Monique Wray

I had such a fantastic time speaking with artist, animator, and illustrator Monique Wray. Her bold, colorful, and lively art has been used by Google, Disney, Nickelodeon, Apple, and Microsoft (just to name a few places). We caught up recently to talk about her career and the evolution of her craft over the years.

Throughout our conversation, Monique offered insights into her creative process. She talked about the impact of a pivotal year of self-discovery, the importance of emphasizing humanity in digital art, and she shared her experiences with freelancing and maintaining a balance between professional work and personal projects.

Monique’s journey is such an inspiration for anyone interested in the confluence of art and tech. Thanks to Sam Bass for the introduction!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Kyra Wells

I’ve been a huge proponent of the Cleveland creative community since starting this podcast — seriously, go back to the early early episodes — and Kyra Wells is continuing the legacy of hard work, perseverance, and great design that only comes from the 216. Kyra is a true creative professional, whether it’s through her own studio Seven Pillars Design Co., teaching at Cuyahoga Community College, leading campaigns as a creative marketing designer at American Greetings, or through her community efforts as co-president of AIGA Cleveland.

We talked about both her day job and her freelance work, and she shared how both experiences have shaped her voice and find her calling as a designer. She also told her story of growing up in Cleveland, attending Tri-C before then going to Cleveland State University, and even spoke a bit about the role of AIGA for the modern designer.

Kyra’s enthusiasm and passion for supporting young designers and helping them overcome self-doubt is truly inspiring, so if you’re looking for a little pep talk at the start of the year, then you’re in the right place. Thanks to Anne H. Berry for the introduction!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Sam Bass

If you’ve been thinking about striking out on our own as a new year’s resolution, then this week’s episode might be a good one to check out as I speak with freelance animator and art director Sam Bass. Sam is a creative problem solver at heart, and for the past ten years, he’s worked on illustrative images and animating unique graphics with silky smooth results.

Sam talked about his work and delved deep into his creative process, including some of the unique challenges of sustaining a freelance career. He also spoke about growing up in the DMV area, his time at ICF before moving to Atlanta, and gave a sneak peek into his latest project — a short film called “The Exchange.”

Big thanks to Ricardo Roberts of BIEN for the introduction!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Jonathan Patterson

If you’re a product designer that’s been thinking about striking out on your own in 2024, then Jonathan Patterson is a name that you need to know. As a freelance senior product design generalist, he knows all about rolling with the changes in the industry, and about what it takes to stay competitive.

Jonathan and I spoke not too long after his presentation at AIGA Detroit’s IXD2 event, and he talked about the various projects he’s worked on in the fields of healthcare, education, and AI. He also shared his personal journey growing up with a passion for drawing, transitioning from traditional print design to digital products, and explained why he made the switch to full-time freelancing (and what he’s learned along the way).

Hopefully Jonathan’s story and his work inspires you to carve out your own path for your career!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

Jonathan Patterson:

All right, so I guess I’ll give you the elevator pitch. I’m the invisible hand that crafts the products you rely on daily. Often we don’t know who’s behind the things we touch and interact with. And I mean that in the virtual and the physical, you know, whether it’s the buttons you click to play your favorite podcast or the home screen of a service that you subscribe to, I design and make sure everything is where you expect it to be and make it look good in the process. So I’ve got a BSA in visual communications from Kendall College of Art and Design, which is essentially graphic design. And over the years, I’ve slowly morphed my interest and my focus to kind of like pace or sometimes exceed where the industry is headed so I can stay competitive. But these days, I’ve moved completely into product design generalization. So instead of having one focus like user experience design, I do all of the skills that are closely related to design that launching a product or service usually requires.

As a full time freelance product design generalist, my goal is to really have a variety of skills that when you total them up, they make what I have to offer kind of more comprehensive and fine tuned than anyone who’s just doing one part of the product design stack. So, Jonathan Patterson, two decades of experience, first podcast interview. Let’s go.

Maurice Cherry:

Looking back at this year, what are three words that you’d use to describe how 2023 has been for you?

Jonathan Patterson:

I would say revolutionary, difficult. Well, this is not a word or more of a phrase. Kind of par for the course.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. How has it been “par for the course”?

Jonathan Patterson:

Par for the course. Meaning there’s always something changing. Nothing stays the same, which is especially true in technology. Right. And I think any business owner, which as a freelancer, full time freelancer, I certainly look at myself as a business owner. But there’s always a challenge to contend with. So par for the horse means while we have certain types of challenges this year, there’s always a challenge to contend with.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Well, the only thing constant in the world is change, as the saying goes. And I think those three words are a really good way to sum up 2023. I think for a lot of people.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. Everywhere you look online, it’s people posting about the tech layoffs and their job being downsized or eliminated or can you help me get a job? That’s what I’m seeing a lot of.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Do you have any goals that you’d like to accomplish for next year, like any resolutions for next year?

Jonathan Patterson:

I think one of the things that I’ve been sort of indexing on is just starting something, I suppose, of my own on the side. Now, while I have a lot of different fun side projects that I’ve done here and there, I think that’s probably one of my objectives for the upcoming year, is to start something maybe that is more official outside of the full time freelance product design work that I do. It could be a product or service. I have many ideas about what those could be. I keep a running list of things that I’m considering and just ideas that I’m vetting. I think that’s probably one of the focuses that I will put some thought around soon.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you just did a talk recently. There was an event in Detroit called IXD2 put on by AIGA Detroit. Shout out to Carlos and the folks there. Tell me about the event. How did it go?

Jonathan Patterson:

It went well. That was a first annual, we’ll call it…it’s called IXD2, which is the interaction design Detroit conference, and it will be held annually. So I actually talked about how to stop ghosting your side projects and basically I gave five tips that I’ve used to kind of see my projects from start to finish. So it was actually a whole day of different speakers and panelists and workshops. So mine was towards the end of a twelve hour, probably around their day. But it went good. It was well received. It will continue into the coming years, as far as I understand.

So I’d be excited to go back or I was a speaker this time, but if I’m not a speaker next time, or if not involved next time, I’ll certainly be happy to attend it.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, was this a new talk that you created?

Jonathan Patterson:

It was, and it was relatively in short order too. I think that between the time that I came to understand that they were interested in perhaps putting on some type of event like this, and the time the event actually occurred was just a matter of a couple of months. So I kind of last minute put together some ideas and the presentation ended up coming together. I probably would have talked about something else besides how to stop ghosting a side project. But again, due to the time constraints, it’s just like, okay, well, let me see what I can do that will perhaps resonate with people. And as I also come to understand, I tend to try to get feedback from people after I do a presentation or a talk or something like that, just because it’s always good to be sharpening your skills wherever you can. One of the things I heard was that people liked the variety that my presentation provided. There was a lot of, as you might expect from the title interaction design.

There were a lot of presentations and talks about processes and user experience specifically into the weeds of those types of things. Mine was a bit more general and sort of lighter. So I heard that people like that kind of component of my presentation. And I’ll also say for anybody who perhaps is listening to this and who saw that presentation, that I did put a lot of emphasis on the design of the presentation itself, because so often I find that, and this is just an easy thing for us designers to fall into for some reason, that when you’re doing a presentation, you don’t necessarily design it to your best ability. Rather, you’re just so focused on the content that you sort of let the design go by the wayside. And I’m like, okay, I can’t let that happen this time. This is specifically a design conference, so I’m definitely going to make sure that I put equal focus on what I’m saying, what I’m presenting, as well as what it looks like. So the design, it’s kind of contemporary.

It’s of the times. Lots of interesting typography and visuals to look at us designers are a fairly fickle bunch. We like things to look pretty. So I’m like, okay, this is going to look pretty cool.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you do a lot of public speaking at conferences?

Jonathan Patterson:

I wouldn’t say a lot. I’ve probably presented just a handful of times. Really. I can count in one hand probably the number of times I presented, but I’ve had some local colleges who will ask, like accelerators or programs that colleges have that are related to product design or design will ask me to come and talk to one of their classes or something like that. So I’ve done that a few times. I was part of another AIGA event a few years ago before COVID where I talked about or I presented a case study that was the theme of the event, was like, case studies and case studies projects that you’ve worked on. So I presented then, which was a few years ago, and then, like I mentioned just a few weeks ago, with this most recent one. So not a lot, but I was happy to hear that.

Some of the feedback that I also got recently was that someone said that my presentation flowed very smoothly and they got the impression that I did it all the time. I’m like, well, thank you very much. That’s probably the best, most flattering compliment that I feel like I got this evening. So I was happy to hear that.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. I mean, I hope you get a chance to give that talk at other conferences. I mean, you put that much time into designing it and you’re getting this great feedback, like take it out on the road.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, you know what? Somebody else mentioned that. I think if the opportunity presents itself, I might do that.

Maurice Cherry:

So let’s talk more about you being a freelance senior product design generalist. You had mentioned that before. I was like, that’s a mouthful. That’s a lot. And according to your website, as well as what you just said, you are the invisible hand that crafts the products that you rely on daily. And you’ve been doing it for such a long time. I mean, almost 13 years. That is super impressive.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, thanks. Yeah, I’ve worked in all sorts of industries on all types of projects. Early in my career I worked with on a bunch of apps in the education space that taught kids how to write or do math. I also worked on a project for the brand pull ups where I did a lot of UX and UI for an app that parents use to potty train their kids. Let’s see. Some other memorable projects that come to mind are product designed for a healthcare startup. This is akin to like Angie’s list for healthcare workers. I did iconography for OkCupid, where I created dozens of icons that reflect the interest and the characteristics that people show on their dating profile.

I did data visualizations for Brighthouse Networks, which was bought by charter Communications or Spectrum Charter, I believe. But more recently I’ve done work for this company called the Standard, which is this wellness and social networking app. They’re kind of still in this amorphous phase where they’re establishing their value proposition. I’ve helped this company called True Anthem. They’re out of California and they have this AI powered social publishing tool. And basically the gist of it is that large scale content publishers like the Associated Press or Reuters or NBC News give their social teams access to this dashboard where they can automate their social media posts and understand all of the analytics around what content performs the best and when to post it and where to post it to. So it’s this dashboard that integrates with all the popular social networking platforms. You know, Facebook, X, Instagram, et cetera.

