Obviously we had just a period of months of just… It was like a drumbeat of violence against Black people. Shootings and police violence and intimidation and gaslighting. Obviously a lot of that, the feelings of that culminated with George Floyd’s passing, murder rather.

Roneka Patterson:
So Alex reached out to me and he’s like, “Hey, I’m going to get some folks together to see if there’s just something that we can do or create just to get some of our feelings out about what’s happening.” And so I’m like, “Yep, just invite me to the meeting. I’ll be there.” There was about 20 of us, and so mostly creatives, couple of strategy folks. And Hawkeye, like most agencies, it’s a predominantly white agency, but the Black creatives there, we all have a side group chat and we keep in contact with each other, check in with each other. It was Alex and myself and Adam Johnson who’s a Black copywriter formerly, at Hawkeye. He was at Hawkeye at the time. Couple of other creatives.

Roneka Patterson:
We just talked, the Black folks on the team, we just kind of talked. We were like, “What are we feeling? What message can we say? What can we create? What can we do?” We did some brainstorming, we just did some really just brainstorming. What could we do? What could we create? We settled in this idea about these rules, these unwritten rules that Black folks all know that the larger population may not be cognizant of. In the conversation, it was just a little bit like, “What if we came up with an encyclopedia or just a foundry of these different rules?”

Roneka Patterson:
We talked a lot about tone because part of the thing last year that happened with a lot of agencies, immediately there was a lot of like, “Things are bad and here’s your black square and we need to do better. And we will.” Okay, great. It was like the universal we need to do better. Okay. We’ve been telling you that for a while, but okay. I’m glad you caught up. Tonally, we were like, “These rules are not melodramatic, trauma porny kind of stuff.” As a Black person, they don’t make me feel anything other than, yeah, this is just the way we have to… These are the things we have to know to stay safe and to avoid craziness.

Roneka Patterson:
It was very similar, in a lot of ways, to we’re doing some research on The Green Book If you read The Green Book, or any of The Green Books, there is a very matter of fact tone about the fact that this magazine needed to be created to keep Black people safe. It wasn’t like a so and so got lynched yesterday. It was very much like, “Hey, if you’re going to be driving to El Paso, here’s a body shop that you can go and get your car serviced. They won’t hassle you.” Very matter of fact. That kind of tone resonated with us. It made sense to us as Black folks. Again, these are rules that we just have to know, and we thought it would be a great matter of fact way to present these rules.

Roneka Patterson:
One of the main things that we really wanted to do with it was not just to say, “Hey, these are rules that Black people need to know.” But the so what. So what is here’s some data that backs up why this rule is a thing. Here are some things that you, person who’s reading this rule, can do to help make this situation better. For all of the rules that we have that we outlined, we came up with some different resources that we thought would help pay off. You read this rule, here’s something if you want to get involved, here’s a thing that you can do that can hopefully help make this rule not be a thing anymore, to erase that rule.

Roneka Patterson:
And so once we solidified this idea, we did some design exploration. There’s a designer at our agency. Her name is Rosie Ulloa, I always mispronounce her name. But she helped create the visual, the color scheme, the fonts, the visual direction for this. And from there, we’re like, “Okay, we’re going to build a website. We’re going to do a social media campaign. We’re going to start creating some things with this.” And so from there, we started developing the website and we had an interactive designer, a web developer rather, from the company who was able to donate his time to help us build this thing. From there, it was once we had the look established we started working on our social calendar, because we did want to do an entire social media campaign that’s tied to this website to help promote the website. We wanted to do some user generated content. We want people to write in about rules that they’ve experienced that we may not have covered.

Roneka Patterson:
The website ended up being pretty robust just from a researching standpoint. We did the audio, we did audio narration of all the rules so you’ll hear my voice on the website in some spots. We really wanted to do a full audio visual kind of multidimensional thing.

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah, that’s kind of the origin of it. We did this on our own time. I do think the pandemic helped make this a thing. I think had we been in the office it would’ve been a little bit more challenging to, “Hey, we’re meeting on the fourth floor at four,” kind of thing. It’s a lot easier to just, here’s a Zoom link. Let’s link up. Just a lot of nights and weekends and some holidays just turning on it and refining it and getting the content, the writing.

Roneka Patterson:
We had some great writers that have helped flesh things out. Oversight is what I was talking about earlier, making sure that the tone is right and making sure that we’re not saying things that are improper. Yeah, it was a big thing. At a certain point we had to tell our agency, “Hey, this is the thing that we built.” And they were super supportive. It was really just a passion project that’s still going, still reviewing social posts once a week. But yeah, it was a side of desk thing that took a lot of love and heart and we wanted to do it for Black people so that when Black folks see it they’ll know we got you. You’re being heard. You’re not alone in that experience. And then we wanted to do it for the broader population so that they see in writing that these are things that Black folks have to be aware of and why.

Maurice Cherry:
You said something interesting in there I want to, I guess, learn more about. You said at some point you had to let Hawkeye know that this was something that you were doing. Why is that?

Roneka Patterson:
Well, we needed some support. I think part of it, we needed some legal counsel with some of the user generated content stuff, ideas that we were thinking about. We wanted to be clear with Hawkeye that, while we are all representatives of Hawkeye in our day to day, this was a separate thing. We don’t want this to be The Unwritten Rules courtesy of Hawkeye. Our CEO, Joe DeMiero, he’s a great guy. He was very much from the get go like, “Whatever you guys need, let me know. I will help provide it. We are here to support. So whatever you guys want to do.” They’ve been very, very, just the right kind of support.

Roneka Patterson:
We did want to do some promoting. [inaudible 00:30:53] has 70,000 employees globally. It’s like, “Hey, can we get this on some of our inner agency communications?” They were more than willing to do that. So we got some articles in our inner agency ecosystem. Hawkeye social promoted it and they basically were providing some promotional support, which was really, really, really appreciated on our part. But yeah, that was the extent.

Roneka Patterson:
One other thing that we definitely said we wanted to do from the get go is we don’t want to really submit this for awards. This is not just a how to fix racism from an ad agency. We just so happen to work at an ad agency and we’re going to use the talents that we have just because we work in advertising to do this. But this isn’t awards bait. This isn’t a play to get advertisers to care about this cause. We wanted it to be bigger than that. We wanted it to be for the general public to experience and react to. Yeah, that’s kind of how we ended up where we are now.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see this project going from here?

Roneka Patterson:
So we have some things in the works. I’m not going to say specifically, but I probably should just to make sure we name it, claim it. Our social media calendar, we’ve got that planned out through next summer. And our social media, we’re basically taking the idea of the encyclopedia and kind of expanding it a little bit. We have a rule breaker series. These people in history who’ve broken rules, broken some of those unwritten rules. We’re doing definitions like defining what do we mean when we say defund the police? What does that mean? Sometimes just putting it in writing for people, making a record of it. We’re not the first people to talk about the unwritten rules. We’re not the first people to try to define defund the police and why it matters. But those are the types of things that we feel like The Unwritten Rules should talk about. That’s the big thing that’s continuing to happen. And like I said, we’ve got a couple of other things that we’re working on down the line.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s been the feedback so far from the project?

