Kevin Hawkins

The good thing about design is that if you have access to the right opportunities, your talent can really take you places. Take this week’s guest, Kevin Hawkins, for example. While he cut his teeth in the Washington DC design scene, for the past few years he’s been working in Europe, including his current role as global UX director for Glovo in Barcelona, Spain.

Our conversation started off with learning more about Glovo, and Kevin shared some of the rewarding bits and some of the challenges of his work. He also spoke about how his parents inspired him to be an entrepreneur, designing in DC and San Francisco, and how a trip to The Netherlands influenced his decision to work in Europe. Kevin’s story is a great example that when you take a chance on yourself, you will never lose!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Kevin Hawkins:
Hello, I am Kevin Hawkins. I am the global UX director at Glovo in Barcelona, Spain. I manage a team of designers, researchers, operation specialists, content writers, and it’s about a 90-person team working on global food, grocery and everything delivery, in about 25 countries.

Maurice Cherry:
And I should also mention that you also live in Spain. You’re not just working remotely because of the pandemic.

Kevin Hawkins:
Correct, yes. I’ve lived in Barcelona now for just over six months. I moved for this job, and it’s been going really well.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. How’s Barcelona?

Kevin Hawkins:
Super hot. The heat wave has been roasting Barcelona, but it’s also the time of year where they have neighborhood festivals. So it’s been super nice to get to know the city and see it come alive, but also see all the tourists sweat in the sun.

Maurice Cherry:
So aside from this move, how’s the year been going in general?

Kevin Hawkins:
The year’s been going really well. A lot of unexpected changes. I was previously living in Amsterdam, so it’s been a lot of big changes; another move for me, a new job, a new house, a new language. So it’s been a year of change.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about the work that you’re doing at Glovo, where you mentioned you’re their global UX director. Talk to me about Glovo.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, so Glovo, if people don’t know, it’s really big in Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia. We don’t have a presence in North America, but we used to have a presence in South America. It is essentially if you were to combine DoorDash plus Uber Eats plus a little bit of FedEx. We are a delivery logistics company that started out doing food. We do groceries, we do appliances. We’ve started doing COVID tests. Essentially if you want anything in the city, we deliver it, we schedule it, we get it to your door. And we operate in 25 countries and just recently merged with a big group. So now we have about, let’s say, total, a couple billion orders a year that we handle as part of Delivery Hero.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. How has business been going during the pandemic? I’d imagine probably pretty well.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah. This is one of the kind of outlier industries that did really, really well. As everyone started ordering from home, we ramped up. We were one of the first in Europe to start scheduling at-home COVID tests, because we could deliver you the test, but we can also deliver you the test with a nurse or someone to actually administer the test. So it was a really good time for us to launch new features. I only joined in February, so I came in on the high wave of all this growth, really trying to use that extra momentum and the profit margin that came with it to really invest in big things to keep that momentum going as people go back into the world and things open back up.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me more about the team that you’re overseeing.

Kevin Hawkins:
The team is my favorite part of this job and favorite part about the entire company, honestly. So Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, which if you know anything about Spain, the different groups and factions, they fought for a while. There’s distinct cultures, so it’s different than Madrid, it’s different than Valencia or other areas of Spain. Very humble, very sweet, very down to earth people. The founders are both from this region, and it’s very much seen in the culture of the company. And so I really love the people. The roles that end up reporting into me are typically design and research, but also design ops, research ops, localization and internationalization teams that handle our translations and cultural differences, as well as the content writers and little bit of program management.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a sort of typical day look like for you?

Kevin Hawkins:
There is no typical day, I will tell you. So I am the highest ranked design person at Glovo. I report directly in to the chief product officer. So my typical day is a mixture of diversity and inclusion and hiring practices, meetings, making sure that research plans are adapted to different countries, dialects and languages. I have one-on-ones with five different heads of UX. Generally, I’m talking to a software account manager about renewals or new feature development, planning a research trip, or as part of my work with an employee resource group, we are planning an event or sharing new guidelines or new fact sheets to inspire the company to be more inclusive.

Maurice Cherry:
I was just about to ask you about that. You head up this ERG called Colours at Glovo. Tell me about that.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, Colours of Glovo is a really fun part of the work I do. So the employee resource group is dedicated to diversity and inclusion as well as cultural differences related to ethnicity, race, and a lot of the nuances that happens within countries or within cultures. So generally speaking, we have ERGs dedicated to Pride and women’s inclusion and disabilities, but our ERG tackles all of the gray areas, the really specific things regarding operating as a company that has a bunch of gig workers. How do you handle the issues felt by the couriers, who are often immigrants? How to be adapt the product to be mindful of cultural differences and sensitivities in Western Asia and the Middle East and Northern Africa and Islamic countries? How do we modify for language, a number of things, delivery to women in homes where a man can’t enter the home? The number of things that comes through the ERG is super fascinating, and we help the company navigate these kind of differences and choices.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you think Glovo will take off in the US? Is that a plan, to expand into this market?

Kevin Hawkins:
As someone who was born in America, I definitely think about this a lot. I don’t think we will. We have a really successful strategy, which is based on being number one or number two in all the markets we operate in. Given the intense competition of Uber and DoorDash and everyone in the US, I think it would take a very dedicated expensive effort to come in and be number one or number two very quickly. So I don’t see it happening in the near future. But now that we are part of Delivery Hero group, we are in the top three delivery companies globally.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I would imagine if Glovo were to expand into the US, you’d have to contend with Amazon. And they’re just everywhere, I mean, ubiquitous. I’m surprised, I know they used to do food delivery. It’s funny, they used to have Amazon restaurants or something, but I guess they just decided to give that up. And now they just do, of course, package deliveries, they do grocery deliveries, et cetera. But for what you’re mentioning with Glovo, it sounds like this FedEx, Door Dash, Uber Eats kind of hybrid sort of probably covers some gaps that maybe something like an Amazon wouldn’t cover.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, we have a couple of things people don’t expect. There’s a really famous feature from the very beginning of the history of Glovo called Anything Picture, or in Spanish, [Spanish 00:09:21], which is you actually describe what you want to receive and the courier will go out and get it. And that means you could say, “Hey, I need two pillow cases and a pillow from Zara home.” Zara Home isn’t a partner of Glovo, but this courier has a credit card and can go into the store, buy it, expense it to you and bring it to your house within 25 minutes.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that’s pretty good. That’s pretty good. That reminds me of … Oh my God, I’m trying to think of … Do you remember Webvan?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh my god, it reminds me a little bit of Webvan, from back in the day. I don’t know if they were that exacting, but I like that feature. That sounds really cool.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, there were a couple concierge apps that came out back around then. It was like Cleveroad, and there’s some older ones that are no longer existent, because the margins were terrible. And trying to accommodate random requests at random times always became very challenging. But it’s cool because we still have that part of the app, because it’s the oldest feature, people love it. And when it works really well, I mean, it’s a moment of absolute customer delight.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. We have a place here in Atlanta called Zifty. And Zifty has been around probably since, oh my God, maybe 2003 or something like that. They’re like the pre-Uber Eats or pre-DoorDash or something. If you wanted to get something from a local restaurant, depending on where your zip code was, they could get it for you. But also, they had a little grocery store. So if you needed to get toiletries or aspirin or whatever, you could get that along with your food, and they’d sort of bring it all together. I think they might have taken a bit of a stumble during the pandemic.
Well, one, services Uber Eats and such came about, so now you didn’t have to use Zifty. You could use any of these other services, which were cheaper. But the thing with Zifty is they were really good about trying to make sure that all the drivers were paid a livable wage, all that sort of stuff. They weren’t trying to undercut your own tips or anything like that, as maybe a similar type service might do; not naming any names, but you know what I mean. They might not try to undercut them on that sort of stuff. I don’t know how well they’re faring during the pandemic, because they stopped doing the grocery stuff, because I think just the possibility of transmission of COVID. And so now it’s just restaurants. But they’ve expanded into a mobile app.
I’m curious to see how they weather it through, because they’ll be coming up on 20 years next year. And it’s amazing how they’ve managed to weather the storm as society has changed. Because I think in the beginning people were like, “Wait a minute, the only thing I really would order delivery would be pizza or maybe Chinese food.” And now you can get pho, you can get sushi, you can get pillows, like you mentioned. You can get anything now via delivery.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yes, exactly. The thing that we saw really spike during COVID was what we call quick commerce. So it was these brands like Gorillas or Getir, in some cases even grocery stores, directly offering what was 10-minute delivery for things. And this is what led to the same rat race that Amazon triggered when they launched one-day delivery. All the retailers have tried to scramble to get three day, two day, one day, same day, few hour delivery, sparked by this kind of, “Oh, that’s possible.” So then people find use cases they didn’t normally have.
In our space, it was quite literally the grocery store companies and these quick commerce companies pushing food, because food was always, “We get it to you.” You have companies that have couriers like us, and then you have some restaurants that have their own drivers, like notoriously Domino’s. And we merged them together.
But then you had products that were committing to $10 or a 10-minute guarantee and you get your money back, which is significant pressure on the logistics company, because you don’t have staff. People are volunteering. They get online when they want to get online. It can rain. You might be in a hilly city like San Francisco. The number of variables were endless, let alone things being out of stock. So we had to contend with this really, really heated race. Getir raised a billion dollars almost in funding, which is an unheard of number for a company that just started. So it was a really fun time for the industry.

Maurice Cherry:
It also sounds like, I think you mentioned this earlier, but you are also delivering COVID tests too. I don’t know of any other services really doing that.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, I think it took a long time, but I think Uber eventually decided to start letting you schedule COVID tests with CVS, and then perfectly scheduling to pick up and drop off. But that was the closest I’ve seen on the large scale. We were actually delivering tests and then also delivering practitioners who could administer the tests, because it was just a perfect remedy. We started doing supply-based delivery. So if you were ordering an appliance, we’d have an installer; you’re buying a TV, we have an installer. Imagine everything from Best Buy, they have that service called Geek Squad where they come and install things. It’s just timing and scheduling of a person to arrive with goods. So we were like, “We sell goods, we deliver them on time, why couldn’t we deliver a person with them?”