Last, I guess I won’t forget to mention Ford. I’ve helped them on and off over the years. I’ve worked on their website, helping to think through different visual concepts to present features and promotions. I’ve also done a lot of work on what they call the build in price section of their website, which is the part where you customize a vehicle that you’re interested in buying. And that area of the site in particular is in constant flux, and they go through many iterations to push out even the smallest of changes. So I’ve helped with the UX and the UI there, as well as, again, lots of iconography for that section of their website. Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of the overview.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you’ve mentioned a lot of different clients here and a lot of different sort of types of product design work that you’ve done. What are the best types of clients for you to work with?

Jonathan Patterson:

You know, I work on B2B and B2C types of projects. I tend to find the B2C ones a bit more, I guess, compelling to work on because the tone that you take in terms of the writing, the UX writing that you do for it, any kind of light copywriting that I might do, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a copywriter, but any of the. I think just the way that you approach a consumer is very different than the way you approach, like, a business product or service. Now, I definitely do both, but I think I probably get a little bit more fun out of the B2C ones. They’re just more room to, kind of…I feel like those apps and services are a bit, just more entertaining, if you know what I mean.

Maurice Cherry:

Is there any type of work that you want to do in the future? Like dream projects, anything like that?

Jonathan Patterson:

You know what, I have always been of this mindset too. I’m like, okay, it could be fun to work on in the entertainment industry specifically, maybe for some type of celebrity website or something like that. But then the more I think about it and the more I see how other industries work with certain types of media, I would imagine that it’s probably a more difficult ask to do some of that work quicker turnarounds, probably projects that you imagine might go a certain way, maybe don’t, because you’re answering to maybe people who have. Maybe my idea of what it’s like is totally different than what it’s actually like. I’m starting to think that that might be the case. So in the past, I’ve always thought that maybe I’ll work on entertainment stuff, but maybe not. I think what I have going for me now, which is a variety of types of work that come my way, is a great kind of mix because at times I’m working on very UX heavy work. Then, at other times, I’m working on very UI heavy work, and I think just the mix of projects is what keeps me most interested. It’s almost like you never get bored.

Maurice Cherry:

So you like to have that variety, it sounds like.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. I think that’s one of the main draws to freelancing, is that you get to pick the types of projects that you work on in the mix. So if you’re ever feeling too much of something, you can say, okay, well, this next inquiry that comes in, I won’t take that, I’ll take this other thing, because my plate’s full in that other area. So, yeah, that’s definitely a plus.

Maurice Cherry:

One thing that we’ve been talking about on the show pretty regularly over the past two years is kind of how a lot of this new tech is encroaching upon the creative industry. Maybe encroach is not the right word, but it’s starting to infiltrate into the tools that we use, the way that certain businesses now offer new services, et cetera. I’m curious…with what you do, have you seen any trends or changes in the industry, particularly as it relates to AI or generative AI or something like that?

Jonathan Patterson:

Generative AI pretty much seems like it’s working its way into everything. ChatGPT has all of the, like, DALL-E and all of those types of services. Photoshop, just typing in something and generating it on the spot. It is totally changing the way that we work, the way that I work. Like many People, I think that we’re in this phase where we’re just trying to understand how do we make our businesses kind of bulletproof against some of these new technologies. I think at times people have this idea about, or this feeling that, okay, I can’t wait till things get back to how they were. They’re not going back. This is kind of like we’re here now. It’s just going to kind of keep on happening, and I don’t want to say get worse, but there’s going to be kind of more of this need to reinvent yourself, to come up with ways to stay marketable and relevant.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, have you been using it any in your wor, or…

Jonathan Patterson:

No, I use ChatGPT for sure now. I tend to have it refine my work. So if I’m writing something, whether it be some text for a website or for anything, I like to use ChatGPT to refine my work instead of just be the kind of creator of it. I’ll say that one phenomenon that I do notice is that I tend not to recognize my writing. If chat GPT kind of manipulates it too much, and I think that might be, like, a phenomenon that people may start to realize. I’ve experimented with it, for example, commenting on a blog post or some type of medium article that I saw, where I’ve experimented with using ChatGPT to write my response haphazardly, type something out, pop it in a ChatGPT, have it, rewrite it, make it sound good, and then post it. Then go back and read it. Like a month, two months later, I’m like, okay, did I actually write that? I don’t remember writing that.

So that’s this phenomenon that I’m noticing with ChatGPT. So I use it, and I’ve learned to. Obviously, it’s still fairly new, or I’m new to it, but I try to use it more sparingly so that the work is my work, and I recognize it as such. But in terms of design work, not as much there. I’d say more in the lines of text. Right. I don’t feel like the image generators are exactly up to kind of the level that I would want them to be at. They’re helpful if you want to maybe change something small in an image, but they all had this overly smooth look.

If you try to generate an image from scratch, I’m sure that’s going to change in the future. But for right now, I don’t use it extensively in the kind of visual work that I do. It’s just not capable.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, we’ve had folks that have come on the show before that say they use it kind of like as a mood board or as inspiration. Like, it’s a great way to help spin up ideas. If you have maybe some ambiguity on where to start, it can kind of give you a nudge in that direction. But there still has to be discernment from humans, of course, the ones that are going to be using that stuff to decide how it should be used, if it should be used at all, if it should be changed, et cetera. So it seems like you have a pretty kind of discerning nature about how you use it.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, most definitely. It’s going to change quickly, I might add, too. I think that there’s always this kind of impression that, like, oh, this is far off. Well, technology is kind of exponential in many ways, so while it’s not there yet, it’s probably going to be there faster than I expect. So I guess fingers crossed. I’ve got a little bit more time to be employed.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, let’s kind of switch it up a little bit here. We’ve talked a lot about the work that you’re doing. But let’s learn more about you, about the person behind the invisible hand, so to speak. You mentioned before we started recording you’re in the metro Detroit area. Is that where you’re from originally?

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, I’ve always been in this area. Went to school in Westland. I had a class in graphic design. I was, I guess, early on, though, I was kind of always interested in drawing by hand. That’s kind of where it all started, drawing on paper. Mortal Kombat characters. I remember when the Lion King came out, I got a computer. Then I started drawing in, like, Microsoft paint.

Lion King characters. Yeah. So I grew up in Westland or which school in Westland, rather. Then I went over to the Grand Rapids area for school for my degree, and after I graduated, came back and started working at this. I worked at J. Walter Thompson, which is this worldwide advertising agency. They have offices all over. So I was working on regional advertising campaigns.

That was technically an internship, but it was after I’d graduated and I was actually making money and working on projects. So it’s kind of strange, but that was an internship. It was after I graduated. So I did that for a year and then I started working. Once that internship ended, I worked at this full service ad agency, which is again, in the metro Detroit area, and I was doing all types of things. Any creative task that came through the agency, I had my hand in it. So they were full service. They did out of home, digital, print, radio, TV.

So I was the senior art director there, and I did that for about six years, and I decided to kind of break off and do my own thing.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, before we kind of get into that, I want to just kind of step back a little bit to talk about your time at Kendall, because I’m sure if you sort of had this sort of talent as a child where you really were drawing and into this sort of stuff, and then you wanted to pursue it enough where you went to school. Do you feel like your time at Kendall kind of prepared you for getting out there in the world as a designer?

Jonathan Patterson:

I do think it did. Again, things are constantly in flux. Right. Stuff that you learn. I was in college in 2004, so obviously things that I learned back then are not necessarily relevant today. But for the time. At the time, yes, it did prepare me. Now, that said, I did find that I had to, or I’m the type to push myself to learn new things.

So even though I did feel like some of the courses and things like that, I learned a lot, but I didn’t think that they were challenging me as much as I could challenge myself. So I would take it upon myself to kind of just do whatever I could to be learning new things and challenging myself. It’s a great program. I learned a lot there, but learning is never done. You have to constantly learn new software. Things that the programs that we were using back then practically don’t exist now, just things that you were doing then, just not relevant. So for the time, it was great. But I know much more now than I did back then.

Maurice Cherry:

No, I mean, that makes sense. I mean, if you were in college in 2004, I’m just thinking, sort of, what design tools were out there. I mean, I think everything was pretty much Macromedia or Adobe. This is before they, I want to say 2004 is before they merged, because I distinctly remember using fireworks, like right around that time. And I remember Dreamweaver first being Macromedia, Dreamweaver before it became Adobe Dreamweaver. But just in terms of like, I’m thinking, yeah, software and things like that, there’s so much changing in visual communications during that time period. I think also because, and maybe you saw this when you went out into the world after graduating, but companies were then starting to realize how to have a visual presence online. Prior to this, companies were still sort of trying to figure out, well, how do I get on the Internet? Should I be on the Internet? What should that look like? And by this time, like mid-2000s, companies are starting to figure it out.

They’re starting to sort of see how they can represent themselves or represent their brand or their product or their service online in a visual way.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. So when I was in college, it was technically graphic design, so I only had, if memory serves one, maybe two. Two classes. Honestly, I think it was one class on web design or anything like that. So all of my other things were print focused.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, wow.

Jonathan Patterson:

I did learn Quark, but I actually never used Quark outside of school, at least not to any degree. It was always indesign. Indesign was like coming on the scene right when I was going to school and graduating and things like that. So all of my education was really centered around print design. I had a couple of typography classes and Photoshop classes and of course all of your core studies, design fundamentals and all of those art history classes and things like that. So I used GoLive, which doesn’t exist anymore.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, man, I remember GoLive. Oh, you just took me back with that.