Roneka Patterson:
It’s been positive. The best feedback I’ve gotten I think was from my family, who I’ve got Black Texans. Grew up in West Texas, East Texas, for them to be like, “This is amazing,” that says it. It says it in it’s beautiful. It says it in the right way. That’s been the best feedback for me. It’s been very, very positive, very, very affirmative. And it definitely does make the time and the love… There’s this moment when you send stuff out where you’re like, “I don’t know how this is going to be received. Is this going to work on Black Twitter?” Yeah, it’s been overwhelmingly positive and I think that’s part of why we’re like, “Okay, let’s keep going.”

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good. The reason I was asking that before about why get your employer involved, because it sounded like this was something you really were all doing as a labor of love. I’m not saying this to cast dispersions on Hawkeye specifically, but I could see how an agency, particularly during this sort of time, would look at a project like that and try to claim ownership over it in some kind of way, you know?

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah. I’m sure there was probably a little twinge because there was some things that were presented to us where we had to turn it down. It’s like, “Hey, we have this newsletter.” It’s like, “No. It doesn’t really align with what we’re trying to do.” It was like, “Oh, we’re thinking we can create a training module that’s…” Like, “No, nope. It doesn’t really align with the time commitment that we have for this, for that.”

Roneka Patterson:
I know that if it had been a specifically Hawkeye driven project, I think definitely the rollout would’ve been different. And that’s just the nature of they’re in the business. They’re trying to get clients, they’re trying to show their clients that they’re a different type of agency than they are in a lot of ways, hence the support that we got for the project. I know it’s a fine balance, but they were all very, very respectful. Our executive leadership folks, they were very, very respectful and very grateful that we did this and just very supportive of whatever you guys need, we’re going to do it. We’re going to help you make it happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. That’s really great to hear, yeah.

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, in your spare time, I noticed from going through on your website, you’re quite the photographer.

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you first get into photography?

Roneka Patterson:
I’ve always loved photography, even back to when I was in high school, picking up, figuring out what kind of art I wanted to create. I got my first camera in college. I’d had to take some photo classes to get my degree, and love it. I love being in the lightroom. I shoot all digital now so just love the ease of that.

Roneka Patterson:
But I really got more serious about taking portraits when I was working back at the first agency that I was working at. This business, it’s a grind. And so I don’t think you’ll meet a single person in advertising, creative, who doesn’t have some type of side hustle or is like, “Oh yeah, I do murals. I paint.” And so that just ended up being the side hustle that I really gravitated towards.

Roneka Patterson:
And so I started shooting with my friends and then that had started to lead to some actual work, some paid work. And it’s something that I love to do. It’s something that I’ve kept up with. I take classes and tutorials. I’m a part of the Black Women Photographers group. They have speakers speak to us about working photographers who talk about the business. So I’m always just soaking in all of that stuff. I hope, as I get older, that that’s something that I can retire into. I would love to do that full time in my golden years.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your career, and even to where you are right now at the moment, talk to me about mentorship. Has mentorship been something that has really helped you out throughout your career? Is this something that, at the level you’re at now, you feel you have to give back? Talk to me about that.

Roneka Patterson:
So mentorship has always been valuable to me. I feel like I’ve only in the last maybe four or five years been able to adequately provide it to others. I had to get over my issues with advertising and be able to view it in a way to where I could actually impart words of wisdom or good vibes on someone who wants to make it in this industry. But I love it. I’ve worked with the Marcus Graham Project last summer to… I had a couple of guys that I was mentoring. Anytime I’ve been around Black creatives, I’m like, “Hey, let’s network, let’s talk. How can I connect you with something?” So it’s definitely something that I’ve pushed.

Roneka Patterson:
This year, my group at Hawkeye, the team that I work on, we started a mentorship program with Dallas ISD. So there’s a school here locally, a high school, it’s mostly predominantly Black and Brown. And we wanted to teach them about advertising. We basically figured out that part of two twofold issue that’s happening with Black and Brown folks in advertising, it’s recruitment and retention, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Roneka Patterson:
Retention is how do we make this environment inhabitable for Black and Brown folks? Make them feel like they have a sense of community and safety. And then with recruiting, do kids know what advertising is? A lot of us backed into it. If you had asked me in high school if I wanted to work in advertising, I probably probably would’ve told you no because it sounded like, I don’t know. It sounds like suits and briefcases, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Roneka Patterson:
I didn’t know that it was something that I could do and still have creativity and also pay the bills every month. So we partnered up with a high school in Dallas, and so we meet with them once a month and we just tell them about advertising. At the beginning of each meeting, we have rotating people that are hosting each meeting. They’ll explain how they got into the business.

Roneka Patterson:
Our session that we had the week before last, we used the Apples Shot On iPhone campaign to talk about all of the different roles in an agency that would help contribute to an idea like that, to help execute a campaign like that. It was really cool. We do quizzes with them to see what kind of things did they want to be? Do you want to be a strategist? Could you see yourself being an account person who manages relationships, client relationships? Could you see yourself creative or a production role?

Roneka Patterson:
And so it’s just an opportunity for us just to impart some knowledge and hopefully make some connection so that in a couple of years, when those kids are in college, they’ve got a connection with us and we can help link them up with someone. We do internships at Hawkeye, provide some opportunities for them. It’s something we’re really, really excited about. I love working with kids, so it’s just definitely fulfilling for me.

Roneka Patterson:
I just recently stepped down. I was the co-chair of my Delta… I’m a Delta. We have a group that we work with with middle school girls and I’d been doing that for 10 years. Finally I was like, “Okay, chapter president, I’m going to have to step down because I’m exhausted.” But picked this up just in time and so it’s just fun working with them and they’re open to learning. And hopefully we’re planting some seeds that will grow into an understanding of the business and hopefully some pathways for getting into this business.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. See, I think that’s awesome on multiple accounts. One, it goes back to that old adage of you can’t be what you don’t see. So the fact that you’re able to expose them to these career paths so early on gives them a sense of knowledge to know that this is a possibility for them to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, and I feel like also that’s the best way that you learn is by teaching. By showing other folks what it is that you know, and it can help you become more effective communicator and things of that nature. I think that’s awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
I talk with a lot of companies and they’re always like, “Well, we have to establish a pipeline and how do we do this pipeline and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I never liked the term pipeline because to me pipelines always strip resources away. It’s not about putting things back into the place where you have discovered them, it’s always about take, take, take, you know?

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s very kind of like Western paternalistic in some kind of way, doing that sort of thing. What you’re doing though is establishing this connection. It’s almost like you’re planting flowers in a way, you know?

Roneka Patterson:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Because you’re not recruiting them directly from middle school or elementary school or whatever to come work for the agency, but you’re letting them know this is what I do in case you’ve never seen this as a position. This is the work that I do and if it sounds interesting to you, then this is how you can do it as well. That opportunity is what we’re really looking to give to the next generation.