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So it’s sort of also like a TaskRabbit in there too.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, a little bit, as long as we could estimate the cost before, because TaskRabbit, there could be overage. We didn’t really get into that. We have a single transaction, single promise, single sale. It was applicable to many, many things.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now you mentioned the team being the best part about what you do. What would you say is the most difficult part?

Kevin Hawkins:
I mean, it’s also the size, the scale. The differences within the markets that we operate in is probably the difficult part. Whenever you come up with what you think is a simple solution or that makes sense, it is never going to apply equally in Portugal as it will in Kurdistan. It never really makes sense the same in rural Nigeria or rural Kenya as it does in downtown Barcelona or in a very dense three-city country like Poland. When you have urban sprawl, when you have a six-language barrier, when the couriers or the partners speak completely different languages than the average customer, these complications, these nuances, these details makes the work for the team really complicated and also makes funding and prioritizing research … I would say fun, some would say complex.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, you’ve served at a number of different companies. You’ve even worked internationally before, which we’ll get into a little bit later. I want to take things back to the beginning and sort of talk about your origin story. Tell me about where you grew up.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, I don’t get to talk about this too much, but I’m originally from the Washington, D.C area. So my first home was in the city, and then we moved back and forth between Rockville, Maryland, Silver Spring, Maryland, and back into the capital. And I spent pretty much all my time in D.C., with a lot of travel with my dad, who is from the military, and then my mom’s family, which is African, from Liberia. So we spent time flying back between the two continents, but also just around the US at different military basis.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. First generation. I like that.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you have a lot of exposure to art and design and stuff growing up?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, so my mom was a nurse and then broke away from the family expectations going into medical because she wasn’t happy, and became a fashion designer. And that was a big inspiration for my ability to problem-solve and really understanding when people say they want certain things but what they really want is something else, which is of course a big skill for designers. And then my dad was in the military but then left and became a labor rights attorney, and was really working with a lot of politics and advisory, and also had his own business. And so I was always surrounded by creative thinking, problem solving, a lot of politics, a lot of public relations. And it always made me think about, what if I did something similar to this? And I ended up helping them build their websites and their marketing collateral. And that’s really how I got started.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you of know that this was something you really wanted to study and go into, as a kid?

Kevin Hawkins:
So, that happened really early. I think it was probably as early as 10. So when I was super young, this is like seven or eight, if you went to school in the States especially, you know had to get a book cover and you had to get a binder cover sometimes, because you had even and odd days in middle school. And all your textbooks were either rented or they were really expensive, so you wanted to cover them to protect them, maybe sell them back later on in the year.
And my mom and I came up with the scheme of making the coolest covers. And so we had a little business called Cover Me Cool. And I essentially would be the model at school, and people would ask questions, and then you would sell them. And that got really big, and we ended up going to a trade show. We talked to me to Mead and Five Star, we got a patent attorney involved. It was my first [inaudible 00:18:29] really getting involved in business. So by 10, I had sold a company and had understood a bit of the politics of trademark law and copyright law, and decided I wanted to be more on the creative side of business. But definitely my teeth wet, and was really excited to do more independent design work.

Maurice Cherry:
So you had your own business and sold it by the time you were 10?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, I would say sold is a nicer version of this. Ultimately, we couldn’t afford to scale and license NFL prints and everything. And someone [inaudible 00:19:06] buy from us. And we said, “Obviously, that sounds great.” So we sold. Sometimes I think about what would happen if I hadn’t, but I think ultimately, it was a great learning lesson.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, look, an exit is an exit. And the fact that you were able to sell off the business and still keep going, that’s a great thing. I say this of course as you are a child, but that’s great that you are able to have that experience really early on that way. So given that, did that sort of put in your mind, this is something that you really wanted to do as a business, was design?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yes. I still wasn’t sure what discipline within design, so this is when I started looking at school differently. I used to be very anti-school. I was very good at primary school. I really hated tests, so I didn’t really the process of going to college. But then I was like, “Maybe I can be excited by the idea of web design,” and what they were calling new media back then, because I was like, “Oh, this is not traditional. This is not just marketing collateral. This could be service design. This is marketing automation. This is branding.” It always had a bit more to do with the business than just the service provided. And I liked that, and that’s how I got started.

Maurice Cherry:
And now speaking of school, you did end up going to the Art Institutes for a while. You studied web design and interactive media. What was that time like?

Kevin Hawkins:
It was really intense. So my family, I’m the child of divorced parents, and so money wasn’t always consistent. So me having these jobs where I was doing websites and making templates on WordPress and stuff like ThemeForest and all this was a great revenue source for my mom and our household. And so when I went to school, I had a job already, and I was still working full-time doing marketing and creative service stuff for nonprofits in Washington, D.C. And I was like, “Oh, okay. So I really like my job, but I should go get certified and get a degree and get some kind of accreditation for it.” Ultimately, I ended up learning more from my job than I did from school, and that’s ultimately why I ended up leaving school.

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like that’s a lot of the case when it comes to design, I think particularly design … And I’m just sort trying to place this in terms of timeframe. If you did this anywhere in the early 2000s, I feel like that was totally okay, because a lot of schools didn’t really have curriculum that spoke to web design, visual design. Maybe they had advertising or communication design, or you went to a for-profit school like the Art Institutes and you learned stuff there. But a lot of what you learned, because of how the industry was moving, was just being hands-on. You learned through working.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, certainly. I learned a lot more always from learning from people I looked up to, people who wrote books or spoke or were generous with their time, or just people at the workplace who were willing to teach me or delegated work they didn’t want to do. Whatever way it came to me, I was able to take these opportunities and find a way to make myself passionate about it.

Maurice Cherry:
And now after you left the Art Institutes, you worked at a lot of different places. And I won’t go into all of them, but I’ll list off just a few of the more prominent places where you’ve worked, which is Chase. You’ve worked at Capital One, Gap, the Brookings Institution, PwC, EY, many others. When you sort look back at that time, because you were sort of contracting from place to place, talk to me about who that Kevin Hawkins was. Who was he? What was he thinking? What was he trying to accomplish back then?

Kevin Hawkins:
I never intended to go to any of these companies and leave. I think that’s one of the things that millennials get blamed for, the whole job hopping fad. I ultimately always wanted to stay, but I just had a lot of, let’s say, self worth from my mom and the way she raised me. And whenever I dealt with workplace discrimination, ageism, racism, any of these things in the workplace, I always said it would be better for myself and my career for me to be happy at work than to … I never saw going through discrimination and oppression as earning my dues. So I found new places or I worked on startups or I made enough money making websites for people to give me a month or two to find a new job.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a powerful statement there, and I think it’s something that … I don’t know, it’s interesting, when you think about people in their early careers, is that whole pay your dues sort of bit. I get that. Look, I got a Black mama too. And she certainly was like, “Sometimes there’s things that you have to do that you don’t want to do to get where you have to be.” And I understand that to a fault. I get that there may be some things where you just have to learn it, this is how you learn it. But if it’s like you’ve said what you’re putting up with these pervasive isms at work, racism, sexism, et cetera, why stay? You’re not winning any awards by staying, you know what I mean?

Kevin Hawkins:
No, exactly. And that wasn’t always the reason why I left. Sometimes new opportunities come, sometimes you start to stagnate or you stop learning. I always say either you’re there to learn or to earn, and sometimes there’s other motivations like a passion or a mission that aligns with you. But when you’re not learning, when you realize the industry is getting bigger, it’s getting very profitable, the work is extremely valuable, it’s being tied to massive growth and revenue, you also want to start earning more. And because I came in without a degree, I was originally second-guessing myself. So my whole tactic was I’m always more valuable in the interview phase than I am two years into a company. So if I want to make up for the money than I’m not earning by not having that degree, it makes more sense for me to take opportunities when people present them to me, than to trudge through the interview process and promotion panels, with the people I’ve been working with for two and a half, three years.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, you just raised something interesting there I want to touch on. So you did go to the Art Institute, you got an associate’s degree, right?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So even though you had that degree from an institution that someone could look at and say, “Oh, you must be a designer,” did that still not help you throughout your career to have that as sort of a … I almost want to say a status symbol of sorts?

Kevin Hawkins:
No, honestly it wasn’t looked at the same way. The Art Institute doesn’t have the prestige of a Corcoran or a SCAD or a RISD. In addition, I got into web design and I was doing a lot of user experience, information architecture, HCI work. So they didn’t see it as directly relevant. I got a two-year degree but I didn’t take the final exam and do the official ceremony. So I always had to send in transcripts versus the official diploma letter that comes from the university office. And I didn’t really care. I was really happy that I made that choice to leave, and the work spoke for itself, more often than not. But then there would be companies, especially as I got higher up in D.C. or in New York that just would look at nothing else. And California and Europe started getting more and more attractive.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. I’m just curious about that, because for example, I don’t have a design degree. I did go to college, got a degree in math, and then started out as a designer, even though I just picked up design in my spare time. And even now at this stage in my career, I’m at least 20 years out from my first design position, me not having a design degree I think is still looked at some places as like, “Oh, well, you’re not really a designer,” despite the fact that I’ve run my own studio, have all this design experience in other companies. They’re like, “Yeah, but you don’t have the degree.” And I feel like companies sometimes still place way too much emphasis on that.

Kevin Hawkins:
Certainly. I mean, I can tell you the number of jobs where I actually got to the final round … I even have jobs where I was given the offer, and then it was rescinded because they hadn’t checked which degree I had.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, man.

Kevin Hawkins:
And I thought that was insane. Some of these companies had public stances on articles and in Forbes, “We don’t look at degrees anymore. Degrees are not a requirement for most of our jobs.” But the second design started getting a seat at the table, design was informing P&L, it was informing business strategy partnerships, they started really looking at designers, especially when you go into UX, as part of the business organization. Sometimes you reported in to COOs or CMOs. And they ultimately saw it as flywheel effect, that you invest in UX, you get customers happy, they buy more, you have more customers, which is great. But at the same time, we’re still always interviewed based on portfolios, you’re based on references, you’re based on the work you’ve done in your past. So why is the degree so important, when you spend 80% of the interview looking at work done?