Jonathan Patterson:

You know what? Their program was nice work, though. I loved the fact that it was like designing in Photoshop or Illustrator in the sense that you could lay something out on the canvas, then it turns it into the design. Honestly, I only had one Web design class, and it wasn’t until after I started working at that agency, after my internship, after college, where I really started doing more digital work and web work, everything else was like, up until that point was very traditional, advertising based. And that’s actually one of the reasons I did kind of make the switch to full time freelance, is because I’m like, okay, I want to specifically work on digital products, websites, apps, experiences, things like that.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. During that time, as you mentioned, you were kind of studying a lot of stuff with print. That’s another thing, is that the web was sort of changing from, I say, in the early days, it felt like a lot of the web was just taking whatever was in print and directly putting it on the web, whether that was a scan or whether that was a table based layout or something. And so it sort of limited, I think, a lot of expression that brands or companies could have. But then I’d say right around, not even too long after you graduated college, like 2005, 2006, things switched over to CSS, and then you could now float things across the page and change alignment in these ways that broke you out of this grid based kind of print format that I think a lot of early design was in. And it allowed you to sort of really kind of go outside the box with different types of design and things of that nature. So to me, it does make sense to freelance during that time, because if you’re working at a company, and I just know this because I did work at a company, when that happened, it is so much hassle to change things internally after you already have one set of processes, whether this is how it’s always been done or this is how we want to do it, as opposed to when you’re a freelancer, you can change on a dime if you need to. You can just focus on a specific type of product or a different type of service, but you can adopt and change, do things much quicker than larger companies or larger firms or agencies can.

Jonathan Patterson:

Oh, yeah, most definitely. And I think that you need to be able to do that. Right. I’ve had the kind of luxury of being able to experiment with. All right, so what interests me? What are people asking for? What are people reaching out to me for? And I have a lot of interest in terms of the design space. So while that may not work for everybody, it worked for me because back in the day, I had people, independent app developers, for example, making their first app for the iPhone and they need somebody to design it. That was kind of how I got my intro into designing for iOS was app developers reaching out to me saying they needed some design help. I’m like, this is fun.

Let me try this. So I did that. So my degree is in graphic design, but due to my wide range of interests, I have been able to kind of explore working in all aspects. And one of the things I’ve done is transition some of the skills that I’ve learned that apply to other design mediums into more marketable skills. So, for example, an ability to use Adobe illustrator very well and make cool looking icons, well, how that looks today for me is I use this program called Blender 3D. I wouldn’t call myself like a 3D artist. Rather, I’ll call them illustrations because I’m not focusing on how to make something technically accurate for 3D printing or for the architecture space,.right?

It’s more like, how can I add on this medium to enhance the product design work that I do, right. So if I’m creating a website or something like that, or an app, and it needs some cool animation or content to be designed that we want to manipulate, when the user hovers their cursor over it or taps it or something like that, that’s kind of where my skills come into play. So I try to develop this skill set of deliverables that can all work together.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, when you look back at your time at Quill, I know that was sort of what you mentioned prior, before we talked about Kendall a little bit. You wa ere there for almost six years. You were their senior art director. What sort of was the impetus for you to start your own business?

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, well, and to be clear, too, so I was the senior art director, but they were, we’ll say, a small to medium sized company. So it’s not that we had a ton of people there. So the reason that I decided to leave is what you were asking, is that right?

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I guess you could say that. I mean, unless that was sort of part of the reason for you wanted to start your own business, was that you wanted to leave.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I’ll say that I was just maybe starting to Plateau at the company. Maybe there wasn’t enough kind of upward opportunity. And again, I also wanted to focus exclusively on digital products and services versus having to work on prints and radio and broadcast. Also, I feel like I was capable of executing the types of experiences myself that the firm’s clients were looking for. So as is so often the case, pay was also starting to become an issue. And in the end, I felt like I wasn’t making enough as I could make, and I didn’t see much evidence that that would change. So that said, I did learn a great deal about the ins and outs of how to run a business. One of the most important lessons I got to see firsthand was how clients don’t hire you simply because you’re good at what you do.

They hire you because you’re capable of doing the work and you’re a likable person. You seem like you’ll be fun to work with. But the agency was, again, small to mid sized. So in a sense, I kind of, like, shadowed the owners, and I was able to learn how to talk to prospective clients and write proposals and run meetings and all of the other things they don’t teach you in college.

Maurice Cherry:

I think that’s fair. You get to a point where you feel like you could do this yourself or you could maybe do it better and you strike out on your own, and that’s what you did.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. Well, again, too, people were. It made it easy because people were reaching out to me in my personal email and saying, hey, can you help me with this? Can you help me with that? I’m like, okay, well, maybe I should try this.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I completely understand that because that’s the same way that I started my business. I was working at, at T and honestly hated it and just really felt like I could do better. I felt like I did reach that plateau where it’s like, I don’t know if this is going to get any better for me anywhere else. There were other issues there, too, just in terms of the staff, but in terms of just your personal fulfillment as a designer, I knew that I could be doing better work than this and could possibly be getting paid better, but this can’t be. The high point of my career is having a 15 minutes lunch break on a twelve hour shift. I can’t do this. Right.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I will say, though, too, at the time, it was in college, I was working at retail jobs, and that’s never fun, especially as a design person. You want to be doing work, that’s like, what you’re going to school for. So when I got that job, for the time that I was there, it was generally like, okay, this is where I need to be. I worked hard. It wasn’t that I wasn’t making any money, I was making good money. But I’m like, okay, I can make better money.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, totally. I get it. I 100% get that. How were those early years?

Jonathan Patterson:

Of business freelancing, early years of business. They were good. I would say that back then, I found myself working on a lot of smaller projects. Right. Projects that can be completed in a couple of days or a few hours versus these days. It’s like, okay, it requires a week minimum, or several weeks or several months. So back in the day, it was a lot of like…there were times where I’d be working for seven days a week.

I’m like, okay. I’d start getting stressed out because I’m like, okay, too many small projects, constantly working. I was making enough money, but the problem I had back then was too many small projects. Once you start running out of time to work on them, then you get stressed. So as the years have ticked by, I’ve slowly kind of expanded the scale of projects that I work on. And sometimes there’s some ebb and flow there, right? It can be very busy. Sometimes it can be a little bit slower. But I would say in general, the scale of the projects have changed over the years.

Maurice Cherry:

How do you approach a new project? Like, say you’re working with a client or something comes across in your inbox? What does that intake process look like?

Jonathan Patterson:

I think probably the more interesting part would be like, maybe my creative process. So it kind of starts with just asking a bunch of questions and understanding the problem to make sure I’m solving for the right thing. Suffice to say, there’s this extensive fact finding, goal setting, and planning process. But maybe the creative process is a bit more, I’d say, unique or just my own. It starts with taking inspiration from everywhere I watch movies. I think that medium inspires my creative process a lot. I think it’s so different from product design that it makes it easy to come up with an original idea based on a narrative that I saw. I think probably the most compelling creative ideas come from the mixing of unexpected connections that you can make between topics that are not already connected.

It’s almost like the magic comes from bringing those two concepts together in a novel way. But I try to take inspiration from everywhere and bring that work into the product design work that I do. In addition to that, I think, of course, surfing the web daily, you just come across things that naturally will someday work their way into inspiration for a project that I’ll work on. So I keep like, boulders of interfaces and websites and illustrations and animations on my desktop to kind of just refer to. I do consider myself in the business of selling ideas, so I’ll say this. Too often clients are eager to spend a budget if you hit them with something that kind of strikes their imagination, and having my go to folders that I can inspire myself from is a good starting point. So, actually, one of the things I’ll do to jump start a creative process or get a project off the ground and up and running is kind of like, after I have a meeting or a phone call with a prospective client, I will send them this preliminary or kind of like cursory email with some creative ideas, and that’ll get their wheels turning. And then the next thing I know, I’ve got them asking me to send a full proposal.

And then we’re often working on a new project.

Maurice Cherry:

When you look back over, I don’t know, let’s say, like the past, we’ll say five years, we’ll roll the pandemic into this. What would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned about yourself?

Jonathan Patterson:

Biggest lesson I’ve learned about myself. I don’t know that I’d learned anything new. And maybe that’s because I’ve been freelancing for way before the pandemic started. Everybody was kind of like, clamoring when it all went down, getting their office set up, trying to understand how to freelance or work remotely. I’m like, I’ve been doing this for ten years at the point that the pandemic started. So that was easy for me. I felt like…I’m like…I’ve been social distancing for ten years now. I already had everything set up, my billing software, my processes were in place.

I was able to experiment with different ways of working with clients. Do I work with them on a retainer? Do I work with them on a fixed price? What’s my rate? Do I sign NDAs ahead of time? Or do I never sign NDAs? That was one of the things that I’m getting a little off track, but I think maybe a little bit relevant. I think that I very much enjoy the. Am thankful for the fact that I was able to see what works and what doesn’t work, which is different than working for somebody else. Right. When you work for somebody else, they tell you what you can say in your email to the client. They tell you how to Bill, they tell you the process that you have to structure your files through. Those are all things that I got to do my way or just trial and error.

I think there’s something to be said for the ability to see what works and what doesn’t work for yourself.

Maurice Cherry:

Right?

Jonathan Patterson:

Again, I guess that wasn’t new to me, but that was something that I imagine a lot of people probably started to get wind of when the pandemic hit. And what they learned about themselves is probably some of those things that I had learned up to that point.

Maurice Cherry:

But you’ve been good. You’re good.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, I’ve made all the mistakes. I think that one of the things that I have learned over the years was that not everybody communicates the same way. I think that I have a very. In the past, I probably was much more direct than people that people tend to be like, if I have a question about something or if I just legitimately think that the client needs to hear some particular feedback, I would just say it. But I learned that, okay, sometimes you can’t just say it. You have to ease them into it. And that’s something that you can’t if you’re working for. I guess to bring my sharp point to this idea, it’s like when you’re working for somebody, they tell you that you can’t say this when you’re working for yourself.

You can try it and see what happens. And I certainly did that. So I made all the mistakes, but I think I’m better for it.