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah. We took a vote. We were like, “Do we want to focus this on high schoolers or colleges?” Because we’ve got a couple of HBCUs in Texas. We could work with Paul Quinn over in Dallas. And we said there is something really nice about talking to high schoolers who are still trying to connect some of those dots, as you said, planting those flowers. Let’s say, okay, the goal of this is not to… You guys are going to be interned at Hawkeye sometime, but if we can figure out this framework, we can hand this to other agencies. Hey, you’re in Chicago. This is something you could set up with a local school in Chicago. I think we felt like there was a void. And not to say that there aren’t other people doing this elsewhere, but we knew that here in Dallas it wasn’t being done, or this way rather, because I’ve definitely worked with some other agencies before.

Roneka Patterson:
But is there something unique and special that we can do just to drop some knowledge? Because there’s a big push for STEM and business. That’s great, but we’re STEAM. That A, that art. What if people have the creative? There’s this little creative nugget. Black folks are hella creative, Brown folks are hella creative. If we can make that connect connection, you that are supremely awesome at editing TikToks, that’s a production role. You could make a lot of money doing that. If we could start to make some of those connections for kids, I think we felt like we will have done our part. Obviously we’re going to do more than that, but this is definitely how we wanted to start that kind conversation with them.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of that mentorship, who are some of the mentors that have helped you out in your career?

Roneka Patterson:
Oh, man. Honestly, I’m kind of on an Issa Rae thing where it’s been peers that have really helped me along the most. Fellow creatives who were in the trenches with me that gave me encouragement. I’ve had a couple of creative directors where it was just like, “Okay, this person is definitely…” I had a creative director when I was at Moroch that I still keep in touch with today. We’ll occasionally have lunch together. He was just super brilliant, creative and helped push me creatively.

Roneka Patterson:
But yeah, a lot of it has been peers. It’s been one of the writers that I work with on The Unwritten Rules. He’s helped inspire me and just a connector. He’s like, “Hey, there’s this thing that I found out about. You should try this out.” Or, “Let’s go to the museum. I heard about this thing that’s happening.” To me, that stuff, it encourages me because being around super talented people, it just helps raise you up a little bit. But just that friendship has been invaluable to me.

Roneka Patterson:
I don’t want to name drop anyone specific, but I’ll just say that it’s been a lot of people being in the trenches with me, peers that have helped push me and encourage me. And I do that for them too.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you obsessed with at the moment?

Roneka Patterson:
Oh, this is bad. In my personal life or my work life?

Maurice Cherry:
Personal life.

Roneka Patterson:
Oh, this is bad. So my wife and I have been watching The Haves and the Have Nots by Tyler Perry. It’s on Hulu. There’s eight seasons of it. There’s 30 episodes a season. It’s insane. We’ve been binging it. It’s a soap opera. I grew up watching soap operas. Me and my mom used to watch The Young and the Restless and my grandmother and I used to watch it together. So I kind of got out of that over the last maybe five or six years, because life just got too busy and I didn’t have time to be watching soaps every day. But yeah, we’ve gotten into it the last couple of weeks and it’s just been insane. It’s like an addiction. We just got to get one hit tonight and then we’ll… It’s crazy. But yeah, that’s probably the thing right now. It’s kind of crazy.

Maurice Cherry:
I think we’ve all got an escape show that we dive into every now and then. There’s nothing wrong with that. Especially during this pandemic.

Roneka Patterson:
Oh, yeah. This is a judgment free zone here. [crosstalk 00:46:25].

Maurice Cherry:
Look, grab your creature comforts wherever you can. Absolutely.

Roneka Patterson:
I could turn my brain off and set it on the table and just zone out, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Do you feel creatively satisfied at this point in your career?

Roneka Patterson:
I feel like the last year and a half have allowed me to do things creatively that were kind of passion projects, explorations, just the type of work that I’ve all always wanted to work on in my career. A lot of it was the pandemic and just having the freedom, the personal freedom to do those things, to explore those things. And so, yeah, I would say I am feeling creatively fulfilled.

Roneka Patterson:
I’m definitely thinking about the next five or 10 years. What is that going to look like? Leadership is great. Being able to lead teams. I’m definitely doing more of that now. But the downside is that you’re not getting to create as much. You’re giving feedback and helping push other creatives to come up with really brilliant, amazing ideas. And so I think there’s always a little bit of tension with that. Do I want to continue on this path where I’m just going to be pushing and challenging and supporting? Or do I want to be in a position where I can still roll my sleeves up and do some of the work? I kind of go back and forth on that.

Roneka Patterson:
But I will say, between my photography and just the personal projects that I’ve gotten to work on over the last couple of years, I do feel like I’m getting a lot of the stuff in my brain out into the world, which has been nice and fulfilling.

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

Roneka Patterson:
I hope that I’m doing work that has positive impacts on the world. So whether that is more pro bono work, I’ve gotten to do a lot of that over the last couple of years and it’s super fulfilling for me. It’s merging the two things that I care about a lot, which is how can I help make things better out there and how can I create and express myself. So I think I would love to do more of that over the next five years.

Roneka Patterson:
As I said, I’m in a leadership role now, so I would like to continue that. I’m very much a let me pull some people up with me kind of person. So that’s a natural fit for a leadership. I’m trying to find opportunities for people. I’m trying to connect people, I’m trying to make sure that especially younger creatives don’t feel grinded up in this business the way I did. I don’t want anyone to feel like I got to quit because this isn’t… I got to quit this stuff because it’s not for me. I want to definitely encourage folks and get them to find that right balance to where they are getting their fulfillment, they’re safe and they’re allowed to grow. Any ways that I can help do that, that’s what I want to be doing over the next five years.

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

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah. So you can visit ronekapatterson.com. So it’s R-O-N-E-K-A, Patterson with two T’s, .com. I’ve got design work and photo work there. You can find me on the gram, @RonekaP. And you can find me on LinkedIn too. I think you just search Roneka Patterson, I’ll probably pop up.

Maurice Cherry:
And we’ll also make sure to put a link to The Unwritten Rules in the show notes as well so people can check that out.

Roneka Patterson:
Yeah, that’d be awesome. Would love that.

Maurice Cherry:
Awesome. Roneka Patterson, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. One, of course, for telling us more about this project that I’ve heard about now probably for the better part of a year, in terms of it getting around in the world and getting around amongst other Black creatives. But also about just giving your own story and testimony about being a Black creative in this industry. And that even if there are setbacks, you can still find your way towards something that’s fulfilling, which I think we all need to hear that from time to time. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Roneka Patterson:
Thank you so much, Maurice. This has been great. I’m so glad to get to talk to you finally and just happy to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Tolu Ajayi

If you’re thinking about getting into product design, then this week’s interview with Tolu Ajayi is just for you! Tolu has made it her mission to help inspire the next generation of product designers, and her passion and energy are infectious.

Our conversation began with Tolu talking about her current work as a product designer, and she told her story about how she transitioned from graphic design to UI/UX, and shared what sparked her to create UI Narrative, a platform and podcast that helps inspire and connect her to the greater design community. She also spoke on the Black women in design who help inspire her, and shared some of her goals for the future. I’m really excited to see just how far Tolu will go!