Maurice Cherry:
Right. No, that’s true. That’s very true. I remember vividly when I got … it wasn’t my first design job, but I was working at AT&T as a senior designer. And it was one of the campuses here in Atlanta. And pretty much everyone else on the design team not only had a design degree from the Art Institutes, but they kind of all went to the same classes and stuff together. It was very much a pipeline from this school to this company, which I think may be why some companies look at that, and think, “Oh, well, if you’ve come from this school and you have this degree, then you can automatically meet maybe this baseline level of work.”
But when I tell you I was designing circles around those jokers at AT&T … and a lot of them paid me dust because I didn’t have a design degree … and these would be other Black designers too, wouldn’t even talk to me. And so when it was time for me to leave, I was like, “I’m out, I’m out. I’m gone. Peace.”

Kevin Hawkins:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
And so I 100% understand the want to get at a company and you want to be there, and it just doesn’t work out. And it’s not anything that has to do with you. It’s company culture stuff, it’s all kind of other stuff. And it’s like if you don’t feel happy here, why stay?

Kevin Hawkins:
Exactly, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
And what I noticed from just doing research, you also had your own things that you were doing throughout this time. So you weren’t relying just on working at these companies to, I guess, fulfill this creative want that you had. You founded other companies, Pipevine, QReview, BravoScore. Talk to me about those. It sounds like you were pretty busy.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, I’ve always had this, and I think it’s probably from watching my parents be in jobs they weren’t super happy about and then watching them start their businesses parallel to their work, so I always thought, “Oh, that’s a thing you can do.” It isn’t like you have some contract where you are enslaved to one employer and you need to tell the employer you’re going to leave before you do work for a new employer. I always saw that small businesses are often started alongside full-time jobs.
And I said, “I do like what I do for a living, and ultimately, I see myself advising business. I see myself advising product directors and program managers. And this is what they use to determine budgets and this is what they use to determine expansions and launch strategy. I can do that. Why shouldn’t I launch something as a UX designer with the background that has worked also in research? I can validate a problem. I can talk about size of the market. I can talk about who is addressable within the first version of the product that we release. I could do a pitch. I can definitely do this.”
And I started looking of course more and more at San Francisco and startup companies and how they got their start. And you’re like, “Cool.” Designers, I personally think … this is even before Brian Chesky and Airbnb … because designers, I think, are better startup CEOs. They pitch things, and you want to listen; they’re beautiful, if they do their job with communications design very well.
And I said, “Let’s start some companies.” And I had no idea where to look. And I ultimately looked to people who were already that passionate founder visionary type, and they didn’t know how to build great user experience. They didn’t know how to collect email and newsletters and do a landing page and build up momentum before it launched. And I partnered with them as their technical co-founder because I knew enough code, enough front end, enough design to be dangerous. And they were the business, finance people.

Maurice Cherry:
So you really got your own business education in a way, too, by running these businesses and working with them.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, certainly.

Maurice Cherry:
I like that. I definitely can empathize with that. I’ve always had my own thing on the side, wherever it is I was working. And I’ll tell you what’s interesting, some of these new startups, and I know this just from working in startups in the past five years … And I don’t know if a lot of them have them, but the ones that I worked in always had a clause that you had to disclose anything else that you were doing outside of work that might … I don’t know if it might conflict or whatever, but they just wanted to know that, “Well, what else are you working on that’s not the 9:00 to 5:00 job?”
And sometimes I would answer and sometimes I wouldn’t, because it’s really none of their business, because none of the places I worked for had any sort of relation to what I was doing, which was this podcast. But I find it interesting now that companies are like, “Yeah, what else are you doing to try to, I guess, I don’t know, capitalize on your time?” I know there’s this whole thing now about quiet quitting. And I hate that term so bad because it’s really just about setting boundaries at work. It’s not, whatever, I don’t know, 19th century Industrial Revolution thing you might be thinking about with quiet quitting. I just hear that just, I hate that term.

Kevin Hawkins:
It does hurt me, honestly. It’s like, okay, either it’s disengagement or it’s just the phase before someone gets fed up. But it’s not disingenuous to be tired of bad conditions or being undervalued or underpaid or outgrowing opportunity. If you feel like life is taking you a different direction than your current employer, there is always going to be the phase before you quit. And that isn’t called quiet quitting, in my opinion. That’s just called really assessing your worth, your value, and your future.

Maurice Cherry:
I might get in trouble by saying this. Part of me feels like that the media is a little bit complicit in this, because I really am only hearing this from Business Insider, Wall Street Journal, stuff like that, that are talking about quiet quitting. But I feel like it’s also retaliation to a lot of workers, at least here in the States, now realizing the power that they have with unionizing. And so they’re cutting down on this whole quiet quitting thing, because I mean, at least in some of the places I worked, that quiet quitting, I’m using air quotes here, were the seeds to start unionizing. That was the fertile ground for people to start thinking about, how can we campaign for having better work conditions, et cetera? And they talked to a union rep, and now we got a union. Like I worked at Glitch, and we unionized, shortly before they laid most of us off, but we did at least have that happen. And I want to say that the fertile ground for that was a lot of people just being sort of fed up with how certain conditions were.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah. And honestly, businesses will always have, let’s say, a fiduciary interest in not wanting people to unionize, because it’s easier to manipulate and get what you want as a business, for your shareholders, or even for yourself, when you are dealing with individuals. It’s also why the whole idea of people knowing what everyone makes is dangerous to businesses, because then you know if you’re getting paid less, and you know if they value that same work at a higher value. Some of these things are solved in some places in Europe, and it’s still the same battle. I have to deal with lots of cultural differences, and this is one of them. A lot of the teams and companies I work with and some of my peers in Spain and Portugal deal with this, which is, I think it’s quite positive, but it is tricky, that our employees talk to each other about how much they make. If we do a market adjustment and someone was adjusted more than someone else, it definitely comes up much quicker than you think it will.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So you were running these businesses, you were working at these different places. It sounds like you were doing a lot here in the States, between all of that stuff. But eventually you ended up moving, you moved to Amsterdam. What was behind the decision to do that?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah. So I moved to San Francisco for four and a half years, and I was really happy out there, but I really couldn’t see myself building life in terms of buying a house, starting a family, with just the cost, the income disparity, the homelessness crisis, and really just it’s quite out of touch, if you stay in certain bubbles. And I always had a really good balance. My family is quite mixed, African, Filipino, American. I see different classes within America and other countries on a regular basis. And so to juxtapose the comments and things you would hear in Silicon Valley with the reality of most of the world became a bit frustrating. And I said, “Am I really doing myself a service, spending all of my money, all of my energy just trying to survive in this city, or maybe I go back to D.C., or maybe I finally go and try out Europe?”

Maurice Cherry:
And Europe ended up winning.

Kevin Hawkins:
Europe ended up winning; winning at a very interesting time, who got elected-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. Yeah.

Kevin Hawkins:
… safety of Black people in America. I mean, a number of things, right? And so I was really happy to be able to go and visit. And then once I was able to secure a job that was able to sponsor me and keep me there, it was a big sigh of relief that I exhaled, because it was just such a significant upgrade on my quality of life.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So you ended up working in Amsterdam, you were working at booking.com. And then now you’re here in Barcelona working at Glovo. I’m just curious, I mean, this is from the dumb American perspective, so forgive me here, but is it easy moving between countries like that in Europe?

Kevin Hawkins:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Kevin Hawkins:
No. I really wish it was simpler. Honestly, the visas don’t transfer between countries. So we were just talking about the whole degree thing. And I won’t talk too badly about my new home country, but I had a high qualified migrant visa in the Netherlands because I worked in tech, and they wanted more tech workers. And I made good money and I brought lots of job opportunities and revenue by having a high-funded, well-run company be headquartered in your country. But that same visa wouldn’t transfer to Spain, so I had to requalify, do background checks in America and in the Netherlands, do fingerprinting, do a degree certificate, all these things all over again, as if I hadn’t just lived four years in Netherlands and bought a house. I considered myself European at that point, but that’s not how it works.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. And you’ve been now in Barcelona you said for about six months?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yep, about six months.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the design scene like there? Have you sought it out or have you found it there?

Kevin Hawkins:
So there are probably around like 2,500 startups. Glovo isn’t definitely in that top group of the biggest. We’re a unicorn. But the design scene isn’t as large, of course, as a London, which is massive, or as an Amsterdam, which is definitely a tech hub, but it’s very warm, I would say. The UX community in Barcelona has big players like HP and Amazon who are directly our neighbors. As Glovo, we’re in a neighborhood called Poblenou, which is the tech hub. But then you also just have to factor in the culture.
There’s a lot of illustration and animation in the UX and design community within Barcelona, just because of the culture is so rich in architecture and detail and craft. The community is very warm because the city is very warm, and people are generally happier, in my opinion. And they have beach meetups, and there’s a thriving tech scene that’s definitely growing. And it’s really fun to be there at the moment where it’s blossoming. It’s definitely going to surpass, in my opinion, some of the bigger cities. The only key difference is that pay in the south is lower than in northern Europe, which models very similarly to pay in the South of the US versus New York, for example.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. How would you compare the design community to, say, the one in Amsterdam or in D.C.? Was that something that you thought about as you went to these different places?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, certainly. I think that I always think about diversity of groups and communities. And D.C.’s definitely a melting pot. Amsterdam’s a melting pot. Barcelona is one of the largest cities in a region of Spain, and therefore it’s not Madrid, it’s not the capital. The tech that’s there isn’t one industry, like the military or government or FinTech. And so it’s a lot of people from completely different backgrounds, a lot of immigrants from other Spanish-speaking countries or from Latin America or Hispanic America, like Brazil and Argentina. And so, there is this really interesting new kind of perspective that you get. A lot of the competition or comps we talk about at work like Roppy and companies that don’t even operate on the continent, because of the backgrounds people have and the different kind of work they’ve been doing. And it’s really cool. I still do all of my work in English. And I’m still able to navigate the community, and the community’s very open and friendly to expats. They often speak three languages. And it’s a very vibrant, different community, but I really enjoy it.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good to hear that they’re friendly to expats. I had always been curious about that sort of thing. I mean, I’ve been considering … at this stage where I’m at right now, as we’re recording this, I am currently, we’ll say, between opportunities at the moment. And look, I’ve been in the US for a long time. I’m from here, whatever. But I also know that the skills that I have, I’ll look for the types of positions that I do, and most of them are in Europe. None of them are in the US. And I’ve thought about possibly maybe doing it, like, oh, just visiting or something. Part of me is like, maybe I’m a little too old to do that. Also, I’m close to my family that’s close to where I live here, and I don’t want to put an ocean between us. But it really sort of sounds like you’ve found a way for yourself throughout your entire career. You didn’t have one set path that you really were trying to follow. You just of went where your passions led you.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, I think the only thing that’s been consistent has been I wanted to be a C-suite executive. I think that’s something that my family makes fun of me for, from being a kid. I used to be called the governor. I probably am still called the governor [inaudible 00:42:23] family because I always projected these long-term visions, five-year plans, “We’re going to do this.” I was always rallying people towards a mission or a goal. And so I’ve always known I wanted to be in a leadership position, but as I got into design, I didn’t really see one. So I was always trying to navigate my way into learning new skills, because I wasn’t in the business area, I wasn’t in operations, I wasn’t in marketing, I wasn’t in the area that had C-suite positions.
And I said to myself, “If I’m ever going to get there, it has to be the story of the receptionist who learns all the skills by being around all the people in the business and eventually become COO and then CEO.” So I told myself, “I’m in design, there’s no direct ladder to that role, so I’m going to have to get close to the marketers and close to the engineers and close to sales and close to legal, and really understand the in and out of every business I worked for.”