Maurice Cherry:

I got you. I feel you. Okay, so what are sort of the next steps of growth for your business? Like, where do you want to take it?

Jonathan Patterson:

I want to take it. I think that I have always wanted to remain in, I guess, a small business. Like, I don’t have any employees, and that’s by design. I think with employees comes other headaches. Right. You have to make sure that, well, I don’t know. I don’t have any employees, but I’m just guessing. It’s like you have to pay for insurance and all of those other things.

Many more expenses, overhead. It’s just a much different, kind of, like a ballgame. I feel like I would be managing people more than I am doing work, which is what I do now. When clients reach out to me, they’re looking for something to get done. I think my business is, I’m happy with kind of where it’s at. I’ve helped other clients of mine who say they’re like, oh, I wish I would have gone your route and not hired employees and just stayed small. So many fewer headaches to contend with. I had an attorney who I did work for who told me that.

So, yeah, I think just based on my experience and things that I’ve heard, I think it’s just as easy to stay small.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Where do you kind of pull strength from? Like, what motivates you to keep doing this work?

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I’ve always been a creative person. I think creativity can manifest itself in many ways. Right? So while I don’t think I’ll do product design forever, I will always be in the creative space. So, for example, I used to play the piano for many years. I took classes in school. I took them outside of school. My mom hired somebody to take me to get lessons from. So I’ve done music oriented endeavors.

I’ve, like I mentioned, had an interest in drawing by hand. I then kind of transformed that into graphic design. Now I’m in product design. So I will always be in the creative space, in the digital space. I think there’s so many foundations to design that are transferable, right? So all of the foundations, color, scale, contrast, repetition, light, texture, those things can apply to interior design, print design, furniture design. So I very much see that I will be in some creative space now. Which one? That is in the future. I’m not sure for the time being it will be.

It’s going to definitely be product design. But I think in the long term, I could see myself going into something probably in the fine art space, right. I think my career, for the most part, up until this point, has been commercial design. Right? It’s about how to sell a product or a service or get somebody to take an action based on. It’s less art. Granted, there are a lot of visual components to the work that I do, but at the end of the day, it’s not art because we’re selling something or making something or convincing people or educating people on why they want to buy a service or a product versus art or a personal expression that is more about self expression. Right. So you think of sculptures or paintings or woodwork or something like that.

So I think in the future, my interest will probably be more in the focus on things that are not, like, consumer focused.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. Where do you see yourself in general in the next five years? I mean, I know we kind of talked a little bit about where you want to take the business, but when you look in the future, based on where you are now, what kind of things do you want to be doing, especially with.

Jonathan Patterson:

I’m very interested to see all of our AR and VR experiences start coming into play. I know that there are a lot of mixed reviews on how that’s going to look in the future of the metaverse and all of that. Personally, I’m interested in working in that space. I think it’s just going to be so new. Right. A lot of the work that we do in UX and UI design today for screens is there are many design patterns and tried and true methods to pull from. I’m interested in establishing and working in and setting up kind of new paradigms and principles and patterns for devices that are upcoming.

So I’m very excited about the Vision Pro. When that comes out, I’ll probably start to tinker around in that space. I’ll have to give me one of those when it comes out, start designing. And I do imagine maybe a similar kind of pattern as to what I experienced before, where if I’m offering services that are tailored toward developers who are creating products for vision Pro, they probably need some design assistance with it. So that’s kind of me keeping up with the times. It’s how can I tailor my services to be in demand and where the market is going? Which is one of the reasons I actually had an interest in three D. One of many reasons I’ve had an interest in 3D in the last few years is because I saw or I read that these types of experiences are coming and I want to be able to be able to create assets and just work in this space. So yeah, that’s an area I’m very excited about is VR, aR, that type of work.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work? Where can they hire you? Where can they find all of that information? Online?

Jonathan Patterson:

Definitely at my website, which is jonathanpatterson.com. I am on X – @jonpatterson_. That’s J-O-N underscore Patterson, of course. Linkedin.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Jonathan Patterson, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you really, for kind of diving deep into your business and kind of exploring why you do what you do what you do in terms of services and things of that nature. I think it’s important, especially now at this time, when people, for one reason or another, might be out there trying to find their next path or like what the next thing is that they’re going to do to really sort of see what someone who has been out here doing this for a long time is doing. So they can maybe look at how they structure their work or their business. But I think what you’re doing is great. I know you mentioned something about sort of having the work speak for itself and being the invisible hand. I’ll tell you that once you start speaking, that kind of goes a little bit out the window.

Yeah, I know, because the work doesn’t have a mouth, you do. So it’s like, as you start getting out there and speaking more. And I think certainly as people really see more of you, as well as the work, you’ll take off for sure. I mean, certainly what you’re doing now is really great work, but I’m excited to see where you go in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, well, thanks for having me.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Phillip J. Clayton

We’re ending out the month of November with the second part of my conversation with the one and only Phillip J. Clayton. (If you missed the first part of this interview, check it out here.)

After sharing his thoughts on brand purpose, we started discussing our experiences with art and education, and he spoke about facing limitations in school due to dyslexia and feeling misunderstood by teachers and other authority figures. Phillip also talked about his experiences working with renowned brands (including PepsiCo), judging creative work, the evolving nature of packaging design, the need for a holistic view of design.

Big thanks to Phillip for such a wide-ranging conversation!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

All right, so we’ve spent a lot of know time, you know, talking about the work that you do through your studio; a lot of your brand identity work and such. But I want to kind of shift the conversation so we can learn more about you. Like, what’s the Phillip J. Clayton origin story? So…you’re originally from Jamaica, is that right?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yes. Born and grew here.

Maurice Cherry:

How would you describe growing up there?

Phillip J. Clayton:

I grew up on a high point of a mountain — like a cold area. A cold part of the country, in a parish. So I grew up in a small town where it was a lot of mostly religion. So for me, I grew up in religion, Christianity specifically. There’s this traditional kind of way of doing things, and I felt kind of trapped inside myself. That’s what it was like for me, artistically, creatively, it’s more traditional for me. It was very frustrating growing up, honestly.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, your father, from doing my research, your father was in advertising, and he was also sort of a fine artist. Was that kind of a bit of a dichotomy between this sort of difficult growing up?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Part of my childhood, I think, was spent trying to be this great artist like my father, then learning about his profession in advertising, trying to become that as well. A little pressure I guess, I placed on myself. That was an outlet, for sure. Spending time with him in his office and watching him do what he does and then mimicking him. It was an outlet where I could express everything.

Then he started teaching me how to do. My first lesson in art was drawing was a tonal scale. So he taught me how to use one pencil to create from dark to light. It’s a gray scale, basically. So that’s where I started. And, oh, music. He’s also a classical guitar player, so I learned that as well, each day with practice. So I had my outlets. My mother did embroidery, so I was surrounded by art books and design. And my sister, she also was a great writer. So I got all of this stuff around me. So they were in the house. It was great.

It’s when I left the house, that’s when I had my challenges. I wasn’t like most of the children I knew, my cousins included. So I guess I had this big dream of what my childhood should be. But I was still on a massive property. But at the same time, I wanted to maybe a lot more creatively. I wasn’t really into games and stuff like that. I just cared about being really good at art and design.

That’s the summary of my childhood, really. Everything I did was in art or design. Sports didn’t really work out for me.

Maurice Cherry:

So you had this, really, sounds like super creative home life. Did that kind of influence you once you went off to college?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yes. When I got to college, that was interesting. I felt like I knew so much already. That might be ego, but when I got there, it was definitely because of my childhood. And at that time, I still didn’t know if I wanted to be an artist or not. I was just doing it. It was a question of whether I was conditioned to do…to be creative or am I really someone who likes creating? So college was that journey for me, but I was mostly bored there because it was like, again, I want more. And what I was doing is what I did at home.

I learned techniques. I won’t put it all down. I learned new techniques, but it was too academic for me. It didn’t feel like a creative environment. It felt more academic.

Maurice Cherry:

What all sort of things were you doing there?

Phillip J. Clayton:

After my first year? You do everything in the first year and then you choose second year. I went into painting, and then I moved from that to sculpting. And then…what do you call them? Not majors, like your secondaries. I don’t know what they’re called.

Maurice Cherry:

Your minors?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yeah, like minors. So I did photography, printmaking. I did not get to do graphic design. I was not even allowed in the class because I guess the teacher didn’t see me as a graphic designer. But ironically, though…so it was all fine art. It was photography, sculpting, painting, and printmaking.

Maurice Cherry:

The teacher didn’t let you in the class? Like, you couldn’t even enroll?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yeah, they give you this test, and to this day I hate that. And when I was…any job I went to and they said, “there’s a test”, I turned it down and said, “I’m not interested in that.” Because of that experience, most people saw my work that I did for this test, and they said, “but you’re really good at this!” But whatever the reason was…this lecturer there, he didn’t see me as a valid candidate or something. And the same thing happened with architecture. For me, in terms of high school, I’ve been experiencing these kind of things, so again, I’ve been forced into art.

So I had to really decide what I like, but I wasn’t allowed to do anything technical for some reason. I don’t know if it caused my dyslexia, or I don’t know if I was presenting myself the right way. So I can never be sure, but I was turned down essentially, so I just stuck to art. Design was something I was really in love with as well, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into design. Architecture is something I love, but again, I wasn’t in high school, I wasn’t allowed to do the technical drawing class, whatever the reason was. I do not know to this day. Industrial design, all these things fascinated me. But the art school didn’t have that.

It was art and graphic design, and I found it quite mundane. I was like, where’s the intrigue?

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Phillip J. Clayton:

So that was the experience for me. It didn’t work out well in the end. It’s a joke around my friends that I was asked to leave the art school. So, I think I can conform well — I think that was it, actually. Yes, I remember that statement. I think he asked me a question. He said that, the graphic design teacher. He said, “I don’t appear to be the student that will do what he asks.” So that was my experience constantly.