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.

Desiree Gibbs

Desiree Gibbs is laser-focused on who she wants to be and how she expresses herself. Those skills come in handy not just in her work as a UI designer, but through the projects she oversees and clients she serves as the proprietor of Nü Bläc Studio.

We spoke on St. Patrick’s Day, so our conversation actually started off with both of us discussing how to navigate this new social distancing reality due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Desiree also talked about growing up between Japan and the United States, attending the University of Texas at Arlington for design, and even how former guests Gus Granger and Jacinda Walker helped show her the importance of seeing more Black designers in this industry. Desiree says she wants to ultimately become the most solidified version of herself, and with her skills and drive, she’s well on her way to making that happen!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Desiree Gibbs:
So I’m Desiree Gibbs. I am a UI designer located in Dallas, Texas.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the Dallas design seem like, I’m curious?

Desiree Gibbs:
In some ways, it’s very large. In some ways it’s very small. I would say that it’s innovative when you meet the right people, very inspirational, again, when you meet the right people, but otherwise, they do a lot of different work, sometimes in behind the scenes, sometimes at the forefront. It’s pretty much a huge mixture depending on your immediate circle.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you find that it’s more like tech-oriented or more like artsy?

Desiree Gibbs:
I would say a little more artsy.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Desiree Gibbs:
But now that tech is pretty much booming there are a lot of large companies that are trying to add their headquarters to Dallas. It’s starting to turn a little more tech now that those companies are relocating and adding new offices out here. I haven’t seen that change much yet, but that’s definitely something on the agenda that’s in the near future.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, and now currently you’re working at Citi, is that right?

Desiree Gibbs:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me what it’s like, what’s your regular day to day like there? I’ll mention that we are recording this, it’s March 17th and we’re recording this. So we are in the midst of a global pandemic, which is causing a lot of companies to have to now shift to working from home for a lot of their workforce. But as much as you can talk about, tell me like what it’s like working at Citi?

Desiree Gibbs:
So before this all happened, Citi was really interesting to me because a bunch of us were hired at the same time. So there was a lot of newbs hanging out together, which is awesome because then you’re all on the same page, you don’t know anything.

Desiree Gibbs:
So in the beginning, it was a really cool mashup of getting on board with how their culture is, as well as like kind of forming our own little groups and getting to know each other since everyone’s new. From there, once we’ve split up into our teams or our lines of business, they like to call them domains, we really just learn our team really well.

Desiree Gibbs:
Luckily, I’m on a team full of nerds and being a nerd, it’s awesome. All pretty artsy nerds. Pretty like Star Wars, sci-fi, some sort of tech nerds. So we all really get along really well. I never would have thought I’d find a team like that in a place as corporate as Citi, but alas, it does exist.

Desiree Gibbs:
So for me that was a really happy thing that kind of blew my eyes open about Citi, especially since I used to work at The Beck Group. The Beck Group was a really corporate based company. They built half a Dallas, so it’s a very old company as well. So I kind of was expecting Citi to be just as corporate-like, very straight forward. But they are quite the opposite in all the good ways.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What kind of projects are you working on?

Desiree Gibbs:
So currently I work with some of our partner work. I think like companies that everybody knows about, like American Airlines and we have a card with them, and then newer partners as well. So that I’m pretty much excited for.

Desiree Gibbs:
I don’t know if I’m allowed to mention them, so I’m not going to mention them, but there’s some small hosting type companies that I’m really excited to work on, as well as internally we have some products that we’re opening up, some new things, some old things.

Desiree Gibbs:
A lot of what I’m doing right now is like updating new products to match a new look really. Citi’s been around for quite a while and they’re looking to revamp their look. So it’s an exciting moment to get to be on a team that kind of just pulls open the curtain for a new design for an entire company. So that’s pretty much where we’re at right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now, as I did mention we’re recording this during this time where a lot of companies are now basically mandating that their employees now work from home because of COVID-19/the coronavirus. It’s caused, I mean what I can really only describe as massive social, political, commercial and financial upheaval in general. How are you feeling?

Desiree Gibbs:
It’s kind of weird for me and I would say even though I’m an ambivert, when I’m working, I like to work physically where I need to work because of the environment. The environment is really important for me to make sure my mindset changes and the people I’m working around, like my team is really cool. And so, you kind of miss those like small conversations that happen, that kind of add a touch to whatever you’re working on, or even just your mood in that specific moment.

Desiree Gibbs:
And so, now that we’re digital, we completely miss that, that just so happen to walk by moment or that random foosball game that helps you distress. And so, now it’s like I’m sitting in my room on my couch because I don’t have a desk. Thankfully I have wifi and a TV table I can pull out and kind of get settled into a workspace, but it’s a little odd.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Desiree Gibbs:
It’s definitely different in that … Like I said, I mentioned to a couple of people outside of work too that it’s different even when I’m off work, like I’m used to a routine and routine is very important for me. I’m a very methodical person when it comes to things like that.

Desiree Gibbs:
And so, when I get in a routine for work, that’s how I know what to expect every day. And so, now it’s kind of an adjustment to create a new routine to get my head into the work mode as well as my surroundings as work mode as possible to make sure that I’m productive and still be able to reach out to my peers and my coworkers to get feedback and check-ins. So it’s a little weird.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you finding that the team is also kind of going through I guess, that same change where it’s like, “Now we’re working in an office together.” I mean you mentioned this is a group of people that you really like and now you’re all at home, working. How is the team kind of been doing?

Desiree Gibbs:
I don’t think any of them like it really, and I’ll say this because, so Citi actually implemented a alternate work routine to where one team … they split the company in half much and split certain teams in half and Team A would come on one week, Team B would be working from home, and it would switch every week.

Desiree Gibbs:
So we had only gotten about two weeks into that before everybody was just like, “Let’s just stay home.” I mean, even during that week people were like, “I don’t know how to handle this. This is weird. The building feels like a ghost town.”

Desiree Gibbs:
Some of the people on my team they’re socializers so they need that people on people interaction and it’s hard to work at home in an environment you’re not used to working in and being either distracted by other people who sound like they’re having fun outside.

Desiree Gibbs:
Because here sometimes some kids, some families, their kids are on spring break and those spring breaks are actually being extended because of to prevent the spread of the virus. So it’s actually going to be two weeks of kids’ spring breaking. So it’s very odd. I don’t think any of us really like it all that much.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, they’ve closed the schools here and I’ve heard, I don’t know, it hasn’t been super noisy. My apartment overlooks the pool in my complex so it’s usually only noisy in the summer because like kids are at the pool. Right now, the pool is not open so it hasn’t been super bad. The play area in my complex is a little bit further away from where my window is, but it’s a big shift. It’s a big change.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean one like you said for the fact that there’s kids around because school is being extended for spring break, in some places schools are closed. But then also just the adjustment of now taking what is your living space, which was not a workspace and now having to not only sort of convert it into a workspace, but then you have to still be expected to keep the same work output as if you were in the office.