Maurice Cherry:
And now you’re in the C-suite now. Would you say that’s sort where you’re at now with Glovo?

Kevin Hawkins:
Almost, yeah. I mean, no one else above me does design work. I report to the chief product officer, but I am solely responsible for all the budget for design research, content. It’s about a 90-person team and growing. And so it does feel like I’m almost there. I think the one thing that would get me there would be a VP of experience position or, very few companies have these, but a chief design officer.

Maurice Cherry:
How have you worked to stay your authentic self throughout your career?

Kevin Hawkins:
It actually is easier to answer than I thought it would be. It has been teaching. So I never did it with the intention of keeping myself grounded, but I always felt and was making time to mentor people into the industry. I have some close friends now who came from program manager jobs at NASA or were teachers or bankers, and now they’re in UX or in different areas of tech. And I always found it really, I don’t know, just thrilling to show them how transferable their skills were or show them that you have a passion to make apps, and yes, app companies and companies in general fail at the 90% mark, but these are the skills you need to be able to validate your assumptions and listen to customer feedback and iterate quickly and fail fast, and get them into positions where they either were launching their own companies or working in UX or in different tech roles. And that is what led me to eventually teach a class on data visualization at Georgetown University and then start teaching in general UX courses, design thinking courses, sort of about six years of me teaching now.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. So you’re teaching. Is that something you’re also doing now in Barcelona, or are you’re just working at Glovo?

Kevin Hawkins:
I am just working at Glovo. I was working with a bootcamp in Amsterdam called Growth Tribe, but now that I’m in Barcelona, I’m looking for new opportunities, mostly by partnering with the department with local universities, Ironhack in Barcelona, building an apprenticeship program, which I feel like is really missing in the industry; when we talk about not enough junior positions, at the very least, people should be teaching and bringing in people who are early career programs and apprenticeship programs to build that pipeline for juniors.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I find a lot of companies now don’t really want to talk to people. When it comes to positions and stuff, they’ll make sure that the, I don’t know, applicant tracking system does all the work. They don’t really want to talk to you or interview or get to know you unless you pass through those hurdles and stuff. But that apprenticeship part certainly is something that’s missing. I feel like that’s something that has been identified throughout the years, and a lot of companies just haven’t tried to make that a part of what they do. I mean, they still have take-home tests within interview processes, so I feel like having an apprenticeship, it might be a little bit too much for them to handle at the moment, but I would like to see more of that kind of stuff too.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, I think there’s always a scapegoat, whether it be time or team maturity. But having an intern, having an apprentice, having a really early junior requires that same level of consistency with how the department or organization is run, with also there being clear career paths. But then in addition, having someone actually be responsible and given credit for molding the mind and techniques of a new person in the industry. And I think because of the number of operational admin and HR-related aspects of this that are not in place at most companies or are always in some state of shift, they always want to say, “Oh, we just won’t do it,” but then at the same time will complain about why it’s so expensive to only hire seniors or why the [inaudible 00:47:06] maturity isn’t great when none of your team has any experience mentoring people.

Maurice Cherry:
I know I certainly hear it from … I’ve heard of that, companies I’ve worked for, where they’re like, “Oh, we can’t find any good candidates,” or they’ll put out a listing and get 300 resumes and then not look at any of them. I don’t know. Hiring in itself is broken. And I may be speaking from a bit of a jaded place at the moment, because I’m looking for work. But that’s something I’ve noticed though throughout my career at places I’ve worked, where designers, it really is that thing about you have to know someone. It’s really hard to just come in right off the ground floor to get into some companies. But that’s pretty sad.

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, I would agree. Design is becoming like real estate. Everyone has to get some comfortable shoes and go door-knocking and cold-,calling and there’s tons of doors being slammed and phone calls being hung up on. And especially with any kind of recession, it gets really tricky. The majority of my career, I would say, post- the engineering marketing design stuff I was doing, was in 2008, 2009. And obviously, it was the worst time. But I came in super humble, obviously didn’t need a ton of money. In terms of what people were expecting for the top of the band for certain positions, I was undercutting them, because I was there to learn. At the same time, I also was keeping all of my expenses super, super low. That is impossible anymore. The market is insane. The cost of inflation has gone up just for living in places. And we’ve all talked about this ad nauseum at this point, about whether people should be paid living wages or not, which is an obvious answer.
And design has, and tech in general has been such a savior for some people because it has been rapidly growing in income, and people are making great salaries and new positions are being formed in leadership, and there’s career paths. But then when it doesn’t have respect at companies, you can look at Fannie Mae for example, you see whole divisions being cut or companies no longer investing in UX. And it really shows you that we have to, not just because we find it interesting, you have to develop these other skills, you have to develop these networks. And that awkward phone call or email or walking up to a random person at a conference feels like a luxury we can ignore for a lot of the time. But when it comes down to it, those are the people and the connections that have saved me most at times when I didn’t have a job or went to a new country or got laid off or in one instance got fired.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best piece of advice that you’d give to someone that they’re hearing your story and they want to follow in your footsteps? What would you tell them?

Kevin Hawkins:
I would say, and this is going to be a quote, because I love quotes … I want to get this quote correct. “So it is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed,” which is a quote by Napoleon Hill. And it’s just me being generous with my time. It’s me taking random phone calls for Brazilian graphic design students at 12:00 PM when it’s their 5:00 PM, so that they can ask questions, how to go from graphic design into UX. It’s me going to a Lesbians Who Tech drink in D.C. randomly to see if anybody’s there because they’re looking for a technical co-founder or they don’t know how to do something. It’s just me volunteering at design critiques or UX speed dating, where you’re giving people advice quickly or you’re answering questions in a Q&A.
I think these things are the things that we can always make time for. Ultimately in the moments when I didn’t have a job, I did more of them, because they build connections and there is a bit of a bias or an interest for me to make connections. At the same time, it’s what keeps me motivated and inspired and keeps my spirits high in the lowest moments, is the people who I’ve helped or the people who use me as a reference or call me when something has shattered their world. But for me, it’s something I’ve done 10, 15, 20 times, and can easily walk them through how to navigate it.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel satisfied creatively?

Kevin Hawkins:
In my current role, yes. I think I haven’t been for a little bit of time. I’ve been a director now for three years. I was a director at a small company and then I was in management but not a director at Booking. And at Booking, I was extremely, extremely happy. And then the recession hit, and that was ultimately why everything fell apart and I left. And I was looking for about a year and a half, almost two years for another place where I could see myself being home. And Glovo definitely is that. But the director role is less about designing mock-ups. It’s more about designing career paths, designing a culture, designing product marketing and employer brand.
I’m building the team I wish I was on, I’m building the kind of company culture, onboarding practices, promotion processes that I wish I had in my career. And then I’m also building myself up to hopefully be an inspiring speaker and leader and even better teacher. And I look up to people like Bozoma Saint John, who was the former CMO of Netflix, and in that kind of realm, always looking to share more knowledge, invite more people into the room at a seat at the table, and just constantly question the norms we see.

Maurice Cherry:
I would say you’d make a great public speaker. Have you been looking into doing some more of that?

Kevin Hawkins:
Yes, every chance I can get.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Where do you see yourself in the next, let’s say, five years or so? What do you want the next chapter of the Kevin Hawkins story to look like?

Kevin Hawkins:
This has gotten trickier ever since I moved to Europe, because I think the answer used to always be some version of fame or being CXO, chief experience officer, at a thing or a really notable household name globally. But now it really has to do with about being … like I’d rather be really, really important at a small company for people who really need our services than to be just another person in a role at a very large company with customers who don’t really feel any passion towards our product.

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

Kevin Hawkins:
Yeah, so I’m most active for work things on Twitter, which is @KevinHawkinsDC. And then on Instagram, @KevinHawkinsDesign. Same thing on LinkedIn, Kevin Hawkins Design. I’m often posting about work we’re doing, public events. I do quite a bit of public speaking both in the US and in Europe, so I have several talks coming up this fall, but I’m mostly sharing work-related things, things tied to my business, and how I’m developing myself and my team on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Kevin Hawkins, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Sort of like I alluded to earlier in the interview, I can really tell that you’re someone that has continually throughout your career, throughout your life probably, really taken a chance on yourself. You know the skills that you’re able to bring to the table, you know what you’re able to do. And instead of waiting for an opportunity to come to you, whether it’s starting your own business or moving to another country, you are taking the chance on yourself to further your own career and further where you are in life. And I think that’s something that’s super inspiring for anyone right now to really hear. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Kevin Hawkins:
I really appreciate the time. I really love the show. Big fan. I think that everyone should reach out to whoever they want to talk to and learn from. And like you said, take a chance on yourself. And you’d be surprised, the odds are in your favor.

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Eric Bailey

You may not have heard much about Eric Bailey, but there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve encountered his work out in the world. As the VP of experience design at Zillow, he brings over 20 years of strategic thinking, imagining, and making to revolutionize the process of buying or selling your home.