I don’t think they knew how to relate to me or relate or engage me. I was very dyslexic, and I have a lot of other cognitive stuff going on, and I guess I just didn’t fit into that mold that they wanted. So my entire college experience was me always feeling challenged to live up to some expectation, which I couldn’t because it’s not in my personality to do that. But I wasn’t being rude or anything. I just couldn’t fit into what they wanted. I was very expressive. My fine artwork was very dark as well, so there’s some personal stuff there. And I guess they couldn’t see beyond that.

But I did all my work. But if I may share this on here — when I was asked to leave, I don’t know why, but I found out some years later that it was for drug abuse and being a threat to the school. I was told all this is false, and I never did any of that there. There’s a lot of details to that whole process, so it was very insulting. I felt demotivated after that for a while, but today, it’s not true. Just want to make that record clear. I don’t know where it came from, but nobody asked my opinion on it. They just asked me to leave the school. So that was that college experience.

Maurice Cherry:

You know, as you describe that, that reminds me so much of my own high school and college experience in a different way, but I think in the same feelings of authority, not being able to know what to do with someone like you. And so because they don’t know how to handle — handle is probably not the right word — they don’t know what to do! That’s kind of just the best example that I can give.

I mean, when I was in high school, my teachers — especially my senior year — my teachers, my guidance counselor were like, actively not only trying to fail me because I was set up to be valedictorian, and they didn’t want that. This was a whole race thing in the South. There’s that. But then also my guidance counselor not allowing me to get certain applications to schools or to get application fee waivers, saying things like, “well, why don’t you…have you thought about learning a trade? Have you thought about going to the community college and learning HVAC or welding or something like that?”

And then in college, I mean, it wasn’t as similar as to what your experience is, but certainly…I started out in computer science, and didn’t like it because I wanted to be a web designer. My advisor literally telling me, “if you want to go into the Internet, that’s just a fad. So if you want to do that, you should probably change your major”…which I did. I changed it to Math, and I kind of sailed through on that. But it sounds like it’s just this textbook case of authority not knowing what to do with someone who doesn’t fit into their kind of rigid standards. And I feel like — and maybe I’m grossly generalizing here, please stop me if I am — but I wonder if part of it also was the fact that you said you grew up in this really religious environment, and that there’s sort of this kind of staid structure that comes with that. I mean, I grew up in a really religious town, too, so I know what that’s like.

Phillip J. Clayton:

Well, I mean, according to things I’ve heard in my own family, not my parents, like my relatives, I’m the only person like me in the entire generation. And we go way back. Chinese and European mix. Right? But everything you said is actually all my academic experiences. It’s everything you just said. And are you familiar with Frederick Nietzsche?

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Phillip J. Clayton:

Right. So the will to power, which Hitler misused grossly, is what, in my adult age, that I discovered that, hey, this is the problem. And I love Jamaica, don’t get me wrong, but how I speak about [the] country professionally and academically, a lot of people don’t like it.

Well, I won’t say if you agree, but if you understand the concept of replacing managers with employees who want to be managers, was something I heard, that no employee hates the manager. They hate that the manager is doing what they’re doing to them. So basically they want to be the manager so they can do it to somebody else.

Jamaica for me, is very prudish, and that’s what I think leads to the academic experience we do have. High standards in terms of other courses or disciplines in the academic area. A lot of people do very well because we have this; I think we’re in Cambridge or something, I can’t remember. But at the same time, when you get into the professional space or the creative space, what my perception of it was, oh, you just replaced the Europeans with yourselves. So [you] use the same rules, same approach, same everything. Nothing’s changed.

The managers have changed. They’re now Black Jamaicans, and Jamaican is not even race. It’s an ethnicity. So you just replace the managers. It’s the same rules. So I’m supposed to not live up to my true potential by Frederick Nietzsche. I think it wasn’t even his originally. But anyway, the will to power, where the philosophy or the belief that society limits great thinkers from living up to their full potential. I was considered a rude child in my early school days, or not rude, or not paying attention, one of those two, because of my dyslexia and that knowledge of what dyslexia was, I guess, wasn’t that common back then.

So, yeah, the entire education experience was not great for me. I’ve helped put schools on the map regarding competitions I entered. I either won them or came second or something. I usually get one of three; first, secnd, or third, but the school was proud of that. And I’m not saying a lot of people…I’m not saying I was treated horribly by teachers or anything, but in terms of learning, they didn’t know how to teach me. And I’m probably one in the whole class that has this problem, or maybe more, or they didn’t know. So it was like, if you didn’t fit into this thing, you’re on the outside. And we know all the stories of successful people who have the same stories of teachers berating them, and they literally coming out in the exact opposite of what a teacher said they would be.

I’ve had that experience, and I guess that’s what my journey is on. But, yeah, everything you said about what you experienced is my entire education experience. And I had to leave to discover who I am and all that. Because sometimes these things come in disguise, right? So being kicked from college wasn’t…at first, it was demotivating, and I felt I didn’t feel valuable, which was a common problem with my childhood as well, not feeling smart, intelligent and valuable. I think all the experiences I’ve had forced me to discover myself and my strengths. So I guess there are blessings in disguise in spite of how horrible the experiences were.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, as you tell me all of this. It starts to make perfect sense as to why you started your own studio back in 2001. If all of this is going on and you know in your mind that you can do this and you strike out on your own and do it, it makes perfect sense.

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yeah. And then keep in mind that I’m only starting with the little knowledge I knew then, right? I’m trying to sell a creative service or my talents. And without the business knowledge I have now, it wasn’t as great, but, yeah, I had to. I was like, “I can’t be these people. I can’t be that good student, that good employee, that anything. I need to show my value.” And that’s what I did. As you rightly said, I was forced to do that.

But it did help me get 9-to-5 jobs after, when I needed my sustainability sorted out. It was the freelance work that I did that got me the jobs, not my qualifications.

Maurice Cherry:

I didn’t go to design school. I got my degree in Math, and I worked jobs after I graduated, and I couldn’t get anything with a Math degree. I mean, one of my jobs –actually, I was still in school, but this was right after I graduated. I was working at the local symphony and art museum and stuff, like selling tickets. And I remember the day that I graduated. I had to go to work that evening. I still had an evening shift. And they had taken the calculator away from my station, because they have these little stations where people come in lanes and that’s where you sell tickets at. And they took my calculator away, and my manager was like, “well, you got a Math degree now, so you don’t need this.” And it’s like, just rub the salt deeper into the wound.

And the jobs I had after that were all, like, customer service type jobs. I did telemarketing for the opera. I was a customer service agent for AutoTrader, which is sort of like this used car marketplace kind of thing. And I was doing design stuff on the side. Like, I was going to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore and taking pictures because I couldn’t afford to buy the books because they were too expensive. I was, like, taking pictures in the books and then taking them back home and using my cracked version of Photoshop to try to teach myself how to make gradients. You know what I’m saying? How to do all this stuff. And my first design job was off of that. It wasn’t because I went to school for it or anything.

Yeah, it takes a lot of guts to strike out on your own like that. Especially that young. So my hat goes off to you for that.

Phillip J. Clayton:

I appreciate that. And just like you, I sort of learned design through jobs or freelancing because my father didn’t grow up in a time of…didn’t do work in a time of computers. So the first time I got a computer, I didn’t think Photoshop was even out yet. But when Photoshop came out, I dove right in. And this is the artistic knowledge that helped me with design. My knowledge of lighting and shadows and stuff like that. It helps me with design.

Some of the best designers actually studied art first. Whether they graduated or not is irrelevant, but they studied art first or they knew art first. But like you, it’s something I learned as well in my teen years, and said, put the best foot forward. I’m sure you’re familiar with that. So what you’re doing in terms of jobs, I consider that survival. But what you put up front when you get the opportunity is, I’m a designer, and that’s kind of what I did.

How I got into professionally doing design is like, yes, art, I’ll do whatever I need to do to survive. But when I’m really selling? I’ll never tell people I’m trying to work with that I’m an artist.

Maurice Cherry:

Now. You’ve worked with a ton of different clients, I’m sure, over the years. I mean, starting in 2001, you’ve worked with, I’m sure, dozens to hundreds of different clients. What are some of the projects that you’re the most proud of?

Phillip J. Clayton:

When I was in production entertainment, that was the first time I understood management, because the team left me in charge of an entire comedy tour for three days, meaning there’s no other management person there. They said they have to do another show, so they trusted me to do this one, and I did it. That was my first time, and I felt really proud of that because…I don’t know if you know Red Stripe Light, not the original red Stripe beer. They had created this light beer, and they were promoting it through this comedy tour. So I was literally traveling around with all the people that worked on the show, and I’m representing the creative side, the art team. So the set design, all of that, I had to ensure we had our plans and everything. I had to follow that three times, morning and evening. So set up, pull down for three days. I had to ensure that that show went on not just for live performance, but for television as well. So that was my first time.

My second one, which I think I’m most proud of, is how I got into brand design, was I helped to relaunch…I was one of the people that helped to relaunch the PepsiCo identity. 2008, Arnold Group Identity, here in Jamaica. I believe Guatemala had got the ownership at that time, so it was on their directive. But I left printing and went right into relaunching this new identity for PepsiCo America through PepsiCo Jamaica. And at first I was like, “can I actually do this? It’s intimidating.” But I was working with an agent, a small design house at a time, so the director there got a contract and we launched it off. But then I became the key person to maintain the brand standards, to make sure that everything went out. So now I’m learning about brand and understanding the value, financial value, and the value to the company, the importance of the brand. And we also rebranded a local Pepsi Jamaica water brand here. It was a full stack, like nine years. Whole nine years, we did it all. And that was the first time I really embraced this idea of brand design.

I was all around brands, but that’s when it moved from graphic design and, “oh, this thing is here, this is interesting” kind of thing. That was kind of the experience for me. So that’s my most proud career moment, I would say. It was a big responsibility and we did achieve the objectives. Yeah, to this day it still looks, when you look back at the work, it looks really good. And just to be part of that, I think just to say I worked on that, that’s something we’re proud of. Being in Kingston, Jamaica, that I actually worked on something, an international brand like that.