Desiree Gibbs:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a lot.

Desiree Gibbs:
It’s a lot. I will say too that in the design world, it’s normal to work on more than one screen. So while we’re there, we’re working on three screens and it’s easy to be a little more productive because you can easily switch between screens really well.

Desiree Gibbs:
Now that I’m on a laptop, it’s a little bit harder to navigate, and since I’m doing design, it’s sketch. So sketch, you’re working on multiple screens at multiple times. You have all these layers and artboards. It’s very easy to switch between that on multiple screens or even just two screens. So I will say that that’s another thing that I know a lot of my coworkers are having … it takes a minute for them to adjust to that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Are you finding that your employer is at least sympathetic to the situation? Do they know that this is something everyone’s going through and so we’re all kind of in this adjustment period?

Desiree Gibbs:
Definitely. One thing I really appreciate is that we’ve actually been having weekly call-ins, like all-hands call in to where our lead update us on what’s going because one of our locations, our main locations is in New York.

Desiree Gibbs:
And so, New York has been one of the top states really that have been on the news about the breakout. So from there, they’re really sympathetic to people who want to work from home to be more cautious and people who have kids who are out early because of it.

Desiree Gibbs:
So they’re able to work from home and this is in the beginning stages. Now, one thing I appreciate because I also practice it, is meditation. So one week for one of these calls, we opened up the call with just a few minutes of meditation, whether you’re into it or not, or if you want to try it, you can, if you don’t, that’s fine.

Desiree Gibbs:
But a lot of people are experiencing a lot of anxiety from other people, and even if they’re not watching the news, they’re experiencing some panic or some negative emotion that affects them. So that’s one thing I definitely noticed about them off the back, is that they’re definitely empathetic to the whole situation.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s great. I think that meditation idea is really, really good too, because like you said, there’s multiple stressors that are at play. The thing about working from home, and I mentioned this to you before we started …

Maurice Cherry:
… at play. The thing about working from home and I mentioned this before we started recording, I’ve been working at home for a long time is that it takes a good while to get set up into a work from home routine. And that companies really should not expect employees to just fall right into line I would say within the first month of doing it. It takes a while, because it’s not only a behavioral change in terms of just being able to focus while you’re there. But in many times it’s also a change of your physical surroundings. Like you said, you don’t have a desk, you may have to get a desk if this is an extended thing.

Desiree Gibbs:
That’s true.

Maurice Cherry:
If you’re doing something where you’re transferring a lot of files, you may have to get a larger internet package. If you have roommates or you live with elderly parents or something. That’s another stressor that you have to deal with now on top of work. Work is now not the escape from that. It’s right there. And if you have kids too, your kids are going to be there with you all day in the house while you’re working.

Desiree Gibbs:
Got to feed them.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, got to feed them, got to tend to them. They’re going to want to see what mom and dad is doing and everything. And also some places just don’t have great wifi.

Desiree Gibbs:
True.

Maurice Cherry:
So there’s a lot of things that have to go into working from home and it really takes time to get a setup. The fact that so many companies I think moved to it quickly is good because it did show that people are taking this seriously. But it’s a big shift. You can’t just go from in the office on Monday to now being on Zoom on Tuesday and think everything’s going to be the same. It’s not. And I think what we’re seeing now, especially if you look on Twitter and stuff, is that people are, I guess they’re dealing with it in their own way. Finding whatever stack of books they can make so they can have a standing desk or doing something where they’re drinking during the day.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know, people are coping in very interesting ways. Because again, it’s not just that you’re working, but also the other stress of just being in the situation is, it’s a lot. It’s a lot and I don’t want to dwell on it for this because this is about you, but this is something that is going on right now and I did want to make sure that we kind of give at least some space for it.

Desiree Gibbs:
Definitely, it gives some context as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely.

Desiree Gibbs:
I wouldn’t be working from home. Some of the things I have to do now are definitely dependent on the fact that we’re in this situation right now. So I definitely agree with that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely. So I want to go more into your career, because you mentioned the Beck Group, but before that I want to just go back to the beginning. Where did you grow up?

Desiree Gibbs:
That is a tricky question and it always is for military brat.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Desiree Gibbs:
I grew up in multiple places. I spent most of my childhood split between Japan, Virginia, and Texas.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh?

Desiree Gibbs:
My dad was in the air force and so my family moved around to wherever he was stationed.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you first feel like you were exposed to design in a way that you understood it?

Desiree Gibbs:
Man, I’ve been drawn since I was a little kid. I was a artsy little freak. I still have drawings from when I was in man, probably like first grade, second grade, somewhere in my mom’s storage attic, wherever. Of me drawing sailor moon with color pastels, I’ve always been the artsy-fartsy child or the family. Everybody else was way over there. But as far as design, I knew that design was a little bit different for me though. Because when I was in middle school, I used to think about doing code. So where I’m at is very much a marriage between the analytical side of design as well as the artsy-fartsy part to where everything’s … Looks pretty or it’s coordinated, things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
And so when you were in school, I guess in high school you decided you wanted to go to college also for design. Is that right?

Desiree Gibbs:
So-so. Now I think about it, it wasn’t really a decision I made. I just expected that that’s where I’d be going anyway.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Desiree Gibbs:
So I actually did architecture first for a couple of years and then actually switched to graphic design at the same school. I wanted to graduate on time was one of the reasons, and I found that I really like architecture, but I wanted to be a little more artsy as well. And with design, I actually got to take more of the classes that I wanted to take on top of being a little more creative from the front end of it than I would have an architecture.

Maurice Cherry:
You would not be the first person that has been on the show that started in college in architecture and then veered sort of towards design. So that’s an interesting kind of a, I don’t know, maybe there’s something about. Maybe you tell me, is there something about architecture that just doesn’t lend itself to that kind of more creative design that you do now?

Desiree Gibbs:
I would say in the beginning I definitely thought that it was too analytical for me with … I mentioned that I’m ambivert, which is someone who’s pretty much 50% introvert, 50% extrovert. Our brain is also the same way. I use pretty much both my left side and my right side of the brain equally. So I’m complicated in the fact that I need something to stimulate both, no matter what I’m doing. So with architecture it was a little too analytical for me. In the stages I was in, it was too far on that side of the brain. So when I switched over to design, I was able to really more or less choose the balance between the two. So, that I think definitely architecture was that thing. But I will say architecture did help me realize that I do love rules and the rule-based structure organization of UX design is really, that’s where that marriage is for me. That’s that connection from architecture definitely led me to UX design for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
I was just about to ask if you saw any kind of parallels between UI and architecture, but it sounds like that rule based kind of methodology is what really works for you.

Desiree Gibbs:
Definitely. I mean, for me a lot of the way they teach art now in college and in schools, they teach you the rules first and then you learn how to break them.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Desiree Gibbs:
That’s pretty much, before I was like, “That’s BS. That doesn’t make any sense.” But now as I kind of think about design, specifically UX design as well as architecture is that once you do know the rules. Once you know how to build a building that’s not going to collapse on people, then you can lend yourself to doing the creative crazy stuff that you want to do. Whether it’s the interior or the exterior to be able to do that, pull out that creative side.