Our conversation began with Eric discussing how he builds culture and maintains joy on his team, and he spoke broadly about what he calls “the limitless possibilities of UX design.” He also talked about growing up in Ohio, being around for the early days of the Organization of Black Designers and Project Osmosis (which he co-founded), building his brand Properganda, and he gave the secret for how he’s maintained his authenticity throughout this career. According to Eric, anyone can look within and fulfill their potential through design — and he’s absolutely right!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Eric Bailey:
Well, my name’s Eric Bailey, and I’m a design lead. I lead a team of designers at a company called Zillow, and I’m also a graphic artist.

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

Eric Bailey:
It’s been going really well, not without its surprises. I think the big lesson in the last year and a half has been just be flexible, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eric Bailey:
And be open to change. And so I would say that’s the one thing I’ve really learned is just be ready to expect the unexpected given the pandemic and given just changes in life that we can’t control. So be flexible and be ready also to take advantage of opportunities as they come up. But in general, me and my family, we’ve stayed healthy so we’re really, thankful for that. And yeah, and just really working through the different ways now that we interact with friends and family and also the way we work has changed shape for us. And so, yeah, I would say lots of silver linings for us.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, I got to spend lots of time with family, really meaningful, deep time, things that we would probably never be able to do or have in any normal circumstances, so I have no complaints.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, this past year and a half, I mean, I guess really coming up on two years now that I think about it, it has been transformative in many ways. I feel like that’s the most apolitical way that I can state that. It has been very transformative. It has changed all of us in many different ways that I think we will still be unpacking hopefully years after this time has passed. There has definitely been a general shift in the collective consciousness that I don’t think we’re going to just snap back from.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. Yeah, it’s a great way to describe it, is just transformation in every aspect of life. And so, yeah, it makes you realize that you have to become, I guess, a being of transformation, right? You have to be able to change yourself too so that you can adapt. So, yeah, adaptation has been, I think, that keyword for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s the only thing constant in the world, change.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. That’s what it is. Right.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about the work that you’re doing at Zillow where you are a VP of UX. How are things been going during the pandemic with the team?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, no, they’ve gone well. The pandemic created a big threat to human beings and our way of life, but also to business. And so, there were some real questions about how Zillow as a company or the real estate industry, in general, was going to fare. I think that because the company, Zillow that is, is really part of the technology frontier around real estate, automating processes, consolidating processes, Zillow actually did relatively or very well during the time. There was lots of activity, lots of engagement with the business, one, because now people are doing so much online, and then, two, because they’re starting to think about how the pandemic might shape where they live and how they live. And so, that was a boom to the business.

Eric Bailey:
I would say to the design team and I think the workforce, we really took seriously the taking on remote work as the de facto way we approach our day-to-day. And that was a big shift. That was something that was, I think, we entered with real interest and did deep research with the workforce to get a sense of where their sensibilities were. The overwhelming majority felt like remote or having at least the option to work remotely was preferred. And so, we’ve done everything we can to really put in place processes and tools and even aspects of our culture structured around remote work and asynchronous work. And so it’s really interesting. I think, great, lots of benefits, obviously, right? Now we can work with folks from many markets, many regions. We have really now diverse teams when it comes to that. Obviously, people don’t have to commute as much. So lots of benefits there. But there were some trade-offs too.

Maurice Cherry:
What sort of trade-offs?

Eric Bailey:
I’ve been at Zillow for about three years, and I was a part of the team that was localized into an office, and now I’m part of a team that is distributed and virtual. And so, having experienced both, I would say one huge benefit of being in a physical space with folks is really the kinds of bonds you can build. I think that, eventually, we will need to, even with a remote workforce, we will need to create time together. We’ll be making plans for team offsites or onsites, I guess, and team meetings and really strategic moments for us to get together and collaborate. And that will be around problem-solving, but also mostly it’ll be around just building relationship and community with our team. So being in the same place just really does allow people to really get to know each other, I think, in a way that it’s difficult to do online.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How many people are on your team?

Eric Bailey:
I have about 22 people on my team. I lead what we call an experience area. And that experience area is called buy, sell, and transact. We’re focused on creating end-to-end experiences that support someone’s ability to buy a home from Zillow, Zillow sells homes, to sell their home to Zillow, and the transactions necessary to make that happen. So all the way through closing. And so I lead a team of product designers, essentially, that focus on that. And then I partner with research, user experience research, and content strategy. We partner to create those experiences.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. It’s interesting. I guess, over the past maybe year or so, I’ve talked to other design leads, and it’s really interesting to see how content strategy has… or really content in general, written word has become more of the design process to the point where they’re considered designers or they sit on a design team in that way.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. Yeah. Well, hence the word strategy in there, right? So not just writers, but these are folks that are creating strategies for basically touching and building bridges with customers, particularly when we are creating experiences that are either unprecedented or our customer base is unaware of, right? Most people know Zillow because of your ability to dream and shop, you come and look at homes, and you look at your neighbor’s home and how much they pay for it and things like that. But then there are all these other services. Well, you can actually sell us your home, or you can actually buy a home from us. These are things that less of our customers are aware of. And so, to really reach out to them and connect with them, we really need to be strategic about the way we communicate. And that’s more and more of an imperative for our business.

Maurice Cherry:
Have there been any particular insights aside from just, I think, team makeup and asynchronous work and stuff? Are there any particular insights that have arose over the past year now that the team is distributed?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. Well, one, remote work for some companies is old hat, but for Zillow, a company that’s, I think, we’re 6,000-plus, a large company like ours, I think we’re still navigating how you build culture, how you sustain culture. I think the company has a really strong and rich set of cultural values, and it’s very good at holding one another accountable and living up to those values. But then there’s sort of the unspoken things. In a virtual world, I think maintaining the joy of your experiences is something that requires a real attention and real intention. And so, our design team has spent a lot of time, especially our design leaders have spent a lot of time really trying to be creative about, “Well, how do we keep our team engaged? How do we have fun at what we do in lieu of having a space where you can improvise, right?” And so, we’ve really been experimenting and there’s still lots of work to do there. But sometimes it’s important just for us to get together and have fun.

Eric Bailey:
The amount of effort and energy that actually goes into architecting those is pretty large. That’s, I think, a big insight for us.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I didn’t know Zillow was that big. 6,000 people?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, don’t quote me on the exact numbers. But yeah, we’re-

Maurice Cherry:
In the thousands.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. And that’s because we’ve grown from this online platform to now a broad range of services and products. We’re a lender, so we offer mortgages. We have rental experiences and services for landlords and for renters. So just a really now a broad range of experiences around the home. And so in that, lots of different service providers under one umbrella.

Maurice Cherry:
I know a lot of people have been moving or downsizing or just changing up how they’re living because of the past year and a half or so with the pandemic. It’s interesting. How has Zillow helped to facilitate that outside of, I guess, what it’s for, which is real estate buying, selling, and searching? I don’t know, I guess I’m wondering, are there any particular ways that Zillow has helped out during this time in that process?

Eric Bailey:
For its employees or for just in the world?

Maurice Cherry:
For the world, yeah. For the world.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. That’s a great question. Well, there’s definitely this migration, right? The economists talk about this migration from urban centers and across state lines. Many folks now are not bound to a specific region to make a living, there’s an influx of movement of folks that are moving to other states. Some are moving back to the states they came from, right? They would’ve been centralizing in Silicon Valley and in Seattle, but now maybe they’re going back to the Midwest or maybe they’re going back South. So huge migration there that is, obviously, an opportunity for Zillow.

Eric Bailey:
But also there’s this multi-generational trend, right? We have now families that are thinking about, “Well, I should probably live closer to home or maybe even with my parents or even grandparents.” So there’s also an influx of folks coming together and actually buying homes or bringing families under one roof. So really interesting market trends. We have internal folks that look at this, but those have been some of the big macro trends that I think are really interesting. And then obviously just doing everything remote, the fact that you can now actually sell your home online, you can purchase a home completely online or almost. There are a number of companies also they’re springing up around this capability. But yeah, the future of buying a home and finding a home is going to change dramatically over the next five to 10 years.

Eric Bailey:
It could be very similar to something like trading in your car, right? You drive into the dealership with one car, you leave with a loan and a new car, and you’ve left your old car. It’s all just one stop where you were doing that, you’re solving that problem for yourself and you’re focused on that thing that you want to buy. That should be the experience of buying a home, and eventually, it will.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. What does a typical day look like for you?

Eric Bailey:
Typical day…

Maurice Cherry:
Does that exist?

Eric Bailey:
No. Well, yeah, right, no day is typical. It’s interesting. I think for me and my team, there are a few things. One, we work really hard to try to package our meeting times to a very specific timeframe. So between the hours of 10:00 and 14:00 are when we try to make sure that our hours… this is when we have core meetings. One, it’s to accommodate for multiple time zones. But it’s also to make sure that the other times outside of that are considered flexible and should be focused on getting the work done. And so, that’s a practice that we are all trying to employ and adhere to, or live up to.

Eric Bailey:
On a day to day, there’s probably logging in in the morning, attending some meetings. There would either be team meetings. There might be critiques for the design team. They’re usually planning meetings, some meetings that are about the work that we’re going to do in the future. And then there’s usually heads down working time. And yeah, I think some of the meetings if you’re getting together with a team you might be working on a project, you might be in a sprint, so you’re working at some point in the sprint process like you’re ideating or maybe brainstorming. And so, we’ll be doing some sort of remote activities, collaborative exercises to arrive at some outcomes there with teams. There’d be multifunctional teams, so product managers, designers, engineers, even folks from marketing, and obviously content and research. But yeah, now it’s mostly online, whether it’s collaborative or heads downtime. I think that’s how I’d sum it up.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned earlier about the challenge with building culture and maintaining joy. How have you been able to do that with your team specifically?

Eric Bailey:
I think I have two teams. I see myself as a part of a group of peers. I partner with other product managers and engineers and folks that are cross-functional. And so, I do what I can to create somewhat of a culture there. And then I have my working team, my team of designers and design managers. But in terms of design and design managers, some important things are maintaining my one-on-one. So I have weekly one-on-ones with all my direct reports. I have two team… They’re not critiques, they’re really focused on having the team share their work at earlier stages to get coaching. So it’s less about giving direction and telling someone to make it blue instead of agreeing and more focused on changing the arc of their thinking. So pressure testing their strategy and the questions they’re asking and the answers they’re coming up with. So those, I would say, are two review meetings where leaders are giving feedback to the design team.