I’ll only mention one more. There are a few others. I can’t remember them all, there’s so many because I don’t have favorites. By the way, it’s very difficult to pick a favorite. My idea of favorites is that it’s too partial, I think, because every project I worked on, if I’m going to pick something that was really proud of, it had to be on the value and impact it had. So that’s why Pepsi is one of those. But every product I’ve worked on, when the solution comes together, that’s great for me. And I think they’re all great products, but in terms of magnitude, PepsiCo is one of those. The Guinness, I don’t know what year anniversary we had to wrap an entire entertainment location for the Guinness anniversary some years ago, so we wrapped it all in black with the gold logo, standing out and curated experience for the guest. From the dishes all the way up to the music. That’s another impactful project. But I guess more on the event side, less on the consumer experience side. But, yeah, PepsiCo is one that stands out to me this day. I think it was the launching pad for me.

Maurice Cherry:

Red Stripe. PepsiCo. I mean, those are two huge brands. It really sounds like those helped to…I think whenever you get a really big project or you get a really sort of visible project, it really cements personally that you’re on the right path. You know what I mean?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yeah. It’s an acknowledgement that you are capable or you’re knowledgeable about this thing. And the fact that they even spoke to me or asked me, was something — was acknowledgment that I can actually help them. And I think that’s the most important part of any profession, is that you are not needed as much. So much so you’re wanted. I think wanted even in your personal relationships, when you’re wanted, is way better than being needed. And that’s what happened, is I was introduced. I’m often recommended for stuff. So that was a recommendation as well. I didn’t apply for it. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t know it even was happening. I was recommended for the project. So that was a great feeling for me.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. Now, it’s funny you mentioned that about sort of how it’s this kind of validating thing, because now what you’re doing is probably a lot of validation for other creatives and creatives teams, which is you’re judging. You’re a brand and a marketing judge with PAc Global for their Leadership Awards. How did you first get involved with them?

Phillip J. Clayton:

I was invited; again, another form of acknowledgment. I was invited through LinkedIn by the CEO, actually, in 2018, I believe, which is also happening this year. Again, I think I mentioned that off. I’m currently judging designs right now, but I was invited. Interestingly, I wasn’t thinking about being a judge, but I used to give my own critiques. I didn’t want to share things on any social media platform alone. I wanted to actually give my view on it, and I started to do that so I’d write my review of the thing I shared. Whether it’s a package design or brand identity, I actually write my perspective on what was done, the goods, anywhere that fell short.

I think just because I did that consistently and still doing it today, is that it got his attention. And I think we connected before, sometime before. And he invited me to be part of the commission, which is a global commission, and PAC has been around since 1950. I’m the only Jamaican on there, by the way.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice.

Phillip J. Clayton:

I’m not sure if I’m the youngest. I’ll be 41 in December, so I don’t know if I’m the youngest, but I’m the only Jamaican on there. And I guess in many ways, everyone there is one person from their own countries as well. But because of the context of design and art in Jamaica, where it’s either traditional, there are some great people here, but you don’t really see it because everything dominates it. So being the only Jamaican in there, a small Caribbean island that’s really business-oriented, if I’m being honest with you, we’re known to be creative, but we’re mostly business. I think it’s a great stage for me to be on. Most Jamaicans don’t know that I have them on international stage just by being a member there. It’s a very proud moment.

I was invited on and I accepted, and it’s just been a great journey. But you learn from it. You have to be very objective. And I like to make sure that creative people understand that when you’re looking at design or art, you have to be. Critiques are supposed to be objective. Your subjective parts are there, but it’s really supposed to be an objective view. And that’s what the judging experience is, because you’d see something really amazing. And if you’re not careful, you end up giving that particular project really high marks, and then you realize “but then this other thing is here.”

So how do you judge these two things? They’re both great. So you have to really get into the objectivity of the design and the purpose behind it.

Maurice Cherry:

I was just about to ask this. It sounds like you’re kind of segueing into it. I’m also an awards judge, and I don’t think a lot of judges really talk about how they approach judging creative work. So I’m glad that you mentioned that objectivity. When you’re looking at work, especially now, since you’re in the middle of this judging process, how do you approach it? Do you have like a rubric, or are there certain things that you take into account as you’re judging creative work?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yeah, generally as a professional courtesy, it also helps you with client work as well. There are criteria that you have in mind of what makes this project a great product or this design a great solution. The good thing is PAC, and I’m sure other judging commissions, they have their criteria listed out as well. And you’re really looking for these projects that meet. They’ve already narrowed down the entries anyway, so you’re judging what you’re given and you’re going to basically see if these projects meet these criteria. Outside of that, you also have to use your own judgment on how they meet the criteria. You’re allowed to write your review of the project so you can rationalize the decision in the context of maybe it met one criteria, it didn’t meet the other one, or maybe it did in a way that is not as upfront, but it actually meets the criteria. It’s actually achieving the objective it stated it was supposed to achieve.

So it’s always approaching it based on, for me personally, it’s about the design. For me, it’s function and then aesthetics is part of design, but it’s more on what I call emotional responses. The aesthetics is used to wrap up a design solution to make it appealing the human response, but the design has to function as intended. Or unlike art, where it’s subjective, design has to actually work. If it doesn’t work, then it just failed. So I use that as one of my criteria.

In terms of packaging design, I always look for shelf positioning. That’s the first point of contact a consumer has with the design is before they even touch it, what got their attention, what will get them to go and interact with this design. So I look for shelf positioning in terms of packaging design. And I guess you could translate that into other forms of design where…how do you get people to interact with this? I always look for the function. I understand things like simplicity is often misunderstood with minimalism, but it’s not. Minimalism is a philosophy, a way of thinking, and simplicity is the functional side. So my favorite types of designs are the ones that are the simplest. If they’re really simple and have great impact. I love that one. I actually use the word love, not in my critique, but I’m saying it here. The simpler design with a greater impact, that’s a great design for me. So I look for those things. But the commission has its own criteria that we use.

Maurice Cherry:

What do you gain from being an awards judge?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Professionally, the learning never ends, and I’m always looking to learn more, add more knowledge to what I have already. But there’s also a professional status with it. The fact that you’re judging designs mean that you’re somebody worth talking to. I think it’s a big responsibility that you should never take for granted. I mean, anybody that’s put in charge of judging anything should never take that for granted. But it should also mean that you are a worthy conversation regarding knowledge and teaching, passing on that knowledge.

The lessons in judging design is you have to separate yourself. Detachment is a great thing that you can learn from design, from judging. You have to detach yourself, your personal assumptions. It’s invaluable regarding your client work. The same experience of judging can be applied to client work, and that’s how it has helped me in a lot of ways. I can detach myself from my assumptions or what I like. I can also speak to the client differently. I can listen more, to listen and observe before and respond appropriately. I know this is the right way and this is how you should do this and do that. But when you’re judging things, none of that really comes into play.

Because now it’s not about you. And in your client work, it’s not about you. It’s about understanding what the intent of the client is regarding speaking to you. And they have to trust that you are somebody who can help them. You don’t have to know all the answers, but you should be able to, in a very short space of time, through a conversation, be viewed as an expert, a professional that can actually solve problems, that you learn that a lot from judging other people’s work. That comes from art school as well. Judging art, critiquing art is the same process. When you’re critiquing art, it’s not about what you like or don’t like.

It’s always about objectivity. And I think a lot of that’s missing from the client process. So that’s what I’ve definitely gained from know.

Maurice Cherry:

It’s interesting that you mentioned that about objectivity, because sometimes what will happen, and I don’t know if this is such the case with PAC Global, but sometimes awards are just sort of an extension of marketing for companies. Like they’ll just build it into their budget. Like whatever project they’ve got going on, they’ll just automatically submit them, not necessarily whether or not they fit within a particular category or they meet a certain standard level or things like that.

I often find that when I am — it depends on the competition I’m judging — but I’ll always see the same studios producing the same work, and then sometimes I’ll know the studio just from viewing the work. Like, I won’t even have to look at who it’s from. I’m like, “oh, this is from such and such because they use this exact same template with four different clients.” They just did a color swap and switched out typography or what have you. So, yeah, it helps to try to be objective about it, even when you can see what looks just like a lot of repetition, because for companies, they may not even be looking at the acclaim that they get from awards as something that has any other merit aside from just getting them more business.

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yeah. One of the reasons that I absolutely love packaging design is that it’s an extension of the brand, and it’s often one of the first point of contact for consumers. The unboxing experience for consumers is also a very tangible part of that whole design process. Technology, and I guess molds and stuff like that, can limit your packaging design capability, but creativity is found in the limitations, right? So if this is what you have to work with, then you find a creative way to leverage what you have. And that’s what packaging design. Well, great packaging design.

That’s what it does. It finds ways of making this mundane thing very interesting. It can be little changes, whether it’s the actual graphic design on it or is the type of cap, but it’s the same bottle. You can use the same container and do amazing things. And I know exactly what you’re talking about regarding templates because I’ve seen it outside of packaging. I don’t know all the judging. I’ve never been part of anyone. But in terms of designs that are shared on social media or case studies, there are some agencies that stand out, or some designers, because you cannot be so unique.

But it doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen before, or they’ve leveraged something you’ve seen before in a much more interesting way. Packaging design with PAC, the submissions are always unique in that context of being unique, and that’s one of the best parts about it for me. The agencies, the clients — even clients submit their own packaging designs, or the agency submits it on behalf of them. So you get a diverse group of people submitting designs. We do have the big brands, obviously, and they may improve on something they already have out there. And you judge that, and that’s also a very valuable thing. But in terms of…my favorite part is either improvements on existing packaging designs from established brands or new products being launched from smaller agencies. They are very experimental on that side because they’re not as known as the big brands, but they submit some really interesting designs and it’s just exciting to see what they’ve done. Like, “oh, I didn’t know you could do that with this thing.”