Maurice Cherry:
So at the time you’re at the University of Texas at Arlington, what was going on in your life? What was that time in your life like?

Desiree Gibbs:
Wow, that was a tricky time for me. So college they say is the best time of your life. Me, I stressed myself out, so it wasn’t really great for me. But it did help me see things in it from a different perspective. I think one thing that I learned from going to school is that not everyone’s there to help you, which is a really, really tough thing to learn as you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do. And that goes from people I meet, from students to teachers. The way college is portrayed is that it’s this perfect thing that it’ll teach you all the things and you’ll get a degree and you’ll get a banging job right after. And that just wasn’t the case for me. It wasn’t easy. It was very tough. I also wasn’t the kind of person to ask for help. And then when the time came that I did ask for help, it was I asked the wrong person.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Desiree Gibbs:
So for me it was tough. There were some great things. I do love learning. So for me learning things from different perspectives and learning about different cultures, which is where that military brat part of me comes in, that I loved. I actually took an archeology class, which has nothing to do with architecture and nothing to do with design, but in some ways it really does. So it was kind of interesting to see and learn all these different things from these different classes and be able to kind of cross them over sort of like the UX design. Like I say, I’m going to keep coming back to that. The crossover of information. I love reading about that. I love learning about that. So that was the pro of college for me, meeting all the different people, and learning all the different things. The cons was learning my weaknesses really in the hardest way possible.

Maurice Cherry:
I gotcha, yeah. So what was your kind of first design gig after you graduated?

Desiree Gibbs:
Actually, if we want to count when I wasn’t in college, because while I was … My last couple semesters actually worked in the art history office of my school and I was actually redesigning their new website and updating their old one for the museum. And doing various other art projects within the department. That was very diverse actually as far as projects. So loving that I found the next job I went to, which was more of a startup. From there I did a bunch of different projects. I can’t even, and this is actually after my apprenticeship with the Beck Group. The Beck Group was really, like I said corporate. There’s a lot of corporate material, small stuff.

Desiree Gibbs:
I did a lot of production design as well, so that’s kind of why I skipped over it just a little bit because the [inaudible 00:23:02] from graphic design at my school and how diverse those projects were pushed me into Codestream Studios, which is where I was also an instructor. I actually taught web code on top of graphic design and design thinking. So whenever I got to do the artsy part of it, I was able to do that and teach that at the same time of teaching web. I would say that was my official first gig outside of UT Arlington, because that was something I did for pretty much full time as much as I could on top of the other job I had on top of that.

Maurice Cherry:
And what did that experience really teach you at Codestream Studios? What did that experience teach you?

Desiree Gibbs:
Since I was the only graphic designer there, I definitely learned a lot about what other people think graphic design is. A lot of people think it’s marketing, social media, anything that you can think of that’s artsy, they think it’s graphic design. So I learned that not only was it my job to do some of these things, but also to educate the people around me about what it really was. I’m not an expert at social media. I can create graphics for that and create a concept, but as far as campaigns that I might need some help on.

Desiree Gibbs:
So it was really interesting to learn that I can create all these things, but a lot of people think that I’m doing 10 times more. Like you’re wearing these 10 different hats for sure. But the depth and how tall these hats are, how much information these hats are full of. I think that’s where there’s a disconnect, so that was definitely the main thing I learned while I was there. Also, kids are great. I think it’s very strange how much we like to put them in a box when it comes to certain things. So teaching kids, like K-12 it wasn’t just one grade, it was K-12. Teaching them really reminded me how much I like learning and how much learning could be fun if it’s taught the right way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, there’s really something about seeing how kids learn that really kind of brings that out I think. Because however you’ve learned your knowledge, whether it’s self-taught or if you’ve learned it through a formal program. Being able to distill that and then teach someone else, especially someone much younger. That’s a skill in and of itself. But it also I think requires a lot of hindsight to be able to kind of tie those two things together. Because once upon a time you were that student that was learning. And so-

Desiree Gibbs:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
… how would you have wanted to be taught in that kind of way?

Desiree Gibbs:
I think a lot of it has to do with how you want them to see you, but how you want to show them that you see them. Because a lot of kids get ignored in the classroom too. And even at this job, it’s easy to forget about experiences and people that you’re not living their everyday life. So while I was at this job, I also thought about …

Desiree Gibbs:
… life. So, while I was at this job I also thought about ADA compliance. It’s not really talked about when it comes to design. In school, they don’t talk about that at all. And when I say school, I mean college. They didn’t talk about that at all. They say contrast and the colors that go together, color theory, blah blah blah. But they don’t talk about who you’re designing for past the normal, quote “normal.” Don’t think about just the normal people. Think about past that. So that’s another thing that I thought was really not necessarily annoying, but it definitely opened my eyes up more to learning past just what they want me to learn. Learning past just what they want to have at the forefront. Because there’s more diversity than the person who has two legs, who can see all colors, and has a stable job and two and a half kids and a dog, and a white picket fence. I think learning in that job, it definitely reminded me of that, which a lot of people don’t get.

Maurice Cherry:
You also worked for a group called the Brass Tacks Collective. Can you talk about that?

Desiree Gibbs:
This was a really great experience. The Brass Tacks Collective, which is the first company of its kind, it’s described as a design experience agency. We used to call it a teaching agency as well. But you go in with the concept of learning as an apprentice. You get to explore the different roles within the design industry while working on real client work, but also figuring out what you like to do at the same time. We had a bunch, [inaudible 00:27:41] people from different backgrounds, different age groups, different experiences, and so it was a really great opportunity to meet people who are not the same as you, and learning from them and them learning from you. Additionally, learning skills you wouldn’t think you would need to learn as well.

Desiree Gibbs:
So we actually had a lot besides the design aspect of it. We had a lot of classes that met outside of whatever we were learning. So if we had a videographer, she would also be learning about graphic design and sketch, and how do you sketch, and all the other Adobe products that they may or may not use on top of what is service design, or how do you run a business? And a lot of range of workshops and topics to touch that you can ever think of. It was really great. It’s one thing that I wish we had more often.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I agree. This is something that I’ve covered on the show before, just talking about how people find their way into the design industry. And so for you, it sounds like you, well one, you went to school for design, but then also you had these internships and apprenticeships that have given you the space to fail in a way. And I hate to say it that way, but I do feel like it’s important though.

Desiree Gibbs:
Definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
Because if you come out of school and you get your first job, of course the expectation is that you’re going to kill it, you’re going to crush it. But as you’ve also just stated, the school design environment and the work design environment are two totally different things. And so it takes time to I guess steel yourself to what it means to be a working designer and what all that comes with.

Desiree Gibbs:
Definitely agree.

Maurice Cherry:
So who are some of the people that have really helped motivate and inspire you throughout the years?