Eric Bailey:
And then there are monthly meetings. We have a team monthly meeting. We’ve opened that up as open format to make it… We let folks from the team lead it. And so, there’ll be someone who’ll volunteer and sometimes they’re workshops. Sometimes they’re about learning. Sometimes they’re about problem-solving. Sometimes they’re about bonding or connecting, but there could be a range of things. But really the meeting is the operating system or the lever you have to create culture.

Eric Bailey:
I mentioned that other team and the other team is those cross-functional peers. And a lot of what I try to do there is really break the frame of your standard meeting format. When I’m leading meetings, I’m trying to make them interactive and make them conversations. I want them to be generative, so a lot of times I’m asking people to use the right side of their brains, folks that aren’t necessarily used to doing that. So giving them really solid provocations and asking them to think big with real big boat-like, “How might we,” statements?

Eric Bailey:
And then also done even some silly things like role play. I played Lori Greiner who’s one of the sharks from Shark Tank. We asked cross-functional teams to create concepts, and then I played a shark and evaluated the concepts, and they had to pitch those ideas to me. So even just trying to bring some humor into an otherwise what can be a, I would say, less than exciting format to computer screen.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you wear a long blonde wig too?

Eric Bailey:
I actually had a cut-out of her face. [inaudible 00:20:49]. And then actually before they came, I got them excited about it. I told them that we were going to have a guest actually, that Lori was coming. And so I’m a VP, so everyone thought, “Wait, maybe he knows her, maybe she’s coming.” They really got their pitches together for that, and of course, yeah, they got a big laugh when I came on with the mask.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, that’s good. I mean, that’s one of those ways that you bring joy is to just shake it up a little bit, you know?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, and not take yourself so seriously. We can’t do that, right? We have to have fun and remember that we’re human beings.

Maurice Cherry:
I think more so than, I mean, just being human beings, we’re all human beings that are now going through this shared kind of traumatic experience. And so, I think anytime that when you’re at work, when you can let that facade down of it being so serious and just open up and be human, I think that’s what everyone just appreciates that now more than ever, I think.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. Yeah, be authentic, your authentic self.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when you initially booked the interview, and people that have listened to the show noticed this, that I always ask this question about what do you want people to take away from the interview? And one of the things that you had mentioned early on was that UX is a field with limitless possibilities. Of course, you’re AVP of UX at Zillow. Can you expand on that for me? How, from your perspective, is UX a field of limitless possibilities?

Eric Bailey:
For those that know me, they know I’m really into self-actualization. I really come to the realization that my purpose is to create user experiences that help people become who they hope to be. And those would be experiences that end customers or users would use, and obvious industries are healthcare, education. In this case, it’s finding a home, right, finding a home is both existential for people, but it’s also aspirational. You can change the arc of someone’s life in finding a home. And then it’s also through my teams, right, creating experiences for them that help them become the vision of who they see in the future. I develop over the years, and I can talk a little bit more about that later. So I think humans have a limitless possibility, and I think that the design field is really the perfect platform for that. It’s a perfect sort of Petri dish at least for creative people to discover who you are, who you want to be.

Eric Bailey:
That’s because of a few things. I think, one, it’s really, really broad. It’s open to so many different kinds of talents. So we mentioned content, so people that are writers, people that are researchers, that are inquisitive and empathetic, people that are artists, and people that like to make and create, and people that are builders and people that are analytical. And so it’s just so open to the array of skillsets that it’s so welcoming, I think, to so many folks left and right-brained that I think it’s an incredible career. I started out as a graphic designer, but UX really is this thing that is multidisciplinary. Yeah, I think it’s a really rich field.

Eric Bailey:
I think some of the skills that come to mind for me are there’s research, there’s synthesis, there’s storytelling, there’s facilitation, there’s interaction design, there’s service design, visual design, prototyping, right? These are all things that a user experience designer might be asked to do. And that doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert in all of them, but chances are you are going to bias us towards one or two of those, and you’re going to become an expert. You can have a team that has certain expertise in any one of these dimensions or two or three, I think is incredible.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s really been interesting how really UX has exploded as a field over the past few years. Of course, you’ve got General Assembly and you’ve got other types of boot camps and other programs that are really cranking out UX designers into the industry at the same time as the design industry has gotten more lockstep in with tech. Companies have went from being just strictly visual designed and now being more product-based. And so, the market has changed, and to that end, the workforce has changed to go along with that. So I can see how those possibilities are really there because a UX designer can be called six different things for six different companies.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right. That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
They could be UX, they could be product, they could be-

Eric Bailey:
That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
… like you mentioned before, content, things of that nature. And so, it’s really flexible in that way.

Eric Bailey:
It is. Yeah, it’s incredible. And like I said, it’s welcoming, right? That means it welcomes folks that are the anthropologists and ethnographers. It’s just a really diverse field. I don’t know of another one that is as diverse. One other thing it’s really important to note is there’s real symmetry between the design process and new ways or progressive ways of learning. The field of education right now is really embracing the design process. You have a question, you go out and get answers to that question. You form a hypothesis, right? You answer that question. You experiment with your solutions. You validate them, and you learn from it. That is the basis of learning, and here is a field that you can do that every single day. Every single day you are applying progressive learning, and you’re following basically this process. You’re continually learning throughout your life. And that’s one thing that I just find really fascinating is that they’re really the same thing. That’s incredible.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, you’ve mentioned before about being a graphic designer. To that end, I want to really go back and learn more about your origin story. Tell me about where you grew up.

Eric Bailey:
I grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Maurice Cherry:
All right.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. East Side.

Maurice Cherry:
We’ve got a lot of Ohio folks, specifically Cleveland, on the show. I’ve even got some family, they’re in Cleveland, they’re in Youngstown, they’re like right around that area. Yeah.

Eric Bailey:
Yes, that’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
Cleveland’s a great design city too.

Eric Bailey:
I think so, yeah, and we always represent. It’s an incredible town. Well, I grew up drawing. I loved to draw. I loved comics. I grew up creating characters and writing comic books and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh cool.

Eric Bailey:
I think my parents put me in some classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art. They have an industrial design program, so it’s the first time I saw these models of people making, basically, the cars of the future. I mean, Cleveland Institute of Art is a pretty top-notch school. It’s affiliated with the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is one of just a handful of world-renowned art museums, something that I was exposed to really early too. So, yeah, it’s a hidden gem in the Midwest, and a lot of talented people come out of Cleveland.

Maurice Cherry:
I was first there… When did I first go to Cleveland? I mean, aside from family stuff, but as a designer, the first time I remember going was in 2014. Yeah, 2014 I went. I spoke at a conference there. Damn, that was seven years ago, Jesus. But I spoke at a conference there. There’s a local studio there called Go Media, and they had this event called Weapons of Mass Creation. I don’t know if they still have the event. I don’t think they do, but every year they would have a number of different panels. It was a multi-day event. They would have live painting. They’d have break-dancing. It was a whole thing, and that’s how I really got introduced to Cleveland as a design city. I was like, “Man, this is great. This is wonderful.” And got to meet other designers from nearby, from Chicago and from Detroit and stuff like. So it was great. I want to go back to Cleveland once all this pandemic madness stuff is over. But, yeah, sounds like your parents really kind of introduced you to design and exposed you to that early on.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, they knew it was ordained that I was going to do something creative. I mean, I had been drawing since I was maybe two years old, and I would spend hours and fill up sketchbook after sketchbook. I just loved to be creative. Yeah, they just did what they could to expose me to different things. I didn’t want to be “a starving artist” artist. Obviously a stereotype, but I didn’t know what design was. But I applied to a graphic design program in Cincinnati when I was coming out of high school. So it’s the University of Cincinnati in graphic design in School of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning and-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, it’s a mouthful.

Eric Bailey:
… really… Yeah, it is. DAAP is the acronym. But it was an amazing program. I think like many of my experiences, it was serendipitous. I just followed a calling, but I didn’t know what it was going to turn into. One, it was a five-year program, and two, it had a… First year was foundation, so you spend that first year with architects and industrial designers and fashion designers all doing the same thing, learning the same fundamentals. And then you break off into your expertise. And two, it had an internship program or a co-op program that wound up being six quarters in the field. So every other quarter I would-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Eric Bailey:
You wind up working the equivalent of a year and a half before you get out of school. And so that was an incredible experience.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m not saying this to date you, but this is-

Eric Bailey:
That’s okay, you can date me.

Maurice Cherry:
No, but I mean, this is in the early nineties, this is really prior to the advent of the personal computer and design really coming into its own through things like CorelDRAW and Photoshop and stuff like that. It sounds like, I mean, that sort of hybrid program of work plus in-class instruction was really good.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I would say anyone looking at design programs should choose or take very seriously programs that have internships, right? Just the amount of autonomy and independence and the amount of clarity I got on what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do was incredible. The other thing is as part of that program you move from city to city. I worked at the National Park Service working on the publications and brochures that they use in the national parks. I worked in St. Louis at a retail doing design for retail. I worked in Dallas, Texas doing environmental graphics at an architectural firm. And then I worked at a small but cutting-edge design studio in Boston. Every quarter I was moving to a city, finding an apartment, and either living with other students or living on my own and had a full-time job. I mean, it was incredible.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I don’t know if there’s really any design program like that now that really put you out there as a working designer while you’re still in school in that way.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, I think there are a handful, and they’re definitely worth you tracking down. I’ll any day hire someone from Cincinnati as an intern or full-time.

Maurice Cherry:
How was your early career post-graduation because it sounds like you’ve managed to gain a good bit of work experience while still being a student?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. I definitely didn’t want to stay in Cincinnati. I came out of high school in ’90 and from 1995 was an undergrad. When you’re from Ohio, you do a few things. You either stay in Ohio, you move to New York, Atlanta, or Chicago. And so, I started applying to jobs in Atlanta and Chicago. I had some family in Chicago. I actually wound up a conference for The Organization of Black Designers. It was the first one, it was held in Chicago. Through that, I think I wound up landing some contract work in Chicago. So I went ahead and moved to Chicago. And then while in Chicago, I attended at a conference, and that really got me connected to a number of opportunities. But that was a really pivotal moment for me.