And then we’re in an age of technology now, right? Packaging design is changing. We have the brand extensions moving beyond the package itself. What’s the consumer shopping experience like? So the ultimate goal in the end is to have the consumer have a great experience. So packaging design, for me is a great place to understand a lot about design, a lot about art, a lot about craftsmanship.

I only say this because you’ve mentioned that some of these agencies, the templates, you can tell who they are. Because if you have a style in design, I think you have a problem, because every strategy is supposed to be different, right? So if you have a style, it kind of means that you haven’t really giving different clients the same thing, doesn’t it? So, yeah, I like packaging design because it’s very difficult to be the same there. It’s just more difficult to stand out, more challenging. I don’t like saying hard. Difficult is a better word because hard probably means it’s never going to happen, but difficult means there’s a challenge to overcome there.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I think you also just have more opportunities for innovation with packaging design than you do for the web. For what it’s worth, it’s a kind of staid medium. That’s not to say that there isn’t innovation that exists, but I judge the PRINT Awards from PRINT Magazine. And I am amazed every year —

Phillip J. Clayton:

I love PRINT.

Maurice Cherry:

— at the new stuff that comes through. I mean, things that I never would have thought about in terms of how people have packaged certain things. And the good thing with PRINT is that it’s not just packaging design, but it’s also experiential design. So you can see how people have designed spaces like a gym or an office building.

And to me…I just really love it. I also judge podcasts, and if you want to talk about repetition and podcasting, I’m not going to say any names, but there’s a certain company that rhymes with “water bowl” that sweeps every year, and I’m just like, it’s the same stuff over and over. You got some celebrity to get behind the microphone and interview other celebrities. Like, where’s the innovation?

Phillip J. Clayton:

I’m hoping to get into podcasts at some point. Maybe I’ll do something innovative there. But I love PRINT Magazine, by the way. That’s such a great experience to have. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

It’s an opportunity to just see what other people are doing outside of, I think, you know, what people…. It’s interesting because design in and of itself is such a broad field, but depending on who you talk to, they may have a very narrow view of it. Like, if I tell people I’m a designer, it depends, I could ask five different people. I could tell that I’m a designer. They’ll think five different things. For a long time, when I would tell people I’m a designer, they thought it meant, “oh, so you do UX?” “No, yeah, I don’t do UX. I’m not a UX designer.” Like, I have to sort of qualify that, what that means to me, because I’ve dabbled in so many different types of design, and it’s all design, but the viewpoint is skewed, I think sometimes.

Phillip J. Clayton:

I think you need, I think, I hope I have it because I support it or advocate for it. A holistic view on design is required. A wider perspective, and then you narrow it down based on the purpose that you need it for. That’s when you get graphic design and UX design all these things. A graphic designer, for example, should have the understanding of animation as much as they do stills. I guess what you’re hired for is completely different, but you pay a graphic designer well who understands those two things. They’ll do it.

But if you want somebody who does animation specifically, hire an animator. But for some reason, when you say design, you’re a graphic designer. Everything on the two-dimensional plane comes to you, and it’s unfathomable to say, “oh, I don’t know how to do that.” Right? And it’s okay to not to know how to do that. It would be nice if you did. But design is, it’s a plugin. Most people see it as a plugin.

It’s like, let’s get something and plug it in here. So let’s get the graphic designer to do these ten things, because they are a designer, and design is a process. What makes a difference is the purpose, the intended purpose of going to a design process. Evidently, if you’re doing print, you want a graphic designer. Or if you’re on the execution side, you might want a print technician, but that technician might not be a designer. But they may understand design, and they may do a lot of why I like print, by the way, which is why I’m such a big fan. I worked in printing as well, is that the things I used to do, because of my artistic knowledge and design knowledge, I didn’t print nothing amazing. That’s all over the top.

But there are little things that I learned about the machines and ink levels and the pigments that I was able to achieve when I’m printing. And then the experimental side of it is like, how about we just not do it the way it’s supposed to be done, for example? Well, you don’t damage a machine. But what if I could turn something off here? And I did that and I got different results. So, of course, my dream at the time was to have my own machine so I could go experiment at home, right? But it’s pricey. But it was like, yeah, printing machine is supposed to print this and print that, but how do we use it in a creative way? What if I wanted to do an entire exhibition and printing? How can I make it interesting? That’s how my brain works. So the machine, I was always trying to experiment with it. What happens if I…because some machines actually recognize the layers in Illustrator, for example. So you get a different result depending on how much percentage of ink you put on it.

Because the machine that I was using anyway, it automatically printed layers and layers of color depending on what I have on the artwork itself. And then if you print a rastered image, like a JPEG or a TIFF file, it would do something completely different because the colors are not layered anymore, which was amazing to me. I’m like, how does a machine know that difference? By understanding those things, it’s an advantage, I think, in design, and that helps me. And I’m sure with your knowledge as well, even your customer service experience, you can actually do marketing. A lot of people started in door-to-door sales, like David Ogilvy, and then now he has his own agency.

It’s three, four things I look for is business, authority, opportunity, and time value. Four things, right? Yeah, I said four. Those I learned from a business, from somebody who does business. And I apply to my creative development as well and processes. It has to be a business. You have to have authority of it, and there must be an opportunity, and then you don’t want to waste your time on something that doesn’t meet those three things. So for me, design is just a holistic thing of value, process and impact. That’s how I look at it anyway.

Maurice Cherry:

So on your website, you mentioned — and I thought this was really interesting, especially given how this conversation has went. You said that you’re not a self made man. Who are some of the people that have kind of helped you reach your current level of success?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Oh, wow. It’s a very long list, but I can think of some key people. My very first professional experience while freelancing was when I went into production entertainment. My friend, she worked in the entertainment. She’s an architect, but she started a production company, and she used her knowledge in architecture to execute some brilliant event projects, and she became popular for it. What I learned from her was work ethic. She’s very meticulous about process, and I fell in love with process because of her. And I think my work ethic to this day, I would always give to her by working with her.

I learned from her other people. My last agency boss — or he’s a CEO now. I know his father’s around. At the time, I don’t remember his position, but he was essentially my boss. I learned from him how agencies are managed and how to handle client conversations.

And then there are the people that I never worked with, but just being around them. Michael Beirut said something. I think that’s why I did what I did was he said “hijack your mentors.” Because honestly, if I’m being honest, I didn’t know who to go to to get mentorship from, because what I was seeing was not anything that I wanted to necessarily learn from people. But when I got into the older I got, I realized I need to understand a lot of things, a lot about business and how agencies work. And I started hanging around people. A lot of my friends are way older than me because I learned from them, whether they’re bosses or project managers, that I was a part of a project. I learned from people like that. I learned from clients. I learned from going to unknown territory with clients, learning about their industry, learning how they manage their employees, learning how to have the client conversations with their clients. So I observed them talking to their clients. You learn from different people. It’s just that we don’t often don’t pay attention to it. And everybody goes to this self-made thing. I just one day said, “well, that doesn’t make any sense.” You can’t really be self made. You may put a lot of effort in yourself. Yes, because nobody’s there. You’re doing the work.

But what happened to me was that I said I don’t think I would be anywhere I am and where I’m going without the people that I worked with or the relationships that I’ve made over the years. When I looked at the value that I’ve learned from all these people, I said, there’s no way I can be a self made man. And I started to detest that statement. I guess I can’t say for sure if there’s actually no one out there who’s self made. I don’t know. But I think even entrepreneurs get help along the way. And I guess that help isn’t acknowledged. But I believe that you cannot be self made.

And I guess I just applied it to myself. My website is a bit of satire in terms of narcissism. It’s not seriously narcissistic, but at the same time, I wanted to have people understand how I perceive the professional space and my knowledge. So I put it up there. But it was mostly people I’ve worked with. That’s why I said that.

And I obviously put my father in there. My mother, I learned from both of them. My mother was the one who really gave me that drive that I have now. I think she is a trooper. She’s not somebody who gives up easily. So she taught me as well about discipline. And she told me, any job I’m doing, I should always do my best, even if it’s a horrible job, because you never know who’s watching. So stuff like that stuck with me.

Maurice Cherry:

It’s funny, when I saw that on your site, it reminded me of…this was way back in high school. I had a…I guess it’s like a senior book. Like, there would be these organizations like Jostens or whatever, right? They try to sell you all this stuff leading up to graduation. Like, buy these invitations, buy this tassel. But I have a senior book, and I went back and looked through it recently, and I was…God, I was so angsty in high school. But there was a quote that I had in there that was like, “I’m a self-made man. Who else would help?” Or something like that. So when I saw that on your site, I was like, “you’re not a self made man. What’s that about?”

Phillip J. Clayton:

When we’re in the challenge, or the journey? It’s easy to say that because I deal with depression. And I’m only saying that to create and illustrate something. When you have an episode of any mental challenges, mental health issues that you may have when you’re in an episode, it’s not that you don’t know what to do. You just can’t seem to find that will or ability to get up and do what you need to do to get out of it. So no matter how somebody tells you to do something: “You need to start doing this. When you’re depressed, try these things.” All these things take practice. But no matter how much they tell you, you just can’t do it until you make the first move to do it and you start to do it. And what happens is that over a period of time of learning things and doing them and becoming proficient at them, you cheer yourself because it was difficult, right? And in your context, I’m assuming in high school, that being great, your great experience, you probably wrote that because you had to do a lot of stuff yourself.

I think that’s what happens. And we tend to block out the external forces, whether good or bad. Even some bad experiences contribute to your progressive movement. Right. It’s at least, at very best, it tells you, oh, I don’t want that experience. So you make different decisions, right? So I look at everything. I look at the good and bad. I don’t believe in trying to kill fair. I think that’s illogical. I think negative and positive energies are supposed to be balanced. You can’t really get rid of one or the other. When one is given more power or energy, it throws off the balance. So these things is what I think about. So I was like, there’s no way it’s after a maturity. Of course, this is something that you need as well. So I guess my maturity came into play here and I said, “what does it mean to be self made?” And you started to process that and you started to think and you’re like, “yeah, I got help with that thing.”