Desiree Gibbs:
That is a fairly long list. For me, one issue that I ran into a lot in both architecture and in design at my particular school, is that they didn’t really teach about people of color really. So I was very blind to the representation of people who look like me who do architecture or design. So I was kind of lost, really. I couldn’t figure out how to find my design voice without help or without trying to figure out… Even other classmates. One architecture class, someone pointed out that I was the only black person in there and I didn’t even notice that. And this was in 2000 and, what, 2012, 2013. So you would think it wouldn’t be that bad but-

Maurice Cherry:
I would actually, I would think it would be that bad. Unfortunately I would. That’s still one of the bad things about the industry is, even in this modern state, it’s still very, very white.

Desiree Gibbs:
Yeah. So I had that issue. But then one of my teachers, Pauline, she had this idea to have a diversity inclusion panel event. And she had, Jacinda Walker and Gus Granger were my two main levels of inspiration. Because I had no idea… Actually I think Jacinda flew in out-of-state because she’s, I think right now she’s in Cleveland, Ohio. Gus Granger is actually in Dallas. And I hadn’t heard of him until the panel.

Desiree Gibbs:
So, first experience, first level of definitely inspiration is seeing the differences in how they move in the design world. She’s really a huge educator and advocate, which I am passionate about that and I’m still learning more about that. And while Gus does a lot of design, he’s a chief creative officer. So first two levels. And now today I would say inspiration, pretty-much every black person I meet who’s a designer because we all have very different experiences, but also similar experiences.

Desiree Gibbs:
And I’ve been meeting a lot of people at Dallas Black UX, which is a new group that we have here. I think it’s only two years old actually. And [inaudible 00:32:01] that I met a few of other people who all, a couple of them flew out of state as well, but Adrian Guillory and Mike Tinglin, I believe they both founded that. And that’s something that I frequent now because that’s my current inspiration, is meeting people like me, younger than me, older than me, because I don’t see that anywhere in any of the jobs that I’ve ever done. I don’t see black people and it bothers me. It makes me feel a little lost. So I had to go out and find them. I don’t even know how I found Dallas Black UX, but that continuously has been my inspiration really within the past six months as well.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned Gus and Jacinda, both of whom have also been guests here on Revision Path. And it’s interesting that you mentioned those two because I do feel like they operate at very different ends I guess of how the design community is. Gus, like you mentioned is professional chief creative officer. He helmed an agency in Dallas called 70kft. I think now he works for a different company called Cyxtera I think. Something like that. I don’t remember the actual name of it.

Maurice Cherry:
I just saw Jacinda last month actually. We had our live show in Los Angeles and I hadn’t seen her, I don’t know, God, maybe in about almost a year since then. But yeah, Jacinda’s someone who is always super outspoken and really is an educator and a teacher. And she’s doing a lot of great work now with, I don’t know if I can mention it, well I guess I can mention it. She’s doing a lot of work with the Smithsonian actually, with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, helping them with different design programs and things of that nature. So it’s interesting to see how folks can navigate in this space, and it’s good that you looked at both of them as inspirations because they’re both very inspiring, so good job with that.

Desiree Gibbs:
And kudos to them. Thanks for coming down.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project that you would love to do one day?

Desiree Gibbs:
Oh man. I come from a family who’s all about service and philanthropy. My grandmother’s a teacher, or she retired a while ago, but she was a teacher. My dad was in the Air Force. He actually won an award for most volunteer hours. I didn’t even know that was an award in the military, but he did it. So for me, my dream project would have to be something very, very giving. I haven’t figured it out yet, but it would have to be so punch-in-the-face awesome with that level, that I would quit my job. It would to be that good. As far as the company, I haven’t found it yet. Maybe a B Corporation company might be something close. But that’s my life goal right there, is to work on a project that helps a lot of people. Cliche and corny but-

Maurice Cherry:
Honestly, not in this day and age it doesn’t, it really doesn’t. Because I think what a lot of designers are starting to see is that the skills that they have can have a lot more use in the world than just an ad campaign or something like that.

Desiree Gibbs:
Yep. A lot of people think that’s all it’s worth, is to make something look nice. Get me more views, get me more impressions, make me more money. And to me that falls flat on humanity. There’s so much more you can do with art than people ever mentioned, that, like I said, I want to punch people in the face so that they know that art is not just, you don’t have to be a starving artist. People still say that and I think it’s a huge misconception. And with my rebellious nature, I want to lend my argument to the fact that it can do so much more than that.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you wish you would have been told about working in the design industry before you started?

Desiree Gibbs:
There are a lot of things. One thing I learned recently from Terell Cobbs, he was one of the speakers, Terell Cobb, sorry. He was one of the speakers at our most recent Dallas Black UX event. He mentioned having a tribe, well not necessarily a tribe, he called them, oh, a board of directors, people around him that he can go to for accountability, advice, suggestions. Someone who’s going to give him the real truth no matter what it is. I’ve never really experienced that. So for most people it kind of comes easily if they have a lot of friends, or if they have family who are very outspoken, who are very straightforward with them. I come from a family of introverts for the most part so that doesn’t come naturally. And so I had to learn to, I wish someone had told me to learn to find that, to learn that skill of reaching out to people a little earlier just to get their feedback, and really finding a group of people that support you.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you finding that now through work?

Desiree Gibbs:
Definitely. It’s taken some time to get used to because I don’t like selling myself. It feels strange to put myself on the spot and brag. But if I’m not my own number one fan, who’s going to be my number one fan?

Maurice Cherry:
True. That’s true. And I’ll tell you a little secret too, because I used to be the same way. I hated, well I guess you could say putting yourself out there, but I hated going to events where you have to network because it always felt like I was schmoozing and that it felt inauthentic. But what I’ve come to realize now is that as long as I’m talking about something I’m very passionate about, or if I’m working on a project or doing a project that I’m very passionate about, that sells itself, and that in turn sells you. I hate to say sells, but being able to exhibit the passion through the work lets people in, in a way. It’s a good proxy for that.

Desiree Gibbs:
[inaudible 00:12:17]. I never thought of it like that.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you do to get your creativity back if you’re feeling uninspired? Do you watch a certain thing, listen to music? What’s your routine there?

Desiree Gibbs:
Definitely both of those things. I’m a movie nut. I love watching different things. Korean dramas are pretty-much my favorite right now. Actually, really Asian dramas in general. There’s a very cliche, very standard way of doing movies in Hollywood, that I like to divert from that. And Korean dramas, they’re crazy on another level. So watching things that are of different countries or different, really, really my number one go-to. Also music as well.

Desiree Gibbs:
… really, really my number one go to. Also music as well. Apparently I listened to 55 different countries last year on Spotify. I don’t know what those countries are.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Desiree Gibbs:
I thought it was just five. But, apparently that’s also my go to. Another thing I like to do is just to read online. There are a lot of random things you can find online from Manga. I like reading different Manga from different countries as well. There are some good Chinese ones out there. Additionally, recently I’ve been into Mindvalley. And so part of my creative process is thinking about what’s under the creative aspect of it. And maybe it’s not the creative that’s lacking, maybe it’s the structure behind it sometimes. So, additionally I’ll look for different techniques to do different things to get out of my vision bubble to see someone from a different perspective, how would they look at it as well. And sometimes that can change the creative aspect to better match multiple views or perspectives, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. What do you think you would have been if you weren’t a designer?