Maurice Cherry:
The Organization of Black Designers, wow. Revision Path and OBD kind of have a… I don’t know, I don’t want to say a history, that makes it sound contentious. But since I’ve started the show and I’ve been talking to people, the organization has definitely come up several times. I’ve tried to get David to even come on the show. But we’ve had other past folks that have been on the show, we did a whole oral history of OBD back in… Wait, when was that? 2018, I think, something like that. I mean, it’s just amazing hearing about how that organization came about it and really how many people it helped out because it’s something that I don’t think a lot of black designers even know about because it’s hard to really pin down-

Eric Bailey:
I know.

Maurice Cherry:
… that history. It’s not a story that’s like AIGA or something like that. I mean, you tell me because you were around, was OBD for the black designer back then?

Eric Bailey:
For me, I mean, one, I was probably maybe one, maybe two black students in my cohort, right? At least I would say I identified as black and that I was making it really clear I’m black. I kind of led with that. But very few in the design program in Cincinnati, very few… In all the internships, I was probably the only black person in all the internships, maybe one that I interacted with in the corporate environment. And then moving to Chicago and working at these firms, just seeing so few black designers. So this is the first time in my life I stood in a room and saw hundreds of black people that were creative that were just like me, and fashion, art, graphic, industrial design, you name it, architects. To do that for the first time is transformative. You just realize you’re not alone.

Eric Bailey:
So I think that’s what it did for me, just make me feel a sense of belonging in a way that I had never felt before and realize even if I do go back into these other spaces and I go to my nine to five at this company over here where I’m still the only black person, I know we’re out there, and I’m validated by that. I know I have a lifeline to them. I can always touch base with them. A lot of what I was doing was taking the people on that list and calling them up and saying, “Hey, I’m looking for work.” So a lot of it was pre-Linkedin, just using that network to see if you can make inroads and either get a job with them or have them refer you.

Maurice Cherry:
But right around that time, you also got involved and helped co-create something called Project Osmosis. Can you talk about that?

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, this is part of the oral history of OBD. I think I had the fortune of meeting some of the folks that after that initial conference in Chicago, there are designers there that convened themselves on a regular basis from that point on and kind of became the Chicago chapter of OBD. And that was led by Vernon Lockhart. You met with him before. He really helped coalesce a team of folks that we call ourselves OBD, Chicago, and we were representing OBD and that chapter. And so I was attracted to that group, so I joined them and had other friends that joined. And so, we got really close and just really bonded and tried to carry on the legacy of the larger org to both network, but then also to try to do some more outreach to the community and primarily to younger folks.

Eric Bailey:
And so, that outreach was through University of Illinois Chicago. We were doing programs either with students there or through local high schools, middle schools. I also did a little bit of internal visioning and journeying and we together came up with this idea of more like an outreach, like a consistent outreach to creative youth that would eventually enter the design community. And so, the idea was we know that there are creative folks out there that have this innate talent and they probably don’t see any pathway for themselves, right? They don’t see that there are these fields out there, these roads to success that they could take, and using their talent something that they could have fun and in joy every day.

Eric Bailey:
We wanted to expose more and more creative kids to these fields, to industrial design, fashion design, graphic, architecture, et cetera, and so we decided to create a program around it. There was this woman named Lisa Moran, Keith Purvis, Vernon Lockhart, Marti Parham. There’s a number of other folks, I don’t want to leave them out, but we basically came up with this idea of Project Osmosis. And that was, of course, these kids learning from the design professionals, and that was the genesis. We actually converted OBD Chicago into Osmosis. And that was its next incarnation; we were no longer OBD.

Maurice Cherry:
And shout-out to Vernon Lockhart. I mean, he is still keeping.

Eric Bailey:
Oh my gosh, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
… Project Osmosis going to this day.

Eric Bailey:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
To this day. Shout-out to him. Wow. So you were working for a few different design studios back then doing a lot of graphic design work. What do you remember the most about being a working designer from that time?

Eric Bailey:
It’s funny you mentioned the adoption of computers. I would say I was in my second year in college when we were using Mac computers and Adobe software. I was using those all through college and in my internships as well. And so, yeah, most of my work then going out, I would kind of… I think the first year or so I was a freelancer and I would use my network to see who’s looking for a designer, and I would join these small studios. There was a studio called Metaphor. There’s a number of others I can’t even remember right now. Pivot Design. I would just go work with them for a few months and work on mostly corporate communications and things for whatever local restaurants, whatever, doing mostly print work. But I wound up working at a small web design shop for the first time. They were working on websites, and that’s when websites and web marketing was just taking off. So this is 1997, ’96, ’97. And yeah, that’s when I started learning web design at this place called Streams Online Media. No longer around. And then I wound up joining a company called Giant Step, which was the digital arm of Leo Burnett, a larger ad agency, and so made my way into web design.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s hard to overstate just how much of… There was nothing back then of web design.

Eric Bailey:
True. True.

Maurice Cherry:
There were maybe a couple of books, but even those felt like they were being written on the fly. There was just a lot of view source and figuring it out.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely, especially when it came to digital design. Digital design, it was a gamble, right? The paradigm for designers was you’re a graphic designer. You either work at either a large graphic design agency or you work at an advertising agency. And then you eventually become a creative director, right? Your Paul Rand was the prototype for your career. But I think digital, really those larger agencies didn’t have experience in that. So it was really the small tech companies and webshops and things like that that were really starting to hire designers and do groundbreaking work.

Maurice Cherry:
Because they could move faster because they were smaller.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember, let’s see, ’97. I was in high school in ’97, and I remember that’s when I got my first HTML book. We had went to a… Was it a Walden Books?

Eric Bailey:
Walden, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was Walden. We went to Walden Books in Montgomery. I’m from Selma, but Montgomery’s 50 miles away, so we went to Walden Books and got this big HTML book. It was orange. It was like a thousand-page book. I don’t know, back then, they had a bunch of books like this for different languages. There was one for HTML, one for ASP, different things like that. And I remember this big, huge thousand-page book, and I would carry that around with me at school. And whenever I got a chance to go to the like… We had a supercomputer lab in my high school, and we had computers in the library. Whenever I had free time, I would just go in with that book and I had a Tripod account, and I would just start trying to figure out like, “What does the blink tag do? What does the marquee tag do?” Just trying to figure out how it works. Because it’s one thing to see it in the book, but then to actually do it on the web and see how it works in real time, to me that was just such a transformative time in learning design. Because really there were no rules.

Eric Bailey:
That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
You really could do what you wanted to do.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. And this is also when so many of those other roles were starting to enter the field, right. You might be a graphic designer who was usually doing comps and mock-ups and doing layout for, let’s say, posters or books or write other corporate communications that was like a… we’ll say layout, but then there were people who were technologists, right? There were people who are anthropologists who were becoming information architects. And so yeah, just sociologists and cognitive psychologists. So that now as a designer, you’re starting to interact with these people. They’re also people with backgrounds in motion design and film design, and so they were starting to come together at these companies. And so that was really interesting, was just now interfacing with such a range of creative people, whereas as a graphic designer you might interact with a photographer and maybe an illustrator. But yeah, really interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I would say for of those of us, like designers that are probably 40 and up, to really see how the entire design community has changed from those early days in the nineties to now, it’s been really inspiring to see just how much things have changed.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, absolutely. That is why I also say that UX or user experience is such an amazing field is just because it is really on the cusp of that Moore’s Law of continual transformation and change. It’s almost as if design is becoming something new, and UX is sort of, I think, on the forefront of that. So the fact that it’s, yeah, it’s constantly growing and changing it’s really exciting. It has a continual frontier, right? There’s a continual green field in front of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now even with all the design work that you’ve done over the years, you also have your own side business, side project that you do that’s called Properganda. How did that come about?

Eric Bailey:
That’s a great question and great timing for that question because what we’re talking about right now, this moment for me was a time when I stopped doing that kind of work. So when I was an undergrad, I kind of… Really short story here, when I was an undergrad, I did really well my first year, my second year in school I started to get really just uninspired and really had a hard time understanding how… I was this black kid. I’m pretty much the only one in my program, there’s one every year in the program. Really felt isolated. How is Gestalt psychology and semiotics, and how are these things… Will they have anything to do with me, all these Western theories and things?

Eric Bailey:
And so, I even had a professor approach me and say… I had a really hard end-of-year review, and he pulled me aside and said, “I look around the city, and I see so many black folks basically. But then I look in the program and you’re really the only one. I would think that you would want to essentially represent your race… or represent your race better.” One, he was not black so I had no [inaudible 00:47:33].

Maurice Cherry:
Of course.

Eric Bailey:
[crosstalk 00:47:33].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s pretty wild to say. Yeah.

Eric Bailey:
I mean, it was a jaw-dropping moment for me. And from that point on, I was singed by that, like really burnt by that. But we had a project shortly after that where we had to take a word and manipulate it and have it mean something else, a typographic study. Something clicked at me and for some reason, I chose the word Thanksgiving. I started playing with the letters in the word.

Eric Bailey:
I started with red letters, and I changed one letter to white and another letter to white and another one and then started making the red letters disappear, and it started to simulate population. I started thinking about the reds and the whites and how whites move in and reds start dying off. And at the end I added, I just added an E to both words and wound up with the words take and give. And there was white take and red give at the end. So it was really just repeating the word Thanksgiving and changing the color of one letter each row. So the statement was obviously about colonization, about gentrification… well, not gentrification but genocide essentially and the Holocaust, American colonization, and was through a typographic study. And that was the first time I realized, “Oh, I can use the tools they’re teaching me to make the statements I want to make.”

Eric Bailey:
And from that point on, it took off for me. I really loved visual pun. I really loved to use really simple graphics to make a really hard-hitting statement. And so the rest of my career there in undergrad was really making really cutting, really socially critical statements in my work. And that was my way of pushing back on that professor and basically on my cohort.