Should I be grateful for the jobs I had? Would I be here? I don’t know. I think about these things all the time. But I have to kind of…should contextualize it because you just said something that, yeah, when you’re in high school or along your journey, especially when you’re younger, you’re probably putting a lot of effort in trying to get what you want out of this world. So it does feel like you’re self made because sometimes people don’t see your vision and what you’re trying to do. But at the same time, I believe in being fair. And life isn’t fair, unfair: it’s indifferent, or it just is. But we can decide the fairness of that experience. And I think to be fair, we would have to start acknowledging all the people that has helped us along the way.

They may not have helped us build our companies or build our careers, but even my college experience, it was great. But I did learn some things from it. I have to be fair about that. I learned how to critique, for example, I never learned critiquing at home. I think it’s giving the chair to the things that help you to get where you are. And I’d go too extreme and say, on a bad day, if a store was open on a public holiday and I was able to buy something that cheered on my day, I’m going to thank that person.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. So what keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Reading philosophy. Gratitude. Each morning I wake up, I always make an effort to spend a few minutes with my mind, whether it’s meditating or a prayer of some kind. I think it’s just a tone for the day. My mind goes into a place where I can deal with any challenges that show up. And it’s always easy but it’s really starting each day with gratitude. I’m reading a lot of books on…I guess I could call them the schematics of living. So I found this balance where it’s setting a vision. That’s what drives me.

I have a vision of what I want to achieve each day and the months in the years and so forth. So I think setting three goals at least each day, is what I do, and that motivates me to get things done because it induces fulfillment, I think. Is it a Chinese philosophy somewhere there? I can’t remember the exact philosophy, but it’s something about not trying to do everything all at once and setting smaller objectives, not try to achieve the big ones unless you can.

So reading is part of my objective each day, to read at least a chapter of something, to review work, to have a conversation with somebody, just setting daily objectives, waking up gratitude, setting daily objectives. And the reading definitely helps. I’m motivated by my vision mostly though, that’s my biggest drive, is I would endure great pains to achieve it, I think.

Maurice Cherry:

What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t doing this kind of work?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Wow. I’d love to have been in the sciences because I did pretty well in it. I like developing theories and experimenting with things, understanding how they work. I would hope that if I was able to be in the sciences, particularly biology or neuroscience, I’m an explorer. Archaeology was on the list at one point too. Yeah, my first desired job was as a child was to work with a Red Cross actually, but I didn’t know how to even do that. And I think I found out that you had to fund yourself part of it. I don’t remember. But yeah, I would like to be doing something that has impact on our society, I guess. Or humans.

I’m hoping design is doing that in some way, but yeah, science in some way or some humanitarian thing, as long as I can sustain myself. I like to definitely be involved in something like that.

Maurice Cherry:

To that end, where do you see yourself in the next five years? Like, what do you want the next chapter of the Phillip J. Clayton story to look like?

Phillip J. Clayton:

I’d like to be recognized or acknowledged as an authority in my disciplines or the field that I’m in. I’d like to know that I’ve had great impact through that discipline, whether it’s our society, whether through technology or something I’ve written just being conversations that are larger, that are beyond my skill sets. I like my thinking to be beyond everything that I do because I think that’s the ultimate point of self awareness and enlightenment is to be someone that people recognize as some kind of philosopher. I guess I would say I just want to be an authority in my field. I don’t know if authority sounds very aggressive. I’m not trying to say like this egotistical authority. What I mean by authority is that I have contributed something as an expert to the industry that’s worth something to a lot of people, that they would also come to me as a source of voice, of knowledge or something. What that means, obviously, is not just, I’m not going to go sit on a chair and counsel people.

What I mean is being an authority means that even my work should be reflecting that in a different way in five years. The type of work I do, type of conversations I have, I think being an authority establishes your prowess, professional prowess, in any industry you’re in.

Maurice Cherry:

I hear that. I mean, I think it’s certainly something where…and it’s funny, I think you definitely are at that point already. Like I’m wondering because you’re judging and you’re doing all this work, what do you think it would take for you to reach that sort of level of authority that you’re talking about?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Definitely through the work. I’m trying to do different types of work now, work with different type of clients. You’re right. I’ve been told that I am in an authoritative position at the moment. My value is strong and high. I guess it’s what Bruce Lee said: “be happy, but don’t be satisfied”…or something like that. Meaning that you should always deserve to be greater than you are, but be happy with what you have. I guess that’s where I’m coming from. It’s not greed.

It’s like, as long as I’m alive even if…I have a question. You asked about what else would I be doing if I wasn’t doing this. I make statements like this, and I don’t mean to be extreme, but I do make statements like this to my friends. And anybody that asks, is that if I can’t get to do what I want to do, I’d rather be dead. And I don’t mean that from a…I hope I’m not putting the wrong words out there. It’s not that if I can’t do it, I’m going to go die. It’s just, what is the point? If I’m not doing this, if I’m not doing what I’m doing, then why live? So it’s kind of like, be useful.

I think every human being desires to be useful in some way. And then when they don’t have that use or purpose, it’s hard to live. You start figuring out how to survive and you just never leave that place of survival. It’s like you’re always trying to find a reason to live. And I think purpose gives you that reason to live. So that’s my purpose, is to achieve that kind of level of authority where I don’t even have to go look for clients anymore. I would like to be in innovation, some R&D kind of process. If NASA had a creative department, for example, I’d probably want to be there.

I guess I would say this professionally. I like to be in a place where there’s a seamless process of innovation, R&D and innovation that leads into the brand design process and ultimately contributing to advertising and marketing output, adding meaning to the consumer — the consumer experience; people — the experience people have shopping or engaging in government services or anything. I like to innovate those things because the end user for me is always something important in our process. That’s who we’re creating for. Design is supposed to be having positive impacts on the lives of people. No matter what form is in. The only reason you’re doing it is because you’re trying to change something for an end user somewhere. And I guess that’s the kind of authority I want, is where I can develop something that changes the industry also, I guess, in how we work with people, I’ve been told, actually I’m a thought leader.

I’m not really clear on that definition yet, because I hear it used a lot. I think of myself as a practicing philosopher more than a thought leader, but maybe it’s the same thing, I don’t know. But somebody once called me a thought leader.

Maurice Cherry:

I think the difference between that and this may be something that you’re already doing, but if you’re thinking of how to take the next steps to try to get there, it’s really all about — and this is, I mean, from a design standpoint, it sounds silly — but it’s all about writing and sharing your work.

Phillip J. Clayton:

That’s so…that’s well said.

Maurice Cherry:

Like people…I think of folks like Frank Chimero, Steven Heller, etc. I mean, they’re well known as designers, but they’re also well known as sort of just writing and talking about the craft. You know, Mike Montero is another one, for example. That sort of…I think to me, when I think of thought leader, and I think also just in terms of how your work spreads beyond the visual medium, how it spreads beyond, you know, a campaign or some sort of a visual project: writing is the way that I think that happens.

Phillip J. Clayton:

That is absolutely correct. I think even Blair Enns — not think, I know even Blair Enns shares that. He actually says in his book that the expert should write. And I started writing. I’m sure you think I probably shared that with you. You see them on my website. I’ve written articles and I’ve written other things, but writing, being somebody dyslexic, I didn’t see myself writing this much or reading this many books.

I used to detest both of those things growing up, but it was because I didn’t think I was smart enough to do it. But now I buy so many books and read them, and I don’t just read them, I actually put them into practice and I write. And you’re absolutely correct on that. We should write. That’s what professionals should be doing. That’s how you establish yourself. That’s absolutely correct. You have to write a thesis or theory or opinion we should be writing.

And that’s why I like to do case studies. I like to write out the experience. Everything else that follows that really is just the know, oh, we developed this philosophy, and here is the brand identity from that philosophy, that kind of thing. So you’re absolutely correct in that we should write.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, Phillip, where can our audience find out more information about you, your work, your writing? Like, where can they find all that online?

Phillip J. Clayton:

So the first place, I guess I’d say, because I have all the social media links I believe on there is pjclayton.com, my primary website. Outside of that, you can go directly to LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And it’s always Phillip J. Clayton. Phillip with two L’s. J. Clayton. And I think if you hashtag it too, somewhere there, I have hashtags for them too. PJClayton. Phillip J. Clayton. P-J-C.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good.

Phillip J. Clayton. Thank you for…I mean, such a wide-ranging and expansive interview. I feel like we went in like a dozen different places from your first interview, talking about branding, to this interview, which is certainly more just kind of personal about you and your upbringing and how you got to where you are now. I really do feel like that level of thought leader that you’re talking about. I think you’re already there, and I hope that this interview will help to elevate you to get further to that, because I really think that with everything that you’ve talked about, with everything that you’ve done, you’ve got all the components. Like, you put in the work. I think we’re right around the same age. You said you’re 41, right?

Phillip J. Clayton:

Yeah, I’ll be 41 in December.

Maurice Cherry:

I’m 42 now. So we’re right around the same age. So I know the work that goes into it to sustain yourself this long in this creative industry. And you said one thing before we started recording, that you have sort of these six rules for a quality life experience. You were like: disciplined, patient, kind, acceptance, forgiveness, and letting go. Look, that can be your philosophical bent to taking yourself to that thought leader status. But I’m really excited to see what else you come up with in the future, man. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I appreciate it.

Phillip J. Clayton:

Thank you so much. I enjoyed it. It was, I think, my deepest conversation on a podcast. Most of it’s really about work, so I really enjoyed it. I appreciate the compliments and the chair. I do look forward to what’s next. And likewise, same to you. This is a…I don’t know if a lot of people know it, but since you’ve shared it with me through the invitation, being part of the Smithsonian Archives is a brilliant position to be in from a content perspective. I never knew that was something that could happen, and I want to celebrate you for that.

Maurice Cherry:

Thank you. I appreciate that.

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