Desiree Gibbs:
Definitely a fine artist.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so still doing something in the creative realm then?

Desiree Gibbs:
Yeah, I think I would also probably be some sort of musician as well. It’d probably be like some weird mashup of both. Art can be crazy and non methodical, while learning how to play an instrument is structured and very pinpointed to certain movements. Right? So, definitely one of those two.

Maurice Cherry:
What instrument do you play?

Desiree Gibbs:
I also have a violin.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Desiree Gibbs:
I’d probably play the string instrument, some sort of string instrument for sure. There’s something beautiful about a violin that just irks me in the good way. Very beautiful sound. It can be high. It can be very low. It can be vibrating. So, probably some sort of string instrument for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Earlier we talked about interning, and I mentioned about how internships and apprenticeships can be these spaces to fail when you’re just starting out, which most designers don’t really have in the corporate workplace. But if you knew that you couldn’t fail in your professional life, what would you try to do?

Desiree Gibbs:
Ooh, as far as job wise or-

Maurice Cherry:
Anything.

Desiree Gibbs:
Anything?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Desiree Gibbs:
If I could do anything. So this has been how I do my freelance but, you know how Issa Rae said, “I’m rooting for everybody black.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Desiree Gibbs:
I would design for everybody black, because I’m tired of seeing these ugly club flyers on my windshield. I mean, our cultural is awesome. So, to bump it up and give it the love it deserves, I would definitely be designing for black people full time.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, would it just be flyers or were you looking-

Desiree Gibbs:
Bigger than that. Pretty much everything. I would say I would have a full stack level of designers from engineers, product designers. That would be a really cool place to work. Just the Wakanda of design.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m surprised no one has really tried to come up with that, especially since Black Panther came out.

Desiree Gibbs:
Right. You know, who’s to say we don’t know it exists. I know someone who-

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

Desiree Gibbs:
Bree Moore, she’s a fashion designer coordinator. She’s a business woman. She’s been doing something very similar with her brand. She does work for a lot of black businesses. I think she’s ahead of her time really, because she’s been doing that since a few years ago and she’s community-based as well. So she’s really giving the love back to Dallas, that it’s given her.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Desiree Gibbs:
Who knows? There may be a small little company out there who’s doing it already. You just don’t know yet.

Maurice Cherry:
Who knows? They might be listening. You never know.

Desiree Gibbs:
This is true. Keep it up, whoever you are.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025, hopefully we have blown past this current dystopia. What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?

Desiree Gibbs:
In the next five years? I hope to be the most solidified version of myself, really. I mentioned earlier that college was really stressful for me. Working an apprenticeship and a startup both at the same time was a little rough. Between being out of a job for six months, I really opened up my schedule to do some personal growth, as well as professional. So, since I’m still in like the early stages of that, in about five years I picture myself to be exactly where I’m supposed to be, wherever that is. Still figuring it out a little bit. But I know for sure it’s in the world of art and design.

Desiree Gibbs:
I hope to be in my tiny house, traveling remotely, educating people, inspiring people to love the earth we live on, on top of doing whatever they love to do. That’s definitely the vision I see for myself within five years, for sure.

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

Desiree Gibbs:
So which work? Not risking. So, I do a lot of things actually. Outside of a designer, I design jewelry as well. Honestly, if you can find me by that page and you can find me everywhere else. I do design through NU BLAC STUDIO. It’s N-U-B-L-A-C dot studio. If you just Google that, you’ll find me. That’s also my website, NUBLAC STUDIO. From there, it links to my Etsy page where I sell my jewelry and my Instagram page where I showcase my jewelry. Actually, those are really the two spaces I live. Instagram and my website.

Maurice Cherry:
And you say there is a link to the Instagram on your website?

Desiree Gibbs:
Yes. From my about page it links to … Anything I do creatively it’s under Dezi Unique, D-E-Z-I Unique. And that’s where I do my art, like my black goth portrait series and my jewelry design, eco-friendly jewelry design, because I’m a bit of a hippie, too. And then most of my actual UI/UX design is on NUBLAC STUDIO.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. You can’t leave without not talking more about the black goth portrait series. You buried the lead here. I want to know more about it. Tell me about this.

Desiree Gibbs:
Sure, sure. So, in the beginning I mentioned I’m a UI designer. If you just met me, I would consider myself a serial entrepreneur. From a very, very personal note, I would consider myself an Afro hippie goth.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Desiree Gibbs:
From there, it’s pretty much me, modern hippie tree hugger, plus the goth side of myself. So the alternative side of myself. So, from there I actually designed jewelry when I was in high school, and it’s grown from ear chains to jewelry I made on accident, really. I was trying to make a pyramid and it turned into these cool spike looking things that I’ve kind of expanded into that.

Desiree Gibbs:
And then growing into that more alternative lifestyle, I recognized that I was goth. And from there I wanted to showcase people. Black goths get a lot of crap because one, we’re black already, but then two, because black people can’t be goth. You hear that a lot still. Black people can’t be alternative. Black people can’t be nerdy.

Desiree Gibbs:
So from there I submitted for a scholarship while I was at UT Arlington to do this project, and I ended up winning. And I was able to interview some cool goth people, and I painted a portrait series of them in their cool goth outfits and their beautiful faces.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. And that’s on the website, too? NUBLAC.STUDIO?

Desiree Gibbs:
No, that’s actually only on my Instagram.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Desiree Gibbs:
The Dezi Unique Instagram. I have a little story that’s focused on my works in progress as I’m working on it, as well as the final products. So I got six paintings, two per person for now. But that’s another project that I hope to really expand on, because I didn’t get to do as many people as I wanted. It’s difficult to find black goth in Texas, to be honest.

Maurice Cherry:
That makes sense, yeah.

Desiree Gibbs:
The alternative scene here is very white, so I have to do my research in that.

Maurice Cherry:
Maybe if more people, they listen to this interview we can get you some more black goths to paint.

Desiree Gibbs:
That would be dope.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, well Desiree Gibbs, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. I’ve mentioned throughout this interview that this is happening at this really interesting junction in society right now. But I think also just from hearing your story, you’re at an interesting place in your career right now as well. You told me this before we started recording that this is your first full-time salary gig. And now this is happening where you’ve got to work from home and you’re trying to adjust to that.

Maurice Cherry:
And I think your perseverance, just from what you’ve told me about your creative background, your creativity with this portrait series and with the jewelry designing, you certainly strike me as someone that is able to easily change to the situation. And so, I feel like we’re just seeing you get started with what you can do. And granted, this time is a very weird time for everyone right now. But, I feel like you certainly have what it takes to go forward and to accomplish those dreams that you want to make happen. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Desiree Gibbs:
Thank you. I really appreciate the way you put that. I love that.


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

Sponsors

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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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