Eric Bailey:
It was really liberating for me. That’s what got me excited about design, was that I can use this craft to make a statement. Most designers, you’re meant to be objective, you’re not meant to make a statement. You’re meant to channel, right? This was my ability to communicate. So of course, I graduated. I went into the workforce, entered corporate America, and I stopped doing that kind of work. And that was around the time we talked about when I moved to Chicago and started working in health. So fast forward probably 15 years, I was working at a startup. I was a lead of design and really uninspired. I was really unhappy. I was burnt-out. For those years, I knew that I was not fully self-expressed.

Eric Bailey:
One night, I took out some of the old pieces that I worked on. The first one I took out was Thanksgiving, and I just updated it. I redesigned it, refined it. And that was really me getting in touch with that old self through the craft of just reworking those pieces. I picked up another one and started reworking and kind of updating it. And then from there, I started making new pieces, and they were usually some critical statements. An obvious, easy target is social media. That’s one that I have a love/hate relationship with. So started making lots of pieces around social media and its impact on us.

Eric Bailey:
That was it. I just was creating for the sake of creating, and it really breathed life back into me. I was up until 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning, multiple nights just not being able to stop creating. That was kind of the genesis and coming back to that idea of Properganda. I had come up with that nomenclature in the nineties, and so I decided to bring it back and say, “Okay, I’m going to build something around this.” So Properganda it was.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Properganda, I like that because, of course, back then, proper was part of slang back then saying something was proper. I’m curious, have you heard of the book Visual Puns in Design?

Eric Bailey:
Eli Kince.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Bailey:
Yes, yes. Yeah. Tell me, how’s that top of mind for you?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, God, a few years ago, I was really seeking out design books by black designers.

Eric Bailey:
Wow. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I got his book. Saki Mafundikwa has a book called Afrikan Alphabets that is super hard to find, and I managed to get that. And yeah, that’s how I first found out about it.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s my jam. When someone can use the visual image to break expectation or to change perception and change meaning, I just think it’s so brilliant. He’s actually a University of Cincinnati alumni.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah, so he went to my school, he went through my same program, and he probably had that same instructor. Yeah, I love that sort of compendium of work that he collected there. I actually reached out to him maybe a few years ago when I picked Properganda back up. I was compelled to reach out and try to meet him. I think we chatted for a little bit through email. But, yeah, that’s so interesting you bring that up because that’s a really, I think, a great north star for me. Really impressed with this brother who, who was from my neck of the woods, basically,

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to try to get him on the show. I reached out to him a few years ago too, and I think we were trying to get something going but he was busy at the time. So I’m going to try to pick that back up because that is a really good book. And for folks that are listening, you may be able to find it on eBay or Etsy. Because I don’t even know if it’s still in print, but I know that there are some copies of it floating around if you’re trying to find it.

Eric Bailey:
Yes. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
So it sounds like having Properganda as that side project really helped fulfill you as a creative, even as you did your regular nine to five work.

Eric Bailey:
Yeah. I mean, I think it was I became really aware that my full-time work was not enough for me to be fully self-expressed and be fully self-actualized, and it was only going to be through doing that work that I would be my whole self. So from that point, it’s been a great ride. I mean, it’s hard. Like I said, I was compelled to do all that work. So I created a lot of work and lots of hours. I’m a full-time parent and have a full-time job. And so to do this as well, it’s a commitment. But yeah, it’s a part of me that has to be expressed otherwise I’m not fully myself.

Eric Bailey:
A lot of it is really not only just I have to create, I want to have that experience of creating. Because as a design leader and a manager, I create so little nowadays, right? I create success through teams, and my design is really people and their careers. And so then it’s like, “Well, but I still want to make things.” And so this gives me ability to do that. I call myself and this work the armchair activist, the person who walks through life, knowing that things aren’t quite right and just knowing something… It’s that whole matrix, right? You know that things aren’t right, but they need that tipping point. They need something to say, “Hey, look,” like nudge them and say, “You should be questioning this phone that you’re staring at for 10 hours a day. You should be questioning the things that you’re consuming. You should just think critically about your own behavior and how these things shape your behavior. So that what that’s based on.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s a designer I had on the show a few years back, his name is Andre Hueston Mack. He is a designer who had some experience in the financial industry but then later became world-class sommelier and now has his own brand of wines. They’re called Mouton Noir or Black Sheep Wines. His design, I don’t want to say it’s something similar to what you’re doing, but he also does these visual pun sort of designs as well. His design studio is called the Get Fraiche Cru, but fresh is spelled F-R-A-I-C-H-E like creme fraiche, and then cru is C-R-U, as in a vineyard because he does the wine. Actually, for people that are listening and for you too as well, if you all want to go to Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel, I know that that has had its own controversy, but if you go to Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel, he’s done a series of videos where he talks about wine and stuff so you can get to see his personality and stuff like that. But if folks want to check him out, I think he’s episode like… I want to say 313 or something like that, Andre Mack. It’s in the 310s from what I remember. I tend to remember pretty well who does what when. It’s a weird quirk, but if folks want to take that episode out, 313, it’s pretty good.

Eric Bailey:
Thank you for sharing that.

Maurice Cherry:
So between Properganda and the work that you do with Zillow and everything, and even, I guess, throughout your career, how have you worked to stay your authentic self?

Eric Bailey:
Well, I think Properganda is part of my authentic self, so even manifesting that. One, acknowledging it, “Hey, I need to pay attention to this aspect of my personality, and two, I need to feed it, and I need to make it public and build it around it.” Acknowledging that in myself, and I think that’s advice I would give to everyone, listening. I do a lot of internal listening. I usually do visioning exercises at least once every two years. And that’s to check in with myself on, “Okay, what experiences you want to be having and what skills do you want to be developing?” And so, Properganda is a manifestation of that. It’s like that happened in order for me to be whole.

Eric Bailey:
I think at work, a lot of it is around… Working from home was a milestone, something that I wanted to achieve. I just had the good fortune of things making that the case. For me, going into an office, commuting for three hours a day or four hours a day is not sustainable even though I’ve done it for 15 years. And so, having a better integration of home and life because home is the authentic me, so integrating that, that puzzle piece has fall fallen into place but that’s been important.

Eric Bailey:
I think also you talked a little bit about the last two years and not just the pandemic, but all of this sort of… I don’t call it social up upheaval, but it was just folks tired and pushing and being vocal. Whether it’s the protest or the election or whatever, but they’re the real issues about equity in our country and race. Those issues now have become part of the discourse at work and/or on in day to day. Now people are talking about things that they would rarely talk about or in spaces that they would rarely talk about. And so that is really important to maintain that. Now if I’m at work, we will talk about being a black designer or a black design leader or being a black male or a black woman or a black trans person, all of the diaspora and all of the issues that go with that, those are now part and parcel of the things that we talk about in work in our daily lives.

Eric Bailey:
So being authentic to that and putting words to that is really essential. I think I spent many years compartmentalize my blackness from work. And so, now that’s what part of being my authentic self and bringing that authentic self to work is that we can talk about aspects of my identity, other people can talk about aspects of their identity, and then we can talk about these things that go along with that. One thing is also working on things that are relevant to my own interests. Zillow is really pushing to create a social impact agenda and initiatives that are focused on changing paradigms in the housing industry and the fact that housing is kind of key center point around inequity, especially in [inaudible 01:00:47] communities. So being able to participate in work and help steer work, that’s focused on creating social impact, like doing that also is a part of my full-time job. It’s not just about paying the bills but being able to move certain boulders that are important to me in my life and then also being more and more myself. Those are the things I really push for, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Do you feel satisfied creatively these days?

Eric Bailey:
I do. I do. I think my biggest challenge right now is probably I want to do so much more and there’s just so little time. The last year was tough because the kids were home during the day, so we were working and we were parenting. And so by the end of the day, it’s just like, “I’m done like toast.” And so, there wasn’t a lot of bandwidth to do other things. Now the only thing that limits me in terms of my happiness with being creatively expressed is just time. But I now have the things that I know I love to do. And so, yeah, I would say the answer is yes.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want the next chapter of your life to be like? Where do you see yourself in the next few years? What kind of work do you want to be doing, projects, stuff like that?

Eric Bailey:
I think in the future I want to work to live, not live to work. And so that means that I want to work smarter not harder. I want to work on things that I’m really good at and do that with ease. And then I want to be able to take advantage of the benefits of my accumulated knowledge and expertise. So if I’ve worked for 25-plus years, I should be able to take the foot off the gas. And so, to be honest with you, it’s less about what new kinds of work I want to do and more about the balance I want to strike between work and life. I want to do less of busy work and logistics and administration and less churn and more generative and creative, and then also connecting with my family. I know that doesn’t directly answer your question, but, yeah, that’s the goal.

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

Eric Bailey:
They can find me on LinkedIn, so Eric Bailey. I think you’ll share some links there. I’m Properganda1, the number one, on Instagram, and then propergandadesign.com is a website for Properganda. Yeah, and there’s zillow.com. So you can obviously connect with Zillow and all the great things we have there for folks that are looking for a home, whether they’re renting or buying. And let’s see. Yeah, I think that’s not a huge digital footprint, but those are the things I keep it to.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Eric Bailey, I want to thank you just so much for coming on the show. Thank you for, I mean one, sharing your story about how you really have become a designer and have made your way up in your career, but also really sharing how you’ve been able to balance these parts of yourself, whether it’s doing Properganda on the side, whether you’re building your teams. It sounds like you’re continually striving to have that sense of balance among the creative and the professional and the personal aspects of your life. And I think that’s something that all of us listening can really learn from. So thank you so much for coming on the show, I appreciate it.

Eric Bailey:
Maurice, my pleasure. Thank you. I’m really honored, yeah, just to be a part of a illustrious cohort of interviews, so thank you so much.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

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Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

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

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

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We’re ending out MailChimp Month on Revision Path with a conversation with Jon Bell. Jon has worn many hats in his career — design leader, product leader, entrepreneur — and now he beings his experience to MailChimp as their newest design manager.

Jon and I talked about his philosophy to design, as well as his vision for what he wants to accomplish in his new position. We also talked about how his background in politics helps his current work, the importance of mentors, and what the best things are that he owes his parents. I’m excited to see what Jon will help bring to MailChimp!

Thank you MailChimp for being a sponsor and for allowing me to interview these great designers and developers!

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